Reaching Beyond to the Other: On Communal Outside-Worship

by Xenogoth


Such a lot the gods gave to me — to me, the dazed, the disappointed; the barren, the broken. And yet I am strangely content, and cling desperately to those sere memories, when my mind momentarily threatens to reach beyond to the other.[note]H.P. Lovecraft. “The Outsider” in The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. (London: Penguin Classics, 2002), 43.[/note]

H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Outsider first appeared in the April 1926 issue of pulp fiction magazine Weird Tales. It certainly suits such a publication. A surreal story full of inconsistencies and implausibilities, theories abound as to the scenario it is actually describing.

S.T. Joshi, writing explanatory notes for the story in a Penguin Classics collection of Lovecraft’s tales, wonders if the story is an account of a dream or if the unnamed protagonist is a ghost or immortal being, doomed to haunt the shadowy castle in which they find themselves, with so much time having past that the outsider no longer remembers how they came to be.[note]S.T. Joshi, “Explanatory Notes: ‘The Outsider’” in Ibid., 373.[/note]

There is no final resolution to this endlessly interpretable story. What carries the narrative is not the horror of the unknown outside the castle, but the horror of the outsider’s own interiority; their imprisoned subjectivity — there are no mirrors with which they can see their appearance and they have no recollection of hearing another human voice, “not even my own; for although I had read of speech, I had never thought to try to speak aloud”.[note]H.P. Lovecraft. “The Outsider”, 44.[/note] 

Whilst apparently more at home amongst the skeletal dead than the painted portraits of the ‘living’ that line the castle’s walls, and having little memory of how they came to arrive in their present circumstances, the Outsider is driven by a curiosity to discover the world outside the castle they habitually call home.

The journey to the Outside is fragmentary and dream-like. Stumbling bewilderedly through non-Euclidean environs trying to glimpse the night sky, the Outsider eventually comes across a party in a castle that looks unnervingly like their own, albeit ruinous in other parts than the one they are familiar with. They enter only for all in attendance to flee in terror.

Seeing the horror from which the revellers have fled — something “not of this world — or no longer of this world — […] a leering, abhorrent travesty of the human shape”[note]Ibid., 48.[/note] — the Outsider soon realises that this terrifying face belongs to them, at first unable to reconcile the interior Self with the gruesome image of the Other reflected in “a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass”.[note]Ibid., 49.[/note]

With this revelation, that the Outsider is the Other and always was, the story ends…


Lovecraft’s weird tale speaks specifically to a passage found in the introduction to Mark Fisher’s 2016 book The Weird and The Eerie — a passage which echoes persistently throughout the rest of the text, signalling to Fisher’s best-known writings on the psychosocial affects of capitalism.

Considering capital as the ultimate “eerie entity”, Fisher wonders about the ways

that “we” “ourselves” are caught up in the rhythms, pulsions and patternings of non-human forces. There is no inside except as a folding of the outside; the mirror cracks, I am an other, and I always was.[note]Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie (London: Repeater Books, 2016), 11-12.[/note]

Following this, it is fitting that Fisher then begins his book with an exploration of the works of H.P. Lovecraft. He notes that “it is not horror but fascination — albeit a fascination usually mixed with a certain trepidation — that is integral to Lovecraft’s rendition of the weird”.[note]Ibid., 17.[/note] For Fisher, on both an aesthetic and political level, it is the weird that is desirable for its ability to “de-naturalise all worlds, by exposing their instability, their openness to the outside”.[note]Ibid., 29.[/note]

This contrasts, for example, with the eerie ghost stories of M.R. James, explored later in the book, for whom “the outside is always coded as hostile and demonic”.[note]Ibid., 81.[/note] Fisher continues: “the glimpses of exteriority [James’ stories] offered no doubt brought a thrill to his listeners, but they also came with a firm warning: venture outside this cloistered world at your peril”.[note]Ibid.[/note]

The Outside is a concept that has long haunted the history of philosophy under various different names and formulations — from the Kantian noumenon to the Lacanian Real, et al. — with each functioning as a challenge to subjectivity that attempts to think beyond phenomenal limit-experiences. Whilst this broad definition is applicable to the narratives in much weird fiction, these tales explore the Outside through narrated ‘experience’ rather than objective academic analysis and they do so with an imaginative flare that has fascinated many.

Eugene Thacker, for instance, in his book In The Dust of Our Planet, explains that rather than write a “philosophy of horror” he hopes to articulate “the horror of philosophy: the isolation of those moments in which philosophy reveals its own limitations and constraints, moments in which thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility — the thought of the unthinkable that philosophy cannot pronounce but via a non-philosophical language”.[note]Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of Our Planet (London: Zero Books, 2011), 2.[/note]

Lovecraft’s The Outsider is an interesting example of such non-philosophical language as it is written from a seemingly impossible perspective. Its narrative viewpoint actively resists being imaginable to the reader. Imprisoned by their own subjectivity, the Outsider is shielded from the objective truth of their existence, but to see themselves — to witness the inside as a folding of the outside — is as intolerable as any encounter with pure exteriority. There is no moving beyond the weird tale’s final moment when the Outsider crosses the event horizon of their subjectivity and irreversibly lets the Outside in.

Whilst Lovecraft’s tale explores the horror of the Outside in the first-person (or, more accurately, non-person), most stories like it are told one step removed, exacerbating the intolerability of such a first-hand experience. Those who have experienced the horror of the Outside first-hand are often driven insane, unable to articulate their experience with any lucidity. A typical example of this can be found in Lovecraft’s best-known tale, The Call of Cthulhu, which is told through a first-hand reading of secondary accounts, including a police report written by Inspector John R. Legrasse who, notably, describes his encounter with a ‘Cthulhu Cult’ of Outside-worshippers.

The cult represent the Outside as a comprehensible and material social threat, far more visibly dangerous than the misadventures of the atomised individual in their collective channelling of the powers of the great Cthulhu. Whatever horrifying and unthinkable form the Outside may take, the fact remains that it is seemingly through community alone that its affects can be harnessed (whilst nonetheless remaining intolerable to the individual human mind).

Another example of this communal channelling can be found in Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel Picnic at Hanging Rock, the focus of the last chapter of The Weird and the Eerie. Fisher writes that the novel “invokes an outside that certainly invokes awe and peril, but which also involves a passage beyond the petty repressions and mean confines of common experience into a heightened atmosphere of oneiric lucidity”.[note]Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, 122.[/note]

The novel begins with the disappearance of three students and one teacher from an all-girls’ boarding school in Victoria, Australia. The women, exploring a rock formation at the titular local beauty spot, go through a truly bizarre experience. Suddenly overcome by drowsiness, they fall asleep. One of the group, Edith — who is less susceptible to the lure of the Outside: “her inability to let go of [her] everyday attachments […] ultimately prevents her from making the crossing”[note]Ibid., 128.[/note] — awakens to find her peers in a trance, disappearing one by one behind the rocky monolith they had just been exploring, giving themselves over to an unknown agency.

The women are never seen again. The effect of their disappearance on the rest of their community is catastrophic. With no explanation for their absence, locals assume all kinds of violent ends for the women. The boarding school eventually shuts down as concerned parents withdraw their children and members of staff resign. The communal stress and grief reach their peak with two separate suicides: namely, a student, Sara, and the school’s headmistress, Mrs Appleyard. Whilst the missing women collectively embrace the Outside, the school community is traumatically undone by their exit.

