proudhonian cosmopolitanism

Cities, eventually, will scare us. — Nick Land

the individuals of the global society aren’t human individuals or nationalities, but cities. this is the society that is fed by human individualism, and it’s the society that is forming its organs beneath the unaware eyes of statesmen, priests and warriors.

for Proudhon, writes Wilbur:

every individual was a group, and every group with sufficient unity of action to be worthy of the name could be identified by its organizing LAW or principle.

which plugs straight into Land’s insight on the nature of cities:

Intensities are characterized by transition thresholds. As they rise and fall, they cross ‘singularities’ or ‘phase transitions’ that mark a change in nature. A small change in intensive magnitude can trigger a catastrophic change in system behavior, with the emergence of previously undisclosed properties. When measuring urbanization, a city is a city is a city. As an intensive concentration, however, a city is an essentially variable real individual, passing through thresholds as it grows, innovating unprecedented behaviors, and thus becoming something ‘qualitatively’ new.

the parallelisms increase to uncanny heights as one looks further into the functioning of these individual collectivities. back to Wilbur:

We could say the individual is a product/producer of a polycentric system of natural laws…

what are these natural laws if not the “route to cumulative intensification” that takes an individual city to the “escape into inwardness, an interior voyage, involution, or implosion“. “What a city wants is to become itself, but more — taking itself further and faster.”

not only this, but as cities become ever more themselves, they suck in the elements — people and commodities ‘alike’ — they need to become autonomous, thus disinvesting other, more common (and thus ‘tedious’) collectivities, such as nations, ethnicity and “feature” groups in general, as Land defines them:

A feature group is determined by logical classification. This might be expressed as a self-identification or sense of ‘belonging’, an external political or academic categorization, or some combination of these, but the essentials remain the same in each case. Certain features of the individual are isolated and emphasized (such as genitalia, sexual orientation, skin-color, income, or religious belief), and then employed as the leading clue in a process of formal grouping, which conforms theoretically to the mathematics of sets.

back once again to Wilbur, we learn that it’s in the nature of these individual collectivities (or ‘unit groups’ in Land’s parlance) to:

…develop in accordance with their laws, encountering one another as others, antagonistic and incommensurable (…) and, ultimately, the apparent conflict is the manifestation of an absolute law at another level, so all is merely the flux of being…

in meeting each other, individual cities come to know and develop themselves further, “learn[ing] from trade”, as Land puts it. out of this a higher-level ‘social society’ comes into being. Land describes this society of cities through the theoretical framework of world systems:

Beyond such generic singularity, there is an additional level of enhanced differentiation that emerges from the position cities occupy within larger systems. These systems are not only internally specialized, but also hierarchical, dividing core from periphery, and distributing influence unevenly between them. Ultimately, within the fully global incarnation of the ‘world system’, cities acquire secondary metropolitan characteristics, to very different degrees, in accordance with their geographical and functional proximity to the center of the world. They transcend their local histories, to become hubs or nodes in a global network that re-characterizes them as parts of a whole rather than wholes made of parts, as metropolis-versus-periphery rather than (or on top of) metropolis-versus-town.

a metropolis, or a mother-city, and its peripheral daughters: that is capital, itself a collective individual. the first true matriarchy to arise in the world. each node in this network intrinsically accelerating into its own involutionary spiral, “lifted out of the general flux into general warfare, by the ability to distinguish self and other”. that is the anarchic cosmos birthed with the rise of modernity.



anarchist transcendental ontology

“Being is not itself a being.”

