Friday, December 1, 2023

#335 / "Accelerationism"

The picture above depicts Marc Andreessen, looking somber. Or looking irritated. Or looking out of sorts - or something like that. According to Wikipedia, whose article on Andreessen is linked above, Andreessen is "an American businessman and software engineer." 

Ezra Klein, writing in The New York Times, amplifies that rather neutral description. Klein calls Andreessen "the chief ideologist of the Silicon Valley elite," and, as the title on Klein's recent column discloses, Klein thinks that Andreessen has "some strange ideas."

Strange they definitely are. I only wish that I could have displayed the picture that ran in the hard copy edition of The Times, accompanying Klein's column. The online version of Klein's article comes with the picture shown above, but in the edition of the newspaper that I read on a Sunday morning in late October - the hard copy version - the picture provided showed a smiling, jovial Andreessen. I thought that picture made him look almost "demonic," though I guess you'll have to take my word for this characterization. I couldn't find that photo anywhere online. 

Klein, who attended the University of California, Santa Cruz for two years, though he graduated from UCLA, characterizes Andreessen's philosophy as "accelerationism." That philosophy, as Klein explains it, seems to me to partake of elements of the demonic, which is why I felt the hard copy picture was so appropriate. As I say, I guess you'll have to take my word for that; however, here is the substance of what Klein has to say about Andreessen's philosophy and ambitions (read the whole article if you can punch past what I anticipate may be a paywall erected by The Times):

We are used to thinking of our ideological divide as cleaving conservatives from liberals. I think the Republican Party’s collapse into incoherence reflects the fact that much of the modern right is reactionary, not conservative. This is what connects figures as disparate as Jordan Peterson and J.D. Vance and Peter Thiel and Donald Trump. These are the ideas that unite both the mainstream and the weirder figures of the so-called postliberal right, from Patrick Deneen to the writer Bronze Age Pervert. This is not a coalition that cares about tax cuts. It’s a coalition obsessed with where we went wrong: the weakness, the political correctness, the liberalism, the trigger warnings, the smug elites. It’s a coalition that believes we were once hard and have become soft; worse, we have come to lionize softness and punish hardness. 
The Silicon Valley cohort Andreessen belongs to has added a bit to this formula. In their story, the old way that is being lost is the appetite for risk and inequality and dominance that drives technology forward and betters human life. What the muscled ancients knew and what today’s flabby whingers have forgotten is that man must cultivate the strength and will to master nature, and other men, for the technological frontier to give way. But until now, you had to squint to see it, reading small-press books or following your way down into the meme holes that have become the preferred form of communication among this crew.  
Now Andreessen has distilled the whole ideology to a procession of stark bullet points in his latest missive, the buzzy, bizarre “Techno-Optimist Manifesto.” I think it ill named. What makes it distinctive is not its views on technology, which are crude for a technologist of Andreessen’s stature. Rather, it’s the pairing of the reactionary’s sodden take on modern society with the futurist’s starry imagining of the bright tomorrow. So call it what it is: reactionary futurism. 
Andreessen’s argument is simple: Technology is good. Very good. Those who stand in its way are bad. He is clear on who they are, in a section titled simply “The Enemy.” The list is long, ranging from “anti-greatness” to “statism” to “corruption” to “the ivory tower” to “cartels” to “bureaucracy” to “socialism” to “abstract theories” to anyone “disconnected from the real world … playing God with everyone else’s lives” (which arguably describes the kinds of technologists Andreessen is calling forth, but I digress)... 

Klein goes on the tell us that Andreessen calls his philosophy "effective accelerationism." 

"Effective accelerationism aims to follow the ‘will of the universe’: leaning into the thermodynamic bias towards futures with greater and smarter civilizations that are more effective at finding/extracting free energy from the universe,” and “E/acc has no particular allegiance to the biological substrate for intelligence and life, in contrast to transhumanism” (emphasis added).

By conflating technology, and "accelerationism" with the "will of the universe," Andreessen is repudiating the idea that humans live, ultimately, in a World of Nature - a world which humans did not create, and which World of Nature is, inherently, a world of "limits." 

To suggest that the world is, effectively, our own creation is to misunderstand our actual situation. It is to claim that "we," human beings, actually are the "God" who has traditionally been seen as the one who has created the world.* 

Whatever your position on "God," we find ourselves alive, rather mysteriously, in a World of Nature that we, most emphatically, did not create ourselves. To suggest that we can ignore this fact is definitely "delusional," to use another "D" word - and a word you might prefer, if you think "demonic" may be too strong. 

Personally, I am going to stick with "demonic." But then, I got to see that picture in the hard copy edition of The Times!

1 comment:

  1. Hola Profesor!
    Espero que esté bien. Le mandé un ‘friend request’ por facebook se lo quiere aceptar. You are sorely missed!


    Annette Gonzalez Buttner


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