The Danger of Acceleration

By Tom Brasher

It is undeniable that society has changed drastically in a very short amount of time. With the introduction of the internet and the growth of new technologies, the world today is radically different from what it once was and still remains in a constant state of flux. However, for some, the rapid pace of change is happening nowhere near fast enough. These are the accelerationists. Taking their name from the 1967 science fiction novel, Lord of Light by Roger Zelzany, the accelerationists first emerged into the public consciousness in the early 2010s, promoting the idea of accelerating technological and societal development in order to bring about rapid social change, with the hope of bypassing the major issues facing humanity, such as climate change and mass poverty. Unlike other, more mainstream political ideologies, accelerationism is not concerned with conserving the status quo, nor do they advocate for gradual change. They rarely vote, seeing it as an ineffective method of bringing about change, although when they do they tend to vote for the most extreme candidates.

There are two main branches of accelerationism, both corresponding to the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Left-wing accelerationists are influenced by the writings of Karl Marx, and argue that capitalism must be ‘accelerated’, i.e. pushed to its extremes, in order to exacerbate deprivation, which in turn will force the working classes to organise and adopt more anticapitalist ideals which will hopefully trigger a socialist revolution. For left accelerationists, the development of new technologies is crucial for liberating the working classes.

Right-wing accelerationists on the other hand view western liberal democracy as inherently corrupt and argue that this corruption is irreparable and that the whole system must be destroyed. This school of thought is heavily influenced by the hallucinatory writings of the British philosopher Nick Land, whose work in the University of Warwick based Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU) laid much of the groundwork for accelerationism as a whole. Land wrote that the best way to bring about the demise of liberal democracy is to incite chaos through extreme change, with the hopes of a new, more authoritarian political system emerging. In Land’s view, technology, specifically artificial intelligence, would play a major role in reordering society.

As you can probably imagine, accelerationism is a controversial and heavily contested ideology. Left-wing accelerationists have been criticised by more traditional socialists and social democrats for essentially promoting that we should throw society’s most vulnerable groups under the bus in service of a revolution that may not even happen. In addition, there are very real concerns about the blatantly racist and white supremacist tendencies that go unchallenged in accelerationist circles, with many prominent accelerationist, most notably Land, having links to the alt-right and the neoreactionary Dark Enlightenment movements. In recent years, several mass shooters have cited accelerationism as the ideological motive behind their crimes.

In short, while accelerationism may be an appealing concept to those of us who are frustrated by the slow pace of politics and the feeling that nothing is being done to solve the major issues we face, it is important to remember that, sometimes drastic problems do not always require drastic solutions.