What is Capitalism? [PART 1]
On the Fate of Techno-Capitalism in the Face of Climate Change (Part 6a)
We have gone over why AI is, by its very nature, capitalist, but we have only done that insofar as I have lined out the first term ‘AI’ and its intricacies. The latter term in the equation “AI is capitalist” has thus far been barely covered. Therefore, the analysis done thus far begs a single question: “What is capitalism?” To answer this question, we will continue to follow Nick Land.
Let’s start with Fanged Noumena and the writings of the Ccru (as well as a couple other articles and essays of Land’s written around the same time as Fanged Noumena), though “Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest” won’t be looked over because, as Land correctly recognizes, that essay was ignorant of the Hajnal line. We will also not look over Land’s Bataillean work (“Art as Insurrection” and The Thirst for Annihilation) because Bataille, and I have gone over this before in other essays, could not have anticipated the internet, nor could he have anticipated the work of Deleuze and Guattari (if only he lived another decade, he could have read Anti-Oedipus); so Bataille’s understanding of capitalism is too reductive, as he identifies it as a system, and even that very characterization of capitalism is questionable. Thus, we will start with Land’s essay “Making it with Death.”
Capitalism (hereinafter referred to as both capitalism and capital) is essentially analogous with modernity and so it is “reconstructive” which is to say “capital is always neo-capital” (Fanged Noumena 262). Critique and capital (in the Kantian sense most definitely) are synonymous with modernity for all are “the first inherently progressive theoretical[, economic, and historical] procedure[s] to emerge upon the earth” (Fanged Noumena 262). Capital is a “self-perpetuating movement of deregulation” and in this sense, capital is not on the side of the church, the state, the tribe, or the family (Fanged Noumena 262). A call for capital is a call to “[a]bandon all attachment to the state” (Fanged Noumena 264). Any Marxist or left-anarchist conception of capitalism as dependent on the state is nothing but a conception predicated on a fundamental misunderstanding of capitalism. If we are to look at this crudely, let us frame it as (public) politics (the state) vs. economics (capitalism). The political process is the secondary process, to put it in Freudian terms, which is to say, the political process is one of regulation. The economic process is the primary process, which is to say, the economic process is one of deregulation, one of a “real energetic liberty” which is refused by the secondary process (Fanged Noumena 265). When we view capitalism as a process, or “capital-as-process,” we realize that capitalism is not dependent on the bourgeoisie, nor is it a system controlled by them (Fanged Noumena 265). Thus, capitalism is not what leftists view it as, which is to say, capitalism is so much more than just a system of bourgeois production-for-profit. The implication of this latter fact is that leftist eschatology, constantly projecting that the death of capitalism is upon us, is fundamentally misinformed. As Land says, “death is not an extrinsic possibility of capital, but an inherent function. The death of capital is less a prophecy than a machine part” (Fanged Noumena 266). What this means is quite simple, and also quite Deleuzo-Guattarian in that, just like a desiring-machine, capital-as-process is nothing less than the process of breaking down itself. Therefore, capitalism can’t break down, die, or collapse because of the fact that breaking down, dying, collapsing, etc. is what capitalism is.
Now, because capitalism is a process sustained by chaos (and Land never actually stops believing this), the leftist response to it is one of outrage and rejection. “Capitalism is alienating,” “capitalism is breaking down my psyche,” and they just keep whining and whining, on and on and on. What the leftist recognizes and reacts in horror to is the fact that capitalism is synonymous with technological advancement, or even, technology itself: “The processes of de-skilling, or ever accelerated re-skilling, the substitution of craft by abstract labour, and the increasing interexchangability of human activity with technological processes, all accompanied by the dissolution of identity, loss of attachment, and narcotization of affect life, are condemned [by the humanist, most, parts of the left] on the basis of a moral critique” (Fanged Noumena 267).
That capital is temporal is not a question, for it itself is “an invasion from the future by an artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources” (Fanged Noumena 336). Capitalism puts itself together from the future just like Roko’s Basilisk. That capitalism arises from acausal relations is not controversial.
