I was tempted to call this ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Z/Acc’ but I just didn’t want to, we have enough ‘guides’, and ultimately there will never be a definitive guide for any form of Accelerationism, that’s just the nature of the beast. However, Z/Acc seems to have taken off and I’m seeing people mention it more and more in passing. Often they equate it with some form of pessimism, nihilism or anti-natalism (all incorrect readings), other times it’s equated with collapse and social decay (partly right) and I’ve seen a few times being understood as a sort of ‘Doomer/Acc’, and even though I can see how you would get to this conclusion, it’s not exactly right. The incorrect ‘readings’ are of course incorrect because they are being read by a certain type of being, a human. There is only a human nihilism, the laws of the universe are not beholden to any abstraction of humanist ‘meaning’.
So let me try clear some stuff up about Accelerationism and Zero/Accelerationism. Firstly, Accelerationism, what is it? It’s the understanding that capitalism is here to stay and any attempt to derail it, transform it into something else, alter it, destroy it, deconstruct it or change it in anyway is subsumed back into its own mechanics, making it impossible to ever leave it. I think where people can get confused is in the saying “Accelerate the process” which seemingly wants to be expanded into ‘[We should] Accelerate the process.’, which makes it seem as if there is something we can do to cause Acceleration, or cause further Acceleration. Now, I attend to a form of agency best described by Michel Serres, in which we can think of the entire possibility of actions as a great ocean which has flows, tides, shifts, winds and pulls, the agent – The Helmsman – is restricted to the decisions and choices he can make by the way in which the tide is shifting. If the Helmsman was to sail against the current he will surely wreck his ship and voyage. There are great Helmsmen, who can find more prosperous ways to sail, and there are bad Helmsmen, who are ignorant of the ocean altogether. In Accelerationist theory we understand that this ocean is the circuitry of capitalism, and so, any direction you take is simply something capital learns from.
So where does Zero/Accelerationism (Z/Acc) come in? Well, when we talk about Accelerating capitalism we’re almost always doing so from a relatively optimistic point of view. Let’s say you want to Accelerate capitalism for the emancipation of man (L/Acc), that’s an optimistic outlook. Let’s say you believe the Acceleration of capitalism should just be left to unconditionally Accelerate, well, that’s optimistic because you’re outlook is happening as soon as you allow that point-of-view to happen. Let’s say, you want to Accelerate capitalism to bring about the singularity (R/Acc), that’s optimistic, as the recent Kurzweilian fantasies found in GPT-3 are heading that way. For each and every iteration of Accelerationism, be it L, R, U, G etc. one can find something which will optimistically promote their Accelerative bias. Each iteration of Accelerationism does have a relationship with Zero, but it’s one which is ignorant of entropy, one which promotes some form of eternal continuation or perpetual energy source, however abstract.
Firstly, let me expand on what ‘Zero’ is very, very roughly. When we think of numbers we think of them in a sequence, which goes from smaller to larger numbers, or abstractly, from loss to profit, for instance: -3, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2, +3, and on and on. The sequence is reliant on a certain number, or non-number, or functional-glyph to make sense, that glyph is ‘0’ or Zero. Whenever I think of Zero I get a bit nauseous, I’ll give you a minute to think about Zero, try figure our what the hell it is? Even conceptually is eludes human grasp, we can’t sit on it because it’s an atemporal virtual function. I’ll try keep this a little more simple. If a system wants to grow, expand or Accelerate, it needs to understand what it is to grow, expand or Accelerate. This implies that it needs a spectrum from which it can understand whether or not it is growing, expanding or Accelerating. For capitalism this spectrum is the spectrum of numeracy, of number, the sequential spectrum of numbers. With bigger numbers signifying growth/profit and lower numbers signifying loss/negative-growth/decay (very roughly), from this capitalism can transcendentally understand whether or not certain actions undertaken in reality cause it to grow or decay, it emphasizes support for those which help it grow, and suffocates, alienates and deterritorializes those which don’t. So, where does Zero fit in? Zero is the point from which capitalism understands whether or not something is working, whether or not to take action and alter the actions of reality in such a way that growth can begin again. When we think about L/Acc, we’re thinking of a group which sees growth of capitalism heading off in one direction (growth) in relation to one specific context (technological advancement for the emancipation of humankind), when we think of R/Acc the growth also heads off in one direction (singularity), and arguably it does so for U/Acc too, wherein the growth itself becomes abstract and each and every iteration of positivity and negativity is subsumed into growth as the only form of movement for capitalism. Each of these iterations has a tricky and ignorant relationship with Zero, one which holds to a strict binary and avoids the ‘car crash’.
