Noumena deFanged: Ray Brassier’s toothless critique of Nick Land

by Jehu

180694754Ray Brassier’s take on Nick Land is jaw-droppingly silly for someone whose Wikipedia entry touts him as “one of the foremost philosophers of contemporary Speculative realism interested in providing a robust defense of philosophical realism in the wake of the challenges posed to it by post-Kantian critical idealism, phenomenology, post-modernism, deconstruction, or, more broadly speaking, “correlationism”.”

You would think with those sorts of credentials he could understand Land’s argument at least at the level of a recent entrant to university.

But you would be disappointed.

According to Brassier, there are problems in Land’s argument that lead Land from radical ultra-left anarchism to his present stance. Brassier characterizes that stance as denial of the revolutionary subject, rejection of politics, and affirmation of impersonal processes. The criticism Brassier makes of Land are of the same character made by Ben Noys, who coined the term, Accelerationism, to describe Land.

Land, says Brassier, is neoliberalism on steroids:

“affirming free markets, deregulation, the capitalist desecration of traditional forms of social organization, etc.”

Okay, so Ben Noys is fool who thinks a social revolution can aim at interrupting the process of capitalist development itself, but what of brassier? According to the latter, Land takes this stance not because he falls for the bourgeois conception of democracy and freedom, but because he seeks to disassociate praxis from any ends at all. The danger, says Brassier, is that if you disassociate your praxis from ends, your praxis can be appropriated by someone else for their own ends — a useful idiot of the type Marxists have played for three decades now.

“You become the pawn of another kind of impersonal force, but it’s no longer the glamorous kind of impersonal and seductive force that you hoped to make a compact with, it’s a much more cynical kind of libertarian capitalism.”

I am not sure what sort of criticism of Land this is? What does Brassier think is already happening at this very moment? Land only states an obvious truth: the praxis of billions is daily being appropriated by capital for the purpose of production of surplus value. The appropriation is absolutely impersonal, absolutely indifferent, to the individuals whose praxis it is and has no other ends than self-expansion of capital. The pact Land proposes to make with this impersonal force is to accelerate it to the point where humanity disappears altogether from the process.

For some reason, this is a problem for Brassier and other critics of Nick Land. Why?

Because Brassier is that sort of fool who believe he can humanize what is an absolutely impersonal and absolutely indifferent global force. These sorts of idiots — you can call them Leftists — really think we can have a capitalism with a human face. They have to take on Land and refute his accelerationist argument if they are to then replace with it their own project. Most of all, they need to reply to Land’s dismissal of their efforts, which Brassier sums up this way:

“It’s happening without you anyway. It doesn’t need you. The very concept of agency is stripped out. There’s a quote of Land’s: ‘it’s happening anyway and there is nothing you can do about it.’ Something is working through you, there is nothing you can do about it, so you might as well fuse.”

For the dumb Marxist, Land’s argument amounts to an outright rejection of all revolutionary praxis since 1848 — and it is. Moreover, it amount to a recognition that Thatcher was entirely correct to tell the society, “There is no alternative.”

Marxists, and the Left in general, have never been happy with Thatcher’s famous declaration, but they have yet to credibly refute it. Every real defeat the working class has suffered in the decades that followed Thatcher’s declaration has been attributed to accidental causes. When the Soviet Union collapsed it was because they were revisionist or capitalist or something; when China turned toward Dengism, they too revealed themselves to have always been revisionist or capitalist or something; the rise of Reaganomics is attributed to the proliferation of conservative think-tanks or the betrayal of the Democrats or bourgeois ideologies like racism; the steady decline in union membership in all the advanced countries is the product of sabotage by union misleaders or whatever.

Every defeat can be explained by its own particular causes and, indeed, according to some of the Leftists, every crisis is now said to have its own cause.

The nightmare for the Left is the possibility that Land connects all of the dots, disclosing the inner logic of what has, until now, been considered disparate and unrelated event, thus showing them all to be no more than particular moments in the unfolding of an impersonal, indifferent, process that cannot be reversed or halted. Rather than the class conflicts of the last three decades being moments of “anti-capitalist resistance”, in Land’s argument they are simply the process of capitalist development expressing itself through the actions of individuals who have no grasp of the forces with which they contend.

In this fashion, a strike in Seattle, instead of achieving its stated aim, does no more than reveal the extent to which the process has become ever more global and irresistable.

Land basically tells the Left this:

“Had you listened to Thatcher, we could have saved three decades of this dumb bullshit play acting at revolution.”

There was never any alternative, says Land; the only possibility was to accelerate an otherwise inevitable epoch in human history. Which takes us back to 1848, when Marx and Engels wrote:

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.”

They never made the argument this epoch could be bypassed, nor that the working class could bring it to a halt. The only alternative we ever had was to accelerate the process. There was never any possibility for an ‘anti-capitalist resistance’; this bullshit jumped straight from the fevered imaginations of university intellectuals. As the Soviet Revolution ultimately proved, mankind could not bypass capitalism; it only cover the territory more or less rapidly

But what is the territory covered by capitalism?

In other words, what is the meaning of Brassier’s nightmarish fear that “there comes a point at which there is no agency left: you yourself have been dissolved back into the process.” What does Brassier mean when he asserts, “The continuation or intensification of the process demands the elimination of humanity as a substrate for the process.”

The elimination of humanity as a substrate for what process exactly?

How dumb do you have to be to not realize this is nothing more than the elimination of living labor from the production of material wealth? I mean, how many fucking university degrees does that take? How many semesters of Hegel do you have to sit through before you become that fucking stupid?

Land is now and has always been speaking only of the production of material wealth. The “elimination of humanity as a substrate for the process” is nothing but the elimination of the workers from the process of production.

I mean really — is that your fucking goal? To be the substrate for the production of material wealth? Do you have that little fucking imagination left?