Industrial Society and Its Future - an analysis
Thanks to Netflix I recently stumbled across the "Manhunt: Unabomber" series. I found the story fascinating, especially it's protagonist. Not because he killed people, but because he was certifiably a genius and he had much to say about modern industrial-technological society.
I don't seek to approve of his actions (they were abhorrent) but nor do I think that a mans actions necessarily disqualify his ideas from the potential of being insightful, worthy of thought and analysis - or even of being correct.
Is the Unibomber manifesto worth reading?
It's always best if one can make one's own mind up about something. The unique thing about this TV show was the possibility of going beyond the dramatisation (which certainly stood out as being overdone in many areas) and reading Kaczynski's 'Industrial Society and Its Future' firsthand.
To that end, you can find a copy of the manifesto in full at the link below:
You can also cross reference this document with the original text published by The Washington Post, found at the following link:
Further, should the above links 'rot' (be removed from their original locations), the two are replicated below:
Is this 'analysis' of the Unibomber manifesto worth reading?
Well lets just say I think I've been quite liberal with the word 'analysis'. This isn't any kind of in depth academic critique of his ideas. It's a single pass read through with notes written as I read. I tidied them up for this blog post (and did add a few clarifying points once I had chance to ruminate on my thoughts) but they're largely as written.
I don't seek to provide any specific insight, just a stream of consciousness that might spark a discussion.
Having re-read my notes in preparation for this blog post I do see that I was primarily interested in the motivation behind the mind that wrote the manifesto as well as its contents specifically.
There is a lot in it that can be said to be accurate and insightful but I didn't always credit it as I went along (saving that instead for the conclusion), instead I spent time looking at the reasons why such points were raised in the first place.
This may have hampered my 'analysis' or it might just be a different take on it.
Industrial Society and Its Future - The Unibomber Manifesto
Para 21 already exposes a common trope amongst the angry. When they argue against their perceived villain (in this specific section leftism) they rail against the tactics the villain takes to achieve his cause but fail to see their own actions follow an identical path.
21. For example, if one believes that affirmative action is good for black people, does it make sense to demand affirmative action in hostile or dogmatic terms? Obviously it would be more productive to take a diplomatic and conciliatory approach that would make at least verbal and symbolic concessions to white people who think that affirmative action discriminates against them. But leftist activists do not take such an approach because it would not satisfy their emotional needs. Helping black people is not their real goal. Instead, race problems serve as an excuse for them to express their own hostility and frustrated need for power. In doing so they actually harm black people, because the activists’ hostile attitude toward the white majority tends to intensify race hatred.
Could it not be said that his entire campaign fits this accusation? Like all believers he'd no doubt argue his cause was the right one. "If only you could see the truth!" they all cry.
This might be an early hint that Kaczynski might be suffereing (however clever, logical and intelligent this manifesto might prove to be as I continue) from a strong case of cognitive dissonance.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MODERN LEFTISM and FEELINGS OF INFERIORITY
The ideas explored here aren't necessarily incorrect (especially the description of what we might now call Social Justice Warriors and the Professionally Offended). Nor are they all correct. It just seems somewhat irrelevant to what I expected of the manifesto. It doesn't seem like one needs to go into such depth about a specific subset of society in order to prove there are ills within.
I appreciate he used this as an example of the problems with modern society, it just seems a little incongruous to be so detailed and lengthy. It's almost more his personal gripes than purely objective analysis.
The leftist theme still continues here, it doesn't seem crucial to the argument. One aspect for sure, but surely there would be more threats to any plan to overthrown the 'system'?
This seems true but hardly unique to industrial-technological society. Religion and its method of control is based almost entirely on this premise (that and fear in the case of the Abrahamic religions).
25. The moral code of our society is so demanding that no one can think, feel and act in a completely moral way.
Another specific example but I'm not sure strictly relevant to what I thought the manifesto would be about.
I wonder if the start of the paragraph is perhaps auto-biographical?
26. Oversocialization can lead to low self-esteem, a sense of powerlessness, defeatism, guilt, etc. One of the most important means by which our society socializes children is by making them feel ashamed of behavior or speech that is contrary to society’s expectations. If this is overdone, or if a particular child is especially susceptible to such feelings, he ends by feeling ashamed of HIMSELF.
I'm getting the strong impression this manifesto is going to be autobiographical, which large parts constructed to validate the feelings of injustice Kaczynski feels. This doesn't necessarily make him wrong in his assessments, it's just not what I expected from the manifesto.
28. The leftist of the oversocialized type tries to get off his psychological leash and assert his autonomy by rebelling. But usually he is not strong enough to rebel against the most basic values of society.
This strikes me as a 'but I am strong enough, I rebelled, I'm not leftist, the leftist is wrong I am right, validate me'.
Harsh and judgemental of me perhaps, but I often find those most outwardly concerned with others inferiority are consumed within by such feelings of themselves.
This entire paragraph seems like an attempt at making the leftist the bogeyman and by extension the anti 'industrial-technological society' champion the saviour.
In all ESSENTIAL respects most leftists of the oversocialized type want to make the black man conform to white, middle-class ideals. They want to make him study technical subjects, become an executive or a scientist, spend his life climbing the status ladder to prove that black people are as good as white. They want to make black fathers “responsible,” they want black gangs to become nonviolent, etc. But these are exactly the values of the industrial-technological system.
