The Unabomber's Manifesto

When we last saw the Unabomber, it was 19 September 1995, the day after we'd finished "The Spectacle of Information," a seven-part essay published in NOT BORED! #24 (Sept 1995). The sixth part of the essay is titled "Terrorism and the State" and is mostly concerned with the so-called Unabomber. So important was the discussion of the Unabomber to the essay as a whole that we felt compelled to add the following editor's note to the end of it.

"This text was completed and distributed on 18 Sept 1995. The following day, The Washington Post published the Unabomber's 35,000-word manifesto, 'Industrial Society and Its Future' -- a text of central importance to it. Though the author of 'The Spectacle of Information' was fortunate enough to obtain copies of the 19 Sept 95 edition of The Post, he didn't feel that his text needed to be immediately recalled and rewritten to take account of the bomber's manifesto. In either the next issue of NOT BORED! or a pamphlet [exclusively] devoted to the Unabomber, the author will discuss the contents and significance of 'Industrial Society and Its Future' in its entirety, and in its relations to the general spectacle and to the spectacle of information, in particular."

The only thing in the essay's discussion of the bomber "risky" enough to possibly merit recall and rewrite turned out to be one of its most interesting features: our guarded speculation that "perhaps the recent publication in the mainstream press of excerpts from his texts indicates that, whether he knows it or not, his personal mission has been or will soon be completed." Theodore Kaczinski's personal mission -- and here we are assuming that Theodore Kaczinski is in fact the Unabomber -- was indeed soon to be completed: he was arrested by the FBI a little over six months later. And the publication of the manifesto was in fact the way in which a suspect in the Unabomber attacks was apprehended: a reading of manifesto led David Kaczinki to conclude that his brother Theodore might very well be the Unabomber.

In the half-year between the publication of "Industrial Society and Its Future" and the arrest of Theodore Kaczinski, the manifesto was published many times and in a variety of formats. It is now widely available, even for free. Ironically, the widespread availability of the manifesto comes at a time when its publication is, strictly speaking, no longer authorized. From the standpoint of the commodity-spectacle, the text of the manifesto is obsolete. Its publication was intended to do one thing and one thing only: catch a suspect. Now that the manifesto has in fact led to the capture of a suspect who seems to be the Unabomber, it can -- indeed, must -- no longer be "operative," as Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler used to say. It should no longer be appreciated as a piece of writing published and distributed according to the express wishes and best interests of the People of the United States of America, as represented by the Department of Justice, the FBI and the combined resources of The Washington Post and The New York Times. The manifesto should no longer exist as anything detachable from the on-going criminal investigation into the identity of the bomber. It should now only be read by the lawyers, expert witnesses, judges and jury members directly involved in the case.

Even during the trial of Theodore Kaczinski himself, the manifesto will not be read as the peculiar state-distributed polemic against the state that it is, but as a simple reflection of its author's character. The defense will surely want to introduce the manifesto into evidence, but only because it seems to lend credibility to the notion that Kaczinski -- unlike Timothy McVeigh -- is both an intelligent, reasonable man and a sympathetic figure, and not a sociopathic killer who has been using "politics" as his pretext, justification and excuse. The prosecution will surely claim that the manifesto and the circumstances of its writing are irrelevant to the question at hand: did or did not Theodore Kaczinski send bombs through the mail, bombs that killed 3 people and wounded more than twenty? But even if the judge rules for the defense, the manifesto can easily be used by the prosecution to make the defendant seem less sympathetic than he already is. An intelligent, reasonable guy -- or, if you like, a poor fuck -- like Kaczinki certainly should have realized that his tactics would only have been appropriate, if at all, in a totalitarian society in which dissent was impossible, and that America is in fact the world's leading democracy.

Before Kaczinski's arrest, there had, of course, been some general discussion of "Industrial Society and Its Future." In anarchist circles, the discussion mostly concerned the Unabomber's relationship to anarchism: was he or was he not an anarchist? But even these discussions didn't concern themselves with the specific contents of the manifesto, other than the fact that it announces itself to be opposed to technological industrialism.. These discussions were mostly concerned with the actions the Unabomber took on the basis of the ideas set forth in his manifesto. That is to say, the occasion of the official publication of the Unabomber's manifesto was turned into an opportunity to revive a very old and very uninteresting question, "Is there a role for violence in the anarchist movement?" But violence is only a tactic. What is anarchism's current strategy? The manifesto's official authorization was a unique opportunity for anarchist thought to revive itself, to bring itself out of the coma into which it lapsed amid the foul stench of Reaganism, and to glimpse the new conditions for its existence and ultimate success. This opportunity was lost, but we can take advantage of another.

