The Unabomber may be dead, but his ideas will live on long after him – for good or ill
Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber, was found dead in his US prison cell on June 10, apparently from suicide, thereby making the final victim of his decades-long killing spree none other than Ted himself.
Between 1978 and 1995, when he was finally captured by the FBI, Kaczynski killed three persons and injured 23 others during a decades-long mail-bomb campaign aimed against what he saw as the evils of modern industrialised society. As he famously put it in the opening line of his manifesto, published in The Washington Post in 1995 as part of a successful attempt to ascertain the bomber’s true identity, “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.”
How ironic, therefore, that the ideas of the professional Luddite – who, like Thoreau gone wrong, spent years hiding out in a wooden shack in rural Montana with no running water or electricity, plotting his revenge upon modernity – has in recent years built up quite a following online. In the wake of Kaczynski’s death, even Elon Musk tweeted that the man “might not be wrong” about the long-term deleterious effects of technology upon mankind as a whole.
Other public figures to have spoken well of Kaczynski in recent years include top US talk-show host Tucker Carlson (“Bad person, but a smart analysis … of the way systems work”) and Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, who, when asked to namecheck a subversive thinker who he felt was widely underrated, unwisely replied “How about, like, Theodore Kaczynski?” “Probably not great to be talking about the Unabomber while campaigning, but …” Masters continued, an assessment quickly proved true when his electoral opponents in the Arizona Democratic Party gleefully began publicising his positive assessment of the unhinged terrorist in campaign literature.
Love-bombs from the Teddy-Boys
The Unabomber’s newfound Internet popularity seems substantially to stem from a heavily fictionalised 2017 drama series telling Ted’s story, Manhunt: Unabomber, in which an FBI man, Agent Fitz, combs through Kaczynski’s manifesto for so long he begins to agree with it. The series ends with Agent Fitz, just like Uncle Ted (as he is known to acolytes today) moving into a log-cabin in the woods too, the Unabomber’s potential new successor …
What do the real-life Agent Fitzes online see in this mad murderer? Kaczynski’s appeal combines two core elements: his anti-technology diatribes, and his equally vociferous critique of modern-day leftism, defined in terms of what we may now describe as “being woke”.
TikTok has a surprisingly large #tedpilled community, referencing the well-known “red pills” of The Matrix sci-fi movie-franchise, whose ingestion wakes swallowers up to the true reality of the hideous false world they really inhabit, but had previously been hypnotised into blithely accepting.
Some TikTokkers praising Ted are just doing so as a joke. However, other more sincere ones create so-called “duets” by juxtaposing photos of Kaczynski in split-screen contrast with examples of stereotypically worthless TikTok content like teenage girls lip-synching along to pop songs, or use video-editing tools to make Ted himself act likewise. Thereby, #tedpillers hope to demonstrate their hero was correct about the brain-rotting shallows of cultural degeneracy information technology would ultimately lead mankind into.
Such TikTok addicts use the very medium they profess to dislike as an ironic tool to undermine itself from within – like getting a tattoo saying “I HATE TATTOOS”. One of Kaczynski’s main manifesto arguments was that most technology begins by being optional, but by degrees ends up nigh-on compulsory, like smartphones are becoming today: by admitting one of the most effective ways of undermining TikTok is actually to use TikTok against itself, #tedpillers make Uncle Ted’s point for him.
Perhaps, in our current era of climate alarmism and apocalypticism, Ted’s time has now finally come? The prospect of deadly Green terrorism broadly modelled after Ted’s is surely only one step up from the current antinomian protests of Extinction Rebellion et al. In his manifesto, the Unabomber did advocate attacking and burning power-plants and libraries, to destroy not only our current technological infrastructure, but also the enabling knowledge base underlying it.
Ted’s anti-tech reasoning is so commonplace and bland it sounds like it was written by ChatGPT. Surely there must be more to Kaczynski’s argument than this?
An earlier study of Ted’s ideas by Swedish moral philosopher Ole Martin Moen, The Unabomber’s Ethics, considers whether such a Year Net Zero campaign could ever be justified. Moen observes Kaczynski’s argument against the Industrial Revolution is very one-sided: yes, technology can lead to ills like environmental degradation and nuclear war, but also to positives like improved agricultural yields and medical advances. Ted considered only one side of the story, falling into the same trap of today’s global warming fanatics, of proposing solutions as bad if not worse than the initial problems.
