The Unabomber’s Manifesto Proves Prophetic

On this date (September 19), 24 years ago, the Washington Post, following the FBI’s advice, printed one of the most controversial newspaper issues of all time. Its contents included your typical, day-to-day sports articles, a few movie reviews and an entire manifesto written by Ted Kaczynski a.k.a the Unabomber. For what purpose? It was dual-faceted, really. Reason number one: the FBI, per the advice of forensic linguist Jim Fitzgerald, thought that getting the manifesto out into the public might cause somebody who knew Kaczynski to recognize it and call in a tip. Reason number two: Kaczynski told them to. He sent in an ultimatum saying that if a credible news source didn’t publish his manifesto, he’d plant a bomb in the mail. We don’t negotiate with terrorists? Looks like everything just changed.

So, who is this Unabomber? Well, meet Ted Kaczynski. Kaczynski, born in Chicago, had an IQ of 167. So, he’s what we call a genius (considering Stephen Hawking had an IQ of 160). In middle school, he was so smart that he skipped two grades and then attended college at just 16 (that college was Harvard). Once he graduated from Harvard, he then went to Michigan for graduate school and attained his PhD. What is he known for? Essentially, he was a hermit who lived in the woods of Montana — most famous for sending 16 highly advanced bombs through the mail, killing three people and injuring over 20. But what is his legacy? Primarily, it was his manifesto entitled “Industrial Society and its Future.”

What is Kaczynski’s message in that manifesto? Since most people aren’t going to drop what they’re doing to read the over 25,000-word document, I’m going to explain it. Mainly, because he made some points worth our contemplation. The main point: the prevalence of technology in this world has reached a catastrophic level. 

“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race,” he wrote. What Kaczynski is saying here is that ever since the Industrial Revolution, humanity has learned to rely on technology. We’ve become dependent. As it used to be something to provide us with assistance, technology now provides us with the necessities of life. Without it, we would face a great catastrophe. Since we have grown such a tolerance to the modern-day industry, to take it away from us would be disastrous. However, Kaczynski makes the point that there is one thing worse than if we were to lose all technology today. That would be if we lost it further down the line. He claims that every year, we become more and more reliant on technology. The longer we wait for it to (possibly) crash, the larger the effects will be. 

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, so if it is to break down it had best break down sooner rather than later.” When did he make this realization of our over-technologizing nature? The documentary series Manhunt: Unabomber puts it best in the scene where Kaczynski is talking about the mockingbird to his convicting officer, James Fitzgerald. In urban Chicago, Kaczynski was outside one day and heard a mockingbird singing its song, except it wasn’t singing its usual ballad; instead, it was crying out an all too familiar tone: a car alarm. The mockingbird was mimicking a car alarm. This (apparently) is when Kaczynski decided that industrial society had made its detriment. 

Going to live in a 12-foot-by-ten-foot cabin in the woods of Montana and mailing bombs across the country isn’t exactly my idea of sanity. However, Kaczynski had a point in his manifesto. His analysis on leftists and conservatives was spot-on, in that the former’s ideology is based on guilt and internal doubt, and the latter’s is an oxymoron of economic advancement and tradition that cannot coexist. His assessment of our goals (survival, procreation, happiness) versus our surrogate goals (hobbies to fill in the open time) was groundbreaking. His rejection of modern-day culture, contrary to popular belief, was amazingly advanced. Kaczynski hated the present day, and while his hatred was mostly irrational, his point still remains: if everybody chose to live like him, in perfect simplicity, there would be no war, no famine, no mass murder, no corruption. Nature would be allowed to run its course. 

Kaczynski was spot on about our technological reliance. His problem, however, is that he thought that we needed a revolution to address it. He believed that sending bombs through the mail was his only avenue to gain publicity. He was wrong, dead wrong, and because of this irrational mistake, three people lost their lives, and many others were critically injured. In order to save his ideas, he refused to plead for insanity, and instead, admitted to his crimes. Because of this, he is now serving life in solitary confinement at a maximum-security prison in Colorado. What he wrote isn’t to be discarded, however. His points hold too much validity. It is hard for me to look myself in the mirror and say that society is headed in the most positive direction. All it takes is a spark. One spark to provoke any one of us. One spark, and we will see the true nature of human animosity. 

  • Florville

    Wrong. He is serving a life sentence because of a judge who let him wriggle out of a death sentence because he either attempted suicide in jail or feigned a suicide attempt. His legacy is not the idiotic Luddite manuscript he wrote, it’s the death and mutilation of innocent victims he delivered bombs to in the most cowardly way possible

    • Ned Ludd

      No, his legacy is the greatest masterpiece that will change the world, Industrial Society and its Future. There will be no remembrance for the worms he crushed.

      • Victor Vaughn

        Agreed. Also his masterworks, the books “Technological Slavery” and “Anti-Tech Revolution”

  • Hank Wordsworth

    I would not trust a text whose author is willing to blow me up to make his point. People who sympathized for him—his ideas, his loneliness– would likely have been on that airliner he almost dropped from the sky. Did he care? Besides, other books have already made his argument, but coherently and humanely without indulging sociopathy—for example, I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition.