Theodore John Kaczynski (born May 22, 1942), also known as the “Unabomber”, is an American anarchist, serial killer, and domestic terrorist. A mathematical prodigy, he abandoned a promising academic career in 1969, then between 1978 and 1995 killed three people, and injured 23 others, in a nationwide bombing campaign targeting people involved with modern technology. In conjunction with this campaign he issued a wide-ranging social critique opposing industrialization and modern technology, and advancing a nature-centered form of anarchism.
Kaczynski was born and raised in Evergreen Park, Illinois. While growing up in Evergreen Park he was a child prodigy, excelling academically from an early age. Kaczynski was accepted into Harvard University at the age of 16, where he earned an undergraduate degree. He subsequently earned a PhD in mathematics from the University of Michigan. He became an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley in 1967 at age 25. He resigned two years later.
As a Harvard undergraduate, Kaczynski was among twenty-two students who were research subjects in ethically questionable experiments conducted by psychology professor Henry Murray from late 1959 to early 1962.
In 1971, he moved to a remote cabin without electricity or running water in Lincoln, Montana, where he lived as a recluse while learning survival skills in an attempt to become self-sufficient. Seventeen years after beginning his mail bomb campaign, Kaczynski sent a letter to The New York Times on April 24, 1995 and promised “to desist from terrorism” if the Times or The Washington Post published his manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future (the “Unabomber Manifesto”), in which he argued that his bombings were extreme but necessary to attract attention to the erosion of human freedom necessitated by modern technologies requiring large-scale organization.
The Unabomber was the target of one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s costliest investigations. Before Kaczynski’s identity was known, the FBI used the title “UNABOM” (UNiversity & Airline BOMber) to refer to his case, which resulted in the media calling him the Unabomber. The FBI (as well as Attorney General Janet Reno) pushed for the publication of Kaczynski’s “Manifesto”, which led to his sister-in-law, and then his brother, recognizing Kaczynski’s style of writing and beliefs from the manifesto, and tipping off the FBI.
Kaczynski tried unsuccessfully to dismiss his court-appointed lawyers because they wanted to plead insanity in order to avoid the death penalty, as Kaczynski did not believe he was insane. When it became clear that his pending trial would entail national television exposure for Kaczynski, the court entered a plea agreement, under which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. He has been designated a “domestic terrorist” by the FBI. Some anarcho-primitivist authors, such as John Zerzan and John Moore, have come to his defense, while also holding some reservations about his actions and ideas.
» Ted Kaczynski: Communiques of the Freedom Club.
Discovery: The Hunt for the Unabomber [47:26]
Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society and Its Future
In 1995, Kaczynski mailed several letters, including some to his victims and others to major media outlets, outlining his goals and demanding that his 50-plus page, 35,000-word essay Industrial Society and Its Future, referred to as “Unabomber Manifesto” by the FBI, be printed verbatim by a major newspaper or journal. He stated that if this demand were met, he would then end his bombing campaign. The document is a densely written manifesto that calls for a worldwide revolution against the effects of modern society’s “industrial-technological system”. There was a great deal of controversy as to whether the document should be published, but the United States Department of Justice, along with FBI Director Louis Freeh and Attorney General Janet Reno, recommended publication out of concern for public safety and in hopes that a reader could identify the author. Bob Guccione of Penthouse volunteered to publish it, but Kaczynski replied that, since Penthouse was less “respectable” than the other publications, he would in that case “reserve the right to plant one (and only one) bomb intended to kill, after our manuscript has been published.” The pamphlet was finally published by The New York Times and The Washington Post on September 19, 1995. Penthouse never published it.
Throughout the document, produced on a typewriter without the capacity for italics, Kaczynski capitalizes entire words in order to show emphasis. He always refers to himself as either “we” or “FC” (Freedom Club), though there is no evidence that he worked with others. Donald Foster, who analyzed the writing at the request of Kaczynski’s defense, notes that the document contains instances of irregular spelling and hyphenation, as well as other consistent linguistic idiosyncrasies (which led him to conclude that it was indeed Kaczynski who wrote it).
Industrial Society and Its Future begins with Kaczynski’s assertion that “the Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” The first sections of the text are devoted to a discussion of the psychology of leftists and the negative consequences on individuals and small groups within the “industrial-technological system.”
Kaczynski writes that the industrial system has robbed contemporary humans of their autonomy, diminished their rapport with nature, and forced them “to behave in ways that are increasingly remote from the natural pattern of human behavior.” The later sections speculate about the future evolution of this system, arguing that it will inevitably lead to the end of human freedom, call for a “revolution against technology,” and attempt to indicate how that might be accomplished.
