Patchwork from the Left

I received a comment on a patchwork post recently. My response to it ended up being too long for the comment box and so it became a post in its own right.

Right now I’m feeling a bit embarrassed about the argumentative tone of that last post.

It’s far too easy for me to jump to a defensively polemic position here — I’m used to being challenged on patchwork and I’m becoming a bit hardened to and bitter about it.

I’m particularly embarrassed about this instance because snow.ghost, who wrote the original comment, has written a further — very gracious and good natured — response on their blog. Evidently, assumptions were made on my part in my response, and I greatly appreciate being able to hear more about snow.ghost’s own position. However, assumptions are still being made on their part, particularly with regards to the extent that Land’s view of patchwork is central to my own.

His view of patchwork is no more influential than Moldbug’s on my thought– i.e. only by proxy. As I said last time, I’m more interested in updating Deleuzian patchwork to now. To conflate my vision with Nick’s, as happens repeatedly throughout this response, betrays a complete ignorance of the position they are arguing against.

The blame for this, of course, lies with myself.

What must be repeated here is that any “glib rhetoric” on my part is due to topical burnout rather than laziness. I have written 1000s of words on these points over the last six months. The list of key posts remains over here, and many of these are currently under revision as I try to turn them into a bigger, more coherent, more rigorous and less polemic project — because pointing people to two dozen posts when wanting to explain my position really isn’t a practical solution.

So I’m going to retread some ground here but avoid it when possible.

This is a long one…

Get comfy…

Continue reading “Patchwork from the Left”


Salad Tossers

So I might have made a mean and salty subtweet recently on the tl that got a bit more attention than I thought it would…

It’s another one of those Twitter encounters that really doesn’t warrant being highlighted on the blog but, in light of all the Consciousness Razing chat here recently, about not feeling good enough and vocabularic baggage, it has got me thinking about a lot of things — and those things at least deserve their proper context.

That being said, this isn’t all directed at the example above. This is just the mental fallout of two years pent-up frustration.

There’s no denying that word salad is common on the tl — in some places more than others. This blog might even be guilty of it on occasion, although I do personally try to be clear and jargon-free if I can help it because so are most of my favourite writers.

Sometimes complex ideas need complex explanations. Sometimes word salad just works. Sometimes, in writing, it conveys a sort of cyberpunk Other English. (I like philosophy that reminds me of the first time I read Pat Cadigan’s Synners.) It is not inherently bad — if it’s done properly.

What is bad is using the hyperaffected language of a college education to disguise the fact you’re trying to reinvent the wheel…

The line between the two really isn’t as thin as it might sound.

What makes me salty about this kind of posturing is how damaging it can be.

When I went back to studying in late 2016, trying to read philosophy properly for the first time, I felt like I was really late to the party. I was surrounded by people who’d studied philosophy previously and most of them weren’t afraid to swing their weight around.

I remember I felt like a hobbyist.

In early seminars there would always be someone (or more than one person) — and I’m sorry to say that 90% of the time they were American or had studied in the US — who would always talk using this jargon-laden affected language that reeked of a certain standard of education that someone wanted to lord over you.

I remember hearing things like the above example and it really getting to me at first. It created this super-competitive atmosphere that wasn’t remotely healthy or productive. But then, after a few months of hard reading, I realised most of this stuff that was getting spouted in seminars was wrong or just bad posturing. It was always a bad, basic reading — usually of Deleuze — interspersed with misused jargon to give it an air of legitimacy, that was so densely packed no one bothered to challenge it.

Others, who weren’t so resilient, dropped out. I wish I could find them and shake them and tell them not to leave over a bunch of blowhard theory bros.

Without posturing being challenged, it spreads.

Insecurity breeds insecurity.

The stakes are, obviously, far less high on Twitter than they are compared to real life institutional imposter syndrome, but the last thing anyone needs is that academic posturing leaking out onto the timeline.

Save it for the bar after the conference.

Thinking about all this makes me want to ask a question, to any American readers or other current/former philosophy students from anywhere in the world:

My (potentially unfair) assumption has always been that this sort of posturing is worse amongst the insecure and US-educated because the intense competition of US academia necessarily makes people that way.

