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“”The first time I received a letter from the Unabomber, I had my wife open it.
The Unabomber was a media-popularized term for Theodore J. Kaczynski Ph.D., a former mathematics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who quit his teaching position in 1969 to live in a cabin in Montana. Starting in 1978, he engaged in a mail-bombing campaign which killed 3 people and wounded 23, ending in 1995 when the New York Times and Washington Post agreed to publish his manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future.
The premise of Kaczynski's ideology was fundamentally primitivist, stating that modern technology and industry were responsible for the cultural decadence, loss of freedom, social ills, and out-of-control government power that he felt plagued Western civilization, and that they were subjugating humanity to an unnatural ideal that went against thousands of years of evolution. If left unchecked, he argued, the advance of technology and the civilization it supported would result in the annihilation of traditional cultures and ways of life, culminating in the total enslavement of humanity as the Singularity arrives and artificial intelligences are placed in charge of the increasingly all-powerful government and bureaucracy.
He was vehemently anti-leftist, arguing that leftism in general was inherently totalitarian. However, he also felt that mainstream conservatives were deluding themselves by opposing leftism yet continuing to support technological and industrial development instead of recognizing the role that he felt they played in leftism's advance. In his mind, cultural relativism, political correctness, class warfare, identity politics, and other aspects of modern leftism were all merely symptoms of the problems created by industrial civilization, the end result of taking away people's connection to the subsistence lifestyle they evolved for and leaving them with only "trivial" matters to focus their attention on. He argued that humanity should overturn industrial civilization and return to a primitive hunter-gatherer society, rejecting the idea that the technology of the modern world could be reformed in any way. This shift should come sooner rather than later, so as to reduce the pain caused by its collapse — if we wait any longer, he argued, we'd enable technological civilization to enslave and murder even more people than such a collapse would harm.
While he did dismiss some of the more romanticized views held towards hunter-gatherer societies, he did still idealize the idea of the noble savage, though in a markedly different manner from many anarcho-primitivists. He viewed the primitive world not as a place free of work and want, but rather, as a place where people were free from "non-productive" work, which he defined as anything that doesn't directly support subsistence living (such as shopping, filing tax forms, taking the car in for repairs, and wage labor in general). Back in the old days, in his view, people had to pull their weight in procuring food, water, and shelter in order to survive, and since that was their first and foremost preoccupation, they had no need for the decadent leisure activities and stressful, non-productive labors of modern society. Likewise, he argued, without the technology and infrastructure of modern society, there was no need to engage in coercion and forced dependence to maintain it, allowing relationships to emerge on the basis of mutual need, friendship, and desire.
In short, Kaczynski blamed the advance of technology and industry for driving the forces behind the destruction of traditional values and the rise of statist tyranny. His ideas bear a number of similarities to the militant anti-modernism of radical traditionalism, though he tended more towards anarchism versus classical or medieval social structures; the similarities between the two are most likely a case of convergent evolution based on shared anti-industrial and anti-liberal views. There's probably more to it than that, but like most hare-brained political treatises, Industrial Society and Its Future is really fucking long, and most of it is just banging on the same points over and over. So forgive us if we kind of just skimmed through it. There's a reason why Kaczynski forms the defining stereotypical image of the "crazy mountain man who writes a 300-page manifesto about all his problems with society before going on a rampage."
Ignorance of history
Kaczynski's analysis of non-industrial and non-agricultural societies being superior to the modern world rests on a fundamental ignorance of human history. While he rightly criticized the idealized view of primitive hunter-gatherer societies as being communal utopias of equality, cooperation, and pacifism, he simultaneously indulged in the equally fallacious view that they were libertarian utopias where freedom and rugged individualism reigned. Even if one ignores questions over standards of living, child mortality, and disease, both viewpoints fly in the face of the actual history of ancient empires, which used brutal coercion to crush the nomadic hunter-gatherers and consolidate the power of their leaders. None of these early empires came out of nowhere; rather, they grew out of hunter-gatherer tribes who discovered some good land with food in enough abundance that it was worthwhile to settle down there permanently, start cultivating the land to maximize the food they were able to hunt and gather (inventing agriculture and animal husbandry in the process), and kick off any interlopers who tried to take "their" food and land (inventing armies and war in the process). A return to primitive society would soon entail a return to primitive, tyrannical forms of governance as a result, not a new age of liberty.
