Is Greta Thunberg a sanitized version of the Unabomber?
Consider these two passages.
First: “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race ... It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering.”
Second: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words… People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
Do these passages sound as if they could come from the same person? To this writer, they do. Actually, they do not come from the same person. But I want to make the case that on an ideological level, the difference between those two persons is in degree, not in kind.
The first passage comes from Industrial Society and Its Future. This is a long, paranoid rant from Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber. Kaczynski — who passed away on June 10 this year— was a college professor who lamented the industrial revolution. He decided to halt the advances of industrial society by using the pen and the sword. Apart from authoring his infamous manifesto, he orchestrated various terrorist attacks in which three people were killed, and many more were injured.
The second passage comes from Greta Thunberg.
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The Unabomber operated during the 1980s and 1990s. At the time, extreme environmentalism was on the fringes. The Left was concerned with inequality, but it had no beef with industrial development, provided wealth was fairly distributed. Recall that, for all their faults, the Soviets had no objections to factories and nuclear energy. Primitivists such as Kaczynski were deemed misanthropic lunatics by both liberals and conservatives. His looks certainly contributed to that image; after being captured, his mugshot revealed a deeply alienated, disheveled man. His charm was null; this was no Che Guevara fighting for global justice.
As the Berlin Wall collapsed and capitalism seemed uncontested, the Left needed a new cause célèbre. They found it in extreme environmentalism. But they could not go back to disturbing activists such as Kaczynski. They needed a makeover. They found it in Greta. It was easy to dismiss a creepy old man with menacing looks. But it is not so easy to dismiss an adorable teenage girl who cries for help. So, they basically rebranded the old message, and succeeded at making it far more mainstream.
For all its faults, the Industrial Revolution has been a force of good in the world, and any solution to global warming must come from industrialism itself.
Now, of course there is a major difference between Kaczynski and Greta. The former was a murderer, the latter is a peaceful activist. Nevertheless, they disagreed about the means but not about the end, and that end is a return to a pre-industrial lifestyle that, in their mind, is some Shangri-La paradise.
Greta is only a sanitized version of the Unabomber, to the extent that she is cuter, and she does not endorse the use of violence. But they both exaggerated the harms of industrial development and embraced an apocalyptic mindset. Irrationality overtook both of them.
Brendan O’Neill, the London-based chief political writer for Spiked, hits the nail on its head when he says that “had Kaczynski been born a few decades later, and had he trimmed the bits about violent revolution from his scribblings, the [Washington] Post would happily have given him a column.” Greta was born a few decades later, she trimmed the bits about violent revolution, and indeed, she is a darling of mainstream media.
Yet, despite his monstrous crimes, Kaczynski had some measure of a redeeming quality that Greta is lacking. The Unabomber really seemed to believe the nonsense he spouted. He retreated to a Montana log cabin, away from the evil industrial society he so despised. He published his manifesto to express his ideas, but he did not covet media attention.
In contrast, Greta is far more hypocritical. She sailed on a zero-carbon yacht to attend a climate change conference in New York, amidst media celebrations. What mainstream media do not tell you is that the sailors had to fly to New York to return the yacht to Europe. Do not expect Greta to be retreating to a Montana log cabin anytime soon. Despite her apparent modesty, she wants to walk the red carpet.
The Unabomber served as a reminder of the absurdities in rejecting modernity. Now that he is gone, the Left has gotten rid of an embarrassing figure. A much more likeable young lady has taken over.
But this is old wine in new wineskins. Climate change is indeed a problem, but not an apocalyptic one. Therefore, its solution cannot be so costly so as to make everyone miserable.
For all its faults, the Industrial Revolution has been a force of good in the world, and any solution to global warming must come from industrialism itself. Neither Kaczynski nor Greta understood this. Shame on them.
Gabriel Andrade is a university professor originally from Venezuela. He writes about politics, philosophy, history, religion and psychology.
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