What’s the ‘car crash’ you ask? To paraphrase Paul Virilio, ‘When you invent the car you invent the car crash.’ Or in very abstract terms Zero is everywhere all at once. When there is growth there is a simultaneous loss, and when there is loss there is a simultaneous growth. This might seem strange, but that’s largely because modernity wants everyone to think in binary terms. It’s quite hard to actually pinpoint where the counter-reaction is happening because it usually isn’t even within the same context. However, I think the Covid-19 Event has allowed us to momentarily slip out from out way of binary thinking, at least in terms of cause, effect and the idea of unalloyed progress. Firstly we have a growth of energy (Covid-19) which due its very nature removes certain amounts of energy from other beings, this in turn causes certain effects within nation states due to them not wanting further energy loss in relation to production and growth of their specific economy, these decisions in turn cause effects such as increases in solitude, work-at-home jobs, decreases in socialization, increases in distrust etc., these effects in turn cause many to become disillusioned with the Western dream. So the spontaneous introduction/growth of a biological virus causes various ripples which conclude in various office workers realizing their lives fucking suck. I jest, the point is, the ‘car crash’ which is invented via various social, cultural, political and physical becomings cannot often be predicted. For instance, when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, I highly doubt that he foresaw that he would also be inventing ‘Phantom Vibration Syndrome’, in which a person’s pocket seemingly vibrates without the actual stimulus doing so. In this way we can think of Zero as the function which processes each and every car crash. But these processes also show that there is no such thing as a binary scale of growth/loss, as one thing grows other things lose out, but as those secondary things lose out, this opens the gateway for further growth in other areas. So really, when you invent the car you invent the flap of a butterfly’s wings.
So what does any of that have to do with Z/Acc? Well, everything. Z/Acc doesn’t ignore Zero. It doesn’t believe in a single direction. Unconditional is another word for perpetual as far as I’m concerned, and every other form of Acceleration is beholden to progress is some form, be it Marxist, Liberal, Reactionary or Technophilic. Any notion of progress is optimistic even if the outcome isn’t something desired, progress is inherently optimistic because it’s ignores the car crash. So when I write and talk about Z/Acc I’m not specifically talking about collapse or Acceleration, I’m talking about the unavoidable inventions which blossom from innovation as a thorn in the side of utopian optimism, Zero is the constant thorn. Growth without complexification is impossible, and with complexification comes further gateways for Zero to enter inside from. I find it annoying when people make Z/Acc synonymous with purely collapse or purely Acceleration, because once again they’re actually avoiding Zero. If things begin to decay and lose-at-reality, other things grow in their place. These things might be good, they might be bad, who knows. For instance, when the housing market crashes in March of next year (2021 – yeah, that’s right) many people will lose a lot of money and – pseudo – value. There is your loss. However, many younger people will finally be able to afford houses and there will be a growth of maturation and individualism. As there is collapse, there is an opening for growth, both processes however ride on a longer, overarching Zero which resides within the finite nature of earthly resources.
What is Z/Acc then? Well, yes, capitalism is Accelerating. It is continuing on its trajectory of growth. But, this form of growth isn’t somehow immune to Zero, immune to the car crash, to entropy, to ignorance, to…limitation! What does this actually mean in terms of Accelerationism though? It means that our Edens will always have dark alleyways, faults and unforeseen areas of imperfection. As the great AI comes forth and all the jobs begin to be automated there will be years upon years wherein not enough is automated for everyone to have a UBI, but also too much is automated for everyone to have some employment, leaving countless families and individuals caught in the in-between of history. As electric cars become the norm we begin our (pseudo) movement towards the elusive ‘Zero Carbon Footprint’ (impossible), but when you invent the electric car, you invent the electric car crash complete with massive electricity recharge stations, further automobile regulations, increasing use of fossil fuels used to create electricity, increase in gigantic solar farms which destroy forest land; Zero is always waiting in the wings for its opportunity to dirty up Eden.
