BY ADAM PRESTON
It’s September 19th, 1995, and you find yourself with a copy of the Washington Post and reading a publication titled, “Industrial Society and Its Future.” It is exceedingly long and covered more than two pages of this major publication, with no clear author in sight of it. This was the work of a man named John Theodore Kaczynski, whom many know more famously as the Unabomber. In 35,000 words, Kaczynskis’ Manifesto is a collection of ideas and critical thoughts against the Industrial Revolution, as well as the further development we have had since then, leading to a society left unfulfilled and depressed while making us reliant on Industrial Progression. But is it worth your read, and what exactly is he arguing?
Ted Kaczynski was born in Chicago to Polish-American Parents Wanda Theresa and Theodore Richard Kaczynski on May 22, 1942. His parents described Ted as a happy baby up until he had a case of hives which led to his isolation as a young child. This experience is recounted as the likely reason for later developmental issues with social skills, which he would come to experience in his educational career. With an IQ of 168, Kaczynski had gotten into Harvard on a math scholarship by the age of 15 and earned a bachelor’s in mathematics. During his time at Harvard Kaczynski took part in a psychological study that included the use of tactics similar to that of interrogation techniques, to which he had spent 200 hours as a part. It is theorized these tests were a part of MK Ultra.
Kaczynski would later go on to the University of Michigan, earning his master’s and a doctorate in 1964 and ‘67 and a teaching position at the University. Eventually, after much build of his hatred of Modern Society at the time, Kaczynski would take all of his funds and move to a cabin in Lincoln, Montana that he and his brother, David Kaczynski, had built. He lived before and during his bombing campaign between 1978 and 1995 before being turned in by David at the behest of his wife. Before being turned in, Kaczynski was able to extort the FBI and news publications into running his manifesto in the papers, making his views and ideology more widespread and apparent. Kaczynski was convicted and sentenced to eight consecutive life sentences, which he is still serving to this day.
The Manifesto starts us off with the most notable quote of the entire book, his statement on his thoughts on the industrial revolution: “The industrial revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” Kaczynski argues that while the benefits of the Industrial Revolution are apparent, with longer life spans and easier access to medicine, he proclaims that society as a whole suffers as a result of it. Thus, Kaczynski believed that the only means of changing this system efficiently was a revolution, going on to say: “ We therefore advocate a revolution against the industrial system. This revolution may or may not make use of violence; it may be sudden or it may be a relatively gradual process spanning a few decades. We can’t predict any of that” before going on to say that “This is not to be a political revolution. Its object will be to overthrow not governments but the economic and technological basis of the present society.”
Kaczynski continues to outline further concepts in his book, one of his more famous points is about what he referred to as Surrogate Activities and something called the Power Process. He believed that, in an industrial world, man had begun to be deprived of his ability to have control over his life, and lacked his freedom because of it. Going on to specifically define freedom as, “ … having power; not the power to control other people but the power to control the circumstances of one’s own life.” Due to the needs of people being met, we find ourselves unsure of what to do with ourselves, unsure of ourselves, thus turning to surrogate activities or things that hold no form of long-term importance to living and act as a coping mechanism for purposelessness. Kaczynski also goes an extra step here, critiquing leftism and collectivism movements as Surrogate Activities based on feelings of self-hatred and inferiority coming from perceived moral aptitude and ability. What are Kaczynskis’ answers to these problems? Kaczynski believes people are lacking motivation and happiness because they are deprived of the Power Process.
The Power Process is found to be a minimum of four steps: Goal, Effort, Attainment of Goal, and Autonomy. Kaczynski states, “History shows that leisured aristocracies tend to become decadent” and would go on to say, “When one does not have adequate opportunity to go through the power process the consequences are (depending on the individual and on the way the power process is disrupted) boredom, demoralization, low self-esteem, inferiority feelings, defeatism, depression, anxiety, guilt, frustration, hostility, spouse or child abuse, insatiable hedonism, abnormal sexual behavior, sleep disorders, eating disorders, etc.” The idea behind the power process is that man is deprived of a goal due to his needs being met by Industrialization, and that they now suffer because of it, explaining it is a cause of many sources of depression, anxiety, etc.
There are smaller points that can be found in this book, but overall his main points could be found to be considered in validity, with plenty even adopting his views or methodology. He makes fantastic critiques of not only society but of ever-advancing technology and the legitimacy of constant progress. His work is very much applauded even outside of Primitivist circles. From Harvard to USC Berkely’s “Industrial Society and Its Future” was a contemporary hit among scholars across fields of study from philosophy to sociology. It is unsurprising that a Harvard Alumni, Alston Chase, is quoted to have said “It is true that many believed Kaczynski was insane because they needed to believe it. But, the truly disturbing aspect of Kaczynski and his ideas is not that they are so foreign but that they are so familiar.” However, everyone must have their critics and the critiques are glaring when it comes down to the actual subject matter.
No matter what way you put it, Kaczynski is a domestic terrorist. He has bombed many and killed plenty, all to elaborate a point on industrialization. His actions were not morally or ethically justifiable in any standing and he should of course be criticized for it.
Besides that, however, most of his critique can be found to be from within the confines of the book. To some, his methodology and his conclusions were not up to speed and did not provide adequate answers to the natural questions that form as you read through his work. To others, his adamant use of violence outright rules his arguments as unfavorable and impractical, and thus illegitimate.
Regardless of your stance on the man, it should be noted that while yes, Kaczynski’s reign of terror is unreasonable, his critiques are arguably correct in more ways than one, and continues to prove himself right as time goes on and technology ever advances. Thus, I rate Industrial Society and Its Future, as an 8/10. While It can be found that many of his critiques are accurate, his conclusions and answers to societal problems are less than ideal, and frankly, it is detestable the use of terrorism to argue anarchist talking points.