I’m sitting in a Whole Foods on Thanksgiving Day contemplating the materialist notion that the primary fact in the world is a massive collective effort at sustaining and refashioning human civilization. According to this view, a mass misrecogition of this fact is necessary for sustaining it in its current capitalist mode. People’s conscious aims, identities and political allegiances are typically symptomatic of their status as exploited: disconnected from the true reality of their existence, which is a cooperative constant recreation of the conditions of life, which is inherently impossible to directly know or experience: The Great Labor.
Capitalism supposedly distorts true labor, converting it into abstract labor (which, though it is an illusion and an abstraction, has power over us if we believe in it - it is a ‘real abstraction’). Value is defined by labor time, the time it takes for completely unskilled labor to produce all the parts of a product. This erasure of skill as such, skill, which, as Aristotle knew, is the essence of being human, is a fundamental alienation, a crime against human nature.
In the Grundrisse, Marx makes a few stammering efforts to speculate on how value would be defined in the post-capitalist era, as an alternative to tethering it to abstract labor time. What would be valued, somehow, would be the development of an individual’s talents in such a way that she or he contributes to the enrichment of knowledge and culture (though these dots are rarely connected, this is is essentially the same as what Aleister Crowley claimed with his injunction ‘do what thou wilt’ and the notion of ‘true will’ in his religion of Thelema).
The chief contradiction in capitalism is supposedly this: Value is defined by labor time, but there is always a tendency towards mechanization, which decreases labor time (because it increases efficiency) and thus makes everything produced less valuable (i.e. it is cheaper to buy), which means workers are payed incrementally less for the same amount of production. The condition of workers thus deteriorates in one sense and improves in another. As producers, their degree of exploitation increases and their wages are in principle driven down; as consumers, they in principle have more time on their hands, because less work is needed to take care of the needs of the world as a whole. The concept of leisure is born. The laborers’ alienation - consciousness that capitalism is undesirable, being forced to think about its conditions etc - is paired with a new-found sense of the right to labor that would be unalienated in a sense more profound than that of the pre-capitalist artisan who makes his own shoes or tills his own soil: the new concept of non-alienated labor involves developing talent for its own sake, or for its contribution to culture in some sense (rather than the self-reproduction of survival). Eventually they seize the means of production. This was Marx’s prediction, but he did not foresee the rise of consumer culture which Adam Curtis describes so well in his documentaries, where the tools and concepts of psychoanalysis, advanced mathematics and mass media play a role in preventing the worker from seizing the means of production.
The new era of capitalism wards off the crisis of its fundamental contradiction in this way: focus groups and data mining serve to create a psychometric profile for every consumer/laborer on the grid, so that new products can be tailored not just to their needs but to their unconscious fantasies, exacerbating a fundamental sense of lack and providing goods tailor made to fill the lack in the same stroke. A new market rooted in fantasy is created, allowing production to continue to expand (it must at all costs continue to expand, because, since exchange value is abstract and cannot be used directly, it only has value if it creates *more* value). On the one hand, this stalls the development of revolutionary class consciousness (which is ‘bad’) but on the other hand, to a certain degree this new market really does provide an avenue for individuals to develop their unique talents. The phenomenon of the ‘prosumer’ is easy to ridicule, but it is hard to deny that more and more tools are being developed that help to provide creative fulfillment and general education on a much wider scale than ever before. (This is especially obvious in the case of music and video). Personally, the amount of power I have to create images, videos and sounds and to transmit them to people they might inspire is utterly jaw-dropping, and it is utterly dependent on products made by Apple, Adobe, Ableton, Squarespace etc, for which I pay a small subscription fee or buy outright at a fairly affordable price. I could get less advanced versions of the products for free. The amount of information I have access to for free - about how to use these products and on every topic imaginable - is even more staggering. Clearly, something is going right.
The key, it seems to me, is to define a way that activity along these lines can be authentically valuable rather than continuing to exacerbate a sense of lack that drives submission to the work juggernaut - i.e. the feedback loop of content creation that is made for the sake of crushing self-esteem and stoking fear; the feedback loop of consumer culture that led to, for example, Fyre Fest. Heteronormative lust for young models in the male gaze, FOMO, desire for useless products that require lots of money, psychological dependence on an illusory sense of recognition from gatekeepers or elites - these should be minimized, and thirst for knowledge of math, science and world history; sex ed and mental health; the basic arcana of mysticism and religious ritual - and above all, critical thinking - should be fostered. It seems genuinely possible for the thirst to create a better world to be charged with genuine group cathexis, and for the concepts involved in the vision of a better world to be rooted in scientific truth and simultaneously daring and imaginative.
In my view this requires two tendencies: toward genuinely interdisciplinary work and towards genuinely religious states of consciousness. I see a lot of cloud rappers, art world sycophants and intellectual incels around me who are clearly enslaved by false consciousness despite to some degree developing their talents autonomously because they fail to understand one another and have failed to develop their talents in a well-rounded way, because they are desperate to please the imaginary Other that rules their particular domain and might some day give them money (fans, collectors, tenure). By the same token I see most people unable to make contact with the joy of God’s love and thus incapable of genuine charity, kindness and service, because they don’t believe they have the “time” to devote to a genuine spiritual practice. This plays out as constant romantic drama, false beliefs that if they attained a certain achievement that it would give them some ultimate satisfaction which in reality it will not, or drug abuse. In short, people do not generally grasp the intensity of their own power, they fail to truly value themselves and others. The values that will govern the new civilization beyond capitalism will be variants of self-esteem and mutual respect: SOVEREIGNTY, HIERARCHY, EMANCIPATION, INDIVIDUATION.
A major theme in accelerationist philosophy is that time is speeding up at a transcendentally ontological level, and that we need to make certain decisions before it’s too late, i.e. before the rate at which the techno-scientific-cultural feedback loop produces new phenomena outstrips the time it takes for us to deliberate rationally at all. Personally I believe that this feedback loop is real, but I don’t think it’s transcendentally ontological: anyone can wean their desires off of it and begin creating interdisciplinary religious culture that inspires others do do the same.