Fisher states “The slow cancellation of the future has been accompanied by a deflation of expectations.” I disagree with this in part, yes, the future feels as if it’s being cancelled, largely because our very notion of the future is reliant on historical notions of what the future should be. However, I don’t think our expectations are deflated as much as they were never inflated, I know very few in the younger generations who expected much – if anything at all – from their future, because from day 1 it was already being taken from them and changed for them. So where does Zero sit in the future we have been given? It’s the spontaneous worsening of that which is already banal and given. Let’s take virtual reality as an example. The idea of virtual reality has been around for a long time, it’s not anything new, and its place in the future is quite turbulent. But instead of venturing into personal utopias within VR what little gateway of capitalist production has Zero found for us? That’s right, virtual reality shelf-stacking, truck driving and jet-piloting. You can now live your retail wage-slave dream from the comfort of your own home! I’ll given some drawn out predictions to try show you what I mean by a Z/Acc future:
Covid-19 distancing and mask policy is never officially declared over and people naturally begin to distance from one another in supermarkets, automated checkouts are increased and it becomes assumed that one does their own scanning, all the while being kept in a small Perspex germ booth for their own protection. This in turn leads people towards an attitude of distrust, attending to a position of distance and atomization as much as they can. People no longer talk on public transport, wander without aim or take detours.
The self-improvement culture fragments into tighter and tighter groupings, latching onto contemporary hyper-competitive (Dan Bilzerian) culture in an attempt to gamify all areas of existence. People compete in workplace tournaments for who can put in the most hours, with many sleeping on the job, eating meals at their desks and going home only at weekends, all to increase their social market value. They ARE a productive member of society. Zero enters through an extremely abstract gateway here, immanentizing the subconscious idea that one should always be productive in some manner, no longer can one ‘do nothing’, for that is now seen as a waste. Such an attitude leads to an increase in guilt and mental health degradation, leading to a further increase in reliance on drugs which make one well adjusted to a profoundly sick society (Krishnamurti).
The housing market continues in its peeks and troughs. Various government subsidy loans, credit default swaps and bureaucratic grants with risky APR details mean that new homeowners are beholden to the market with respect to where they live and what they do, previous generations of homeowners tighten their grasp on the market. Zero steps in (and is already stepping in) and alters the notion of what a home actually is, many become complacent and acceptant of the idea of living in a tiny home, caravan or even a van. This likewise increases the cultural acceptance of social nomadism and people increasingly become detached from any immediate local culture and simply roam to wherever the latest and most innovative form of production is.
(Current) the increasing use of smartphones as our primary sources of information continues to fry our attention spans, eventually people will understand the news only in snippets and headlines (already happening/happened), this in itself allows for further reliance on binary modes of thinking. As this way of thinking increases people get pushed into more and more striated camps of being, defining themselves by the most rigid restrictions.
As material expectations increase in relation to diminishing resources we will eventually hit a point of cultural no return, wherein expectations remain and resources begin to deplete. Leaving entire generations feeling as if they are constantly missing out. Plastic animatronic Santa Clause toys are viewed as something we should be able to have if we so wish, along with a whole plethora of other pointless material garbage, the years will come when we will yearn for such choices but will not be able to have them. Years upon years of poor people who see themselves not as temporality embarrassed millionaires (as Steinbeck prophesized), but as permanently embarrassed middle class consumerists. And the older generations can forget happiness, Zero jumps in and as resources deplete, bullshit jobs are destroyed and various savings and value investments become worthless, multiple generations will have to finally get useful jobs. As Greer says, this is the point where many older people will crack out the punch-bowl, throw in all their old super-cheap big-pharma unneeded prescriptions and have one last Boomer-blowout, reveling in their nostalgic memories, in a time when they could buy pointless shit and not have to think or do anything of worth.
Many will call me a doomsayer or a fearmongerer, I guess you could easily see me as that if you’re still holding onto the age old notion (religion/belief) in progress, the idea that things can go on in one direction forever is quite frankly moronic. Many of the things that come out of the future will be nice or good in relation to the context in which one lives. If one has accepted their fate as a capitalist wage-slave then the idea that you might be able to do that from the comfort of your home is literally fantastic! If you’ve accepted your fate as a living being who spends the majority of their time in a fluorescently lit office, with people they don’t like, eating awful processed food, doing pointless tasks for the sake of money, money which you only needed to keep the job and buy into the Western dream in the first place, then guess what, the future might be quite alright for you. If you like stupid, meaningless bits of technology which allow you to escape how hellish everything is then you too might enjoy what the future has to offer. I’ll finish up with a quote from ol’ John Michael Greer –
“The future is under no obligation to wait patiently while we get ready for it“
I would personally add that the idea of ‘the future’ is a very human one, there are other forces at work be they economic, political or Occult, and so the future is a lovely assemblage of various concealments and gateways. And so, in truth, Zero doesn’t wait.