Post-nihilist praxis and pessimism: rehashing some old ground

In the last few months I have begun to explore philosophical pessimism, although not in writing and not on syntheticzero. It might seem strange to do so now, given that syntheticzero is above all a site dedicated to the exploration of ideas and practices that we have decided to group together as post-nihilist praxis. The term “post” requires no lengthy exegesis, it simply serves to indicate that our exploration of praxis is taking place after nihilism. In certain respects it could be said that this self-important designation- “post-nihilist praxis”- is merely the jumped up rebranding of existentialism carried out by a bunch of people who aren’t merely para-academic but exist nowhere near inside the academy.

Perhaps it is necessary to refresh ourselves briefly on the nihilism that the curators of this blog think has taken place. We are committed to a certain set of epistemic outcomes of scientific discovery. To phrase this in another way we fully affirm the negativity of the nihilism unleashed on the world by capitalism. We are against all and any attempts to therapeutically, immunologically or nostalgically deny these realities. Such denialism must be regarded as the disavowal of reality in favour of a psychotic hallucinatory-delusional substitution of that reality. As such explorers of post-nihilist praxis often speak of being against Transcedentalisms, or the reactive attempt to cling to models of sacredness that have become emptied of their content- even if they retain the dangerous vitality of desperation. Consideration of these truths must extend to their consequences for ethics and politics, no matter how uncomfortable this might be. If we maintain any unquestioned advocacy of positions traditionally associated with our own theoretical, political and ethical backgrounds- whether these be around our philosophical readings, our inherited values, or our activism and/or professional ethics.

Is it really so easy to forget that nihilism? Is it really so easy to forget the multiple and convergent streams of nihilism that Nietzsche described as a slow burning but ultimately violent catastrophe. In an early version of my own attempts to write- to write to understand, dis-invested as I am from academic thought- I called my own appreciation of the concussive blunt force trauma of nihilism  “catastrophic thought”. Is it so easy to forget such a catastrophe? We are already like the neurology patient admitted to the hospital after a car crash and who now cannot remember what happened to him. How did we get to this hospital bed? And the nursing staff have to try to cajole us to stay in the bed or at least on the ward, telling us again, an edge of irritation in their voice, that we have had an accident and that it isn’t safe for us to wander off. Except that we have not just had an accident, we are an accident. Except it in Nietzsche’s image we have not just been hit by a car- a few broken bones and some slight disorientation- but we have been fundamentally pummelled by the lunatic potency of nature:

For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end wants to reach the end, that no longer reflects, that no longer wants to reflect

Here is Nietzsche describing the slow catastrophe as also a hurtling vortex that shreds everything in its path, everything in its way, a river that having burst its banks will rage onwards to tear down homes and ruin infrastructure, drowning children and animals and the strongest men, dividing us up into the drowning and the drowned. The violence of river bursting its banks in the amphetamine image of a hyper-disaster conjured up by the catastrophizing imagination- the catastrophe doubles itself in thought- is one that tears bodies to shred as easily as concrete. If Nietzsche had access to the apocalyptic imagination of our cinematic disasters he might easily have spoken of a tsunami, and pictured the giant waves that sweep across an new York, leaving a scene of total devastation in the eerie silences of a dark submerged world. That world would go on to freeze over and become totally inhospitable to human bodies. If the film is hilarious in the way all this takes place in a few minutes- the freezing over of the cold world taking seconds- then Nietzsche’s torrents take a life time or more to wash away all the structures in their path. Like a blast-wave in slow-motion, the river that no longer reflects unleashes the invisible geological powers of erosion before finally accelerating and revealing itself in its terrible sublime power.

In the image of the river Nietzsche provides a dark naturalistic metaphor that doesn’t pretend that humanity can ever erect any sovereignty over nature. All our dwellings, whether little houses on the horizon or the skyscrapers of our dreams of a vertical colonialism of the heavens, will be undone by the necessary and inevitable monstrosity of the churning wall of water. And with it everything will be swept away from us, all the familiar trappings and stage-setting of home and familiarity, of the heimlich. Here we can move from the cinematic images of The Day After Tomorrow to the realities of the immediate post-Katrina situation

In the aftermath of the hurricane, and amidst the abandonment of the civil and political authorities of the black population to fend for itself, the entire landscape is fundamentally altered. It becomes obliterated of its richness and its detail and the human figures, at least in this aerial shot, are completely disappeared in favour of a weird abstract landscape that resembles nothing so much as a circuit board or some rocks jutting out from wet sand at the beach.

Once the water recedes the landscape is shown in the full extent of its ruination as every habitation is rendered into the grainy botches of colour that suggest what was once a wall or a window, leaving only the carcasses of buildings or the architectural outlines of where a building used to be. The road cuts through the scene in the image above but now as a pure scission that lacks any sense of logistical connection to a wider machinery of civilisation. The city, as space of human and nonhuman vitality, goes silent in the aftermath as the places of exchange and sports games and garrulous late night drinking, dark corner drug deals and violence, animal copulations, infrastructural buzzing and industrial humming, the machinic sonic landscape of the motorway and the automatic door- in short the inhumanism of “urban living”- goes silent. For a while after the initial deluge and prior to the panicked frenzy of terrified survivors the city resembles nothing more than an Anselm Kiefer canvas:

This is the only painting to have ever made me cry. I am perhaps an insensate philistine who just doesn’t get high art. It’s possible. It wouldn’t bother me if it were true, except insofar as some image of a cultured man haunted still haunted me. I was in my 20s. I was a depressive young man. At first I couldn’t see what I was looking at. Then the large canvas began to resolve itself: the perpendicular image, looking down from above, and the scrubbed out, wasted, cancelled outline of a city that began to disappear as it rose upwards, as if stretching above the earth would lead to an auto-destruction in ephemeral indistinction, the city just evaporating as it refuses to fuse with the sky, thereby undoing even the most terrestrial orientation points of the endlessly cited “horizon” and all its weight of tragic finitude, all from the impossible subjective perspective to which I, as viewer, was joined . Of course it wasn’t so long after 9-11 but I feel that the reason I cried was much more than this proximal-social event, no matter how horrific. The painting, with its inclusion of barbed wire (security; weapon) and dirt and sand (rubble; remains) seemed to exceed the constraints of spatio-temporalisation in any one place or time. It seemed as if this were the view from the Will, as if this were the cannibalistic and utterly inhuman destructiveness of the horror in itself, the despair in itself, the sorrow in itself, of the world looking down upon its own representation and attempting to undo it all in one flight. The image in its full reversibility: are these ruins or buildings still under construction?  Was I witness to a quiet world-without-us or destructive angel ushering in a world fundamentally posed against us?

