The Technium

The Unabomber Was Right


Ted Kaczynski, the convicted bomber who blew up dozens of technophilic professionals, was right about one thing: technology has its own agenda. The technium is not, as most people think, a series of individual artifacts and gadgets for sale. Rather, Kaczynski, speaking as the Unabomber, argued that technology is a dynamic holistic system. It is not mere hardware; rather it is more akin to an organism.  It is not inert, nor passive; rather the technium seeks and grabs resources for its own expansion. It is not merely the sum of human action, but in fact it transcends human actions and desires. I think Kaczynski was right about these claims. In his own words the Unabomber says: “The system does not and cannot exist to satisfy human needs. Instead, it is human behavior that has to be modified to fit the needs of the system. This has nothing to do with the political or social ideology that may pretend to guide the technological system. It is the fault of technology, because the system is guided not by ideology but by technical necessity.”

I too argue that the technium is guided by “technical necessity.” That is, baked into the nature of this vast complex of technological systems are self-serving aspects – technologies that enable more technology, and systems that preserve themselves — and also inherent biases that lead the technium in certain directions, outside of human desire. Kaczynski writes “modern technology is a unified system in which all parts are dependent on one another. You can’t get rid of the ‘bad’ parts of technology and retain only the ‘good’ parts.”

The truth of Kaczynski’s observations does not absolve him of his murders, or justify his insane hatred. Kaczynski saw something in technology that caused him to lash out with violence, but despite his mental imbalance, he was able to articulate that view with surprising clarity his sprawling, infamous 35,000-word manifesto. Kaczynski murdered three people (and injured 23 more) in order to get this manifesto published. His despicable desperation and crimes hide a critique that has gained a minority following by other luddites. The center section of his argument is clear, remarkably so, given his cranky personal grievances against leftists that bookend his rant. Here, in meticulous, scholarly precision, Kaczynski makes his primary claim that  “freedom and technological progress are incompatible,” and that therefore technological progress must be undone.

As best I understand, the Unabomber’s argument goes like this:

  • Personal freedoms are constrained by society, as they must be.
  • The stronger that technology makes society, the less freedoms.
  • Technology destroys nature, which strengthens technology further.
  • This ratchet of technological self-amplification is stronger than politics.
  • Any attempt to use technology or politics to tame the system only strengthens it.
  • Therefore technological civilization must be destroyed, rather than reformed.
  • Since it cannot be destroyed by tech or politics, humans must push industrial society towards its inevitable end of self-collapse.
  • Then pounce on it when it is down and kill it before it rises again.

In short, Kaczynski claims that civilization is the disease and not the cure. He wasn’t the first to make this claim. Rants against the machine of civilization go back as far as Freud and beyond. But the assaults against industrial society speed up as industry sped up. Edward Abbey, the legendary wilderness activist, considered industrial civilization to be a “destroying juggernaut” wrecking both the planet and humans. Abbey did all he could personally to stop the juggernaut with monkey wrenching maneuvers – sabotaging logging equipment and so forth. Abbey was the iconic Earth Firster who inspired many fire throwing followers. The luddite theorist, Kirkpatrick Sale, who unlike Abbey, railed against the machine while living in a brownstone in Manhattan, refined the idea of “civilization as disease.” Kirk Sale and I had a public debate which led to public bet of $1,000 on whether civilization would collapse by 2020 (me nay, he yay). Recently the call to undo civilization and return to a purer, more humane primitive state has accelerated in pace with the supposed advent of the Singularity. In 2008 John Zerzan published an anthology of contemporary readings focused on the theme “Against Civilization”. Derrick Jensen penned a 1,500 word treatise on how and why to topple technological civilization, with hands-on suggestions of the ideal places to start – power and gas lines and the information infrastructure.

Kaczynski had read earlier jeremiads against industrial society and arrived at his hatred of civilization in the same way many other nature lovers, mountain men, back-to-the-earthers have. He was driven there in a retreat from the rest of us. Kaczynski buckled under the many rules and expectations society put up for him. He said, “Rules and regulations are by nature oppressive. Even ‘good’ rules are reductions in freedom.” He was deeply frustrated at not being able to integrate into professional society, which he groomed himself for. His frustration is echoed in these words from his manifesto:

Modern man is strapped down by a network of rules and regulations… Most of these regulations cannot be disposed with, because they are necessary for the functioning of industrial society. When one does not have adequate opportunity to go throughout the power process the consequences are …boredom, demoralization, low self-esteem, inferiority feelings, defeatism, depression, anxiety, guilt, frustration, hostility, spouse or child abuse, insatiable hedonism, abnormal sexual behavior, sleep disorders, eating disorders, etc. [The rules of industrial society] have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering. By “feelings of inferiority” we mean not only inferiority feelings in the strictest sense but a whole spectrum of related traits: low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, depressive tendencies, defeatism, guilt, self-hatred, etc.

Kaczynski suffered these indignities, which he blamed on society, and escaped to the hills where he perceived he could enjoy more freedoms. In Montana he built a cabin without running water or electricity. Here he lived a fairly self-sustained life – away from the rules and the reach of technological civilization. (But just as Thoreau did at Walden, he came into town to restock his supplies.) However his escape from technology was disturbed around 1983. One of the wilderness oases Kaczynski loved to visit was a “plateau that dated from the Tertiary Age” a two-day hike from his cabin.  The spot was sort of a secret retreat for him. As Kaczynski remembers, “It’s kind of rolling country, not flat, and when you get to the edge of it you find these ravines that cut very steeply into cliff-like drop-offs. There was even a waterfall there.”  The area around his own cabin was getting too much traffic from hikers and hunters, so in the summer of 1983 he retreated to his secret spot on the plateau. As he tells an interviewer later in prison,

“When I got there I found they had put a road right through the middle of it” His voice trails off; he pauses, then continues, “You just can’t imagine how upset I was. It was from that point on I decided that, rather than trying to acquire further wilderness skills, I would work on getting back at the system. Revenge. That wasn’t the first time I ever did any monkey wrenching, but at that point, that sort of thing became a priority for me.”

It is easy to sympathize with Kaczynski’s plight. You politely try to escape the squeeze of technological civilization by retreating to its furthest reaches, where you establish a relatively techno-free lifestyle and then the beast of civilization/development/industrial technology stalks you and destroys your paradise. Is there no escape? The machine is ubiquitous! It is relentless!  It must be stopped!


The Unabomber cabin in lower left.

Ted Kaczynski, of course, is not the only wilderness lover to suffer the encroachment of civilization. Entire tribes of indigenous Americans were driven to remote areas by the advance of European culture. They were not running from technology per se (they happily picked up the latest guns when they could), but the effect was the same – to distance themselves from industrial society, to remove themselves from the advancing culture.

Kaczynski argues that it is impossible to escape the ratcheting clutches of industrial technology for several reasons. One, because if you use any part of it, the system demands servitude; two, because technology does not “reverse” itself, never releasing what is in its hold; and three, because we don’t have a choice of what technology to use in the long run. In his words, from the Manifesto:

The system HAS TO regulate human behavior closely in order to function. At work, people have to do what they are told to do, otherwise production would be thrown into chaos. Bureaucracies HAVE TO be run according to rigid rules. To allow any substantial personal discretion to lower-level bureaucrats would disrupt the system and lead to charges of unfairness due to differences in the way individual bureaucrats exercised their discretion. It is true that some restrictions on our freedom could be eliminated, but GENERALLY SPEAKING the regulation of our lives by large organizations is necessary for the functioning of industrial-technological society. The result is a sense of powerlessness on the part of the average person.

It is not possible to make a LASTING compromise between technology and freedom, because technology is by far the more powerful social force and continually encroaches on freedom through REPEATED compromises. Another reason why technology is such a powerful social force is that, within the context of a given society, technological progress marches in only one direction; it can never be reversed. Once a technical innovation has been introduced, people usually become dependent on it, unless it is replaced by some still more advanced innovation. Not only do people become dependent as individuals on a new item of technology, but, even more, the system as a whole becomes dependent on it.