We hold to our original assertions about the Unabomber: that he didn't act alone or without the knowledge of others; that he was helped to one degree or another by the still unidentified members of the Freedom Club (FC); that this help largely consisted of fresh information about "dispensibles"; and that the Unabomber himself might have been "selected and trained according to the progression signified by the words misguided, provoked, infiltrated, manipulated, taken over and subverted." To date, nothing that has been reported or otherwise leaked about Theodore Kaczinski -- and there has been a lot -- has concerned the crucial years between his arrival in Lincoln, Montana, in 1972 and the beginning of the Unabomber attacks in 1978. How did it come about that this guy -- who'd not taken part in any of the ultraleftist or anarchist bombing campaigns of the late 1960s and early 1970s -- suddenly got the bug to send and personally deliver explosive devices to establishment types in the late 1970s, when almost no one else was doing it any more? What accounts for Kaczinski's weird sense of timing? It certainly had nothing to do Teddy's being personally rejected, by girlfriends or academic magazine editors or both!

Let us listen to Theodore Kaczinski the manifesto writer discuss his ideology at some length.

"It is necessary to develop and propagate an ideology that opposes technology and the industrial society if and when the system becomes sufficiently weakened. And such an ideology will help to assure that, if and when industrial society breaks down, its remnants will be smashed beyond repair, so that the system cannot be reconstituted [paragraph 166]. The pattern would be similar to that of the French and Russian Revolutions [para. 181]. 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 [para. 183]. The radical environmentalists ALREADY hold an ideology that exalts nature and opposes technology [para. 184]. A further advantage of nature as a counter-ideal to technology is that, in many people, nature inspires the kind of reverence that is associated with religion, so that nature could perhaps be idealized on a religious basis [footnote 30]. On the more sophisticated level the ideology should address itself to people who are intelligent, thoughtful and rational. The object should be to create a core of people who will be opposed to the industrial system on a rational, thought-out basis [para. 187]. On a second level, the ideology should be propagated in a simplified form that will enable the unthinking majority to see the conflict of technology vs. Nature in unambiguous terms [para. 188]."

This isn't the voice of someone laying out a stable, logically consistent ideology that is "manifested" in a written document, not at all. This is the voice of someone repeating what has been told to him. This so-called manifesto isn't an ideological construction, or even much of a manifestation. It is merely a collection of numbered notes for a manifesto; these notes amount to a simple blueprint or How-To guide; they keep explaining what they should already be doing.

Thus the document is really quite harmless, save for the facts that it is rhetorically and emotionally empty, without personality, bereft of metaphor and imagery, utterly joyless and profoundly boring -- in a word, deadly. It is as de-natured as its author's or authors' conception of "wild nature," which is illogically defined as "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" (para. 183). We note that the Unabomber has no animalistic or primal urges of his own. He seems to take pleasure in nothing, not even in the spectacular deaths, injuries and property damage he has caused. For him, killing people has been a simple, bloodless way "to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression" (para. 96). Even fucking is a duty to be performed in the service of the anti-industrial revolution: "Revolutionaries should have as many children as they can" (para. 204). What about having as many orgasms as you can, man?

Though the author(s) of "Industrial Society and Its Future" insist upon the desirability of religious fervor among the "revolutionaries," there is no religious fervor in the voice of the text itself, no confidence in the future, no joy taken nor dread felt in the knowledge that the future itself is possible. "True, there is no assurance that the industrial system can be destroyed at approximately the same time all over the world," FC writes woodenly; "and it is even conceivable that the attempt to overthrow the system could lead to the domination of the system of dictators: that is the risk that has to be taken" (para. 195). But why must it be taken? Why can't you make us feel something here? Perhaps it is because you don't (let yourself) feel anything yourself. . . .

