The coming crisis turns everything on its head. What feels right can be so wrong. Love nature? Want to protect it? Forget country life. Show your love by living in a city. So much is counterintuitive. Let’s look at one big black hole of a paradox. But first some literary digressions…
My reading to the last few weeks has been thrilling. I’ve recently finished Lucy Hallet-Hughes’ ‘The Pike: Gabriele D’Annunzio Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War’. This brilliant book sat on my shelves for a few years before I opened it, because I find Victorian poetry repellent (overegged and hammy), but what a story.
Once upon a time, poets were celebrities and D’Annunzio was a Rockstar. Even despite the verse, he was a genius – writing stream of consciousness twenty years before Joyce, creating cinematic openings for his novels forty years before cinema. He was also a horrific human being who boasted about raping about the maid, went to fine restaurants while his children starved and giggled as his lover – bleeding and crying – tried to claw her way out of a maze. He may even have been a necrophiliac. And the dastardly deeds didn’t stop there. With the power of his blood-hued, savage, rapturous poetry (his favourite words, not mine) he incited Italy to go to war in 1914. He even went to the front line himself, bombing civilians and shooting teenage deserters… and his metaphorical and literal thirst for ‘Holocaust’ (originally meaning a complete devastation by cleansing fire) may even have made him a contender for Mussolini’s new post as dictator, had he not withdrawn from public life after a wild and bloody trial run as a self-appointed dictator of a disputed city-state on the Yugoslavian coast. Read this book.
But onwards. The futurists loved D’Annunzio. Futurism wasn’t just about phallic paintings of cars travelling through space; it was also a driving political ideology of the early twentieth century. Futurists espoused youth, speed, technology and violence. They also had a slashed earth policy on existing culture, ideologies, art and civilisation. What fun. To create, they said, you must first destroy. They too wanted a Holocaust (devastation by cleansing fire). Anti-democratic, they supported Mussolini’s fascists. And we know how that went.
Ok, fascinating. But what is this? A review for a book club? Nice with a chilled white, bombay mix and a chin wag?
Bear with please.
D’Annunzio was also a world-class collector of stuff. Check out his pad. We all know about stuff. It’s what capitalism sells us. And capitalism is bad. So bad. Why? Because it answers only to the bottom line. It’s dumb, mindless, explosive. It means stuff gets made and sold whether we need it or not. And it’s getting ever more diseased in the mature Western market e.g. everyone already has a kettle, a fridge, a washing machine so new opportunities to make and sell are thin on the ground. Things start getting silly. Maybe I notice that not every household has a popcorn maker yet (and pots and heat are so much hassle). I produce popcorn makers, they sell. Great. Only I have to make them so that they break and need to be replaced every 3-5 years, because what else will I do for income in 3-5 years? Meanwhile, my popcorn maker industry costs materials, fossil fuels and human time and resources, not just once but over and over again. As an entrepreneur, I receive the highest praise of society. Meanwhile the planet overheats and we all die. Bad.
Again, this is not news.
But here’s something kind of new and delightfully, horrifically anarchic. There’s this philosophy movement afoot, and they call themselves the accelerationists. See this great article.
The idea in brief is that the world is moving ever faster. Rampant capitalism, the digital explosion, the coming of AI, the collapse of the traditional right and left political dichotomy, overpopulation, environmental devastation. We are on a violent white-knuckle ride through fast moving waters leading – where? To a Holocaust (complete devastation by cleansing fire).
And for accelerationists, this is a good thing.
To create we must first destroy.
Where did the idea come from? People sniffed the air and got a whiff of the zeitgeist. 1960’s sci-fi, the march of information technology, Marxism, anarchy, punk, mid-century French thinkers such as Foucoult. It took shifting shape in Warwick University’s Philosophy department in the mid-90s where mad professor Nick Land mixed it up with cannabis, jungle music, tech, amphetamines, pop culture and manic ramblings.
Of course, it looks a lot like futurism. And we know that futurism ended up on the kicking end of the steel toed boot.
And notice that neat way that Trump’s America aligns with nationalism and fascism. How futurist is that?
And isn’t it funny how it’s all come back around? Like you just can’t keep a ‘good’ idea down. One that has at its heart a ‘rational kernel’ (nifty Marx quote). And a rational kernel is a truth.
After an amphetamine induced nervous breakdown, Nick Land became a recluse. Nowadays he lives in a China. I imagine him standing by the window of his high-rise apartment, spliff in hand, while peering out through the toxic smog to watch the great consumerist, technology-fuelled march of humanity. Imagine seeing your ideas unfold in reality. He is gleeful.
Arguably there won’t be anyone around to create after we destroy, when all that’s left is a hot, carbon dioxide covered rock a la Venus. And some streams of Accelerationist thought may nowadays lead away from nihilism (see that terrific article again) but let’s stick to the rational kernel.
Back to nihilism. My partner is a natural Accelerationist. A US passport holder, he nearly voted Trump with a view to bringing on political apocalypse. He thinks we should burn more fossil fuels, not less.
I get it. Accelerationism makes sense. The train is unstoppable so jump on board.
Is the train unstoppable? Well the evidence says yes. It is probably already too late to avoid catastrophic change. Bringing my own bag to the supermarket is the silliest of gestures. So, why do it?
Causing deliberate damage is personally painful. Even though I already do it every day in lots of ways – every time I buy a coffee I’m causing deliberate damage. Fact. Like most people, I’m in a state of denial. Denial is a survival mechanism. Survival is instinctive. And instincts are strong. To step out of denial and cause conscious damage is counter-instinctual. Even if a better world is the endgame.
But accelerationism is a deeply rational and brave response to a world hurtling towards death.
Maybe I should go eat a cheeseburger.