The other day I discovered a very curious fact about this blog. WordPress sent a notification about an out-of-the-ordinary affluence to the site, and as I ventured into the statistics to see what people were downloading, there came the surprise: since 2020, The Unabomber Manifesto has been downloaded more than 10.000 times! Nothing remotely compares to that here. I was intrigued. What was the reason? I hadn’t think about his case in years, so I went back to have another read.
My curiosity about those living outside the frame of society’s moral grounds has always been welcomed at one of my long-lasting favourite blogs : Abraxas 365 Dokumentarci. Though I’m not particularly interested in case-studies of so-called “serial killers”, histories involving large groups of people perpetrating violence fascinate me. The history of Ted Kaczynski fits none of these categories and that, in itself, is worth paying attention to. We learn from history, or we don’t… Of course, being an american, his story is mostly told in the style of a CSI series, with several episodes recounting his practices in a sensationalist manner. We know the drill: FBI investigators portrayed as the crusaders and criminals portrayed as mad men. Kaczynski’s case, somehow, questioned the molde.
Unabomber is how Ted Kaczynski got known. Briefly, he was an outsider with outstanding skills, and a very high IQ (so they say), who became a professor and then dropped everything, at the age of 27, to live off-the-grid, in the woods, in a small cabine. When arrested, the cabine itself was transported to the site of trial. The defense team wanted to plead insanity and show that “anyone who chose to live this way must be crazy“.
Kaczynski made and deployed 16 bombs, hurting several people and killing three: computer store owner Hugh Scrutton, who was killed outside his shop in 1985, advertising executive Thomas J. Mosser, in New Jersey in 1994 and timber industry lobbyist, Gilbert Brent Murray, in California in 1995. At some point, after more or less 20 years, he agreed to stop the killings if his manifesto got published and so the history goes, bringing us The Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society and Its Future, in December 1995. There’s no way to introduce this post without venturing into a small sea of contradictions, but by no chance did I once read and made the manifesto available.
Kaczynski fits in as many categories as you can throw at him. He is a genius, a narcissist, a madman, an anarchist, a recluse, a sociopath, a killer, a terrorist, an ecologist, a mathematician… you name it. His attacks were aimed at individuals or groups working in different contexts: airlines, universities, scientific researchers, psychologists, industry, etc. His hatred, thoroughly explained in the manifesto, is aimed at technology as the primordial force of the apparatus that crushes every single chance for freedom and predicts a future of environmental catastrophes. Is this why people have been downloading his Manifesto? Is his manifesto more relevant now than almost 30 years ago?
Here’s a sum up of my interpretation of his list of strategies for the future and let me remind everyone that it is very likely that Kaczynski never knew what freedom looked like:
An unbridled technological progress (he mentions the term technophiles) is fucking things up and people are passive about it. There are ways to go about and stopping it.
One way would be to stress the system, opposing the industrial system to technologies and start organizing around new ideologies. Let the stress take down the system just enough to promote different ways of doing things.
Promote the wild is imperative, meaning nature without human interference or control. In this idea of the wild, he includes humans, meaning “those aspects of the functioning of the human individual that are not subject to regulation by organized society”.
Again, promoting nature as a counter-ideal to technology, in a sense that technology always promotes the apparatus and natures promotes forces outside the system, if its chaotic and wild nature is left alone.
Convey and promote facts without intentionally distorting them, being as rational as possible, avoiding undermining people’s capacities; keeping it simple but avoiding strategies that would “arouse the passions of an unthinking, fickle mob who will change their attitude as soon as someone comes along with a better propaganda gimmick”, so he says.
Keeping in mind that revolutions are made by minorities and it would be a mistake to expect the majority to become a nuclear force of the revolution, meaning taking down the technological apparatus.
Keeping in mind that “any kind of social conflict helps destabilize the system”, but putting the stress on the right places, meaning to avoid conflicts with the victims of the system and attack “the power-holding elite of industrial society”. He stresses the idea that one should avoid blaming the public for “allowing itself to be manipulated”, and instead attach the advertising industry.
