Armen Avanessian is a philosopher and a media, literary and political theorist. He is the author of ten monographs and several edited volumes on academic topics as well as on xenofeminism or ethnofuturisms. These publications make him one of the international referents of speculative thinking. In 2013, he edited the influential book #Accelerationism. The book echoes an emerging intellectual debate that became highly influential in the philosophical, artistic and design fields. Avanessian is currently working with philosopher and poet Daniel Falb on a book on planetary time including the idea of hyperanticipation.

Andreu Belsunces is the co-founder of Becoming, a futures research studio. Belsunces investigates how the technology industry, politics, finance and infrastructures intertwine with narratives, expectations and imaginaries to produce certain forms of knowledge and collective visions of the future.

In this interview Belsunces asks Avanessian to explore how this notion of hyperanticipation, framed in the recent awareness of the planetary scale, aims to resolve the tensions between unsustainable technocratic growth and the dreams of an idealized past interfering with possible and potentially desirable futures.

Andreu Belsunces: In the book you are working on nowadays, you develop the notion of hyperanticipation. This notion points at the fact that big data and planetary synthetic intelligence create models that help us see some trajectories in deep time. This temporal consciousness creates conditions to make wiser decisions in resonance to the planetary and deep time scales. Moreover, it offers the possibility to create new frameworks of economic and social planification. However, it also challenges our imagination regarding new democratic institutions and modes of governance. How can hyperanticipation ground proposals for a possible and radically democratic post-capitalist order? How does it resonate with degrowth narratives?

Armen Avanessian: I agree in 97% with the degrowth programme. Just for the sake of clarity and provocation, I would play the role of devil’s advocate and say that degrowth might not be the final answer. A sign for this argument is that, after 50 years of advocacy– at least since the publication of the report by the Club of Rome, in 1972 – it has not been followed. An element of accelerationist optimism might be helpful here, as opposed to the detrimental equation of ‘technological progress = capitalism = growth’.  There might be alternatives to either unsustainable capitalist growth, including mass extinction, or the idealization of degrowth with its tendency to look backwards, with its own dangers of regression and resentment. I am surely not the first author to suggest this. The problem does not lie in growth itself, but in the stupidity of the market – its power and sabotage, so to say – that does not allow  for solutions that are really progressive. This is probably a political failure (and surely, also an element of technological illiteracy when it comes to left activism) that undermines the progressive possibilities of technologies. The fulfillment of these possibilities would allow, on the one hand, more sustainable ways of energy production, consumption and transformation into a post-capitalist society. On the other hand, it would avoid that the standards of living for a minority (mainly in the global north) are achieved at the expense of the majority of planetary inhabitants.

Now, with regards to hyperanticipation and planetary time, two concepts I have the pleasure to work with Daniel Falb, who constantly comes up with new intriguing concepts, there are several new elements that ten years ago were not on my radar. To begin with, that a planetary time complex implies a yet again new and fundamental shake up of the traditional understanding of chronology and history, of deep time and biographical time. The first thing to mention here is that it is the same technologies or technosphere – increasingly indistinguishable or inseparable from geosphere or biosphere – that constitute our understanding of the planet, of planetarity on the one hand, and on the other hand establish a new temporal regime we call hyperanticipation. For some years now, we are daily and increasingly bombarded with ubiquitous model-based projections, estimations and stimulations towards 2030, 2050, 2100 with regards to population escalation, climate change, acidification of the oceans or the GDP development, among others, as indicative of a new paradigm of hyperanticipatory governmentality. It represents an emerging political toolbox that increasingly puts us into the position of collectively directing the course of Earth’s natural history going forward.

So the first point is that the computer simulations of the planetary system – the mathematical models of its climate, population dynamics, economic activity etc. –, so pervasive in today’s mediascapes, create a vastly extended temporal horizon for our societies. Second, this has a strong impact on our individual biographies. In a really strong existential sense, we are confronted with a massive amount of anticipatory models that are fascinating at a psychological, cultural, and political level. 

As an example related to your question on degrowth: One of the forecasts we have to deal with is that we are still growing as a species, albeit at the expense of many other species. There are problems with our growth like we are too many, we eat too much meat and we produce too much CO2. These are undeniable facts. Nevertheless, we are becoming more numerous and we are living longer. This growth leads to what Daniel and I call habilitation escalation: the human population is growing, we live longer and the planet is, in that narrow aspect,  thriving. Whether we like it or not, it is just a matter of fact: growth is a reality. So the question is: how can we reconcile these two tendencies?

