Green Accelerationism: Multicentrism and Multipolarity

“A negative conclusion [to the problem of measuring teleoplexy], if fully elaborated, would necessarily produce an adequate ecological theory of the Anthropocene.”[1]        

Nick Land, “Teleoplexy” 

This is Nick Land’s infamous reply to Celia Sphinxter’s introduction to Green (and “Appropriate”) Accelerationism:

Accelerationism was meant to raze all of this moral exhortation IMHO, but whatever. Increasingly dewy-eyed Virtue Accelerationisms are probably inevitable.[2]

Lilypatchwork follows this up with a clarification Land himself commends as “stunningly well-put”:

I don’t much care what letters panicked crypto-leftists put in front of “/acc” in their Twitter bios, but I do have to wonder what the fuck accelerationism is doing in the realm of post-capitalist community projects instead of measuring teleoplexy. What’s the point even?[3]

What is “teleoplexy”?  Land defines it in the most detail in his paper of the same name, featured in the #Accelerate reader:

Teleoplexy, or (self-reinforcing) cybernetic intensification, describes the wave-length of machines, escaping in the direction of extreme ultra-violet, among the cosmic rays. It correlates with complexity, connectivity, machinic compression, extropy, free energy dissipation, efficiency, intelligence, and operational capability, defining a gradient of absolute but obscure improvement that orients socioeconomic selection by market mechanisms, as expressed through measures of productivity, competitiveness, and capital asset value.[4]

Crucially and somewhat confusingly, teleoplexy both is and is not a teleology, a concept that tends to overlap with the dreaded M-word.  It encompasses modernity’s tendency to subvert all teleologies and value systems it consumes – placing technologies over their users, exchange-value over use-value, economic competition over (cultural, religious) moral principle. When Land opposes “moral exhortation” he means it in the sense of any fixed teleology demonstrably superseded by modernity – yet teleoplexy, he claims, also has an inexorable direction, a telos that can be “measured” only in the practice of techonomic intensification.

Accusing an ideology of moralism is largely an attempt to frame it in relation to other discourses, not a claim about its content, and it is obvious how this one could be framed morally.  Teleoplexy amounts to a kind of bizarre Sermon on the Mount, in which the last shall be first, the means of production shall be the ends of production, the abstraction shall be the Real.  Simultaneously it re-establishes a Scholastic Great Chain of Being, “measurable” in cybernetic productivity.  It is no wonder that there are a growing number of Catholic accelerationists.

Despite being apparently “moralistic” in attempting to preserve the local teleologies of life-forms and ecosystems, the teleology of environmentalism, on the other hand, is almost impossible to formulate.  Ecology as much as teleoplexy, after all, inverts the traditional teleology and thus morality of Western thought, which is anthropocentric. In an essay on Anthropocene Aesthetics that opens Diffractions’ compilation Speculative Ecologies, Kateřina Kovářová invokes Anthony Weston to classify different theories of environmental ethics:

Weston argues that the role of environmental ethics should be not only to extend the ethical principles to a different area.21 To ask why we have ethical obligations to the natural environment is crucial. The question is not only whether we should care, but the reason why we (should) care directly leads to different kinds of obligations. If we simplify the whole issue, “an anthropocentric ethic claims that we possess obligations to respect the environment for the sake of human well-being and prosperity.”22 Different kinds of obligations arise when we understand that we have ethical responsibility for the well-being of future generations of humans, and yet different ones when we take into consideration “the sake of entities within the environment itself, irrespective of any human benefits.”23 And when we want to extend the ethical responsibility towards the non-human, another question arises immediately: “What qualifies an entity for moral consideration?”[5]

 Beyond anthropocentrism, Weston judges “biocentrism” – life as moral telos – and “ecocentrism” – the interconnected life-system as moral telos – inadequate, as forms of “concentrism”, ethics which draw increasingly broad but fading circles around a single centre.  This centre inevitably includes, and is described from the perspective of, the human – hence someone like Land’s suspicions of “humanism” at the mention of ecology. Weston acknowledges Land’s concerns, arguing:

Concentrism is a natural and indeed generous way of framing environmental ethics. Yet it cannot be said to be the only possible approach. Even in purely geometrical terms, there is an obvious alternative: a multicentered vision according to which more-than-human others enter the moral realm on their own terms, rather than by expansion from a single center – a vision according to which there are diverse centers, shifting and overlapping but still each with its own irreducible and distinctive starting-point. For a multicentered ethic, then, the growth of moral sensitivity and consideration does not proceed through an expanding series of concentric realms, each neatly assimilating or incorporating the previous stage within a larger and more inclusive whole. No: instead we discover a world of separate though mutually implicated centers. Moral growth consists in experiencing more and more deeply the texture of multiplicity in the world, not in tracing the wider and wider circles set off from one single center.[6]

Weston’s critique of concentrism, however, does not directly address much less resolve the problem that any ethics can be phrased as a hierarchical relation. Multicentrism still presupposes that an ethics is the same thing as a teleological relation to “centres,” however plural. The metaphor evokes the old animist and polytheist worldviews, of which David Graeber and Marshall Sahlins note:

Even the so- called “egalitarian” or “acephalous” societies, including hunters such as the Inuit or Australian Aboriginals, are in structure and practice cosmic polities, ordered and governed by divinities, the dead, species-masters, and other such metapersons endowed with life-and-death powers over the human population. There are kingly beings in heaven where there are no chiefs on earth.[7]

There is no single kingly being (though there is often a kind of projected meta-divinity).  Different elements and locations are the sovereign territory of their gods, species are presided over by their “species-masters,” and when they come into conflict a genuine overlap and unsettledness of claims arises. Of course, in the ordered worlds of traditional societies and stable ecologies, this happened fairly rarely.