Likewise, his analysis glosses over the fact that a mass die-off would be the guaranteed end result of abandoning industrial civilization. Earth's population is supported almost entirely by agriculture, even before the Green Revolution of the 20th century and its resultant population explosion. If industrial civilization were to collapse, billions of people would starve to death, but not before turning against each other for food and resources, potentially killing billions more. All this comes before the prospect of nuclear weapons, be they controlled by governments or in the hands of terrorists, enters the mix, with the potential to finish the job of humanity's self-destruction. Of course, for those of a hard green and/or Malthusian persuasion who believe that Earth is already overpopulated, the death of most of humanity would be seen as a good thing.
At the height of his bombing campaign and after his arrest, Kaczynski was often called an ecoterrorist in the media and elsewhere, most notably by the anti-environmental movement of the '90s. Many of these allegations can be traced to Barry Clausen, who had been retained by the Washington Contract Loggers Association to investigate radical environmentalists, and attempted to connect Kaczynski to Earth First! using largely circumstantial evidence and hearsay.
In his writings, Kaczynski mainly based his arguments in psychology and self-esteem. The content of the manifesto is drawn from several mainstream, non-environmental critiques of technology, most notably Eric Hoffer's writings on sociology and self-esteem and Jacques Ellul's writings about modern technology being a threat to human freedom and religion. While he did give mention to ecological concerns as well, he otherwise had little time for the mainstream environmental movement, viewing it as having sold out to the leftism that he hated. His anti-modernity was less Earth First! and more Tyler Durden, the visionary terrorist from Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel (and later 1999 film) Fight Club who sees the modern world and consumer culture as repressing men's natural instincts. For him, a cleaner natural world was just a pleasant side-effect of freedom from industrial "slavery".
The name Unabomber comes from UNABOM, the FBI name for the case which stands for universities and airlines bomber, because his earliest bombs were directed at airlines and university science professors. He later also targeted a computer store, a timber industry lobbyist, and the head of a public relations firm. The common theme of his mail bomb attacks was they were all directed at people associated in one way or the other with science, technology, or industry, and at people whose positions and activities would most likely be known to somebody who is or was an insider in academia or the hard sciences. Hence, FBI behavioral scientists initially (and correctly) profiled him as a former university professor who had turned anti-technology, but they later abandoned that profile based on analysis of the contents of his homemade bombs (and, perhaps, on the then-fashionable "angry white male" meme and militia hysteria) in favor of profiling him as a blue-collar airline mechanic.
He also used the initials F.C. during his bombing campaign, initially thought to stand for "Fuck Computers" until he wrote an anonymous letter clarifying that it stood for "Freedom Club." His manifesto was published as F.C. before he had been identified by his real name. Kaczynski's estranged brother David and sister-in-law Linda recognized his writing style from letters he'd written to newspapers, and hired a private investigator and notified the authorities in order to prevent him from striking again.
Some have suspected Kaczynski to be the Zodiac killer, a notorious serial killer who was active in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1968 and '69, and was never caught. The allegations come down largely to the fact that Kaczynski lived and worked in the Bay Area at the time of the murders, and that they both demanded that the news media publish their writings or else more people would die. Beyond that, however, no hard evidence has ever linked Kaczynski to the murders.
Coincidentally, F.C. would also be the initials of his final place of residence. He is currently imprisoned for life in a super-maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado.
Like any high-profile, politically motivated criminal, Kaczynski has his share of defenders on both sides of the political spectrum, as well as by more apolitical neo-Luddites. On the far left, a fair number of anarchists and hard greens have embraced him as a kindred spirit — quite ironically, given what Kaczynski himself thought of such groups. The anarchist collective CrimethInc., for example, has an extended hagiography declaring Kaczynski "a hero for our time", claiming that the actions of his targets against people and the environment made his bombing campaign justified.