AB: Degrowth is usually misunderstood as a proposal to go back to past eras, to make a sacrifice in terms of quality of life. But it is far from that. In fact, it is a scientifically grounded programme using data models to debunk dogmas that relate economic and industrial growth with the promise of wellbeing. This link has been shown to be mistaken, to say the least. Degrowth aims to foster prosperity within the limits of sufficiency and sustainability, and points at the fact that we need to set boundaries in terms of consumption, production and lifestyle in order to achieve planetary and social balance. There is plenty of evidence pointing  to how we are reaching disturbing biophysical planetary limits that make capitalist growth materially impossible. And although apparently contradictory, I believe that degrowth can learn from accelerationism.

AA: The positive and progressive element of degrowth is damaged by rhetoric that is associated with going back to a natural state. Contrary to the claims of degrowth, I think that accelerationism was really catchy. But it had other problems because people tend to think that accelerationism wants to blindly speed everything up and destroy everything first. All I was suggesting was that the very idea of degrowth might be an unhelpful metaphor in some ways since it creates misunderstandings opposed to the term ‘accelerationism’. However, they do not differ so much either.  It might not be a coincidence that, apart from some advanced passages in Marx’s Fragment of the Machine, some genealogies of acceleration can also be traced to the 1970’s in Lyotard or Deleuze/Guattari, in Paris, basically at the same time as the Club of Rome informed the establishment that the existing model could not continue. They used cybernetics and computers to create data simulations about global warming and the necessity of degrowth as the only possible solution. But by now, we have had this information for 50 years, so there might be something wrong with the slogans and discourse and not just with our actions or the lack of them.

As historian Dipesh Chakrabarty explains, the anthropocene has made evident that natural and human temporality are indissolubly linked. How does the idea of hyperanticipation equip us to understand the experience under post-contemporary precarious conditions while finding ways out of it?

Andreu Belunces

AB: So the idea of hyperanticipation proposes an alternative to these two axes (accelerationism vs degrowth) by focusing on the recent awareness of the planetary scale. This awareness is related to recent scientific findings in astrobiology, a research field aimed at studying not only the possibility of life beyond earth, but also to understand how life originated and survives. Can you extrapolate a bit on hyperanticipation and the concept of planetarity in the astrobiological context?

AA: Sure. By placing the concept of planetarity in the astrobiological context (and not just using it as a vague metaphorical alternative to Earth or Globe), we try to address a noticeable lack in theoretical foundations and shift the focus from a spatial to a temporal understanding of planetarity. We tend to see the planet as a spatial entity, like a stable nature or fixed Um-Welt. This type of view is usually present in hegemonic environmentalist discourse. In this discourse, humans are presented as an external impact to planetary or climatic equilibrium. Our approach in the book proposes an understanding of a kind of co-evolution of life and planets that tackles the interplay between planetary and biographical time. This is paradigmatic for our age of rapid technological and scientific acceleration, and nevertheless,  its ethical and political implications remain to be understood. Our claim here is that planetarity is not an object before us but a force that is operative inside our lives as we construct our biographies.

So, for us, hyperanticipation arises in relation to the astrobiological discourse with its new theoretical approaches (like Peter Wards’ Rare Earth Hypothesis) and advances in exoplanet detection thanks to new space telescopes (like Kepler and TESS). This makes us see not just into a deep space, but a deep time, and potentially a deep future. The idea of a deep time engages a machinery and productive force of temporal models that go beyond what I discussed as “time-complex”, 10 years ago. Astrobiology, or a philosophy further exploring its speculative dimension, is also helpful to understand past time, but also an even deeper kind of future time far beyond what the anthropocene tells about like 250 or 500 years, but time scales of billions of years. This challenges how we understand ourselves. We are not just geological agents, but atmospheric and planetary agents. This does not only apply to us, human beings: all living beings have this kind of capacity. I think that it radically transforms the challenge and the potential space of possibilities of acting into a different future. 

These models are not just assumptions and religious, metaphysical, theological fantasies about the last judgment; they are realistic. We are the first generation that is overwhelmed with these facts. And this time, these forecasts are not the result of evil capitalism. For example, it is very likely that we will be 9.7 billion in 2060. What does it take to act upon that? What does it imply to live and act politically within this regime of hyperanticipation?

