anarcho-acc redux

so, it seems someone has been in my turf. anarcho-acc primer has something that most people new to accelerationism lack: it gets most things right. without having to rerun the basics, i can engage directly in productive criticism.

the first thing that needs pointing out is that an/acc is coming primarily from a left-wing market anarchist milieu and theoretical framework. you know, c4ss and all that jazz. someone approaching it mostly with an accelerationism background is likely to be either disinterested or highly confused by a significant part of the text.

with that out of the way, the only other general criticism about the text is its lack of structure. it makes accessing the main points way more time-consuming than it could be.

now, to the specifics:

1. capital as AI

now, i have written a whole fivepart series exploring what Capital, this monster from the ineffable tracts where be dragons, might be. an/acc devotes speciously little time to conceptualizing capital. the little he says is mostly concerned with the strictly economic aspects of intangible capital. later on, he gets back on track, by conceptualizing capitalism as an AI:

The agents do the actual calculations, while the market distributes the information between them, and — at present, but not inevitably or irreplaceably — capitalism provides the agents with their incentives and goals by which to participate in the system at all. As a reminder that capitalism, the market, and the agents are distinct and (theoretically) separable components, I will be referring to this system — as a whole — as “market-capitalism”.

This system of market-capitalism is a vast and distributed intelligence, following certain rules and incentives in pursuit of certain goals; it’s even semi-predictable. We acknowledge this all the time, speaking of how ‘the market’ made such and such a decision — of how there is a great and strange intelligence at work in the economy, and of how information might be divined by watching its movements.

the above both gets a lot of things right and lets a lot of things go wayside. as i tried to sketch in my xenoeconomics series, capital is the real thing under consideration here. the legal system of private property, coupled with the market dynamics thereby enabled, and the human and non-human agents involved, are all parts of capital’s process of self-actualization. capital is artificial intelligence because it is an intelligence in the making of itself, not because it acts as some specific sort of computer program that tries to mimic human decisions.

an/acc gets closer to understanding this when he says:

These patterns are not particular to market-capitalism, and will persist in whatever succeeds market-capitalism. They preceded market-capitalism, as well — they are pattens of memetic evolution, which all groups and people are subject to.

well, yeah, intelligence has been building itself for a while, in many different forms and places. what makes capital different, and even possibly singular, is it being terrestrial and yet non-DNA based, which amounts to it being potentially detachable from both the earth’s surface and the DNA-based lifeforms that inhabit it. that is the "artificial" bit in there.

2. patches are sovereign

and then we reach the fundamental mistake of the whole text:

The important thing about a Patch, the thing that makes a Patch a Patch, is that it offers Exit to some sort of Outside.

i’m not going to bother quoting Moldbug, since the literature on Patchwork is way more extensive, although you should definitely read him. but even if we’re going to work with non-state patches, sovereignty is the defining characteristic. an/acc is right to tie this with exit, since as i put it elsewhere:

I want to advance here that sovereignty is indistinguishable from the ability to trade itself away. Without a matrix of commerce — a system — in which bits and pieces flow, all notions of self-rule, autonomy or ‘control’ are rendered moot. That which can’t break itself apart dies off.

but the reverse side of that coin is that sovereign stock does indeed have the power to trade itself away, which implies at least sufficient control as to be bought. the scale at which such control can be exercised is up for discussion. an/acc, like myself, would prefer a world in which sovcorps can be reduced to a minimum, maybe even below the individual threshold. that isn’t universal, which makes such calculation impossible without empirical experimentation – which includes military confrontation in extremis.

therefore, talking about Patches without some effective dissuasion for potential aggressors is maximally utopian. your local gay bar may be a community, a refuge, but is hardly a sovereign unity of geopolitical fragmentation, and thus cannot really be traded away.

now, granted, Patches don’t necessarily have to be states, sovereignty is not identical to a monopoly of violence over a territory. i have previously written about several variants of possible neocameral arrangements which aren’t territorial, and I’m sure many more can be imagined. my central point here is that, in a fragmented world, there will be states, and non-state sovereign Patches will have to be able to defend themselves against states sometimes.

i am insisting heavily on the importance of sovereignty because it is what allows for the remarkable consequences of Patchwork. without it, the power to pursue radically different lifestyles and political philosophies is absent. without it, there’s no "market of societies", as an/acc puts it. you are back again at the behest of USG and its minions. and sure, USG might have been lenient with some people, at least some of the time, but I’m not holding my breath that this lasts too long.

3. desire

now, this last part is the one I’m probably less than well-equipped to deliver. for full treatment, it would be more interesting to read Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and surrounding commentary directly. But since an/acc stated that the Primer was mostly about desire, this redux would be incomplete without at least touching on it.