It’s not exclusive to the US — people are shit all over — but in the UK it feels noticeably less pronounced because no one has any careerist optimism that there is anything to fight for. UK academia is beyond all hope, but people seem to want to be clearer and more communal in their learning because of that.

A fair assessment? Or am I deluded and “theory bros” really are just endemic?

Patchwork and the Marketplace of Ideas

I received quite a long and meaty comment on my last patchwork post that I’ve kept trying to draft a response to, and I drafted it so much that it felt better to just make it into a post.

I’m going over a lot of previously covered ground here but hopefully this post will make clear how I see a lot of things slotting together.

The other day, snow.ghost asked:

How is [patchwork] not simply another version, albeit of a utopian and technocratic flavor, of the oft-repeated neoliberal econonomic meta-concept of the ‘marketplace of ideas?’ How are you going to ensure that there is some sort of superstructure or essential interconnectedness that creates stability or at least a flux / non-equilibrium that is not preloaded for a nasty form of future imperialism and future colonialism. It sounds like the implicit solution being suggested here is that market forces will protect from this (my citation for this being your “Ethnonationalism becomes ethno-isolationism and good luck surviving long with that outlook,” quip)? While the patchwork model may indeed be anti-fascist in some sort of imagined original state (ie, the exact moment the system is implemented) it is NOT anti-capitalist, nor is it somehow incompatible with neoliberal subjectivity and, by extension, the commodification of all subjectivities that are not fundamentally economic. The model relies on inherent contradiction and thus will inevitably degenerate to another form of the present capitalist moment, and thus is not in the long run necessarily inkompatible with fascism.

As I’ve written on numerous occasions on this blog, one of the most frustrating things about contemporary political thinking — particularly from the left — is that anything that has been even slightly touched by the wrong kind of politics is forever contaminated and must be abandoned. There also seems to be a complete lack of appreciation for the potentials of our present moment.

We see this all the time and, with regards to some issues, it hasn’t left the left with a whole lot of options. Everything is already something. Everything is already caught up in modernity’s auto-productive feedback loop. Simply pointing that out seems to be enough for people, who do so and then just wallow in their impotence, feeling clever.

“Is there no alternative?” Do you really care either way?

Patchwork, as I see it, is largely compatible with a lot of the arguments for postcapitalist futures that many leftist theorists have been making in recent years. However, at the same time, making explicit comments about geopolitics in these circles has become unpopular. It is not as prevalent a topic as it once was — most of the good stuff seems to be at least 40 years old, although there are some exceptions — and it seems like this unfamiliarity alone is what has people unnecessarily running scared. Patchwork, as I see it, just adds in a geopolitical and fragmentary twist to prevalent theories of postcapitalism, and this in itself freaks people out who have wrongly internalised the conflation of one-world globalisation with leftist utopianism — a leftist neoliberal tendency if ever there was one.

This invocation of the “marketplace of ideas” feels like a peculiar example of this same tendency. The expression is, fundamentally, an analogy — nothing more. It does not mean that freedom of expression is, in and of itself, “neoliberal”.

The history of the phrase is linked explicitly to the market due to its conception in the American supreme court related to the publishing industry, in which publishers of newspapers, books and magazines all — literally — engage in a marketplace, selling their ideas and perspectives. (At least, that’s the idea.) Taking the principle right back to John Milton’s Areopagitica, however, the founding principle of freedom of expression and publication is explicitly related to the freedom to proliferate ideas, whatever they are, and to make the means of proliferation more widely accessible.

The printing press is just one example of this, with pamphleteering being a cause of things good and bad since it’s invention. No one can deny that the printing press, and technologies like it, have been central to the proliferation of ideas that we now take for granted. It’s an obvious point to make. What’s made all the difference over the years has been who has been in control of these technologies and the worst people to control them are usually governments or the Rupert Murdochs of the world who monopolise them for their own propaganda, etc. The internet is a similar technological development that is increasingly under the threat of being consolidated under ever-increasing state control.

As such, this originally Miltonic sense of the “marketplace of ideas” is very different to the marketplace that we have today, ruled by monopolist media tycoons. In this way, it is not only an analogy but a myth. The Internet remains a space for proliferation but much of it has been coopted by markets as well (although I’d argue there’s still plenty of pockets of resistance.)

