Domestic Terrorist, Ted Kaczynski's Critique of the Industrial Revolution
By Alex Gabriel
Proofread by Jurahm Choi
Disclaimer: The writer of the article does not share the views of Ted Kaczynski, but is simply summarizing the contents of TK’s manifesto
Ted Kaczynski, sometimes referred to as the Unabomber, was a domestic terrorist and math professor whose bombings resulted in the death of 3, and the injuries of 23 people.
Although his deeds may be reprehensible by any standards, it is important to not let his atrocities blind us from what he may have to say about society. Published by the New York Times and Washington Post as a result of a bomb threat from the Unabomber, Industrial Society and Its Future is a 124-page critique of the Industrial Revolution by Ted Kaczynski, which talks about the negative consequences that the Industrial Revolution has had on society, as well as steps to undo the harm. Its first few lines, “The industrial revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race”, have become iconic as the face for anarcho-primitivism.
Theodore John Kaczynski was born on the 22nd of May, 1942, to a family of Catholic Polish-American Immigrants, although Kaczynski would later become an atheist. From an early age, he was a rather gauche child, who hid from guests visiting his family, and had trouble making friends from an early age. Because of his medical condition, he had to spend most of his childhood in isolation in a hospital, but would later fully heal, joining first grade at 6 years old. He was tested at 167 for his IQ, and skipped two grades, graduating high school at the age of 15, enrolling in Harvard with a scholarship at age 16. He was a genius by any metric and excelled in the field of mathematics. However, during his time at Harvard, he had undergone a psychological experiment, in which his views on the world were mercilessly ridiculed and criticized, an experiment that would be considered inhumane by today’s standard. Many experts believe that this was the starting point for Kaczynski’s journey towards insanity. After Harvard, he went on for his Master’s degree at the University of Michigan and became an assistant professor of mathematics at UC Berkeley. Soon after, however, he would leave the teaching post to pursue a fully primitive lifestyle, without electricity or running water, where he would start to make his bombs and write his manifesto. He sent out the bombs to mainly stem departments in universities and airlines, therefore naming himself the “Unabomber.”. He felt that those were the organizations that had actively aggravated the consequences of the industrial revolution. He was caught by the FBI in 1978 and is currently serving 8 life sentences, in a maximum security prison in Colorado.
The Brief Summary of the Manifesto:
Kaczynski believes that one of the primary consequences of the industrial revolution is the environmental degradation that it has caused. Although the Unabomber doesn’t talk about this issue, since he says many publications have already covered it, he considers it one of the largest negatives of the industrial revolution, which many of the readers already would know much about, due to large scale movements that aimed to bring attention to taking care of the planet.
Secondly, ensuring the industrial revolution, small-scale communities were effectively destroyed or diminished to a point where they became insignificant. This was because before the revolution, communities were primarily rural agrarian communities, and even cities were nowhere near the scale that it is today in cities such as NYC and London. This meant that the individual importance and reliance on a person decreased significantly, resulting in what seems like depression and purposelessness due to the feeling of being another “cog in the machine”, rather than a valuable and irreplaceable member of a community. Furthermore, although it isn’t fully agreed upon, it can be noted that crowding in some cases leads to aggression and violence, as seen in rats. Therefore, by crowding up in places such as cities, Kaczynski claims that humans are being led to act more aggressively towards each other, possibly fomenting hostility in our everyday lives. Although the industrial revolution did not directly cause this, it was a side effect of it and is a possible contributing factor in what Kaczynski claims is declined mental health of the modern-day human.