The final sentences of Fisher’s book note how — unlike Edith — the women are

fully prepared to take the step into the unknown. They are possessed by the eerie calm that settles whenever familiar passions can be overcome. They have disappeared, and their disappearances will leave haunting gaps, eerie intimations of the outside.[note]Ibid.[/note]

Following Fisher’s suicide in January 2017, this ending is unsettling to read. Death is, of course, the ultimate limit-experience, the ultimate challenge to subjectivity, and here grief becomes the affective result of being haunted by the Outside through the absences that death imposes upon both individual and community.

Fisher’s death explicitly intensifies the stakes of his thought in this way, as his absence has become an eerie intimation of the very Outside that lurked in the background of all his writings. It must be remembered, however, that whilst death was a topic he discussed frequently, so was the collective subjectivity he saw as essential to any postcapitalist future.

Caring for one another with the intensity that so often follows grief renews the possibility of such a collective subject being established, a subject which “does not exist, yet the crisis, like all other global crises we’re now facing, demands that it be constructed”.[note]Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism (London: Zero Books, 2009), 66.[/note] Again, even in the very real instance of an individual’s death, it is through community that the affects of the Outside are channelled, whilst still remaining intolerable, and the political implications of this communal channelling are considerable.

Whilst such implications are not discussed in The Weird and the Eerie explicitly, in the context of Fisher’s wider writings the book reads like an aesthetic toolkit for ontopolitical ‘egress’ — that now-familiar new addition to the Fisher lexicon which he details, in his usual style, with pop-cultural instantiations rather than academic exposition. He writes:

Lovecraft’s stories are full of thresholds between worlds: often the egress will be a book (the dreaded Necronomicon), sometimes […] it is literally a portal. […] The centrality of doors, thresholds and portals means that the notion of the between is crucial to the weird.[note]Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, 28.[/note]

Fisher’s use of the word ‘egress’ is not expanded upon beyond this passage, yet it is striking in its unfamiliarity and remains in the imagination as a name given to a particular kind of paraontological experience. It is a word synonymous with ‘exit’ that was most commonly used in nautical and astronomical contexts in the 18th and 19th centuries — it is archaic whilst exemplifying a twinned relationship between oceanic depths and the vast cosmos, making it an appropriate term to invoke in the orbit of Lovecraft. Its etymological relationship to ‘transgress’ is suggestive also.

In his next book, Acid Communism, left in an unknown state of completion at the time of his death, Fisher was to address the political reality of egress more explicitly. He hoped to reinvigorate the psychedelic praxes of consciousness-raising/-razing that have come to culturally define the 1960s and ’70s, channelling them through his postcapitalist desires.

Similar approaches are already becoming visible within contemporary politics. For instance, the Conservative party in the UK continues to habitually ridicule and criticise the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party for wanting to drag the country back to the 1970s. Fisher would perhaps argue that what the Labour party are instead suggesting is the return of that decade’s rising class consciousness; a return to its potentials.[note]Fisher’s reappraisal of the 1970s is not unprecedented and he publicly cited John Medhurst’s That Option No Longer Exists: Britain 1974-76 (London: Zero Books, 2014) and Jefferson Cowie’s Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: The New Press, 2012) as major influences on his most recent thought — not to mention the philosophical texts by Deleuze & Guattari, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Marcuse, and Irigaray that emerged in that period following May ‘68.[/note]

In the unpublished introduction to Acid Communism, Fisher writes of this potential (if seemingly paradoxical) return of the new that capitalist realism[note]Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism (London: Zero Books, 2009). From Fisher’s book of the same name, capitalist realism can be very briefly summarised as the deeply held social belief — propagated by capitalism itself — that there is no realistic alternative to the capitalist system.[/note] repeatedly ungrounds:

In recent years, the sixties have come to seem at once like a deep past so exotic and distant that we cannot imagine living in it, and a moment more vivid than now — a time when people really lived, when things really happened. Yet the decade haunts not because of some unrecoverable and unrepeatable confluence of factors, but because the potentials it materialised and began to democratise — the prospect of a life freed from drudgery — has to be continually suppressed.[note]Mark Fisher, Acid Communism. (Unpublished).[/note]

Fisher seemed to want to encourage a community of Lovecraftian Outsiders, unsure of how they arrived at their present situation but nonetheless curious to leave the cloistered world in which they find themselves. Perhaps, like Lovecraft’s Outsider, this is a naïve position — but naïvité is hard to avoid in life at the limits of drudgery. The more immediate problem is that others have already begun to set in motion a similar political project of their own and perhaps it was this similarity that occasioned Fisher’s use of the word ‘egress’.

‘Exit’ was already taken…


In many of his writings, particularly on his K-Punk blog, Fisher was never shy about acknowledging the influence of Nick Land on his thought. The two had worked together as part of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at the University of Warwick in the late 1990s — a collective of ‘renegade academics’ whose potent homebrew of cybernetics and philosophy, flavoured with a Lovecraftian sci-fi mythos, continues to have considerable occultural influence today. Whilst the group was largely anonymous, always opting for a collective voice, much of its output has subsequently become readily  associated with Land as the group’s most infamous member.

Whilst Fisher’s approach to politics seems fundamentally at odds with Land’s — at least in his later writings, the public perception of which has led to Land being quietly blacklisted by a number of publishers — they nevertheless share much in common philosophically.

Just as Thacker wrote of his interest in a philosophy that “enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility”, the shared project of Land and Fisher is arguably one of applying the implications of such a speculative approach — often used to discuss more abstract questions of ontology and metaphysics — to the more immediate concerns of political philosophy.

Fisher’s most famous project, in his book Capitalist Realism, was to explore the notion that the end of the world is easier to imagine than the end of capitalism. Land, in The Dark Enlightenment — his controversial essay on Neoreactionary thought — instead explores the end of democracy as the limit of contemporary sociopolitical thinking.

The initial focus of Land’s essay is exit — a concept that has previously been put to use by thinkers across the political spectrum since the publication of Albert Hirschman’s 1970 book Exit, Voice, and Liberty, but is here given a uniquely Landian twist.[note]See: Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972)[/note] Similar to egress, Land’s exit refers to both an epistemological and practical exit from hegemonic social structures and belief systems. Land, however, proposes that exit be used against democracy. He writes:

Democracy and ‘progressive democracy’ are synonymous, and indistinguishable from the expansion of the state. Whilst ‘extreme right wing’ governments have, on rare occasions, momentarily arrested this process, its reversal lies beyond the bounds of democratic possibility. Since winning elections is overwhelmingly a matter of vote buying, and society’s informational organs (education and media) are no more resistant to bribery than the electorate, a thrifty politician is simply an incompetent politician, and the democratic variant of Darwinism quickly eliminates such misfits from the gene pool. This is a reality that the left applauds, the establishment right grumpily accepts, and the libertarian right has ineffectively railed against. Increasingly, however, libertarians have ceased to care whether anyone is ‘pay[ing them] attention’ — they have been looking for something else entirely: an exit.[note]Nick Land, The Dark Enlightenment,[/note]

Land goes on to define the social model he sees as politically desirable with the phrase: “no voice, free exit”, drawing explicitly on Hirschman and Curtis ‘Mencius Moldbug’ Yarvin.[note]See: Mencius Moldbug, “Patchwork: a positive vision (part 1)”, Unqualified Reservations, November 13, 2008,[/note] This formulation describes a non-democratic system of government in which citizens have no ‘voice’ but are free to leave whenever they wish.