This was demonstrated most damningly in a recent viral video that highlighted the prevalent use of the so-called “Sinclair Script” (which, obviously, became a news item in its own right, memetically inescapable for a week or so in May of this year, further exacerbating the modern marketplace’s ouroboric nature.)

What this video’s virally ouroboric life-cycle demonstrates is the way that markets are always trying to keep up with our ever-developing communicative superstructure(s). Even when it is critical of the mainstream media, it becomes a part of the mainstream news cycle.

All this is to say, don’t need to ensure anything. This interconnected superstructure already exists and is expanding all the time. We can call it “The Stack“, if we want to, or we can call it something else. Whatever you call it, its implications for geopolitics are still unfolding as state powers seeks to monopolise these developments too, but they’re not yet set in stone.

This kind of communications superstructure, that we already use everyday, is key to patchwork. Again, as I’ve written here many times before, patchwork isn’t a call for everyone to bury their heads in their gated patch of sand and never talk again. In fact, I think patchwork would necessarily be more fluid and better connected than our currently dysfunctional world is right now. Connectivity and integration are not one and the same thing.

A large portion of my “Egress” post was dedicated to the plasticity of communicative capitalism that must come into play here. Drawing on Mark’s writings as well as Jodi Dean’s work, I wrote:

For Fisher and for Dean, the now-ubiquitous nature of our networked communication technologies is a demonstration of capitalism’s ability to capture and shape desire. In the decade since the launch of the first iPhone in 2007, communicative capitalism has seeded a biological basis for itself by infiltrating our hard-wired necessity to communicate with one another and by monopolising the contemporary technological means of doing so. This “biological basis” relates to Herbert Marcuse’s argument that, in an affluent society, “capitalism comes into its own” by permeating “all dimensions of private and public existence.” Dean’s communicative capitalism provides this process of permeation with a much-needed technological update and Fisher drew his line between Dean and Marcuse as he attempted to chart the continuous acceleration of this same process.

Marcuse argues that what is needed to counter these processes of permeation is the establishment of a biological foundation for socialism through the mechanisms of the Great Refusal: “the rationality of negation” inherent to art which is always a “protest against that which is.” That which is is constituted for Marcuse by contemporaneous norms and standards of morality, and so his analysis is tied explicitly to social taboos. He highlights the perceived “obscenity” of sexual liberation during his time of writing and the way this apparent obscenity contrasts with the normalisation of the obscenity of state and institutional violence. Marcuse then goes on to suggest that this structure of social morality, and therefore the human drives themselves, are inherently plastic.

The leftist desire for a one-world utopia is, I think, largely responsible for capitalism taking a hold of us quite so ruthlessly. It expands as we expand, previously along trade routes and now down fibre-optic cables, hitching a ride of our well-meaning coat-tails. Like state apparatuses more generally, capitalism can’t help but consolidate itself. Patchwork attempts to interrupt these processes by privileging communicative fragmentation over consolidation.

So, patchwork is less just another name for the “the marketplace of ideas” and more like a new name for that which the market has taken for its own ends — the production and proliferation of ideas as such, scaled up to the level of geopolitics. It’s an attempt to take back the space for experimentation that the market has eclipsed. It is a way of taking processes of deterritorialisation quite literally.

In this way, there is a Promethean bent to patchwork which, as with Milton’s argument for the printing press and freedom of expression, requires the means of State production and proliferation be seized — that is, everyone is able to form a state if they so please. That is the extreme level of fragmentation that the patchwork ideal advocates. (I am aware it is an ideal.)

The problem with the framing of snow.ghost’s comment is that it equates too many dynamics with their dominant processes and takes them as givens.

What is key here, again, is that whilst the market runs on a system of mythical meritocracy towards consolidation, patchwork is instead a fragmentation engine. I know in my last post I already invoked this sense of meritocracy, although the tongue-in-cheekness of that invocation was probably lost. The point I was trying to make is that all sides assume the other side will fail — or, I wish they did: the left are arguably too concerned about their own ideas failing to even come up with any.

Competition may be an integral part of a market, and therefore capitalism, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same thing. Patchwork only becomes compatible with neoliberal subjectivities, in my view, if you incorrectly make this assumption. The fact I have a preference and an opinion about best practices, which are hypothetically opposed to someone else’s, doesn’t automatically make me, or the patchwork model in general, inescapably capitalist. That feels like very lazy logic.

