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Accelerationism is Terrorism
Accelerating change has become both addictive and intolerable. At this point, the balance among stability, change, and tradition has been upset; society has lost both its roots in shared memories and its bearings for innovation…An unlimited rate of change makes lawful community meaningless.
Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality
The ideology of Silicon Valley is clear: move fast and break things, scale at all costs, pump and dump. The lingering earth-flavored utopianism of the California Ideology softened the edge, and American two-party politics ensured at least a facade of responsibility, but both have largely fallen away over the past year.
I can point to Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, tech company layoffs, general societal Jokerfication post-Covid and the takeoff of generative AI as proximate causes, but the root cause is an unsustainable concentration of power among frustrated young men; more specifically, among engineers.1
C.P. Snow famously described the cleavage between The Two Cultures in Western society, between science and the humanities. In 1959, Snow observed the social supremacy of the humanities—his argument was that they needed to learn to understand the other culture, for the benefit of society.
But now the engineers are in charge. Universities are STEM departments and professional schools, with humanities a luxury curiosity. Television and now social media has devastated literary culture. We no longer believe in the rule of law or in liberalism more broadly.
So now they’re openly talking about Accelerationism, “effective accelerationism,” even, leaping into the gaping hole in vibe space left by the implosion of FTX/Effective Altruism. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has been pushing this for many months, and yesterday released
The content is far too stupid to engage with; it takes 10x the effort to refute bullshit than to produce it. Instead, we should think about this document as post-textual. The medium is natural language, but what it encodes is not linear, conceptual reason but vibes. The concluding list of thinkers and fictional characters is simply a clout bomb.
This is a collection of tweets: pure discourse, responding to The Discourse that came before it. In contrast to the idea of individual agency at the heart of liberalism, there is no agency here: the writing is driven entirely by discourse and vibes. It is all implied by what came before it. None of means anything.
Andreessen primarily (and repeatedly) identifies as an engineer, and has for years been telling us to “build.” I have immense respect for engineers; the practice of transmuting reason into action in the physical world is beautiful. Ortega y Gasset says that
“reason is that which brings us into contact with reality…the rest is nothing but...intellect, a mere homely exercise leading nowhere, that first amuses, then depraves, and finally causes man to despair and to despise himself.”
This is absolutely a failure mode of the wordcels Andreessen that and his identity group so despise. The thrust of my metascientific work is to bring science in closer contact with reality, so I’m acutely aware of the problem of a purely virtual intellect.
The tragedy is that Andreessen is not an engineer, not in the way that matters.2 He and his identity group are programmers. Unlike engineers, they make no contact with embodied, physical reality; functionally, they’re sitting at a laptop and manipulating symbols, just like the wordcels.
Flusser, in 1983’s Post-History:
The programmatic ontology leads to the invention of computers and intelligent instruments, and to the transformation of society into a cybernetic system composed of functionaries and apparatus…for programmers, man is a functionary to be programmed to live in a symbolic context.
Of course, Andreessen agrees, with the gleeful understanding that digital media turns people into slobbering dogs. This is the kind of thing he wants to “build.”
Contrast this with the claim in the manifesto that
We had a problem of isolation, so we invented the Internet.
Just sit and think about these two claims for a while.
So far, so evil. What makes this a tragedy (in the technical sense) is that it is the hubris and lack of awareness that ultimately dooms the programmer. Flusser:
The apparent dominant class shall be the programmers, although an attentive analysis will also reveal that they too are specialized functionaries. The apparatus will form the real dominant class. It will be an inhuman society.
Programmers assume themselves players of programs, for whom what counts is not the modification of the world but the game…for them, “to live” is to participate in an absurd game. And that is their lifestyle…they are themselves programmed to program.
The dominant meta-program of today is, of course, the market: the ultimate tool for transforming the world into symbols (prices). Venture capitalists like Andreessen are programming the programmers of software to program the users—but they are themselves programmed by the market.
Obviously, Soviet-style command economies are not the answer. The manifesto notes that “Hayek’s Knowledge Problem overwhelms any centralized economic system.” That’s true for a vapid definition of “centralized,” but mainstream economists like Ronald Coase and Herbert Simon have long observed that the idealized “price-taking” firm is in reality quite rare, and that large, hierarchical organizations structure much of the economy. The latter, in characteristically charming fashion, says
Suppose that [“a mythical visitor from Mars”] approaches the Earth from space, equipped with a telescope that revels social structures. The firms reveal themselves, say, as solid green areas with faint interior contours marking out divisions and departments. Market transactions show as red lines connecting firms, forming a network in the spaces between them.
