Justice  /  Argument

The Tragedy of the Unabomber

Ted Kaczynski’s criticisms of environmental destruction and out-of-control technology were incisive, but his terroristic methods had no chance of solving those problems.

More fundamental to Kaczynski’s ideology, though, was his loathing for the political left. Throughout Industrial Society and its Future, he complains almost as bitterly about “leftists” and “leftism” as he does about technology itself. Leftists tend to be “oversocialized types who try to satisfy their drive for power by imposing their morality on everyone,” he writes, and they “tend to hate anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful” on principle. Their stated concern for social and environmental issues is only “an excuse for them to express their own hostility and frustrated need for power.” (No projection here, of course.) As a result, “a movement that exalts nature and opposes technology must take a resolutely anti-leftist stance and must avoid all collaboration with leftists,” because “leftism is in the long run inconsistent with wild nature, with human freedom and with the elimination of modern technology.” Some of this language sounds like it was ripped straight from Fox News, and it may go a long way toward explaining why Kaczynski seems to have shunned the environmentalist groups of his day. Most of them were concerned, to a greater or lesser degree, with notions of social justice, and therefore too “leftist.”

The Unabomber manifesto displays a deeply cynical worldview, one which dismisses out of hand the idea that people might have sincere concerns for each other and their shared world and that these sentiments might be more than simply a mask for neurosis or a lust for power. Rejecting the humanitarian commitments of the left in this absolute way, Kaczynski closed himself off from the possibility of forming a broad “movement” at all, even with others who, generally speaking, might have shared his views. For him, the plan wasn’t necessarily to create a better or more just society; it was simply to destroy the existing one, and let “human freedom” take over from there. What kind of world would result, and whether or not anyone actually wanted it, was beside the point. With the supreme confidence of a man used to being lauded for his intellect, Kaczynski had decided for everyone, and was content to wage his bombing campaign without anyone’s help. The whole thing is distinctly crankish and narcissistic, but perhaps not surprising. When a core part of your politics is the desire to be left alone, alone is exactly where you end up.