The personality or characterological structure projected by FC's manifesto is familiar, all-too-familiar. It is, at its most fundamental level, based on a lie: the attack laid out in the manifesto is not against "industrial society," as its title might indicate, but against leftists and leftism. Over and over again, FC's text rails against the "psychology of the leftism," which the author insists is dominated by "low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, depressive tendencies, defeatism, guilt, self-hatred, etc." While it is obvious to us that this is in fact the "psychology" of the author of the manifesto, FC is in haste to draw our attention to the "fact" that "the [psychological] problems of the leftist are indicative of the problems of our society as a whole" (para. 32). In FC's view of "society as a whole," there are simply no rightists or rightism to balance out with or complement the leftists and leftism. The only forces on the other side of the political spectrum are the mild-mannered "conservatives," who are "fools" (para. 50), even though they are very successful at "taking the average man for a sucker, exploiting his resentment of Big Government to promote the power of Big Business." The timing and circumstances of Kaczinski's arrest in Lincoln, Montana, pointed up at least one of the huge holes or blindspots in FC's manifesto: while Teddy was being carted off to jail, at the same time and on the other side of the state (in Jordan, Montana), the FBI was trying -- indeed, as of this writing, still is trying -- to negotiate the surrender of several members of the far-Right Freemen group.

Certainly many of the social and cultural positions taken in FC's manifesto could easily be construed as ultra-rightist. This is the Unabomber on modern art, or, rather, on the people who actually like modern art, though it could be Nazi Culture Minister Joseph Goebbels: "Art forms that appeal to modern leftish intellectuals tend to focus on sordidness, defeat and despair, or else they take on an orgiastic tone, throwing our rational control as if there were no hope of accomplishing anything through rational calculation and all that was left was to immerse oneself in the sensations of the moment." What modern art needs is the very thing that leftists "tend to hate": that is, "an image of being strong, good and successful." Both leftists who like modern art and modern artists themselves "hate America, they hate Western civilization, they hate white males, they hate rationality" (para. 15).

It goes without saying that FC, like the National Socialist Workers' Party, hates gypies: as the manifesto points out, everyone knows that "the gypies commonly get away with theft and fraud because their loyalties are such that they can always get other gypsies to give testimony that 'proves' their innocence" (footnote 7). What about homosexuals, who can't of course have as many babies as possible? Surely they are "perverts" (footnote 6). And what about niggers? The Unabomber hates 'em, too, folks, but not as much as he hates leftist nigger-lovers.

"Many leftists push for affirmative action, for moving black people into high-prestige jobs, for improved education in black schools and more money for such schools. . . . 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 to make black gangs nonviolent, etc. . . . In effect, however much he may deny it, the oversocialized leftist wants to integrate the black man into the system and make him adopt its value (para. 29)."

All that's missing from these crypto-racist remarks is something along the lines of, "It's not like we're the racist segregationists -- the blacks themselves want to be different from us!"

Finally, like a great many modern fascists before him, the Unabomber is willfully ignorant about capitalism, a word that doesn't appear in the manifesto without ironic or distancing quotations marks around it. (In paragraph 229, "capitalism" is identified as a simple and "common catchphrase of the left," one which has as much objective reality as the phrases "social change," "social justice," or "social responsibility.") In paragraph 211, FC writes, "In the late Middle Ages there were four main civilizations that were about equally "advanced": Europe, the Islamic world, India, and the Far East (China, Japan, Korea). Three of those civilizations remained more or less stable, and only Europe became dynamic. No one knows why Europe became dynamic at that time; historians have their theories but these are only speculation."

Correction: the "speculation" here is that people will forget that they already know that capitalism is the reason Europe became "dynamic" in the late Middle Ages! This speculation will pay off if there is a systematic and profitable confusion surrounding the relationship between technology and capitalism. FC -- as well as the society of the commodity-spectacle -- profits when people believe that "capitalism" is just a stage through which "technology" or "technicity" is passing, rather than the truth, which is the reverse. How many Sci-Fi movies have made boat-loads of money at the box office by envisioning a future in which "technology is man's worst enemy"? A great many, and surely there will be more. The spectacle of technology and of the "industrial society" is a stage through which capitalism is passing. Capitalism was "there" before technology, and it will be "there" after technology, too. For a tool or an instrument -- no matter what its level of relative complexity or autonomy -- is only dangerous when it is a commodity.

To Contact Us:
ISSN 1084-7340.
Snail mail: POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998