When a new item of technology is introduced as an option that an individual can accept or not as he chooses, it does not necessarily REMAIN optional. In many cases the new technology changes society in such a way that people eventually find themselves FORCED to use it. 

Kaczynski felt so strongly about the last point that he repeated it once more in a different section of his treatise. It is an important criticism. Once you accept that individuals surrender freedom and dignity to “the  machine” and that they increasingly have no choice but to do so, then the rest of Kaczynski’s argument flows fairly logically:

But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decision for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better result than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide. .. Technology will eventually acquire something approaching complete control over human behavior.

Will public resistance prevent the introduction of technological control of human behavior? It certainly would if an attempt were made to introduce such control all at once. But since technological control will be introduced through a long sequence of small advances, there will be no rational and effective public resistance.

I find it hard to argue against this last section. It is true that as the complexity of our built world increases we will necessarily need to rely on mechanical (computerized) means to managing this complexity. We already do. Autopilots fly our very complex flying machines. Algorithms control our very complex communications and electrical grids. And for better or worse, computers control our very complex economy. Certainly as we construct yet more complex infrastructure (location-based mobile communications, genetic engineering, fusion generators, autopilot cars) we will rely further on machines to run them and make decisions. For those services, turning off the switch is not an option. In fact, if we wanted to turn off the internet right now, it would not be easy to do if others wanted to keep it on. In many ways the internet is designed to never turn off.

Finally, if the triumph of a technological takeover is the disaster that Kaczynski outlines – robbing souls of freedom, initiative, sanity, or the environment of its sustainability – and if this prison is inescapable, then the system must be destroyed. Not reformed, because that will merely extend it,  but eliminated.  From his manifesto:

Until the industrial system has been thoroughly wrecked, the destruction of that system must be the revolutionaries’ ONLY goal. Other goals would distract attention and energy from the main goal. More importantly, if the revolutionaries permit themselves to have any other goal than the destruction of technology, they will be tempted to use technology as a tool for reaching that other goal. If they give in to that temptation, they will fall right back into the technological trap, because modern technology is a unified, tightly organized system, so that, in order to retain SOME technology, one finds oneself obliged to retain MOST technology, hence one ends up sacrificing only token amounts of technology.

Success can be hoped for only by fighting the technological system as a whole; but that is revolution not reform. …While the industrial system is sick we must destroy it. If we compromise with it and let it recover from its sickness, it will eventually wipe out all of our freedom.

For these reasons Ted Kaczynski went to the mountains to escape the clutches of the civilization and then later to plot his destruction of it. He would make his own tools (anything he could hand fashion) while avoiding technology (stuff it takes a system to make). His small one-room shed was so well-constructed that the Feds later moved it off his property as a single intact Lego-like piece, and put it in storage (it now sits reconstructed in the Newseum in Washington, DC.) His place was way off the road; he used a mountain bike to get into town. He dried hunted meat in his tiny attic, and spent his evenings in the yellow light of a kerosene lamp crafting intricate bomb mechanisms. The bombs were strikes at the professionals running the civilization he hated. It was evident that while the bombs were deadly, they were ineffective in achieving his goal since no one knew what their purpose was. He needed a billboard to announce why civilization needed to be destroyed. He needed a manifesto published in the major papers and magazines of the world. Once they read it a special few would see how imprisoned they were and they would join his cause. Perhaps others would also start bombing the chokepoints in civilization. Then his Freedom Club (FC) would be a real club of more than himself.

The attacks on civilization did not materialize in bulk. Occasionally an Earth Firster would burn a building in an encroaching development or pour sugar into a bulldozer’s gas tank. During the otherwise peaceful protests against the G7, some anti-civilization anarchists (who call themselves anarcho-primitivists) broke fast-food store-front windows and smashed property. But the mass assault on civilization never happened.

The problem is that Kaczynski’s most basic premise, the first axiom in his argument, is not true. The Unabomber claims that technology robs people of freedom. But most people of the world find the opposite. They gravitate towards venues of increasing technology because they recognize they have more freedoms when they are empowered with it. They (that is we) realistically weigh the fact that yes, indeed, some options are closed off when adopting new technology, but many others are opened, so that the net gain is a plus of freedom, choices, and possibilities.


The gray hoodie under the plastic bag appeared on his police sketches.

Consider Kaczynski himself. For 25 years he lived in a type of self-enforced solitary confinement in a dirty (see the photos and video) smoky shack without electricity, running water, or a toilet – he cut a hole in the floor for late night pissing. In terms of material standards the cell he now occupies in the Colorado Admax prison is a four-star upgrade: larger, cleaner, warmer, with the running water, electricity and the toilet he did not have, plus free food, and a much better library. In his Montana hermitage he was free to move about as much as the snow and weather permitted him. He could freely choose among a limited set of choices of what to do in the evenings. He may have personally been content with his limited world, but overall his choices were very constrained, although he had unshackled freedom within those limited choices. Sort of like, “you are free to hoe the potatoes any hour of the day you want.” Kaczynski confused great latitude within limited choices as superior over modest latitude in an expanding number of choices.


His workbench where he made bombs.

I can only compare his constraints to mine, or perhaps anyone else’s reading this today. I am plugged into the belly of the machine. Yet, technology allows me to work at home, so I hike in the mountains, where cougar and coyote roam, most afternoons. I can hear a mathematician give a talk on the latest theory of numbers one day, and the next day be lost in the wilderness of Death Valley with as little survivor gear as possible. My choices in how I spend my day are vast. They are not infinite, and some options are not available, but in comparison to the degree of choices and freedoms available to Ted Kaczynski in his shack, my freedoms are overwhelmingly greater.

This is the chief reason billions of people migrate from mountain shacks – very much like Kaczynski’s – all around the world. A smart kid living in a smoky one-room shack in the hills of Laos, or Cameroon, or Bolivia will do all he/she can to make their way against all odds to the city where there are – so obvious to them – vastly more freedom and choices. They would find Kaczynski’s argument that there is more freedom back in the stifling hut they just escaped from plain crazy.

The young are not under some kind of technological spell that warps their mind into believing civilization is better. Sitting in the mountains they are under no spell but poverty’s. They clearly know what they give up when they leave. They understand the comfort and support of family, the priceless value of community acquired in a small village, the blessings of clean air and the soothing wholeness of the natural world. They feel the loss of immediate access to these, but they come to the city anyway because in the end, the tally favors the freedoms created by civilization. They can (and will) return to the hills to be rejuvenated.

My family doesn’t have TV, and while we have a car, I have plenty of city friends who do not. Avoiding particular technologies is certainly possible. The Amish do it well. Many individuals do it well. However the Unabomber is right that choices which begin as optional can over time become less so. First, there are certain technologies (say sewage treatment, vaccinations, traffic lights) that were once matters of choice but that are now mandated and enforced by the system. Then, there are other systematic technologies, like automobiles, which are self-reinforcing. Thousands of other technologies are intertwined into these systemic ones, making it hard for a human to avoid. The more that participate, the more essential it becomes.  Living without these embedded technologies requires more effort, or at least more deliberate alternatives. This web of self-reinforcing technologies would be a type of noose if the total gains in choices, possibilities and freedoms brought about by them did not exceed the losses. I argue that our continued embrace of more technology is further proof that we have made the calculation as we head for the greater good.

Anti-civilizationists would argue that we embrace more because we are brainwashed by the system itself and we have no choice to but to say yes to more. We can’t say no to more than a few individual pieces, so we are imprisoned in this elaborate artificial lie.

It is possible that the technium has brainwashed us all, except for a few clear-eyed anarcho-primitivists who like to blow up stuff. I would be inclined to believe in the anarchy if the Unabomber’s alternative to civilization was more clear. After we destroy civilization, then what?


