Land, Wilderson and the nine billion names of God
I thought about a post bringing together Land’s nihilism with Wilderson’s Afropessimism but that’s like writing the 9 billion names of God. The nine billion names of God is, of course, the name of a 1950s short story written by British writer Arthur C. Clarke.
Clarke tell the story of a group of Tibetan monks who have taken on the onerous task of recording all the names of God in the belief that this would fulfill the purpose of the universe. Once the names of God have been duly recorded, and its purpose fulfilled, God would bring the universe to an apocalyptic end. Toward this end they engage a group of computer programmers to automate the process of revealing God’s many names so as to bring the task to its rapid completion.
Although ridiculing the monks for their superstition, the programmers set about the task of automating the process of revealing God’s names. However, fearing the monks would stiff them once the program has run and the nine billion names of God revealed without any effect, The programmers time the completed run so that it ends after they are safely away with their final pay. When the run is completed and as the programmers are about to board their plane home, they look up and see the stars winking out one by one.
Clarke’s story can be read as an allegory for Marx’s fragment on the machine from the Grundrisse — although this is unintentional — indeed the Grundrisse, having not been translated in to English, was a little known work. According to Marx, the machines are introduced into the production of material wealth solely to increase the profits of capital, but the result is that, in the words of Marx, they become “the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.”
“Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary. On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labour time employed on it. On the other side, it wants to use labour time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value. Forces of production and social relations – two different sides of the development of the social individual – appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.” (Marx)
Automation, in Marx’s theory is how the mode of production unconsciously lumbers inevitably towards its own extinction.
In his multipart essay, “The Return of the Reactionary”, Jonathan Ratcliffe likely captures the judgment of Nick Land generally held on the Left.
“Brutally anti-humanist, Land in his desire for transhumanist salvation in the 1990s conjured up a paranoid world where fascists, priests, humanists and just about everyone who wasn’t him became one and the same. A force of “Turing Cops” trying to hold back the liberating dissolution of mankind into the machine. They all want to keep man a peasant digging over the same piece of ground forever, because of their fear of him internalising an alien “cyberplague” of techno-capitalism that has taken on a life of its own. Land so hates the human race that the only thing it seems good for is for producing a liberated Nietzschean posthuman. As Nietzsche cried out, and Deleuze imitated: “the levelling process of European man is the great process which should not be checked: one should even accelerate it”
If there is any writer today who embodies everything that is anathema to the Left, it is this man, one of their own who, they argue, went so far Left, to such extreme, that he has now become the prophet of the alt-Right.
Land so hates mankind, he dreams that one day we will all be replaced by machines. As another writer, Ray Brassier, put it, Land seeks the continuation or intensification of a process that end in the elimination “of humanity as a substrate for the process.” I have observed before that Land’s critics fail to understand one salient thing about this sort of criticism:
“[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?”
For the longest time, I thought — mistakenly — that people just didn’t get Land — and in large part because they just didn’t get Marx. There is no way, I thought, you could lay Land and Marx side by side and not see they were talking about the same thing.
I have to admit now that I was wrong. The Left will never get Land because Land only offers them death. The idea that death is the culmination of history is a concept that can never be embraced by the Left.
I have to admit that I did not come to this conclusion on my own. After much ignoring him, I actually sat down one day and watched this video of a lecture by Frank B. Wilderson III:
Within minutes of listening, I began to realize that this guy decodes Land in a way that I had never understood before. The humanity, which the Left reproaches Land for hating, is in fact what Wilderson calls irreconcilable antiblackness. It is social death experienced by African slaves and their children for hundreds of years. Whether he knows it or not, and whether the Left realizes it or not, Land is being accused of seeking the death of antiblackness, i.e., all existing social relations and all of existing society.
Wilderson puts it this way:
“we cannot enter into a structure of recognition as a being, an incorporation into a community of beings, without recognition and incorporation being completely destroyed. We know that we are the antithesis of recognition and incorporation. … recognition and incorporation are generically anti-Black”
Of the Left, including Land’s harshest critics, Wilderson has this to say:
“You, Black person, must demonstrate to me that I am unethical in my actions.’ Yet, they wouldn’t hold any other paradigm of oppression to that high of a bar. They wouldn’t say that the White French people living in Algeria have to be destroyed because they are unethical in their actions. They would say that they have to be destroyed because they are present, because they are here. They wouldn’t say, ‘Well you know, there’s some good capitalists and some bad capitalists.’ They would say, ‘the capitalist as a category has to be destroyed’. What freaks them out about an analysis of anti-Blackness is that this applies to the category of the Human, which means that they have to be destroyed regardless of their performance, or of their morality, and that they occupy a place of power that is completely unethical, regardless of what they do. And they’re not going to do that. Because what are they trying to do? They’re trying to build a better world. What are we trying to do? We’re trying to destroy the world. Two irreconcilable projects”
That shit made me break down and cry.
“We’re trying to destroy the world.”
I think even the most extreme communist (of which I have always counted myself) has never been able to pass those words from her lips
“We’re trying to destroy the world.”
There is nothing of existing society we wish to reclaim, nothing to salvage, no material with which to build a better world in this one.
The world is irreconcilably antiblack.
Communism wants nothing less than to destroy the world.