One of the more recent forms of historical determinism is so-called accelerationism, articulated most fully by the English philosopher Nick Land. Central to Land’s account is the understanding, derived from Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, that the fundamental logic of capital is “deterritorialization”: the permanent intensification of development and the relentless overcoming of all stable forms of social life. But against Deleuze and Guattari, Land insists that there is no other deterritorialization beyond the logic of capital itself: All attempts to direct this process beyond capitalism, especially the leftist ones, have been consumed by it.
However, acceleration doesn’t go on infinitely. A final moment is inscribed into its logic: the self-abolition or self-overcoming of humanity, the moment when we will no longer be mortal humans contained by our bodies. As the title of Land’s collected writings, Fanged Noumena, indicates, at this point, the Kantian distinction between phenomena (reality as we experience it) and noumena (the way things are in themselves) will fall down, and we will directly experience—and be devoured by—the Real. How? The key factor is the explosive development of artificial intelligence, which will bring about the Singularity, a—nightmarish or blissful, depending whom you ask—godlike collective self-awareness that will subsume individual consciousness. Inverting the standard humanist pessimism about our fate in the new world overtaken by AI, accelerationism celebrates and seeks to hasten humanity’s extinction at the hands of its own technological tools.
“Accelerationism is, if anything, far too optimistic.”
The appeal of this bracing vision resides in its paradoxical embrace of the implications of what would appear to be a pessimistic account of human destiny. But this dark allure is deceptive: Accelerationism is, if anything, far too optimistic. To see why, consider the contrast between the accelerationist prophecy of human extinction and what Freud called “death drive.” The push toward a determinate end, even a horrifying one, rests on a teleological account in which history has a pre-ordained goal that retroactively vindicates it. The death drive, on the contrary, designates a process of endless procrastination—of missing, again and again, the final point. It makes sense, therefore, that Land uses the term “Dark Enlightenment” to describe his project. Accelerationism brings the logic of incessant progress that characterizes Enlightenment to an extreme but logical culmination in the science-fiction nightmare of humanity eclipsed by machines.