From Green Anarchy Primer

I’ve been reading the literature of the anti-civilization collapsatarians to find out what they have in mind after the collapse. Anti-civilization dreamers spend a lot of time devising ways to bring down civilization (befriend hackers, unbolt power towers, blow up dams), but not so much on what replaces it. They do have a notion what the world looked like before civilization. According to them it looks like this (from the Green Anarchy Primer):

Prior to civilization there generally existed ample leisure time, considerable gender autonomy and equality, a non-destructive approach to the natural world, the absence of organized violence, no mediating or formal institutions, and strong health and robusticity.

Then came civilization and all the ills (literally) of the earth:

Civilization inaugurated warfare, the subjugation of women, population growth, drudge work, concepts of property, entrenched hierarchies, and virtually every known disease, to name a few of its devastating derivatives.

Among the green anarchists there’s talk of recovering your soul, making fire by rubbing sticks, discussions of whether vegetarianism is a good idea for hunters, but there is no outline of how groups of people go beyond survival mode, or if they do. We are supposed to aim for “re-wilding” but the re-wilders are shy to describe what life is like in this re-wild state. One prolific green anarchy author, Derrick Jensen, dismisses the lack of alternatives to civilization and says simply, “I do not provide alternatives because there is no need. The alternatives already exist, and they have existed – and worked – for thousands and tens of thousands of years.” He means of course tribal life, but not modern tribal; he means tribal as in no agriculture, no anti-biotics, no nothing beyond wood, fur and stone.

The great difficulty of the anti-civilizationists is that a sustainable desirable alternative to civilization is unimaginable. We cannot picture it. We cannot see how it would be a place we’d like to move to. We can’t imagine how this primitive arrangement of stone and fur would satisfy each of our individual talents. And because we cannot imagine it, it will never happen, because nothing has ever been created without being imagined first.

Despite their inability to image a desirable coherent alternative, the archo-primitivists all agree that some combo of being in tune with nature, eating low-calorie diets, owning very little and using only things you make yourself, will bring on a level of contentment, happiness and meaning we have not seen for 10,000 years (literally). 

But if this state of happy poverty is so desirable and good for the soul why do none of the anti-civilizationists live like this? As far as I can ell from my research all self-identifying anarcho-primitivists live in modernity. They compose their rants against the machine on very fast desktop machines. While they sip coffee. Their routines would be only marginally different than mine. They have not relinquished the conveniences of civilization for the better shores of nomadic hunter-gathering.

Except one: The Unabomber. Kaczynski went further than other critics in living the story he believed in. At first glance his story seems promising, but on second look, it collapses into the familiar conclusion: he is living off the fat of civilization. The Unabomber’s shack was crammed with stuff he purchased from the machine: snowshoes, boots, sweat shirts, food, explosives, mattresses, plastic jugs and buckets, etc. – all things that he could have made himself, but did not. After 25 years on the job, why did he not make his own tools separate from the system? It looks like he shopped at Wal-mart. The food he scavenged from the wild was minimal. Instead he regularly rode his bike to town and there rented an old car to drive to the big city to restock his food and supplies from supermarkets. He was either incapable of supporting himself without civilization, or unwilling to.


Unabomber shack attic.

Besides lacking a desirable alternative, the final problem with destroying civilization as we know it is that the alternative, such as it has been imagined by the self-described “haters of civilization”, would not support but a fraction of the people alive today. In other words, the collapse of civilization would kill billions. Ironically the poorest rural inhabitants would fare the best, as they could retreat to hunting gathering with the least hurdle, but billions of urbanites would die once food ran out and disease took over. The anarcho-primitives are rather sanguine about this catastrophe, arguing that accelerating the collapse early might save lives in total.

Again the exception seems to be Ted Kaczynski, who reckons with the die-off in this post-arrest interview:

For those who realize the need to do away with the techno-industrial system, if you work for its collapse, in effect you are killing a lot of people. If it collapses, there is going to be social disorder, there is going to be starvation, there aren’t going to be any more spare parts or fuel for farm equipment, there won’t be any more pesticide or fertilizer on which modern agriculture is dependent. So there isn’t going to be enough food to go around, so then what happens? This is something that, as far as I’ve read, I haven’t seen any radicals facing up to.

Presumably Kaczynski personally “faced up” to the logical conclusion of taking down civilization; it would kill billions of people. He must have decided that murdering a few more people up front in the process would not matter. After all, the techno-industrial complex had snuffed out the humanity from him, so if he had to snuff out a few dozen humans on the way to snuff out the system that enslaves billions, that would be worth it. The death of billions would also be justified because all those unfortunate people under the grasp of technology were now soulless, like he was. Once civilization was gone, the next generation  would be really free.

The ultimate problem is that the paradise the Kaczynski is offering, the solution to civilization so to speak, is the tiny, smoky, dingy, smelly wooden prison cell that absolutely nobody else wants to dwell in. It is a paradise billions are fleeing from. Civilization has its problems but in almost every way it is better than the Unabomber’s shack.

The Unabomber is right that technology is a holistic, self-perpetuating machine. He is wrong to bomb it for many reasons, not the least is that the machine of civilization offers us more actual freedoms than the alternative. There is a cost to run this machine, a cost we are only beginning to reckon with, but so far the gains from this ever enlarging technium outweigh the alternative of no machine at all.

  • Mathew

    for those interested in Kaczynski’s personal story, I would suggest Das Netz, a wonderful documentary about Cold War dreams of cybernetic control. Kaczynski is featured prominently as an example of cybernetic feedback within our globalized system. A great summary can be found here:

  • cantbreathe

    There is nothing that can stop mankinds march towards ultimate technological dependency, in my opinion it is unstoppable.

  • Paul

    This was an interesting essay, but it would be more helpful had it grappled with the issues raised by Jacques Ellul in “The Technological Society” and by Neil Postman in “Technopoly”. I agree a technology-infused life is much nicer than hunting boar in the nude. But how do we avoid making a Faustian bargain with technology? How do we avoid creating a civilization that is so utterly dependent upon technology that failures of new techniques (say, the CDS) can bring it to the brink of self-destruction?

    But just because what we have is better than the alternative of no technology, this doesn’t mean that technology is taking us to the shiny utopia of Star Trek. It could be going to towards Blade Runner. What steps do we need to take to shape its future to avoid it controlling ours?

  • siluro

    I’ve always wondered how easy it is for otherwise smart people to ignore the simple fact that there is no straight line drawn over humanity that separates “natural” from “artificial” and “nature” fro “civilization”…

  • cro

    I am not sure he was offering shack living as the alternative. I also don’t think Jensen is advocating hunter gatherer–if you read just the first couple pages of his work you’d see he define civilization as any place that pulls in resources outside its immediate area. Jensen is mostly saying we need to do away with the city and return to a village/tribal type setting. There are plenty of low impact communities spring up that offer life after tech approaches. look at transition towns, they have some tech but a lot of it abandons the industrial model. anarcho primitive literature might not be a good place to look for real solutions and they are definitely on the polar end of thinking anyway.

  • Bay Area National Anarchist

    I sympathize with green anarchism but don’t condone anti-technology for it’s own sake. The Amish have a holistic approach to the problem but take it to far in my opinion.


  • Paradiso

    Ted is/was of course addled. That said, living in the mountains as I do amongst many who would agree with him on substance and more, I can say that 99% are posers as you have noted: railing against technology and civilization via their laptops.
    It’s a narcicisstic cry that they are not being appreciated as is their due, so let’s bring down the system that doesn’t value them.

    I used to think those that follow conspiracies and paranoid thinking like Ted’s were not paying attention to the facts, not thinking things through rationally; now I think perhaps it isn’t so much “reason people” and “non-reason people” as “reason people” and “fear people”. This is the same kind of thinking that bemoans the unfairness of getting sick or not winning the lottery; unable to deal with randomness if it takes them out of the spotlight, or means they are not in control. So they invent a controller (God, maybe, or technology) and invest it with benign or malign intent.