Who/what is the real issue here? So far the manifesto seems confused at who or what it's attacking. Is it technology? Is it the leftists? Is this about freedom or freedom from control? Are they the same thing?
Later edit - Para 227 does admit this somewhat:
227. Our discussion of leftism has a serious weakness. It is still far from clear what we mean by the word “leftist.” There doesn’t seem to be much we can do about this.
Its almost like Kaczynski comes up for air, realises he been on a bit of a rant and seeks to continue with the rest of the manifesto with a bit more detached air about it:
32. The problems of the leftist are indicative of the problems of our society as a whole. Low self-esteem, depressive tendencies and defeatism are not restricted to the left. Though they are especially noticeable in the left, they are widespread in our society. And today’s society tries to socialize us to a greater extent than any previous society. We are even told by experts how to eat, how to exercise, how to make love, how to raise our kids and so forth.
THE POWER PROCESS and SURROGATE ACTIVITIES
I find this quite accurate, perhaps because it's been long established? At least now in 2018 anyway. The truths here certainly seem plain to see in society now.
Later edit - reading back through my post and re-reading the manifesto in this section I think it's important to qualify my above statement because it can be taken to mean different things.
I believe Kaczynksi to be right in the sense that he's identifying things that seem self-evident and have been explored before. His Power Process seems like a specific subset of Maslow's Needs, the Surrogate Activities section is so prevalent corollaries might be found in almost any productivity or self-help book.
40. In modern industrial society only minimal effort is necessary to satisfy one’s physical needs. It is enough to go through a training program to acquire some petty technical skill, then come to work on time and exert the very modest effort needed to hold a job.
The statement above may be very general but it is also accurate. Most jobs fit this description.
Where things start to unravel is in his analysis of the use of surrogate activities
41. For many if not most people, surrogate activities are less satisfying than the pursuit of real goals (that is, goals that people would want to attain even if their need for the power process were already fulfilled).
This is unquantified. I also question the logic of the argument. If as Kaczynski states:
Many people who pursue surrogate activities will say that they get far more fulfillment from these activities than they do from the “mundane” business of satisfying their biological needs, but that is because in our society the effort needed to satisfy the biological needs has been reduced to triviality.
What is to say that actually meeting ones biological needs with autonomy will be more satisfying that meeting 'surrogate' needs with autonomy?
I see no empirical evidence to suggest the primacy of meeting biological needs in the manner.
This is an interesting idea. It's skipped over very quickly though. I wonder how much of this is autobiographical again? It seems ideas of this autobiographical nature are being drip fed into the manifesto which makes me think they may become important later on or at least explain some of what is about to come.
I wonder if this speaks to Kaczynski's idea of freedom. It's shaping up to be freedom from control, not just someone else letting you be free or the system allowing you huge flexibility of action, but absolute freedom.
SOURCES OF SOCIAL PROBLEMS
I see no unique insight in this section. I believe many have made such comments before, not that I've spent the time to look. Even just in popular culture, TV programmes, films etc these concepts seem prevalent. Perhaps they weren't at the time though the manifesto was written, so credit may be due.
Danger to the left of him, fools to the right. An isolated world to live in.
50. The conservatives are fools: They whine about the decay of traditional values, yet they enthusiastically support technological progress and economic growth. Apparently it never occurs to them that you can’t make rapid, drastic changes in the technology and the economy of a society without causing rapid changes in all other aspects of the society as well, and that such rapid changes inevitably break down traditional values.
It's possible to claim whatever you like as Kaczynski does below - but a claim is only that. Far more work would be needed to even identify if the 'Power Process' is in any way involved, yet alone the sole or major cause of any ill in society.
This manifesto is being built upon very shaky foundations.
We contend that the most important cause of social and psychological problems in modern society is the fact that people have insufficient opportunity to go through the power process in a normal way. We don’t mean to say that modern society is the only one in which the power process has been disrupted. Probably most if not all civilized societies have interfered with the power process to a greater or lesser extent. But in modern industrial society the problem has become particularly acute. Leftism, at least in its recent (mid- to late-20th century) form, is in part a symptom of deprivation with respect to the power process.
DISRUPTION OF THE POWER PROCESS IN MODERN SOCIETY
Lots of insight here and a lot that can be argued. Suffice to say there's to much to go into these notes.
Two points I do note:
I believe it to be true that current society does disrupt autonomy and the pursuit of basic needs 'goals'.
Security in the modern society is outwith the bounds of the individual. It may be the case it is also so in a 'primitive' and 'small' society too of course, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't think about the effects modern society has on the psyche as a result.
There are repeat messages here. Control and the externalisation of it in particular.
70. Thus primitive man for the most part has his security in his own hands (either as an individual or as a member of a SMALL group) whereas the security of modern man is in the hands of persons or organizations that are too remote or too large for him to be able personally to influence them.
I find this sentence quite true too:
72. Modern society is in certain respects extremely permissive. In matters that are irrelevant to the functioning of the system we can generally do what we please...But in all IMPORTANT matters the system tends increasingly to regulate our behavior.
