Land’s own life followed the same course he envisioned for the West

Thursday, February 9th, 2023

I was not expecting this recent piece on TikTok to segue from Wang Huning to Nick Land:

Wang rose to prominence by being dour, discreet, and composed, while Land rose to prominence by ranting about cyborg apocalypses while out of his mind on weed and speed. In the late 1990s Land moved into a house once owned by the Satanist libertine Aleister Crowley (half a mile from where I grew up), and there he apparently binged on drugs and scrawled occult diagrams on the walls. At nearby Warwick University where he taught, his lectures were often bizarre (one infamous “lesson” consisted of Land lying on the floor, croaking into a mic, while frenetic jungle music pulsed in the background.)

Wang and Land were not just polar opposites in personality; they also operated at opposite ends of the political spectrum. While Wang would go on to be the top ideological theorist of the Chinese Communist Party, Land would become the top theorist (with Curtis Yarvin) of the influential network of far-right bloggers, NRx.

And yet, despite their opposite natures, Land and Wang would develop almost identical visions of liberal capitalism as an all-commodifying, all devouring force, driven by the insatiable hunger of blind market forces, and destined to finally eat Western civilization itself.

Land viewed Western liberal capitalism as a kind of AI that’s reached the singularity; in other words, an AI that’s grown beyond the control of humans and is now unstoppably accelerating toward inhuman ends. As Land feverishly wrote in his 1995 essay, “Meltdown:”

“The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalitization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway.”

Land’s drug-fueled prose is overwrought, so to simplify his point, Western capitalism can be compared to a “paperclip maximizer,” a hypothetical AI programmed by a paperclip business to produce as many paperclips as possible, which leads it to begin recycling everything on earth into paperclips (i.e. commodities). When the programmers panic and try to switch it off, the AI turns them into paperclips, since being switched off would stop it fulfilling its goal of creating as many paperclips as possible. Thus, the blind application of short term goals leads to long term ruin.

Land believed that, since the runaway AI we call liberal capitalism commodifies everything, including even criticisms of it (which are necessarily published for profit), it cannot be opposed. Every attack on it becomes part of it. Thus, if one wishes to change it, the only way is to accelerate it along its trajectory. As Land stated in a later, more sober writing style:

“The point of an analysis of capitalism, or of nihilism, is to do more of it. The process is not to be critiqued. The process is the critique, feeding back into itself, as it escalates. The only way forward is through, which means further in.”

—A Quick-and-Dirty Introduction to Accelerationism (2017)

This view, that the current system must be accelerated to be transformed, has since become known as accelerationism, and it’s become popular among anti-liberal revolutionaries of all stripes, but particularly among the far-right NRx, who follow Land due to his embrace of neo-fascism (he came to believe that authoritarian regimes can accelerate nations toward prosperity, but all democracies accelerate toward ruin.)

Land’s own life followed the same course he envisioned for the West; following years of high productivity, he fell into nihilism and the decadence of rampant drug use, which drove him to a nervous breakdown. Upon recovering in 2002, he moved to Shanghai and began writing for Chinese state media outlets like China Daily and the Shanghai Star.


  1. Bomag says:

    Paperclip AI: wondering about built in feedback loops. If it can calculate itself going extinct from its monomaniacal pursuit, it should back off and let a few others live so it can live longer. Wondering where meta goals start to kick in.

    I wonder about the theme where the paper clip AI is pursuing its goal; then an advanced sentient paperclip making species shows up in orbit; paperclip AI calculates that it can achieve a ten-fold increase in production if it gives all over to the new immigrants. In a way, that would be a major win. But, the paperclips are no longer made by the AI, so maybe it resists on ontological grounds. Hmmm.

  2. Jim says:

    Justin Trudeau: “If you kill your enemies, they win.”

    Nick Land: “If we unconditionally surrender to liberal capitalism, we win.”

  3. Jim says:

    Hillary Clinton: “Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat.”

  4. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    The problem faced by the paperclip maximizer is that inability to do more than proceduraly fixiate on (a) contingency, also entails an inability to see the fiture in general; which means problems with planning, strategizing, and adapting to the vagaries of the universe, and all its wrinkles.

    In other words, the kind of being(s) that would actually be capable of successfully paper-clip maximizing the universe (against any and all opposition), would by the same stroke not be so limited by such teleoi in the first place.

    In other other words, the orthogonality thesis is inherently false.

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