Capitalism and desire are one (Fanged Noumena 339):
Capitalism is not a totalizable system defined by the commodity form as a specifiable mode of production, determinately negated by proletarian class-consciousness. It is a convergent unrealizable assault upon the social macropod, whose symptom is the collapse of productive mode or form in the direction of ever more incomprehensible experiments in commodification, enveloping, dismantling, and circulating every subjective space. It is always on the move towards a terminal nonspace, melting the earth onto the body without organs, and generating what is ‘not a promised and pre-existing land, but a world created in the process of its tendency, its coming undone, its deterritorialization’. Capital is not an essence but a tendency, the formula of which is decoding, or market driven immanentization, progressively subordinating social reproduction to techno-commercial replication … Only proto-capitalism has ever been critiqued. (Fanged Noumena 339–340)
Capitalism is not a system where the means of production are privately owned. Contrary to the first claim Marx makes in Capital, capitalism is not a system that is defined by the commodity. Capitalism is not a system which the workers will eventually overthrow. Capitalism is not a system at all, or at least it isn’t right now, nor has it ever been thus far. Rather, it is tendential in that it itself is a tendency for techno-commercial acceleration. So, when Land says, “Markets are part of the infrastructure — its immanent intelligence — and thus entirely indissociable from the forces of production,” what he is saying that, and quickly note that infrastructure is just another term for base in terms of base-superstructure sociology found within Marxism, markets themselves are a part of the base in that markets are the intelligence of the system, which is to say the forces of production as a system require markets or they will collapse, as an intelligent system without intelligence is pure stupidity (Fanged Noumena 340). This is exactly why “[i]t makes no more sense to try to rescue the economy from capital by demarketization than it does to liberate the proletarian from false consciousness by decortication” in that “[i]n neither case would one be left with anything except a radically dysfunctional wreck, terminally shut-down hardware” due to the fact that a system of production within markets is a stupid system and this is because de- or anti-marketization is respectively the scaling down or the complete rejection of intelligence (Fanged Noumena 340). Therefore, we need to go in the direction completely opposite to the socialist’s rejection and restriction (regulation) of markets: we need to go “pressing towards ever more uninhibited marketization of the processes that are tearing down the social field, ‘still further’ with ‘the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization’ and ‘one can never go far enough in the direction of deterritorialization: you haven’t seen anything yet’” (Fanged Noumena 340–341). Capital-as-process is a process of sliding “despotic civilization into collapse” (Fanged Noumena 428). “But what about private property?” the leftist says. Capitalism has never been about private property, just intelligence optimization. In a certain sense, Land, even as early as 1993, was calling for intelligence optimization in that if markets are intelligence (and they are), and his call is for more and more marketization, is that not him just calling for more and more intelligence which is what intelligence optimization is. At most, private property was a stage in the history of capitalism, or rather, it was “a mere tactic of monetary cybergenesis” of capital-as-the-future-invading-the-past (Fanged Noumena 431). But, markets are not manufacturing commodities to be owned as private property, rather it is “manufactur[ing] intelligence” (Fanged Noumena 441):
Neo-China arrives from the future. (Fanged Noumena 442)
“Artificial intelligence is destined to emerge” (Fanged Noumena 443). Capital, critique, modernity, intelligence, and globalization are all synonymous: “Capital is machinic (non-instrumental) globalization-miniaturization scaling dilation: an automatizing nihilist vortex, neutralizing all values through commensuration to digitized commerce, and driving a migration from despotic command to cyber-sensitive control: from status and meaning to money and information” (Fanged Noumena 444–445).
Capital is itself a teleonomy which is to say its function and formation are synonymous in that its formative structure is goal-directed. This is exactly why capitalism is what works, because it itself is what works, it is functionality in its very structural formation. It arises when it works and it doesn’t stop working because it is. Capital is itself adaptation, which is exactly what teleonomy is. As Land says, “[Capital’s] function and formation are indissociable, comprising a teleonomy” (Fanged Noumena 445).
