Did the Unabomber Get Technology’s Destructive Influence Right?

I was far too young at the time of the bombing terror campaign Ted Kaczynski, aka The Unabomber, unleashed on various government actors, businessmen, scientists, and academics to understand the nuances of the message he was trying, however counterproductively and immorally, to convey.

Obviously, mailing bombs to political opponents is not a long-term sustainable strategy to win hearts and minds. Nonetheless, Kaczynski appears to have been sincere in his underlying motivations, however obscured they were by personal grievance and a desire for revenge.

At the height of the terror, while the governing authorities were still dumbfounded as to the provenance of these mail bombs, the Washington Post agreed to publish the anonymous terrorist’s manifesto, titled “Industrial Society and Its Future,” in the hopes that someone with intimate knowledge of his identity would read it and recognize something in it leading to an arrest. (This strategy, incidentally, worked, as the Unabomber’s brother identified idiosyncracies in his writing, which ultimately led to his capture in a dingy Montana cabin.)

“Industrial Society and Its Future” is a fascinating, rational, systematic examination of the impacts that technology had at the time and would have moving forward that has proven itself prescient and, in my opinion, brilliant.

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Much of Kaczynski’s writing focuses on the helplessness of the individual and local community in a technologically advanced society and the various psychosocial pathologies that it produces. The essay in its entirety is worth reading, as he diagnoses expertly the social ills of the West, but here I will focus solely on a very small sample of his extensive commentary on the effects of technological development.

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Here’s what Kaczynski had to say (with emphasis added):

In any technologically advanced society the individual’s fate MUST depend on decisions that he personally cannot influence to any great extent. A technological society cannot be broken down into small, autonomous communities, because production depends on the cooperation of very large numbers of people and machines. Such a society MUST be highly organized and decisions HAVE TO be made that affect very large numbers of people. When a decision affects, say, a million people, then each of the affected individual has, on the average, only a one-millionth share in making the decision. What usually happens in practice is that decisions are made by public officials or corporation executives, or by technical specialists, but even when the public votes on a decision the number of voters ordinarily is too large for the vote of any one individual to be significant. Thus most individuals are unable to influence measurably the major decisions that affect their lives. There is no conceivable way to remedy this in a technologically advanced society. The system tries to “solve” this problem by using propaganda to make people WANT the decisions that have been made for them, but even if this “solution” were completely successful in making people feel better, it would be demeaning.

This level of insight — in the mid-90s, no less, when the internet was still a novelty — is truly shocking and, in fact, chilling to the bone. This is almost a literal prediction of the rise of the “you will own nothing and be happy” WEF.

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