Thirdly, with the industrial revolution came less power over one’s life, as well as diminished freedom. Although one might feel like they have been given more control and power over their life, due to the advancements in technology, it should be noted that that certainly is not the case. For instance, with the advancement of the motorized automobile, people who possessed one could easily go further and faster than ever before, certainly increasing the users’ freedom. However, with the mass use of cars that followed in the later years, cities were designed to be suited for cars. Most notably, Brasilia, the planned capital city of Brazil, revolves around cars, as seen by its wide lanes, with little to no pedestrian crossings or sidewalks. This civil engineering layout combined with non-walkable distances between locations of quotidian visits, such as supermarkets and schools, almost obligates the average citizen to possess a car to live in that city, therefore threatening the choice to either buy or not buy a car for the average overage citizen. Some could argue, with reason, that the obligation to get a car is a simple sacrifice for better transportation and saving of time, but it is simply a matter of perspective and opinion whether that sacrifice is considered worth it or not.
Furthermore, feelings of powerlessness inevitably rise as a consequence of monoliths, which Kaczynski claims is, in fact, a consequence of the industrial revolution, where everyday citizens give up rights and responsibilities, while also giving up autonomy and control. In fact, some of the largest aspects of the 21st-century person in Western society is dependent on monolithic corporations and governments. If one commutes to work through trains and buses, he or she relies on the transportation companies, fuel companies, and mechanics that keep public transport running and whether or not the 4.3 hours of average screen time spent on phones daily for Americans (Business Insider) will be filled is largely dependent on the hands of those who maintain WiFi servers, as well as the underwater cables that manage telephone networks worldwide. Kaczynski refers to these infrastructure-requiring technologies as “organization-dependent technologies”, and largely blames these for taking away control of people’s lives because it requires dependence on an outside entity to live our lives. The modern man has to rely on his boss and company to pay him so that he will be able to feed himself. From there he relies on either gas or electricity from a company to cook food, plumbing to keep his house hygienic, and the government to make sure that his hard-earned money will keep its value by regulating the economy and controlling inflation. If by any chance, these companies and external entities stop working, the modern man will be able to do little to fix the problem. For instance, what would a person perfectly dependent and assimilated into the modern world do about his cash becoming worthless, or his electronics and household appliances stopping to work? On the other hand, primitive man was never dependent on these outer organizations; he would have been able to hunt for food if he was hungry so that whether he is successful would depend on himself, not on the government or large scale corporations. However, Kaczynski here is partly mistaken as humans also acquire more power with the development of technology. Before large-scale technologization, if one were to get a disease, the best that could be done was to simply apply for some pseudo-scientific medicine and hope for the best, but with modern medicine and the scientific method, a patient with the help of doctors can easily learn about the disease and take measures to get rid of it, rather than simply sitting around while doing nothing.
To add on, Kaczynski claims that with technology, humans are becoming more and more artificial rather than a product of chance or God depending on one’s views. As an example, he claims that antidepressants are controlling of the human mind, and are “tools for the system” to have a more mentally homogenous population: one that will go along with the modern industrial world, without any “mental health problems”, as he believes that in the industrial society mental health is largely defined by “the extent to which an individual behaves in accord with the needs of the system and does so without showing signs of stress.” Giving antidepressants is not only manipulation but a way of avoiding solving the problem, the problem of the depressing conditions of the industrial society, in the eyes of the Unabomber. Furthermore, he claims that with the improved understanding of the human brain and genetics, humans will discover ways to get rid of diseases such as cancer, or conditions such as depression, which, doing so will initially seem positive. However, like the invention of the automobile, he claims that it will later become the societal norm, as it seems like the morally correct action for a child, and therefore become an obligation rather than a choice, a choice one might feel guilty about making if he or she believes in nature taking its natural course, rather than a combination with human engineering. With the advancement and widespread use of genetic engineering, he claims that people will become more and more like robots, without much individuality, and become products of science, rather than God or natural chance depending on one’s views
Socialization in sociology is widely defined as “the lifelong process of an individual or group learning the expected norms and customs of a group or society through social interaction.” (sociologydictionary.com) It is through socialization that students learn to raise their hand when wanting to speak, that children learn to talk rather than use violence, and that humans learn to fit into what Kazcynski calls ‘the system.’ Socialization is beneficial to some degree as it prevents abhorrent behavior, and promises safety in a society. However, Kaczynski and countless others consider oversocialization to be one of the worst examples of child abuse. Through over-socialization, people are put in a mental prison in which they feel tremendous guilt and sorrow for slight violations of cultural and societal norms. With the advancement of technology, resulting in crowded communities, societies no doubt became more aware of the surroundings, themselves, and the behavior of others, resulting in more and more cases of over-socialization. Kaczynski claims that routine behaviors such as getting up, eating, and sleeping all in a routine are somewhat consequences of socialization, but are detrimental to our freedom, as primitive people could have operated on their schedule without much supervision from society, and therefore had more free will, especially with how they lived their lives.
