Thoughts on the Unabomber

by phil on Friday May 2, 2003 10:47 AM
Unabomber, neo-ludditism

I read the first half of the Unabomber's Manifesto.

Before I discuss his general argument, I would like to make a few words about the piece itself. It is well-written, astute, and sound. It is an interesting read and educational.

Now the crux of his argument is that there is a human need for "real" goals. He defines real in the sense of the "power-process," a valuation system in man that determines his happiness around only having to hunt and gather. There are "surrogate goals" that we can have, which he claims cannot keep people fully satisfied. He blames the inability for man to seek happiness based on our complex society which is the natural result of technology.

So basically, Ted is looking to make people happy. But, I think he is making some improper estimations:

1) His notion of happiness is only akin to men. Women are the primary benefactors of modern socialization, and as a result, they've seen the best boom to their sense of well-being in recent centuries. Women, before technology, were slaves to the club-bearing man, and I don't think they they ever fully endorsed this kind of role. Woman was a kind of hiccup, an aberration, the extra rib from Adam, etc. Now, women are liberated, able to get their needs in so many ways thanks to technology. They exhibit little desire to return back to the primitive man state because it will weaken their power. Their apparent resistance to returning to the "natural" state is found in common sense observations, such as their hatred of farts and their ready acceptance of makeup. So the benefactors of Ted's agrarian anarchy will be men, the other sex.

2) Not everybody suffers the way Ted suffers. In sections 70 and up, he discusses the way in which other people have adapted or are indifferent to the power-process. Some just don't give a crap, and are content with going with the flow. Others have developed surrogate goals to adapt. While as others, the more common type, live in self-delusion. At this point, this is where Ted commits the fundamental error in many "broad-sweeping essays": he relies on conjecture. To him, these adaptations are "wrong" a priori. Ted worships his conception of what the "true" man would be like and then seeks to impose this on others who disagree.

3) Our knowledge of primitive man is limited. Ted biases the primitive man way too much. There are no illuminating writings from primitive man 10,000 years ago; how do we know how he "felt." What little evidence we have shows that life was cold, brutish, and short.

4) The lifestyle of the primitive man was probably shitty. On the one hand I can think, there must have been a point where our DNA evolution was at the same pace as our social evolution. This was the point where the emotional responses that our genetic composition was made for were intimately related to our environment. However, "intimately related" doesn't mean everybody was walking around as shiny happy people. Take negative emotions like fear, anger, revenge, suffering, anguish, despair, and anxiety and combine them with man's automatic responses to those emotions, and further combined with an anti-suicidal imperative, you still get a man who adequately fulfills his stake on earth. In other words, what is to say that man wasn't as much of a machine then as he is purported to be now.

5) Man can, and has changed. Our mentality and emotional makeup has been privy to change by society and technology. This is not its weakness, but its flexibility and strength. What if we went into all human minds, and removed the need for the power-process. poof, it'll be gone, nobody will miss it, and we could all live great human lives. We wouldn't fit Ted's romanticized conception of "man" but at that point, nobody will care except museum owners.

Once again, the Neo-Luddites have no suitable alternative and their arguments are more based on a romanticized notion of man. Nonetheless, I can never fully deride them due to my adherence to Nietzsche's first section on humanity. It's hard to explain, but I can also cite some quote in Luke that says the same thing: "Thank God in everything." If I knew Ted, I would have suggested to him to do otherwise. I would have tried to convince him that this was purposeless. But, I would have, if I were to be truly honest, qualified my arguments that in the end, whatever you do executes man's will, and therefore nature's will, and therefore the universe's will, and can never be fully derided. Plus, on a practical level, what's to say that 50 years from now, after a Chicxulub like event happens, that Ted won't be considered a legend. I am always amazed of man's propensity to change his mind, so in some cases, I choose never to commit mine.


K said on April 28, 2004 9:18 AM:

1) Well, a whole lot of recent anthropological research show us that primitive women and men were egalitarian prior to the introduction of agriculture. Check out John Zerzan's 'Future Primitive' for instance ( ). In that essay he refers to a whole lot of sources on this subject.

3) Actually, primitive people still exists. I strongly suspects that Ted's refering to them.

4) Well, the life of the current primitives actually seem to be quite un-shitty in contrast to many of civilized people and especially those who are in the process of becomming civilized (the third world, underdeveloped countries). Men and women in our existing primitive societies seem to be healthier, unknown to stress and psychological issues, lacking many diseases (like cancer, diabetes), etc than people from western modern society.

5) Uh... you mean like: "With technology och and modern society we can manipulate man to endure technology and modern society"? If so: Why trying to make things so complex?

Anyhow, what he tries to tell is that these changes that technology and society imposes on us never (or atleast not for a very long time (1000s of years of evolution), unless we start manipulate our genes real hardcore) will be to our complete satisfaction, as our human nature is accommodated with nature. Or whatever.