The word to argue over is 'IMPORTANT' but in general this is pretty accurate.
And there's more:
73. Behavior is regulated not only through explicit rules and not only by the government. Control is often exercised through indirect coercion or through psychological pressure or manipulation, and by organizations other than the government, or by the system as a whole.
I think this is true.
Kaczynski is veering off course here, seemingly shoe-horning these examples into his stated ideas. It just doesn't seem to fit:
74. We suggest that modern man’s obsession with longevity, and with maintaining physical vigor and sexual attractiveness to an advanced age, is a symptom of unfulfillment resulting from deprivation with respect to the power process. The “mid-life crisis” also is such a symptom.
This paragraph just seems like make believe! How can Kaczynski know how early man felt?
Again, having successfully raised his children, going through the power process by providing them with the physical necessities, the primitive man feels that his work is done and he is prepared to accept old age (if he survives that long) and death.
Well clearly not, because it was primitive man that developed into modern man, so he must not have been satisfied and instead desired to produce technology and to advance.
Para 76 - there may be trouble ahead
Woah there Nelly! What constitutes 'their own opportunities'? If we're talking about returning to nature as mentioned in paras 47 and 48 then there may be trouble ahead. Society will have to be destroyed, not just industrial-technological society, all forms of 'big' society.
76. In response to the arguments of this section someone will say, “Society must find a way to give people the opportunity to go through the power process.” This won’t work for those who need autonomy in the power process. For such people the value of the opportunity is destroyed by the very fact that society gives it to them. What they need is to find or make their own opportunities. As long as the system GIVES them their opportunities it still has them on a leash. To attain autonomy they must get off that leash.
Yeah, it's clear now this is about freedom from control, not simple freedom from interference. In practice they can be the same but in principle it's the idea of someone else letting you be free vs you being free in absolute terms.
Totalitarianism awaits, no doubt radical destruction will be proposed as a solution.
HOW SOME PEOPLE ADJUST
Whilst Kaczynski accurately describes a range of common human behaviour seen in various strata of society, his assertion that this comes solely from the Power Process is myopic.
Our society uses it too, though less crudely. Example: Manuel Noriega was an irritant to the U.S. (goal: punish Noriega). The U.S. invaded Panama (effort) and punished Noriega (attainment of goal). Thus the U.S. went through the power process and many Americans, because of their identification with the U.S., experienced the power process vicariously.
I think Kaczynski undermines his own argument here. By attempting to show that an entire society itself goes through the Power Process he shows how even extra-human events can fit it's model.
This brings into question whether the model is too broad to be usefully applicable. If anything can be applied to it - what use is it in understanding anything?
Using the Power Process to analyse the behaviour of nation state on nation state falls woefully short of a rigorous exploration of all the nuances of why such events occurred.
Yet the Power Process still fits.
So that suggests we are missing the true nuances of what motivates human behaviour. At the very least we must work much harder to prove such a model has utility, something that is severely lacking in this manifesto.
THE MOTIVATIONS OF SCIENTISTS
I simply find this section utterly irrelevant. The logic here is convoluted and seems to exist solely to back up previous unsubstantiated claims. The removal of this section from the manifesto would improve it's overall content.
Let's look at one central claim:
87. Science and technology provide the most important examples of surrogate activities. Some scientists claim that they are motivated by “curiosity” or by a desire to “benefit humanity.” But it is easy to see that neither of these can be the principal motive of most scientists. As for “curiosity,” that notion is simply absurd.
What about the 'what if?'. What if the notion of curiosity is not absurd? It's bordering ridiculous to suggest that pure curiosity is 'absurd'. Does a baby explore the world around so as to satisfy the Power Process? Or perhaps it's an innate curiosity 'programmed' genetically?
Do we shed our curiosity at some arbitrary point in life? What about curiosity in the pursuit of obtaining the physical necessities? What do we call that moment of thought when we see a sharp stick and think about it's use in hunting, or a bendy branch next to a length of twine? Is it our curiosity that says "I wonder if I put that string on the bendy bow and the sharp stick on the string - what will happen?
What is that thought if not curiosity?
If such a thing is curiosity (as it blatantly is), why is such curiosity excluded from all other areas of life save for those concerned with necessitating existence?
The idea that curiosity as a pure motivator being 'absurd' is itself absurd. Pure curiosity, the desire to know something, to understand it, is a fundamental part of being human and can exist independently of any 'Power Process' or basic need.
In any case it is not normal to put into the satisfaction of mere curiosity the amount of time and effort that scientists put into their work.
This is far more revealing of Kaczynski's true thought. He just doesn't seem to like science. Perhaps this is another autobiographical passage borne of his emotions. It certainly doesn't seem to add anything to his core arguments in the manifesto.
THE NATURE OF FREEDOM
It didn't take long until the suspicions of para 76 come true.
93. We are going to argue that industrial-technological society cannot be reformed in such a way as to prevent it from progressively narrowing the sphere of human freedom. But, because “freedom” is a word that can be interpreted in many ways, we must first make clear what kind of freedom we are concerned with.