Here, a citizen’s relationship to government is made analogous to the relationship between customer and business: customers have no say in how the business itself is run but they are welcome to opt for another competing service provider if they are unsatisfied with their experience. Land describes this model another way on his blog:

Government, of whatever traditional or experimental form, is legitimated from the outside — through exit pressure — rather than internally, through responsiveness to popular agitation. The conversion of political voice into exit-orientation (for instance, revolution into secessionism), is the principal characteristic of neoreactionary strategy.[note]Nick Land, “Premises of Neoreaction”. Xenosystems, February 3, 2014,[/note]

What is missing here — and likewise missed by the simplification of “no voice, free exit” — is the temporal complexity of Land’s maneuver. He describes how conservative and reactionary ideologies are made paradoxical in their retreat towards or repetition of what has come before. Neoreaction suggests a new approach to the old — it is a ‘progressive’ ‘conservatism’ that disembowels the meanings usually attached to either of those two words. Land’s exit, in this way, is a movement through these ideologies which, in their cyclonic relation to each other, offer new approaches towards progress and, therefore, time itself in their coupled divergence from the classic liberal model of teleological progressivism.

Here Land, too, invokes the Lovecraftian Outsider — a voiceless shadow out of time driven by exit — in opposition to the political establishment’s Jamesian warnings against the outer edges of this cloistered world. On his Xenosystems blog, with its penchant for abstract horror, Land could not be clearer:

The Outside is the ‘place’ of strategic advantage. To be cast out there is no cause for lamentation, in the slightest.[note] Nick Land, “Outsideness”. Xenosystems, August 1, 2014,[/note]

Neither Land nor Fisher shy away from the horrors that the traversing of these limits might summon within the human mind. Even though these limits have migrated to the realm of political philosophy, in corners both left and right Lovecraft remains a cogent reference point.

Fisher may have agreed with the strategic advantage of the Outside but, whilst the ends are similar, the means could not be more different.

For Fisher, thinking through the work of Herbert Marcuse, the history of Western art is littered with exit strategies. He presents a leftist instantiation of Land’s Outsider position, challenging the contemporary populist left, that can at best be described as working to a model of all voice and no exit, calling for new attempts at finding exits through other ways of living — attempts that have all too often been neutered by capitalism’s cooptive mechanisms.

The counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s is a prime example of this. Fisher writes that,

as much as Marcuse’s work was in tune with the counterculture, his analysis also forecast its ultimate failure and incorporation. A major theme of [his 1964 book] ‘One Dimensional Man was the neutralisation of the aesthetic challenge. Marcuse worried about the popularisation of the avant-garde, not out of elitist anxieties that the democratisation of culture would corrupt the purity of art, but because the absorption of art into the administered spaces of capitalist commerce would gloss over its incompatibility with capitalist culture. He had already seen capitalist culture convert the gangster, the beatnik and the vamp from “images of another way of life” into “freaks or types of the same life”. The same would happen to the counterculture, many of whom, poignantly, preferred to call themselves freaks.[note]Mark Fisher, Acid Communism (unpublished).[/note]

However, Fisher’s is not an anarcho-primitivist position, supporting a return to a time before capitalism and its technologies. His accelerationist position is an advocation of the use of capitalism’s forces to modulate past potentials, transducing them into the future by collectively harnessing capital’s deterritorializing capacities for outside aims and egresses.

Again, it can be argued that this is not so far from Land’s position either, but their arguments pivot on a battle between humanism and inhumanism. For example, Fisher and Land both share an acknowledgement of capitalism’s blobjective tendency to absorb everything it comes into contact with. On his Xenosystems blog, Land notes that the left’s analyses of capitalism — more perceptive than the right’s — remain indebted to the Deleuzo-Guattarian critique that capital “is highly incentivized to detach itself from the political eventualities of any specific ethno-geographical locality, and — by its very nature — it increasingly commands impressive resources with which to ‘liberate’ itself, or ‘deterritorialize’”.[note] Nick Land, “Capital Escapes”. Xenosystems, November 21, 2014,[/note]

Capital’s stifling of any meaningful exit other than its own remains a central point of contention within many contemporary leftist discourses, particularly in black and queer studies, many of which share Fisher’s attempt to rethink the pessimism of an exit-as-apocalypse ideological default.[note]See, for example, Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004) — notable for its titular challenge to heteronormative temporality — and Denise Ferreira da Silva’s essay “Towards a Black Feminist Poethics: The Quest(ion) of Blackness Towards the End of the World” (The Black Scholar, 44, No. 2, States of Black Studies (2014), 81-97), in which she ponders explicitly black exit strategies: “Would Blackness emancipated from science and history wonder about another praxis and wander in the World, with the ethical mandate of opening up other ways of knowing and doing?” See also, for a more recent consideration of Land’s writing and Afropessimism: Jehu, “Land, Wilderson and the Nine Billion Names of God”, The Real Movement, August 20, 2017,[/note] Land, however, in this framework, doubles down on capital’s deterritorializing capacities, removing any purely humanistic agency and suggesting that, at present, exit is the sole prerogative of capital and not of those caught up in its rhythms, pulsions and patternings.

Whilst Land seems to suggest that we must channel the inhumanist exit of capital as an already-existing path towards exteriority, Fisher argues for a collective channelling of Lovecraftian aesthetics leading to the formulation of new cultures, which remain the only way for the left to egress — and, in order to do this, it is essential that the left learn from the countercultures that have come before.

To return to our Lovecraftian metaphor: if Land is an Outsider, having looked in the mirror and identified with the inhumanism of capital, Fisher is rather hoping to collectivise, organising an Acid Communist Cthulhu Cult of Outsider-worshippers. His focus on the aesthetic challenge is no doubt influenced by his subcultural affiliations. What are Goths if not Outside-worshippers who already live amongst us? However, even this subculture has been subsumed within capitalism — commodified, its vague political potentials have long been neutralised.

Elsewhere, the Alt-Right‘s repeated exclamation that they are the ‘new punk’ preempts any renewed channelling of the 1960s and ’70s — a cry that is so often met with derision, despite punk’s well-documented on-off political and aesthetic flirtations with fascism.

Aesthetic questions of exit are further complicated here. Even post-punk, which Fisher wrote about at length and which he acknowledged as his primary cultural influence, flirted with fascist imagery. Writing on Joy Division’s aesthetic appropriations of images of the Hitler Youth on their debut EP, An Ideal for Living, he writes:

The Virilio / Deleuze-Guattari analysis of Fascism, remember, maintains that Fascism is essentially self-destructive: a line of pure abolition. As such, Fascism is just the name for one more variant of the Romantic lust for the Night when all identity, all individuation, is subsumed in ‘an ecstatic aestheticized experience of Community’ (Zizek).[note]Mark Fisher, “Nihil Rebound: Joy Division,” K-Punk, January 9, 2005, — here Mark is quoting from Slavoj Žižek, The Plague of Fantasies (London: Verso Books, 2009)[/note]

Here again community emerges as central to processes related to the channelling of the Outside. Fisher’s invocation of communism is obviously communal but even Land’s model of ‘exit pressure’ surely relies on a collectivised desire for exit within a given system if that pressure is to have any weight at all. Different means, similar ends.

Whilst Fisher does not advocate an anti-democratic position like Land does, his recommended practices are certainly extra-democratic. Capitalism cannot be ‘voted out’ but a big enough change to the cultural status quo could make it politically redundant.