Philip Dhingra said on April 28, 2004 6:53 PM:

You are right about these primitve people--they are probably happier. The reason I agree with that claim is because there are less super-structures at play in the primitive man: only his DNA and his tribe. In modern society we have the media, nation, city, state, and religion all vying for our control.

Unfortunately, our lives have become irreversibly intertwined with our advanced culture.

To be truly "primitive" we would have to abandon luxury--no starbucks, no rubber shoes, and no CNN. We would also have to abandon other superstructures, such as church and the press. This would violate our Constitution.

The only "hope" I see is not in violent neo-ludditism, but in taking the reigns of the current superstructures and try to make their survival depend on our happiness.

Democracy is, in some sense, an attempt to counter the state from living for its own sake. So it is possible to make these structures accountable to mankind's happiness.

The unabomber's manifesto seems to spring more from Ted Kacinzynsi's internal biases and hatred of the Left plus some self-loathing and angst that he can't solve and therefore projects onto everybody else.

My 2 cents.

K said on April 29, 2004 12:09 PM:

"The only "hope" I see is not in violent neo-ludditism, but in taking the reigns of the current superstructures and try to make their survival depend on our happiness."

Well, as I see it, technology in itself (and our postmodern society too with all it's intrusions on the individual) has to be abandoned for truly becoming happy, free, autonomous, in power of one's own life, whatever. As it is know, I think we're enslaved to technology -- it's 'using' us rather than the reverse. And, it alienates us from ourselves, our surroundings, our everything. Pretty much everything you do to day would be impossible without all these technological devices, modern society and the like -- every aspect of our lives' are dependent on them rather than us. Our own body and all other properties we inherent have become... secondary to technology.

Uh... well. I think you get the picture, even though I reckon you won't agree.

Anyhow, how this destruction of civilization, this relinquishment of technology and everything else that's external to us (except for the 'real' natural world), will be reached, I do not know. What I do 'know' (or at least think) is that our current society can NOT be reformed by the ol' traditional democratic way... and to attack it also seems futile. Violence at least get some attention in the media and 'open the eyes' of many people. But, with the current devastation of our mother earth in mind, I think that modern society will collapse soon... maybe even within our lives. Unless that happens (which I think is inevitable) we'll destroy ourselves with nukes, artificially crafted viruses, bio-chemical weapons and so on.

I think that we, eventually, will create our own Chicxulub (or End Of The World(TM)), either by consuming our world or by blowing it up. After that, if we're lucky, another primitive era of man will have it's introduction.

Philip Dhingra said on April 29, 2004 1:31 PM:

Well, let me take the side of a neo-luddite. If I want to be an honest neo-luddite, I have to ask myself the question: "is it even possible to revert back?" Has the era of pure Homo sapien already passed behind us? Sure there are those tribes, but are we too far out that this is impossible?

Without answering that question, then responding as a neo-luddite is pure emotion, frustration, and angst. It's an inauthentic response.

Now, I have no idea whether we are irreversibly changed. My intuition says so. We fell from grace 50K-130K years ago with the invention of culture... from that point on we became meme-machines.

As for what the future will be like, personally, I find it way too hard to predict. There are some general tendancies. For example, this law of accelerating order and persistence theory. That which seeks to persist, shall. Even after Chicxulub, plants came back, fruits became popular, and then the tree shrews came out from hiding and eventually became us.

I also think we have an inherent bias to ponder this "end of the world"

It's called eschaton:

But alas, I have incomplete information. You could be right. All those nukes need to go off at some point. Progress also seems to have some sort of "direction" in which case, where does the journey end? Also, there could be so many built-in thresholds to the networked growth of humans that it becomes impossile to battle super-plagues of our devising etc.

Philip Dhingra said on April 29, 2004 1:41 PM:

I also think we need better measurements of happiness with technology. As I stated in the original article, women seem to be big beneficiaries of technology: dishwashers and laundry machines have liberated them from the household.

Also, we need some sociological analysis to see if the possiblity of cultures exist that have a positive symbiosis with technology. Some Asian cultures don't seem to have averse reactions to techonlogy, instead maybe getting in touch with "nature" by seeking the "inner nature" via meditation.

Is complaining about technology the sign of a decadent culture as well? Other impoverished nations would perhaps want the same kind of technology we have.

But finally, I have to address my own personal bias; I have a positive, personal symbiosis with technology. I don't pop Prozac or watch TV all day to rot my brain. Plus technology has created economic situations that have provided me with tremendous free time to explore the arts etc..

And maybe there can be a distinction between friendly and unfriendly technologies. McLuhan felt that the medium is the message, and therefore urged us to analyze mediums on a comparitive basis to each other.

Creative Commons License