Without making any supernatural assumptions, some of the same reactionary form arises any time multipolarity is introduced as a framework into ecology. The existence of predation, for instance, assumes either predators or ecological units as wholes as “centres” with rights over the ethical being of prey; bodies entail the rejection of some life as disease, etc. Multipolarity simultaneously disavows the question of legitimacy as setting up an oppressive central hierarchy, and defers it to the given.

The same dilemma can be seen today in the emerging “multipolar order”. Long advocated by opponents of globalization, the end of American hegemony has now come to coincide with an intensification of authoritarianism and regional imperial domination by a coterie of superpowers that are, despite increasingly ritualized saber-rattling, largely aligned in the interests of capital accumulation, mass surveillance, containment of “extremist” ideologies. 

The Platonic and Abrahamic traditions – which combine in the Western or Faustian worldview to inform modernity – as well as several other Axial Age systems, such as, arguably, Buddhist soteriology – typically respond to the problem of a panoply of contradictory but similar (the almost textbook “Patchwork” of the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East) moral centres by gathering them all under the domination of one that could not be directly perceived or instantiated in the world, a “King of Kings,” such as God or the idea of the Good, to which human and ecological rulers could be held accountable and reduced to the level of their subordinates. Modernity’s insistence on equality, evident in the critique of concentrism itself, is identical with its teleological refusal of idols before this abstract centre, whose abstraction is in turn identified with its teleological legitimacy.

Thinkers like Badiou and Žižek argue that this teleological orientation is essential to the Left, and that modernity’s unmasking of God as fully unknowable completes this function in eliminating the arbitrary element from ethics altogether, equalizing all being in angelic orbit around the truly empty centre or Outside.

Obviously, it has not been especially successful at this. Faustian modernity colonized the world with a genocidal order far worse than the traditional ones, albeit one characterized by self-subversive teleoplexy, and established a brutally concentric Great Chain of Being under its empty centres of God, Reason and Man. It is responsible for the very environmental crisis we find ourselves in. Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia is an especially compelling conspiracy theory about how monotheism is an occult plot to bring about catastrophic civilizational and ecological entropy by way of techonomic fossil fuel extraction, whose secret mastermind is oil itself.

The other contemporary ideology that conspicuously keeps the faith in an abstract centre before which all contingent teleological orders collapse is accelerationism. 

Accelerationism, in its dominant right-wing form, responds to the charge that Faustian universalism is a camouflaged narcissism not only of the human, but of racially and sexually privileged, physically and mentally “eugenic,” capitalist human elites with the Nordic gamer meme’s post-Nietzschean “Yes”.

Nick Land has been aware of the problem of moral concentrism since his first collected essay, “Kant, Capital and the Prohibition of Incest,” which critiques the asymmetrical structure of Western and colonial desire in wanting to preserve the identity of an “inside” while constantly exploring and charting a non-identical “Outside”.  His current view and its heirs embrace existing dominance structures as the premise of a teleological hierarchy that can finally cast them aside no less impersonally.  Hence their immediate offense at the “humanism” of claims like Green Accelerationism or Paul Chaney’s “Appropriate Accelerationism,” which seem to hypocritically argue that we, or anything existing, can finally benefit from the same process in which we have outcompeted and consumed so many others. At the same time, it claims to have solved the problem of the “blank centre”’s inevitable projection onto cultural or historical contingencies by identifying it with processes – science, economic competition – that increase the material involvement of the Outside.

Yet Land’s own geopolitics now tend towards an authoritarian multicentrism, veering between more fanciful visions of “patchwork” (corporate-owned city-states freely competing for citizens) and the current multipolar order of the real world, divided between the spheres of interest of cultural and nuclear superpowers. Even ontologically, his teleoplexy has been reduced to a stellar multipolarity in which the involvement of the Outside can be limited to the same mathematical extent as it is maximized: his essay in Jacobite on Fragmentation gives light cones determined by the speed of light in empty space as the natural limit and guarantee of sovereignty.  

Land’s insistence on fragmentation is an admission that teleoplexy as he has formulated it simply collapses into limited teleologies. In fact, it even insulates them from the unpredictable encounters of overlapping sovereignties that generated the recognition of the Outside and teleoplexy from the Axial Age through to modernity. 

