November 9, 2007

1. The Unabomber’s Manifesto

I knew that the Unabomber had written a manifesto, and I think I read part of it when it was published in 1995, but I didn’t have a clear idea of its contents. I was surprised to hear the Unabomber called a “neocon,” and I decided to have a closer look at his manifesto.

The quality of the writing is high, especially when you consider that the Unabomber wasn’t a literary person, but rather a mathematician. The manifesto is well structured, with numbered paragraphs, footnotes, etc. The style is vigorous and lively; it’s never witty, though, perhaps because the author is trying to set forth deep truths. One might describe it as a sociological work, a work about contemporary society, especially the influence of technology and media on contemporary society. The Unabomber thinks that modern society is on the wrong track, and he advocates revolution against technology, against modernity; he advocates an anarchist revolution. He takes a dim view of The Left, and his manifesto starts and ends with an analysis of the liberal.

One of the few writers whom he refers to by name is my old favorite, Eric Hoffer. The manifesto’s numbered paragraphs remind one of Hoffer, as does the iconoclastic tone, the sociological content, and the criticism of The Left. Banfield also comes to mind when one reads the Unabomber’s critique of the liberal — for example, when the Unabomber says that liberal programs often fail to help those they’re intended to help, and that liberal programs are really intended to satisfy the psychological needs of liberals.1 In sum, one must reluctantly admit that the Unabomber is a real intellectual, a better writer and thinker than most college professors, not far behind writers like Hoffer and Banfield, perhaps even a genius. One mark of a real intellectual is that, while he learns from books and from established writers, he also makes his own observations, and trusts his own judgments. The Unabomber observes the contemporary scene, and fits his observations into his conceptual framework. In the following passage, he discusses a tutoring network called Sylvan Learning Centers:

Education is no longer a simple affair of paddling a kid’s behind when he doesn’t know his lessons and patting him on the head when he does know them. It is becoming a scientific technique for controlling the child’s development. Sylvan Learning Centers, for example, have had great success in motivating children to study, and psychological techniques are also used with more or less success in many conventional schools. “Parenting” techniques that are taught to parents are designed to make children accept fundamental values of the system and behave in ways that the system finds desirable. When parents send their children to Sylvan Learning Centers to have them manipulated into becoming enthusiastic about their studies, they do so from concern for their children’s welfare. It may be that some of these parents wish that one didn’t have to have specialized training to get a job and that their kid didn’t have to be brainwashed into becoming a computer nerd. But what can they do? They can’t change society, and their child may be unemployable if he doesn’t have certain skills. So they send him to Sylvan.

Some people would say that I shouldn’t discuss the Unabomber’s manifesto, or quote from it. The manifesto was published with blood, and the only proper response is to curse the author or ignore him. To point out the strengths of the manifesto is to damage one’s own reputation, and to compare its author to other authors is to damage the reputations of those other authors.

If someone who was injured by the Unabomber reads my words and finds them offensive, I apologize. My goal is neither to praise nor to criticize, but to understand, and to speak the truth. Reputation is important, but in the long run, it will be enhanced more by speaking the truth than by worrying about how our words might be mis-represented.

The Unabomber was well aware that his work would be read because of the crimes he committed. In the following passage, he refers to his own group as FC (Freedom Club). In reality, he himself was the only member of this “group.” As for the name FC, it was derived from FP (Future of the Proletariat), the name of an anarchist group in Conrad’s novel, The Secret Agent.

As for our constitutional rights, consider for example that of freedom of the press. We certainly don’t mean to knock that right: it is a very important tool for limiting concentration of political power and for keeping those who do have political power in line by publicly exposing any misbehavior on their part. But freedom of the press is of very little use to the average citizen as an individual. The mass media are mostly under the control of large organizations that are integrated into the system. Anyone who has a little money can have something printed, or can distribute it on the Internet or in some such way, but what he has to say will be swamped by the vast volume of material put out by the media, hence it will have no practical effect. To make an impression on society with words is therefore almost impossible for most individuals and small groups. Take us (FC) for example. If we had never done anything violent and had submitted the present writings to a publisher, they probably would not have been accepted. If they had been accepted and published, they probably would not have attracted many readers, because it’s more fun to watch the entertainment put out by the media than to read a sober essay. Even if these writings had had many readers, most of these readers would soon have forgotten what they had read as their minds were flooded by the mass of material to which the media expose them. In order to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression, we’ve had to kill people.