94. By “freedom” we mean the opportunity to go through the power process, with real goals not the artificial goals of surrogate activities, and without interference, manipulation or supervision from anyone, especially from any large organization. Freedom means being in control (either as an individual or as a member of a SMALL group) of the life-and-death issues of one’s existence: food, clothing, shelter and defense against whatever threats there may be in one’s environment. Freedom means having power; not the power to control other people but the power to control the circumstances of one’s own life. One does not have freedom if anyone else (especially a large organization) has power over one, no matter how benevolently, tolerantly and permissively that power may be exercised. It is important not to confuse freedom with mere permissiveness (see paragraph 72).
This is a curiously insular definition of freedom. It seems fixated on the control placed upon one man by another. Or by an 'organisation' upon man. It seeks to define freedom as something absolute, not given by another. A laudable goal but is it one that's achievable?
Take for instance the case that our entire species is simply an experiment of an all powerful being. Many would say for all intents and purposes the definition of Kaczynski's 'autonomous freedom' (I'll call it) doesn't change in practical terms.
But where do the practical terms change?
What if those alien controllers are not supreme beings, just a technologically advanced culture who installed us as a science experiment. Is it worth railing against control we cannot know is there? There's no practical or knowable difference between them and a supreme being to us after all.
If we can accept it's not worth rejecting God's potential control, and a technologically advanced race would be indistinguishable from a God to us, is it worth railing against control that has no observable effects at all?
Why then reject any perceived control from 'organisations' or fellow man that practically has no effect? If one has freedom from interference, if one is left alone and such freedom is indistinguishable from 'autonomous freedom' - is that not enough? Because if not one can never know one is truly free from control until one controls the universe and all within, which seems a rather senseless and futile requirement.
Why then can Kaczynksi not be content to be free if for all practical judgements he is so? Because what he wants really is control. And more so, he wants specific control over those 'fellow man' or 'organisations' (not the potential unknown controller who may be out there). This in turn leads me to suspect that this need is based on his life experience, of perhaps being wronged by these entities. And now he wants to destroy them or at least their ability to control him and his life.
In para 95 below I think we see the clearest indication yet why technology specifically has to go. But in so mentioning it I think it reveals the underlying issue isn't actually technology, technology is just an enabler of control.
95. It is said that we live in a free society because we have a certain number of constitutionally guaranteed rights. But these are not as important as they seem. The degree of personal freedom that exists in a society is determined more by the economic and technological structure of the society than by its laws or its form of government.  Most of the Indian nations of New England were monarchies, and many of the cities of the Italian Renaissance were controlled by dictators. But in reading about these societies one gets the impression that they allowed far more personal freedom than our society does. In part this was because they lacked efficient mechanisms for enforcing the ruler’s will: There were no modern, well organized police forces, no rapid long-distance communications, no surveillance cameras, no dossiers of information about the lives of average citizens. Hence it was relatively easy to evade control.
SOME PRINCIPLES OF HISTORY
Outlines the basis for a large part of the argument that societal change isn't possible without destroying all technology (and by extension all forms of 'big society') as previously suspected.
Like all good essays there has been plenty of foreshadowing to this big reveal.
111. The foregoing principles help to show how hopelessly difficult it would be to reform the industrial system in such a way as to prevent it from progressively narrowing our sphere of freedom.
Note the interchangeable use of technology, industrial and industrial-technological. The use throughout so far has bugged me. They're used precisely but more to explain the problem rather than being the problem.
That suggests there may only be a limited exploration of the counter-example of technology doing good and even technology returning us naturally to decentralised form of society.
RESTRICTION OF FREEDOM IS UNAVOIDABLE IN INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY
I can't say much of this is inaccurate. A little cynical and pessimistic, given to presenting this in only a bad light, but not inaccurate.
117. 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.
Hmmm. Whilst true of our current society, that doesn't necessarily mean that further development or moves towards decentralisation are impossible. I think this paragraph is indicative of what I mentioned earlier, a wilful lack of imagination about what technological progress might bring about.
One can imagine a future where manufacturing, power generation, construction, food production can all be done in a decentralised manner, maintaining small communities but coming together as a whole to work towards larger projects if that were even required.
This is particularly true as advancement seems to bring about a lowering of the birth rate anyway, so modern advanced western countries actually have falling populations if you remove the effects of migration.
Must we return to absolute anarchy to achieve happiness and fulfilment? I'm sceptical.
Para 131 and footnote 14
Para 131 and footnote 14 are powerfully true. We have all seen example of this!
Brave New World wins over 1984! Pursuit of pleasure is, I agree, more powerful a motivator in long term trends. As soon as the whip is let up even for a moment, people will turn to pleasure if they can. This should naturally be self-evident.
Later note - Kaczynski actually quotes the title of Brave New World in para 170 so it's possible he sees this dystopia as our likely future.
114. As explained in paragraphs 65-67, 70-73, modern man is strapped down by a network of rules and regulations, and his fate depends on the actions of persons remote from him whose decisions he cannot influence. This is not accidental or a result of the arbitrariness of arrogant bureaucrats. It is necessary and inevitable in any technologically advanced society.
I continue to wonder if Kaczynski really hated technology for it's own sake or simply the control of his fellow man that technology affords.