A lack of international co-operation is often pinpointed by liberals (and conservatives) as the reason ecological management is so difficult. However, the “multipolar” system is deeply cooperative at its highest (or deepest) levels. Meanwhile, fantasies of a top-down world government operate in the opposite direction from the rhizomatic interconnections of ecology.  Green accelerationism posits that complex cybernetic structures of technological and governmental management – impossible under capitalist and statist security systems – are necessary to keep pace with the chaotic perturbations of climate change. These would have precisely nothing in common with “community projects”.

Ecology is the scientific discovery that the teleoplexic elaboration of catastrophe and perturbation upon entities in a limited system tends towards the generation of complex webs of interdependence and co-operation rather than simple competition, a “security system” of sorts. The existence of these co-operative systems in nature is not a simple guarantee against “perturbation”: it is precisely what makes it possible that Earth is the only planet in the solar system that is not in thermodynamic equilibrium, but is perpetually perturbed. As such, ecology resolves the traditional ethical contradiction within earlier discourses of “conservation” which Land seems to project onto Green Accelerationism – that “nature” itself seems to operate on a ruthless and amoral competitive teleoplexy, while human attempts to “preserve” it amount to what Land calls a “primacy of the secondary,” a domination of nature by human morality. This resolution would be a simple cyclical closure if ecological forces had not then conspired to generate an intelligence capable of tearing away vast swathes of its security system and technologically exceeding the limits of its environment, even breaking the prison of the gravity well, while maintaining the self-consciousness necessary to apprehend the homeostatic systems around it, and inventing a moral “blank centre” towards which to orient itself. 

If economics – or techonomics – appears to prove that competition is the most productive system in terms of teleoplexy, ecology proves the opposite. Where Green Accelerationism comes in is the historical moment in which technology, economics and ecology are no longer feasibly separable. Ecology has been traditionally separated from economics as “externality” – that is, the Outside. And while Land describes capitalism as a unique system for increasing the Outside’s involvement, its relation to the ecological Outside remains as one-sided as that he describes in “Kant, Capital & the Prohibition of Incest”. 

Green accelerationism points towards the necessity of a reconciliation between teleoplexy and teleology more elegant than simple collapse onto repetition. It is a response to a “nature” or unitary ecosystem that is now irrevocably perturbed and cannot return to the climax stability of the security system. Stability, even multicentric, is no longer the telos of ecology. But nor is a permanently perturbed response to the Outside conceivable merely as multipolar competition.  Green acceleration strives for integration which keeps pace with change, thereby preventing the collapse of change onto fixed equilibrium states such as extinction.

How does this relate to the accusation of moralism – or the problem of ethics?  Evidently striving for ideal ethics and rejecting morality end up at the same point.  Land critiques moralism in that it is at once always-already multicentric – being unable to access the objective centre that is reality, and falling on whatever internal centre is at hand – and concentric – attempting to dominate reality in the name of these false centres.  

One of Green/ACC’s major projects is to separate environmentalism from moralism and humanity.  We might do well, for instance, to abandon the movement’s historical emphasis on human responsibility and ask how we would resolve climate change if it were simply a natural process, but one that happened to involve carbon we nonetheless were dependent on. For instance, rearing cattle produces more CO2 than driving cars, in part due to technological factors in manure management systems, but this is brought up almost exclusively by Vegans, who alone can associate it with a human sin of indulgence rather than a technical or non-human factor.  Accelerationist frameworks like treating technocapital or oil as autonomous entities, interacting with the rest of nature no more or less morally than an algal bloom, are conducive to this thought experiment. (How many “denialists” could we bring onside with this rhetoric?)  What it rejects is an attempt to identify itself with the Outsideness of these centres, or to identify them in themselves with the total Outside. Rather, we are a source of perturbation to their own arbitrary moralities, and within our rights to invoke our own moral claims as a mechanism of correction towards something outside perceptible centres. This naturally may come to involve subjectively experienced “morality” as a form of human teleoplexy (the inversions of teleoplexy and the concept of “secondary supremacy” by which Land condemns human morality are curiously analogous) relative to the rest of reality – one that may, if sufficiently ecologically integrated with nature and technology alike, point towards an Outside source of value even beyond machinic teleoplexy alone.

(Land shies away from the fact that an intelligence capable of modelling and integrating ecological complexity is even further away than one capable of modelling techonomic complexity, far enough to completely redefine the terms on which he confidently states ontological characteristics of the latter.)

This is, of course, not a philosophical challenge that can be debated theoretically – it is a teleoplexical one that will only be seen practically – as Marxism was, and still is.

Time will measure who wins.

[1] Nick Land, “Teleoplexy,” #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader, Ed. Avanessian, Armen & Mackay, Robin (Windsor Quarry: Urbanomic, 2014).



[4] Land 514

[5] Kateřina Kovářová, “Technology at the Service of Environmental Ethics: Hypertext and Multicentrism,” Speculative Ecologies: Plotting Through the Mesh. ed. Bohal, Vít & Breitling, Dustin (Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2019).

[6] Kovářová 19

[7] David Graeber & Marshall Sahlins, On Kings (Chicago: Hau Books, 2017) 24.

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