Chris B writes:

From this point on the onus will be assumed to be on advocates of anarchistic ontology to resolve their logical failures and not on opponents to take it on dogmatic faith that it is correct. Further to this, I will contend that if we attempt to treat these thinkers outlining an anarchistic ontology at face value then we fall into a grave error, as such an argument is not in any way logically correct, but works in reality as a rhetorical device for the expansion of political power.

i will attempt to address these claims.

of course, we’ve been around neo-absolutism repeatedly here (1, 2, 3, 4), and i have drifted little if at all from the positions i held in those posts. but i think i hadn’t reached the core of the dispute between anarchy and absolutism before getting to Chris’s article from last May. simply put, what divides both views is a question of scale: anarchism is meant to be scale-free, absolutism has been silent about scale.

i. the pitfalls of the absolute

There is always someone who is above law and always someone who decides on exceptions which breach written constitutions, or so called rule by law.

this is possibly the central tenet of absolutism: at all times and places, someone is above the law. put otherwise, someone is exempt from the consequences of the law, because he’s the arbiter and the executor. this implies such a sovereign is all-powerful within his realm. he can act as he wishes, and is the only truly free person in the realm.

a question quickly arises as to the pragmatics of this stance. how is this unchecked power implemented in reality? bullets don’t shoot themselves out of mere brainwaves. the foremost anarchist critique of absolutism is thus: the sovereign cannot will himself into sovereignty. the avatar of sovereignty isn’t the ground of sovereignty.

there are natural laws which cannot be broken or disregarded, no matter how mighty a monarch might be. moreover, there are natural laws of power, so that an unwise ruler will quickly cease to be a ruler if he starts thinking his mind molds reality.

going further, absolutist theory’s failure to separate the empirical sovereign—the local and particular circumstance of a single person—from sovereignty itself, i.e. the inability to realize that the conditions of an experience aren’t themselves experimental, shows up in a naive understanding of agency:

We can nevertheless make the claim that [the sovereign] must be a single person. We can do this on the basis that in resting the state of exception on the act of making a decision Schmitt makes the state of exception one which requires a human agent to make such a decision.

what is one to do with this under-(or rather non)-examined “agency”? a human agent floats free of all influence, incentive, passion or reason? is there no outside to the human sovereign? the monarch in the absolutist account seems to take the place of God: the immobile motor. as is usual with such question, infinite regression shows up:

All monarchs, or rulers, issue forth from the authority of the ruler of the society in question or come from external authority.

and yet, no inquiry into this transcendental ground of sovereignty is ever conducted. worse still, it’s not even recognized.

the dogmatic assertion of the existence of a single, human, personal sovereign everywhere also begins to indulge itself into a complicated double bind: if nothing below the will of the sovereign matters in social theory, how come it’s so complex to find this will?

Now, trying to identify the specific sovereign at any point with any accuracy in a governmental structure that is massively degraded will be almost impossible. Such an endeavor would require taking a snapshot of the society in question then tracing exactly who in that given instance represented the individual who held the position of deciding if a state of exception pertained. This is unfeasible due to its complexity. The alternative is to approach such a problem in a generalised way. We may not be able to pinpoint the exact person, but we may be able to generally locate the center of power in which the sovereign at any moment may reside on a probability basis.

the very text already starts to admit that maybe an investigation of the mechanisms (impersonal rules) of sovereignty is called for. what else an “snapshot” of society would be? and thus the questions of ‘consent’ arises:

In an absolutist account, sovereignty is clearly delineated by the monarch being in possession of the territory over which they are sovereign. All subsequent property distribution must by necessity be derivative of this possession and all actions which occur within this territory are the ultimate responsibility of the monarch. In contrast, an anarchistic ontological account presents the sovereign as an entity which has been agreed upon by the property owners of a given territory, who then may violate the property of the property owners for the property owners own benefit.

‘possession’ cannot be exerted by a single person beyond much more than a square meter. if the monarch has primary property over a certain territory, this is in virtue of the particular kind of organization he heads—the proper organized power it wields—rather than his own individual, personal powers. there is no ring of Fnargl. if that’s the case, then again an examination of the mechanisms of sovereign power is in order. an examination which might very well include some kind of ‘consent’ by the various nodes that compose such mechanisms.

which leads us to the questions of division of power and constitutions, that we have previously touched upon:

The idea of division of power, and rule of law, in the western tradition is then rendered an incoherent mess when placed in the absolutist ontology because in effect all that one has done when claiming that such a government is possible is to erect an elaborate façade over a monarchical governance structure, and increased the velocity of change between monarchs.