135. In paragraph 125 we used an analogy of a weak neighbor who is left destitute by a strong neighbor who takes all his land by forcing on him a series of compromises. But suppose now that the strong neighbor gets sick, so that he is unable to defend himself. The weak neighbor can force the strong one to give him his land back, or he can kill him. If he lets the strong man survive and only forces him to give the land back, he is a fool, because when the strong man gets well he will again take all the land for himself. The only sensible alternative for the weaker man is to kill the strong one while he has the chance.
He used this example as a metaphor for destroying the technological system. But just as he mentions other specific and somewhat incongruous factors that have significance in his personal life (electrodes in everyone's brain, singling out linguistic analysis in particular, repeated need to return to nautre) I wonder if what he's really doing is constructing a justification for his hatred of his fellow man's control over him. Technology is an enabler, he sees it as something that allows he's fellow man to control him, and so it must be destroyed, but the real core belief is that he resists control from his fellow man. Being a genius and logician he no doubt reasoned this hatred all the way out to its natural conclusion, in order to give himself security and assuage his personal fears, the entire system must go so that nothing (and importantly no one) is in a position to exert control over him.
(Later edit- see pare 191, it states my suspicion explicitly)
It's common to see people with this opinion talk from an ego centric viewpoint and forget to remove the 'idiot' factor (I used 'idiot' in the limited sense those who are intelligent are predisposed to think of those of us not as intelligent as them).
This factor comes about because most people aren't geniuses, won't react rationally in crisis, will cause huge trouble as society breaks down, will kill each other and you will have to survive their onslaught until at least enough of them have gone that you can begin to live in relative safety again. I'm sure Kaczynski will address this, saying it's a necessary evil that's better than continuing down the technological route, or construct a more gradual population decline from some other factor so as to come across as not too extreme.
Nonetheless, the underlying fact remains that seemingly all practitioners of this way of thinking think that large swathes of the population must go, large swathes of the 'idiots must go specifically' and that they themselves outside the bounds of the 'idiots'. I mean this both out of reach physically, so will survive their oncoming desperation as society collapses, and intellectually where they will remain and survive in the new world to be constructed whilst the idiot masses die off.
I also suspect that he'll put himself and maybe other intelligent people in one category of revolutionary and the idiots in another. Maybe this is a practical necessity but nonetheless it always seems to come up in the treatise of the intellectuals that seek to change society.
(oh look, paras 187 and 188 do just this)
Kaczynski talks often and at length of pre-industrial society. He speaks of its balance with nature, harmonious internal social structure and the lack of crime/disturbing behaviour (rape, abuse etc.).
I'm not convinced that this rosy picture of the past is accurate or at all based in concrete fact. Was crime and abuse really so low and happiness so high? Was it not a brutal and insecure existence?
That contact with industrial society 'cracked open' more 'primitive' cultures I do not dispute. But, concomitently, would it not be prudent to ask why it did so so effectively? Could it be that 'primitive' society wasn't as great as Kaczynski thinks it to be?
And how far must we 'go back' in history to find these 'harmonious ancients'? Neolithic? What about Stonehenge? Is that not a technological marvel? A colossal monument to surrogate activity? What of the pyramids? The Great Wall? The ancient wonders of the world?
Clearly not all ancient cultures fit the description, so I predict Kaczynksi will pick and choose cultures aligning with his own beliefs to support his argument.
Para 173 is a good example of limited thinking. The premise behind it is that society as a whole becomes dependent and therefore subjugated. The possibility of decentralising society with technology isn't explored. Sufficiently advanced technology may lead back to a more 'harmonious' way of life.
This paragraph reeks of borderline propaganda.
It returns to the trope of the elite and its ability to control. This isn't necessarily untrue (indeed it probably is true) but again it limits itself to the knowable elite and forgets external unknowable controllers. It might be that one could simple have to make a choice and choose not to worry about those external controllers (aliens, god etc) but that just calls into question the wisdom of where to limit your rebellion and against which knowable controllers.
If the answer is to rebel against all forms of knowable controllers then one will never find 'autonomous freedom' because one one might never be sure you know them all. Equally if you are content to limit your rebellion to those earthbound knowable controllers how can you be satisfied that a new one will not emerge, even if one returns to 'small' society? One must in reality switch from knowledge of who your controllers are now to fear of where your next controller may come from.
You switch from anger to fear.
Can one be said to be truly 'autonomously free' if one is prisoner to ones own fears?
And if we're simply to say "I'll just be happy once society is small again and the rest will work out" then one is guilty of delusion, failing to follow ones own logic and we might as well not bother with any action and instead spend the effort deluding ourselves into any type of freedom we like.
174. On the other hand it is possible that human control over the machines may be retained. In that case the average man may have control over certain private machines of his own, such as his car or his personal computer, but control over large systems of machines will be in the hands of a tiny elite
As quoted above Kaczynski also touches on the idea of the 'personal' machine in this paragraph, but leaps straight to the 'societal machine', those so large only the elite can control them.
He skips over the 'community machine' where society decentralises. This is a very real possibility and we're already seeing moves towards this in fields such as power generation (distributed solar and battery storage) and additive manufacturing (3D printing). It's suggests a lack of imagination and exposes that the real motivation behind this manifesto is more likely to be anger at past experience and a continued feeling of anger towards those he sees as controlling him.