On Twitter, we briefly discussed the issue (starting here), and the way an/acc treats desire seems to come from a pure common-sense meaning of the word. desire, in this sense of the term, are those things we crave, which we don’t fully grasp where they come from, but which we concern as "ours".

already at this point, desire points to something beyond us, obscurely hidden in our unconscious. we choose not to investigate it at our peril since this desire popping up from the unconscious mind drives all of our actions.

accelerationism, deriving so consistently from D+G’s work, obviously takes its treatment of desire from them. in there, as well as i can grasp, desire is this cosmic force compelling complexity to build up and blossom. ultimately, it is equivalent to "fundamental processes of dissipative thermodynamics", driving the creation of negentropy and self-organization.

with that in mind, and all of the above as well, an/acc’s question of whether Capital can or has already captured "our" desire is fundamentally misguided. Capital is, as much as we are, a product of desire, and it’s up for desire to decide whether we are captured, left alone or exterminated. that is what antipraxis is about: "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law".

a few simple questions for neoabsolutism

in the wake of a similar post by the Imperial Energy, and given that for all that matters, neoabsolutism and lrx-mutualism are forever locked in a cosmic cage-match, i figured i should map a few of the most prominent questions that i feel the neoabsolutists haven’t really answered so far (i believe it’s obvious why unanswered questions are way more of a problem for them than it is for me):

  1. where does power come from? a lot of the writing in Reactionary Future, as well as in Imperial Energy and Neoabsolutism has to do on how insecure power seeks to secure itself through centralisation, etc. but not once have i seen any definition of power (something like this), nor any account of the ways power comes to be.
  2. how universalist is neoabsolutism? i’ve made this argument before (2, 3), but if division of power is seen as something to be avoided, then delegation is not really the greatest idea. with that in mind, can anything short of a global centralized empire be enough for neo-absolutism? parallel centers of power can or cannot coexist? and if they can, how far really is this from individualism?
  3. what is sovereignty if not a relation between divided powers? this arises immediately from the previous questions: isn’t freedom-as-power the exact same thing  as freedom-from(-other’s)-power? isn’t a sovereign, by definition, an individual, atomized in relation to other individuals?
  4. finally, what’s neo in neoabsolutism? how does the theory you are sketching differ significantly from early modern absolut kings, those enlightened despots?

Quibbles with Moldbug

[This post was retrieved from the InternetArchive website snapshot of That’s Magazine Shangai (now unfortunately offline). Uploading here for the preservation of a great piece.]

by Nick Land

To be a reactionary, minimally speaking, requires no more than a recognition that things are going to hell. As the source of decay is traced ever further back, and attributed to ever more deeply-rooted – and securely mainstream — sociopolitical assumptions, the reactionary attitude becomes increasingly extreme. If innovative elements are introduced into either the diagnosis or the proposed remedy, a neo-reactionary mentality is born.

As the United States, along with the world that it has built, careers into calamity, neo-reactionary extremism is embarrassingly close to becoming a vogue. If evidence is needed, consider the Vacate Movement, a rapidly growing dissident faction within the 0.0000001%. This is a development that would have been scarcely imaginable, were it not for the painstakingly crafted, yet rhetorically effervescent provocations of Mencius Moldbug.

From Moldbug, immoderate neo-reaction has learnt many essential and startling facts about the genealogy and tendency of history’s central affliction, newly baptized the Cathedral. It has been liberated from the mesmerism of ‘democratic universalism’ – or evangelical ultra-puritanism – and trained back towards honest (and thus forbidden) books. It has re-learnt class analysis, of unprecedented explanatory power. Much else could have been added, before arriving at our destination: the schematic outline for a ‘neocameral’ alternative to the manifestly perishing global political order. (On a trivial etiquette matter: Moldbug politely asks to be addressed as ‘Mencius’ — comparable requests by Plato Jiggabug and Siddhartha Moldbucket have been evaded too.)

Moldbug scrupulously distances his proposals from any hint of revolutionary agitation, or even the mildest varieties of civil disobedience. Neocameralism is not designed to antagonize, but rather to restore order to social bodies that have squandered it, by drafting a framework compatible with the long-lost art of effective government. (‘Long-lost’, that is, to the West – the Singapore example, among those of other city states and special economic zones, is never far removed.) Neocameralism would not overthrow anything, but rather arise amongst ruins. It is a solution awaiting the terminal configuration of a problem.

The neocameral program proceeds roughly as follows:

Phase-1: Constructively disciplined lamentation

Phase-2: Civilization collapses

Phase-3: Re-boot to a modernized form of absolute monarchy, in which citizens are comprehensively stripped of all historically-accumulated political rights

Despite its obvious attractions to partisans of liberty, this program is not without its dubious features, a few of which can be touched upon here whilst rehearsing the Moldbug case for Neocameral government in slightly greater detail. Stated succinctly and preliminarily, our reservations drift into focus when that guy on a white horse appears. Where exactly does he come from?

