Techno-Optimism and the Way to the Age of Abundance (an accelerationist interview)

It is not often that one can encounter an author who is deeply read in both liberal, marxist and even libertarian literature, embracing Marx AND Ayn Rand, and claiming to show an underlyng unity.

Please note that the underlying ideas for a technological utopia are not the ideas of the P2P Foundation, as we must be wary of both the prophets of an age of abundance, and those of the age of scarcity. Rather what we propose is a middle way which rejects both pseudo-abundance (ignoring real resource scarcities and biospheric destruction processes) and artificial scarcity (imposed by the current system through restrictive IP). However, we do believe entirely in the potential of a comfortable civilizational level for all, if we transcend the current paradigm of use of resources, and that the right social use of technology will be able to guarantee this. This year we will be working with a little team on the calculating the great potential of the thermodynamics efficiencies of the peer production system, showing how humanity can drastically reduce its uses of matter and energy and produce the products and services that guarantee a comfortable and sustainable lifestyle.

In the next few days, we’ll present a series on ‘true accelerationist technologies’ , that have the potential to substantially brings us nearer towards this path and a new paradigm of resource use.

All this being said, the following interview is stimulating and fascinating.

As C. James Townsend writes:

“Suddenly I saw the entire steam of economic ideas, Marxist and classical liberal, unite into one stream leading to the same Omega Point, the event horizon of a coming economic singularity where all prices drop down an asymptote toward zero as technology advances exponentially. It was this that really inspired me to write the book. I had to share that vision, that there is a way forward using “valid” economics to reach, for lack of a better word, utopia.”

The book in question is:

* C. James Townsend. The Singularity & Socialism: Marx, Mises, Complexity Theory, Techno-Optimism and the Way to the Age of Abundance. CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2015

(see also what the author says about another accelerationist book, “Marx’s Revenge“, by Lord Desai.)

Here are some questions and answers from an interesting interview of the author by B.J. Murphy who introduces it as follows:

“Townsend explores past ideological ideas that critically examined the trajectory of our economies in relation to scientific and technological development, in doing so to reach a commonly accepted conclusion of which were shared by these various ideologies – a post-capitalist era of abundance and transcendence!”

* Q: I’m very happy to be speaking with you, James. First and foremost, what inspired you to start writing this book of yours, The Singularity & Socialism?

A: The funny thing that got me into researching Karl Marx and his thought was Ludwig von Mises himself. I read his magnum opus Human Action and then his tome Socialism and I became enthralled by the “socialism calculation” debate and then Hayek’s “knowledge problem.” I went on to read everything that was in print by Mises and a lot by Hayek. It was their debate with the Marxists and discussing the various issues, especially Mises comparing and contrasting Marxism with classical liberal theory as propounded by the Austrian School that really captured and fired my imagination. So I delved into reading Marx himself and any work on the socialist calculation debate or knowledge problem I could get my hands on. As I researched I began to see so many areas of convergence and cross fertilization that I was just stunned. When I came across Complexity Theory and Complexity Economics in my mid 40’s the die was cast and the Rubicon was crossed. I was brought around full circle and came to see a holographic quality, an interrelationship between all of these various ideas; Marxist, classical liberal, techno-optimist, and complexity theory that was just fascinating. All of this percolated in the back of my mind until I had an epiphany one day and my mind leaped forward in an extrapolation based on classical liberal and Marxian economics teaching that as capitalism progressed it brought down prices as productivity constantly increased. Classical economists and Marxists know this as the law of immiseration. Suddenly I saw the entire steam of economic ideas, Marxist and classical liberal, unite into one stream leading to the same Omega Point, the event horizon of a coming economic singularity where all prices drop down an asymptote toward zero as technology advances exponentially. It was this that really inspired me to write the book. I had to share that vision, that there is a way forward using “valid” economics to reach, for lack of a better word, utopia.

Q: Politically speaking, there are many on the left who believe that capitalism is the epitome of all evil. Of course, this goes against what Marx, himself, noted – seeing capitalism as a set of crucial stages. China’s Deng Xiaoping saw this as well and even took it a step further by noting that science and technology must be at the forefront of socio-economic development. Unfortunately, there are many on the left – those whom adhere to both Neo-Luddism and Neo-Malthusianism – who believe otherwise. Thankfully there are Technoprogressives and Techno-Optimists willing to stand up to such nonsense, but what makes your work stand out in contrast from the viewpoints of the Neo-Left?