This backs up this lack of imagination explicitly stating the outlined scenarios are the best he can think of:
177. Needless to say, the scenarios outlined above do not exhaust all the possibilities. They only indicate the kinds of outcomes that seem to us most likely. But we can envision no plausible scenarios that are any more palatable than the ones we’ve just described.
No plausible scenarios? He himself states within 'Some principles of history', specifically principle two and three, para 102 and 103, that change is inherently unpredictable. Just because Kaczynski cannot think of something that will change society 'towards his cause' does not mean that something cannot occur to do so. Why are the intelligent often sure that they alone have thought of everything? Such occurrences are unpredictable as he himself states.
102. SECOND PRINCIPLE. If a change is made that is sufficiently large to alter permanently a long-term historical trend, then it will alter the society as a whole. In other words, a society is a system in which all parts are interrelated, and you can’t permanently change any important part without changing all other parts as well.
103. THIRD PRINCIPLE. If a change is made that is large enough to alter permanently a long-term trend, then the consequences for the society as a whole cannot be predicted in advance. (Unless various other societies have passed through the same change and have all experienced the same consequences, in which case one can predict on empirical grounds that another society that passes through the same change will be like to experience similar consequences.)
Para 177 continues:
It is overwhelmingly probable that if the industrial-technological system survives the next 40 to 100 years, it will by that time have developed certain general characteristics: Individuals (at least those of the “bourgeois” type, who are integrated into the system and make it run, and who therefore have all the power) will be more dependent than ever on large organizations; they will be more “socialized” than ever and their physical and mental qualities to a significant extent (possibly to a very great extent) will be those that are engineered into them rather than being the results of chance (or of God’s will, or whatever); and whatever may be left of wild nature will be reduced to remnants preserved for scientific study and kept under the supervision and management of scientists (hence it will no longer be truly wild).
I'm glad he has returned to the more correct language of probability when discussing future events. It's indeed probable that the industrial-technological society will survive the next 100 years.
But this paragraph again seems short-sighted, even intentionally so. It overstates the power of man over nature. The ocean will remain wild for instance (for hundreds of years at least). So will the great northern tundra (again for hundreds of years even if climate change does open it up), so will rural Africa (which is unfathomably vast). Not only that he seems to limit the extend of his imagination to the state of current technology (though decrying it's rapid advance elsewhere) as he only speaks of this planet.
In 100 years we will have left this planet and probably solar system, at least by probe.
In just 20 we will likely be on Mars, let alone 40.
What of the wild places in the rest of the universe that technology will open up to us?
I'm beginning to feel strongly Kaczynski isn't searching for a true solution in this manifesto, his searching for justification for his own world view/hatred applied to his 'small' lifestyle. He wants an outcome he will enjoy.
I suppose the above is obvious, it's his manifesto, he can write in it what he wants, literally and figuratively. I kind of expected it to be more detached. More objective.
I wonder if Kaczynski underestimates the plasticity of the brain to adjust without outside help? I wonder if the construct of The Power Process is the only way of achieving meaningful psychological happiness and sustainability?
178. Whatever else may be the case, it is certain that technology is creating for human beings a new physical and social environment radically different from the spectrum of environments to which natural selection has adapted the human race physically and psychologically. If man is not adjusted to this new environment by being artificially re-engineered, then he will be adapted to it through a long and painful process of natural selection. The former is far more likely than the latter.
We've been adjusted to community living and farming for what 12,000 years? Is that sufficient time for evolutionary change - it is enough for Caucasians to have developed the ability to digest lactose and alcohol is it not? And that occurred considerably less than 12,000 years ago IIRC.
What other evolutionary changes might have occurred to change our ability to live 'simply' with nature, or in a technological society? Change is happening fast but can we naturally keep up? What further evolution might we be capable of?
It seems far from sure to me that we are what we are and must thus ever be.
I just strikes me as I read more of this that it's largely propaganda, and like all the best propaganda it has a kernel of truth to be distorted.
Para 179 is defeatist and lazy
179. It would be better to dump the whole stinking system and take the consequences.
This again just backs up what I said before. He hopes he's given enough justification and validation for his own view - he just doesn't like the current system. It's not an objective critique of human society, it's biased by his own prejudices and lack of imagination. He personally is willing to take the consequences because for him anything is better that what there is now. He can't see how things could get better because he lacks imagination, he is angry, he wants to be justified in his viewpoint so he hopes he's gotten to a position to persuade others that his feelings/viewpoint is valid so he can take action to simply rail against the current situation.
Time and again he artificially constrains his discussion of the effects and outcomes of industrial-technological society to those based on logic set upon a series of axioms he created. He does so without testing the validity or those axioms or using countering viewpoints to cross examine his thinking. Nor does he even use the basic logic from his own arguments to extend the 'what if' to the opposite of the suppositions in order to explore any possible alternative outcomes.
That's not to say he's wrong in all aspects, there's valuable insight into the current effects of the industrial-technological society on human behaviour/happiness, he's simply limited in his appraisal and suggestions for a remedy.
Based on this single sentence alone I can predict that the remainder of the manifesto will be a system for achieving his aims. Note the use of 'his'. This won't be about fixing industrial-technological society wholesale, it's going to be about achieving a system where he is outside control and that is it.