Let’s put it another way:

The neoliberalisation of the “marketplace of ideas” relates, I think, to the way the phrase has been used to further bolster the incessant celebrations of the market’s efficiency — i.e., “the market can solve everything!” If this does sound a bit patchwork-y, that’s no doubt Moldbug’s influence, thanks to his prefering neocameralism.

However, in line with what we have discussed above, the shifting of our use of language is nonetheless important here. I have already addressed this in a previous post, in which I wrote about the ways that this neocameralist framing can be useful for thought, irrespective of subjective political desirability:

[The language of neocameralism] allows us to describe processes of state dissolution in ways that are both familiar and entirely other to the current status quo. I have said previously that I believe patchwork to be an “eerie politic” in this way, invoking Fisher’s “eerie”, but in Moldbug’s specific imagining it is also perhaps like another concept of Mark’s taken to an extreme.

That concept was “business ontology”: “the idea that everything is folded inside a business reality system, that the only goals and purposes which count are those that are translatable into business terms.” Neocameralism, then, often comes across, to me, as a way to smuggle a new radical geopolitical perspective into acceptable discourse through the language of business — “To find ways out is to let the outside in”, etc. However, Mark wrote:

Up until the credit crisis, we bought the idea that business people somehow have a better handle on reality than the rest of us can muster.  But, after the credit crisis, that’s no longer tenable. And as I say in [Capitalist Realism], if businesses can’t be run as businesses, why should public services?

This is not, of course, a blanket rejection of all forms of “organisational management” (or whatever else you want to call it) — it’s mainly a suggestion that we break down the language of neoliberalism in order to be more resistant to neoliberal processes of subjection. We internalise its processes and preferences to the point of ontologisation. However, to reject “business ontology” isn’t the same as rejecting ontology as such, just as rejecting the “marketplace of ideas” shouldn’t slide into the rejection of having ideas.

snow.ghost’s invocation of the “marketplace of ideas”, even with everything discussed above aside, just feels like an attempt to reframe patchwork into the language of business. In this way, their anti-neoliberal comment nonetheless feels like it is built upon an inherently neoliberal argument. It eats itself in its self-neutralising business framing.

Mark’s conceptualisation of “business ontology” is an attempt to reject certain ways of framing reality which suffocate all that might hope to exist outside of its bounds. Patchwork may be like the “marketplace of ideas” — and explicitly so for Moldbug, perhaps — but, for this blog, it’s a chance to develop another productive kind of (head)space.

So whilst the comparison isn’t inaccurate, it does largely miss the point.

“(Head)space” is worth dwelling on for a moment here also, particularly for responding to the comment about subjectivity.

This blog’s view of subjectivity, via Foucault and Butler, is that it is formulated by the state’s processes of subjection, and so this blog has repeatedly considered the entangled fragmentations of self and state that patchwork likewise encourages.

Patchwork is a “rip it up, start again” approach, although it is not naive enough to think that anyone can truly start from scratch. If some patches are successful and others fail, that’s fine. As we’ve already said, that’s not “market forces”: that’s just the nature of experimentation.

The whole point of wanting to instigate patchwork is that large nation-states are becoming less and less well governed as state consolidation slides back down after reaching its zenith. How am I going to ensure things aren’t preloaded with imperialism and colonialism? The idea itself, as formulated by this blog, is already trying to respond (and go along with) post-imperial / post-colonial tendencies around the world, whether that be the Zapatistas or some other group.

With a transformation of the state, along these sorts of lines, I think we will see a transformation of the subject that is resistant to neoliberalism and which moves us towards the kind of collective subjectivity that Mark and others have called for.

That first requires an acknowledgement of the kind of neoliberal subjectivity that this kind of comment already seems to be informed by.

snow.ghost has written a further response to this post on their blog which you can read here.

John Doran on Killing Joke and Goth

Goth originators Joy Division (music journalist Paul Morley coined the term gothic in a very early review of the group) never suffered the same fate as any of their peers due, in part at least, to how normal they looked and behaved. While only a fool would attempt to talk down the importance of the Macclesfield/Salford quartet and the stunning body of work they produced in such a short space of time, it would also be a fallacy to suggest that no other ‘gothic’ band shared their revolutionary potential.

