This lucid discussion of the splendours and miseries of accelerationism with Ben Noys, Nina Power and Andy Beckett is one of a set of primers on the concept which includes Beckett’s recent Guardian piece and an excellent “quick and dirty” guide from Nick Land over at Jacobite.
If I’ve a criticism of the former pieces, it’s that the discussion of is reminiscent of much of the discourse around transhumanism around the time I started to conceive Posthuman Life.
Noys, Power and Beckett are primarily concerned with the normative issue of how we should respond politically to technical change and, in particular, whether accelerationism constitutes a viable political strategy for the left.
In much the same way, transhumanist writing circa 2010 assumed that the problem posed by NBIC technologies was how to justify rights for “post-human” persons or to convince naysayers that a transhuman or posthuman life could be worthwhile. It largely failed to question whether an ethical framework that privileged human values or solidarity could be retained if the biological and technical substrates for the corresponding human functionings are as drastically alterable as transhumanism supposed (Bostrom 2005, 2008). One of the virtues of Land’s writing on technical change is that it bins this post-metaphysical quietism. If the character of subjectivity or agency depends on technically alterable conditions, can we assume that entities/agencies they constitute will be amenable to humanist values such as solidarity or personal autonomy? That a collectivity could be formed that does not excessively burden one or other part of it. Human universality cannot be presupposed as a given under conditions of drastic technical change. As Land puts it in the Quick and Dirty Guide:
In philosophical terms, the deep problem of acceleration is transcendental. It describes an absolute horizon – and one that is closing in. Thinking takes time, and accelerationism suggests we’re running out of time to think that through, if we haven’t already. No contemporary dilemma is being entertained realistically until it is also acknowledged that the opportunity for doing so is fast collapsing.
Above all, though we concede Noys claim that technologies are non-neutral, that they form and constitute social relationships, it does not follow that they are subject to social control or legitimation, or (given a high degree substrate dependence) that we can determine who counts as a potential interlocutor in any social conversation about the trajectory of technical change without inducing changes whose character could be fundamentally deranging (Roden 2014, 180). An ethics of technology is largely worthless if the socio-technical networks that induce technical change are uncontrollable – beyond the scope of collective or democratic control. Land’s transcendental approach is committed to this. He writes:
In socio-historical terms, the line of deterritorialization corresponds to uncompensated capitalism. The basic – and, of course, to some real highly consequential degree actually installed – schema is a positive feedback circuit, within which commercialization and industrialization mutually excite each other in a runaway process, from which modernity draws its gradient. Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche were among those to capture important aspects of the trend. As the circuit is incrementally closed, or intensified, it exhibits ever greater autonomy, or automation. It becomes more tightly auto-productive (which is only what ‘positive feedback’ already says). Because it appeals to nothing beyond itself, it is inherently nihilistic. It has no conceivable meaning beside self-amplification. It grows in order to grow. Mankind is its temporary host, not its master. Its only purpose is itself.
I’ve argued for a similar conclusion on the basis of a substantivist characterisation of technological modernity. As techniques become “more complex, interconnected and multiply applicable” they become less normatively compliant. Technique increasingly eludes any finite social context, become iterable across multiple global lines or contexts within massively complex self-augmenting loops (Roden 2014, 156).
If technological change has the character of the ramifying feedback mechanism that Land describes, then the abstract normative discussion is likely just skywriting, however decent and relatable the instincts that motivate it.
Bostrom, Nick, 2005. “In Defence of Posthuman Dignity”. Bioethics 19(3): 202–14.
——2008. “Why I Want to Be a Posthuman When I Grow Up”. In Medical
Enhancement and Posthumanity, B. Gordijn & R. Chadwick (eds), 107–36. New
Roden, David (2012) ‘The Disconnection Thesis’, in Amnon Eden, Johnny Søraker, Jim Moor, and Eric Steinhart (eds.), the Singularity Hypothesis: A Scientific and Technological Assessment (2012), Springer-Verlag: 281-298
_____ (2014) Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. New York: Routledge. Publication date: October 2014, 220 pp.
_____ (2016) ‘Letters from the Ocean Terminus’. In The PostContemporary Time Complex, edited by Suhail Malik and Armen Avenessian. http://dismagazine.com/discussion/81950/letters-from-the-ocean-terminus-david-roden/