Avoiding to loose focus on what matters, meaning to take down the system. Ethnic conflict and social justice is important, but peripheral to the cause, he claims. He is critic of the fact that social struggles usually tend to play by the same rules of the apparatus, not promoting revolution, but instead perpetrating the very same system that promotes disadvantages.
The revolution will have to happen outside the system, without political power. He says: “the revolution against technology will probably have to be a revolution by outsiders, a revolution from below and not from above.” He then goes on to give examples on how “green parties” could never survive, given that the measures needed to promote a different way of living would dissatisfy most citizens, who would opposed the conditioning on their consumer habits, and the party would be rapidly crushed.
The revolution would have to happen worldwide in order to avoid nationalism sustaining the competing war. To this point he makes incredibly poignant claims, assuming that the risk would be to have dictatorships like China and North Korea take over the world. Not only does he assume it’s a risk worth taking, he suggests it might be the best way to go, claiming that “it might even be argued that an Industrial system controlled by dictators would be preferable, because dictator-controlled systems usually have proved inefficient, hence they are presumably more likely to break down”.
Favouring international agreements might be a way to accelerate global economic collapse. His idea is that promoting interdependency paves the way for the event that a breakdown in one major economy will then help breakdown all industries.
On power, primitivism and naturalism, he advises that we not mistake the power of individuals and small groups – which he claims is inherent and needed, stating “people need power” – with the power of large thechnological organizations. He also claims “primitive man” had more power than these individuals and small groups do today, meaning “the individual has only those technological powers with which the system chooses to provide him”.
I find myself often astonished by his writing and paragraph 200 is one of those instances, so i’ll quote it: “Until the industrial system has been thoroughly wrecked, the destruction of that system must be the revolutionaries’ ONLY goal. Other goals would distract attention and energy from the main goal. More importantly, if the revolutionaries permit themselves to have any other goal than the destruction of technology, they will be tempted to use technology as a tool for reaching that other goal. If they give in to that temptation, they will fall right back into the technological trap, because modem technology is a unified, tightly organized system, so that, in order to retain SOME technology, one finds oneself obliged to retain MOST technology, hence one ends up sacrificing only token amounts technology”. In sum, the claim is that revolution must only use modern technology for the purpose of attacking the technological system. If social disadvantages increase and catastrophes like hunger spread across the world, the revolutionaries should keep their focus and avoid loosing energy with that.
On the topic of spreading the message, he puts it quite simply: revolutionaries should “reproduce themselves abundantly”, have as many children as they can, not worrying about any other problems. This way, revolutionaries could pass on their social attitude and guarantee its survival.
The final paragraph under the Future Strategies section makes a remarkable note: “[R]evolutionaries should take an empirical approach. If experience indicates that some of the recommendations made in the foregoing paragraphs are not going to give good results, then those recommendations should be discarded.”
In another life, Kaczynski might have had a platonic affair with Foucault. Jokes aside, what is most upsetting might be that those who read philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists, etc, have come across this sort of ideology quite often, but it reaches us in a different way. Ideas without any utilitarian function. The art of thought. Would Kaczinsky understand that lots of people valued his thoughts, could it have change the course of things? Apparently, in the 70’s, after graduating from Harvard, he tried to published an essay that might have been the percursor of this manifesto, but that didn’t happen. I wonder if his narcissist character would have somehow be satisfy with that, knowing he was not alone. Would that have changed the course of things and prevent him thinking the value of his ideas was dependent on their practicality?
Most people are able to impact, in an affirmative way, the world, be it another human being or substances and other living beings. That ability is, in my view, fundamentally jeopardized by neoliberalism and the set of values it promotes. We see our students suffering, but also see the ways in which technology has facilitated a certain ease in suffering. It’s a vicious circle: creating problems ans presenting pseudo-solutions. Some feel comfort in knowing that on the other side of the screen there’s someone experiencing similar things and finding ways to get thru it, but it’s clear to me that personal connections are of a different order. They have a different energetic potential. Empathy and love can go a long way in healing trauma. Anyone doubts Kaczinsky lacked love and affection?