German Culture 101
Gather around, children, and put your protective goggles on: this is what intersecting oppressions look like.
The exhibit above shows a carnival costume currently on sale in a popular German online shop.
Yes, very good, you get an extra mark for recognising blackface. But why the strange facial expression? Let’s get our dictionaries ready and try to translate the product description:
"Afro Faggot Jamie Wig"
That’s right, contemporary German culture is not only racist, for some reason it also likes to throw some homophobia into the mix.
Now, let’s do a little exercise and try to think of why that is:
1. It is easier to make fun of black people despite the genocidal colonial history of Germany if you ridicule them as unmanly gays first.
2. Germans are famously diligent, and if they discriminate they may as well make sure to discriminate thoroughly.
3. Because Germany is a nation of solar-powered, organically upcycled jackboots forever goose-stepping to eurodance.
4. WTF did I just see????!!
Solution: trick question, silly buns, of course all of the above.
Vintage Burberry advertisement
As the exploitation of nature continued, on a vast scale, and especially in the new extractive and industrial processes, the people who drew most profit from it went back where they could find it (and they were very ingenious) to an unspoilt nature, to the purchased estates and the country retreats. And since that time there has always been this ambiguity in the defence of what is called nature, and in its associated ideas of conservation, in the weak sense, and the nature reserve. Some people in this defence are those who understand nature best, and who insist on making very full connections and relationships. But a significant number of others are in the plainest sense hypocrites. Established at powerful points in the very process which is creating the disorder, they change their clothes at weekends, or when they can get down to the country; join appeals and campaigns to keep one last bit of England green and unspoilt; and then go back, spiritually refreshed, to invest in the smoke and the spoil.
Raymond Williams, Ideas of Nature (1980)
#accelerationism in Berlin
Ten random thoughts on yesterday’s event:
1. Pretty decent turnout. I only made it to the talks by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams in the evening but the crowd there was 200+ at least, not bad for a radical theory event in Berlin. Take note, activist left, throw some art in the mix and you can tap into the hip demographic.
2. Shukran Coke, beste Coke.
3. So apparently the whole accelerationism thing is positioned against neoliberal Californian ideology on the one hand and the communization crowd on the other. That is somewhat surprising. When reading the accelerationist manifesto I wondered who the authors actually meant with their polemic against an activist left that eschews technology and favours localism. Occupy? Certainly not anti-technology, pretty global in reach. Or John Zerzan-worshipping anarcho-primitivists in Eugene, Oregon? Are they even still around? Communization strikes me as too esoteric a discourse to act as a stand-in for the contemporary left’s approach to technology and strategy, but maybe things are different in the London echo chamber. I can not really comment on communization’s take on totality and real subsumption but from what I have heard yesterday it seems pretty far out.
4. As an update to Lenin, communism = automation + democratised econometric modelling.
5. FULL UNEMPLOYMENT!
6. In true Hegelian fashion, accelerationists want to ride some objective historical tendencies in capitalism - increasing automation and surplus population - toward a communist future. The concrete demand for a universal basic income as a means to uncouple reproduction from the wage-relation seems almost common sense if we discount for the implicit teleology in that argument. But exploitation is not confined to wage labour, feminists will know that. And capitalism is a non-trivial machine thus we simply do not know the output to expect if we successfully implement the demand for a universal basic income. Which does not mean we should not try.
7. I like the idea of giving Gramscian hegemony a material twist and thinking about the ways hegemony can be contested not only on symbolic-cultural but also on technological grounds. I guess that is what more practically-oriented feminist STS, hacker cultures and the appropriate technology movement tried to do, but surely not on the grand modernist scale the accelerationists imagine.
8. I wonder where the demand to align the anti-capitalist project again with the project of modernity leaves feminist, postcolonial and ecological critiques of modernity. An idea of freedom from necessity through mastery of nature seems inherent to the accelerationist project, most visible in the Promethean trope, which in turn seems to uncritically rely on dualist ontologies that have been rightly criticised for their gendered, racialised and unsustainable histories, not to speak of their utter failure in accounting for the hybrid and complex realities we are facing. Perhaps we might rather speak of modernities in the plural which helps to attend to non-Western modernities, and also reclaim some of the forgotten radical enlightenment ideas. I too see a certain impasse in post-modern critiques, but please let’s be specific: what exactly do we want to reclaim and what rather not when talking about reclaiming modernity from capitalism?
9. Finally, a few more words on technology.
I am completely on the same page with Srnicek and Williams when they demand that we need to overcome reductive binary accounts of technologies as either inherently progressive or reactionary by way of closely interrogating specific technologies and their uses. That is precisely what STS does and why I am moving from media studies into that field, and there is a rich body of work from feminist STS that they rightly and dutifully gave a shout out to. Moreover, there is a dire need to read the dynamics between class struggle and technological development through an STS lens. Timothy Mitchell gestures toward such a critical project when writing about class struggles in the coal industry and the material conditions for the autonomy of labour, and I think a Latourian reading of, for instance, Mario Tronti, Raniero Panzieri and David Noble would be a promising way for better understanding the different ways materialities are enrolled in actualising worker’s or capitalist’s agency. The importance of such a theoretical project for countering hegemonic narratives coming out of elite economics departments such as the awful book by Brynjolfson and McAfee can not be overrated. Maybe I am just not aware that such a literature exists but I have not seen an awful lot of it, and given ANT’s complicated relationship with critical sociology I am not so sure we are going to see more like this anytime soon, but hope springs eternal. If accelerationism could further such a theoretical project that would already be a great achievement.
For all their exhortations to soberly reckon with actually existing technologies, the examples they gave for the potential of certain technologies to realise more equitable and just economies tended to fall back on precisely the sort of hand-waving techno-utopianism they want to distance themselves from. For instance, complexity and computer simulation. Current econometric modelling is a mess and the smarter practitioners in the field will concede that, hence the move towards agent-based models with bounded rationality and such things. Srnicek and Williams point toward computer simulation as a means to rationally plan a non-market economy in ways that they imagine to be more scalable than ad-hoc meetings in protest camps. I have read a bit into computer simulation, and by no means is this methodology easily scalable when the goal is to create a representation that incorporates the heterogeneity of situated knowledges. I hope that being attentive to local difference would indeed be a precondition for making complexity more tractable and create technologies that make complex societies representable to themselves as tools for facilitating better self-determination (something like a communist version of the ‘skopic media’ Karin Knorr Cetina writes about). The trade-off, however, is always between the level of detail of the model and its efficiency, and model validation, if done in a careful manner that eschews simple scientific realism in favour of situated epistemologies, a lengthy process of negotiation that, here is the twist, involves a laborious back-and-forth not unlike some Occupy-style assembly rather than real-time decision-making in some far removed control room stuffed with experts as imagined in Srnicek’s and Williams’ favourite example CyberSyn. See for instance the work by Castella, Trung and Boisseau in Vietnam to get an idea of the labours involved in participatory simulation. Bottom line, scalability is not a function of technology. Which is not to say we should not look into technologies like agent-based modelling, but we should look carefully and closely and not like a state. Otherwise we might just repeat failed imaginaries of command and control.
10. When the last asteroid is robo-mined
The last nanobot 3d-printed
The last gene sequence bio-bricked
Then only will man discover
That he can not eat bitcoins.