An excellent article by The Quietus‘ John Doran, arguing that more goth bands deserve the kind of credit their post-punk peers get.

I love this passage on Joy Division, and also this on Bauhaus as dub goth pioneers. It’s all very much up this blog’s alley.

Bela Lugosi’s Dead was an instant composition / free-improvised dub reggae epic utilising the studio mixing desk as an instrument and non-standard guitar and vocal techniques, immediately placing them on a par with such self-regarding sonic revolutionaries as the Pop Group, and arguably ahead of conceptually progressive funk rock group, Gang Of Four.

He argues that Killing Joke, in particular, deserve more credit and have generally been misunderstood by the music journalists and historians of our time.

Of course, one of the reasons why Killing Joke remain at the sidelines is a matter of pure un-quantifiability. Reynolds himself was astute enough to note that a hard-to-define “dark, tribal energy swirled round the group” and this was one of the reasons they were accused, variously, of being Nazis, nihilists, devil worshipers and just plain evil. They were none of these things however, they had simply constructed a brand new sound whose tension and intensity, stemmed in part from obsessive practice of occult ritual. This new sound was unpalatable to most outside of their devoted fanbase. It might sound odd to mention the band’s deep interest in Rosicrucianism, the Kabbalah and Thelemic practice in relation to their status as sonic innovators but no more so than the way a working knowledge of critical theory is often used to plump up the avant garde CVs of bands such as Scritti PolittiGang Of Four and the Pop Group.

Critical theory is a relatively obscure blend of Marxist philosophy and psychoanalysis which was devised by a mainly counter-revolutionary group of mid-20th Century German academics to analyse the impact of capitalism on modern life and culture. Thinkers such as Theodor Adorno undoubtedly inspired some of the best music writing of the post punk period from the likes of Ian Penman and then later on Reynolds himself, and when they were talking about the heavily politicised groups that they favoured, this kind of framework made perfect sense. Music writers of this period traditionally gravitated toward songwriters who were stridently left wing and who wrote self-referentially about the business of making music. So when it came to describing Gang Of Four’s (excellent) Entertainment! album and its forensic look at the alienation caused by capitalism (“Down on the disco floor! They make their profit!”), writers had the perfect critical tool in the form of critical theory. But this framework would prove itself less useful when it came to music that dealt in the numinous, the sublime, the spiritually crushing and the existentially nauseating. All of which were elements of the overwhelming Killing Joke experience.

This has obviously reminded me of some of Mark’s writings too, particularly this post on goth fashion.

I’m overcome with that distinct sadness again tonight that I wish he was around so I could ask him about all this.

Consciousness Razing: “Solidarity Without Similarity”



A huge thank you to everyone that came through for “Consciousness Razing”, our second For K-Punk event back on June 9th at SET, Dalston.

I wrote a bit about it here in the run-up but, now it’s over, I find myself wanting to try to process and articulate what exactly was exchanged over the course of our 12-hour marathon of workshops, talks and music.

I’m not sure that’s possible…

What is to follow is an account of the day mixed into a heap of stray thoughts, sounds, visions and readings.

Continue reading “Consciousness Razing: “Solidarity Without Similarity””

Ethnostates and Patchwork

In his NCRAP course ‘Outer Edges’, Nick Land speaks of a productive diagonal of “high connectivity / low integration” for thinking about catabolic geopolitics such as patchwork.

Axxon N. Horror has written a great intro to this framing that is definitely worth a read. They write that Land “outlines two commonly held models of geopolitical organisation: high integration, high connectivity (globalisation, multiculturalism, unions) and low integration, low connectivity (tribalism, xenophobia, separation); and then suggests ‘the positive critical diagonal’ — linked to Patri Friedman’s Dynamic Geography — a low integration, high connectivity option.” Axxon continues: “This terminology is simple, neutral, and outstandingly vivid, lurching right into core issues of sprawling diversity, complex networks, strategies, etc.”

On Saturday, at Consciousness Razing, the call for “solidarity without similarity” was mentioned numerous times throughout the day and what is this if not a leftist, humanist framing of this same diagonal? (More on that in a later post).

The assumption that connectivity and integration or solidarity and similarity are inseparable — which is to say, they must mirror each other — particularly along sociocultural and racial lines, as far as I can tell, is nothing but a regurgitation from the right.