not so much an ‘incoherent mess’ then?

as i have previously showed, division of power is the underlying reality of any real social power, given that the limitations of immediate personal power. of course, contrary to many modern, but also ancient claims, the nature of particular social configurations is a matter of empirical observation, rather than fiat. a work of fiction isn’t a social machinery.

ignoring such a social machinery is to willfully blind oneself to reality. and wise rulers know that, which is why liberalism triumphed in modernity. even Chris seems to recognize it:

Its hegemonic success is explainable by its value to power, and not to any inherent coherence or correctness.

it would very much interest me (and i think many other realists) if this distinction between “value to power” and “correctness” could be developed. it reeks of Humean “is-ought divide”, and as such it doesn’t seem tenable.

at the core, the problem seems to be that the neo-absolutist position is held in a double bind: if the sovereign properly abstracts away all of the social meanders out of which it arises, then what matters is the anarchistic relation among different sovereigns. if that level of analysis is refused, because “anarchist ontology is incoherent” (i.e., can’t be universally parsed), then one is back at examining the workings of social power that constitute the sovereign – which will necessarily rely on things like ‘assent of the subjects’, a staple of anarchist thought.

you can’t win against reality.

ii. the un-ground of power

as many critics of liberalism, Chris reaches insights about anarchist ontology that most adepts fail to notice. his characterization of liberalism as a face-effacer is a gem worth preserving:

Liberalism is an intellectual system singularly adept at self-effacing the sovereign from the passive sentence

anarchist ontology, first and foremost, avoids taken for granted what it is tasked with explaining. if the sovereign is an impersonal process, rather than any of the masks it might take, removing the faces and seeking their conditions of possibility is the first step. through no other means are the subterranean undercurrents that shape fate excavated even a little.

in focusing at removing, or subtracting, the unnecessary and accidental until a wall is hit, liberalism slowly establishes itself as tradition of critique, or escape. as Chris puts it:

Tradition in the MacIntyrean sense is a body of ideas which provide a system within which the rationality of a given concept is rendered intelligible, and which is subject to continual alteration, discussion, and development.


Such a conception of tradition would apply to liberalism as much as any other body of thought because liberalism has been singularly unable to provide an abstract, contextless, and universal ground for its premises. Liberalism, as such, is a tradition which continually denies, or rather seeks to escape, being a tradition.

at the edge, anarchist ontology seeks the un-ground of power – the realistic source, beyond all mere wishes, from which any ability to produce yields. it incrementally (or, progressively, in a strictly proudhonian sense) found the hints of such un-ground in variation-selection dynamics, or simply “war“. this scale-free framework, implexing itself throughout the universe’s evolution, gives rise and tide to all monarchs, presidents, tyrants and fatherlands.

anarchist ontology, thus, proceeds by breaking up whole into fractal fragments in competition – the only way any order can be produced. thus, it’s not only that the order of the social necessarily falls back on the competition among its individual components, but that the order within the individuals itself falls back on pre-individual components in competition. up above and down below, it’s individualities and collectivities.

at any level, realism is chasing the game, rather than the players.




i’m well aware of the etymological fallacy. so, this is not a logical argument about the meaning of words.

anarchy is the absence of arkhé, which is to say ruler – but also beginning or end. anarchy has no genitive, no genealogy, no teleology. it’s unengendered, transcendental. all cosmos is anarchic, which is to say that anarchy is order. the chaos ordering.

thus, anarchy is a circuit of power: it can be democratic, aristocratic, thymocratic, even plutocratic. at any given point, it’s all of those. it can’t, by definition, be oligarchic, or monarchic, nor demarchic, not even panarchic. it has no ruler, but power always flows.

anarchy cannot be the object of an ideology – that would imply that time itself is within time – a mere being, not Being. it’s sad that anarchist has come to mean anything but “anything”. anarchy is, right now, and will ever be – there’s no “after” the Revolution. the Revolution has never failed to happen.