To answer ‘Carlyle’ would be easy, and not exactly inaccurate, but it would also miss the structural coherence of the issue. Moldbug refuses to call his neocameral dictator a ‘national CEO’ (which he is), preferring to describe him as a ‘monarch’ (which – as a non-dynastic executive appointee — he isn’t), for reasons both stylistic and substantial. Stylistically, royalism is a provocation, and a dramatization of reactionary allegiance. Substantially, it foregrounds the question of sovereignty.

Moldbug’s political philosophy is founded upon a revision to the conception of property, sufficient to support the assertion that sovereign power is properly understood as the owner of a country. It is only at this level of political organization that real property rights – i.e. protections – are sustained.

Property is any stable structure of monopoly control. You own something if you alone control it. Your control is stable if no one else will take it away from you. This control may be assured by your own powers of violence, or it may be delegated by a higher power. If the former, it is secondary property. If the latter, it is primary or sovereign property.

The sovereign power (sovereign corporation, or ‘sovcorp’), alone, is able to ensure its own property rights. Its might and rights are absolutely identical, and from this primary identity subordinate rights (to ‘secondary property’) cascade down through the social hierarchy. Neocameralism is nothing but the systematic, institutional recognition of this reality. (Whether it is, in fact, a ‘reality’ is a question we shall soon proceed to.)

Perhaps surprisingly, Moldbug’s conclusions can be presented in terms that recovering libertarians have found appealing:

Neocameralism is the idea that a sovereign state or primary corporation is not organizationally distinct from a secondary or private corporation. Thus we can achieve good management, and thus libertarian government, by converting sovcorps to the same management design that works well in today’s private sector – the joint-stock corporation.

One way to approach neocameralism is to see it as a refinement of royalism, an ancient system in which the sovcorp is a sort of family business. Under neocameralism, the biological quirks of royalism are eliminated and the State “goes public,” hiring the best executives regardless of their bloodline or even nationality.

Or you can just see neocameralism as part of the usual capitalist pattern in which services are optimized by aligning the interests of the service provider and the service consumer. If this works for groceries, why shouldn’t it work for government? I have a hard time in accepting the possibility that democratic constitutionalism would generate either lower prices or better produce at Safeway …

In order to take a step back from this vision, towards its foundations, it is useful to scrutinize its building blocks. When Moldbug defines property as “any stable structure of monopoly control” what is really meant by ‘control’? It might seem simple enough. To control something is to use, or make use of it — to put it to work, such that a desired outcome is in fact achieved. ‘Property’ would be glossed as exclusive right of use, or instrumental utilization, conceived with sufficient breadth to encompass consumption, and perhaps (we will come to this), donation or exchange.

Complications quickly arise. ‘Control’ in this case would involve technical competence, or the ability to make something work. If control requires that one can use something effectively, then it demands compliance with natural fact (through techno-scientific understanding and practical skills). Even consumption is a type of use. Is this historical variable – vastly distant from intuitive notions of sovereignty – actually suited to a definition of property?

It might be realistic to conceive property through control, and control through technical competence, but it would be hard to defend as an advance in formalism. Since this problem thoroughly infuses the topic of ‘might’, or operational sovereignty, it is also difficult to isolate, or parenthesize. Moldbug’s frequent, enthusiastic digressions into the practicalities of crypto-locked military apparatuses attest strongly to this. The impression begins to emerge that the very possibility of sovereign property is bound to an irreducibly fuzzy, historically dynamic, and empirically intricate investigation into the micro-mechanics of power, dissolving into an acid fog of Clauswitzean ‘friction’ (or ineliminable unpredictability).

More promising, by far – for the purposes of tractable argument — is a strictly formal or contractual usage of ‘control’ to designate the exclusive right to free disposal or commercial alienation. Defined this way, ownership is a legal category, co-original with the idea of contract, referring to those things which one has the right to trade (based on natural law). Property is essentially marketable. It cannot exist unless it can be alienated through negotiation. A prince who cannot trade away his territory does not ‘own’ it in any sense that matters.

Moldbug seems to acknowledge this, in at least three ways. Firstly, his formalization of sovereign power, through conversion into sovereign stock, commercializes it. Within the neocameral regime, power takes the form of revenue-yielding property, available for free disposal by those who wield it. That is the sole basis for the corporate analogy. If sovereign stock were not freely disposable, its ‘owners’ would be mere stewards, subject to obligations, non-alienable political responsibilities, or administrative duties that demonstrate with absolute clarity the subordination to a higher sovereignty. (That is, broadly speaking, the current situation, and inoffensively conventional political theory.)

