The Unabomber was right

I read a blog article recently that suggested maybe the Unabomber was right:

This caused enough interest that I looked up his manifesto and read it, really read it:

Now, anybody who reads the first little bit is going to see an attack on leftism and if they have a leftist bent they will likely turn off. Keep reading though, and the Unabomber has little sympathy for the right. He’s not really politically classifiable as left or right, IMO.

He’s also not a very good writer, so it’s not like it’s an easy or a fun read. Have you ever read the whole manifesto?

The basic theme is that technology and technological societies ultimately serve themselves and aren’t necessarily good things for the individuals in them. They increase suffering rather than decrease it.

I diverge from the Unabomber with the conclusion that we need to chuck the whole thing. He argues that small changes don’t take, only big ones do, but I think he fails to account for the idea that society evolves and in that evolution big changes in course and purpose do occur.

One thing I find interesting is that for something written 20 years ago, it seems remarkably prescient. While I think we will evolve and change as a society, so far the course of society has been moving in the direction that poor mad Ted predicted. It’s been getting more like the thing he feared and hated rather than less. So, so far the Unabomber is right.

“Insanity is often the logic of an accurate mind overtaxed.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

Well then what do you suggest we do? Become cave men again and engage in hunting and gathering. No thanks. Our society may be imperfect but it’s damn better than what these neo-primitivists are suggesting. Anyways most of these neo-primitivists are teens and college students who eventually grow out of it.

I read a few pages of it a long time ago. The world has a lot of evil in it as he points out. He thought he was bombing people who contributed to the evil. I really didn’t see how his choices of victims made any sense. But in general, blowing up people isn’t the answer. So he was wrong. I vote for schizo.

Well, that’s simply wrong. A technological culture is a far, far more pleasant place to live than a primitive one. Modern medicine alone eliminates a huge number of the problems that ( literally! ) plagued more primitive culture. Famines are rarer, violence and war is rarer, justice is greater, more and better food is available, and on and on. There’s no contest between the two, despite the whining of people who have never actually had to live in primitive conditions.

While a part of me salutes our Favoritest Son since Harold Gray, the rest notes that he was a crazy Luddite and his ideas would not feed the people we are stuck with today.

So the Unabomber decided to fight injustice and put an end to suffering, by murdering innocent people. It wasn’t him, it was society, technology, and stuff.

It’s not my fault. “They” made me do it.

No, it was him. He was either bat shit crazy, or evil, or a bit of both.

His ideas wouldn’t feed the people we were stuck with 40, 000 years ago.

As Der Trihs notes, the HG lifestyle wasn’t pleasant. Starvation was commonplace and regular starvation was only avoided by widespread infanticide and ridiculously high homicide rates.

It’s all Leftist child-of-nature fantasy with no basis whatsoever in the real world. Not really surprising, given that it was written by a psychotic lunatic.

I’m going to have to go along with the rest of the crowd and say that’s an utterly moronic idea. Technology allows people to live lives that are unprecedented in length of life, overall health, and individual wealth. We do not have to expect women to bear upwards of half a dozen or more children just to break even, population-wise. Countless illnesses and injuries that would have been fatal or crippling as recently as a century ago are now trivial inconveniences. We create and consume, in an average day, an amount of art and culture that would be inconceivable to our ancestors. Through out the entire length of human history, the possibility of starvation has always been a tangible and immediate danger. Yet today, the number one health risk in Western nations is obesity.

We know Ted Kazinsky was crazy because of the people he killed. But we know he was an idiot because of why he killed them.

Can you flesh that out? How had society moved more in the direction he predicted and why does that increase suffering rather than decrease it? What type of suffering are you talking about-- physical, mental, emotional, spiritual…?

I’ve never lived in a primitive culture, so I wouldn’t know. Have you?

When I think about that, I don’t think that’s true. World Wars cause a lot more suffering than petty tribal squabbles, and conflicts aren’t geographically localized. Our transportation systems allow plagues to be global epidemics. Violence seems to be greater both in frequency and in scope due to technology. So, no. I think that is all wrong.

Justice is greater? What about the Amerindians? Did the industrial revolution bring them greater justice? I’m not sure that anti-technophile necessary means the endorsement of the primitive. The Amish aren’t “primitive.” Their society simply isn’t based on technology.

Specifically, what did you find prescinet?

Personally, it reads like someone typed out a college-dorm BS session, some semi-obvious observations, a lot of factual assertions of things that are not obviously true (the majority of college professors are homosexual?, aristocrats have historically become decadent?, academics are the most socaialized class of people?) and relying on a romanticized version of the past to claim that things were better “back in the day”.

You see, I thought that too, but then I actually read it. It’s not psychotic, and it’s certainly not “leftist.”