in the process of eating all absolutes, mutual excitation makes itself the only Absolute. this process, just as modern as it has been ancient, is anarchy.


on universality

one thing i was musing over today is in what regards the question of universalism. Land’s two pieces explicitly on the subject have proviso-like sections that make for loopholes where one could insert some kind of universality even in such radical anti-universalist position.

here, he does so basically by negation:

“There’s a philosophical objection to any refusal of universalism that will be familiar from other uses (the denunciation of relativism, most typically). It requires only one step: Isn’t the denial of the universal itself a universalist claim? It’s a piece of malignant dialectics because it demands that we agree. We don’t, and won’t ever, agree. Agreement is the worst thing that could happen. Merely assent to its necessity, and global communism, or some close analog, is the implicit conclusion.

If there is a universal truth, it belongs only to Gnon, and Gnon is a dark (occulted) God. Traditional theists will be at least strongly inclined to disagree — and that is excellent. We disagree already, and we have scarcely begun.”

it seems there is a certain universality is disagreeing (and maybe in its close allies: exit, individuality, atomization, schism, etc).

in part 2, he’s more positive about it, relating universality to (in that order) mathematics, mechanization and transcendental philosophy:

“Preliminary throat-clearing (as in part one): In its most rigorous construction, ‘universalism’ is robust under conditions of rational argument (i.e. evidence-based logico-mathematical criticism). Mathematical theorems, in particular [sic], are universal truths. Any assertions that can be constructed to a comparable level of formal rigor (and ultimately mechanization) can lay claim to the same status. However, with the slightest departure from this — rigidly algorithmic — criterion, controversy rapidly begins. This is not the place and time to argue the case for transcendental philosophy (within which praxeology in included), but such a case could be made. Ditto strictly proceduralized empirical science. All of this is a digression.”

(that [sic] right there is suspicious, but nevermind for now).

so, apparently a mechanized conflict could be said to be universal? wouldn’t this contradict Land’s anti-universalism?

one way in which this apparent paradox could be resolved it that such universal conflict wouldn’t at all need be imposed globally, since it’s the precise opposite of global imposition.

in a conversation, Vincent Garton add that “universalism is a species of political project which privileges the seeking of consensus over universal truths, so accepting the universality of disagreement is ostensibly not contradictory with rejecting universalism”.

this seems to be a point which Land has been hinting at for a long time. one of the most powerful quote from Fanged Noumena, which i personally love, is a sentence from Art as Insurrection (p. 150): “If reason is so secure, legitimate, supersensibly guaranteed, why all the guns?

Vincent completes “I sort of see what Nick is getting at – the rationalists want to remove all ideological schism to the discursive sphere, so you have a conversation and then decide, abstractly, what to do, rather than experimenting in practice”. which, of course, has no chance of working sinceNothing that cannot go wrong is capable of teaching anything“. information is only produced through the brutal culling of inefficiency.

and that’s universal, or absolute.

the nightmare of paralysis

if you want a picture of hell, just picture this: the year 2116 will be no different from last year. Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton dispute the presidency, with the predictable results. much gnashing of teeth and trumpeting follows.

i have no other worse nightmare.

how would a future like this have come about? conceive this and you have exactly the opposite of unconditional acceleration, its only true enemy. if all things come from turbulence, stagnation is anti-production per se. it’s a break in the intelligence pump.

i’ll have more to say about the cybernetics of mutual excitation, but simply put there is no positive feedback without warit’s only through mutual escalation (and the rampant death of unfitness that eventually follows) that anything gets done.

the punch-line: if killing each other by the hundreds of thousands is what would take America to make a fucking move, so be it. it looks inevitable right now, but with the depth of meaningful time already in the weeks, it’s taking too long.


xenoeconomics 1: how to measure capital formation?

if capital is an alien invasion from the future, the first thing needed is a way to see it, to measure it, since it evidently eludes us and appears as the history of capitalism. what we need is an index.

taking capital to be a process such as biological life, measuring its formation (intensification) should probably follow a similar logic.