Yet on the other hand, as Moen admits, Kaczynski was correct to state that “today’s technological developments are bound to have effects – including negative effects – beyond what we are presently able to predict” as “No-one knew, or could have known, beforehand that the printing press would trigger the Reformation”, for example. Likewise, no-one could have known beforehand that the invention of the mobile phone would one day lead to social media and thus today’s whole bizarre TikTok #tedpill phenomenon, least of all Ted himself, tapping out his manifesto by hand on a manual typewriter back in 1995.
So, the Unabomber did get some things right. But praising him as a “visionary” for doing so seems a little strong. Saying technology can get out of hand and have negative effects upon society is hardly an unprecedented insight, and one you don’t need to write a 35,000-word manifesto (or indeed mail out bombs filled with shrapnel and razor blades to innocent engineering professors or computer-store owners) to make. In places, Ted’s anti-tech reasoning is so commonplace and bland it sounds like it was written by ChatGPT. Surely there must be more to Kaczynski’s argument than this?
The other key theme of Uncle Ted’s manifesto is an obsessive dislike of what he terms “leftists”, by which he means post-1960s politically-correct upper-middle-class woke white liberals, as embodied in the figure of the stereotypical modern-day US university professor – a profession which, as a youthful maths prodigy, Kaczynski once appeared destined to enter himself.
Many of Ted’s current-day fans also dislike leftists. Another group of Unabomber followers are known as the “Pine Tree Community”, as they use pine-tree emojis in their web-chats; some of the more radical adopt a “blood-and-soil”-type ideology, in which getting back to Nature becomes just another facet of rejecting today’s all-pervasive left-wing multiculturalist dogma. Slogans like “Save Trees, Not Refugees” (or “Bees, Not Refugees” for those who prefer a taste of honey), sum up their thinking well.
Kaczynski has disciples on both left and right, then: but I think he would generally have preferred the latter. Ironically, any Greta Thunberg-style eco-warriors on the contemporary left who adopt certain of Kaczynski’s themes whilst also broadcasting their support for woke causes like BLM, trans rights, mass immigration and so forth, would only have earned themselves Ted’s undying contempt (even though he himself once tried to undergo a youthful sex-change operation – an awkward fact most media obituaries have strangely glossed over in complete silence …).
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Kaczynski’s manifesto argument is actually a little more complex than is usually portrayed and draws on materials from across the political spectrum. As shown in a 2021 study by Cambridge academic Sean Fleming, his thought is basically stolen from the works of three authors Ted most admired, French philosopher Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society, British zoologist and Surrealist painter Desmond Morris’ The Human Zoo, and US psychologist Martin Seligman’s Helplessness. The reason Kaczynski concealed the trio’s influence in his manifesto was not vanity, but practicality; he had written them all fan-letters, and he feared citing them openly might enable the FBI to trace him.
From Ellul, Kaczynski got the idea that modern technology, like the imagined super-AI programmes of our near-future, possessed a de facto life of its own, becoming a self-perpetuating system out of mankind’s control. As in all true Faustian bargains, the conjured demon ends up controlling the conjuror. All forms of leftist activism, Ellul said, were really just infantile distractions from this fact – lying down in the middle of the road might hold up traffic for an hour or two and make you feel good about yourself, but it won’t actually abolish the motorcar.
From the one-time zookeeper Morris, Kaczynski sourced the notion that humans were as ill-suited to modern life, evolutionarily and psychologically speaking, as chimpanzees were to existence in cages; we were biologically maladapted to inhabiting cities and our present lives of over-easy comfort, which had become inverted parodies of our intended strenuous hunter-gatherer lifestyles. This evolutionary mismatch led to the omnipresent social problems of today: mental illness, crime, murder, sexual perversion, violence, depression, eating disorders … and, of course, science and socialism.
Just as terminally bored monkeys in Morris’ zoo began engaging in pointless obsessive behaviour purely to pass the time before being effortlessly fed by their zookeepers, so post-Industrial Revolution humans, their basic material needs equally easily satisfied by their easy wages and enfeebling welfare-states, did the same thing, by inventing meaningless hobbies like collecting stamps – or making scientific discoveries and engaging in political activity.
In doing so, scientists and politicians only made a bad situation worse, weaving an ever-more complex cocoon around themselves like spiders unconsciously trapping themselves within their own soul-sapping web. “Progress” was thus no such thing – only degeneration, mislabelled.
God helps those who help themselves
Finally, from Seligman, Kaczynski took the notion of “learned helplessness”, which for Ted explained the psychological motivations of the typical modern-day leftist. Animals develop learned helplessness when they believe their behaviour cannot effect outcomes: if dogs are continually electrocuted by scientists whenever a bell rings, they eventually may learn to just lie down and accept the pain whenever they hear the bell, rather than trying to escape it.