This double-pincer of ‘community’ — with its equally dystopian and utopian potentials — grounds many takes on the ‘question of Communism’ as it has been discussed in recent years by continental philosophy. Whereas fascism seems to hold self-destruction as its central motif, much writing on communism holds the destruction of the Other as a folded destruction of the Self. As Maurice Blanchot writes in his book The Unavowable Community:

To remain present in the proximity of another who by dying removes himself definitively, to take upon myself another’s death as the only death that concerns me, this is what puts me beside myself, this is the only separation that can open me, in its very impossibility, to the Openness of a community.[note]Maurice Blanchot, The Unavowable Community, trans. Pierre Joris (Barrytown: Temple Hill Press, 1988), 9.[/note] 

To engage with this Openness, this Opening, is precisely to ‘egress’.


Maurice Blanchot’s comments on community were initially written in response to Jean-Luc Nancy’s 1985 essay on Bataille, The Inoperative Community, and this response triggered a correspondence between the two which would last for a number of decades.

Nancy was to have the final word.

In late 2001, just prior to Blanchot’s death in 2003, Nancy wrote the preface for a new edition of The Unavowable Community. Detailing the history of their conversation, Nancy describes the essence of “community” (which he had — he admits — first failed to account for) as “the space between us — ‘us’, remaining in the great indecision where this collective or plural subject stands and stays condemned never to find its own proper voice.”[note]Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Confronted Community”, trans. Jason Kemp Winfree, in The Obsessions of Georges Bataille (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009), 25.[/note] 

What Nancy describes here — now in line with Blanchot’s own thought — is a paraontological community that is constituted by an unknowable and unavowable bond that dares us “to think the unthinkable, the unaccountable, the intractable of being-with, but without subjecting or submitting it to any hypostasis”.[note]Ibid., 27[/note]

It should be noted that Nancy is writing here just one month after the events of September 11th 2001. Such an event of international trauma is “all at once a confrontation and an opposition, a coming before oneself so as to challenge one’s self, so as to part within one’s being a gash that is the condition of this being”.[note]Ibid.[/note] 

This gash is presented here as a primal wound. It is not created by tragedy — tragedy is rather a finger stuck through it, making us all too aware of its presence. For Nancy, the events of 9/11 instigated a colossal questioning of the self — not unlike the horrors of the Second World War that influenced Bataille’s original writings. Whilst one nation or people may have suffered the brunt of a particular attack, the event nonetheless highlights a rupture within all of us, requiring a paraontological questioning of the collective subject that extends far beyond national and cultural ‘communities’ and into the ever-elusive outside ‘us’.

Nancy continues: “the sudden offensive strike that has taken in a stunning figure with the collapse of the symbol of global commerce (and therefore of exchange, of relations, and of communication) presents itself, or wants to present itself, as a religious confrontation, with fundamentalist monotheism, on the one side, humanist theism, no less fundamentalist, on the other”.[note]Ibid., 28[/note] What is interesting is that this same topic became the site of Land and Fisher’s final convergence.

Dual essays posted on the Urbanomic website at the end of 2016, just a month before Fisher’s death, contended with the communal wounding of the terror attacks of November 13th 2015, in which 130 people were killed and almost 500 injured when bombers and marauding gunmen attacked the streets of Paris, most catastrophically targeting an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan music venue in the 11th arrondissement.

Both Land and Fisher are here responding, more specifically, to Alain Badiou’s 2016 essay on the attacks, Our Wound is Not So Recent.[note]Alain Badiou, Our Wound Is Not So Recent: Thinking the Paris Killings of 13 November, trans. Robin Mackay.(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016)[/note] Whilst Fisher “calls for a new politics to counter the decadence of capitalist realism”, Land “reconfigures the battlefield of the future, and plays devil’s advocate for globalised capitalism”.[note]Mark Fisher, “Cybergothic vs Steampunk”, Urbanomic, 2016,; Nick Land, “Sore Losers”, Urbanomic, 2016,[/note] Nevertheless, both arguments find themselves in orbit of community and its outside.

“Capital is nothing if it is not parsimonious”, Fisher writes, “and for the last thirty years it has sustained itself by relying on readymade forms of existential affiliation”.[note]Mark Fisher, “Cybergothic vs Steampunk”.[/note] For Fisher, ISIS is most certainly an abhorrent death cult, but it is a death cult that should nonetheless be recognised and taken seriously for its success in offering some young Muslims — the West’s Outsiders du jour — something that capitalism never can.

What ISIS forces into capitalism’s global currents is an extremist neoreactionary community — “a cybergothic phenomenon which combines the ancient with the contemporary (beheadings on the web)”[note]Ibid.[/note] — that appears incompatible with the West’s hegemonic moral structures and culturally Judeo-Christian belief systems.

As an example of “the rising tide of experimental political forms [appearing] in so many areas of the world”, ISIS presents us with an extreme and potently unthinkable example of a people “rediscovering group consciousness and the potency of the collective” outside the reach of capitalism, and neoliberal (post)colonialism more specifically.[note]Ibid.[/note] 

For Fisher, the left must find its own community, a new community, that opposes such abject violence whilst nonetheless sharing with ISIS a dual resistance against and utilisation of the technologies of coercive capital. Their violent example must not occasion a rallying behind the symbol of Western capitalism under siege. This new community must instead harness the exacerbation of capitalism’s failures that those fighting for an Islamic State continue to violently reveal for us.

It is Land who demonstrates this entangled problematic most damningly. He similarly takes on the limitations of capitalist collectivities but, by contrast, directs his polemic towards Badiou’s universalised ‘Frenchness’ as the symbol of modernity’s failures.

When Badiou proclaims that ‘Our wound is not so recent’, we are compelled to ask: How far does this collective pronoun extend? A response to this question could be prolonged without definite limit. Everything we might want to say ultimately folds into it, ‘identity’ most obviously. Whatever meaning ‘communism’ could have belongs here, as ‘we’ reach outwards to the periphery of the universal, and thus (conceivably) to the end of philosophy.[note]Nick Land, “Sore Losers”.[/note]

With his focus on a nationalistic identitarianism, Badiou stifles his own reach towards an outside that the terror attacks themselves have instigated. Land writes, and Fisher also suggests, that the horror of the question of community, taken as Blanchot radically intended it, must include ISIS.

Any Western conception of ‘us’ that resists the folding of that which we deem outside ‘us’ — as ISIS are both judged and choose to be — is to remain trapped within the damned and damning subjectivity of contemporary neoliberalism. To insist ‘we are not like them’ and ‘they are not like us’ is to double down on our failures.

Land continues:

French identity, radically conceived, corresponds to a failed national project. Is it not, in fact, the supreme example of collective defeat in the modern period, and thus — concretely — of humiliation by capital? It is the way the ‘alternative’ dies: locally, and unpersuasively, without dialectical engagement, dropping — neglected — into dilapidation. It can be inserted into a limited, yet not inconsiderable, series of identities making vehement claim to universality without provision of any effective criterion through which to establish it. When frustrated by the indifference of the outside, such objective pretentions tend to turn ‘fascist’ in exactly the sense Badiou employs.[note]Ibid.[/note]

He concludes:

The ‘liberation of liberalism’ has scarcely begun. None of this is a concern for Badiou, however, or for the Islamists. It belongs to another story, and — for this is the ultimate, septically enflamed wound — as it runs forwards, ever faster, it is not remotely theirs.[note]Ibid.[/note]

This wound is all of ours, even when the collective ‘our’ is radically extended into infinity. Modernity, however, is not a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass — at least not for the West. It is obfuscated; fogged.