A: Where I think my book stands out is that I take up again the absolute need for scientific and technological development that was once central to socialist and Marxist theory, which has been forgotten by the neo-left today having been banefully influenced by luddite tendencies and dogma. The high intellectual theorists of Communism/Socialism stated that socialism was only possible in the realm of abundance, and no leftist theorist of any strong Marxian standing that I can think of before the 1950’s advocated a return to medievalism in any form. Only the Conservative Catholics like G. K. Chesterton, H. Belloc, and writers like Tolkien were advocating a return to the old Tory guild socialism in the early 20th century and those ideas had a resurgence and were taken up again by such economists as William Röpke later on. In fact radical right wing Catholics today are still enamored of these Distributist ideas. The left considered their ideas reactionary or even fascist at the time, but now almost all of these conservative ideas are promulgated by neo-leftists in the ecology movement in one form or another.

To deny the Enlightenment, science, logic and technology and its full evolution is to refute the very foundation and basis for Marxian socialism whose entire foundation is the necessity for the full development of the productive material forces through capitalist, scientific and technological evolution. If you go against this, you might be a socialist, but you are not a scientific socialist, or a rationalist or an objectivist. You’re an heir of Carlyle and the English Romantics and their neo-conservative Medievalist ideals. The Romantic Movement itself arose as a reaction against Newton’s materialism as promulgated by advocates of 18th century scientism, but they ended up in the end becoming conservatives longing for a great man like Napoleon and the total state, a secular messiah, to arise. Hegel was just another in a long line of Romantics uniting Hermetic philosophy and the mystical ideas of such seers as Jacob Boehme with Imperialist sympathies. The so called Modernist Movement did the exact same thing in the early 20th century. What we are witnessing today is just another cyclical round of the same anti-science, anti-technological, neo-mystical Medievalist romanticism that we saw at the turn of the 19th century, the early 20th century, then again in the 1960-70’s and now in the early 21st century. In the face of tremendous change and the upheaval brought about through technological advancement it seems human nature likes to turn to an imaginary glorified past, an Eden in which everything was Golden and we lived in a utopia among the gods. Hesiod, the ancient mythmaker, in the Theogony spells out this longing for antiquity and Plato takes it up as well. It was thought that the closer to the source of creation you approached, the truer and more golden the age is seen to be. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s pinning for the tribalist primitive ideal man is just more of this phantasmagorical nonsense that today’s greens spout ad nauseam. Evolution is a One Way Street to the future, there is no going back for humanity, no return to the Garden of Eden which our desire for knowledge kicked us out of, for to try to return would spell disaster.

Here’s a fascinating fact: transhumanism is actually an extension and a longing to complete the Hermetic, gnostic and Alchemical vision of antiquity only now it is through the full and complete evolution of science and technology itself that humanity will be transformed and given eternal youth and life. The philosophers stone of the new alchemists is technology. As long as Transhumanism can refute and keep at bay the technocratic and oligarchic elements within its ranks and adhere more closely to complexity theory and its truly “democratic” ideals, can we hope to finally escape the longing for the Omnipotent political State that I feel comes from more primitive areas of our brain.

Where I think my book stands out is that I take up this dynamist and evolutionist current and show that if you want to get to utopia, if you want to transcend the present economic system that you find so disagreeable, you cannot do it by “bringing it down now,” or by greater and greater interventions in the system, or by escaping to a rural Arcadia, which never existed except in the reified imaginations of the Romantic’s. Utopia lies ahead of us, but it will only come about through evolutionary processes and that was Marx’s and the Classical Liberal’s genius, that they saw this fact, which the techno-optimists have actually proven. That is why my book is so new as it is a corrective to show that in order for the left to be a vital force again, ultimately it has to rediscover elements in its roots. It has to reclaim the Promethean ideal of humanity which Marx, Marxists, the Classical liberals and especially Ayn Rand once espoused and free itself of the nihilism, pessimism, irrationalism and conservative undercurrent that presently infests it and has sapped it of all of its real strength and vitality. Omniarchy will not be possible with a desiccated humanity, sans; brains, backbone and gonads, perpetually driven downward to the least common denominator by “French” ideas of radical egalitarianism, an ideal which Marx himself was adamantly against. Science and technology are the only evolutionary forces on this planet and there is truly no future for any ideology, right or left, that attacks the forces of evolution, for to do so is to be axiomatically reactionary.

Q: I’m sure that the term “Socialism” tends to bring out a lot of negativity from those whom you talk to about it. Though your book doesn’t emphasize socialism per se– there are plenty of terms in which people use to help them understand what our next socio-economic journey will be. How we term this next step – does it really matter whether we call it Socialism, or the Age of Abundance, or the Technium? Isn’t it more important that we simply get there, as opposed to argue what name we’ll give it?

