Conceptualising Dark Accelerationism

An unused section from my Monash University PhD thesis

Conceptualising Dark Accelerationism

To situate Brenton Tarrant and Patrick Crusius’s respective far right manifestos—and how they virally inspired several copycat shootings more broadly—I propose a new interpretative framework that I call Dark Accelerationism. This is a telos of what a particular strategic subculture might become given present trends and societal circumstances. I first began to intuit the broad outlines of Dark Accelerationism in a 1994 interview with the author J.G. Ballard about modernity, identity, and the self-limitations of radical political and social activism.[1] Ballard highlighted that individuals can choose to pursue socio-political ends under isolative, small group pressure and due to the psycho-geography of the worldly circumstances that they live in. Later, I took an undergraduate film class at La Trobe University on the Pre-Code cinema and socio-political upheaval, and Pre-Code’s later influence on 1950s film noir and 1970s onwards neo-noir cultural cycles.[2] Pre-Code showed that socio-political anxieties can lead to popular and subcultural manifestations which evolve during subsequent periods of socioeconomic uncertainty. This has parallels to contemporary socioeconomic anxieties.

The Marxist-influenced author and journalist Mike Davis showed me that the darker currents of socioeconomic uncertainty can co-exist with the more aspirational goals and objectives of contemporary neoliberal capitalism.[3] Dark Accelerationism uses these dynamics to problematise both Left and Right forms of Accelerationism. The Left form faces the immediate limits of a lack of institutional networks (or viable strategic subcultures), and the long-term limits of looming environmental decline (the Anthropocene). The Right form faces the immediate limits that artificial intelligence and cryptocurrencies have not yet delivered their supposed benefits, and the long-term limits of how technology will disrupt human capital and labour power—likely leaving much of the human population as surplus.[4]

Dark Accelerationism focuses on overcoming the initial limits. The strategic subcultures framework conceptualised in Chapter 1 and in Chapter 2’s identification of fourth generation strategic culture theory-building can be applied to other domains. For example, leveraged buyouts in 1980s corporate United States has transformed over time into activist hedge fund managers, private equity, and high yield debt strategies for mergers, acquisitions and restructures.[5] These forms of alternative investment can be considered as the financialisation form of mobilisational counter-power capabilities. Likewise, the promise of artificial intelligence and cryptocurrencies can be glimpsed in sophisticated algorithmic, quantitative, and high frequency trading capabilities, and in new markets for digital cash.[6] The insights about strategic subcultures in this thesis may be thus generalisable from the use of force (Jack Snyder’s original context) to the micro-structure and the meso-level organisations of the international political economy.

Four further aspects of Dark Accelerationism are important to highlight.

First, as foreseen in cyberpunk literature and subcultures the outlines of Dark Accelerationism are already visible in hedge funds, investment banks, sovereign wealth funds, and the global interbank market. As illustrated by firms like Bridgewater, Citadel, Goldman Sachs, and Renaissance Technologies the mobilisational counter-power capabilities of dark pools (used to make trading order flow non-public to prevent frontrunning) and high frequency trading (algorithm-driven millisecond trading using significant technology infrastructure that is co-located with trading exchanges) both lie in the hands of new, and often self-made financial elites.[7] Occupy Wall Street failed to grasp this technology infrastructure in its protests. However, one possible near-term solution to the challenge of artificial intelligence and human capital is to make this technology infrastructure more accessible to the broader population—to democratise the capital accumulation capabilities in a similar way that low-cost index funds changed the cost structure of mutual funds. This could be achieved by niche firms like Ritholtz Wealth Management and by superannuation funds who strategically delegate their trade execution function to relevant market-making firms.

Second, much of the information to achieve this shift is already available in the open source, public literature of academic research, financial news analysis, and social media platforms. One further information source is where former financial personnel seek to ‘clone’ the meso-level infrastructure and networks that they previously had in firms and make aspects of it more publicly available as a fee-for-service parallel infrastructure. An example of this is how Anton Kreil formed the Institute for Trading and Portfolio Management to teach and popularise the global macro style of volatility and correlation trading that he learned at Goldman Sachs to a growing international audience of retail traders.[8] Elite information in the form of non-public trade secrets has a time-based decay because intermediaries may disclose it to a broader public audience.

Third, the cumulative skill in building a viable strategic subculture for Dark Accelerationism lies in fusing public and non-public information sources together in creative and innovative ways that are scalable. A private subset of public information sources can be developed iteratively to form new, non-public information. Aum Shinrikyo attempted to do this through its front companies for fundraising and via its covert and compartmentalised research development program for chemical and biological weapons—but without the scientific knowledge base to succeed. In trading terms Aum Shinrikyo’s Shambhala Plan explored in Chapter 5 lacked the statistical edge and the positive expectancy to succeed; their black box approach led to failure rather than to sustainable cumulative advantage over time.

Fourth, the potential elite knowledge of a Dark Accelerationist strategic subculture lies in the open—often in seemingly mundane conditions. The infrastructure noted above is usually hidden but fundable—such as the mathematics for high-frequency trading algorithms and the co-located servers in nondescript office and storage buildings. The strategic surprise of a Dark Accelerationist strategic subculture emerges when information asymmetries are harnessed and deployed. A readily understandable model of this is the dark web infrastructure that cybercriminals have created for identity theft and other crimes—and that lies at the core of the crime-terrorism nexus.[9] This is the trajectory that Aum Shinrikyo might have developed into if it had focused on cybercrime rather than on attempting to develop and to deploy chemical and biological weapons.

These are early signals of Dark Accelerationism which will become more visible over time.


[1] Alex Burns, “J.G. Ballard: The Personal Mythologist,” REVelation Magazine (Summer): 96-97. [2] Thomas Doherty, Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-34 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999). [3] Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, eds, Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism (New York: The Free Press, 2011). [4] Carl Benedikt Frey, The Technology Trap: Capital, Labour, and Power in the Age of Automation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019). [5] Sebastian Mallaby, More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite (New York: The Penguin Press, 2010). [6] Greg N. Gregoriou, ed., Handbook of High Frequency Trading (London: Academic Press, 2015). Finn Brunton, Digital Cash: The Unknown History of the Anarchists, Utopians, and Technologists Who Created Cryptocurrency (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019). [7] Walter Mattli, ed., Global Algorithmic Capital Markets: High Frequency Trading, Dark Pools, and Regulatory Challenges (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019b). Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra, Automating Finance: Infrastructures, Engineers, Engines, and the Making of Electronic Markets (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). [8] Anton Kreil, Institute of Trading and Portfolio Management, accessed on 6th August 2019, [9] Jonathan Lusthaus, Industry of Anonymity: Inside The Business of Cybercrime (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019).