The Unabomber Manifesto – A Book Review

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ― Aristotle

I read “Industrial Society & It’s Future” also knows as “The Unabomber Manifesto” in 6 days in December 2015. It is not a very long book, only 79 pages.

It was written by Ted Kaczynski, also known as The Unabomber for his attacks on Universities and Airlines with homemade bombs between 1978 and 1995.

Ted Kaczynski wrote (p16) “we consider lack of opportunity to properly experience the power process as the most important of the abnormal conditions to which modern society subjects people.”

He believed providing for our own basic needs, water, food, shelter satisfied some “power process” in us. If we didn’t have that power process satisfied we would turn to “surrogate activities” which often lead to creation of technologies that he believed lead to a reduction in the need for people having to provide their own basic needs. It is a never ending circle of people being less worried about what they had to do to survive turning to activities to make us feel as though we were in control of something.

A surrogate activity could be literally anything that does not contribute to our immediate survival including sports, writing blogs!, any viewing of television, fancy clothes, basically every industry or hobby you can think of would be under attack in his mind.. He specifically mentions the irony of the obsession of many of working out by saying “there is no practical motive for building enormous muscles”  (p27) as well as pointing to our fear of death by saying “It is not the primitive man, who has used his body daily for practical purposes, who fears the deterioration of age, but the modern man, who has never has a practical use for his body beyond walking from his car to his house.” (p25)

I do find this quite personally relevant. I went through a phase of working out in 2012 where lifting heavy weights was one of the only important things to me. I got big. But what did it yield me? Not much but potentially a micro tear in my left shoulder. Examination by a doctor has been inconclusive as to the cause of constant dull pain, but as everything is still working more or less fine, life continues on. The foolishness that lead to that situation though is one of the problems with modern society that Ted Kaczynski was pointing to while writing this book.

On page 30 Ted shares his definition of freedom “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.”

It is difficult for me to determine what he feels is a “real goal”. The only reason people see developed technology as a goal in the first place was to help them meet their “real goals” and we can agree that technology has succeeded in that endeavor, at least in the “rich world”. Now the proliferation of that technology to those who are disadvantaged should be our top goal or surrogate activity, if you consult myself or Buckminster Fuller.  

“Make the world work,
for 100% of humanity,
in the shortest possible time,
through spontaneous cooperation,
without ecological offense
or the disadvantage of anyone.”

  • Buckminster Fuller

My own goal for the world:

Our biggest goal for the world should be providing security to each person, the security to prosper independently or in collaboration with each other. People should get the opportunity to seek any position they desire. There will be people who don’t reach their goals but the fact that they got the opportunity to try is the important thing. – Axel Hoogland

Of note to the above should be that we should be allowed, as a society, to vet the goals of others, just a little bit, to determine that it’s not directly harmful to the rest of society. This is usually what wars arise from and this is where government regulations come in. For example: ISIS should not be free to try to reach their goal on world domination and imposing their form of Sharia Law on everyone. Also the car companies are restricted on emissions of greenhouse gases because it has been determined to be harmful to society at large. I think it’s obvious what I mean when saying that people should have the opportunity to seek positions such as engineer, doctor or policeman, unencumbered by the social or financial position they were born into. I believe we have a lot of systems in place to help these people already but those can always be improved and should be relentlessly.

Ted Kaczynski is not an idiot. In fact he is literally a genius having graduated from Harvard at 20 and receiving a PhD from the University of Michigan after that.

The irony of his situation is that his crusade to destroy all technology was in itself a surrogate activity of the type that he deplored.

In the rest of the book he explores some very advanced concepts, the kind which “normal” people give very little thought to, being absorbed in surrogate activities. On page 40 he says “If you think that big government interferes in your life too much NOW, just wait till the government starts regulating the genetic constitution of your children.” The possibility of this level of genetic engineering is moving closer and closer to reality. A page later he says “each new technical advance CONSIDERED BY ITSELF appears to be desirable.” (P42). This is a very real thought and one that we need to consider when developing any new technologies. Who will regulate them? That is why if you are really concerned about that you should work to attain positions of power in the government such that you can affect the regulation. If you can’t, you should at least be reasonably engaged in correspondence with your governmental representative. We in the USA have a strange relationship with the government. It seems we are always distrustful of “the government”. We are sure they are out to get us. That sort of thinking is just useless at best and damaging at worst. Perhaps we all need to go back to the words of JFK.

My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. John F. Kennedy

Another idea that Ted Kaczinski discusses is the thought of “The Singularity”.

The Singularity is an era in which our intelligence will become increasingly nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today—the dawning of a new civilization that will enable us to transcend our biological limitations and amplify our creativity. – From The Singularity Is Near” by Ray Kurzweil.

Although Kaczinski doesn’t mention it by that name, he describes it thus, on technology “it would presumably advance towards its logical conclusion, which is complete control over everything on Earth, including human beings and all other important organisms.” For a less negative take on The Singularity I recommend the long book “The Singularity Is Near” by Ray Kurzweil.

On page 60 he says “We can imagine a future society in which there is endless competition for positions of prestige and power.”  If that doesn’t describe our current society, I don’t know what would. But there are plenty of rays of hope for our future in both religious and nonreligious people. I am just finishing a book called Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne which discusses the drive by some religious to live with the poor and downtrodden instead of apart from them. There is also the book “Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth” by Buckminster Fuller which shares a vision of the world in which none are suffering.

I would encourage everyone to read The Unabomber Manifesto and consider what surrogate activities you are working towards and why and how you could apply your free time to a better future for all as opposed to just yourself. As an alternative to the future envisioned by Ted Kaczynski, I would recommend reading “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think” which lays out ways in which technology, rather than destroying our future, will build it better than we could ever imagine.

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