Soft Decadence

A thoroughly-considered challenge to the accelerationist orientation is formulated by ‘Viznut’ at countercomplex, who has been receiving a lot of attention recently for this remarkable blog essay. A significant sample:

What happens if you give this buggy civilization a virtual world where the abundance of resources grows exponentially, as in Moore’s law? Exactly: it adopts the extropian attitude, aggressively harnessing as much resources as it can. Since the computing world is virtually limitless, it can serve as an interesting laboratory example where the growth-for-its-own-sake ideology takes a rather pure and extreme form. Nearly every methodology, language and tool used in the virtual world focuses on cumulative growth while neglecting many other aspects.

To concretize, consider web applications. There is a plethora of different browser versions and hardware configurations. It is difficult for developers to take all the diversity in account, so the problem has been solved by encapsulation: monolithic libraries (such as Jquery) that provide cross-browser-compatible utility blocks for client-side scripting. Also, many websites share similar basic functionality, so it would be a waste of labor time to implement everything specifically for each application. This problem has also been solved with encapsulation: huge frameworks and engines that can be customized for specific needs. These masses of code have usually been built upon previous masses of code (such as PHP) that have been designed for the exactly same purpose. Frameworks encapsulate legacy frameworks, and eventually, most of the computing resources are wasted by the intermediate bloat. Accumulation of unnecessary code dependencies also makes software more bug-prone, and debugging becomes increasingly difficult because of the ever-growing pile of potentially buggy intermediate layers.

This is an abundance-driven decadence theory, and a highly plausible one. Viznut draws his discussion towards its conclusion on a somber note: “I am convinced that our civilization is already falling and this fall cannot be prevented.” There is much here worth pondering upon (so read it all).


gnOme describes itself as “a secret press specializing in the publication of anonymous, pseudepigraphical, and apocryphal works from the past, present, and future.” Perhaps you get the idea. (It’s an odd idea.)

Since receiving copies of its beautifully-produced Autophagiography and Cantos for the Crestfallen I’ve been meaning to pitch some gentle promotion on its behalf. The quality of these works incites such an endeavor, at the same time as their strangeness complicates it. gnOme is doing something unique, exceedingly well, but quite what that is …

This little post — already almost at an end — is written in Moganshan, amid foggy bamboo forests and clouds of mosquitoes. It aspires to nothing beyond the level of a promissory note (or modest strike against procrastination). Bitten hard by the Autophagiography‘s “spiral ouroboros” even as concentration is dissipated among its narrative peculiarities, cultural allusions, codes, and ceaseless diversions, I will try to find a way to talk about it on this blog (soon).

A snippet:

And everything is ‘accelerated’ (from the view of what cannot grasp it) into the infinite speed of silence, where all things become accomplished in this nothing, down to the tiniest detail, even all our specific projects, our private dreams. Everything. Next to which poetry hasn’t been invented yet.

(It is hard for me to pretend, to myself, that I do not know the name of this author. Yet, since I am not professionally obliged to perform public detective work, it is easy to let this not matter.)

ADDED: “This author” –> these authors, and now with almost intolerable, hilarious lucidity.

Quotable (#32)

An oddity from Wikipedia (via Nydwracu):

Belphegor’s prime is the palindromic prime number 1000000000000066600000000000001, a number which reads the same both backwards and forwards and is only divisible by itself and one. The name Belphegor refers to one of the Seven Princes of Hell, who was charged with helping people make ingenious inventions and discoveries. … The number itself contains superstitious elements that have given it its name: the number 666 at the heart of Belphegor’s Prime is widely associated as being the Number of the Beast, used in symbolism to represent one of the creatures in the Apocalypse or, more commonly, the Devil. This number is surrounded on either side by thirteen zeroes, with thirteen itself long regarded superstitiously as an unlucky number. Also, it in total has 31 digits, which backwards is thirteen.

(There’s far more to 31 that needs discussing at some point, but this might not be the place …)

Twitter cuts (#13)

XLR8AN on anarchism:

Continue reading

Economic Teleology

This is not the occasion for a thorough — or even moderately substantial — defense of teleological thinking. Since an intrinsic component of modernist teleology is the systematic suppression of teleological thought, the topic is certainly an intriguing one. This post, however, is devoted to a far narrower purpose. (At least, that is how it initially appears.) There is no need for the larger problem to be envisaged as an obstacle.

It is rare to encounter any serious resistance to the application of teleological reasoning to economics. In this intellectual domain the attribution of socio-historical developments to interests, incentives, and goals does not expect to encounter objection. Regardless of intellectual tradition or ideology, the presupposition of goal-oriented direction to work and business — even without reference to large-scale strategic planning — is considered so uncontroversial that it typically passes without comment, even in technical treatises. Within the biological sciences, teleology teleolonomy remains a source of cognitive irritation, but in the social and historical ‘sciences’ it is entirely natural to ask what economic production is for.