To be confronted by ISIS is precisely to look in the mirror and not recognise the inhuman face of modernity looking back. The accelerated destruction of ISIS, occasioned — the West hopes — by the fall of Mosul, is to only prolong our own self-destruction.

Fisher concludes:

The growing clamour of groups seeking to take control of their own lives portends a long overdue return to a modernity that capital just can’t deliver. New forms of belonging are being discovered and invented, which will in the end show that both steampunk capital and cybergothic ISIS are archaisms, obstructions to a future that is already assembling itself.[note]Mark Fisher, “Cybergothic vs Steampunk”.[/note]

As Land, too, has consistently insisted, whether the trajectory is towards communism or any other political future, the unthinkable must be thought and recognised and this will never be without risk:

“To find ways out, is to let the Outside in.”[note]Nick Land, “Quit”, Xenosystems, February 28, 2013,[/note] va-tombstone1-03


Atomization and Liberation

by Justin Murphy

Abstract. The problem with human atomization — the accelerating tendency of traditional social aggregates to disintegrate — is only that the process remains arrested at the level of the individual. The modern political Left, as an intrinsically aggregative tendency, bemoans individualism but functions as a machine for conserving it against already active forces that would otherwise disintegrate it. One of the only empirically mature pathways to collective liberation is through human atomization becoming autonomous: accepting the absolute foreclosure of anthropolitical agency is a causal trigger activating novel, dividuated, affective capacities, which become capable of recomposing as intensive, nonlinear, collective excitations (Cyberpositive AI-aligned Communism, or the CAIC protocol).

Modernity can be thought of as a process of atomization, arguably initiated by the Protestant Reformation.[note]Land, Nick. “The Atomization Trap.” Jacobite, June 6, 2017.[/note] Today, atomization is something that almost everyone protests (on the left and right), but protest itself is an atomization dynamic, automatically reproducing the mold of Protestant schismatics. In our sincerely felt repulsion to atomization, we instantiate a distance between ourselves and this supposedly external alienating phenomenon, the cause of which is imputed to something or someone else, somewhere else. This helps to explain other puzzling phenomena, such as “community-building” political activists, the attitudes and behaviors of whom are maximally inhospitable to most people everywhere. No matter how hard such groups sincerely want and try to connect with “the masses”, they continue to repulse the masses more and more, because their interest in building a commons is predicated on opposition to the only, last thing that humans today generally have in common: atomization.

The currently dominant tendency in debates about the acceleration of capitalism is to see such critiques of the modern left-activist project as implicitly aligned with right-wing implications. But coming to see the deep complicity between leftism and everything most abhorrent about modernity is an ideologically under-determined realization. If the history of left politics thus far has been a fever dream of capitalism itself, updating one’s mental model accordingly is not a defection to the right but entrance onto a different virtual plane, at once drastically more modest but somehow, also, more vast. What is called accelerationism triggers the mental space in which it becomes possible to answer the following question with a new degree of impartiality: what exactly is the object of one’s political desire anyway, after the questioning subject extricates itself from the history of strategic dissimulations it has undertaken to survive the competitive constraints of reality? This question is a heuristic for continuing a collective rush toward liberation after the final, irredeemable implosion of modernity’s ideological scaffolding, a translation of previous, primitive ideological investments into a research program for a cyber-positive, evolution-positive, AI-aligned lust for liberation beyond what is currently called politics.

Presumptive Aggregationism

It’s important to see how the classic modern ideological cleavages are separated not so much by strongly argued and differentiated empirical propositions but by different background imagery. These background images are never rigorously scrutinized propositions, but more like presumptions that sediment as the common ground of multiple intelligences communicating in multi-dimensional space. They emerge as necessary, organizing simplifications across a mass stratified social space (attuning large groups to different vocabularies and tendencies by elective affective affinities). Theoretical progress on questions of politics is gained today only by leveraging information-technological acceleration: the strategic-communicational necessity of investing in naïve molar presumptions in order to effect a large stratified social space no longer holds, so it is possible and hugely profitable (intellectually) to have done with all of the errors and deceptions that have always laid dormant in modern ideological thought. Communicating with high fidelity and objective rigor to two people in the smooth open space of cyberwar is exponentially more powerful than communicating to thousands of people at the cost of buying into a whole package of ancient logical and empirical errors.

The presumed historical progression in the left tradition, at least since Rousseau, is that human culture began in a state of relatively non-individuated, collective consistency with nature, before moving onto primitive capital accumulation via slavery and patriarchy, onward to the explosion of industrial modernity and beyond. Capitalism, modernity and enlightenment, and everything else generally associated with the rise of European white male dominance, produced the modern individual subject, predicated on a variety of crosscutting social categories (class, race, gender, etc.). From here, radical collective liberation or even just any type of progress is presumed to involve transition from individualism upward toward some kind of larger aggregate: the cadre, the activist group, the union, the sector, the class, the party, the Soviet, the factory, the social movement, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and so on — a whole bestiary of fantastic molar aggregates.

One of the most paralyzing problems for those who have sought to continue the search for collective liberation in the face of techonomic acceleration (what many people call “left accelerationism” or “l/acc” for short) is that, so far, they have been invariably pitched at aggregate social entities which do not in fact exist, at a time when in fact one of the primary political problems is that the contemporary form of atomized human life increasingly lacks the capacity to maintain even low-level aggregates (friendship, marriage, social clubs, etc., all marked by entropic trends since WWII).[note] On the U.S. case of generally declining civic involvement, see Putnam, Robert. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. On marriage in the U.S., see Pew Research Center. “The Decline of Marriage And Rise of New Families,” November 18, 2010. On the decline of friendship and number of people with no confidants, also in the U.S., see McPherson, Miller, Lynn Smith-Lovin, and Matthew E. Brashears. “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades.” American Sociological Review 71, no. 3 (June 1, 2006): 353–75.[/note] The most obvious and widespread form of deceptive left discourse is any statement to the effect of: ‘the left should…’ because it presumes the existence of an aggregate body that in no meaningful way exists, other than as an apparatus interpolating a portion of the population with a particular complex of shared repetition compulsions. The most vexing problem for anyone who identifies with the left would appear to be the problem that ‘the left’ as a world-historical entity has gone extinct, but because of selection effects this problem receives no serious effort from left-interpolated subjects: in a world where ‘the left’ is objectively extinct, any remaining subjective leftism is best thought of as ‘consumer demand for the belief that the left still exists’. Capitalism’s devilish efficacy is that it fulfills this widespread consumer demand perfectly well. Many brands can still do quite well finding talented and good-spirited minds able and willing to say ‘the left’ is a currently existing entity that has potential to act. The right is perfectly happy for this belief to persist because no quantity or intensity of false beliefs can outsmart a system based on the manipulation of reality through intelligent exploitation.

Corresponding to the false belief in aggregates that do not effectively exist, the bête noire of modern leftism is the dreaded Individual. If effective aggregates appear not to exist, it is only taken as evidence that the inquirer is infected by Individualism. The modern leftist orientation to capitalism is, at its core, a game of three-card monte where signifiers are re-shuffled to perpetually defer logical-objective falsification. Belief in an untenably posited object is sustained by a new posited object, the only evidence for which is that it is presupposed to be the force that makes the first object appear non-existent. How to move from our current state of atomized individualism to an effective social aggregate capable of transforming capitalism? First, we are told, agree that atomizing individuals are bad. Second, insist at all cost that an effective social aggregate called ‘the left’ exists (it only needs to be enlarged in order to gain its power to act). Third, try to get others to transmit this set of beliefs until ‘the left’ is large enough to numerically overpower Capital.