a first immediate index to life’s formation is simply how much matter is trapped in the form of biological entities. a biomass index is readily available in fact.
given a certain mass, intensification is tracked by the alterations in that mass, so that an index of proliferation (reproductive success or fitness) makes itself necessary.
finally, probably due to the cosmic calculation problem, life intensifies also in how complex a metabolism is, so that it can miniaturise and thus function at a deeper time scale. (there are many complexity measures, all of them roughly represent the same insight: more degrees of freedom (more fine indirect expenditure of energy over a certain time for the same quantity of mass), but the network theory measure (number of paths in a graph) is the most amenable to the socio-economic dynamics that, as i’ll propose below, track capital formation. also, it’s only expected that a cybernetic intensification such as capital be described asymtoptically (i.e., teleologically). using Big-O notation can be useful when tackling capital’s complexity. Land, of couse, expects – by Moore’s Law – that capital’s complexification rate be O(2^n), that is, exponential on base two.)
taking this view, a list of three indexes to capital formation can be made:
  1. capital’s mass index, relative to total earthly mass (at least);
  2. capital’s reproduction or proliferation rate (arguably the trickies to spot);
  3. capital’s complexification rate
these will be the xenoeconomist’s primary tools to see the alien they’re hunting.
in mainstream economics, are there any indexes to which these can be roughly mapped? I initially thought of something in the lines of:
  1. gross world’s wealth estimate
  2. gross world’s growth rate
  3. technological innovation rate
but i have no idea if economists are tracking any of those things.
* * *
in a related thought, what if, taking Land’s lead, we are to think of capital as a collection of individual urban centers, such as life is a collection of individual organisms? then, i think, we get a little less tangled. we could use indexes of urban development to track capital formation. a rough and provisional mapping would be, respectively:
  1. urbanisation rate (% of people in urban centers)
  2. city proliferation rate (first derivative of the urbanisation rate in relation to time)
  3. average city complexification rate
Vincent Garton has pointed to me the first obvious objection to this urbanomist approach: it apparently ignores the deployment of capital in agriculture, which would be inconvenient, given the “green revolution”. a rejoinder could possibly be developed along the lines Land’s already touched upon here: it’s cities that provide big and stable enough markets so that industrial agriculture can develop, thus capturing one is already implicitly capturing the other. a better formalization of this is, surely, wanted.
a very interesting paper on China’s megalopolisation, made me think that megalopolisation could be another good proxy for the second metric, of city proliferation, since it’s a doubling down of urbanization (cities going to cities). but possibly it could be better captured by city complexity rates. i totally think Land’s theory of mega-cities as AI bodies gets traction in seeing the maps of megalopolises.
* * *
since we’re talking about measuring a cybernetic intensification, this Wikipedia compilation of measures of “Accelerating change” can be quite useful.


[this is an attempt to rewrite what I take to be the important message here, without all the flamboyant humanism.]

equality is the founding principle (and ultimately indistinguishable from) freedom. of course, it’s only in one specific sense of “equality” that this sentence is true.

to try and eliminate the bullshit, let’s turn to networks again:


any nodes’ degrees of freedom is the number of nodes they are connected to in a network. freedom is maximum when the network is symmetrically connected, i. e., when all nodes are connected to each other and thus there is no topographical hierarchy (middlemen) – in other words, flatness.

in this understanding, the maximization of freedom is the maximization of entropy production, that is, of intelligence. As Land puts it:

Entropy is toxic, but entropy production is roughly synonymous with intelligence. A dynamically innovative order, of any kind, does not suppress the production of entropy — it instantiates an efficient mechanism for entropy dissipation.

this is the point where the libertarian ideal and the accelerationist understanding join at the hips.

* * *

a side-point: can there emerge hierarchies in such a flat network? the “entropy dissipation” line seems to imply so, since dissipation means the detachment of nodes from the network (death/bankruptcy). but a flat network is a fully connected one. when a node gets out, all other nodes lose the same amount of connections. it’s only insofar as something makes impossible some connections – and thus reduce freedom – that hierarchies start to emerge.