The blurb from Tate goes like this:

This horrific vision of urban sprawl was inspired by Kiefer’s visit to Sao Paulo in Brazil. Tangled copper wiring signals the breakdown of communication. The city is engulfed in an apocalyptic haze, which Kiefer created by spreading dust and earth across the painting, then burning parts of its surface. According to Hebrew mythology, Lilith was Adam’s first wife, a seductive and demonic airborne spirit. In Kiefer’s painting, Lilith seems to bring destruction from the air upon Oscar Niemeyer’s modernist buildings.

A breakdown of communication. The end of transmission. Isolation. Lilith the First Woman. The rebel against Man who came not from his body. The Patron of Abortions. Her name meaning chaos. She who is represented as a she-demon throughout mythologies. She of whom it is written in the Dead Sea Scrolls’ exorcism text Song for a Sage

And I, the Sage, sound the majesty of His beauty to terrify and confound all the spirits of destroying angels and the bastard spirits, the demons, Lilith. . ., and those that strike suddenly, to lead astray the spirit of understanding, and to make desolate their heart.

In the moments of the collapse during which everything is sunk in a state of submergence there is only the strange thick and heavy darkness that weighs down on bodies and makes their every movement- unless they have been adapted for the water- too slow. In the heavy darkness where dark bodies move with eerie effort and one cannot breathe a bizarre choreography takes place among alien organisms that glow with their own sickly illumination. Then the waters recede. The flood is over. There was no ark. What survived? Where am I? How did I get to this place?

If I have gone too far with the liquid analogy, morphing it from streams to furious bank-bursting river, to crashing tsunami, to demons of gnostic and Talmudic origin, to the depths of the midnight zone before letting it slip back into nothing so dramatic and over-wrought as the Biblical Flood, with a little moment of tender self-dissolution thrown in along the way, it is because the explosive impact of the annihiliating forces of cognition cannot be overstated. Indeed, in other contexts the word apocalypse might be deployed, where it not that the word implied some impossible final seeing through things to the world as it is without us. All of this might be regarded as just excess were it not for the fact that it perfectly captures this destruction.

The flood is the drowning is the asphyxiation of the human being that lies at the heart of humanism and religious thought and which carries on only as the little corpse propping up an even smaller hallucination. The outcomes of the corrosive acid flow of Nietzsche’s predicted nihilistic torrents need to be remembered once again. Here they are posited as fundamental presuppositions around which we oriented our poor and self-indulgent thinking.

First of all that there is no meaning to existence. There is absolutely nothing meaningful about our existence and even the idea of speaking of lives that matter to anyone except those who are doing that living is an excessive indulgence. This denial of meaningfulness ultimately extends to any full blown existentialist sense that we can or should construct our own meanings via the establishment of a Big Project. We are of course all involved in projects if these are considered on the small scale: they range from getting dressed in the morning, to making coffee, to going to work, to getting drunk, to paying a mortgage. From the perspective of my understanding of this for post-nihilist pragmatics it means that there is no ultimate way to differentiate any activity from any other. All supposedly meaningful human activities are equal to one another insofar as they are all ways of coping with being alive. A friend of mine gave me a wonderful quotation from Frank Sinatra to express this levelled equality of coping mechanisms:

Basically, I’m for anything that gets you through the night – be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniels

If it has any more elaboration or specification in different contexts (ie. the dualism of the hyphenated with” indicating one is potentially both coping with and coping by means of) this is the basic ground floor sense with which I use the term coping.

This is identical to the same idea expressed by Thomas Ligotti that whatever a human being is doing s/he is merely trying to kill time. This insight comes to me with the highest weighting for praxis because it implies that there is no good or bad way to cope, there is only appropriate and inappropriate ways; or, if that is too abstract at this first pass, we could say that there are more or less harmful modes of coping-with being alive.

To be even more concrete I will provide an example from my working life. I work with drug users who will come into my clinic with all kinds of moralism in their heads, and this moralism that they have introjected from society- coming forth in judgements that “I am scum” or “I don’t deserve to be alive”-  is often precisely what keeps them in the throes of an escalating drugs addiction. I will work with many of these clients in an effort to extract this noxious moralism so as to undo its destructive effects.

One of the first and most modest ways I try to do this is by pointing out to the client that his heroin use is identical to another person’s gym obsession and a third person’s drinking every night or a fourth’s practice of Buddhist meditation techniques. All of these practices are attempts to cope, the difference for my client is that her coping mechanism has become excessive and has narrowed her existence to one obsessive and eclipsing ritual. Almost all of my clients will tell that they are coping via the protocols of neurochemical escapology and almost all of them are- by the time I see them- completely sunk into the chemical dystopia described by Deleuze an Guattari:

Drug addicts continually fall back on what they wanted to escape: a segmentarity all the more rigid for being marginal, a territorialisation all the more artificial for being based on chemical substances, hallucinatory forms, and phantasy subjectifications (285).

I don’t want to dwell on addiction here but I feel like we could criticise Deleuze and Guattari here for seeing only the segmentarity of the drug addicts- curious use of a facialised expression- and avoiding the wholeness that the drug using body is raised up to when it is “high”. It may be that in a separate post it will be necessary to explore how the immersion into chemical states is identical with the desire that has in other times and places been seen as the experience of a oneness with God. The invulnerability of the heroin user as it is expressed in something like Cain’s book certainly does not resemble the image given by D&G. This extended aside on the drug user may seem unnecessary- and it is- but it allows us to discuss the meaninglessness of existence from another side.