We need to better understand how life (microbiological life to complex life, to our intelligent life) or artificially intelligent exoskeleton life has always been transforming the planet. We are suddenly navigating not just the present or the next four years until the next elections, but thousands or hundreds of thousands, if not billions of years. A quite fascinating aspect in all this concerns the fact, that the scientific data, the technologies and even whole new sciences (like astrobiology), that allow us to really understand our geological or planetary impact are all very recent – actually they fall in our life span and the diagrams they produce and the temporal trajectories the various simulations show us, often include the potential dates of our deaths (let’s say 2050, 2070, 2100 max). All these scientific knowledge, tools, technologies, including artificially intelligent technologies, are providing us with both speculative temporal horizons and a new very existential challenge

We know it is not simply human, but a specific kind of human that produced this kind of global warming.

Armen Avanessian

AA: These insights demand a lot from us, as individuals living in this hyperanticipatory bombardment of data and forecasting models. Personally, as a philosopher, I take it as a challenge for a different kind of philosophy of nature that has become possible today, or once we abandon the – very Western – idea of ‘nature’ as a stable background for our human actions. At a social level, I think it is an absolutely decisive question, a kind of “make it or break it moment” for our species. It does not mean that we are about to die or get extinguished. Rather the challenge is, whether we manage something like to consciously ‘design’ a kind of major evolutionary transitionfollowing the counting of John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry it would be the ninth. That would first of all include non-human and artificial kinds of intelligence, that will lead to a very different form of political organization, different from the parliamentary system we have now, but also that enables a very different way of living together as planetary beings.

We are still digesting the kind of consequences of Western capitalism, responsible for the anthropocene. However, just focusing on the anthropos or the globalisation approach is far too narrow. We know it is not simply human, but a specific kind of human that produced this kind of global warming. But then the concept or the idea of the capitalocene, for example, still cannot sufficiently grasp the planetary impact of life in general, and that something like the planet we inhabit has only come into existence in constant exchange and recursive loops with its subsystem life. There is a co-evolution of life, the planet and intelligence. Intelligence, as rare as it might be, might still be a regular feature of the planet, as Daniel and I try to argue.

We need to philosophically (or maybe astrophilosophically) engage with new methodologies and sciences confronting us with very different temporalities, like astrobiology. Astrobiology has a very speculative dimension by producing deep time scenarios. It is highly metaphysical in a way, and on the other hand, it allows for a different kind of natural philosophy. Our book wonders if it is finally possible to do a philosophy of nature that is not metaphysical because it is a philosophy of post-nature. ‘Post’ in the sense that there is not an initial state of stable original and pure nature. I think for this, astrobiology and the planetary discourse are absolutely decisive because they show that planets are not lumps of matter; they are processes that have their time signatures. Planets are signatures of time.

AB: Freedom is related to the possession of time (as well as slavery is its dispossession). I would say that the contemporary precarious condition of the speculative-time regime is twofold. On the one hand, time is abundant for some people as labor opportunities fade away or, especially in the USA, people are resigning their jobs as wages and conditions worsen. On the other hand, the immediacy of digital technologies and the incessant volume of inputs and pressure of productivity makes time something scarce or, when available, dry of the possibility to be enjoyed. 

At the same time, as the last IPCC reports shows, climate disruption is creating a chronopolitics of urgency, where it seems that every day, there is less time left to avoid the catastrophe. The complexity of such an endeavor requires the understanding of new spatial coordinates (such as the planetary one) but also new time frames. As historian Dipesh Chakrabarty explains, the anthropocene has made evident that natural and human temporality are indissolubly linked. How does the idea of hyperanticipation equip us to understand the experience under post-contemporary precarious conditions while finding ways out of it?

AA: There is no one concept that allows us to single handedly see things or act differently. Rather, a planetary perspective is as much needed as it is apparently difficult to develop. Even though we know that it is a planet that we inhabit. Chakrabarty has indeed correctly emphasized that nature and culture are entangled. Now we know from astrobiology and from climate models that nature and culture, life and planet always changed, and it is from there that we need to investigate what the current capitalist deadlock is.

Let us start with the concept of urgency. So you say there is an urgency of climate change. I would say that there is a lot of urgency, but not with regards to a sudden climate change. First of all, there is no climate change. Climate is by definition always changing, and the fact that we constantly seem to forget this or continue to use it is not just a slip of words. The problem we have is that we live under a reckless capitalism and therefore, the way climate change is detrimental to the well-being of the future of our descendants and many species. We are about to produce a sixth mass extinction knowingly. But that is something else than saying we need to act quickly because all of a sudden there is an anthropocene climate change because of humans (since 70.000 years), or colonial capitalists (since 500 years), or industrialism (since 250 years), or since new farming chemistry (since 100 years), as Chakrabarty suggested in a conversation with Bruno Latour with regards to the famous Haber-Bosch process. 

