Accelerationisms in the Plural

A short preface to the Korean translation of #accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader (Galmuri Press, 2023)


#Accelerate was first published in English in 2014. Since that time, across a period during which politics has been in continual crisis, as apocalyptic thinking of various types has become the norm, traditional left/right dualisms have been scrambled, and meme culture has rescinded any limit on the extent to which formerly esoteric notions can leak into public discourse, the term ‘accelerationism’ has seen a startling increase in currency. At the time of publication it was a recondite, little-known term of uncertain meaning—and even something of an in-joke, since the title #accelerate came from a hashtag attached to the humorous online repartee of a small group of friends. It has now appeared in news headlines, academic papers, art shows, think tank reports, government memos, and more. It seems that the book succeeded in its aim of assembling a history for accelerationism so as to propel the term into existence for the future.

While avoiding any dogmatic definition of the term, the introduction to #accelerate sought to challenge certain misconceptions about accelerationism that were already emerging at the time. These have persisted, and have birthed new monsters. In particular, at a certain point around 2017–18 the mainstream Western media seized upon accelerationism as a ‘dangerous idea’ inviting moral panic.1 Following the 2019 mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, alarming reports about ‘militant accelerationist subcultures’ circulated following discovery of the word in the killer’s manifesto; the confused media whispers only served to further promote this particular version of accelerationism as a credo attractive to desperate youths looking for a way to overcome their sense of disenfranchisement.2

It is a significant episode, and is not mentioned here in order to protest or bemoan the hijacking of the term. Words have their own destinies, and this particular self-fulfilling prophecy is, in its own way, indicative of a certain dismal relation to the future. Happily, it does not represent accelerationism’s sole fate. In fact, it is testament to the concept’s robustness and pertinence that, despite such demonisation, almost ten years later accelerationism remains alive, multiple, and unresolved.

In presenting accelerationism as a theme, the publication of #accelerate exposed it to another danger: that of becoming a new theory trend, spliced opportunistically into academic papers for a few months only to be superseded by whatever came next. But the term appears to have been irretrievably tainted by its media associations, not to mention the continuing provocations of the latter-day Nick Land (no amount of intellectual subtilisation was going to save his emetic polyalloy of accelerationism, ‘scientific’ racism, and Fox News shitlording from general anathema). These factors seem to have largely prevented the risk-averse worlds of academia and contemporary art—the usual vectors of conceptual banalisation—from fully adopting accelerationism as a ‘new big thing’. It was therefore elsewhere, largely in online communities, that more inventive and nuanced interventions appeared, informed in part by the reconstructions and projections presented in the book, but also drawing upon broader subcultural themes and urgencies of the moment. A thousand acceleration­isms bloomed—enough to fill another volume, which however would risk being out of date before it was printed.

Among these ‘/acc’ offshoots and sub-brands we could mention Laboria Cuboniks’s Xenofeminist Manifesto, n1x’s ‘Gender Acceleration: A Blackpaper‘ (g/acc), Aria Dean’s ‘Notes on Blacceleration­ism’ (bl/acc), Vincent Garton and Edmund Berger’s discussions on ‘uncondi­tional accelerationism’ (u/acc), recent efforts to rustle up an ‘effective accelerationism’ (e/acc) movement, and even, exponentiating the apparently unstoppable conquest of the human psyche by magical girls, kawaii, and cat videos, ‘cute accelerationism’ (cute/acc). All of these form a mutating field of thought and cultural production in which the question of accelerationism continues to provoke excitement, dread, enthusiasm, and apprehension.

And let’s face it: as Mark Fisher was already reminding us in ‘Terminator vs. Avatar’, we are all de facto accelerationists. There are certainly decels and doomers among us, but very few of them actually log off, ditch their phones, and go to live in a hut in the woods. There is certainly no shortage of calls to return to a simpler way of being, complaints about the intensity and complexity of always-online life, warnings about a crisis of mental health, and protests about the inequitable outcomes of the algorithmic society. But if we are to judge by revealed preference rather than stated preference, humanity at large has clearly opted to plunge further into a web of technical mediation that disrupts our relation to ourselves and our sense of what is human, rendering us economically, politically, personally, and even emotionally and sexually reliant upon machinic networks whose operations no one any longer fully understands or controls.