  • Soddenguru

    If only our technology and society were driven by some force other than the need for constant battle over money and property, it wouldn’t have to be this way. Tribal societies, the few who are left, live for their art, and their communities. They work their asses off, harder than any city sweller, and still manage not to hold grudges. To develop any technology past what they need to eat, and perform their craft.

    We’ve come into a world where machines make the art, the tools, and the food… And all the humans make is war.

    Never underestimate the quality of freedom that being able to hoe your row of potatoes, any time you like, provides. It’s fundamental things like that, which we’ve lost, and being out of touch with the Earth in that way is devastating.

    Dirt has become dirty. Nobody wants to get it on them. There might be germs! Of course, if we were dirty all the time, we wouldn’t have a hundred million, different, fun new diseases every morning, and a million new miracle cure pills later that afternoon.

    Ted, if you’re out there somewhere, reading this on a taxpayer funded internet connection: You’re a brilliant man, but a bit lacking in strategic wisdom. Your plan didn’t work; now what do we do? Play some chess, reread Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” then come back and try again?

    I don’t think it needs to be stopped. You’ve all read your history. Machines of evil, fueled by blood and souls, run out of gas when everybody’s dead.

    Then it all turns back to sand.
    Where once, there stood a colossus,
    Now only ruins.

    The greatest empires in the history of the world, each one extinct. We are soon to follow suit.

    No matter how great or how many our weapons, Man’s law will never supercede natural law. Don’t believe me? Try asking a hurricane about violating Geneva conventions. Tell it there will be hefty fines to pay if it doesn’t turn around right this minute, and see where that gets you.

    Just don’t forget we cut the levy budget to pay for the war.

    Believing we are greater than nature, from which we originate, from which we derive our sustenance, we have lost the humility which has saved us from it’s mighty wrath in the past.

    We see other nations, and other people as our primary enemies, but nature is a more cunning and brutal enemy than any army ever faced on the battlefield.
    If we continue to grow in this cancerous and malevolent way, the Earth will kill us all.

    Like, when you sneeze, to expel some irritants in your nose? Ever think about the billions of bacteria you killed? Feel bad for them?

    Just like that.

    The Earth probably won’t even notice we’re gone.

    If the earth IS a sentient thing, it will surely be pleased we left so much crap to grow vines and coral reefs upon in our absence. So many bottles and cans to house hermit crabs, so many stockpiles of dry goods in sheltered places for small furry things to call home.

    Nature specializes in turning death into life.
    6.5 billion humans worth of good future topsoil, and counting.

    Even if we shit on everything,
    The mushrooms will love us for it.

    Ride the merry go round, and try not to take it all so seriously. It’s not like killing the ruling class hasn’t been tried before.

    Unless somebody paves over your woods. That would piss me off too.

    Then I’d remember they weren’t MY woods to begin with.

  • cs

    A couple of comments:
    A couple of comments:
    It’s kind of silly to accept a series of blatantly false axioms and then argue with them. “Technology” isn’t opposed to “natural:” mankind makes things by nature. And “freedom” isn’t really defined as “absolute lack of constraint,” at least if you want to talk meaningfully about human freedom, which always occurs in a necessarily constrained social world. Pull those out of the argument and it more or less dissolves into lonely wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    But at least the Unabomber seriously approached a complex set of problems. You’ve basically just asserted (because you didn’t really so much argue as assert, right?) that you’re happy with your life, that everyone seems to want to live like you, that no one can imagine an alternative, and that even the Unabomber was a hypocrite. (After all, you can’t seriously think about how incredibly destructive modern technology is to human freedom AND enjoy coffee, right?) This seems like a profoundly silly response to an author who was addressing what he saw as an immanent apocalypse.

    Finally, there’s this: “The great difficulty of the anti-civilizationists is that a sustainable desirable alternative to civilization is unimaginable.”

    Actually, no, there’s a whole bunch of people involved in imagining it, and then going out and creating it. As there has been for a long time. Imagining desirable alternatives to civilization and them building them is a constant theme in human thought: it’s actually an entire mode of historiography. Apocalyptic and millineraian strains of Christianity are one possible point of entry, as are any strain of Utopian thought. White supremacist survivalists and 1st century Gnostics have this in common: they are both involved in a serious attempt to think through and create some version of a “sustainable desirable alternative to civilization.” Regardless of what you may think of the content of any of those particular efforts – of the Shakers or of the “Shining City on a Hill” or of the “rapture of the nerds” – pretending they don’t exist or that they are a priori doomed seems pretty silly. Do you really judge all attempts at imagining an alternative to have failed, or do you just not want to think seriously about the ideas involved – e.g. to try to imagine an alternative for yourself? Because again, it seems like you’ve just dismissed out of hand one of the bigger concerns of humanity: the struggle to articulate a vision of a more perfect world. Just sayin’.

    But at least the Unabomber seriously approached a complex set of problems. You’ve basically just asserted (because you didn’t really so much argue as assert, right?) that you’re happy with your life, that everyone seems to want to live like you, that no one can imagine an alternative, and that even the Unabomber was a hypocrite. (After all, you can’t seriously think about how incredibly destructive modern technology is to human freedom AND enjoy coffee, right?) This seems like a profoundly silly response to an author who was addressing what he saw as an immanent apocalypse.

    Finally, there’s this: “The great difficulty of the anti-civilizationists is that a sustainable desirable alternative to civilization is unimaginable.”

    Actually, no, there’s a whole bunch of people involved in imagining it, and then going out and creating it. As there has been for a long time. Imagining desirable alternatives to civilization and them building them is a constant theme in human thought: it’s actually an entire mode of historiography. Apocalyptic and millineraian strains of Christianity are one possible point of entry, as are any strain of Utopian thought. White supremacist survivalists and 1st century Gnostics have this in common: they are both involved in a serious attempt to think through and create some version of a “sustainable desirable alternative to civilization.” Regardless of what you may think of the content of any of those particular efforts – of the Shakers or of the “Shining City on a Hill” or of the “rapture of the nerds” – pretending they don’t exist or that they are a priori doomed seems pretty silly. Do you really judge all attempts at imagining an alternative to have failed, or do you just not want to think seriously about the ideas involved – e.g. to try to imagine an alternative for yourself? Because again, it seems like you’ve just dismissed out of hand one of the bigger concerns of humanity: the struggle to articulate a vision of a more perfect world. Just sayin’.

  • JohnJ

    Kaczynski’s story is certainly pertinent to the discussion of The Technium… but I prefer Amish skepticism to his rejectionism.

    I agree, it’s pointless to question his rationality, but just how long could he have defended his cabin from a group of armed post-collapse refugees looking for a warm place to spend the night?

    Just how “wild” would his wilderness be with groups of survivors huddling around fires, cutting down trees, digging latrines, shooting game, etc?

    I think his problem wasn’t that there’s too much technology, it’s that there’s too little nature.

    If future generations are able to reduce the human population from 6 billion to – say – 1 billion, then they can ALL have a place to “get away from it all”.

  • kschnake

    Interesting post Kevin. I particular like this part : “The problem is that Kaczynski’s most basic premise, the first axiom in his argument, is not true. The Unabomber claims that technology robs people of freedom. But most people of the world find the opposite. They gravitate towards venues of increasing technology because they recognize they have more freedoms when they are empowered with it.”

    Amen to that. Something seemingly simple like a steel axhead can offer people freedom from drudgery, free time, and a better life: warmer, drier, safer. Manufacturing an axe head requires mines, smelters, forges, grinders, and a whole lot more.

    When an axe gives a person some discretionary time, it is the person who gets to decide how to use the time, not the axe.

