Austere Environmental Scholar Ted Kaczynski dies at 81
“For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
— Genesis 3:19
On June 10th, 2023, Theodore J. Kaczynski passed away at the age of 81. Prior to his arrest in 1996, he’d already achieved notoriety as a philosopher terrorist folk hero, and his infamy persists in his status as a meme icon today.
Kaczynski was allegedly a lone wolf terrorist, but also a mathematical genius, supposedly a subject of MKUltra experiments whose life and work anticipated some of the most burning issues of our time. It is no doubt ironic that a man who foresaw the end of mankind and the world as we know it because of technology is now being mourned online by millions across a digitally-connected world, but it also testifies to the acuteness of his vision.
Ted K.’s iconic status on the contemporary Right can be partly attributed to the devastating critique of the Left included in his famous manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, and also shifts in the critique of technology inspired partly by him. Kaczynski argued that Leftist critiques of technology are purely tactical and therefore insufficient to address the problem. “Some leftists may seem to oppose technology, but they will oppose it only so long as they are outsiders and the technological system is controlled by non-leftists. If leftism ever becomes dominant in society, so that the technological system becomes a tool in the hands of leftists, they will enthusiastically use it and promote its growth. In doing this they will be repeating a pattern that leftism has shown again and again in the past.” Here again, Kaczynski has been proven prophetic.
Kaczynski’s terrorism should be seen in the context of a broader climate of violence being instigated by contemporary corporations and governments. Rampant anarcho-tyranny, civilization-destroying immigration, and ecological terrorism are all features of the contemporary regime. Nonetheless, despite his dreams of an Anti-Tech Revolution Ted K died in prison with his vision further away from fulfillment than ever. As John Michael Greer and others have remarked you can’t force a technological regression. It flies in the face of all political reality. Some people will continue to push for technological innovation even if others abandon it. In truth, few people want to return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle or the cold and bitter facts of nature. Most would rather attempt to adapt and endure, come what may.
Still, one can take a lot from Kaczynski without fully accepting his conclusions or praxis. Ted K’s fear was that industrial society would become a self-propagating system of self-correction from which escape was impossible. Writing with a calm, lucid tone he explains: “It seems amazing that those who advocate energy conservation haven’t noticed what happens: As soon as some energy is freed up by conservation, the technological world-system gobbles it up and demands more. No matter how much energy is provided, the system always expands rapidly until it is using all available energy, and then it demands still more. The same is true of other resources. The technological world-system infallibly expands until it reaches a limit imposed by an insufficiency of resources, and then it tries to push beyond that limit regardless of consequences.”
Back in 2015, Keith Ablow from Fox News posed the uncomfortable question, “Was The Unabomber Correct?” Mr. Ablow highlights the disturbing condition of our post-2007 smartphone age: “And having seen Barack Obama elected, in part, by mastering the use of the Internet as a campaign tool, then watching his administration preside over eavesdropping on the American public, monitoring their emails and tapping their phones, denying them their due process and privacy, and making a play to disarm them, Kaczynski must wonder what it will take for Americans to wake up to the fact that their individuality and autonomy — indeed, what constitutes the core of a human life — is under siege (by the very forces he predicted — technology and leftist political leaders).”
Obama’s pioneering use of social media in the 2008 and 2012 elections developed to a point where in 2016 Donald Trump was able to tweet himself to the White House. The internet is now where much of our modern-day political discourse flows through and originates. Today, Tucker Carlson, the most popular man in broadcast television has expanded his audience by an order of magnitude by leaving TV for cyberspace.
Kaczynski offers an interesting lens for us to examine this political realignment of the contemporary Right. In one corner is a technologically optimistic faction comprising projects including Curtis Yarvin’s Neo-Reaction and Charles Haywood’s Foundationalism. These projects want to use the tools of capital and their own skills to develop a saner form of modern civic life. Against the gloomy predictions in Kaczynski’s “Why Technological Society Will Destroy Itself” these men want to reintegrate technological innovations into a more stable culture.
Kaczynski’s critiques these projects too. In the Manifesto, he writes: “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.”
Against this tendency are a growing number of people using flip phones, little to no internet or proselytizing Wendell Berry’s Why I Will Not Buy a Computer? More explicitly inspired by Kaczynski’s warnings this faction features a mix of strange bedfellows ranging from blood and soil types, religious agricultural associations, new agers, Christians, neo-pagans, neo-luddites, integralists, and disaffected former leftists linked to some extent by a concern with individual health. Notably, prior to his unceremonious sacking at Fox News, Carlson covered a myriad of subjects strongly related to health including falling testosterone levels, unhealthy and ecologically damaging farming practices, and calls to expand access to raw milk and regenerative agriculture.
Both of these factions are products of our time. In The Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan warns of the coming “electronic interdependence” as the electronic medium supersedes literary cultures. A great fragmentation has taken place in the birth of a homogenizing global village of Tik-Tok gesticulation, mukbang videos of hyper-processed food, and the child abuse cult of transgenderism.
As tens of thousands of people across the world “Pressed F to Pay Respects,” Ted K will continue to live on in strange ways. Through digital necromancy within AGI and LLM or being plastered anytime one makes an ironic remark about screen time. As the man himself returns to dust, we should remind ourselves that much of his criticism and observations of social psychology were correct, and that we must do what is necessary to protect ourselves from this fragmentation. One only needs to look at our current overmedicated, obese, and schizophrenic body politic to find oneself agreeing, “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.”