Theodore J. Kaczynski, the Unabomber, reportedly died by suicide this past weekend. In recent years, likely because of his insightful critiques of modernity and the cultural intrigue surrounding one of the most famous manhunts of all time, Kaczynski’s profile has received a considerable amount of interest online across the political and cultural spectrum.
Whereas it is often easy to lose touch with reality and empathy in the digital era, it shouldn’t be forgotten amid the memery that Kaczynski’s letter bombing campaign killed three innocent people and critically wounded several more. Indeed, Kaczynski ought not to be celebrated, and his methods should be thoroughly eschewed.
But with the increasingly rapid embrace of technologies that further sever humanity’s relationship with the natural world by supplementing it with a form of hyperreality; with a global fertility and nutritional crisis posing a dire yet under-discussed threat to our species; with supranational financial and surveillance infrastructures being embraced by global elites who seek to erode personal liberties; and with the Western left’s embrace of a pseudo-religion that seeks to supplant the good, the true, and the beautiful with a priestly class of oversocialized neurotics — were his critiques on modernity entirely inaccurate?
In Industrial Society and Its Future, published by The Washington Post, Kaczynski argued that industrial-technological society, which he referred to as “the system,” was inherently destructive and posed a threat to human freedom and well-being. He believed that modern technology had led to the erosion of personal autonomy, the loss of authentic human experiences, and the degradation of the natural environment. Hence the manifesto’s infamous opening line: “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.”
“The system does not and cannot exist to satisfy human needs. Instead, it is human behavior that has to be modified to fit the needs of the system,” he argued, believing that humanity’s purpose would become the perpetuation of technological advancement and nothing else as we would become subject to deistic materialist progression. Technological advancement would become humanity’s teleological goal and the orienting principle for human civilization, which parallels sentiments allegedly expressed by Google co-founder Larry Page about his desire for the creation of a “digital god” and the ushering in of artificial general intelligence (AI fully on par with human capability).
The further dependent on this technology we would become, the harder it would be to divorce ourselves from it and regain our autonomy as capable human beings. Kaczynski maintained that as long as the system survives, the consequences of being dependent upon it would be unpleasant rather than catastrophic, but the longer the system lasts and the more dependent upon it we become, the likelihood and disastrousness of the breakdown would increase. He wrote: “If the system breaks down the consequences will still be very painful. But the bigger the system grows the more disastrous the results of its breakdown will be.” And as we saw during the Covid-19 pandemic, when humanity’s dependence on technology was arguably at an all-time high and the system experienced unprecedented levels of strain, we saw a shocking increase in both misery and incompetence.
Kaczynski further contended that people had become increasingly dependent on complex technological systems, which he saw as tools of control bound to be manipulated by a small elite. Foreseeing how hyper-dependence on the critical technological infrastructure of a few firms would centralize and subsequently bottleneck resources, Kaczynski was wary of how elites with abundance could exploit normal people. He wrote: “Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system. If the elite is ruthless they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity.” Job displacement threatened by artificial intelligence, free market adventurism gutting the rust belt of its economic prowess, and the Third Industrial Revolution’s “natural monopolies” that consolidate wealth and restrict competition all either echo or embody this skepticism.
And, certainly, despite being no conservative — as he is sure to criticize them throughout the piece as “fools” while actively eschewing political and social “ideology” throughout his manifesto — Kaczynski saw leftism and “political correctness” as a threat to civilization. “Almost everyone will agree that we live in a deeply troubled society. One of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world is leftism,” he wrote, referring to leftists as a “collection of related [psychological] types” who are overwhelmingly characterized by “low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, depressive tendencies, defeatism, guilt, self-hatred” despite “com[ing] from privileged strata of society.”’
He also made note of how the left’s aesthetic preference for “sordidness, defeat and despair” is indicative of its “tend[ency] to hate anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful” like the U.S. and Western civilization as a whole. This is obviously an accurate description of contemporary leftists.
Kaczynski was a tremendously troubled man; he was, in fact, a terrorist whose radical approach to inciting revolution caused great misery, and his worldview was, in many ways, flawed and disordered. Kaczynski makes the case that “technology is a more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom” and foresaw the West’s ongoing spiritual war over transhumanism: “[A] large number of genetic improvements taken together will make the human being into an engineered product rather than a free creation of chance (or of God, or whatever, depending on your religious beliefs).”
In 2023, these observations ring true, but if we’re to take Kaczynski’s manifesto as a holistic indicator of his worldview (and there’s no reason not to; the man was a certifiable genius who was able to avoid an insanity plea after all) it must be acknowledged his perspective appears to be premised entirely upon materialist calculations and makes insufficient space for man’s relationship with the metaphysical. (Although an argument certainly can be made that the Industrial Revolution, particularly the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s intended saturation of the markets with artificial intelligence, threatens to sever man’s relationship with that as well.)
In the Claremont Review of Books, author James Poulos wrote: “We are distinguished from [technology] by our created bodies and souls, and the union between them that renders us in the image of our creator. These are sources of authority and power for which we do not depend on our digital machines. Our future as masters of those machines, rather than their slaves, depends on remembering these truths about ourselves. For that, only one resource will do: religion.”
Man can and should exert control over technology; technology needn’t and ought not to be the master of man. But to regain control over technological progress, we must reorient civilization around that which orients the rest of the universe — its Creator. It will take a considerable amount of time, energy, and manpower, but it is necessary if we are to have any chance of establishing a stable and materially prosperous future.