275. Revolution (VI)
Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, remains notorious for his violent campaign against industrial society. His outlook on life is not dissimilar to many tropes in right-wing thought; he simply, being a mathematician, takes certain propositions to their logical conclusions. Kaczynski expresses his ideas with an admirable economy, probably derived his education and exceptionally tidy mind. Nonetheless, what he says is not so exceptional; his core message: due to technological and ideological developments over the past 250 years, roughly since the Industrial Revolution, it has become impossible to be fully human, to be a real man; and, in particular, liberty—taken in its real sense, freedom from interference—has almost been extinguished.
Kaczynski’s complaint against modernity is two-pronged; firstly, he takes issue with technology and industrial society itself. He notes, correctly, that mass media, the division of labour, and mass surveillance have reduced man to a state where he is alienated from his most natural and fulfilling roles—essentially hunting and low-level agriculture—while granting the state total control over his body and mind. A medieval peasant might have been ignorant by modern standards, but he would have been free from pervasive media and not followed everywhere via his phone’s signal.
If we could speak to this man, we might well find that he would be more open-minded than any contemporary office drone. The contemporary office drone might admire “science”, “tech”, and know a few facts about the universe; but his understanding is easily manipulated. The peasant would present a more robust mind—and better than the peasant, already whipped by feudalism, the hunter-gatherer. Kaczynski is not a romantic; he has no illusions that archaic life was not hard and brutal: he just maintains that man had more liberty in those times, lived a life that satisfied at a deeper level, and that liberty and a satisfactory life are more important than comfort.
The point is, as noted, a familiar conservative lament: the difference is that Kaczynski indicts the entire industrial society and is prepared to dismantle it—most conservatives balk at this step. Yet the technological state is completely pervasive: I knew a man who was interviewed to work at the CIA; he stayed at a hotel the day before the assessment. In the morning, he received a call from the agency on the hotel phone to tell him the start time had changed; he had not told them where he would stay, but they knew. If the technological state wants you it can find you at a flick of a switch—liberty is dead.
Kaczynski’s second complaint is that modern man is “oversocialised”; although he was writing in the 1980s, Kaczynski’s oversocialised man is what we would today call the “Social Justice Warrior”. Kaczynski complains about “political correctness”—wokeness, we say today—and lists the familiar activist bundle: indigenous rights, women’s rights, and black rights. Kaczynski ably identifies the hypocrisies, contradictions, and shallowness among those people who advocate for these causes. He sees the oversocialised as a creation of industrial society, yet it is more likely that they are agreeable people—their agreeability is biologically inherent. The people who cheerlead for “social justice” would cheerlead for National Socialism or Catholicism if those were the hegemonic beliefs in society. Society always carries—requires—a large middle, the blind social conformists who are, to use their own terminology, “good people”. It is unlikely industrial society has increased or decreased this population stratum; they are born, not, as Kaczynski thinks, made.
Of course, severe disturbance can interfere with a general biological disposition; and Kaczynski himself was undersocialised. He participated in various CIA-sponsored drug experiments at college, but these were not what drove him to become a lone-wolf bomber. Kaczynski was kept in an isolation ward, separate from his mother, for a significant period during babyhood. It was this break with normal socialisation, primary socialisation, that caused Kaczynski’s critique to take on its distorted and extremely anti-social view; it is not that we are oversocialised, rather Kaczynski is undersocialised.