Well there it is already. Only 4 paragraphs in:
183. But an ideology, in order to gain enthusiastic support, must have a positive ideal as well as a negative one; it must be FOR something as well as AGAINST something. The positive ideal that we propose is Nature. That is, WILD nature: those aspects of the functioning of the Earth and its living things that are independent of human management and free of human interference and control. And with wild nature we include human nature, by which we mean those aspects of the functioning of the human individual that are not subject to regulation by organized society but are products of chance, or free will, or God (depending on your religious or philosophical opinions).
It seems that there are sections of this manifesto that leak Kaczynski's personal experience quite strongly. Things that he particularly loves or hates peak out from behind the logic and calculation. Here, nature returns as a strong them and seems a little out of place in the 'flow' of the manifesto.
Para 185 - The famous line:
185. As for the negative consequences of eliminating industrial society — well, you can’t eat your cake and have it too. To gain one thing you have to sacrifice another.
It's interesting that for all his care to not be identified, he wanted to be right above all else. Yes this is the correct version of the saying but he must have known it would be more identifiable than using the more common phraseology.
I wonder if this speaks to his desire to be 'right', to be 'correct'. To do something differently in the hope someone would challenge it and then he can say 'Ahh! But I'm right!'. I see people do this when driving, they see someone make a mistake and will deliberately position themselves to make that other persons mistake worse, perhaps blocking them in, just to make it plain that 'Ha ha, you screwed up, I'm superior'. It's like the reverse of that, waiting for someone to think they're wrong and then pounce with their superiority.
Or maybe he's just right and we're all idiots, I don't know.
The desire to be right was perhaps more powerful than his need to be anonymous at least. Maybe he was a man of strong principle, he must have been to have chosen the life he did. So perhaps this is an insightful line actually, exposing something of the ego within. I'm on more shaky ground here because it's based on hindsight and not the content of the manifesto but it is worth thinking about anyway.
Para 187 and 188
This backs up what I mentioned before about segregating the intellectuals and the idiots.
This explicitly backs up my previous suspicion that his real hatred is control exerted by his fellow man. Technology is just the enabler:
191. One should think twice before encouraging any other social conflict than that between the power-holding elite (which wields technology) and the general public (over which technology exerts its power).
I think this is a slip up in his writing here. A leak of his personal views clouding what he hopes is a persuasive document.
This bit speaks to the truth he really believes - it's elite fellow man that is the issue and it's elite fellow man that must go, hence wanting a return to lower population and the inability for any fellow man to exert control over him.
I wonder if by pursuing freedom and living the lifestyle he did he realised that he wasn't achieving what he really wanted (personal security by removing the threat of powerful 'fellow man') and so he began bombing to attempt to start technology's destruction, thereby removing the one tool that allows fellow man to control him.
I'm more convinced at this stage of the manifesto that he didn't necessarily want freedom in the sense of personal freedom, he wanted safety from control by others which by definition gives one personal freedom in that it allows one to control ones destiny/actions.
A pedantic distinction to make perhaps but it might explain his motivations to act despite, by our modern standards, the extraordinary freedom of action he enjoyed with his solitary lifestyle in the mountains. One might have thought he would have been 'happy with what he had' so to speak, but the real issue being fellow man meant there was no escape no matter how far he ran.
As a side note I think it would be lazy to say he was 'paranoid' based on this line of analysis. I'd say he's accurate in his analysis of control.
It's more accurate to say he was actually knowledgable and correct about the unseen control society puts over the individual - much more so than paranoid anyway. This is in much in the say way those of us who suspected the surveillance state was spying on us to the extent it was were charged with 'tin-foil hattery', but which was vindicated in the Snowdon revelations.
He differed though in his extreme reaction to it and the appalling crimes he committed in his 'fight' against it.
I like this line:
Never forget that the human race with technology is just like an alcoholic with a barrel of wine.
It's cynical, judgemental and like all generalisms patently false, but it's fun to say.
This is fearmongering:
whereas, if the industrial system survives, it will continue developing new techniques of food production that may enable the world’s population to keep increasing almost indefinitely.
It's also demonstrably not true. Population growth is zero or negative in (many) developed countries (Germany and Japan two prominent examples of a downward trend I believe, if you remove migration).
Indeed, Germany was so in need of young workers it welcomed 1 million Syrian refugees. That wasn't an entirely altruistic act.
Para 209 and 210
This seeks to answer the questions about small-scale technology and the requirement for full scale industrial society to maintain modern basics like refrigeration.
I wonder if it simply shows a lack of imagination to say that any current technology is the simplest form it could be in? Could a more 'advanced' technology actually become easier to manufacturer? Could a future refrigeration device achieve cooling but with a simpler mechanism, some kind of mythical solid state technology with no moving parts manufactured with a locally producible process?
It seems that such possibilities aren't discussed because they would bring doubt to the overall premise that technology destroys freedom by preventing small community.
THE DANGER OF LEFTISM
I think Kaczynksi speaks a lot of truth in this section but does himself and the discussion the huge disservice of only attacking the Leftists. Much of what is said here applied to ALL 'total-moralists', a term I use to mean a kind of extreme absolutist moralism in all forms.