The bad segmentarity of the addicts life can be imagined according to this composite description: wake up and search for any dregs of last hit; cook up and take a charge; start thinking about where to get the next hit; go and do the stuff one needs to get the money to get the next hit; find somewhere to take a charge; undergo processes of immersion into the full emptiness of the tranquillity of heroin’s “gouch”; repeat. This picture will obviously vary widely but this is the classic generic picture (ie. all the variances have been abstracted from it) of the addict’s day. In addiction one is either high, anticipating the high or one is in a state of withdrawal.

One is either in the rituals of getting or being or coming down from equilibrium. In the final analysis the bad segmentarity of the addict is just an accentuated version of what all of our days look like. Indeed the addict may be more fully engaged in her project despite the fact that she is aware that there is absolutely no meaning in her activity whatsoever. The addict’s immersive oblivion strips their world of emotion and distressing memories, forces away any cares or terrors and provides her with a complete and total experience that we- as non-addicts from the outside- can only understand as escapism. But this is precisely what each of us is doing, except that we are attempting to get at meaning while the addict understands that there is none to be had and actively enacts that meaninglessness.

Indeed, the addict might be the most honest human being there is as she injects chemicals into her body to get at a state of temporary enlightenment, cutting through all the bullshit that surround the demands for being productive or engaging in a community and so on. We try to uncover mediate jouissance through sublimation in activities like writing and thinking- and forming communities to tell each other how clever or stupid we each are. The addict’s jouissance is chemical and machinic and immediate and doesn’t pass through any outside or other. The addict’s problems begin from the outside and the standpoint of a society of lunatics that jealously guard the right to access the fleeting state of oblivion. The problem reaches its crescendo in the fact that the addict is the perfect image of the Buddhist desire not to desire. That the addict is hooked means that she is never able to fully immerse herself into oblivion whilst simultaneously being unable to remain in her own personological prison; she is caught in a cruel movement between escape and imprisonment just as in Schopenhauer’s account of existence as a pendulum swinging between boredom and despair.

So let’s be clear that the nihilism of contemporary thought- and here we are talking about the scientific or Enlightenment reason- reveals to us that there is absolutely no meaning to anything we do. This means that there is also no meaningful conclusion to our existences. The pain and misery that we endure is utterly pointless. The dead and mutilated bodies of history pile up upon each other in a mountain of flayed flesh and electrocuted brains, as images of dead Syrian children flutter across our screens, and executions are consumed as spectacle and our every action assists in the reproduction of a malignant social system that murders and devours countless lives…and none of it matters, none of it ever reaches a moment of redemption. Even if the communist historical utopia is achieved this does nothing to redeem the deaths and the suffering. It remains pointless to all but those who cradle those lives in their arms. Whatever false image of redemption there is must always be local. It can only ever be the redemption of those I know and love or at least have come into some kind of contact with. Against all the sentimentality of warm feelings for the species it is impossible for me or you to care about the unknown person x who at this moment is doing something we do not know what. If that sounds banal and obvious then let’s move on.

Without meaning and without an historical horizon of retroactive meaningfulness (redemption) there is also no sense in which things have a point. This may risk repetition but it twists itself away from meaning to move towards purpose. What’s the point? is a question asked by the resigned and the depressed, those who know there is no use to any particular action, or at least no transcendental criteria against which to measure the usefulness of any action. Here we are again at the equality of coping mechanisms. To say there is no point is to say that all action is equivalent and as such is equally equivalent with no action at all. There is no intrinsic reason for reading rather than getting high and perhaps given a different set of local or proximal determinants and a different position in the chaotic web of causality we would indeed be shooting up right now.

As a consequence we are forced to ask why it is some of us value working for others or for even for ourselves. Here I mean to question many of our immediate and reflexive political positions. Those who work for freedom or liberation or a just society are those who Max Stirner declared as haunted by normative abstractions. To update the language we can say that these are psychotics who are more attached to hallucinations and delusions to flesh and blood. If we criticise them for this we have to recognize that that too is pointless. The great causes of the left are not to be taken as automatically and obviously valuable or worthwhile. If there is no meaning and no point to human life then why in the hell should anyone care about equality or justice? The only answer might be that a friend gave me when I asked him why he was a socialist: “because I like those things and think other people I like should have them too”. The tricky thing about his honest answer- which isn’t to suppose all other answers are lies- is that the same could be said of aristocracy. The outcome of our exposure to the nihilistic radiation might be that our commitment to the left, insofar as we have one, is disrupted, disturbed or even destroyed.

All of this segues with the absence of any intrinsic purposes in the cosmos. It is not just humans that lack any reason to exist but everything. Every material existent exists on the basis of a pure contingency and equally may as well not exist from the stand-point of being. This means that there are no human or animal intentions and that there are no historical goals or cosmic teleology. Tempting though it is to claim that the teleology of everything is its own apocalyptic destruction- insofar as everything that exists seems to be impermanent and therefore moving ceaselessly to its death- this might simply be pushing the facts of what will happen to our bodies onto a cosmos that might be infinite and eternal. The realities are that we do not know, although we are all aware of Ray Brassier’s scientifically backed speculations to the contrary.

If there is a purpose to human life it is immanent to our biological make-up. As such the most robust concept of purpose we can have is that given to us by the crudest of biological reductionists and evolutionary psychologists- that is those who have made peace with Darwin’s dangerous idea-: that we are here quite by accident and for no supernatural or supernormal reasons, and that while we are here we are, most of us and most of the time, compelled to survive in order to reproduce. And when we reproduce we do it for no reason- although just like the addict, or the dementia patient who performs actions entirely without conscious intent, we’re able to come up with plenty.

We are meat processing information carrying bundles of information across time and places. We are prompted to do things because they feel good or- more often- because we want to avoid things that feel bad. This is the brutal and blunt stupidity of our existence as neurologically advanced- in our own estimation at least- hominids. As meat-information machines we generate for ourselves a sense of self that we carry around with us and occasionally update as required. We cling terribly to this little hallucination as if it mattered and routinely cling to the hallucinations of others as if they mattered at all. This usually results in the formation of in-groups and out-groups and the adherence to a set of memes or cultural systems that anchor us together in these groups. The seeming purpose of these group formations is to allow us to better bind together in order to survive and reproduce. There are a number of ways this can be carried out and some are more hierarchical or egalitarian than others.  From this perspective every single article of philosophy and every single grouping whether fascist, communist, women’s institute or football team is a surrogate or substitute for the absence of meaning, purpose and the exposure to corporeal and ontological vulnerability that is signified by the word “death”. All our death denial systems are security systems are shelters and bunkers in which our little sacks of meat and chemicals, with their fibrillating tissues suffuse with an electricity that will cease without adequate levels of potassium. hunker down and hide.