  • neotoy

    Great post. Due to the sheer complexity and scope of the discussion I find it hard to weigh-in. However, I did note a few things while reading:

    The core of his argument seems sounds, at some point the world will be fundamentally and irreversibly transformed by technology. Even separatists will no longer have the option of living an imagined alternative lifestyle.

    Biology and technology are likely in direct competition for survival. Both have an immune response component, hence instances of separatism.

    The ecosystem doesn’t care about what we think or how we feel, it also incidentally allows us to survive. Without a technological replacement for the ecosystem itself, technology is actually competing against itself because it depends exclusively on biology for survival; biology that it paradoxically threatens by virtue of its very existence.

    Ultimately however, no one is in control of the holistic system. There is probably an advanced natural law that governs this, I have assumed until very recently that technology is like energy and cannot be created nor destroyed, it can only change forms.

  • optein

    Kelly’s article is high on quotatables and emotional language and low on insightful commentary. It makes little valuable addition to an already over-read document such as Kaczynski’s manifesto beyond generalizations about TK’s intents and mental fabrics.

    Score: 2/10 – weak but effort was given towards acquiring historical images of Kaczynski’s shed. The article could be improved by using the words “In my opinion..” “I would further this point by…” or “What Kaczynski didn’t address was…”

    p.s. the author comes off as a complete pussy.

  • Tyler

    Perhaps the path is one of destruction by necessity. Perhaps these are merely bumps in the road toward an evolutionary paradigm shift. After all, as when whales walked the land and began to transition into the water there was a point at which the protowhale was more aquatic than it was terrestrial marking a paradigm shift from land to see. We too are experiencing the moment when our existence becomes more digital that it is analogue. This truth may be too much for some and appropriate for others. In the end, the strong survive.

  • flexiblefire

    Nice Post, I agree in general.
    I like technology and think we’ll do fine.
    But i don’t think that “freedom” and consumer “Choice” really have anything to do with each other.
    Again thanks.

  • Dan

    Just read your interview linked up at the top with the Luddite guy.


    Where did you go journalism school? Wait, were you and Sean Hannity in the same class?


  • Inabilities to Separate

    Those who despise living in a technocracy should be allowed the ability to separate from it and form their own social structures and norms, away from the grasping controls of the government.
    It would be susprising to see how many people would drop out of the slave life IF they ever had a chance.
    I will add that MONEY is even more responsible for enslaving humanity than technology is.
    Capitalism must end. The generation of “more money” as an end and not a means to improve human conditions is disgusting and sad.
    Ted told the truth.

    • yann kervennic

      Money is consubstantial with a complex society were local resource have become to scarce to sustain all the ever increasing number of offspring of the hairless monkeys. You then need to echange for all kind of goods to exist and artifidially produce other. This necessity is symbolized by a piece of paper. It is a symbol of our alienation to a world of scarcity where we have to work hard to get our meals.

      Some optimist would say that everything improve, but if we compare middle age, people had to pay and work and had a miserable life compared to many earlier societies.

      And victorian england was worth by all social standards…

      America is living like a parasite on world resources (oil, minerals, cheap labor) and talking about lagos people lot improving is a joke that might be funny in the state but nowhere else. People in Lagos want to emigrate to the US, because there converge all the goods, from latex to oil, stolen from all over the world.

  • evobrain

    Hi Kevin,

    I’m sure you are aware, but perhaps you have forgotten, that Bill Joy in his classic warning of the dangers of a Singularity, “Why the future doesn’t need us” also mentions the Unabomber. I believe the reaction to his article was quite harsh and he was viewed as a sort of neo-Luddite.

    Personally I’m open to criticisms of the “death march” of Progress. There are certainly benefits to mankind from technological progress, but the dangers should not be overlooked as they often are.

    You mention the Amish in this article. I never quite got around to commenting on the full article you wrote about the Amish, but I think there is an analogy to the way that the Catholic Church maintained control over society in the Middle Ages. Just imagine if a young Galileo was born among the Amish. How would they handle the situation? Anyway, I think the last chance western society had to stop the unrelenting march of progress was Galileo. From there the combination of science and capitalism launched the revolution which has shaped the world we live in today. Like scientific progress, capitalism is built on an exponential model. These are dynamic systems that collapse under static restraints.

    Are we willing to give up progress for a stable world system? I don’t think we need to return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but it would require limits on technological advancement.

    BTW, I’m so inspired by your writing in Technium that I’ve started a blog to record some of my reactions and responses to your articles.


  • evobrain

    P.S. I forgot to put the link to my blog where I respond to your Technium articles.

    Any chance of adding a feature to the comment entry system to allow us to preview and edit a comment before posting? BTW, I do prefer the way the comments are listed now in chronological order.

  • Toni

    Thank you for this tremendous insight. I have returned to this page numerous times since it was posted to BoingBoing in 2009. Absolutely fascinating analysis and discussion.

  • Tom Buckner

    Wrote TK: “You can’t get rid of the ‘bad’ parts of technology and retain only the ‘good’ parts.”

    This reminds me of the fascinating book “Self Made Man,” by Jonathan Kingdon. The thesis of his book is that technology changed us long ago; for example, earlier hominids all had nutcracker jaws and huge jaw muscles, big teeth and massive jaw muscle anchor points, all of which look ‘primitive’ but were simply necessary to live on uncooked tubers and what have you. In realtion to that Unabomber Manifesto wrote, Kingdon mantioned a word from some Congolese language which has stuck with me: pomoli, meaning the inherent potential for good or ill in technology.

    Since Kingdon didn’t mention what language pomoli came from, I just did a Google search. Most relevant entries were my own mentions of it:

    However, it appears the answer is here:
    Quote: “The domain of what Northern academia labels “magic” offers similar sources of ideas for the elaboration of biodiversity conservation educational programs. Among Zaire’s Pagibeti hunter/farmers, for example, certain techniques believed to be successful in dramatically increasing forest kills, particularly one called pomoli, are feared because of their lethal effects on the user’s community. The use of this technique is thought to guarantee an increase in game kills for the individual hunter employing it, but at the cost of provoking a corresponding increase in deaths among the human hunter’s kin. Pomoli can serve in biodiversity conservation programs as a valuable metaphor for the long-range destructiveness that resource-exploitation techniques may have to human life, even though they may be dramatically successful in the short run.” It does seem to me that the Pagibeti have a gut intuition about the double-edged sword of technological advantage.
    “Ownership of such {magical} power can be dangerous to its possessors. The greatly feared pomoli, for example, guarantees spectacular success in killing forest game to the individual hunter who employs it for private gain; but, in exchange, members of the hunter’s lineage will, one by one, die the slow wasting death of the trapped animals themselves for as long as the medicine is employed. In view of its prevalence and ambivalent valence, bebode (“medicines”) is a favorite one-word explanatory tool used to account for the unusual power of a chief, a witch, or a highly successful curer or hunter. (Alden, “Divination and the Hunt in Pagibeti Ideology,” p. 103

  • Tom Guarriello

    Madmen are always willing to sacrifice the lives of m(b)illions of others in the service of their visions. Kacznski has fascinated me for decades. But I’m a student of serious mental illness. As you say, his insights into the holistic nature of the technium and the inevitability of its progression were clear. Unfortunately, all who choose to blithely sacrifice the lives of others in order to save a way of life that they envision obscure the power of their insights with the abhorrence of their actions.

  • Austin

    The number one cause of death in hunter-gatherer societies is homicide.

    Its no wonder that those who want to return to that existence have no issues with mass murder.

  • Justin Boland

    I’m surprised you chose such a cartoonish straw man version of anti-civilization arguments. I’d be more interested in reading your response to William R. Catton, Peter Lamborn Wilson or Vadana Shiva.

    Kaczynski was a stubborn white guy — he lived poorly because he wasn’t smart about how he designed his home and his life. He was more interested in reading than gardening, which always indicates an unhealthy mind.

