Patchwork 101

My blog’s stats page told me that I received a few clicks from deepcomrade‘s CuriousCat recently, after an anon asked what the fuck patchwork is.

In response, they linked to my ‘State Decay‘ post — which was nice to see: thank you — but I realised, reading it back, now with the benefit of hindsight, that that post begins very much in the deep end. The theory was given a very quick once-over and then we dove right into what I recently described as “the eye of the storm” of patchwork — which I see as the spiralling internal engine of populist Left and Right approaches to sorting difference — but that doesn’t say much about patchwork itself.

So, over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to write a Patchwork 101 post, going into the theory’s foundations in much more detail in order to clarify them against the oppressive legacy of Mencius Moldbug.

Xerosones recently beat me to it with the inaugural post on their blog providing “a minor introduction” to patchwork which is definitely worth a look at. The post makes it quite clear, however, that the general idea of patchwork has a very potted history and there are many different perspectives on it, many of which appear at odds with one another.

It’s not surprising, with all this in mind, that there has been some confusion over what we’ve all been talking about here recently. However, I’ve since realised that to write a post trying to consolidate all these branches is a sort of impossible task. Patchwork is itself already a patchwork. It is fragmentary by nature. This isn’t unusual for any kind of broad political thought, really, but in this case it is something to be emphasised and accelerated.

Patchwork nonetheless requires some clarification, or else it runs the risk of appearing to be some kind of “zero claim ideology”, as Reza has recently been calling u/acc on Facebook, so I thought it might help to give an overview of what patchwork is — specifically for me.

I want to do this as concisely as possible.

Firstly, mine is not a Moldbuggian patchwork. What I am trying to figure out for myself here is a theory of patchwork that is inherently anti-nationalist and decolonial. This may seem antithetical to considerations of Moldbug. He lingers for me only because his definitions of patchwork are the most clear but the idea in itself did not begin with him and it shouldn’t end with him either. His is only one point of view and it is counter-productive to read patchwork via one theory alone. Likewise, any pursuit of one perspective requires a consideration of its outside. Once you let the outside in there’s no telling when the resulting fragmentation will stop.

My view of patchwork, I have realised, is almost identical to my view of the Red Pill, as explored in my “Egress” post. I wrote:

… the “Red Pill” is not an inherently right-wing concept. […] The Red Pill allows the person who takes it to see the formation of the Matrix for what it is — a digital simulation — and initiates the taker’s egress. Neo, choosing the Red Pill and subsequently undergoing a course of intensive training, is additionally given the power to shape the Matrix at will. In this way, the Red Pill is a medium through which one can manipulate perception and desire, allowing for the direct “upload” of knowledge, objects and abilities through a neural interface—which all humans outside of the Matrix are now “born” (or rather, “grown”) with—and into the “hardware” of the human brain and its central nervous system. It is a psychedelic drug through which the real conditions of existence become not only available but immediately plastic, allowing for the interruption of the biological foundation of the Matrix that the machines have implanted into the collective consciousness of humanity enslaved.

At its heart, then, The Matrix is a cinematic fable of political and philosophical choices and its success can be attributed to its ability to dramatise abstract questions usually debated by political philosophy. With its narrative combination of drugs, Prometheanism […] and machinic enslavement, The Matrix could easily be read as an Acid Communist and (Left) Accelerationist parable. However, it is as if the right-wing monopolisation of the Red Pill requires that the left abandon its potentials…

I also do not see patchwork as an inherently right-wing concept. Just because certain subgenres of the Right have utilised it and successfully used it to map out its potentials for their desired forms of the good life does not mean the Left — or any other broad political affiliation for that matter — must abandon its potentials.

In fact, patchwork and the red pill may have more in common than first appearances suggest. Patchwork functions similarly to the red pill in that it is a giant suppository for leviathan, corroding processes of state consolidation and making the conditions of (geopolitical) space both available and plastic. They are tandem, interscalar concepts: one for the subject and one for the state. This interscalar relationship is what interests me most and that is why ‘State Decay’ remains the bedrock for what this blog has become in recent months.

The Promethean and technological overtones within the patchwork / red pill analogies, thanks to The Matrix, are also very important. Axxonnhorror has done well to summarise the implications of patchwork’s modern entanglement of geopolitics and tech, exploring how the resulting “connective disintegration” is not as alien to our current social realities as we might think:

‘Connective distintegration’ immediately makes me think of Cyberspace, with countless amounts of users and programs, delocalised from their immediate geographical standings, and functioning on a vast informational network, interconnected, yet disintegrated, operating in niches with filtered content, but capable of instantaneously moving on a trajectory linking many newer, foreign nodes.

They continue:

Patchwork doesn’t delineate a rigid set of neighbours for each patch, but allows local structures to change internally and with respect to its outside: some patch might want to cluster next to some set of microstates, another time escaping them, or drifting out into the open smooth cosmos, alone, but perhaps connecting via the immense cyberspace, or even stranger vistas, to the others. Just like the individual subject — strange, not-fixed, mobile, “garnering here, there, and everywhere” through connections, but not integrations.

The Internet should and will play a central role in our considerations of the transformation of meatspace. We can see this aspect of patchwork informing a great deal of contemporary thought — most obviously, Benjamin Bratton’s The Stack. (I’m only just getting around to reading this so more on that in a future post I think.)

In an article on e-flux, Bratton writes:

My interest in the geopolitics of planetary-scale computation focuses less on issues of personal privacy and state surveillance than on how it distorts and deforms traditional Westphalian modes of political geography, jurisdiction, and sovereignty, and produces new territories in its image.

Patchwork, even in its Moldbuggian mode, shares these considerations. In his introductory post to patchwork, Moldbug (who, lest we forget, has a day job in Silicon Valley) draws further parallels between our understandings of off- and online space. This later definition is the only definition I would like to preserve in my thought from Moldbug’s.

The first lesson of Patchwork 101 is this:

[W]e can think of Patchwork as a new operating system for the world. Of course, it does not have to be installed across the entire world, although it is certainly designed to scale. But, it is easier and much more prudent to start small. Innovations in sovereignty are dangerous.

To be continued…

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