Potassium is more important to the human being than any amount of freedom.

There is also no final escape into an afterlife which would be the ultimate form of self-deception. By this I mean that there is no ascending to heaven, no rebirth in the Karmic cycle, no hippie becoming-earth and no Schopenhauerian return to the Will as thing in itself and no absorption into the universality of Flesh.

If we are looking at all this as the baseline outcomes of nihilism then we’re also looking at a post-moral condition. I have tried to unsuccessfully defend this under the name of “psychopathic realism” elsewhere. Perhaps the problem is that this is a position that cannot be defended from within the discourses of ethical theory which we should see as having been swept away by the technoscientific naturalisation of normativity as just another artefact of our brains that lack any and all prescriptive force. Either you feel bad or you don’t. Either you have empathy and compassion or you don’t. And if you don’t we can’t condemn you- all we can really say is we don’t like your behaviour and you’d better regulate it to fall in line or else we’ll arrest you, psychiatrize you or otherwise imprison-cure-kill you.

Our species also stands poised at a moment where it appears as though we could ourselves be obliterated from the planet after having wrecked so much damage on the planet through our economic system. Anthropocene-Capitalocene: isn’t this another academic squabble when the real question comes down to whether our species wants to survive or not? And if it does then what politics is it willing to engage in? Or would it be better, perhaps, to quietly go off into that “one last midnight” while we have the chance. Certainly, everything the majority of us do suggests that a blissful and ignorant slide into material catastrophic destruction and extinction is our preferred outcome.

Finally as has been stressed by everyone worth listening to, our cognitive capacities have not been designed. They especially have not been designed in order to gain access to truths or to the world in itself. We are prone to systematic error and delusion much of which may not be correctable. Our kluged systems of cognitive representation may be woefully inadequate for self-understanding and so our first-person phenomenological perspectives must be questioned (if not dispensed with) in terms of the apparent veracity. This means that experience- so beloved of much of the contemporary left- is not necessarily a privileged point of access to understand anything, whether it be oneself or a social system.

These are the reasons why I have turned to pessimism. These are already the positions of contemporary pessimists- although there are other varieties of pessimism that are more metaphysical and less scientistic in nature. I have turned to pessimism then because the “objective nihilism” revealed to us by Darwinism, neuroscience, technoscience, the multiple thoughts and threats of extinction and- allow me my own favourite speculation- the possibility that the human race is nature’s suicidal impulse. That post-nihilist praxis is about finding ways of living in and through nihilism in among the ruins of the semantic and material collapses means that it cannot not be pessimistic.

Ultimately pessimism is the judgement that it would have been better never to have been born because coming into existence is a harm rife with meaningless and pointless suffering that cannot be redeemed. All that exists is sorrow and even our joys are tricks or cons played on us to keep us going, to keep us getting through the day. The moment that post-nihilist praxis departs from this is in the assertion that as long as one keeps on living one is still in the search for a method of coping until the organism finally gives up. But the pessimist also says this and if the post-nihilist pragmatist hasn’t accepted that the world is horror and misery even with its legitimate moments and stretches of happiness then she hasn’t been paying attention to the outcomes that motivated her search to begin with.

In short the pragmatist who is not share the depressive realism of the pessimist is either still in the pre-nihilistic phase or has leapt clear out of the water and back into the comfortable island of denialism.

Fear The Walking Machines: a review of Malign Velocities

In Malign Velocities Benjamin noys has written a concise critical history of the idea of acceleration. Beginning with the post-structuralists he moves through a series of historical appearances of the idea of acceleration in French Theory, politics, aesthetics and in today’s left accelerationist moment. noys coined the term accelerationism but he is not a fan of the idea of acceleration. Indeed he stakes his critique early on in the text when he explains that

accelerationism tries to reengage with the problem of labor as this impossible and masochistic experience by reintegrating labor into the machine. In what follows, we will see this fantasy of intgegration, the ‘man machine’ (note the gendering), that might at once save and transcend the laboring body (12).

Labour appears here as ‘impossible and masochistic’ because of the conditions of emergence of today’s left accelerationism. These conditions can be broadly referred to as neoliberalism and we could list among the markers of this artificially singularised name a series of interacting processes: deregulation of markets, privatisation of public bodies, dereferentialisation of currencies, the transition from manufacturing to service economies, the erosion of the capacities of labour, and the disappearance of the proletariat. noys highlights two processes at the heart of this historical period that are crucial for accelerationism: the deceleration of the real economy and the concomitant acceleration of financialization. All of this means that labour has become increasingly difficult for capitalism. noys doesn’t go all the way into discussing the possibilities of automation but it seems as though we should include it in this list, alongside the supposedly hysterical fears of mass unemployment and falling consumption rates.

noys clearly articulates one of the foundational gestures of today’s left accelerationists in response to the stagnation and stasis (cf. property development) of contemporary capitalism. The accelerationists are

answering deceleration with the promise of a new acceleration, driven by faith in new productive forces that come online and disrupt the ideological humanism that tends to be capitalism’s default ideology (11).

Capitalist humanism is that of the more-or-less rational personological agent who is capable of choosing between values, commodities and lifestyles in the market place. noys does not question whether or not capitalism actually operates this way considering the heavy investment into and practical use it has made of advertising, state compulsion, and the coercions that take their most up to date form in behavioural economics- a discipline the left is ignoring at its peril. We can question whether capitalism’s explicit ideology of humanism has ever really been its view of the masses and whether this humanism has ever been anything but a liberal delusion that capital has been steadily disabusing us of, if we were paying attention.