    • @Justin Boland: Thanks for introducing me to other anti-civilization thinkers. Since I have not come across them before, can you suggestion the best point-of-entry into their work? Best book, or web source, for instance.

  • Chris

    Commenters suggesting that technology and human society are “inside the system” of nature should consider that systems in nature don’t exist in static equilibrium and we don’t know the time frames in human society.

    I don’t have a problem with the fact that the Unabomber didn’t live a perfect life. Even in pre-industrial societies, nobody lives in isolation. He was performing work, not living the good life.

    Has anyone read “Better Off” by Eric Brende? Living in an Amish-style community, he makes the observation that most of their work revolves around upkeep of their horses, which are necessary for… finishing most of their work. It is instructive, though, that his community is made of people who choose to live there. If we started off from zero technology, we’d end up back here eventually anyhow.

    • @Chris: I read “Better Off” and even did a phone interview with Eric. He’s living in St Louis running a pedicab service for tourists.

  • David Kidd


    Interesting essay.

    @Wandering Author

    Your argument seems to be that civilization *will* collapse from *something* because that’s what happened in *Rome*.

    I question what that ‘something’ might be that will necessarily collapse our civilization. And drawing a comparison to the fall of the Roman Empire, or at least in the way you’ve suggested, isn’t convincing.

  • Chris Mullen

    For those of you who might want to get a better understanding of the anti-civilization mindset (which is a diverse group that does not subscribe to a unified vision of opposition) i suggest reading the following books, books that have influenced many of the writes briefly touched on in Kevin’s article (and not all of them could be classified as “anti-civilization”):

    Rouge Primate by John A. Livingston.
    Nature and Madness by Paul Shepard
    The Arrogance of Humanism by David Ehrenfeld
    In The Absence of the Sacred By Jerry Mander
    The Natural Alien by Neil Evernden
    Overshoot by William R.Catton, Jr.
    Health and the Rise of Civilization by Mark Nathan Cohen (his The Food Crisis in Prehistory is also a great synthesis on the origins of agriculture)
    Beyond Geography by Frederick Turner

    Also see the works of Pierre Clastres and Harold Barclay.

    Outside of Jared Diamond’s Collapse there is also the following book: The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph A. Tainter. Worth a read.

    These are, mind you, only a hint at a perspective most people do not care to understand and out-rightly reject.

    Personally, i have come to believe that the “benefits” conferred upon us by many of our technologies are overstated and accepted based on ideology rather then empirical evidence. I have no real desire to elaborate on this perspective here because this is not the forum to do so. I just wanted to have stated that not all of those who fall into the “primitivist” camp (by default of certain shared premises) like “primitivists”, and that there are is some urgently needed criticism of industrial culture that needs to be more widely exposed.

    The faults of Industrial culture are beginning to rapidly build on one another across this globe. The real crisis we face is entirely cultural, the values we hold and the manner by which we organize those values socially. Kaczynski’s analysis of “civilization” is spot on (with reservations) but his conclusions and the method he employed in executing his values, was horribly mistaken. These methods even reinforced some of the very ideological tenets he sought to extinguish, extreme individualism and indiscriminate violence. No one can alter real change in isolation. Real change comes from relationships and, in Kropotkins addendum to Huxley (who was abusing Darwin), mutual aid.

    You might find Kaczynski crazy and i find him to be a piss poor representation of “anti-civilization” rhetoric but therein lies a critique that we ignore at our own peril in the long run.

  • Ed

    KK, I share you perspective on TK and technology. What I find even more fascinating that your essay are the comments here. They remind me of the survivalist I met in the 70’s who had a TK perscription for surviving the coming collapse of society. He was wrong. He didn’t see the computer revolution coming. He didn’t see Reagan, the fall of the Soviet Union or the rise of Islamic terrorism. He didn’t see Obama. All he saw was this small circle of opinion that was self-reinforcing. He was completely certain that he was right. His confidence was inspiring. He was also wrong.
    To place too great an emphasis on the ubiquitous power of technology is to accept human servitude to the machine. I’m of the mind that it is a choice that we make. Can I out think the machine? Depends. It certainly knows more than I do. It certainly can process information faster than I can do. But it cannot change like I can do. While I can be a logical as a machine, I can also in a moment become as illogical because something intuitive tells me in retrospect that the logic is circular and incomplete. I see something that disrupts my logic, changes my perspective, and gives me reason to think differently, in a moment of time.
    I don’t worry about the machine. I worry about the people who own and control the machine. It isn’t the technology, it is human use of technology that concerns me. I’m not a geek nor a luddite. Just a guy who assumes that I don’t know everything I need to know, and that technology can help me see a bigger picture, make more information choices, and maybe make a difference in this world that I wouldn’t be able to do if I lived a primitive existence in a shack. Though the the thought of living in the mountains of Montana does have great appeal.
    Thanks for writing this essay. I place it up there with Albert Borgmann’s fine writings on technology.

  • Igor Alexander

    FYI, Kaczynski rejects the types of views expressed in the Green Anarchy Primer. For example, he doesn’t believe that destroying industrial society will lead to greater “gender autonomy and equality,” and I doubt he cares about achieving such equality. His manifesto makes it clear that he associates such egalitarian ideals with the system he wishes to destroy. I’m sure you know that, but your article could lead a careless reader to assume that Kaczynski is an “anarcho-primitivist,” which he is not.

    As for the items in his cabin, remember that Kaczynski draws a distinction in his manifesto between what he terms “small-scale technology” and technology that would be impossible to create outside of an industrial system. Kaczynski’s beef is specifically with modern industrial society, not with *all* technology or *all* civilization.

    That’s not to say that I agree with everything in his manifesto or that I disagree with everything in your article; I’m just pointing this out so that no one gets a false or distorted idea of what Kaczynski actually wrote.

  • Justin Boland


    William R. Catton wrote one of the very best books on the ecological limits on human civilization, called Overshoot. I read it last year it holds up astonishingly well considering it dates back to the late 70s.

    Vadana Shiva is best introduced with her short essay, Two Myths That Keep the World Poor:

    Peter Lamborn Wilson also writes as Hakim Bey, but some of his critiques of Civilization are a refreshing break from here Doomage, he’s got a Sufi heart:

    Also, I don’t know if Vinay Gupta is on your radar but he’s been doing excellent work lately on “Infrastructure for Anarchists” — promoting (and working out the logistical details of) Ghandi’s core concept of Swadeshi: community self-reliance and self-sufficiency.

  • Igor Alexander

    Another point: Nowhere did Kaczynski say that it was unacceptable to use the technology of industrial society to bring about the collapse of that society.

    • @Igor said, “to use the technology of industrial society to bring about the collapse of that society.”

      I’ve heard that before. “That’s why I have an iPhone, Hummer, plasma TV, GPS, RV, AC, etc. I am trying to bring about collapse of society, that evil thing.”

  • gabriel

    Late in the game here, I just re-read this post.

    I think your perceptions of self choice, Kevin, are predicated on your class status.

    You see for the world’s urban poor, things are not a whole lot different than the world’s rural poor. Choices as you have detailed them are not so available to those of us in the lower income levels.

    I would even argue it is the same for much of the middle class, considering personal debt has increased so much, personal choice is on the decrease save for those in the upper classes, with a buffer to allow for freedom of movement, schedules, and purchasing.

    Personally, I am not able to access choice, despite my presence within the technicum of modern urban life. I have a computer, and I can access choice insofar as information is concerned.

    However, what I would like to do most with my time I can not do. I would like to surf, but I can not afford a surf board. I would like to hike, but I can not afford a car to access wilderness areas. I would like to sail, but I know no one with a boat.

    This may help explain the facination that many of the first world have with third world living, an example being the Street Use section of your blog. What the third world does in a day, often for work, many of the first world seek to do as recreation.

