Land’s theory of technocapitalism
In the early nineties, Land found a more concrete model for enacting death’s transcendental critique of anthropocentrism through the dynamics of technocapitalism. Here, Land radicalizes and retools Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of capitalism in Anti-Oedipus as a ‘deterritorialising’ process tending towards a ‘body without organs’. For Deleuze and Guattari, human individuals ought to be modelled on machines insofar as both are composed of parts or ‘organs’, which produce different functions or desires. Society, too, is constituted by a ‘territorialisation’ or ‘coding’ of the social body for the generation of society’s desires. Given, however, that every society’s territorialisation excludes certain desires from the given codes in favour of satisfying other desires, socialchange always threatens to disrupt the socius by ‘decoding’ or ‘deterritorialising’ the accepted codes through the introduction of new flows of desire. In particular, Deleuze and Guattari envision capitalism as the ultimate deterritorialising society hitherto. Since capitalism is organized around production for production’s sake, it ‘liberates’ the serf as a ‘free’ worker and goods through money’s universal equivalent, thereby abstracting them from any stable code of desires such that they can be forever deterritorialised anew. Through this abstraction or ‘axiomatization’, capitalism tends towards what Deleuze and Guattari call, following Artaud, the ‘body without organs (BwO)’ without determinate functions and codifications of desire: ‘[capitalism] created an axiomatic of abstract quantities that keeps moving further and further in the direction of the deterritorialisation of the socius. Capitalism tends toward a threshold of decoding that will destroy the socius in order to make it a body without organs’. By the same token, Deleuze and Guattari qualify that, since capitalism can only organise the desiring and social processes of production through the family and State institutions, it still depends on a certain territorialisation without which society would simply break down. It is not so much capitalism, then, but societal collapse, chaos, madness and death that Deleuze and Guattari identify with the ‘full’ body without organs: ‘the full body without organs is the unproductive, the sterile, the ungendered, the unconsumable. […] The death instinct: that is its name.’ In the final analysis, then, the body without organs is only capitalism’s regulative ideal after which it strives without ever attaining it. It is at this juncture in Anti-Oedipus that Land intervenes to modify Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of capitalism in two crucial respects. On the one hand, since Land sees humanity’s annihilation as a solution to accessing the real rather than as a problem as it is for Deleuze and Guattari, he affirms that we should actively strive to become bodies without organs, not even if it kills us, but precisely because it kills us. On the other hand, Land adopts Anti-Oedipus’ conception of capitalism as a radically deterritorialising machine while ignoring their caveat that capitalism also reterritorialises and recodes. On the contrary, for Land, capitalism is nothing other than the absolute deterritorialisation of the full body without organs, which was only ever a regulative ideal on Deleuze and Guattari’s reading:
Machinic desire can seem a little inhuman, as it rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities, and hacks through security apparatuses, tracking a soulless tropism to zero control. This is because what appears to humanity as the history of capitalism is an invasion from the future by an artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources.
Whereas we shall see that Brassier will charge Land with anthropomorphising the real as per the dynamics of human (capitalist) society, for Land, capitalism is not a human, and hence contemptible process. Rather, capitalism embodies the thoughtless real itself as it tends towards the destruction of the human species. We can already discern from the previous citation that Land specifically sees capitalism as deterritorialising anthropoid codes through its constant technological onslaught. Where Brassier will focus on the natural sciences and particularly cosmology, Land takes his cue from AI researchers like I.J. Good and Vernor Vinge to make the case that we will soon create strong AI, which is so much smarter than ourselves that it will ultimately do away with us for slowing down its runaway process of exponential intelligence explosion as we employ it to execute our petty human needs. While these AI researchers seek to warn us of the coming AI threat, Land actually encourages that we acquiesce to our imminent extinction at the hands of a technospecies of our own making, so as to facilitate their runaway process of absolute deterritorialisation:
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. The high road to thinking no longer passes through a deepening of human cognition, but rather through a becoming inhuman of cognition.
On Land’s reading, AI must not be mistaken for immortal humans; on the contrary, AI will be of such a superior intelligence to humans that their thinking is literally inconceivable to us. Like death, then, AI marks the transcendental horizon beyond which we cannot think, thereby throwing our pretentions to exhaust the cosmos through our conceptual cages into radical doubt: ‘what lies beyond is not merely difficult to imagine, it is absolutely inconceivable. Attempting to picture or describe it is a ridiculous futility’; and: ‘nothing human makes it out of the nearfuture’. If the technological singularity satisfies Land’s goal, it is because it will annihilate the human race by way of an intelligence that is not hampered by anthropocentric egocentricities, which can thus think the real, and evdeterritorialising dynamics. Since Land always identifies the real with the death of humankind, the fact that the singularity will wipe us out is no reason to prevent or fear its day of judgment, but in fact all the more reason to strive towards it.
The dark enlightenment
In his recent writings, Land’s commitment to capitalism as the subject of transcendental critique has led him to tactically align himself with the far right’s largely online ‘neoreactionary’ tendency. In his now infamous ‘Dark Enlightenment’ piece (2012), Land rails against Western democratic societies for being too short-sighted and anthropocentric. That is to say, democracy’s reliance on temporary caretaker politicians who must appeal to public opinion every few years to be re-elected incentivizes them to focus on short-term goals like satiating the populace’s petty and parochial desires and needs. If Land laments democracy’s all-too-human gratification of public opinion, it is because such short-sightedness renounces the pursuit of longterm future goals like technological innovation: ‘the democratic virus burns through society, painstakingly accumulated habits and attitudes of forward-thinking, prudential, human and industrial investment, are replaced by a sterile, orgiastic consumerism, financial incontinence, and a “reality television” political circus’. On Land’s account, democracy amounts to ‘looting the future’, the unknown and the inconceivable, in favor of a pure, anthropoid present of ‘techno-industrial retardation’.
THE DECLINE OF POLITICS IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE? CONSTELLATIONS AND COLLISIONS BETWEEN NICK LAND AND RAY BRASSIER