A: I agree, the word “socialism” today is pejorative and sales of my book I feel are suffering because I put it in the title. So if I had titled my book something more appealing such as, “The Coming Economic Singularity,” it would probably be selling much better. We get caught up in names and we start fighting over texts and interpretations and authors and various other intellectuals’ interpretations, much like protestant sects fighting over bible interpretations. But what we, the human race, are facing as we race toward the event horizon of the coming economic and technological singularity is something that no human society or culture has ever experienced before. So our past ideologies are like the Zen story of the blind monks all trying to figure out what an elephant is. One grabs its leg and thinks it’s like a sturdy tree, one its side and he thinks it’s like a wall. Another finds its ear and thinks it’s like a fan and the last discovers its trunk and thinks it’s like a rope. Yet none can see the entirety, the whole elephant in one glance. We are a lot like the blind Zen monks presently. Ideological blindness keeps us arguing about the parts of the elephant that we have grasped. Very few have traveled above the ideological fog that surrounds us to see things as they are in the light of coming future developments, which in itself is almost impossible as the future is fluid and constantly changing, but the patterns developing are discernable. I think that as we evolve and ideas begin to converge, through an almost dialectical process, the resultant transcendent will have elements of what we call socialism and capitalism, but it will be entirely different from what we have known those terms to mean, or what we have imagined them to be. We are facing the unprecedented, the unknown, we will have to invent a new terminology in Later Futurity as we move from the era of Early Futurity that we are presently in, but I find it heartening that libertarians, techno-libertarians, and techno-progressives (techno-Marxist’s like yourself BJ) love my book. A techno-libertarian I know messaged me on FB and thanked me for writing the book as she had always felt “torn down the middle.” she told me that emotionally she had socialist humanitarian sympathies coupled with libertarian economics that always seemed to war within her and that as she read my book it revealed to her how this dialectical delusion is easily transcended and that both halves can actually be seamlessly wedded together. That to me is truly encouraging and satisfying as I really wrote the book for individuals, like her, who are tired of today’s constant ideological battles that get us nowhere. To truly have real change, we have to come together and work as a team and what I have discovered and laid out in my book can easily be seen as a way to bring such divergent and combative groups as The Tea Party and the Occupy Movement together.

Q: What can you tell us, based on your professional opinion, what we’re to expect in the next 15-20 years as a result of the exponentially growing technological era we’re accelerating towards? It’s one thing to say “Socialism” or the “Age of Abundance,” but what do these terms really mean in the context of the 21st century?

A: Let me get my Carnac the Magnificent turban on. I have run multiple thought experiments using my intuition informed by the knowledge I have gleaned through decades of research and I see two distinct futures ahead of us. One future has the political state succeeding in using its many useful, less educated, minions and its very successful propaganda memes to put a draconian precautionary principle in place to slow down or even stop the present surge toward the economic and technological singularity. As I state in the book, in the realm of abundance there is no need for the political state as we have known it. It is an old social technology that may have been needed in the realm of scarcity, but will soon not be necessary any longer. The withering away of the state is finally at hand. The natural evolutionary rise of a new distributed system of management gives more and more power and control back to individuals and society. Omniarchy, the rule of all by all, becomes at last feasibly possible due to advancing technology.

Here is another area of convergence where the ideas of Marx and libertarians like A. J. Galambos converge, but I believe that our political elite and their cronies understand that and that is why they are trying to turn the internet into a utility, to stop and control its evolution so that they can retain their power and wealth a while longer. I think that is also why neo-ludditism has gained new strength and why there is such frantic haste to get things like a carbon tax and other “sustainable” control measures put into place as quickly as possible. Or why the new cry that claims that it is technology that is to blame for the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor has arisen, which anyone that has truly and honestly examined the statistical evidence knows to be utterly false. The political and financial elite are running scared and they are doing all they can to prop up the failing system as it leans toward the tar pit of history. For example, Carbon credits and carbon trading, I don’t see how the right and the left can be so ignorantly blind, it is so easy to see the scam. I mean ENRON loved and supported this idea and spent millions lobbying the US congress for it. As ephemeralization escalates, as we can do “more and more with less and less until we can do almost anything with practically nothing,” as Buckminster Fuller stated, old technology, old energy sources etc slowly vanish. They lose profits every year until they no longer have any and go out of business. Think of the whaling industry in the face of emerging oil refining, or blacksmiths, cartwright’s and wheelwrights in the face of Ford’s automobile that the masses could afford. They would have loved to have been paid more and more for producing less and less as their products and jobs slowly became obsolete. Could you imagine the money King Coal could make with carbon credits as coal plants shut down and coal mining goes the way of the whaling fleets over the coming decades? It’s a con for corporate welfare on a massive scale for aging and increasingly irrelevant old technologies facing eventual extinction. I always think of the Dire Straits song, Money for Nothing, when I think of carbon trading and what is truly evil about it all is that the poor and the lower and middle classes will have their incomes redistributed to the rich to do it. You will pay for the privilege of having nothing produced; it is the perfect form of Capitalism! A Capitalism from an anti-matter universe where everything is backwards, where you can produce nothing and get paid to do it. It is exploitation to an exponential degree as you are robbed of all your labor and receive nothing back! Even now poor African farmers are being violently kicked off their lands at gun point so that large European corporations can obtain climate credits for creating tree farms. We aren’t saving the world for the future; we are saving the old world, the world of the present crony system based in artificial resource shortages and scarcities, only the propaganda is truly brilliant. Imperialism may be wearing a green cape presently, but it still doesn’t change the fact that it is Imperialism and we are resurrecting it and suppressing the poor natives in other countries again at bayonet point again.