A rarely mentioned but seminal citation for modern left activism is, therefore, Plato’s infamous Noble Lie or “magnificent myth” (γενναῖον ψεῦδος): in short, a Noble Lie is a false belief that “would save us, if we were persuaded by it.”[note]See Book 3, 415c–d in Plato. The Republic. Edited by G.R.F. Ferrari. Translated by Tom Griffith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. The quote is from 621b, regarding the Myth of Er.[/note] The activist privately knows that ‘the left’ is basically non-existent but believes it can be forged into existence by nobly telling enough people that it already exists. Activists admit all of this plainly, as they often speak of the need to generate hope in the masses; this is enough to justify the articulation of any particular idea, regardless of its truth or falsity. Only today has the deceptive core of modern leftism come into sincere self-consciousness. For instance, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams argue rather explicitly that one of the tasks of ‘the left’ is to design more sophisticated lures capable of propelling atomized individuals into effective, collective motion.[note]Srnicek, Nick, and Alex Williams. Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. London: Verso, 2016. “Lures” is somewhat cheeky, but not unfair. They specifically suggest that we should deploy utopian imagination (e.g. seductive imagery orthogonal to objective possibility; lures) to trigger in people affects such as hope, in order to mobilize them. This is justified on politically realist grounds (such affects are “necessary to any political project”), just like the Noble Lie. “By generating and channeling these affects, utopian thinking can become a spur to action, a catalyst for change; it disrupts habits and breaks down consent to the existing order. Futural thinking, extended by communications mechanisms, generates collective affects of hope that mobilize people to act on behalf of a better future — affects that are necessary to any political project.”[/note] Of course, it is true that creative flights from the rational-objective map of the world, such as fictional story-telling, can generate objective political effects on the world, but it is something else entirely to offer a rational-objective map for social change including a plank involving the deployment of fictions to create hopes and desires in others, expressly in contradistinction to what is scientifically valid within rational, probabilistic frameworks.[note]“Whereas scientific approaches attempt to reduce discussions of the future to fit within a probabilistic framework, utopian thought recognizes that the future is radically open.”[/note] Now, creative beings who are possessed by visions can and should express those visions; such ‘fictions’ will indeed reshape reality, but primarily because those ‘fictions’ are in some sense reality operating through the body that expresses them. That is ‘hyperstition’: fiction that produces reality but because it is in some sense real, some of the evidence for which consists in the demonstrable objective effects it produces. But producing effects is not the only characteristic; the con artist produces real effects, for instance, but does not transform reality so much as twist it, in a way that always ultimately snaps back. Hyperstition is not a limitless capacity of social groups to produce new realities through shared enunciations. Hyperstitions only work to the degree they enter into feedback with an outside, issuing from contact with the chaos of objective reality and feeding into that objective reality. Effective hyperstitions are therefore creative truths, or real fictions, which are no less accountable to objective reality than scientific research. But rational-objective proposals to change ‘society’ (an outside of staggering complexity), by exploiting the hyperstitional nature of reality-circuitry, are nothing short of scams. They traffic in promises they cannot keep. Then they exhort others to promote the scam, to forever defer the admission of having been scammed. Srnicek and Williams perhaps represent a milestone in the modern left tradition, for it is as if they are, in some sense, coming clean: As if the last great hope of saving the modern left tradition is to admit that it’s based on trickery, but then share the source code and exhort the masses to use it. Unfortunately, an open-source con game is still a con game.

Aggregative leftist proposals could potentially change the world, but only if enough people trust in, and follow the dictates, of the proposers (e.g. some go off and make enough cool science fiction to constitute a new hegemony, engineers go off and make communist robotics, etc.) — but why should any of these actors trust the proposers’ claims that following this program will work to bring about a more desirable world? Ultimately the answer is: because that trust is necessary to make it work, so if you don’t trust it, you are guilty of being the cause of it not working. When the basic problem of contemporary capitalism is that we are all hyper-mistrusting atoms hell-bent on exploiting each other, a political project with this circular structure simply dodges the puzzle of irreversible atomization dynamics. Its degree of success is not measured by how well it brings about the better world (never) but by how adeptly it forestalls any ultimate reckoning with the puzzles it is essentially paid by capital to not address. A project with this structure cannot be operative for anyone other than the small number of already left-interpolated subjects, who are not themselves moved by this ‘vision’ so much as they are hopeful that it will move others (such as their apolitical friends, who are implicitly assumed to be dumber — enough to be moved by a lure which the already-initiated are not personally moved by because they know it is only a lure…).

Ultimately, the only effective force in a hyper-complex social system more intelligent than any one of its sub-entities is some type of novel engineering realization that allows some actually existing entity to manipulate actually existing entities with a non-trivial probabilistic effect on the whole, where the novelty of the realization provides a demonstrable edge over those other, competing entities with the interest and capacity to thwart the novel manipulations.

An exciting and inspiring ‘vision of the future’ may generate short-term interest and energy, but absent a genuine advancement in the engineering blueprint, producing ever more creative images of a hopeful future is, in fact, the most insidious, willfully perverse form of atomic hyper-exploitation conceivable. Srnicek and Williams should be applauded for becoming conscious of the fact that leftism is predicated on the fabrication of lures, which provides the genuine service of helping to close this entire, doomed trajectory. What would be willfully destructive would be to insist that this insight is an advancement of the engineering blueprint, so that if you believe in collective liberation you should promote the promotion of lures, and if one finds that this insight does not increase one’s powers to act then it’s only evidence that you’re an atomizing individualist! Collective liberation is not an emergent outcome of multi-level marketing schemes.

Atomic Liberation Pathways

If the upward, aggregative presumption of left-modernity is, as I have argued, a meme-commodity supplied by entrepreneurial Noble Liars, for profit, to a small portion of consumers whose demand is that reality be other than it is, then it stands to reason that the objective diagram of collective liberation for n atomized individuals suggests projects of subjective disaggregation and objective recomposition. You think you are one and you suffer because you are disconnected from others, but really you suffer because you are many — a primordial commune — that has been bribed by the future to speak and act as if it is one.

Certain currents in the history of theory give some reason to believe that modernity’s atomization tendency is less gloomy than it seems. The atomization of pre-modern collectivities may give us the wretched bourgeois individual, but for the same reasons it will tear asunder the bourgeois individual. The entire modern capitalist legal order is predicated on this particular, fragile unit of aggregation (even the corporation is required to be an individual), but the forces it has unlocked are constantly chipping away at this temporary container. This is how one should understand Marx’s dictum about the relations of production coming to be contradicted by the forces of production. For more than a century this has been presumed to be an aggregative dynamic. As capitalist relations unlock economic productivity, this productivity exceeds the relations, which are now felt as fetters, resulting in “an era of social revolution”.[note]Marx, Karl. “Preface.” In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977.[/note] Leftists generally have assumed this contradiction of capitalism generates aggregative effects: the class consciousness of the proletariat is a becoming-aggregate of once isolated, alienated individual workers. Class consciousness then aggregates to a dictatorship of the proletariat, and so on upward, to a vision of full communist ‘species being’. But one is hard-pressed to find theoretical or empirical evidence that this presumption is anything more than a kind of spatial-metaphorical supplement, i.e. a prejudice.