The Unabomber is still alive, and apparently he still believes in the truth of his theories, and he still thinks he can rally others to his standard, and start a revolution, a revolution against “the system.” When he was interviewed in prison, he was asked

what he would do if, against all odds, he should someday get out of prison. He mentions an anarchist in Oregon with whom he has corresponded. “He has given some talks at colleges about technology and about the Unabomb case,” Kaczynski says, “and he’s had a very positive response. And if he can get an audience, I could get one much more easily, now that I’ve been publicized.” To anarchists who advocate violence, Kaczynski has become a hero. He is flattered but notes that “a lot of these people are just irrational.” What Kaczynski wants is a true movement, “people who are reasonably rational and self-controlled and are seriously dedicated to getting rid of the technological system. And if I could be a catalyst for the formation of such a movement, I would like to do that.”

Notice how, for the Unabomber, the highest compliment is “rational,” and the harshest criticism is “irrational.” One is reminded of Leo Strauss, who also makes frequent use of “rational,” who also takes it for granted that rational is good, and irrational is bad. When the Unabomber mentions intuition, it’s only to apologize for leaning on such a weak reed: “Of course in a discussion of this kind one must rely heavily on intuitive judgment, and that can sometimes be wrong. So we don’t claim that this article expresses more than a crude approximation to the truth.”

If Strauss has a rational-moral worldview, the Unabomber has a rational-scientific worldview. This may have something to do with his upbringing: “Ted and David’s parents, Wanda and Theodore R. Kaczynski, were atheists, working-class intellectuals who valued education and dearly wanted their sons to succeed on a higher plane.” Atheism and rationalism are closely related; if the elder Kaczynskis were atheists, they probably respected reason as their son did. The combination of atheism and rationalism is found in Ayn Rand, with whom the Unabomber is sometimes compared; one wonders if the Unabomber was fond of Rand’s novels.

The Unabomber’s brother, David Kaczynski, has become a crusader against the death penalty. David says that, because his brother had good lawyers, he was able to avoid execution, but the disadvantaged don’t get good lawyers, and are sometimes executed as a result. While surfing the web, I stumbled into a speech by David Kaczynski, and found it interesting and touching.

The Kaczynski brothers were once quite close, but they’re now estranged; Ted blames David for turning him in, comparing him to Judas. In recent years, David was employed as a social worker, and seems quite outgoing. In his younger days, though, David lived as a hermit, and it was David who first went to Montana, hence he was able to tell the FBI exactly where Ted’s cabin was.

When asked about the fondest memories he holds of David, Ted cites a day in the early 1970s in Great Falls, Montana. David had moved there first, after college, and was working as a copper smelter. Ted was building his cabin on land the brothers had bought together outside Lincoln. One day, Ted recalls, they took their baseball gloves to a park. “We were as far apart as we could get and still reach each other with the ball,” Ted says, smiling, as if lost in the moment. “We were throwing that ball as hard as we could, and as far as we could... And so we were making these running, leaping catches. We made more fantastic catches that day than I think we did in all the rest of our years together.”2

The Unabomber begins his manifesto by declaring “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” There is some truth to this, though I would stress the dislocation caused to spiritual life, rather than the dislocation caused to social/economic life. Having made this declaration, our author quickly moves to a discussion of The Left:

Almost everyone will agree that we live in a deeply troubled society. One of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world is leftism, so a discussion of the psychology of leftism can serve as an introduction to the discussion of the problems of modern society in general....

Minority rights activists [are] hypersensitive about the words used to designate minorities and about anything that is said concerning minorities. The terms “negro,” “oriental,” “handicapped” or “chick” for an African, an Asian, a disabled person or a woman originally had no derogatory connotation. “Broad” and “chick” were merely the feminine equivalents of “guy,” “dude” or “fellow.” The negative connotations have been attached to these terms by the activists themselves. Some animal rights activists have gone so far as to reject the word “pet” and insist on its replacement by “animal companion.” Leftish anthropologists go to great lengths to avoid saying anything about primitive peoples that could conceivably be interpreted as negative. They want to replace the word “primitive” by “nonliterate.” They seem almost paranoid about anything that might suggest that any primitive culture is inferior to our own.

Those who are most sensitive about “politically incorrect” terminology are not the average black ghetto-dweller, Asian immigrant, abused woman or disabled person, but a minority of activists, many of whom do not even belong to any “oppressed” group but come from privileged strata of society. Political correctness has its stronghold among university professors, who have secure employment with comfortable salaries, and the majority of whom are heterosexual white males from middle- to upper-middle-class families.

Leftists tend to hate anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful. They hate America, they hate Western civilization, they hate white males, they hate rationality.

If The Left hates rationality, it seems to follow that conservatives are fond of reason. And indeed, Strauss and the neo-conservatives show conservatism combined with rationality.