Either way, these new productive forces- in noys’s traditional Marxist terminology- include the newer ‘computing and cybernetic technologies’ (10) although we should readily include all the varieties of synthetic biology, nanotech, biotech, and so on. All of this renders labour impossible and masochistic because it reduces an ever growing amount of human bodies that would once have comprised the “living labour” necessary to capital’s self-valorisation into a vast relative surplus population. We see capital’s half-hearted attempts to manage this problem itself whenever it deploys zero hour or flexible working contracts, or wherever it compels people to work by stripping out the welfare state and gearing up into workfare program: wage slavery becomes welfare slavery. This is a totally fair assessment of accelerationism’s relationship to technology when we return to the ageing Manifesto and read that

Accelerationists want to unleash latent productive forces. In this project, the material platform of neoliberalism does not need to be destroyed. It needs to be repurposed towards common ends. The existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed, but a springboard to launch towards post-​capitalism.

There is a lot in this little paragraph, and much has already been said elsewhere so I will happily move on.

In Malign Velocities noys simply doesn’t believe that the left accelerationists strategies will work. He traces its historical variants and locates the earliest with the protofascist Futurists that he diagnoses as having tried to ‘harness the forces of velocity and acceleration as the Ur-form of accelerationism’ (14). The Futurists were the first to attempt a theoretical fusion of the mechanical and the organic in their aesthetics and politics but because of their short-sightedness they were unable to grasp the “repurposing” strategy and merely lauded the delirium of speed.

As fetishists of speed and read in the context where “masculine” has become code for “bad”- a leftist symptom of bad faith- the Futurists are undoubtedly exciting to read, especially as noys presents them. He writes that for them ‘the only survival is elective surgery by the “cruel razors of velocity”‘ (15) in a turn of phrase that accords entirely with a post-nihilist pragmatics of intervention with neural infrastructures. He states that there’s was ‘a homeopathic expropriation’ (16) that suggests ‘a reworking or struggle to push acceleration into new forms’ (17). Of course the Futurists failed and their aesthetics would be tied to fascism, but noys at least opens a crack here to suggest that this identification was not necessary.

noys also discusses communist acceleration and its attempt to ‘restore control and human will over the despotism of capital’ (25) and the sad history of the slippage of communism into Stalinist ‘”labor duty” and “shock work”‘ (26). He notes that the culmination of the transformation of the dream of a scientific socialism that would be able to deploy Taylorist and Fordist models of managing the productive forces eventually turned into a nightmare:

Stalinist “politics of productivity” rescinded the dreamworld of the integration of living labor and the machine, only to replace it with the brutal organization of dlave and unfree labor through social regulation and spatialization.

The Stalinist acceleration of the rhythms of daily life accompanied the Leninist acceleration of the latent productive forces via the repurposing of capitalist productivity management techniques. The result was the gulag and the immiseration of the living human bodies that hide behind the Marxist abstraction of “labour”.

noys then discusses Tausk’s influencing machines- a schizophrenic delusion of control coupled to the emergence of dimly understood machines- which he understood as a problem related to our ‘alienation or estrangement from our bodies…due to the formation of the ego’ (38). For noys the influencing machines are an example of what he sees as the accelerationist fantasy par excellence that is captured by Deleuzo-Guattarian machinism, in which there can never be representation but only ever immersion in the Immanent Real:

This is a fantasy of the end of fantasy. It also evades the pathological and painful elements of this identification with the machine, the friction between the body and its integration (40).

Against the machinic immersion noys highlights our ‘fear of our own becoming-machine’ that is certainly evident when we think of the bioconservatism that often accompanies transphobic attitudes, or that underlie the monstrous appeal of Daleks, Cybermen so on.

Yet the reference to Cybermen reveals the extreme conservatism and sentimentality of the fear of becoming-machine. For instance:

The real horror here is the erasure of the emotional life of the subject understood as an individual which, in the Cyberman’s autopsy, comes back fully in the ridiculous image of the bride before her wedding. The only way to register the fear and anxiety of the integration into the machine is through the children’s tv show image of a mechanical monster drowned in uniformity and completely depersonalized. Interestingly the Cybermen also correspond to the hard, phallic, and mechanical body of Futurism’s masculinism, even if the Man is in fact a woman.

And this is noy’s real philosophical objection to accelerationism. It finally comes to the surface in his discussion of brief Landianism and the CCRU when he writes that

Land’s statements code the paradox of extinction in-and-through machinic acceleration. The cybernetic machine is at once liberation from the meat and destruction of the meat, resolved in the jouissance of immersion in immanence.

In discussing Land’s machinic revolution in which it is impossible to deterritorialize enough we see the horror of the possibility of our extinction as human beings- that is, as ego-riven and labouring  and suffering organic beings- who are absorbed into the unrelenting rush of the nihilistic energies of capital through an integration so total that it becomes indistinguishable from integration. In this image of post-nihilistic affirmation (of what? by whom?) in which extinction is becoming-machine or rather becoming-capital we are hit with the absolute inhumanism of unfettered acceleration.

He will go on to discuss other forms of acceleration but it is clear that this is what most scares noys, and if not noys than human beings. The point of reading Malign Velocities for me is to see clearly that capital is leading us to a place in which the manifest image has become unstable and we are revealed as a multiply and fully determined- genetically, neurologically and socially programmed- entity that is indistinguishable from any other arrangement of matter. And it is this that noys cannot stand.

Through the book he will rail against dehumanization and conflate it with inhumanism. But the inhuman and the dehumanizing are not the same thing.Of course Landian acceleration- libidinal materialist acceleration or quasi-Schopenahuerian acceleration- is bad accelerationism. Why it that? Because as we can see it offers us nothing but the status of accomplices in our own self-destruction. There can be no leftism here. There can be no humanism here. And it is a leftist humanism above all else to which noys is attached throughout the book.

Even the restrained and leftist image of a navigational left accelerationism is not humanist enough for noys. If Land wants to speed-up to the point where everything evaporates into Capital-Will or libidinal force or whatever then the left accelerationists want to keep things steady. Indeed for noys the problem is- as he repeatedly says throughout the book- human suffering. This is the moment of noys’ humanism that it should be impossible for us to ignore.

noys defined revolution as a human activity, a throwing of the break in order to avoid a catastrophe. In fact he states it done to avoid a second catastrophe. We live in an era of unprescendented and multiple catastrophes. It may be too late to through the break now. Unlike the accelerationists- in his accusation- noys wants a ‘just society’ (9) and seeks a politics that could ‘construct a just society’ (10).