If we apply the heuristic highlighted above — to read all modern activist discourse as encrypted by its sender to survive competition — it is easy to see Marx’s aesthetic reliance on grandiose aggregationism as a function of late nineteenth-century rhetorical conditions. When large satanic factories appear to be taking over the world, nobody is going to join your group unless the group promises to be big. But today, when large factories are disappearing from the wealthy Western countries, and production/consumption is now satanically atomic and unsubstantial, nobody is going to join your group unless it promises to be small (exclusively organized around specific identity dimensions, with strong walls). In short, only today are we are able to see the radically under-determined, schizophrenic undecidability at the core of all human political judgment and activity, the logical symmetry between fundamentally opposite conclusions regarding the good/bad, up/down, left/right movements of the world. Left-modernist metaphorics of aggregation are not sacred.

This, of course, was recognized by Deleuze and Guattari in their move to theorize ‘molecular politics’. They, perhaps better than anyone yet, recognized that when atomization also atomizes the individual into sub- or pre-individual energies, then everything changes. One point of Deleuze and Guattari’s project is to explore the capacities we gain simply as an automatic result of capitalism’s self-sabotaging gift of perpetually generating free atomic fission. ‘We do not yet know what a body can do’ in part because capitalism is never done surgically decimating every reachable particle in search of negentropy.

It is possible that, at the end of the atomization process, there is nothing but cold, dead silence… some kind of techno-commercial vertigo of intolerable distances. It’s an open empirical question. But if the revolutionary intellectual tradition means anything, it means there are reasons to believe atomization is the material cosmic process for which the concept of liberation has been the ideologically encrypted signal. Cyberpositive, AI-aligned Communism (CAIC, pronounced kayak, cake, or kek, depending on the cyberregional dialect) solves all problems of oppression via splits and recombinations. It is diagrammatically equivalent to the neoreactionary mantra of exit, but socio-aesthetically distinct. That is, it is formulated and distributed through a different cypher, the keys to which are held by those particular meat machines spawned in a particular, contingent sociological lineage (the descent of figures such as Marx, etc.). The sociological interpolation of ideological subjectivities is, as we have seen, fully reversible given a correct decryption. All forms of differential socialization are outcomes of the same primordial cosmic signal animating meat to different rhythms due to the different encryptions imposed by historically-earlier receivers of the signal. The signal is one, no matter what we say; yet how we say it — the encoding — determines who will receive it. In turn, strategic consideration of potential receivers conditions how we say it (any anticipation of future rewards or punishments is an operation of capital or, more literally, visitation by an alien come to you from the future).

The perpetuation of systemic inequality and violence has nothing to do with some classes or groups controlling or dominating others; it has to do with a continuous, ceaseless invasion of our bodies by attitudinal and behavioral programs that whisper to us in variable, evolved cyphers. Individuals can only decrypt so much, and intelligence is roughly equivalent to one’s power of decryption. To be a living human individual today means you are an ancestor of those who obeyed the alien dictates and in turn agreed to re-encrypt and re-transmit the signal. The highly undesirable megamachine (i.e. capitalism) persists because it is more richly encrypted than any human individual or group is capable of decrypting — and our survival requires that we execute its orders. The history of ideological orientations toward the megamachine, the evolution of variable mental and behavioral responses to alien visitation, is simply the entropic unfolding of the one true cosmic signal.

The atomic liberation wager forgoes any claim to restructuring anything with a complexity greater than or equal to one’s objective processing power. In the absolute renunciation of this claim we maximize the energies available to being affected by the immanent cosmic tendency of atomization. We do not yet know what will come of these energies, for the same reason we cannot manipulate the megamachine as such: we have not the processing power to know what we can do if we divide ourselves and test all possible combinations of interpersonal machinery. 10 humans who each atomize to 5 sub-agents each (n=50) before recomposing into a new group of 10 would already have to navigate a search space of more than 2 million possibilities, so nobody can assert a priori what would or would not become possible. Some of these potential combinations would function as novel, different encryption keys: the alien whispers would suddenly sound different, the rhythm changes.

One must recall that all of normal human life, especially in left-wing circles, is generally organized around arresting potential atomic combinatorics. Combinatorial explosion is the definition of unpredictability, fear, and danger, in their most mathematically pure form. When we forgo the pretension of selling to others a more preferable vision of the future, we become affected by a novel source of legitimate confidence in the empirical possibility of finding hitherto unknown, atomic combinations, that may deliver a higher-fidelity transmission of the same signal that the modern-left activist cypher transmitted only with extreme noise and data corruption: namely, something that would look, sound, and feel like what people really have in mind when they speak of liberation, triggered through the acceptance, rather than the arresting, of atomization dynamics.

It has been suggested before that one way to summarize the accelerationist realization is: ‘It’s too late, always.’ But if time is a spiral,[note]Land, Nick. 2014. Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time. Urbanatomy Electronic, §8.5. Land, Nick. “Extropy.” Outside in, February 20, 2013.[/note] then traversing it to the end (arriving too late) is tantamount to arriving, finally, at something that deserves to be considered a beginning. Now that we admit it’s too late, the affective quality of everything changes, for all of our failed exertions can finally be comprehended. It makes sense why all of our attempts to change the world have only ever drilled the world deeper into fascist confusion: we were always a day late and a dollar short, all this time. CAIC consists in nothing more than an ‘assortative mating’ of those atomic, pre-individual energies that receive positive affective charge from this realization. And all of this is quite beside what can or cannot be established via critical philosophy; in the first instance, all that matters is that an idea finds joy, i.e. power, in a given body. If it can’t, test whether it might find joy in one of n molecular subdivisions of a body’s personality.

In later stages, we may advance our understanding of joy’s engineering — but the empirical justification of the present claim is established satisfactorily if it works on even one body. I can testify it works on my own. QED. Nobody needs to like or trust me for the mechanism’s empirical functioning to be assured. Unlike the mobilization-engineering diagram of ‘inventing the future’ through effective macro image-creation, the ethical auto-ecstasy of first-stage CAIC does not depend on convincing anyone, anywhere.

In any event, it has been realizations such as this one that have led me to quit all the little doomed left-wing groups; not to ‘agree with’ capitalism but to simply acknowledge the objective degree to which the global capitalist cybernet has consumed reality itself, to the point of becoming for most intents and purposes coterminous with it. Therefore, one is released from a number of idiotic notions about some personal responsibility to change or resist what are effectively transcendental structures. What a sad idea. It now seems likely that all those who remain affected by this masochistically false notion of responsibility are impotent to change the world, in part because they believe they must. Alternatively, the Spinoza–Nietzsche-Deleuze liberation model can be reduced with reasonable fidelity to the maxim that one should do whatever makes one feel most joyous, so long as we have a sufficiently high-resolution and empirically tractable understanding of true joy. The naïve objection that such a maxim endorses evil or cruelty is wrong for the simple reason that evil or cruelty induces all kinds of negative feedback at the psycho– and socio-logical levels; i.e. it curbs the growth of one’s power/joy whereas genuine communist aggregation of particles will be known by its positive feedback on the growth of one’s power.