Modern leftish philosophers tend to dismiss reason, science, objective reality and to insist that everything is culturally relative. [This might have been written by a disciple of Strauss.] It is true that one can ask serious questions about the foundations of scientific knowledge and about how, if at all, the concept of objective reality can be defined. But it is obvious that modern leftish philosophers are not simply cool-headed logicians systematically analyzing the foundations of knowledge. They are deeply involved emotionally in their attack on truth and reality. They attack these concepts because of their own psychological needs. For one thing, their attack is an outlet for hostility, and, to the extent that it is successful, it satisfies the drive for power. More importantly, the leftist hates science and rationality because they classify certain beliefs as true (i.e., successful, superior) and other beliefs as false (i.e., failed, inferior). The leftist’s feelings of inferiority run so deep that he cannot tolerate any classification of some things as successful or superior and other things as failed or inferior. This also underlies the rejection by many leftists of the concept of mental illness and of the utility of IQ tests. Leftists are antagonistic to genetic explanations of human abilities or behavior because such explanations tend to make some persons appear superior or inferior to others. Leftists prefer to give society the credit or blame for an individual’s ability or lack of it. Thus if a person is “inferior” it is not his fault, but society’s, because he has not been brought up properly.

When he says, “Leftists tend to hate anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful,” one thinks of Nietzsche, who often castigated those who were resentful of the strong and successful. There’s a Nietzschean ring to many of the Unabomber’s arguments, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Unabomber admired Nietzsche. When the Unabomber says that The Left opposes rankings/hierarchies, one thinks of Nietzsche’s fondness for rankings/hierarchies.

Even when the Unabomber discusses art, he makes frequent use of the term “rational”:

Art forms that appeal to modern leftish intellectuals tend to focus on sordidness, defeat and despair, or else they take an orgiastic tone, throwing off rational control as if there were no hope of accomplishing anything through rational calculation and all that was left was to immerse oneself in the sensations of the moment.

In a passage I quoted earlier, the Unabomber speaks of “the leftist’s feelings of inferiority.” Elsewhere he says, “The two psychological tendencies that underlie modern leftism we call ‘feelings of inferiority’ and ‘oversocialization.’” The feeling of inferiority makes the leftist prefer collectivism to individualism:

Words like “self-confidence,” “self-reliance,” “initiative,” “enterprise,” “optimism,” etc., play little role in the liberal and leftist vocabulary. The leftist is anti-individualistic, pro-collectivist. He wants society to solve everyone’s problems for them, satisfy everyone’s needs for them, take care of them. He is not the sort of person who has an inner sense of confidence in his ability to solve his own problems and satisfy his own needs.... His feelings of inferiority are so ingrained that he cannot conceive of himself as individually strong and valuable. Hence the collectivism of the leftist. He can feel strong only as a member of a large organization or a mass movement with which he identifies himself.

When he speaks of ‘satisfying your own needs,’ one thinks of his own solitary and self-reliant lifestyle. Doubtless he took pride in his solitude, his individuality. His Achilles Heel was his lack of spiritual growth; he couldn’t be content in his solitude, he had to connect with others in a negative way, a violent way. He focuses on sociology, ignoring spirituality.

One of the central ideas in the manifesto is the idea of “over-socialization”:

The moral code of our society is so demanding that no one can think, feel and act in a completely moral way. For example, we are not supposed to hate anyone, yet almost everyone hates somebody at some time or other, whether he admits it to himself or not. Some people are so highly socialized that the attempt to think, feel and act morally imposes a severe burden on them. In order to avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin. We use the term “oversocialized” to describe such people.

We argue that a very important and influential segment of the modern left is oversocialized and that their oversocialization is of great importance in determining the direction of modern leftism. Leftists of the oversocialized type tend to be intellectuals or members of the upper-middle class. Notice that university intellectuals constitute the most highly socialized segment of our society and also the most left-wing segment.

The Unabomber’s remarks on “over-socialization” were influenced, according to Wikipedia, by Freud, especially Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents. Freud’s rational approach would be congenial to the Unabomber, while Jung’s approach would be uncongenial. Like many of the Unabomber’s ideas, the idea of “over-socialization” reminds one of Nietzsche. Nietzsche never tired of lambasting the “herd animal” and praising the solitary “beast of prey.”