Political and social views
In his opening and closing sections, Kaczynski addresses Leftism as a movement and analyzes the psychology of leftists, arguing that they are “True Believers in Eric Hoffer’s sense” who participate in powerful social movements to compensate for their insecurity and feelings of inferiority:
When someone interprets as derogatory almost anything that is said about him (or about groups with whom he identifies) we conclude that he has inferiority feelings or low self-esteem. This tendency is pronounced among minority rights advocates, whether or not they belong to the minority groups whose rights they defend. They are hypersensitive about the words used to designate minorities … 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-class families.
He goes on to explain how the nature of leftism is determined by the psychological consequences of “oversocialization.” Kaczynski “attribute[s] the social and psychological problems of modern society to the fact that society requires people to live under conditions radically different from those under which the human race evolved and to behave in ways that conflict with the patterns of behavior that the human race developed while living under the earlier conditions.” He further specifies the primary cause of a long list of social and psychological problems in modern society as the disruption of the “power process,” which he defines as having four elements:
The moral code of our society is so demanding that no one can think, feel and act in a completely moral way … 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.
The three most clear-cut of these we call goal, effort and attainment of goal. (Everyone needs to have goals whose attainment requires effort, and needs to succeed in attaining at least some of his goals.) The fourth element is more difficult to define and may not be necessary for everyone. We call it autonomy and will discuss it later … We divide human drives into three groups: (1) those drives that can be satisfied with minimal effort; (2) those that can be satisfied but only at the cost of serious effort; (3) those that cannot be adequately satisfied no matter how much effort one makes. The power process is the process of satisfying the drives of the second group.
Kaczynski goes on to claim that “[i]n modern industrial society natural human drives tend to be pushed into the first and third groups, and the second group tends to consist increasingly of artificially created drives.” Among these drives are “surrogate activities”, activities “directed toward an artificial goal that people set up for themselves merely in order to have some goal to work toward, or let us say, merely for the sake of the ‘fulfillment’ that they get from pursuing the goal”. He argues that these surrogate activities are not as satisfactory as the attainment of “real goals” for “many, if not most people”.
He claims that scientific research is a surrogate activity for scientists, and that for this reason “science marches on blindly, without regard to the real welfare of the human race or to any other standard, obedient only to the psychological needs of the scientists and of the government officials and corporation executives who provide the funds for research.”
Kaczynski developed his philosophical ideas early in life, and up to the moment of the bombings, carried on an extensive ongoing debate with his brother David. Ted identified strongly with positivism, meaning that he strongly believed in an objective reality and that through sensory experience and analysis of this, one can obtain authentic knowledge. Kaczynski, throughout most of his earlier years (the 1960s, deconstructivism, a distrust of “the system”, a desire for revolution) remained “the intellectual outsider” and considered himself more important than others.
Perceived control methods
As mentioned above, the result of the “disruption of the power process” is the primary cause of various maladies in society (e.g., crime, depression, etc.). Kaczynski maintains that rather than recognizing that humans currently live in “conditions that make them terribly unhappy,” “the system” (i.e., industrial society) develops ways of controlling human responses to the overly stressful environment in which they find themselves.
The following are current examples (according to Kaczynski) of this trend:
Imagine a society that subjects people to conditions that make them terribly unhappy, then gives them the drugs to take away their unhappiness. Science fiction? It is already happening to some extent in our own society. It is well known that the rate of clinical depression had been greatly increasing in recent decades. We believe that this is due to disruption of the power process…
The entertainment industry serves as an important psychological tool of the system, possibly even when it is dishing out large amounts of sex and violence. Entertainment provides modern man with an essential means of escape. While absorbed in television, videos, etc., he can forget stress, anxiety, frustration, dissatisfaction.
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.
Historical views and predictions
In the last sections of the manifesto, Kaczynski carefully defines what he means by freedom and provides an argument that it would “be hopelessly difficult … to reform the industrial system in such a way as to prevent it from progressively narrowing our sphere of freedom”. He says that “in spite of all its technical advances relating to human behavior the system to date has not been impressively successful in controlling human beings” and predicts that “[i]f the system succeeds in acquiring sufficient control over human behavior quickly enough, it will probably survive. Otherwise it will break down” and that “the issue will most likely be resolved within the next several decades, say 40 to 100 years.” He gives various dystopian possibilities for the type of society which would evolve in the former case. He claims that revolution, unlike reform, is possible, and calls on sympathetic readers to initiate such revolution using two strategies: to “heighten the social stresses within the system so as to increase the likelihood that it will break down” and to “develop and propagate an ideology that opposes technology.” He gives various tactical recommendations, including avoiding the assumption of political power, avoiding any collaboration with leftists, and supporting free trade agreements in order to bind the world economy into a more fragile, unified whole.
FBI Files: The Unabomber [51:15]