If I really need to be so this clear on this: this is not how I feel.

Solidarity through difference is all the more powerful. Subculturally, it has produced all of my favourite things ever, and let’s not pretend that that sort of collaboration and collectivity isn’t actively subdued by present systems already.

The point of capitalism, as Fisher made clear to us all, is that all alternatives are currently subdued, for better and for worse. Consciousness is constantly and necessarily deflated. Patchwork is a potential geopolitical operating system for addressing this.

Is it really so dangerous to want to shake things up? Or is it not just a sign of the times?

I received a notification from mcs responding to a CuriousCat question on Saturday. I wanted to draw attention to it in another post but doing so threatened said non-patchwork post with complete derailment so I’ll leave it here as an aside to point back to later.

The notification I received was from this tweet:

The other day, I was sent a question on CuriousCat asking basically the same thing: “What would stop patchwork from looking like a million tiny ethno-states?” (In fact, I get this question a lot.)

My response was as follow:

Our current levels of diversity? People aren’t just going to start setting up apartheid and deconstruvting social infrastructure because nations get smaller. That’s dumb. As a devolved geopolitics, it’ll basically just mean better representation on lower scales. London, for example, is the most diverse city on the planet but, politically, it votes pretty consistently. Majority Labour. Remain in EU. Most people outside it see it as another country already because of this different mindset. Patchwork, in some areas, basically redresses the distribution of power and would, for example, allow London to not be held back by the conservative rural areas and allow other areas to not be neglected because of the pull of London. Proxy race wars in deprived areas may likely decrease once people have more local political autonomy. Or at least I think so. Yes, patchwork could give ethnonationalists a chance to put their money where their mouths are, but personally I think they’ll be at a massive disadvantage and won’t keep up with more diverse powerhouses. Ethnonationalism becomes ethno-isolationism and good luck surviving long with that outlook.

I don’t stand entirely behind this hastily written answer — dynamics of preference and neglect are not so simple — but my response to mcs was more specific.

The assumption that patchwork would lead to a bunch of ethnostates seems to come entirely from the fact that its best known advocates are currently on the political right. There are always alternatives and the main attraction of patchwork is, for me, the way it creates a geopolitical foundation for alternatives to proliferate.

The most difficult pill to swallow when considering patchwork is that it will allow those with entirely different goals and dreams to you to have pop at creating their own ideal. For the left, the worst case scenario seems to be the establishment of a kind of ethnostate. For the right, perhaps it’s the establishment of a socialist haven full of hipster-commie slackers. Each is given the right to exist under patchwork and, if either side is able to stomach that possibility, the assumption is no doubt that either side will be unable to function and fade into irrelevance.

For the left, in particular, since that is where these concerns are coming from, the question of what horrors could be allowed to happen if a white nationalist patch opts to eject all non-white persons from their city-state are absolutely legitimate.

The right doesn’t seem to have any concerns and perhaps that’s also a worry. Maybe they just get it? Maybe they just know that the dumbest thing to do when thinking about patchwork is to make assumptions? If you don’t like it, offer an alternative. That’s the idea. Don’t fall back into left melancholic, capitalist realist naysaying when offered a potential do-over…

The silver lining to this ethnostate example is, of course, that all white nationalists will be isolated to a relatively small area. Patchwork, depending on how you look at it, is another way of neutralising that kind of threat. As has been explained so many times, patchwork is an inherently anti-fascist system. It is founded on a “you do you” mentality.

This is not to say that things are so simple, of course. This is rather the patchwork trolley problem and all this is easier said than done. But the potential for the unrestricted progression of other political ideals, and the proliferation of as-yet-unsubstantiated alternatives, whatever they may be, is not something I am willing to sacrifice for the sake of a single patch of shitheads.


I would rather be able to say “you do you” whilst the rest of us, wherever we are, get on with formulating real, productive alternatives to our present circumstances, allowing the ethnoisolationists to fade into obscurity and irrelevance having achieved their blinkered and superficial ideal. I would rather take a punt on my own political biases than continue along the bleak, single-track “progressivism” of neoliberal capitalism. I would rather have the opportunity to experiment.

Call me naive — to an extent, that is inevitable — but I am willing to embrace that naivety for a shot at another existence.