According to the Unabomber, The Left appears to rebel against society’s values, but actually The Left has a moralizing tendency, The Left accepts society’s morality, then accuses society of falling short of its own moral principles:

The left takes an accepted moral principle, adopts it as its own, and then accuses mainstream society of violating that principle. Examples: racial equality, equality of the sexes, helping poor people, peace as opposed to war, nonviolence generally, freedom of expression, kindness to animals. More fundamentally, the duty of the individual to serve society and the duty of society to take care of the individual. All these have been deeply rooted values of our society (or at least of its middle and upper classes) for a long time. These values are explicitly or implicitly expressed or presupposed in most of the material presented to us by the mainstream communications media and the educational system. Leftists, especially those of the oversocialized type, usually do not rebel against these principles but justify their hostility to society by claiming (with some degree of truth) that society is not living up to these principles.

Like Hitler, the Unabomber is both sane and insane. In other words, the Unabomber is partly insane, but not so far gone that he can’t function at all. Like most people, the Unabomber doesn’t see his own flaws; he insists that he’s sane, he continues to believe in the justice of his cause, he doesn’t apologize for his crimes. To an outside observer, it’s clear that he committed his crimes to satisfy his own psychological needs — his need to be somebody, to do something, to exercise power. In his own mind, however, he committed his crimes for good reasons — to publicize his theories, to start a revolution, to save the world. In an earlier issue, I asked if a different society could have saved the Unabomber, could have put him on the road to a better life: “I suspect that many of today’s disturbed individuals could have been salvaged by a different society, by spiritual and social surroundings that were friendlier, healthier.”

Was society the cause of the Unabomber’s crimes? There were infinite causes, it’s a case of Mutual Arising. If society was one cause, other causes were

  1. The hospital-isolation to which the Unabomber was subjected when he was 9 months old
  2. The “stress tests” to which the Unabomber was subjected during his student years3
  3. The novels of Conrad, which provided the Unabomber with the image of an intellectual who was an anarchist/revolutionary/bomber. In an earlier issue, I discussed how Hitler, the Unabomber, and other criminals were inspired by literary images.

The Unabomber is familiar with contemporary sociology. He says:

A theme that appears repeatedly in the writings of the social critics of the second half of the 20th century is the sense of purposelessness that afflicts many people in modern society. (This purposelessness is often called by other names such as “anomie” or “middle-class vacuity.”)

He notes that, in recent years, the sense of purposelessness has been reduced by the scramble to get ahead, to make a living:

The problem of purposelessness seems to have become less serious during the last 15 years or so, because people now feel less secure physically and economically than they did earlier, and the need for security provides them with a goal. But purposelessness has been replaced by frustration over the difficulty of attaining security.

The scramble to get ahead seems particularly frenzied in a classless society like ours, where anyone can rise to the top, and anyone can sink to the bottom. Forty years ago, on the other hand, there were still vestiges of social classes, and people probably felt more secure in their niche — in the niche that they were born into.

The Unabomber argues that economic security can’t satisfy us completely:

The liberals and leftists would wish to solve our social problems by having society guarantee everyone’s security; but if that could be done it would only bring back the problem of purposelessness. The real issue is not whether society provides well or poorly for people’s security; the trouble is that people are dependent on the system for their security rather than having it in their own hands.

Here again, we find that hostility to “the system,” that hostility to modern society, with its big, complicated institutions, that longing for the good ol’ days, when life was simpler, when people earned their bread with the sweat of their brow. One is reminded of the people who oppose globalization, and oppose international trade organizations.

The only way to go back to the good ol’ days, the Unabomber insists, is by destroying technology, because technology forces the creation of big, complicated institutions:

In any technologically advanced society the individual’s fate must depend on decisions that he personally cannot influence to any great extent. A technological society cannot be broken down into small, autonomous communities, because production depends on the cooperation of very large numbers of people and machines. Such a society must be highly organized and decisions have to be made that affect very large numbers of people. When a decision affects, say, a million people, then each of the affected individuals has, on the average, only a one-millionth share in making the decision. What usually happens in practice is that decisions are made by public officials or corporation executives, or by technical specialists, but even when the public votes on a decision the number of voters ordinarily is too large for the vote of any one individual to be significant. Thus most individuals are unable to influence measurably the major decisions that affect their lives. Their is no conceivable way to remedy this in a technologically advanced society.

But for all its evils, today’s technology is harmless compared to tomorrow’s. Things will be much worse tomorrow, the Unabomber argues, because technology keeps developing, and the individual’s autonomy keeps shrinking:

It presumably would be impractical for all people to have electrodes inserted in their heads so that they could be controlled by the authorities. But the fact that human thoughts and feelings are so open to biological intervention shows that the problem of controlling human behavior is mainly a technical problem; a problem of neurons, hormones and complex molecules; the kind of problem that is accessible to scientific attack. Given the outstanding record of our society in solving technical problems, it is overwhelmingly probable that great advances will be made in the control of human behavior.

