Law in the Internet Society
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Surveillance Capitalism: An Accelerationist Perspective

-- By CalebMonaghan - 22 Oct 2021

Marx gave a speech in 1848 titled On the Question of Free Trade, in which he stated:

…in general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favor of free trade.

This conceptualization of free trade as a means to quicken the path to revolution forms the basis of a school of thought commonly known as “Accelerationism.” Key Accelerationist thinker Nick Land summarized this concept in his 2017 essay, stating: in this germinal accelerationist matrix, there is no distinction to be made between the destruction of capitalism and its intensification. The auto-destruction of capitalism is what capitalism is.” (A Quick-And-Dirty Introduction to Accelerationism) Capitalism, according to this school of thought, is inherently unstable and will ultimately be its own undoing. Yet, accelerationist thinkers differ from others bemoaning the ills of capitalism in that they believe “that the only radical political response to capitalism is not to protest, disrupt, or critique, nor to await its demise at the hands of its own contradictions, but to accelerate its uprooting, alienating, decoding, abstractive tendencies.” (#Accelerate: The Accerlationist Reader, Robin MacKay? + Armen Avanessian)

Capitalism has infiltrated the extraskeletal nervous system known as the internet. This nervous system embraces the full compass of human experience and soon every mind will exist within it. On one level, the internet is a collection of services, while at the same time functioning as “a new social condition.” No technology determines its own future, and what we have today is not what was designed: rather than promoting its initial purpose of equality, the internet provides services in exchange for knowledge about every aspect of its users’ lives, knowledge which it then uses to modify our behavior. This parasitic paradigm inhibits freedom on fundamental levels and, in many ways, those who control the internet control how people think. Accelerationist thought would counsel toward treating these evils in the same way as any of the other ills of capitalism: escalate and deregulate the objectionable practices so that we can more quickly see their destruction. Though perhaps shocking on its face, there are several reasons why this course of action might be preferable to other proposals.

The internet as a sociological condition is ubiquitous. In much the same way as language and laws predate every being’s birth, so too does this sociological condition. Surveillance capitalism has become so normalized that it has been integrated into educational platforms (Courseworks). Having arrived at this position, “it is ceasing to be a matter of how we think about technics, if only because technics is increasingly thinking about itself. It might still be a few decades before artificial intelligences surpass the horizon of biological ones, but it is utterly superstitious to imagine that the human dominion of terrestrial culture is still marked out in centuries, let alone in some metaphysical perpetuity.” (Land, Fanged Noumena, 441.) There is a sense in which we cannot turn back the clocks, and attempting to do so only delays the inevitable and prolongs suffering.

Moreover, when viewed more broadly, there is a sense in which destroying the tools used by big tech limits our ability to effectively handle other problems threatening the future of the planet. Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, in their essay #Accelerate: A Manifesto for Accelerationist Politics, point to “a new breed of cataclysm” (the breakdown of the planetary climate system) facing the global civilization that today’s politics are unable to address. (Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, #Accelerate: A Manifesto for Accelerationist Politics, p. 1) They point to the failure of neosocialist regimes such as those created from the Bolivarian Revolution to advance beyond mid-century socialism as evidence of impotence of even more “radical” forms of political action. (Id.) Pointing out that even Marx recognized the importance of embracing the gains of capitalism, Williams and Srnicek note a division between “those that hold to a folk politics of localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism, and those that outline what must become called an accelerationist politics at ease with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology. The former remains content with establishing small and temporary spaces of non-capitalist social relations, eschewing the real problems entailed in facing foes which are intrinsically non-local, abstract, and rooted deep in our everyday infrastructure.” (Id. 3) The latter (Accelerationists) would unleash the latent productive forces of technology, noting that the true potential of such technology has yet to be realized. The tools used by big-tech (social network analysis, big data analytics, etc.) show great potential if they could be harnessed for purposes beyond surveillance capitalism. With the population set, by some estimates, to reach 11 billion people by the end of the century, these repurposed technologies could be essential for the continued existence of humanity on this planet.

As Williams and Srnicek state: “The choice facing us is severe: either a globalized post-capitalism or a slow fragmentation towards primitivism, perpetual crisis, and planetary ecological collapse.” (Id. p. 6) Our culture of convenience, combined with the already deeply entrenched nature of this sociological condition strongly indicate that courses of action which do not allow capitalism to kill itself will lead to more suffering. Accelerationism is an admittedly terrifying proposal, but, as philosopher Ray Brassier noted, “fear is precisely what must be overcome first in any emancipatory project.” (#Accelerate: The Accerlationist Reader. p. 526)

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r3 - 14 Jan 2022 - 15:34:57 - CalebMonaghan
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