And, actually, I think his ideas would feed the people we were stuck with 40,000 years ago. Exactly how many people do you think there were 40,000 years ago? I think just 10,000 years ago the total global population is guessed to have been around 5 million. That was basically the dawn of agriculture which presumably had created an explosion.

Sounds great :p. You know hunter gatherers only work, like, 3 hours per day right?

I was hoping maybe somebody might read or reread the manifesto and engage in some debate. These are issues that poor old Ted discusses. I think he readily admits that technology is helpful. His complaint is not so much with the benefits of technology and knowledge but with the concept of industrialization, which, I think, are two different things.

His complaint seems to be that we are a technologically based society, not a technologically served society. I think he’s right. Where I think he’s wrong is that we have to tear it all down and destroy it and start again.

Agriculture, and the tools/methods/science that go with it, is technology. The move from hunter gathering to farming was a huge change. Every tool ever made, no matter how simple we think it is, was technology from the stone skinning knife to the plow, to the airplane.

I read it, but I don’t think its a great item for a debate. Ted makes way too many factual assertions which are either obviously wrong, or at least need some sort of evidence. It’s a screed, not a thesis.

For example, from par. 75: “In primitive societies life is a succession of stages. The needs and purposes of one stage having been fulfilled, there is no particular reluctance about passing on to the next stage”

Really? Primitive people are never regretful of the aging process. Caveman grannies never wished they were young Caveman girls again. Maybe that’s true, but it sure as hell isn’t obvious, and I’m skeptical its obvious to a ex-math professor living in a shack, either. Ted is pulling this stuff out of his ass. He hates modern life, and so he sets up a romanticized version of past times, where all the problems he has with the present didn’t exist.

There’s a similarly debatable statement (or a statement which is even more obviously wrong) in almost every paragraph. Taking this thing apart would take forever.

He jumps around a lot. It’s hard to tell if he his beef is with the Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution or more modern times.

FWIW, Daniel Quinn did a better job developing basically the same ideas in the book Ishmael, which you might read if your interested in this stuff (plus, debating Quinn’s ideas has the added benefit that he doesn’t carry the “serial killer” baggage).

The blog author says the Unabomber was right, that “technology is a holistic, self-perpetuating machine,” but he jumps to that conclusion without really explaining why it’s correct. While it may have elements of truth to it, I disagree with the notion of technology as some kind of beast, demanding to be fed and thwarting a more natural existence. Take the automobile. Important invention, and a machine that American society enthusiastically embraced for all the benefits that an automobile culture provides (freedom of travel, autonomy, ability to live outside of the city center, etc). Recently the costs of our automobile culture have started to outweigh the benefits to some degree. Are we forever shackled to our automobile culture in its current incarnation, or can we think of ways to reengineer and transform the way we live, work, and travel in this country? I think we can change. It wouldn’t be pain-free, but we could do it. We certainly don’t curse the gods for our current dependance on cars and highways, just as our ancestors didn’t bemoan the tyranny of the plow and the scythe 1000 years ago. They’re all just tools.

But that’s the only thing the blog author agreed with. He didn’t agree with Kaczynski’s ultimate point, that we should smash the current social order and allow billions to die. Those professing to want a return to a more natural existence by-and-large didn’t practice what they preached and couldn’t figure out how to actually bring society back to that stage. That doesn’t mean humanity is trapped by technology; more likely it means that we don’t want to go back to the old ways because technology has actually made life better.

How would he know? From the vast number of technological societies in the past that we can draw from?

The luddites always lose in the end.

First, technology can’t serve itself so part of your statement is nonsensical. Second, how do we define technology? A spear is a technological innovation as is a stone knife, a wooden hoe, and a clay brick granary. At what point does technology become bad? You also don’t need a lot of technology to create a society that serves itself at the expense of its individuals. Sparta is proof of that.

So, yay technology!

I disagree. “Tribal squabbles” only killed fewer people because there were fewer people who were available to kill. And they weren’t aberrations like the World Wars; dying by violence was the norm. And then there’s the simple fact that despite women having fewer children, we are suffering from overpopulation; clear evidence that there’s a lower rate of early death now compared to then.

Yes. Some of them are still alive; in the good old days they would have been killed to the last person. Yes, they are treated unfairly still, but “treated unfairly” is more just than genocide. And at any rate, they didn’t die because of technology; genocide is older than technology, as is smallpox.

Besides, I never claimed we lived in paradise; just that general justice has increased. Greater rights and opportunity for women for example owe a lot to technology; birth control pills, abortion, more jobs that prize skill over brawn, and the general lowering of the death rate ( which means they can afford to not be breeding machines ) all due to technology.