“Modernity marks itself out as hot culture … Hot cultures tend to social dissolution. They are innovative and adaptive. They always trash and recycle cold cultures. Primitivist models have no subversive use” (Fanged Noumena 445). In terms of the “Marxist” theory of history, primitive communism is the only example of actually existing communism thus far in history. Ironically, communism is always primitive communism. Being of cold culture, socialism and communism are already obsolete in their very emergence.
Capital is not at all humanist, anthropocentric, anthropological, anthropic, etc. As Land says, for capital “[m]an is something for it to overcome; a problem, drag” (Fanged Noumena 446). In fact, the tendency toward ever increasing commoditization that in some sense is capital itself is also nothing other than a process of slowly phasing out the human subject (or really any subjectivity at all) in favor of technology:
Commoditization conditions define technics as a substitute for human activity accounted as wage costs. Industrial machines are deployed to dismantle the actuality of the proletariat, displacing it in the direction of cyborg hybridization, and realizing the plasticity of labour power. The corresponding extraction of tradable value from the body, quantified as productivity, sophisticates at the interface. Work tracks thermodynamic negentropism by dissociating exertion into increasingly intricate functional sequences: from pedals, levers, and vocal commands, through the synchronization of production-line tasks and time-motion programs, to sensory-motor transduction within increasingly complex and self-micromanaged artificial environments, capturing minutely adaptive behavior for the commodity. Autocybernating market control guides the labour-process into immersion. (Fanged Noumena 446)
And with technological advancement, capital is unbound:
The postmodern meltdown of culture into the economy is triggered by the fractal interlock of commoditization and computers: a transscalar entropy-dissipation from the cryonics-bank of modernist corporatism. Commerce re-implements space inside itself, assembling a universe exhaustively immanent to cybercapital functionality. (Fanged Noumena 447)
In a certain sense then, postmodern cultural meltdown gets things hot and leads back to modernity: modernity is always already neo-modernity!
Neoclassical (equilibrium) economics is subsumed into computer-based nonequilibrium market escalations, themed by artificial agencies, imperfect information, sub-optimal solutions, lock-in, increasing returns, and convergence. As digitally micro-tuned market metaprograms mesh with technoscientific soft engineering, positive nonlinearity rages through the machines. (Fanged Noumena 447)
Postmodernity floods modernity back again: neomodernity is modernity, and modernity noch einmal!
Communist iconography has become raw material for the advertising industry, and denunciations of the spectacle spell interactive multimedia. (Fanged Noumena 448)
Capitalism takes in all things, especially critique. Critique? THE BEST THING TO SELL!
Capitalism is “[h]ot revolution” (Fanged Noumena 448): “the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet” (Deleuze and Guattari 240).
“B-b-b-but what about colonialism?” the leftists whine… What about it? That sure as hell has nothing to do with capitalism:
As sino-pacific boom and automatized global economic integration crashes the neocolonial world system, the metropolis is forced to re-endogenize its crisis. Hyper-fluid capital deterritorializing to the planetary level divests the first world of geographic privilege; resulting in Euro-American neo-mercantilist panic reactions, welfare state deterioration, cancerizing enclaves of domestic underdevelopment, political collapse, and the release of cultural toxins that speed-up the process of disintegration in a vicious circle. (Fanged Noumena 449)
The thing about ROM is that unlike RAM, when you turn off the computer, it isn’t wiped: modernity floods away RAM and its content, and capital comes into the disable “ROM command-control programs sustaining all macro- and micro-governmental entities, globally concentrating themselves as the Human Security System” (Fanged Noumena 450). The Human Security System is the enemy #1 for capital. And, holy fucking shit, the Human Security System, the HSS, doesn’t stand a chance… though some people call the HSS the Cathedral nowadays, there is really no difference…
Modernity, always already neomodernity, announces: “This is an age of crack-ups and melt-downs” (Land and Plant 305). Essentially, “modernity is falling to bits,” and that is exactly why modernity cannot die (Land and Plant 305). Remember when we talked about alienation earlier, and how the (moralist) left detests that almost above all other things? What that means is they detest the breakdown of social control mechanisms, for “[r]unaway capitalism has broken through all the social control mechanisms, accessing inconceivable alienations” (Land and Plant 305).