On the other side of the spectrum, Keith Ablow has defended Kaczynski's ideology. While he took great pains to state that he thought Kaczynski's actions were wrong, he went on to state that his ideas "are increasingly important" and "cannot be dismissed", saying that Industrial Society and Its Future deserved a place alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. According to Ablow's logic, since the NSA is spying on us and Barack Obama heavily employed the internet as a key campaign and outreach tool, that means that the internet is totally rotten to the core and that Kaczynski was right about technology. Noted manosphere ideologue Roosh V has also endorsed Kaczynski (though again, quick to distance himself from his actions), expanding on his manifesto by combining it with men's rights/MGTOW jargon. He claims that modern technological society forces men to forsake their families and become playboys in order to experience any fulfillment (pretty rich coming from a man who made his name as a pick-up artist), and that without the internet, the great menace of 'outrage culture' wouldn't exist.
His ideas have also been rediscovered by critics of modern tech culture, who see him as having predicted the rise of Web 2.0 and its perceived deleterious effects on society, while also viewing him as a dark mirror of utopian futurists like Ray Kurzweil and Michio Kaku whose vision of a tech-dominated future looks more like Fahrenheit 451 or The Terminator than anything. (To their credit, they're a bit more conflicted about the fact that they're endorsing the manifesto of a terrorist.) David Skrbina, a University of Michigan professor who teaches about the philosophy of technology, regularly corresponds with Kaczynski and uses these discussions in his course material, and later compiled them into a 2010 book, Technological Slavery. At least one group of neo-Luddite activists in Mexico has also taken to citing Kaczynski as an inspiration in carrying out bombings against nanotechnology research.
Anders Behring Breivik, another aficionado of rambling manifestos, was found to have plagiarized parts of Industrial Society and Its Future for his own "treatise", 2083: A European Declaration of Independence.
- Industrial Society and Its Future (aka "the Unabomber Manifesto"; reproduced by The Washington Post)
- Industrial Society and Its Future (updated version from Kaczynski's 2011 book, Technological Slavery)
- US Federal Bureau of Prisons
- In the kingdom of the Unabomber is Gary Greenberg's account of corresponding with Kaczynski. Also made into a short film.
- Gary Greenberg. "In The Kingdom of the Unabomber". http://www.garygreenbergonline.com/media/unabomber_letter.pdf.
- Unabomber Timeline
- The Unabomber Case: Chronology of a Terrorist
- The Truth About Primitive Life: A Critique of Anarcho-Primitivism, Ted Kaczynski.
- Compare the rant of the ex-LAPD cop Christopher Dorner for an example from the other side of the political spectrum.
- Ortega, Bob. "Clausen's 'Eco-Probes' Draw Suspicion, But He Still Turns Up on TV, in Papers." Wall Street Journal, 2 March 1999.
- You Do Not Talk About Fight Club: I Am Jack's Completely Unauthorized Essay Collection. p. 203-205.
- Vago, Mike. "1996 saw the capture of one of America's most notorious domestic terrorists." The A.V. Club, 14 August 2016 (recovered 14 August 2016).
- "Was Theodore Kaczynski the Zodiac Killer?"
- "The Unabomber: A Hero For Our Time." CrimethInc.
- Bishop, Thomas. "Fox News' Keith Ablow: Unabomber Was Right That Liberals Are 'Psychologically Disordered'." Media Matters for America, 26 June 2013.
- "Dr. Keith Ablow's Political Hero, the Unabomber." Respect the Blankie, 28 June 2013.
- An archived link to the essay, so as not to give him any hits.
- "The Unabomber's Trojan Horse." Histories of Things to Come, 27 May 2012 (recovered 4 January 2016).
- Young, Jeffrey R. "The Unabomber's Pen Pal." The Chronicle of Higher Education, 20 May 2012 (recovered 5 January 2016).
- Lloyd, Marion and Jeffrey R. Young. "Nanotechnologists Are Targets of Unabomber Copycat, Alarming Universities." The Chronicle of Higher Education, 21 August 2011 (recovered 4 January 2016).
- Hough, Andrew. "Norway shooting: Anders Behring Breivik plagiarized 'Unabomber'." Daily Telegraph, 24 July 2011.