On #Accelerate (#2c)

A (quick) digression on speed

Acceleration, as Accelerationism employs it, is a concept abstracted from physics. In this philosophical (and socio-historical) sense, it preserves its mathematical definition (consolidated by the differential calculus) as higher derivatives of speed, with continued reference to time (change in the rate of change), but with re-application from passage through space to the growth of a determinable variable. The theoretical integrity of accelerationism, therefore, rests upon a rigorous abstraction from and of space, in which the dimension of change — as graphed against time — is mapped onto an alternative, quantifiable object. The implicit complicity of this ‘object’ with the process of abstraction itself will ultimately translate into explicit theoretical complications.

The flight into abstraction is theoretically snarled by reflexive tangles. Comparable difficulties arise on the side of the flight ‘out’ of space, primarily because the coincidence of intelligibility and spatiality tends rather to thicken than dissolve with each further increment of abstraction, propelling intelligence into phase-spaces, probability-spaces, Cyberspace, and deterritorialization. Space is released from its ‘original’ concreteness into the purity of the intuitive medium, while acquiring active intelligibility as display space, within which concepts become sensible. There is no more archaic, or more contemporary, illustration than the intuition of time through space, as demonstrated by the entire history of horology, the time-line, time dimensionalization, and graphed dynamics. Space sticks to measure on its path into abstraction, and even leads it there.

The insistence of space is also demonstrated by a tendency for any abstraction of acceleration to undergo reversion, as its index of change is re-attached to differentiations of (physical) speed. In the context of the Great Stagnation debate — the most prominent hiatus within the recent history of accelerationist thinking — a highly abstracted notion of (negative) technonomic acceleration is restored to measure in exactly this way.

In an interview with Francis Fukuyama, Peter Thiel demonstrates the process:

… you have … two different blind spots on the Left and Right, but I’ve been more interested in their common blind spot, which we’re less likely to discuss as a society: technological deceleration and the question of whether we’re still living in a technologically advancing society at all. I believe that the late 1960s was not only a time when government stopped working well and various aspects of our social contract began to fray, but also when scientific and technological progress began to advance much more slowly. Of course, the computer age, with the internet and web 2.0 developments of the past 15 years, is an exception. Perhaps so is finance, which has seen a lot of innovation over the same period (too much innovation, some would argue).

There has been a tremendous slowdown everywhere else, however. Look at transportation, for example: Literally, we haven’t been moving any faster.

In an earlier article, published in National Review, Thiel refers explictly to a “measurement problem” — at once theoretical and political — obstructing reliable estimates of techno-scientific development. While important to acknowledge, he advises, it should not “stop our inquiry into modernity before it has even begun”:

When tracked against the admittedly lofty hopes of the 1950s and 1960s, technological progress has fallen short in many domains. Consider the most literal instance of non-acceleration: We are no longer moving faster. The centuries-long acceleration of travel speeds — from ever-faster sailing ships in the 16th through 18th centuries, to the advent of ever-faster railroads in the 19th century, and ever-faster cars and airplanes in the 20th century — reversed with the decommissioning of the Concorde in 2003, to say nothing of the nightmarish delays caused by strikingly low-tech post-9/11 airport-security systems. Today’s advocates of space jets, lunar vacations, and the manned exploration of the solar system appear to hail from another planet. A faded 1964 Popular Science cover story — “Who’ll Fly You at 2,000 m.p.h.?” — barely recalls the dreams of a bygone age.

The official explanation for the slowdown in travel centers on the high cost of fuel, which points to the much larger failure in energy innovation. …

Notably, in an assessment of the anomalous rapidity of computer innovation, he re-poses the “measurement problem” in terms familiar (much more recently) from #Accelerate: “how does one measure the difference between progress and mere change? How much is there of each?” His procedure then anticipates the one recommended throughout this series:

Let us now try to tackle this very thorny measurement problem from a very different angle. If meaningful scientific and technological progress occurs, then we reasonably would expect greater economic prosperity (though this may be offset by other factors). And also in reverse: If economic gains, as measured by certain key indicators, have been limited or nonexistent, then perhaps so has scientific and technological progress. Therefore, to the extent that economic growth is easier to quantify than scientific or technological progress, economic numbers will contain indirect but important clues to our larger investigation.

Theoretical necessity drives us from physical space into economic abstraction. It is only realistic, however, to be prepared for the ways in which — according to deep and obscure necessities — this path will be curved by the insistent return of space. Of all those things with over-confidence in their own powers of acceleration, or smooth attainment of escape velocity, philosophical abstraction is by no means the least susceptible to counter-productive — and delusive — haste.