What he describes really are moral fundamentalists.
Kaczynksi himself is a form of moral fundamentalist, one born in reaction to a world consisting of much Leftist moral fundamentalism, but a fundamentalist none the less. I don't like fundamentalists of any form (in fact I find them the most dangerous of all) but I can't say they're not sometimes needed - mostly to repel their opposition so the rest of us can sort of get on with things in the muddy middle.
I'm glad Kaczynski states this plainly:
231. Throughout this article we’ve made imprecise statements and statements that ought to have had all sorts of qualifications and reservations attached to them; and some of our statements may be flatly false. Lack of sufficient information and the need for brevity made it impossible for us to formulate our assertions more precisely or add all the necessary qualifications. And of course in a discussion of this kind one must rely heavily on intuitive judgment, and that can sometimes be wrong. So we don’t claim that this article expresses more than a crude approximation to the truth.
It makes me think he may be less of a fundamentalist that my previous paragraph would suggest. Perhaps even open to leaps of imagination concerning technology and different approaches to returning freedom from control by external organisations. At least when he is able to think rationally. There's a case to be made that his extreme actions were emotional and justified with a misused logic.
If only things could have been different he may have been a luminary speaker for his movement and may have not slid into the depravity of murder and terrorism.
Having read the whole manifesto, read up on his participation in the Murray experiments, and read what I could of the detail of the case (the non-dramatised version) all I can really conclude is that this was a whole sorry mess that probably didn't have to be.
The manifesto has left me convinced of his anger against a system that abused him, even a sense of pity and understanding that he took the actions he did. But I can in no way even begin to accept what he did was right or even remotely the correct way to achieve his aims.
If anything, he damaged his cause immeasurably.
I find much of the way he conducted himself in the face of a society he didn't like to be repellent and lazy, running away to bomb and kill those ignorantly innocent of any part in the 'great industrial-technological society' he hates so much.
It's just such an unintelligent response to the objective goals he set. Which has to lend credence to my suspicion that a lot of the content in this manifest was really about his personal issues and not an intellectuals response to an industrial-technological society.
There is nothing to be lauded in this manifesto. There are points that deserve exploration and debate, perhaps even non-violent action - even the criminal can be correct after all - but nothing more.
To me it is the malformed logic of an angry and mistreated man, an intelligent one, but not one who should be forgiven his crimes.
That said, I still remain deeply wary of those moral fundamentalists on both sides, caricatures of which Kaczynksi describes in the manifesto.
I, a proponent of technology, fear it and it's far reaching control. I fear human nature and it's propensity to march towards a dystopian Brave New World.
I fear the mindless technician.
I fear the certainty of conviction of a half-educated man.
I fear Kaczynski could turn out in part to be right.
That's an uncomfortable position to be in. We would like our villains to by 100% monster after all. It's easier to dismiss their ideas if we think them pure evil or insane.
So much of what he has to say about the current state of society is actually pretty accurate. His critique of technology is also largely justified. One only has to look around you in any busy place to see the hoards of screen zombies aimlessly bumping into inanimate objects as they walk about, face in phone.
The legions of YouTubers, Instagrammers, Facebookers, Tweeters, bloggers (I unironically include my self within this group), 1 like = 1 prayer profile picture updating idiots who post vacuously into the void to no effect whatsoever are the great sadness of our generation. My time in the Caribbean helping in the wake of Hurricane Irma, only to have Hurricane Maria blow through and cause further devastation, brought home to me with viscous clarity how so much of what is needed in the world is local community and self-reliance.
Kaczynski's thoughts on how society controls is also pretty accurate. It does. It necessarily limits it's subjects because without it the whole cannot work. It does limit freedom, there's no question of that. I find his ideas on 'Leftists' (in reality moral fundamentalists) largely accurate.
His commentary on Surrogate Activities I find to be quite insightful and see such behaviour in myself and others around me.
But I don't subscribe to his severely limited analysis of the causes behind these observations.
I reject the certainty of his assertion that the Power Process is the primary motivating factor in human behaviour. I find this concept useful to think about but not even a fully fledged first draft attempt at fully exploring the issue. Such limited tools are often used by those who seek to influence as they let one make grand sweeping statements and create villains to rally against.
I strongly reject the absolutism and extremism required for his 'solution'. And certainly such a stupid solution such that he proposes. In fact I'd go so far as to say his solution is utterly naive, lazy and laughably unworkable - something I was not expecting to discover given his intellect.
It absolutely isn't a 100% probability that what society is now will only progress down one route. There are too many 'unknown unknown's' to make such a sweeping statement, let alone enough try to pull the whole system down at great cost to life.
A little dreaming, if you'll permit me...
But I also see potential for technology to take us places that offer limitless freedom - to the stars. For that reason alone I cannot forsake it as Kaczynski demands because it would deny our species the ultimate freedoms Kaczynski outlines in his Power Process.
Imagine living on virgin worlds, travelling to unknown stars, discovering new alien civilisations even. This would be a return to more freedom than any to ever be found in human history.
There's nothing to say I'm right, and no certainty that Kaczynski is wrong, but it just might be that we can ride the wave of progress right out of this gravity well and onto the galactic stage, saving ourselves (in every sense) in the process.