As much as we’re all indebted to Lovelock-Margulis’ Gaia or Latour’s terrestrial, I would rather advocate the planetary and its deep history of evolutionary changes, that is: media and technological changes of information transfer or of energy transformation. The anthropocene as a concept confronts us with  complicated intricacies and possible misunderstandings. It is in this context that I see an increasing interest in the planetary, from calls for a planetary turn to planetary humanities. But in order to not come across as too critical: It is of course in discussion with these researchers and authors, and Chakrabarty is exemplary here, that we need to work on alternatives to our current and outdated geopsychological formats while being confronted with hyperanticipation and the kind of biographical big history I already touched upon above. 

Just take the latter as an example. Nowadays, we have to live and act with the fact that our biographies and big (geological and cosmological) history clash together. Moreover, we are the first ones to know about this. Biographical big history implies an imperative for different kinds of planetary politics. We need different international treaties to deal on a global level with the urgency of climate change. As some of the authors mentioned before have already shown, it is via our life form that the planet developed an intelligence and awareness of itself.  What we still need to find is the kind of planetary democratic infrastructures to act upon it in a way that can be beneficial to most of us. Because it might well be, as has been argued, that our capitalist states, with their international treaties and institutions (which they are stakeholders in) are part of the problem, and not yet the solution.

AB: Hyperanticipation explores an inhuman time scale. Inhumanism’s radical defense of rationalism has been criticized to recast society as a planetary feature to be managed ignoring how important the construction of meaning is for human beings. Also, longtermism, that could be related to your proposal of hyperanticipation, is a dangerous ideology that basically seeks to realize the supposed potential of humanity even when doing so implies the suffering or death of thousands or millions of human beings - in general, the most disadvantaged. So, on the one hand, how to incorporate the fulfillment of human rights that today are far from being met? And on the other, what is the place for care, meaning and belonging under the perspective of astrobiological ethics and politics?

Planetary politics has the main criteria of allowing life (not just complex life or human intelligent life!) to develop, because that is what planets, understood as temporal phenomena, are capable of from an evolutionary point of view.

Armen Avanessian

AA: From this follows less of the usual moral or normative imperative, but rather a planetary imperative with regards to the very unequally shared consequences of climate change along the age old lines of colonialism, of center and peripheries. From a planetarity standpoint, the current world map of differential life expectancies can be analyzed as the core site of social and existential injustice. There is a kind of planetary desire for a life expectancy equalization for everyone in parallel with the highest degrees of futurity of the Earth. Again, this is not a wish for degrowth or shrinking our species to a more tolerable level, whether it’s half of us or 20% of what we are today. Instead, we should not just ask about higher life expectancy for more people and more species, but work towards it. This would be a criteria according to which we should judge all our actions based on a kind of planetary categorical imperative: do not act in a way that is detrimental to the conditions and evolutionary possibilities of future planetary life. It is from here we can talk about fairness, about why many people live precariously, unable to use their biographical time wherever they want and accordingly also have a lower life expectancy.

This principle is not pro-growth or contra-growth, neither pro-capitalism nor post-capitalist. Planetary politics has the main criteria of allowing life (not just complex life or human intelligent life!) to develop, because that is what planets, understood as temporal phenomena, are capable of from an evolutionary point of view. Planetary politics would allow a continuation of this kind of habitability escalation and allow the development of evolution. In this sense I understand this neither as an ethical or political imperative. It’s a planetary imperative that follows from an astrobiological definition of what planets are capable of. So the main question would be: Does it allow evolutionary development? Are we, our current societies, the way we are politically and economically organised, hindering or endangering it?

AB: Finally, hyperanticipation is grounded in an epistemic transformation, but we know that these never come alone, but are linked to symbolic changes as well. What kind of imaginative frameworks, spirituality or mythological structures could emerge from hyperanticipation beyond longtermism and effective altruism?

There are indeed a lot of mythological or fictional references in the air these days, from Gaia to Chthulu to indigenous mythologies or European imaginaries about Mother Earth. Unfortunately, I know too little about these. However my main interest is to find a way out of a very costly intellectual, cultural and political deadlock we find ourselves in between business as usual and helpless prophecies of doom, solutionism or technophobia, blind unsustainable growth and dreams of a past natural state, (proto-fascist) Climate Change Denial and naïve (liberal) environmentalism. I think our planet is smarter than that.