The thirst for thicc

Capitalism is an instance, not an essence

On Deleuze and Guattari, cosmic selection bias, and the room for revolutionary praxis despite unconditional acceleration.

Nick Land sometimes reads Deleuze and Guattari as if all the mechanisms theorized by them are mechanisms unique to capitalism. I’m going to argue that this is one of the many specific points in which the accelerationist question remains far from settled, and in which the foreclosing of revolutionary praxis strikes me as over-hasty.

To Land, some of D&G’s concepts are not just theoretically applicable to features of capitalism but strictly synonymous with them:

The D&G model of capitalism is not dialectical, but cybernetic, defined by a positive coupling of commercialization (“decoding”) and industrialization (“Deterritorialization”), intrinsically tending to an extreme (or “absolute limit”). Capitalism is the singular historical installation of a social machine based upon cybernetic escalation (positive feedback), reproducing itself only incidentally, as an accident of continuous socio-industrial revolution. Nothing brought to bear against capitalism can compare to the intrinsic antagonism it directs towards its own actuality, as it speeds out of itself, hurtling to the end already operative ‘within’ it. (Of course, this is madness.)”

This is reasonable enough because capitalism certainly provides the most stunning and historically consequential examples of these mechanisms. But this is effectively a form of selection bias. This thing we call capitalism is only the contingent world-historical catastrophe that has made us conscious of these mechanisms through our feeling the violent long-run effects of them having over-taken us.

The whole point of D&G’s project, in my view, is to identify very general mechanisms; such that they can serviceably explain the perpetuation of systemic oppressions but also serve as actionable maps for spinning new, non-linear systemic dynamics (world-historical transitions) from the most micro-scopic mechanisms. If “decoding” meant “commercialization,” why are their texts otherwise quite clearly anti-capitalist? In other words, while I think these readings of D&G are often quite brilliant and productive, the current frontiers of accelerationism have something of a problem around “face validity.”

I think the biographical evidence makes it very hard to fathom that D or G intended any kind of passive capitulationism, and their works are a brilliant catalogue of calls to activity. Their writings are filled with injunctions such as, “Always follow the rhizome by rupture; lengthen, prolong, and relay the line of flight,” etc. Am I really to imagine that all of these lines are trying to tell me that I should start a business? I am not dismissing the provocative capitalist reading of D&G, I am only pointing out the obvious (which is surprisingly glossed over by the current frontiers of accelerationsim): D&G’s call to accelerate seemed pretty clearly to be part of a larger vision in which any interested party could learn how to accelerate into liberation from the inertia of systemic oppression; that the other side is more desirable, and that we might even find each other there together.

I am not saying that the passivism or “horrorism” of Landian or unconditional accelerationism (i.e., there’s basically nothing for us to do) is not possibly the correct, final conclusion that D&G were simply incapable of drawing; it is only to say that, insofar as accelerationism is premised on D&G, passivist interpretations should explain why D&G spent so much effort delineating all of those general mechanisms in a general way, with so many inspiriting exhortations, if not to use them for liberatory ends.

Many want to conclude that the call to accelerate forecloses revolutionary praxis, but one of the seminal projects underwriting the accelerationist turn, that of D&G, is filled with micro-models of how to produce macro-phenomena. Accelerating, in my view, means actively pursuing these threads, only faster. I do not see any strong reasons why, in D&G, the call to accelerate must necessarily imply a sharp exit from the project of fundamentally changing the world through revolutionary action—unless you define D&G’s concepts as essentially beginning and ending with capitalism. And I see no reason for doing that, other than a selection bias in which we are overweighting the reality of capitalism simply because it’s the phenomenon through which we first saw certain general mechanisms to work on planetary scale.

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Murphy, Justin. 2017. "Capitalism is an instance, not an essence," (May 17, 2017).