The Unlikely New Generation of Unabomber Acolytes

“What is bad about an article like the one I expect you to write is that it may help make the anti-tech movement into another part of the spectacle (along with Trump, the ‘metoo movement,’ neo-Nazis, antifa, etc.) that keeps people entertained and therefore thoughtless.”

—Ted Kaczynski quoted in John H. Richardson, “Children of Ted.” New York Magazine. December 11, 2018.

I’ve read Ted Kaczynski’s collected writings, Technological Slavery. His analysis, particularly around genetic technologies like CRISPR, is insightful. His central idea is that technology cannot abide a limit. If it is possible, it will eventually be done, whether it is genetically designed humans, tactical nuclear weapons, or what have you. Even absent extreme scenarios, technology is already fundamentally undermining human freedom, and it will only get worse.

But, what is to be done? Kaczynski believes in a model based on communism and vanguardism. According to this view, if pressure is applied in the right places by an activist minority at the right moment, there will be a general system collapse, a rough period of die-off of most of the human population, followed by a return to nature. And, you could point to Castro or Lenin to show how a small group has successfully led a change when faced with impossible odds.

Except, this view is more akin to Marx’s ideas that the state would fall away after these revolutions, when the state was no longer necessary. There’s never been a general revolution of the sort Marx envisioned, only regional and local collapsing of states.

When the state fails, it fragments power into the hands of regional and local warlords. Without the modern state to support the technological apparatus, technological capability becomes significantly reduced. But, it is not a return to nature and bands of hunter/gatherer tribes of people.

Further, Lenin leads to Putin. Revolution brings new unwritten rules to replace the formal codified rules of the past. It will be in the interests of individuals and groups within a society to harness technology to project power for their faction. And in the end, reconstituted technological institutions and applications will be the outcome of any “revolution,” even one that occurs in a fundamentally world-changing scenario, such as a 200 meter rise in sea level.

The anti-tech “movement” will always be a spectacle because you cannot form a community or a way of life around a negative. Being Amish is a lifestyle. In it, the impact of technology on individuals and communities is the litmus test of whether to adopt it or not. What life can be built around being against any kind of technology? The real issue is having a heuristic for choosing technologies and coming up with a regime of imposing limits beyond hoping that the capability will simply disappear.

Civilization brings material comforts and domination. But, the dream of civilization, like the American dream, is a dream to escape the grinding gears of social domination and at least riding along on the tractor, if you cannot be the one driving it. Wishing that people would prefer to maintain their and other people’s freedom rather than prefer convenience and comfort is to wish people to be other than how they are. It’s utopian foolishness.

3 thoughts on “The Unlikely New Generation of Unabomber Acolytes

  1. You should read Kaczynski’s second book “Anti-Tech Revolution” (2016). In it, he addresses all of your concerns about the practicality of an anti-tech revolution. It’s an extraordinary book, and a must-read.

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