I take my hat off to the inventors of it all as it is truly insidious, but my greatest fear is that a world government like the UN saturated with present neo: leftist, Malthusian, pessimistic and luddite ideas would give the elites a worldwide police force that would be able to control, slow down, and stop the coming singularity and possibly even reverse technological achievements, much like the emperors of ancient China did. The shrill universal cry that we are at a “tipping point” is correct, but not as they would have us all believe, the tipping point that is fast approaching has to do with the old political and legal superstructures being torn apart from below by this powerful, complex, emergent force of scientific and technological evolution now unleashed. Reactionaries are doing all they can to bamboozle gullible people into helping support the status quo, to prop it up, which is unfortunate. We are at the age of the twilight of the gods and like Prometheus we have to shout, “I hate all the gods.” Olympus must fall and the old alters need to be torn down, yet so many people today on the neo-left, and even in Foresight and Future Studies, are trying to protect the “old religion.” They wish to bind Prometheus back to his rock; I say it is finally time to unleash him fully.

The other future I see, the one I hope for, is that no matter what the political state and its crony’s do, or try to do, they will fail as more and more individuals unite to help bring about the coming economic and technological singularity. How can you regulate or ban such things as guns when you can print an entire AK 47 at home on a 3D printer? Or because prices have dropped so low that you can have a fully equipped bio-lab in your garage how then can you suppress say an antiaging technology or a cure for cancer? The techno-libertarians, techno-progressives and Transhumanist’s are becoming a force to be reckoned with (though I am concerned with the influence of technocracy among many Transhumanist’s) and if the political state moved to ban such things as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb etc you would have a riot on your hands and it is only going to get worse for the State. It is theorized with driverless cars that soon 75% of the privately owned vehicles will be gone from the roads, imagine what that will do to licensing fees? They will plummet! I think more and more neo-leftist’s are going to wake up and realize with the Libertarians, that Statism is an old failed religion and that their empowerment and freedom will truly come from the evolutionary forces released by the Technium. I truly believe that the political State’s days are numbered, especially as profits and prices drop as technological deflation accelerates the emperor will be seen by more and more people to be naked and standing in their way to the fuller life they wish to live. So I expect there to be far more propaganda memes arising to fight technological advancement, to blame science and technology for every ill and evil in the world. It is the natural ideological immune system’s defense response to a new virus that is making it sick, and that is trying to and will eventually kill it.

So I see a fight between the old order and the truly new one, but my hope is that no matter what the political and financial class does, they will be outwitted and out gunned by young people with a new world vision and accelerating technology as they themselves have set up a world where they will have to turn to new technologies and the younger generation to solve the very problems that the old political class has created. For instance let’s look at technological unemployment and aging populations. The welfare state is looking at the oncoming train of insolvency what with retirement and medical expenses escalating and jobs vanishing. The politicos will have two choices, one is totalitarian and the other remains in the democratic arena. To save costs the totalitarian line will have to find a way to kill off older people faster either through overt or covert means, but of course this class will keep anti-aging cures to themselves as it will be too much of a temptation for their class so total suppression of that technology will never happen. This bodes a huge future revolution in which their class is overthrown and exterminated as I can’t imagine that most people will suffer ill health and old age while watching the political and wealthy class cavort about being forever young and healthy. The other way out of this future bankruptcy is to give anti-aging and medical cures to everyone, thus eliminating the need for government paid retirement as we have it today. When faced with the choices of the eventual collapse and bankruptcy of the state, or allowing a cure for cancer and most other diseases, I think allowing the cures will win out. For instance, the new regulations that the Obama administration signed at the G7 which will allow the banks to steal account holders funds to do an inner bailout during the next financial crisis rather than a government bailout, much as Cyprus did, bodes a coming revolution in itself. Cyprians may not rise up and beat to death or shoot bankers and politicians that voted for such a heinous act of theft, but Americans will.

As I talk to people and read, increasingly the left and the right are talking about the same things, discussing the same issues and attacking the same petrified crony political and financial system, desiring it to topple and be replaced by something that they are more directly in control of. The political state is not the solution to our problems; it is the problem in the way of all of our solutions. We have to learn to trust the “productive material forces,” then we will finally come to have “Marx’s Revenge” using Desai’s term, but in the end it will be Humanities Revenge, the boot of political and financial oppression will be finally lifted off our necks forever.”

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