Ep. 58: Synthetic Zero’s Michael James on Speculative Realism, Post-Nihilism, Accelerationism, & Climate Catastrophe
On this edition of Parallax Views, Synthetic Zero's Michael James joins the show to discuss speculative realism, post-nihilism, the problems of accelerationism, and catastrophic climate change. If you enjoy this conversation there will be a Patreon-exclusive Part II this weekend in which Michael discusses Synthetic Zero's interest in the theory of patchworks, which they are attempting to bring into real-world practice via an experiment akin to the 60s counterculture's communes and shared-living spaces.
Synthetic Zero is a "multimedia research and design collective seeking adaptive responses to the various crises and unequally distributed realities of contemporary life." Michael and I begin by discussing the origins of Synthetic Zero and how it was envisioned by Michael, alongside Aaron Crawford, as a para-academic unit born out of philosophical explorations that arose from the speculative realist movement spearheaded by figures like Graham Harman, Timothy Morton, Quentin Meillassoux, and others. We discuss what speculative realism and object-oriented ontology are and their relation to Meillassoux's ideas about finitude. Michael outlines how speculative realism attempted to deal with philosophical conundrums around our perception of reality and reality itself.
From there we delve into the topic of nihilism. We give particular mention to the works of philosopher Ray Brassier during this portion of the discussion and Michael goes over some of the basic ideas found in Brassier's Nihil Unbound. From there we delve into Michael's essay "From the Ruins" which deals with Synthetic Zero's interest in the concept of "Post-Nihilism". Michael argues vis-à-vis the philosopher Gianni Vattimo that an emancipatory potential exists within nihilism. Is it possible to find meaning in simply being human rather than searching for meaning in a transcendental narrative like those provided by religion? Is it possible to reach beyond the language games of philosophy and the grips of ideology? Are there new ways of thinking beyond the registers of postmodernism? Can we bridge the gap between theory and praxis? These are just some of the issues we cover during this portion of the conversation.
From there we delve into Michael's interest in, and harsh critiques of accelerationism. Accelerationism has been a topic we've covered in previous episodes, and has proven a popular topic. Michael has had many interactions with accelerationist thinkers and has become highly critical of them, including the infamous "Shanghai Sith" Nick Land and the meme-loving denizens of U/Acc "Cave Twitter" who advocate for accelerating capitalism to it's endpoint regardless of it's outcome. Michael takes strong issue with these views especially in light of collapse scenarios like climate catastrophe looming in the horizon.
We begin wrapping up Part I of the conversation with Michael by delving into the topic of climate catastrophe in light of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report on the topic. Additionally, Michael discusses his background in anthropology, including his research into the Tahltan Nation, and how it relates to his work. We discuss what connects these matters and what the 12 year period the IPPC report gives for dealing with climate change means for the future of humanity.