In fact noys’s only positive contribution is to suggest that we require ‘struggles over the state and condition of labour’ (98). The closest we get to concrete illustration of this is in the list:

Campaigns against privatization and for a return of privatized services to public control try to reduce our dependence on work by attacking the way work is supposed to account for all our self-reproduction. These struggles are in parallel for struggles to defend public services, protect benefits, and sustain local and collective forms of support…[and] defence of workplace and employment conditions (99).

noys is aware that these will appear “reactive”. Indeed they are those struggles that respond to the aggressions of capitalism and that left accelerationism wants to out-pace. These are indeed reactive but they may be necessary. I don’t see any reason why a left accelerationist would deny any of these struggles, except to say that while necessary they are certainly insufficient. How any of these would end the refugee crisis or mitigate the worst effects of climate change? What they do have on accelerationism is that there defensiveness appeals to one of our inbuilt cognitive biases: loss aversion. Appeals to loss- and so to defensive struggles- and much more likely to move people to action than are any appeals to full automation, luxury or indeed- the most empty word- “revolution”.

In the end it seems that noys text traces a history of acceleration in order to show how whenever it appears it soon after disappears, having left a wake of tragedy and suffering. In doing so he successfully navigates us through and up close to many of the pivotal questions of our contemporary political environment. noys’ book should also be applauded for its desire to avoid human suffering but it should also be questioned for its traditionalist humanism that means it is unable to get to grips with the realities of our situation in the way it urges us to. For instance noys states that we can build a just society- a completely empty phrase- on the ground of what exists without

‘accepting all that exists or accepting what exists as given’ (10).

Yet if we do not accept all that exists aren’t we in fact entering a delusional world where we get to pick and choose which realities we attend to and which we do not? noys repeatedly says he wants us to avoid excess, to be sober, reasonable, and yet he does not want to work from the position of the repurposing of what exists. How else is anything to be achieved other than through is suggestion of interruption? For all its concern for actual living bodies- disguised under the term “labour”- noys’ politics ends up as leftism as usual out of fear of Landian monsters.

To Cultivate An Active Suicidality: possibility and suicide

Ab=n essay on suicide that is now two years old, that argues that: “e suicidal still live because their death, although an accomplished fact, has not yet occurred”. It constituted my first attempt to consider suicide as weirdly emancipatory.

synthetic zero

Introduction

In this essay I want to discuss suicide from within a Heideggerian perspective as a form of freedom. In doing so I will be making the distinction between suicide-as-event and suicidality-as-possibility. To deepen the discussion I will be drawing on Stoic accounts of possibility and fate, situating suicidality in terms of Baudrillardian seduction, theories of sublimation and briefly connecting the discussion to contemporary psychotherapeutic practice. I intend to open a discussion on the place of suicide and suicidality after the post-nihilist turn and to recognise in it not only the moment of despair but also a path toward the sense of liberation and opening of possibility that a catastrophia inflected post-nihilist praxis sees as the pre-requisite for living after nihilism.

Suicide

 ‘There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide’ (Camus 2005, p.1): this is how Albert Camus  opens his book The myth of Sisyphus

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telepathy with nothing

Just as when the dirt is removed, the real substance is made manifest; just as when the darkness of the night is dispelled, the objects that were shrouded by the darkness are clearly seen, when ignorance [Maya] is dispelled, truth is realized.

Vashistha, Yoga Vasiṣṭha

 

Thought thinks itself. There is no way thought can ever access anything except more thought. The game is up. Even these words are more thought piling up on more thought. The semiocapitalist order is just capitalism equipped with a fundamental recognition that everything we do is thought.

&

The body does something in accordance with some urge ultimately reducible to the compulsion to survive and procreate and thought transforms this into its own material, calling it hunger. You want to think about the soul or love or what is the right way to live but all you get is thought and not the soul or love or the right way to live.

&

Consciousness is the cobbled patchwork of kludges equipped to navigate the environment but it has ended up producing thought. It isn’t fear that is the mind killer but thought. The thinking being is a sadomasochist down to its core and all its aspirations are impossibilities it establishes for itself to kill time, to get through the day, to cope.

&

Revolutionaries extend the issue to the terrain of history: it isn’t enough to get through the day, one has to be the organelle or machinic component of some great vehicle that conquers time or pain or injustice.

&

These are Big Thoughts and they are more important than the Little Thoughts about what to eat today or where you put your glasses or the even more Ephemeral Thoughts about this woman’s legs or the way a cloud curls and disintegrates at its margins or the fretful disconcerting Vanishing Thought about the cough that won’t go away.

&

The junkie is a scorned figure because the junkie is a Bad Person (TM) or even worse, at the other side of the Bad Person spectrum, she is a Victim. These are names are Thought Figures for keeping things over there and in there place just this way. There are institutions to refine the Bad Person Thoughts into Specific Thoughts. We can call these Control Thoughts.

&

The junkie experiences the oblivion of consciousness and the negation of thought. It is not uncommon to hear the junkie talk of invulnerability. She will tell you about escaping things. She will tell you about a life of terror and misery and pain and the crushing weight of boredom that seems to be time’s own voice insistently urging her to take a charge. Throw some Valium on top for good measure to help the body go limp and shut up its endless whining.

&

Trocci, Cain’s Book: ‘The problem has always been to fuse the fragments of eternity, more precisely, to attain from time to time the absolute serenity of timelessness’.

It isn’t a Model: the junkie provides no image of utopia. Short circuiting the tricks that phenomenality can play on itself the junkie goes direct through materiality to effect her temporary suspension of thinking. She is a Buddha who couldn’t give a fuck about karmic forces and Samsara. She effects her own cycle of Samsara. She dies and is reborn with every hit.

&

The junkie will never offer herself as a model or a messiah. She does not tell you any lies and you hate her for it. In fact she will warn you solemnly that she is a tragic mistake of the universe. Its easier for you that way.

&

But the opiates wear off and the brain comes back online and there is the self-talk muttering of cognition and the transformation of the real into its pale and horrible illusion. The nescience of thought is its constitutive and defining feature: it systematically and rigorously knows nothing about anything and won’t shut up about it. The opiate model of enlightenment: chemical silence.