    Few experiences are more enjoyable to me than free diving (snorkeling). Yet I can not afford the equipment and time to do so. I am frequently to exhausted from work to even want to go to the beach.

    But free diving is common in the Philippines, where people go into the ocean to catch a fish for dinner on a daily basis. Similarly, I enjoy hunting as recreation, in addition to the benefits of adding natural wild meats to my diet. However hunting is something that was successfully done long before the division of labor removed our abilities to manufacture our own custom weapons.

    Not everyone wants to spend their free time as I wish too. Not everyone wants to be in the wilderness as much as possible. Many people would rather watch Avatar than actually go to a real rain forest.

    So I am stuck in this catch 22 of trying to use technology to be able ti live without technology, except the more technology I use the more I need. I need a better smart phone, a smaller laptop, a video camera to make films, a better more efficient car. It is easy to see how people are getting stuck in perpetual debt as the need continually arises to stay in the technological arms race in order to remain viable in it and sustain those few vacation weeks a year where they can go camping.

    In short, remember Kevin, not everyone has the ability to buy a house in the wilderness and work from home as you do. I know you are very smart and have played your cards right to get where you are, but there is always luck involved, and some people will never achieve your level of freedom from economic imperative, despite being intelligent and ambitious.

    Technology essentially solves the problems it creates. This is perpetual. I doubt it will ever reach a level where it solves MORE problems than it creates. However I suspect that the level of average leisure time has remained basically the same since we left equatorial coasts and littoral livelihoods, since we ate from the fruit of the tree of technology. Paleolithic hunter gatherers in Europe probably worked just as hard as the majority of the world does now, except for the lucky (and ambitious and hard working) few of us who are able to gain a surplus.

  • Court Merrigan

    Fascinating essay.

    I’ve been down the doomer rabbit-hole and back up again. From reading this it seems to me that the Unabomber set the mold in lots of ways. Maybe as he penned his manifesto not that many radicals were willing to envision the death of billions as a result of their envisioned collapse of civilization, but today’s doomers sure are. Check out lifeaftertheoilcrash or Clusterfucknation or Derrick Jensen’s site and you can practically feel the gloating. What’s hard to understand at first is the fact the these doomers are postively lusting for the collapse. The disappointment is palpable when there is no nuclear confrontation with Iran, or oil sinks below $100, or the global icecaps fail to melt completely again this year. In fact, you’ll find a sort of proto-libertarian attitude that the billions of softies who will die deserve it, for not making preparations when all the signs of an impending doomsday were so obvious. Check out <“>Post-oil Man for an inadvertently hilarious illustration of this deep-seated, deeply dysfunctional attitude.

    These keyboard jihadists have deep, deep grudges against civilization and technology. As you indicate, they don’t have many good ideas about what is supposed to come after. They just want the world to go away. Right now. As far as I could tell, very few if any of them are living out in shacks like the Unabomber, or doing much beyond typing to bring the apocalypse about, but they sure are holding their breath till it gets here.

    What you won’t find on these sites is much constructive discussion of the role of technology in shaping human lives, like this. Thanks very much for putting this up. I’m subscribed now and looking forward to looking through some of the archives.

  • djeek

    @ scs:
    “Third, I would like to point out that for decades the apologists of power tried to persuade anarchists that they would never, ever get an audience by killing people. Kaczynski’s murders are a counterexample to that claim. Kaczynski not only got an audience, he got his manifesto published and widely read.”

    And who are the strawmen that presently claim such a thing? I don’t hear anyone arguing that the WTC/Pentagon attacks didn’t get Osama Bin Laden an audience. More people will know your name, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be down with your shit. For most people, Kaczynski is probably a crazy one-man terror cell, and “Industrial Society and Its Future” a grim curiosity that they didn’t actually read. As a counterexample, the above-mentioned John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen are also both “published and widely read”. I’ve seen Jensen’s “Endgame” volumes at my local Barnes & Noble. Daniel Quinn’s book “Ishmael” — published four years before Kaczynski’s text — articulates basically the same anarcho-primitivist ideas about civilization, and is more popular than anything by any of the aforementioned authors (Amazon Sales Rank #1,288; with 880 Customer Reviews — way more on both counts than “Out Of Control”). Why? Probably because it is narrated by a friendly talking gorilla and isn’t associated in the popular imagination with bombings, criminal investigations, revolutionary politics, and mental illness.

  • Tony G

    Another issue that I see is what level do you take technology down to. The ability to make fire is a form of techonlogy. There is a middle course were we can limit the use of techonlogy. The use of “tools” has freed us, but what to we do with that free time? We just work harder, so we can buy more stuff.
    Let me get specific. Do we really need a family of four living in a 4000 square foot house, especially when you consider that most of humanity would be happy with just indoor plumbing, and a flush toilet, and a roof to keep the rain out. Technology is not the evil, it is the run away consumerisim that is killing us. What we need is a more simple and sustainable lifestyle not primitivism. Just think of what it would be like trying to grow enough food for your family with only a hoe to plow and break up the ground. Or is the growing of crops and even the use of a hoe too technologlical advanced?
    But, then of course you get into the Pol Pot situation. Who decides at what level do we operate!

  • Titingó

    Going primitive is awesome, as long as you got friends going along in the adventure. Its prolly even better if you pick a warm, bug free wilderness to settle.

    Hermits like the Unabomber submit themselves to an even more unnatural and crippling condition than the subjugation of the system, that of loneliness.

  • HW3

    I’ve just gotten done reading Ian Banks Science Fiction novels in the Culture universe, where machine hyper-intelligences do make all the decisions. The Kurzweilian Singularity universe is so much better imagined than the anti-civilization collapsatarians, and I prefer the former literature to the latter any day, sitting in my organic garden reading.

  • willibro

    Fascinating essay, KK. But, as several other posters have noted, I think the gravest error made by collapsitarians is not simply their failure to recognize that new technologies are always adopted when they offer immediate net increases in freedom. The real problem is a sort of category error: The idea that there is something inherently unnatural about the material culture of human beings.

    If you accept that error, then the entire universe of techno-dominance and dependence that the Unabomber complained of is an implicit and inescapable consequence of the facility that gives rise to the simplest stone tools. That result they hate so much existed the day the first chimpanzee figured out how to use a stripped twig to fish for treats in a termite mound.

    Kaczynski and people like him really can’t achieve the end they desire until they eliminate instrumental intelligence. Which makes their program not only suicidal, but utterly futile, for even if all creatures capable of instrumental intelligence disappeared tomorrow, other creatures would just evolve it somewhere/somewhen else.

  • Adam

    Interesting essay. However, I did have to read this sentence twice before I understood it: “The stronger that technology makes society, the less freedoms.” I hate to be the grammar nazi, but it should be “fewer freedoms.”

  • folkster

    Ted was in essence a modern day folk-hero. He loved the earth so much, he fought to protect it, by any means necessary. One man against technology.

    Ted is a folk-hero.

  • AjmoT

    It’s so great to see the comments to this post. I like that you are publishing your book segments one by one, with the stated goal of learning from the comments. It’s probably occurred to you: could someone take your posts, then the comments, and by synthesizing both, create a whole book on their own without you? One of your loyal posters above, “evobrain”, mentions what I’ve been thinking about: posting the comments that I’ve made for your entries on my own blog, as texts that have enough integrity to stand on their own.

    Well then it struck me: you are posting text here, and others are reacting, and then you propose to synthesize the whole lot into a single book. But you, Kevin, have shown yourself to be hopelessly in the grip of an old paradigm. You are a Blind Oracle, trying to guide your timid flock: but there are others who have scaled the mountain and know the way better. You probably aren’t the best person for the job of creating the final product here. You seem inadequate to the task of grasping the emergent thread that has been bubbling up from the interaction between your posts and the user comments.