The Power Process:
Kaczynski claims that in order for humans to lead happy and healthy lives, they must fulfill their need for the power process: A process in which humans set up a goal and actively work to achieve it. Without a goal, humans will feel purposeless, but without work to achieve the goal, people will remain unsatisfied. For example, he points to hedonistic aristocrats of the past and claims that those were people who had lost the work necessary to feel secure and have physical welfare. Similar to the aristocrats, people in developed industrial societies don’t need much effort to keep themselves fed compared to the people of the past, at least not in the modern mainstream world. Kaczynski claims that in the mainstream Western industrial society, people do not need much effort to keep themselves fed, simply some obedience to the boss, sociable attitude, good work ethic, and moderate intelligence, so that they will remain in their workplace. Because of this, the unabomber claims that humans have become “bored, hedonistic, and demoralized”, which they try to prevent with surrogate activities.
Because of the hopeless and unfulfilling nature of life in the modern world, Kaczynski claims that humans take up what are surrogate activities, defined by an unnecessary activity one pursues in order to fulfill their need for the power process. To see if an activity is a surrogate activity, one must assess the activity based on these criteria: If a person was to devote much time and effort to another activity, resulting in the nonfulfilment of the surrogate activity, would the person mentioned feel biologically deprived to a serious degree that results in a lack of physical welfare, an illness, or even possibly death? If the answer is no, then the activity is most likely a surrogate activity. For instance, playing a 32 piece game on 64 black and white squares, building an enormously large physique, and making melodies for the simple pleasure of the ear are all unnecessary parts of human survival, considering only the physical aspect of a person. Virtually everyone in this world will be able to live out life without the pursuits mentioned above, yet countless people devote years to chess, bodybuilding, and music composition, sometimes even by going insane, as seen by great virtuosos such as Bobby Fischer. However, it is important to note that these surrogate activities are not the same as toil for fulfilling basic biological needs. The main difference between those two is that surrogate activities are never fulfilling, and the pursuer must redirect the goals repetitively over time to meet the expectations once a previous goal has been met, therefore, augmenting the feeling of purposelessness after a surrogate goal has been achieved. However, Kaczynski does address the fact that there are some unique cases where a person manages to obsess over the importance of his/her surrogate activity, so that the person will never be dissatisfied while pursuing the surrogate activity for all of their lives, such as people who seek money and social status all throughout their lives without getting tired of the rat race.
In conclusion, as Kaczynski shows how technology is not a purely positive force in the world and can have negative side effects. However, before anyone criticizes the industrial revolution and the advancement of technology, one must be grateful for the positive things that it has brought and acknowledge the immensely superior living conditions that technology has brought.
Kaczynski, Theodore John. “INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY AND ITS FUTURE.” The Washington Post, WP Company, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/unabomber/manifesto.text.htm. Accessed 14/1121
“The Unabomber.” FBI, FBI, 18 May 2016, https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/unabomber. Accessed 14/11/21
Weiss, Rick. “Does Crowding Cause Aggressive Behavior?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 12 July 1994, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/wellness/1994/07/12/does-crowding-cause-aggressive-behavior/2fec87ed-e5df-4a4d-a640-544266fe72f8/.
Wurmser, Yoram. “Nearly a Third of US Media Time Will Be on Mobile This Year.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 16 June 2021, https://www.businessinsider.com/mobile-will-account-for-a-third-of-us-media-time-2021-6.