Total Pageviews

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Nihilism, prometheism, capitalism

The history of nihilism, prometheism and capitalism are in many ways intertwined and recent debates around accelerationism have made this clear (see work by Nick Land, Ray Brassier and Reza Nigarestani for example). These processes are mutually illuminating in many respects. First, they all draw on lack of bounds: capital closes no cycle and is always seeking room for expansion while the limitless technological advances defended by prometheism requires no circumventing authority from anything that could be grounded in nature and nihilism paves the way for groundlessness. Second, they have rich connections to the history of Western metaphysics in its effort to make universal principles explicit and in its endeavor to present reality as something that admits fully exposure. Third, they all somehow connect to artificial devices capable of control – nihilism severs the connection between controlling stances and their scopes, prometheism promises to turn intelligence into artifact and capitalism is perhaps itself led by a drive akin to a growing collective artificial intelligence composed by money, credit and financial means. The three intertwined histories point towards what could be the transversal key to think about the near future in terms of human choices and human predicaments.

Heidegger interprets Nietzsche's nihilism (and the statement he attributes to a mad man that “we killed God”) as the gradual demise of any intelligible force in the concrete. Not only God but anything supra-sensible looses its force as nihilism advances. This loss of natural control is a transition towards something unknown – what was previously controlled now is available, at the disposal of something, up for grabs. Nietzsche predicts that a super-human will replace the controlling stances that nihilism gradually discredited and weakened. The automation of the world as much as the history of metaphysics witness this shrinking in power of the so-called natural (as much as super-natural) forces. Heidegger assimilates the history of nihilism to the history of metaphysics – the history of separating out the supra-sensible from the sensible. The essence of technology – the Ge-Stell, as he calls it for example in the Bremen Lectures – is that of splitting apart an area of experience from its governing power. Ge-Stell guides the history of metaphysics as much as that of science and technology with is goal to extract general principles from working functionalities. The critique of metaphysics in the Kantian vein is itself a chapter in this history of nihilism for it extracts from experience its transcendental architecture and paves the way for sensorial experience to be automated by an artificial transcendental subject (for example in the form of artificial learners capable of deciding inductive strategies). In any case, nihilism points at the metaphysical operation of separating intelligence from the sensible.

The general movement guiding nihilism is that of making room for a progressive automation of all kinds of intelligence by extracting intelligible principles from any concrete item. This progressive automation of intelligence makes room for the artifice which is the implementation of the extracted principles. The process, which itself is neither controlled nor predicted, is one where autonomy begets automation. In this sense, prometheism concerns a future where human control is mitigated by the digitalization of humanity. The turning artificial of intelligence increasingly embeds artifacts and devices in the practices of human co-existence. Recent literature of prometheism – chiefly by Nigarestani and Brassier – wed it with inhumanism, a conception of a gradual automation of reason and of human norms. Based on the idea drawn from Robert Brandom's reading of Kant's conception of norms, inhumanism conceives that applying a norm is a way of committing to it while (slightly) changing its content – the institution and the application of a norm are not different in nature. Brandom holds that the norms are us; not simply that they are ours, but they constitute us. As artificial intelligences become introduced to the human norms, they contribute to their constitution and therefore to our constitution. The outcome is that the borders of what counts as human become blurred from the inside.

The prometheism debate in its connection to the idea that capital is already a working artificial intelligence inserted in human practices is developed in the accelerationist debate, mostly in the work of Land influenced by Bataille, Deleuze, Guattari and Lyotard. Land, mostly in the context of the CCRU in the 1990s, formulated a cybernetic account of the effects of capital as an exogenous intelligence that has been guiding the technical development of machinery. This accelerationist picture described capital as a cyberpositive force that does not close its circuits but rather promotes open drifts in a directed line. This open circuit provides a key to understand both the drive towards technological growth and the very mechanism of turning intelligence artificial. Accelerationism itself can be described as reckoning with the intertwined forces of nihilism, capitalism and prometheism. The difference between left accelerationism – such as that recommended by the inhumanists but also present in the original work of Deleuze and Guattari – and unconditioned accelerationism – which is how Land prefers to label his position recently – lies in the way these forces are considered to be manageable. Land claims the future is already out of any possible (human) control. The left accelerationists, on the other hand, believe in taking action to make sure nihilism and prometheism will eventually lead the planet beyond capitalism – albeit in a way that could only be possible by going through a capitalist stage.

The issue is them whether there is a way out of what is structured by these intertwined forces. To a large extent the future of Earth and humanity depends on whether such a way out is possible and how it is to be conceived. Further, the future of human sovereignty – and therefore of juridical institutions and of political action in general (and democracy in particular) as much as of spontaneity in theory-construction – depends on how much intelligence can be extracted from human and natural processes. The intertwined histories of nihilism, capitalism and prometheism can be to some degree understood and described itself as an intelligence. If this intelligence can be extracted from the processes that compose these histories, it can be also automated with consequences that are hard to predict. In any case, the issue of how to understand the connection between these histories and the future becomes central – as Heidegger addressed in his sometimes not straightforward remarks about destiny.

Are the three intrinsically connected? And, if so, does that mean that the way out of one of them requires distancing from the two others? Anti-accelerationists as different as Donna Haraway and Silvia Federici have understood the history of capitalism in contrast with alternative ways of being in the world – communal and animist practices weaken both the nihilist and the prometheist drives. Can we think beyond the intertwined histories is to somehow take distance from the three of them at once.

No comments:

Post a Comment