We are well beyond the question of being ‘for’ or ‘against’ accelerationism, since the question of whether this process is emancipatory merely begs the question: emancipatory for what, exactly? It is more a question of whether we disavow our de facto accelerationism, or actively invest in an exploration of it. Rather than simply careering downward in confusion and fear, accelerationists actively seek out the steepest slopes, and get on one. In light of the various accelerationisms enumerated above, the question is: Which slope? Given that we cannot control or slow down the process, what is most likely to take us over a significant threshold? Which cultural vectors have the most traction in drawing the human and its cultural environment into unknown territories? And how can you participate as fully as possible in the futures they promise, even if that involves losing what you once thought of as your identity? For accelerationism is nothing if it is not also a risk of self.

The ebullient proliferation of /acc microbrands channels the restlessness of the terminally online into an endless proliferation of anticipative apocalypses: speculatively envision the singularity, give in to the vibe, accelerate the process. And their plurality reveals the fundamentally libidinal character of accelerationism. The privileged entry points for participation in the future that each /acc prises open are so many indices of singular sensibilities or perversions of desire, each of which radiates its own ultimate horizon.

Accelerationism champions such obsessive libidinal intensification at the expense of any given image of the human, and is therefore always going to be in excess of any reasoned and reasonable management of human affairs. Since the publication of #accelerate, Left Accelerationism’s attempt to parlay it into a deliberative, responsible, and constructive politics has condemned its advocates to scale down their speculative visions to the proportions of party policy and measured proposals for reform—to the point where today the tendency has more or less faded away, or can hardly any longer be meaningfully described as an accelerationism (an inevitability which Land clearly foresaw in ‘Teleoplexy’).

In contrast, the online speed tribes are simply doing accelerationism, with little interest in legislating for others and no pretence to be piloting the processes they celebrate. Is accelerationism thereby reduced to a form of aesthetic appreciation? Does this mode of activity perpetuate the romanticism of which accelerationism has sometimes been accused, satisfying nothing but a crypto-religious yearning for participation in cosmic process or planetary telos? Although a certain romantic desire for self-abolition has always simmered within accelerationism, the romantic flight from social illusion into inner rapture is the province of the isolated individual, and millenarianism requires the concept of an endpoint fixed in advance. It is something quite different from the collective and anonymous experimental construction of microcultures whose intensifications gradually seep out into the wider culture. Here, in the hands of users largely uninvested in majoritarian social forms inherited from the past whose incongruous obsolescence is self-evident to them, accelerationism becomes productive. With all the means of communication available to the terminally online, their joyful speculative excesses propagate the certainty that there is more to gain by loosening the grip of humanist norms upon processes of technically-enabled exploration than by deluding oneself that stability is a plausible goal.3

Although it would be foolish to issue any predictions, today accelerationism is some kind of cultural and political force, which was certainly not the case when the book was first published. But with apologies to those who wanted to make it into a political platform, it seems fairly clear that it does not ask, and has no answer, to the question What Is to Be Done? Which is not to say that the praxis of accelerationism cannot be effective, indeed transformational. Perhaps it is best viewed in light of its occultural roots in the writings of Ccru: as a mode of divination and hyperstition; as a practice of the detection and actualisation of as-yet incompletely deployed virtualities; as a discipline of enthusiasm, a passion for welcoming the flow of nameless currents; as the reckless integrity to submit to the future early enough to play your part in making it too late to turn back.

  1. There have since been efforts at more intelligent and in-depth coverage, e.g., Andy Beckett, ‘Accelerationism: How a Fringe Philosophy Predicted the Future we Live In’, The Guardian, 11 May 2017, and artist Jake Chapman’s forthcoming TV documentary Accelerate or Die!
  2. According to this drastic simplification of accelerationism, which conflated a popular misunderstanding of the concept—namely, the idea that accelerationism programmatically seeks to make everything worse, to bring it to a crisis point, to make it better—with the then-ambient political strategies of neoreaction (NRx), the alt-right, and white supremacist terrorism, it consists in the deliberate attempt to exacerbate existing social tensions so as to provoke disarray and the eventual collapse of society. See e.g. Zack Beauchamp, ‘Accelerationism: The Obscure Idea Inspiring White Supremacist Killers Around the World’, Vox, November 18, 2019.
  3. This is something that has been especially evident in the natural (or rather unnatural) alliance forged between accelerationism and the transgender community—notably, one of the touchstones for ur-accelerationist Nick Land’s retreat into a conservativism which, with an unexpected note of civilizational responsibility, finds ‘woke’ disregard for biological ‘truth’ very concerning.