Secondly, the neocameral state exists within a patchwork, or system of interactions, through which they compete for population, and in which peaceful (or commercial) redistributions — including takeovers and break-ups — are facilitated. Unless sovereign stock can be traded within the patchwork, it is not property at all. This in turn indicates that ‘internal’ positive legislation, as dictated by the domestic ‘sovereign’, is embedded within a far more expansive normative system, and the definition of ‘property’ cannot be exhausted by its local determination within the neocameral micro-polis. As Moldbug repeatedly notes, an introverted despotism that violated broader patchwork norms – such as those governing free exit — could be reliably expected to suffer a collapse of sovereign stock value (which implies that the substance of sovereign stock is systemically, rather than locally, determined). If the entire neocameral state is disciplined through the patchwork, how real can its local sovereignty be? This systemic disciplining or subversion of local sovereignty, it should be noted, is the sole attraction of the neocameral schema to supporters of dynamic geography (who want nothing more than for the national government to become the patchwork system’s bitch).

Thirdly (and relatedly), neocameralism is floated as a model for experimental government, driven cybernetically towards effectiveness by the same types of feedback mechanisms that control ‘secondary’ corporations. In particular, population traffic between neocameral states is conceived as a fundamental regulator, continuously measuring the functionality of government, and correcting it in the direction of attractiveness. The incentive structure of the neocameral regime – and thus its claim to practical rationality — rests entirely upon this. Once again, however, it is evidently the radical limitation of local sovereignty, rather than its unconstrained expression, which promises to make such governments work. Free exit – to take the single most important instance — is a rule imposed at a higher level than the national sovereign, operating as a natural law of the entire patchwork. Without free exit, a neocameral state is no more than a parochial despotism. The absolute sovereign of the state must choose to comply with a rule he did not legislate … something is coming unstuck here (it’s time to send that white horse to the biodiesel tanks).

Neocameralism necessarily commercializes sovereignty, and in doing so it accommodates power to natural law. Sovereign stock (‘primary property’) and ‘secondary property’ become commercially inter-changeable, dissolving the original distinction, whilst local sovereignty is rendered compliant with the wider commercial order, and thus becomes a form of constrained ‘secondary sovereignty’ relative to the primary or absolute sovereignty of the system itself. Final authority bleeds out into the catallactic ensemble, the agora, or commercium, where what can really happen is decided by natural law. It is this to which sovereign stockholders, if they are to be effective, and to prosper, must defer.

The fundamental point, and the reason why the pretender on the white horse is so misleading, is that sovereignty cannot, in principle, inhere in a particular social agent – whether individual, or group. This is best demonstrated in reference to the concept of natural law (which James Donald outlines with unsurpassed brilliance). When properly understood, or articulated, natural law cannot possibly be violated. Putting your hand into a fire, and being burnt, does not defy the natural law that temperatures beyond a certain range cause tissue damage and pain. Similarly, suppressing private property, and producing economic cataclysm, does not defy the natural law that human economic behavior is sensitive to incentives.

Positive law, as created by legislators, takes the form: do (or don’t do) this. Violations will be punished.

Natural law, as discovered by any rational being, takes the form: do what thou wilt and accept the consequences. Rewards and punishments are intrinsic to it. It cannot be defied, but only misunderstood. It is therefore absolutely sovereign (Deus sive Natura). Like any other being, governments, however powerful, can only comply with it, either through intelligent adaptation and flourishing, or through ignorance, incompetence, degeneration, and death. To God-or-Nature it matters not at all. Natural law is indistinguishable from the true sovereign power which really decides what can work, and what doesn’t, which can then – ‘secondarily’ — be learnt by rational beings, or not.

Moldbug knows this – really. He demonstrates it – to take just one highly informative example — through his insistence that a neocameral state would tend to tax at the Laffer optimum. That is to say, such a state would prove its effectiveness by maximizing the return on sovereign property in compliance with reality. It does not legislate the Laffer curve, or choose for it to exist, but instead recognizes that it has been discovered, and with it an aspect of natural law. Anything less, or other, would be inconsistent with its legitimacy as a competent protector of property. To survive, prosper, and even pretend to sovereignty, it can do nothing else. Its power is delegated by commercium.

It is surely no coincidence that Cnut the Great has been described by Norman Cantor as “the most effective king in Anglo-Saxon history.” As Wikipedia relates his story:

His accession to the Danish throne in 1018 brought the crowns of England and Denmark together. Cnut held this power-base together by uniting Danes and Englishmen under cultural bonds of wealth and custom, rather than sheer brutality.

Most importantly:

Henry of Huntingdon, the 12th-century chronicler, tells how Cnut set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet “continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.’