No matter whether our visitor approached the United States or the Soviet Union, urban China or the European Community, the greater part of the space below it would be within green areas, for almost all of the inhabitants would be employees, hence inside the firm boundaries.
At the end of this podcast interview, Andreessen muses about the fate of cybernetics. This has been an obsession of mine for the past three years, so perhaps I can add some historical context to his claim that “it kind of went away or got a lot more sedate after the 60s.”
One strand of cybernetics fed directly into the ecology movement that Andreessen despises and without which we would be even less equipped to deal with climate change. Another strand became central to the business school curriculum as management science. Part of it became a bit “woo” and fed into the New Age milieu. Mainly, it stayed where it started, in the military.
But it also took the form of cybernetic socialism, a genuine alternative to the market that takes Hayek seriously. What happened to cybernetic socialism? As I wrote in The Tragedy of Stafford Beer, the CIA and the Chilean military destroyed it. That was the way forward, it still is the way forward: society as what Beer calls a Liberty Machine, a “dynamic viable system that has liberty as its output.”
But Andreessen is more interested in the right hand of cybernetics—he specifically and repeatedly endorses the philosophy of Nick Land, the most famous proponent of Accelerationism. I can’t believe it’s come to this.
Thiel famously said that capitalism and democracy are incompatible, and chose the former.
Land’s Accelerationism says that (techno)capitalism and humanity are incompatible, and yet he still chose the former.3
So make no mistake. Accelerationism is terrorism.4 It violates what Ortega y Gasset calls “man’s most fundamental right...the right to continuity.” Technological accelerationism aims to eliminate the human and instantiate the world of the inhuman functionary. The current rate of change is already incompatible with human dignity, and they want to speed it up. From the manifesto:
We believe in accelerationism – the conscious and deliberate propulsion of technological development – to ensure the fulfillment of the Law of Accelerating Returns.
For people who valorize “The Scientific Method,” they don’t seem to understand what a “Law” is. If this is a Law of Nature, it’s odd that humans have to “fulfill” it. If it’s a human Law, who passed it? Can we overturn it?
But again, debating the individual points of the manifesto and critiquing the manifest illogic is playing a sucker’s game. Andreessen is a programmer, not a writer: he is manipulating symbols functionally, to produce the desired output, not because he believes they have any meaning.
What is the desired output? To program smart young people to become programmers (software engineers and startup founders). The mindshare of Effective Altruism among this critical class of elite college students seems to have really shaken Silicon Valley VCs, and this is just a ham-fisted attempt to pile on.
And, of course, to prevent any regulation of AI. It’s a venture capital firm, investing in a dangerous new technology, and they don’t want to be regulated. That’s it. It’s super boring.
Twenty years ago, social media companies started telling us “Hey! Here’s a new digital media thing you can use!” We individually used it, or didn’t. And then we all used it, because we had to. Just like the car. The existence of the technology restricts human freedom and agency. And now the damage has been done, social media has reshaped everything and to ban it today would itself be intolerably rapid change.
Now, AI companies are telling us “Hey! Here’s a new digital media thing you can use!” We individually use it, or don’t.
If we want to be able to choose not to use AI ten years in the future, we need to act, collectively, now.
I argue that we should ban LLMs using first-person pronouns, both to preserve human dignity and to demonstrate to ourselves and to the Accelerationists that such action is possible.
To conclude, a final quote from Ortega y Gasset (a major inspiration for Martin Gurri, one of “Patron Saints of Techno-Optimism” haha):
It would be vain to attempt to study technology as an independent entity; it is not directed by a single purpose known to us beforehand. The idea of progress, pernicious in all fields when applied without caution, has been disastrous here also. It assumes that man’s vital desires are always and that the only thing that varies in the course of time is the progressive advancement towards their fulfillment. But this is as wrong as wrong can be. The idea of human life, the profile of well-being, has changed countless times…The fact that we ourselves are urged on by an irresistible hunger for inventions does not justify the inference that it has always been thus.
Like so much of contemporary weirdness, this frustration is heightened by the confluence of radical new communication technology and the continued weight of Boomer Ballast—in addition to various structural changes in society and the economy that have not been addressed by government policy.
Elon Musk, for better or for worse, is an engineer; since we’re just accusing our enemies of ressentiment these days, it’s straightforward to see it as the basis of Andreessen’s beef with Musk.
Or whatever, he says it’s inevitable and that idea that we can still choose is a fantasy. Vibes-wise, he certainly seems to prefer capitalism to humanity.
I don’t mean this in the sense of the late 2010s white supremacist “accelerationism.” Obviously that accelerationism was terrorism, but I’m not saying that e/acc people are white supremacists—just terrorists for the reasons outlined in the rest of the essay.