4 thoughts on “On #Accelerate (#2c)

  1. From your series so far — and #Accelerate, Benjamin Lozano and some other hipster stuff bubbling these days – accelerationism seems to want to make a point of the distinction of acceleration from velocity. It’s exciting mental acrobatics, but not new to economics itself — notably for third-world countries plunged in perpetual chaos, Friedman, Phelps and colleagues worked in the 60s to plug some deterministic, adaptive expectation models into standard keynesian economics, arriving into accelerative inflation and accelerative versions of things like the Philips curve. This is still not very clear for policy-makerrs in many places: acceleration!

    Qu’est-que ça veut dire, acceleration, when we’re focusing on something rather more abstract like autotelic capital, though? As I keep saying, there’s an answer in Damodaran on Valuation; in the simplest case, accelerative dynamics can be derived, for a given project or portfolio or localized pool of capital, from exponential discounting and time-consistent delay valuation. On a grander scale, Marx gives us two circuits: one for a commodity-money-commodity circuit where capital is valuable because it allows for deferral and planning, and one for a money-commodity-money circuit where commodities are valuable insofar they reproduce autotelic capital.

    But the latter is immeasurable (rather, non-metric) in the aggregate, as shown by the sraffians (because of technique reswitching). The former is cashflow valuation in all its gore and its glory. Sometimes very sensible cashflow models will have a real positive “internal rates of return”, which means they can be equated to a simple one-step money-commodity-money process. But then a small variation yields something that doesn’t look like M-C-M at all, something that’s negative (i.e. uneconomic) or complex (of the form a+b*sqrt(-1); exponentiating on complex roots gives you sinusoid cycles).

    So what does this have to do with autotelic capital? Not much more than the Naviers-Stokes equations have to do with giant cthulhoid squid; these are the basic conditions for the capital-thing to live and thrive. My crank theory comes in here — that this is haecceity, individuation irreducible to mere essence, and that in turn any concept of autotelic capital is an emergent property that can’t be understood in terms of simple rules. Capital like Shoggots, if you will.

    Someone who actually understands the deeper point behind Kant — someone who can relate all of this to patriarchal exogamy — might be able to see “local”, “micro”, “cashflow” capital as “ontological”, and “macro”, “structural” capital as “deontic” (because the latter *isn’t*; it’s a telos, a morality, a drive towards the outside, towards desiring-production, toward intensity — it isn’t money.)

    My money is on haecceity. But I’m even a worse philosopher than I am an economist. I mean, I get paid to be an economist.

    • I need to read through that several more times, at the right moments, but one simple-minded question for now: Is it your conclusion that the measurement of core (autotelic) techno-economic process is fundamentally hopeless, such that any kind of rigorous Accelerationist theory is impossible in principle? In other words, that we simply can’t know whether modernization is accelerating, decelerating, stagnant, or revolutionary in anything other than impressionistic, metaphorical terms?

      That certainly seems a possible result, but if that is where we are going to end up, I think at the very least we can get to a position where we understand far more clearly why ‘the economy’ defies all prospect of technological self-subsumption. Haecceities, after all, are not totally inaccessible — they can be designated (by proper names), dated, and even mathematized (ordinally) as intensive quantities.

      • > Is it your conclusion that the measurement of core (autotelic) techno-economic process is fundamentally hopeless

        This is standard economics. It’s actually a challenge — capital reswitching — from heterodox political economy (from Sraffa and colleagues to Samuelson) that had to be accepted by Samuelson (who had previously published a non-reswitching theorem, but retracted peer-reviewed articles and throughly admitted to having been wrong).

        It hasn’t made huge waves in “mainstream economics”, but it’s as “standard” as anything else that’s analytically established — say, the non-uniqueness of general equilibrium. It also doesn’t seem to have made waves in heterodox circles because it invalidates keynesian/post-keynesian heterodox econ even further.

        In essence, capital isn’t a single “thing” because it doesn’t have a single “price”; increasing the price of capital (discount rates) may increase or decrease capital intensity even with a very simplistic optimal production technique. So… with which strategies does aggregate capital look for returns, or to which capital are we attributing a decreasing profit rate, or which is exactly the capital that is in struggle with labor?

        (Reswitching is also quite the Derridean deconstruction of the transformation problem.)

        • Thanks — this is very helpful. It’s especially useful to know that the Cambridge Capital Theory Controversies still occupy such a significant place in this discussion. I suppose it’s presumptuous to ask if you have any off-the-cuff remarks to make about the way this articulates with Austrian capital theorizing (which, due to it pre-occupation with time, is particularly relevant here).

          The only point I’d thrown in at this point is that highly-integrated capital markets are processing this problem ‘immanently’ through the subsumption of businesses into increasingly liquid asset markets (with various types of ‘hostile takeover’ as methods of real — rather than merely theoretical — apprehension). Doesn’t that suggest that the ‘ontology’ of capital is a dynamic historical — even ‘teleological’ — question, tracking the emergence (through intensive phases) of a global capital market? Is it answerable, even in principle, from a static economic perspective?

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