There are three, and only three, basic responses to this question, although subtilization and recombination allows open ended complication from any of these starting points. The foundational teleologies of all economic philosophy are Humanistic, Malthusian, or Mechanogenic.

Humanistic economics is by far the most common, to such an extent that it tends to presume itself unchallenged. It’s basic assumption is that the end of all economic activity is to be found in human needs or desires, and technically in (human) consumption as the final cause of economic life. People engage in production and trade because they want things. ‘Utility’ is an obvious abbreviation for ‘human utility’ and a generalized utilitarianism — developed in one of several possible directions — provides a complete teleological solution to the economic problem. The thunderous collisions between the various liberal and socialist economic schools are all enveloped within this expansive and flexible framework. Individually or collectively, man is the proper and efficient end of productive activity. “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production” insisted Adam Smith, and this claim has rarely been found tendentious.

Malthusian teleology dissolves man into naturalistic anthropology (and ultimately into generalized Darwinism). Whatever purposes people lucidly advance as motivations for economic action, the real goal of production is population increase. Where humanistic economics tends intrinsically to optimism, across all differences of theoretical and ideological inclination, the Malthusian vision is stubbornly tragic. It has haunted the classical economic tradition as a shadowy ghoul, manifested in the Ricardian Iron law of Wages, which sets the natural exchange value of labor in the Marxian analysis, and continues to impose its dark-matter curvature upon economic speculation into contemporary futurism. The instinctual life of the species, rather than its conscious self-direction, consumes its economic advances, with no stable equilibrium to be found beyond the edge of bare survival. Real purposes are inescapably grim.

Mechanogenic purpose finds its first significant elaboration in the work of Samuel Butler (in his ‘The Book of the Machines’). Economists paying detailed attention to the industrial process, especially within the Marxian and Austrian traditions, have regularly found themselves engaged in schematization of mechanogenic purpose — which is to say, theoretical reconstruction of an inherent tendency within the history of economically productive machinery — without being thereby deflected from their basic humanistic orientation. For Marx and for Böhm-Bawerk, mechanogenic teleologies are always intermediary, and subject to narrative envelopment within the larger story of human economic finality. Whether macro-historically (Marx) or micro-historically (Böhm-Bawerk), the emergent teleology of capital can only be a sub-plot within the saga of human economic self-realization, or terminal anthropomorphic consumption (framed by our ultimate purposes). Capital is essentially transcended instrumentality. Mechanogenic teleology is, minimally, no more than stubborn skepticism regarding this claim, based on the generally accepted but subordinated recognition that capital wants itself. (Could not the efficient final purpose of industrialization be something more like this?)


Why introduce this question? If we knew how to definitively answer that innocent inquiry, we would know far more about what we were doing. An emerging teleological crisis of advanced modernity could mean any of least three (basic) things. (It might be expected to be hidden within concerns such as this.)

The superficial answer: Accelerationism, in setting into its various modes, has already implicitly chosen between these explanatory paths. As it develops, it can only cycle through its conceptual foundations, and the teleological problem will become an explicit challenge. What is accelerationism for? We shall have to ask.

ADDED: Humanism on steroids in increasingly what the IEET is all about.

Twitter cuts (#12)

OK, it’s verging on the obsessional to drag Jehu back so quickly, but these tweets are quite simply the most important formulations of rigorous Left Accelerationism to date.

Continue reading

Quotable (#31)

‘Moravec’s Paradox’ notes that computers find the hard stuff easy. No surprise, then, that when human get pushed out of the loop it often happens from the top.

The case of mathematics is especially significant:

Computer-assisted proofs (both at the level of formulation and at the level of verification) have attracted the interest of a number of philosophers in recent times (here’s a recent paper by John Symons and Jack Horner, and here is an older paper by Mark McEvoy, which I commented on at a conference back in 2005; there are many other papers on this topic by philosophers). More generally, the question of the extent to which mathematical reasoning can be purely ‘mechanical’ remains a lively topic of philosophical discussion (here’s a 1994 paper by Wilfried Sieg on this topic that I like a lot). Moreover, this particular proof of the Kepler conjecture [see New Scientist link] does not add anything substantially new (philosophically) to the practice of computer-verifying proofs (while being quite a feat mathematically!). It is rather something Hales said to the New Scientist that caught my attention (against the background of the 4 years and 12 referees it took to human-check the proof for errors): “This technology cuts the mathematical referees out of the verification process,” says Hales. “Their opinion about the correctness of the proof no longer matters.”

Since computer software became chess-competent we’ve been told that the idea chess is difficult was just an illusion. When we start hearing that about mathematics in general, it will really be time for the dark laughter to begin.

Twitter cuts (#11)

UF began following Jehu on twitter (blog) without expecting to agree with much. Instead, there has been tweet-storming like this:

Continue reading