&

But in the end thought becomes the thought about the opiates. The next hit becomes the anchoring thought that organizes the thinking. The practical ecology of consciousness becomes reducible to the games necessary to secure-prepare-consume the substance. To take in the substance directly through the veins. Thought comes to think its own circumvention and can think of very little else. These are Obsessive Thoughts.

&

In the literature of addiction the “big book” of Alcoholics Anonymous tells you all about the thoughts thought by a couple of thinkers on the problem of the booze junkie. The problem: how to get her clean living and thinking all the time like everyone is supposed to be? The defenders of sobriety are the defenders of consciousness. They talk about the need for a Spiritual Awakening (TM).

&

It means this: that the molecules of the alcohol are providers of a spiritual experience of nullity or immersion and dissolution into the nothingness beneath thought which thought cannot bear. It is not nature but the thinking that cannot abide a vacuum. Example: in tinnitus the brain expects to hear a frequency that the ear can no longer detect- the dutiful brain makes it up, fills in the gap, and so the underlying sound of the world becomes a whistle or a scream or the roar of a terrible and mighty ocean.

&

All junkies have this spiritual experience. You want to talk about Ego-Death or enlightenment or whatever, there it is for you… waiting at the end of a pipe, a needle, a drink. Its no good though. You’ll only be reborn. But that isn’t why the junkie is despised.

&

She is despised because she has a route to temporarily get out of this awful place. But she doesn’t go via your Thought Systems- your politics or religions or therapies. She has to learn to cope in the way you cope and to have a legitimate experience of nullity.

&

Ann Kavan, “The Fog”: ‘They reminded me of Japanese dragon-masks and also of the subhuman nightmare mask-faces in some of Esnor’s paintings. These faces grimacing at me through the fog had the same sort of slightly eerie repulsiveness of masks, of walking and talking things, not really alive. They’d have repelled me if they’d been human beings’.

They talk about nullity as Wholeness: as experience of a Higher Power (code: God). The only experience of Wholeness known by humanity is in the womb: in that perfect wet warm darkness before the violence of separation. Or why stop there? The true Wholeness is the Emptiness prior to consciousness’s most meagre flickering. Back before birth. Back in the nullity prior to matter and idea.

&

We are the ardent dreamers who believe in the dreaming. The lunatic in pleasant madness, the junkie in her thoughtless sleep, the degenerative dementing brain: these are our enemies that we must combat. They are threats to the dreaming that dreams us. Wisps to be washed away. Vapour and error.


Whether addiction is ultimately a high-jacking of neural activation patterns associated with hunger or is its own terrible compulsion is ultimately beside the point to deciding about addiction. Certainly some philosophers seem confused about the question. To say addiction is a result of choice makes no more sense than saying we eat out of choice or that we breathe out of choice.  And why not: we suffer the eating addiction, the breathing addiction, the living addiction.

&

The wheel of samsara is an ultimate lie. I am assured the karmic system is nothing to do with cosmological punishment- no, it offers us opportunities for learning and growth. Writ on the scale of the cosmos samara promises that we can escape, that we have control.

&

This word control is the obsession of our species. There are impulse control problems. The economy escape our control. Entire societies of control crop up. Metaphysical parasites and mind viruses called Control with a capital “c” appear to haunt us.

&

The entire philosophical trajectory of Western thought summed up as “learning how to die” is nothing but an attempt to domesticate death and to practice a controlled dying. The indomitable Epictetus opens his lectures by telling us wisdom consists in learning what is and is not under our control. The Old Greek with the hobbled leg had no idea.

&

The junkie’s escape is incomplete. It is fleeting. It is rife with the risk of AIDs and hepatitis, popped muscle abscesses and violence. There’s your enlightenment for you.

&

I am not a junkie. I will go to work and I will say “oh it is terrible” and I will offer and coax: “come back to us”. Therapy is the aggressive defence of this sordid and soiled reality. It is the tether and the anchor. In these dark confessions how can I not see that I perpetuate the pain of those I “care” for.

&

i am an agent of misery

who dreams he is bringing people back from the dead.

all Thought is death. come back to us:

STAY a while longer.

The necromancer never died,

he just got dressed up

in certifications from institutions

devoted to Thought.

and i  will envy them

their momentary oblivion.

the eternal recurrence occurs everyday. 
the illusion

that there is an interval

between stimulus and

response. 

 


We are empty beings shovelling more being into ourselves: human existence is substance abuse.


But these

are mere thoughts

and don’t

mean

any

t

h

i

n

g

.


 

Magical or Machine Politics

This came to my attention via Nick Land’s Urban Future blog:

The topic of AI Political Leadership is complicated; this essay will examine only a fraction of it. Let’s start by scrutinizing three of the destructive weakness that plague all humans, and are frequently amplified in our leaders. These “tragic flaws” create huge suffering in the populations the leaders govern.

I have to say that it might simply be attractive to the kid inside me who still plays the original Deus Ex video game once a year every year, but the image of offloading political decision making to an AI does attract me. The growing evidence that continues to emerge from neuroscience, cognitive and social psychology, evolutionary psychology and neuroeconomics all make up the picture of human beings as horribly deluded about our capacity for rational decision making and even mistaken about our capacity for free decision making at all.

In the light of various convergent evidential discourses we have to consider that our folk psychologies are accompanied by an equally folk politics. This isn’t to be understood only in terms of the accelerationist charge that regards Folk Politics as a set of tendencies inherent to contemporary leftist-anarchist strategies that obviate the need to practice a politics of scale and abstraction.

Beyond this I am also referring to the persistent existence of political strategies, discourses and ideologies that belong to a version of the manifest image that has been obliterated by our eliminative truth discourses but that has yet to be fully disseminated into the broader ideological and cultural symptoms of our society of lunatics.

In many cases the nihilistic corrosives that are dissolving the familiar and reliable assumptive worlds and hallucinatory heuristics that allow for a navigational embodied and collective praxis of coping have already overactivated the immunological socio-idealist defence mechanisms that play out in emboldened traditionalism, conservativism, leftisms and science fictional political imaginaries. It might suffice to point to renewed humanism, to phenomena like the Oath Keepers and ISIS.