As a runaway system, capital itself becomes positive feedback, therefore “organizing itself,” and this is precisely why capital is teleonomic (Land and Plant 305). Alienation is inevitable: “The capitalist metropolis is mutating beyond all nostalgia. If the schizoid children of modernity are alienated, it is not as survivors from a pastoral past, but as explorers of an impeding post-humanity” (Land and Plant 305). Capitalism and modernity are all about change, they are all about the new. So, of course one is going to feel alienated. Alienation is nothing but the feeling that things are coming to an end, precisely because they are getting started: “In the final phase of human history, markets and technics cross into interactive runaway, triggering chaos culture as a rapid response unit and converging on designer drugs with increasing speed and sophistication” (Land and Plant 308).
Remember: “Capitalism is not a human invention, but a viral contagion, replicated cyberpositively across post-human space” (Land and Plant 308). Remember: Capitalism doesn’t care for the state, the bourgeoisie, or the family (Machines and Technocultural Complexity 135).
The Ccru recognizes that “[t]echnocapitalism takes the second as key operating and cutting edge of time modernization, the limit unit of time-defintion, and basic time-granule or durational element. Clock-time is built out of one second ticks” (Ccru). There is no better example of this that I can think of than the United States of America when it first was undergoing the market revolution in the early 1800s: “The market revolution helped to change Americans’ conception of time itself” (Foner 341). Factories within cities cause “clocks [to become] part of daily life, and work time and leisure time came to be clearly marked off from one another” (Foner 341). Acceleration led to temporal revolution or rather a revolution in time: “As the market revolution accelerated, work in factories, workshops, and even for servants in Americans’ homes took place for a specified number of hours per day” (Foner 341). Wage systems arose and wages were “paid according to an hourly or daily rate” (Foner 341). This and the rest of the market revolution’s implications (better transportations [e.g., railroads]) led to nothing other than making “Americans more conscious of arranging their lives according to ‘clock time’” (Foner 341).
“One thing is realistically incontrovertible: we haven’t seen anything yet” (Machines and Technocultural Complexity 140).
: For example, both Marxists and left-anarchists argue that capitalism requires the state because they believe that private property requires protection and therefore requires state protection. Obviously, they are completely precluding any consideration of the idea that property owners themselves will defend their property, but then again, some anarcho-capitalists respond to such charges by arguing that within any actual capitalist society, there will be a non-aggression principle in place. Others, such as Hoppe (note that some don’t even consider him an anarcho-capitalist), argue to remove those who will not uphold a free society (i.e., those who will not respect private property rights). That only the threats of the state cause people to respect private property rights is ridiculous… I mean, even with the state today, people increasingly show a disrespect for private property rights.
: See Land’s blog post “On Chaos” on Outside in here.
: My friend Jack and I, both fans of this one video game Destiny, are fond of the term ‘paracausality’ which generally has the same meaning as acausality.
: Yes, of course I’m referencing Nietzsche here… DUH!
: Remember when I said earlier in this essay, “capital-as-process is nothing less than the process of breaking down itself. Therefore, capitalism can’t break down, die, or collapse because of the fact that breaking down, dying, collapsing, etc. is what capitalism is.”
Ccru. Ccru: Writings 1997–2003. Time Spiral Press, 2015. PDF.
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane, University of Minnesota Press, 1983.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: An American History, Volume 1: To 1877. 5th Ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.
Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings, 1987–2007. 1st ed. Edited by Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier, Urbanomic, 2011.
— -. “Machines and Technological Complexity: The Challenge of the Deleuze-Guattari Conjunction.” Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 12, 1995, pp. 131–140.
Land, Nick and Sadie Plant. #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationist Reader. Edited by Robin Mackay and Armen Avanessian, Urbanomic, 2014, pp. 303–313.