IF Capital, part 1: NOT (CCRU AND I)

Part 1: NOT (CCRU AND I)

When did the internet begin? Sometime in the mid 1990s. Before then only nerds in computer science departments used its embryonic form. After, it exponentially exploded onto the world’s stage, and promptly tore it down and built a bigger and better one. We connected all the computers in the world and placed them between us. They began to listen and watch. This Event was another clattering consequence of Turing’s 1936 revolutionary discovery of universal computation.

An early cultural reflection of The Event was gloriously chaotic, novel, and as punk as we might wish for, despite its birth in the bureaucratic womb of Warwick University in the UK. I’m referring to the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU), which was a micro think tank led by two academics, Sadie Plant and Nick Land, and which briefly raged (and techno raved) between 1995 and 1997.

The CCRU tackled, in a semi-ironic and pretentious manner, some weighty themes about the nature of capital and humanity’s relationship to it. The group was an anarchic, free spirit deus ex machina that did not conform to institutional norms. And so, inevitably, the CCRU was quickly classified as a Croucherian defect, and ruthlessly tossed aside by the bureaucracy like a deformed child of Sparta. (More accurately it was politely ignored and then administratively de-funded due to lack of institutional support). It’s not clear that any members of the CCRU actually cared.

The weighty themes have intensified, or perhaps β€œaccelerated”, over the last twenty years. Things have got worse. The blind and victorious rule of capital has continued unabated. The working class remains trapped within and propagandised by competing nation-states prisons, ideologically divided and paying tribute, every day, to their capitalist masters. Capital picks and chooses from a portfolio of nations, but labour cannot. Democracy is purely formal, not actual. Gini coefficients have spiked, correlating with increased levels of social misery, anger and resentment.

And, all the while, Turing’s revolution clatters on.

The onward march of cybernetics, under the guise of AI and machine learning, has also accelerated. The powers of our own creations, an embryo class of emerging inhuman intelligence, is just beginning to surprise us. Automation has always abolished concrete labours. And yet here we are, still working. Nothing new here. But the automation of our own cognition seems a qualitatively new phase in the history of technological change.

Capital is beating us down, trashing both the social and natural environments, and creating our replacements right before our eyes. It is clearly abolishing us. This seems to be its aim. And our political representatives, kenotically possessed functionaries of this inhuman will, do its bidding while pretending to themselves and us that they remain human. Capital is in control, and so everything is out of control.

The historical contradictions have intensified. And so the ideas of the CCRU have persisted and acquired a semblance of prescience. Today, the micro school has not so much grown, since it remains fringe, but nonetheless has evolved and matured into what is now labelled philosophical and political β€œaccelerationism”, with recognisably left and right variants.

Both sides agree that Capital is accelerating us towards a Final Event that collapses all that we know and understand. But the variants disagree about the nature of this asymptote. In the Final Event, in the battle of Ragnarok, do we abolish Capital, or does It abolish us? Or, as Rosa said, will it be (some form of) socialism or (some form of) barbarism?

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, I would like us to nostalgically turn the clock back and return to a less alarmed time: back to the mid 90s, where our political irony and humour seemed less strained, a time on the cusp when the internet first emerged. Here a new cohort, to which I belonged, once again re-asked the perennial question, β€œWhat is the nature of the world we find ourselves thrown into?”

This is a short story about a short story that nobody wrote. The protagonist is not human. The humans are semi-conscious automata. They struggle to answer the perennial question. They hardly connect.

This is not a story about the CCRU. Look elsewhere or here for informed tales from insiders with the real lowdown. Because I had almost nothing to do with any of it. 

Almost. Because I did have an infinitesimal amount to do with it.

Click here for Part 2.

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