Faster, FASTER! 'til it breaks ...
A neophyte's introduction to the odd world of Accelerationism and why you keep seeing people identify themselves as 'e/acc' on the socials
[Note: ironically, the pace of events in the strange world of e/acc overtook this piece during the course of writing. Which makes it quite current, thanks to the controversial doxxing of a certain notorious character by Forbes magazine]
I'm old enough to remember when opposing something big and entrenched like 'Capitalism' meant promoting ideas that would perhaps temper the worst bits.
Things like welfare state support for people who don't have high economic value in labour terms, or any capital to cushion them from market forces.
Simple, clear ideas for improving life for those least capable of thriving in a money-driven world.
Or practical measures designed to prevent men from dominating everything in society, political and business life; full participation in the democratic process and equal pay legislation for women. That kind of thing.
Some people have always wanted more than that. Like root and branch reform of all 'power structures' or straight forward revolution, swapping the power balance from one caste to another, often taking their inspiration from Karl Marx.
Some of those ideas have obvious intuitive appeal, however esoteric and difficult they are to visualise being actually implemented. But everyone can grasp the evergreen slogan Smash Capitalism (which I remember as graffiti from childhood life, alongside Clapton Is God on one particular wall.)
I've long accepted Marx's idea that when you ignore the human effort that goes into making something and pay only some kind of notional emergent 'market value' for it, someone somewhere is probably not being 'justly' rewarded for the time and effort it cost them to produce it.
So they're being 'exploited' and that is what often makes us sniffy about Capitalism, man. (This is a stupidly pared down articulation of one part of Marx's Labour Theory of Value, if you want to get down into the weeds of that in your own time).
Despite the casual appeal of Marx to many normaltons (like me, sometimes) it has to be said that it relies on us not really appreciating how radical his prescriptions for overthrowing Capitalism are. So that many of us go through life seeing ourselves as socialists while making milquetoast pronouncements like 'Socialism just hasn't been tried out properly'. Which is mostly just a way of saying you recognise that Lenin, Stalin and Mao did lots of bad things that they called socialism and this definitely isn’t what you mean by socialism.
These days, with a lot more reading under the belt, I'm more of a Capitalism fan than I was (with nice safety nets and people with plenty of surplus capital contributing to things like universal healthcare) and especially 'doux commerce' as an alternative to conquest as a way of making more people materially better off. Stephen Pinker's The Better Angels of our Nature has interesting data-driven explanations around all this.
But reforming Capitalism or even expressing hard line opposition to it is nothing like as exciting or radical as this idea ...
Make Capitalism even more extreme until it destroys itself.
That, in a nutshell, is Accelerationism.
And, inevitably, it turns out that Marx got there early, if what he said about free trade is anything to go by.
"It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favour of free trade."
Free trade is good because it's so bad. Got that?
Accelerationism is more influential than you might think. Take any of the big things opposed by utopian idealists and you'll find examples of Accelerationism.
I first noticed it on the fringes of transgenderism.
Initially I was bemused by the support of third-wave feminists for men presenting as caricatures of the 'femininity' that feminists always tended to resist as an ideal in ordinary society. Then I realised that it's consistent with Accelerationist thought.
If you hate gender norms or traditionally sexed roles and want to see an end to them it makes sense to welcome men in lip gloss, high heels and pretty frocks into the fold and insist that they're definitely women.
Traditional liberals (like me) who say it's up to you how you live and look are taking a long time to catch up with what's changed.
It's a strategy to make everyone confused about what a woman really is. Because if you can reach the point where it's impossible to agree what a woman is, there are no women. And if there are no women, there is no human biological sexual class to oppress and exploit.
Voilà. You end sexism by ending biological sex.
The adoption of gendered caricatures is a classic of the Accelerationist genre because it also manifests a kind of hyper-Capitalism in the form of extreme consumerism.
Barbies with balls are a symbol of womanhood transformed into a consumer choice rather than accident of birth. This is one of the ways Wokeism dovetails with Capitalism in a way that the old material left-wing thought tradition didn't.
If you want to accelerate Capitalism you have to 'marketise' more things, not just goods and services, or it will just bumble along mostly causing material progress for increasing numbers of people, damaging the environment and not working so well for many. And because it isn’t a panacea you're against it, right?
Make everything more Capitalist, man, and then it will collapse under its internal contradictions. That's Accelerationism.
It didn't begin with a British philosopher called Nick Land, but he's an entertaining place to start looking at the thinking underlying Accelerationism.
Nick is the kind of guy who transgresses norms. A personal favourite image I've attempted to assemble in my mind is the oft-reported time in 1996 when he lay on the floor 'croaking' into a microphone, while a colleague played jungle tracks. This was a conference presentation, from which some people walked out. One reportedly said "some of us are still Marxists, you know."