Will public resistance prevent the introduction of technological control of human behavior? It certainly would if an attempt were made to introduce such control all at once. But since technological control will be introduced through a long sequence of small advances, there will be no rational and effective public resistance. [Again, note the emphasis on rationality.]

To those who think that all this sounds like science fiction, we point out that yesterday’s science fiction is today’s fact. The Industrial Revolution has radically altered man’s environment and way of life, and it is only to be expected that as technology is increasingly applied to the human body and mind, man himself will be altered as radically as his environment and way of life have been.

The Unabomber says that the revolutionary ideology should be presented in two forms: a popular form, and a subtle form (these two forms are sometimes called the “exoteric” form and the “esoteric” form).

Most people hate psychological conflict. For this reason they avoid doing any serious thinking about difficult social issues, and they like to have such issues presented to them in simple, black-and-white terms: this is all good and that is all bad. The revolutionary ideology should therefore be developed on two levels.

On the more sophisticated level the ideology should address itself to people who are intelligent, thoughtful and rational. The object should be to create a core of people who will be opposed to the industrial system on a rational, thought-out basis, with full appreciation of the problems and ambiguities involved, and of the price that has to be paid for getting rid of the system. It is particularly important to attract people of this type, as they are capable people and will be instrumental in influencing others. These people should be addressed on as rational a level as possible. Facts should never intentionally be distorted and intemperate language should be avoided. This does not mean that no appeal can be made to the emotions, but in making such appeal care should be taken to avoid misrepresenting the truth or doing anything else that would destroy the intellectual respectability of the ideology.

On a second level, the ideology should be propagated in a simplified form that will enable the unthinking majority to see the conflict of technology vs. nature in unambiguous terms. But even on this second level the ideology should not be expressed in language that is so cheap, intemperate or irrational that it alienates people of the thoughtful and rational type.

When the Unabomber looks at history, he finds that technology didn’t develop in most civilizations, that technology is an historical anomaly. Therefore, he believes that technology can be destroyed, the good ol’ days can be brought back:

In the late Middle Ages there were four main civilizations that were about equally “advanced”: Europe, the Islamic world, India, and the Far East (China, Japan, Korea). Three of those civilizations remained more or less stable, and only Europe became dynamic. No one knows why Europe became dynamic at that time; historians have their theories but these are only speculation. At any rate, it is clear that rapid development toward a technological form of society occurs only under special conditions. So there is no reason to assume that long-lasting technological regression cannot be brought about.

According to the Unabomber, the leftist wants to wield power through a big organization, whereas the anarchist (like himself), wants power in the hands of individuals and small groups:

The leftist seeks power on a collective basis.... The anarchist too seeks power, but he seeks it on an individual or small-group basis; he wants individuals and small groups to be able to control the circumstances of their own lives. He opposes technology because it makes small groups dependent on large organizations.

In an earlier issue, we discussed the Unabomber’s obsession with Conrad’s novels, and his identification with the anarchist in Conrad’s Secret Agent.

Near the end of his manifesto, the Unabomber tells us how we can spot a leftist:

The leftist is oriented toward large scale collectivism. He emphasizes the duty of the individual to serve society and the duty of society to take care of the individual. He has a negative attitude toward individualism. He often takes a moralistic tone. He tends to be for gun control, for sex education and other psychologically “enlightened” educational methods, for planning, for affirmative action, for multiculturalism. He tends to identify with victims. He tends to be against competition and against violence, but he often finds excuses for those leftists who do commit violence. He is fond of using the common catch-phrases of the left like “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” “capitalism,” “imperialism,” “neocolonialism,” “genocide,” “social change,” “social justice,” “social responsibility.” Maybe the best diagnostic trait of the leftist is his tendency to sympathize with the following movements: feminism, gay rights, ethnic rights, disability rights, animal rights, political correctness. Anyone who strongly sympathizes with all of these movements is almost certainly a leftist.

© L. James Hammond 2007
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1. “Much leftist behavior,” the Unabomber writes, “is not rationally calculated to be of benefit to the people whom the leftists claim to be trying to help.” Notice the emphasis on rational thinking.

The Harvard political scientist James Q. Wilson described the Unabomberís manifesto as ďa carefully reasoned, artfully written paper.... If it is the work of a madman, then the writings of many political philosophers — Jean Jacques Rousseau, Tom Paine, Karl Marx — are scarcely more sane.Ē back

2. Interview with Stephen Dubner back
3. These tests were conducted by Dr. Henry A. Murray, and are discussed in Wikipedia’s article on the Unabomber. back