Most people in modern society act similarly, rolling over and accepting their fate as tiny cogs in an overly complex, globalised, hi-tech world far beyond their personal control or understanding, wasting away their days watching TV and porn, taking drugs or drinking.
Leftists, though, possess a peculiar psychology causing them to adopt a different mental survival tactic: seeking illusory control over their circumstances by joining mass socialist-type movements which seek to impose their will upon the rest of society by force, like Lenin and Mao.
Actually, however, leftists are just as helpless in the face of modernity as all the non-Commie couch-potatoes, but public activism gives them a fantasy theatre to engage in, temporarily dispelling this awkward truth. Disrupting traffic or throwing soup at paintings only makes foppish purple-haired youths feel better about themselves by giving them a mere illusion of control over that which is truly non-controllable – modern, technocratic society, with its Ellulian innate life of its own.
Thus, left-wing campaigners are just an awkward show-off distraction from Uncle Ted”s true chosen goal of bringing down the entire oppressive system for real by destroying science, technology and mass politics as a whole.
According to Ted, leftists are motivated by unconscious self-hatred, disliking libertarian ideas like self-reliance and self-confidence due to the fact they have become so debilitated by easy-living modernity that they feel they have no potential for independence of their own any longer, like cage-born monkeys incapable of successfully thriving in the wild. This explains their support for the welfare-state and ever-increasing central government control, all of which are inimical to Ted’s Back-To-Nature goals for mankind.
Kaczynski ends his manifesto with a warning not about computers or pollution, as you may expect, but with a few paragraphs entitled “THE DANGER OF LEFTISM”, whose basic argument runs thus:
“Leftism is in the long run inconsistent with wild nature, with human freedom and with the elimination of modern technology. Leftism is collectivist; it seeks to bind together the entire world (both nature and the human race) into a unified whole ... Leftism is unlikely ever to give up technology, because technology is too valuable a source of collective power … Some leftists may seem to oppose technology, but they will oppose it only so long as they are outsiders and the technological system is controlled by non-leftists. If leftism ever becomes dominant in society, so that the technological system becomes a tool in the hands of leftists, they will enthusiastically use it and promote its growth. In doing this they will be repeating a pattern that leftism has shown again and again in the past. When the Bolsheviks in Russia were outsiders, they vigorously opposed censorship and the secret police … but as soon as they came into power themselves, they imposed a tighter censorship and created a more ruthless secret police than any that had existed under the tsars … The same will happen with leftists and technology: They will use it to oppress everyone else if they ever get it under their own control … the leftist’s real motive is not to attain the ostensible goals of leftism; in reality he is motivated by the [illusory] sense of power he gets from struggling for and then reaching a social goal … For them the drive for power has only one morally acceptable outlet, and that is in the struggle to impose their morality on everyone.”
There is some insight here. This basic pattern warned of by Kaczynski has actually played itself out with the Internet and social media, many of whose early pioneers were ideologically libertarian, idealistically (or naively) envisioning an online world wholly free of boundaries like censorship.
Today, however, many of the very same Silicon Valley firms such libertarian tech-pioneers originally spawned have now been successfully captured by left-wing staff, just as Ted seemed to foresee, and their initial purposes subverted to the extent you can now find yourself banned from various forums for “hate-speech” simply for stating commonly held positions such as that women can’t have penises. The web-enabled social credit system of today’s China seems to portend a potential nightmare world of inescapable, 24-hour Orwellian central government control of every citizen.
But there’s lots Kaczynski gets wrong, too. Whilst some of his insights into authoritarian leftist psychologies may be accurate, I find his entire Desmond Morris-derived, pseudo-evolutionary biological explanation of them to be somewhat unpersuasive. Also, many of his insights could apply equally well to authoritarians on the right too, or theocratic regimes like Iran’s, not just the totalitarian left. Plus, there’s that whole thing about starting a giant violent revolution to destroy modern civilisation by any means necessary, including murdering people with bombs; that may not be the best of ideas either.
In short, the entire document is precisely the kind of mixed bag you would expect from an intelligent madman like its author. The only way to find out which bits are sane, and which bits are loony, would be to head online and read it for yourself … while you still can. After all, if Uncle Ted’s cause succeeds, one day the Internet won’t always still exist allowing you to read it, will it?
If Ted ever does win, and all books are burned, then Ted will eventually be forgotten. The total destruction of human civilisation will have at least one small positive to it, then.
Steven Tucker is a UK-based writer with over ten books to his name. His next, Hitler’s & Stalin’s Misuse of Science, comparing the woke pseudoscience of today to the totalitarian pseudoscience of the past, will be published in summer 2023.
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