I’m not able to go into all these  evidential strands of conscilience right now but I’ll pick out a handful that spring immediately to mind.

Our politics remain too often wedded to this outmoded and self-regarding species image that conjures up the oneiric landscape of self-caused agents who are capable of listening, thinking it over, being rationally persuaded and so on. But we’re shown over and over again that human beings are led by their emotions rather than their reason. We are Humean rather than Kantian, and pretending that rational debate is decisive in swaying people on anything, let alone how to organize society or who should live or die, is ludicrous. Neurocognitive research is vindicating Hume’s complaint that

And as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.

Even the idea of luxury communism that seems to do so much to drag communists politics out of the murky waters of primitivist austerity (just as likely as the abundance in our models of the future) acts to totally ignore the basic mechanism of loss avoidance. In some ways the ‘reactive’ and ‘rear-guard’ reformist movements are those that operate according to the limits of human capacities, and their successes are borne out of their resonance for the basic selected cognitive preferential system that responds to risk and adapts for the avoid losses over the making of gains. Most of our politics also remain wedded to the idea that human beings hold absolute values and make decisions and value attributions on the basis of these absolutes; in reality our decision making capacities are comparative and therefore highly context dependent.

The basic reasons that human beings form and maintain groups are survival and reproduction. Despite the disagreements between evolutionary psychologists and terror management theorists (an academic squabble for prestige) it’s astonishingly obvious that survival implies avoidance of death and that avoidance of death increases survival and reproduction. Idiotic organisms that die early and in great numbers don’t tend to stick around on the evolutionary playing field.

The basic organismic function of politics is to encourage and organize our tribal behaviours and to elaborate on collective means of survival and warding off our extreme existential fear of death and dying. This is the foundation of the thanatic operations of the state: to unevenly distribute corporeal-ontological vulnerabilities, as well as the cognitive proximity to those vulnerabilites, so that a class of rulers is able to live on the death of the others. This is my reading of the state’s function and I believe that we find it throughout leftist theory, most recently in Judith Butler’s works on vulnerability. The most striking empirical validation of this existential-reflexive functionalism driving all political ideologies and organizations is detailed in In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror.

I don’t think we need to catalog the various cognitive biases and neural information compression losses, errors and compensatory inventions, or to dwell too long on the fact that conscious decisions may be made a full 10 seconds before we experience ourselves as having made those decisions.

Leftists, anarchists and swathes of the right-wing are still laboring under a mode of folk politics that corresponds to a denial of our actual condition. Politics is not what we think, and does not operate the way we believe and would like it to. In fact it has very little to do with the “us” who do not make the decisions they believe they make. Ours is a Magical Politics that remains entirely theological in its understanding.

This is even before we begin to separate out modes of abstraction that divide between data-complexity-abstractions and normative nominalist abstractions. The former are those complexities have ontological reality and agency and includes states, global economies, masses, people, classes (the set of political hyperobjects); the latter are those glosses and treatments of these that treat them as if they were flesh and blood. The distinction is established so that we can say that yes, a class exists…but no, a class does not feel pain, decide or have a solid unified interest: a class may have agency but it is not a subject.

So why not offload our political decisions to an AI that might be other than us? A radically different kind of intelligence may make much more sense as an organizer of human existence. It would be hard pressed to do any worse. As a repository of the delusional hypmanic energies of hope why not place it all in a machine mode of government that understood us and the world and literally at home with complexity? 

Nick Land speaks directly to the obvious anarchist/libertarian objection regarding self-organization and autogestion when he writes that

In the Anglophone world — at least, until the most recent spasms of its degeneration — the call to empower the people has always been an unfortunate derivation from attempts to disempower government authority

The latter no longer necessitates the latter. The people and power can be dissociated and the former metaphysical nonsense can finally be dispensed with so that flesh and blood lives could enjoy a better administration of things. This is of course an entirely formal approach to politics and could be taken up by the left or the right or might in fact render the distinction a historical backwater at last.

As the AI of the (surely) hyperstitional videogame Deus Ex remarks in its bid to fuse with human consciousness and thereby better understand it’s pathologies “from the inside”:

The checks and balances of democratic governments were invented because humans themselves realized how unfit they were to govern themselves. They needed a system, yes. An industrial age machine.

tiny catastrophe

eternal recurrence (nietzsche; true detective)->the great conflagration (stoic original idea of eternal recurrence; the literal repeat of everything ever each time culminating in a cosmic explosion; the repeat is not the same; the me and you in each round are numerically distinct); solar catastrophe in levinas as symptom; the cosmos itself is a serial killer.


A synopsis of an essay a friend thought would make a good microfiction in itself.

We write as children; we read as adults

You say it is to understand but you don’t understand and suspect you never will. You suspect you will never understand. There was a child once who said it: I want to be a writer. The child is the father of the man. So you write.

You remember that child scribbling stories and playing for hours alone in her bedroom. She plays with her dolls or her stuffed animals and they are her best friends in a kingdom that only they can access. You remember the boy who fought skeletons, dispatching them to the worlds out of which they broke into your own. You remember the comic books you drew and the barely disguised plagiarism of your science fictions world.

You remember being a small and insignificant thing lost in the world of those giants upon whom you depended. They knew things you did not and time seemed to pass for them in a way entirely alien to you. They were constricted and mutilated beings who loved you but couldn’t enter the worlds you lived inside.

They might say to you at the dinner table to speak only if you have something productive to say; they told you they didn’t have time for nonsense talk, being tired from this thing called work that they seemed to hold in equal measures of hatred and reverence. They listened to their friends, other giants who unnerved you with their threatening proximity, and told you that listen it really is time for bed now. You remember being vanquished to bedrooms and to children’s tables and to stultifying hours of lonely play.

You remember the ease and casualness with which they crushed you. That little girl only wanted to be talked to; the little boy to be heard. There was never time for it.

You are that frightened and abandoned child, somehow awakened to itself in the body of one of those giants, the sex organs aching and that prison house work now your most familiar escape. You still want to be heard. To be told you are a good little boy or a clever little girl.

So you write. And you hope to be read. It is a hope. A perversity. You hope the parents will speak to you at last about your inner world. All you want is for someone to say: what a clever little child you are.

And you have no interest in what they have to say beyond that.