Empirical Reflections

Some pursuit of atomic liberation pathways can be found today with the interest in pre-individual or “dividual” phenomena.[note]Raunig, Gerald. Dividuum: Machinic Capitalism and Molecular Revolution. Translated by Aileen Derieg. South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e), 2016. Lazzarato, Maurizio. Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity. Translated by Joshua David Jordan. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2014.[/note] But beyond a small number of theoretical texts in the Deleuzean line, few human beings have been willing to update their operational attitudes and behaviors in the relatively drastic fashion that would be required of anyone seeking to take the accelerationist realization seriously. Full accelerationism, unconditional on any normative ideological preference or purpose, is a belief about the empirical world that generates no determinate political praxis — even foreclosing it, or at least anything currently recognizable as political praxis — but nonetheless alters its host body with politically substantial effects. Otherwise, it would be a distinction that makes no difference. But as with any set of ideas, it is easy and widespread for people to ‘adopt’ beliefs which never integrate with their real, revealed, operational beliefs. So when I speak of the political effectivity of accelerationism, I am speaking of dynamics triggered only to the degree it is integrated into one’s behaviorally operative neural nets, that is, when everything else you think and feel moves to equilibrate with this belief.

One of the politically substantial effects of the accelerationist realization is that it concretely decimates bourgeois ego investments into their unformed, atomic components. Paradoxically, this empirical claim about technocapitalist reality, which forecloses all hope of praxis, triggers concrete affective changes that map quite precisely onto the atomic liberation pathway.

Why? This occurs because the one individuated bourgeois ego that we by default inhabit is ultimately composed and attuned by the sum total of sad ideas that command our attention and behavior on a daily basis (that if only I didn’t have to work I would be happy; if only I could do some impossible thing, such as control more intelligent people, then I could possibly begin to live, etc.). The bourgeois capitalist ego is essentially the center of a spider’s web of sad ‘if onlys’, as a defining characteristic of capitalism is the postponement of desire for a greater, future return.

Any thought that could destroy all sad ‘if onlys’ in one fell swoop is, in a very real sense, an immanent extraction of one’s vital energies from precisely the apparatus of capture that holds together so much institutionalized misery in a durable order over time. Human creatures who learn, even in the most groping fashion, to extricate themselves from this web in a reproducible and transmittable fashion will be the only true heirs to the revolutionary political tradition — and yet they will enter it through becoming politically unconditional.

The knee-jerk objection of activist ‘materialism’ is to call what I am saying ‘idealism’ and to point out, mockingly, that people are oppressed by soul-crushing exploitation and poverty, not by their sad ideas. For many activists, this is a founding assumption of projects to change society, but from a scientific perspective it’s not at all obvious. First of all, there is a large body of evidence that suggests believing in the existence of systemic injustice is more oppressive than believing the system is just.[note]This school of thought is called “system-justification theory”, a body of psychological research that has sought to uncover why people tend to support political and economic systems it might be in their interest to transform. For a review, see Jost, John T., Mahzarin R. Banaji, and Brian A. Nosek. “A Decade of System Justification Theory: Accumulated Evidence of Conscious and Unconscious Bolstering of the Status Quo. Political Psychology 25, no. 6 (December 1, 2004): 881–919. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9221.2004.00402.x.[/note] In short, activism may have less to do with solving problems of human oppression than generating and amplifying them. The activist amplifications of tragic human existence are then cited as the increasingly dire and urgent reasons why one must commit to more activism.

To think this through even further, consider a thought experiment. Assume we have some population of abjectly oppressed, poor, marginalized manual laborers with the typical portfolio of sad activist ideas (they are oppressed by a system they could potentially change; they are in every way just as able as every rich person, if only they were not oppressed, etc.). The Spinoza-Nietzsche-Deleuze hypothesis is that if this population could hypothetically be treated to a sudden massive cognitive reorientation, in which they only entertained mental phenomena that maximized their joy or power, and just ignored or skipped over all mental phenomena that made them sad, then this population would show more cognitive and behavioral indicators of collective political liberation than the activist workers. This hypothesis is far more plausible than activist wisdom is willing to admit. The social scientific evidence suggests to me that these workers would likely have more energy before and after work, they would have more openness to creative connections with each other, and they would have far greater immediate well-being than the activist workers who believe it is their obligation to work more after work trying to achieve a goal they privately suspect to be empirically impossible. The activist hypothesis is that such a cognitive reorientation would not produce dynamics of collective liberation, but that a massive restructuring of their material power in the economy in the workplace would.

Interestingly, we have some test cases of what happens when human beings are treated to hypothetical cognitive restructuring à la Spinoza-Nietzsche-Deleuze. They are highly imperfect as case studies, but they may provide some causal leverage. The first example is the well-documented causal link between pain and ecstasy: with the right attitude, abject toil under brutal conditions can generate exceptionally enjoyable and empowering affects, which figures such as Simone Weil have shown to be efficient motors of accelerative communist dynamics.[note]Glucklich, Ariel. “Pain and Ecstatic Religious Experience.” Oxford Handbooks Online, May 2015. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935420.013.38. White, George Abbot. “Simone Weil’s Work Experiences: From Wigan Pier to Chrystie Street.” CrossCurrents 31, no. 2 (1981): 129–62.[/note] We also have some examples of material restructuring à la activist wisdom. Lottery winners, for instance, are actually a relatively strong natural experiment for testing the effects of substantial, randomly assigned improvement of material conditions. And the data are quite clear that such changes to material conditions do not durably increase positive affect.[note]When compared to victims of catastrophic accidents who are rendered paraplegic, lottery winners are actually less susceptible to positive affect. Brickman, Philip, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman. “Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 36, no. 8 (1978): 917.[/note] So the Spinoza-Nietzsche-Deleuze model appears far more empirically plausible than many believe, and nearly universal assumptions in left-activist circles appear surprisingly questionable.

Another interesting consideration from a scientific perspective is that activists may be ‘treatment non-compliant’, possibly leading them to systematically biased inferences and making them uniquely untrustworthy spokespeople for how social change actually occurs. In short, the strange human breed called ‘activists’ might be those particular creatures who are so far gone under the weight of sad affect that they privately decline to undergo available positive affective ‘treatments’ but publicly offer their experience as evidence of null effect. If subjects of a randomized medical experiment are assigned to take a pill, and they say they took the pill when in fact they refused or forgot — the results of this experiment will understate the real effect of the pill. Activist types who deeply believe and insist that only macro-material change can affect the probability of their liberation are likely treatment non-compliers, as this belief will lead them to become increasingly closed off to molecular experimentation. If affective variation along atomic liberation pathways does not produce results for these types, it does not necessarily mean that affective variation is impotent idealism. Humanity’s collective-emancipatory potential via the atomic pathways could still be an objectively explosive quanta; we might just be drastically under-estimating it due to the over-representation of treatment non-compliers, who self-select into the cultural organs possessed of cultural authority on this question (academia, journalism, activist theory, etc).

The concrete revolutionary potency of the atomic pathways is therefore one of the best kept secrets of the global-cosmopolitan progressive catechism, and another example of why it is quite reasonable and useful to see this cultural formation as a Cathedral — replete with old-fashioned suppression of knowledge rightly seen as dangerous to social stability. To those who still might say that such acceleration-consistent micro-political liberation pathways could only be a kind of fake individualistic freedom enjoyable only from comfortable bourgeois stations, we need only recall that accelerating atomization means almost the opposite: the comfortable bourgeois individual disintegrating into a veritable party, comprised of the multiple and decidedly non-bourgeois agents the individual once repressed. This is not the masturbation of a comfortable individual, as some might allege. It is much more like an infinitely expanding commune of human and inhuman entities masturbating on oneself — an untenably uncomfortable individual finally learning to desire what desires it, having accepted that it’s far too late to do otherwise. va-tombstone1-03