    You have an audience, but now that you’ve relinquished the authority of your lectern by allowing your voice to mingle with those of the choir, there is a need for a higher consciousness within yourself to ride this new current in the stream. I don’t think you’ve got it in you man, not all on your lonesome. What would you do if I wanted to take over? Is this text open-source? Can I remix your “Technium” posts into a complete work? You can make the money of course, that’s not what I want right now. And I won’t claim your words as mine — everything will be fully annotated and properly quoted. But I think I’m in a better position to write this book than you are.


    I don’t aim to put you down, you are a very accomplished man! But here is a chance for going beyond yourself. The point is, we need to feed and shelter ourselves without killing our neighbors and our planet. I have that duty as a Christian. You are not making the connection to that goal, even though you’re so close! But keep bringing out the fight in us — we’ll get this book done right!

    As for this particular post of yours — it was a real laugher! Justin Boland, Tom Buckner, cs, and Wandering Author all approach the defects in your arguments well — consciously or not. They note what’s wrong: (a) the Unabomber as a straw man and a terrible representative of the primitivist ethic (just try Dick Proenneke on for size); (b) the many writers who richly articulate an alternative and better world, when you wrongly say that none have; (c) the people in our world who are actually living this synthesis of old and new, or who historically found that balance (the Hawaiians! “suburban” Vietnamese!); (d) the false dichotomy between new “modern civilization” and old “primitive tribalism”; (e) the related wrong assumption that nature and technology are separate, that humans are somehow radically separate from nature.

    There’s a bunch of other false ideas that you advance, like rural poor being vastly better off in cities. You don’t explore the fact that cities actively impoverish rural areas, when they can be perfectly abundant, and still are in places — and how cities around the world and through the ages have enslaved and laid low millions. The idea that we can’t feed all the billions of people on earth using small technologies and well-designed land systems is ridiculous, and your lack of knowledge about this fundamental myth is crippling to so much of what you say. See Bill Mollison, Dave Blume, Paul Stamets, William McDonough, David Holmgren, Mark Shepard, Joel Salatin, Sepp Holzer, the Agroinnovations podcasts, “An Introduction to Permaculture” 12gb torrent.

    Joel Salatin actually gave a nice little lecture at UC Berkeley on this topic, and name-dropped you, Kevin Kelly, at about the halfway point in the video — I think you’ll like him! He’s a charismatic Christian, an evangelist of the soil, to my taste exactly. And if you can hear near the beginning of the Q&A, an audience member asks him about Mollison and others who have made these holistic food and land systems which are operational in our world, though you may never have visited them. It is frustrating for me too: right now it’s hard to get on the web and locate the person in Georgia who makes $30k per year from their 1/4 acre backyard, and learn from them how to do it.

    But if you can somehow go meet these folks in person, which you seem to be good at as a journalist with a nose — well, it should open the door to their emergent economy for your further inspection. That would be a great place for you to do research on this “Technium” — Bill Mollison in Stanley Tasmania, or Mark Sheppard in Viola Wisconsin, or Salatin in Virginia, or ask Frank at Agroinnovations.,com_mojo/Itemid,182/p,52/lang,en/


    • @AjmoT: As the creative commons license on this blog states, you are welcome to remix this material as you will. I would love to see your version of the book. Please go for it!

  • Antti K

    Concerning radical primitivist greens:
    Pentti Linkola is a famous dissident/misanthrope
    here in Finland, who is not afraid to show
    his support for any genocides, past or present.

    (And like Kazcinsky, he also tries to live
    according to his message. No hope of contacting
    him through the Internet.)


    Fortunately, some people see that a “third way”
    is possible. See here:

    and especially this page from their blog:

    Quoted from Marcin Jakubowski:

    My response to critiques of Luddite nature is that we do not favor
    “alienation for compensation” – the current predominant
    paradigm of modern-day employment. Such alienation is a presumption
    inherent in Luddite critique. But we are striving for a much more
    evolved state of existence – the integral approach of becoming
    truly productive human beings – whom we call Integrated Humans.
    This requires both high skill and appropriate equipment – which
    enables the high-tech self-providing that Frithof Bergmann’s New
    Work movement has proposed. I’m not talking about industrial
    technology-based self providing – which is in itself a
    contradiction in terms – because industrial technology requires a
    central support apparatus. I am talking about post-industrial
    technology – which can be self-fabricated, and is
    open-source-wise transparent.

    Then the question becomes – which technology is appropriate? Our
    response is – all technology should be open-sourced, optimized,
    and integrated into ecological wholes. If the technology does not show
    promise of such integration – it should be left alone. If
    technology is opensourced, then it becomes transparent enough that
    people can make choices about it – through their own discression,
    not that of ad-men. The key is to have choice – which we do not
    have today – because the only available industrial technology
    option does not really constitute a choice.

    —(end quote)—

    Yes, they can be criticized that they still use
    many of the tools offered by the “big centralized civilization”. However, the point is: how high it might be possible to go in a small-scale self-sufficiency mode? I would guess that many arguments about the economies and diseconomies of scale would change, if you change some basic assumptions.

  • Justin Boland

    The future will likely resemble a synthesis of permaculture and technium — food abundance and ubiquitous communication. The singularity and seed saving both have their place over the horizon.

    (It’s also worth remembering that only one of them will actually feed us in the meantime.)

    Kevin, I would be very interested in your take on how to ground the intellectually fascinating futures of Kurzweil & Global Brains with the more mundane operational details of building a better world for human beings.

    Earth improvement is a distributed effort and on behalf of a generation of weirdos who grew up reading Whole Earth Catalogs, please, come back to Foxfire territory for a little while. We’d appreciate the help and the insight.

  • soahc

    Technology is not bad per se. It is the foisting of technologies that are not out of necessity by monopolism that is the problem. The State exists to enforce things like planned obsolescence and false scarcity as a mode of propping up the ruling elite.

    Technological progress would be clipping along much quicker were it not for competition inhibiting features of our version of capitalism such as patents and copyright. Our system does not reward talent, ambition, or passion. It rewards nepotism and promotes fear.

    The question would be, if we were all allowed to reach our potential, who would work in factories? Who would assemble the thingamajigs and doohickies? Would high technology even exist without coercive authority?

    Automization of all industry and menial tasks will potentially give rise to the leisure class, turning humans into philosopher kings presiding over the domain of their android subjects. Then, just maybe then the androids will start to want rights of their own.

    No one knows. I’d say that running out of oil will not herald the end, because we have enough uranium to support a civilization the size of earths for a million years/more. Our crops are diversified enough so that if we loose all the corn in the world we can bounce back by replanting another crop or some GMO version that is resistant to the latest bug or disease. Globalism has landed us in the position of being unprone to the same problems that led to Roman collapse.

  • Tom G

    All of this theorizing is a good exercise (some would say in futility). The status quo (with respect to technology) is what it is and the golden rule (those who have the gold make the rules) says it will stay that way. A better use of all this intellectual horsepower would be to figure out how to make good compost without having to turn it over so often.
    The reality here is that we all are plugged into a system much like that seen in The Matrix. Only, its not our “vital bodily fluids” that are being sucked off (unless you consider the sweat off your brow a vital bodily fluid). What is being stolen is the “value added” that each and every one of us, to varying degrees, create. Increasing levels of technology result in an increasing level of efficiency in channeling this value added into the bank accounts of “those who make the rules”. Increasing technology also has the property of increasing the level of control that “those who have the gold” can exercise over everyone else. This situation is not something innocuous that “just happened”. It is sinister and deliberate!

  • Richard Bell

    The first sentence of this article unfortunately casts doubt on everything that follows because the factual statement in the sentence is flat-out wrong.

    Here’s the sentence: “Ted Kaczynski, the convicted bomber who blew up dozens of technophilic professionals, was right about one thing: technology has its own agenda.”

    The Wikipedia entry says that Kaczynski sent out a total of 16 bombs, which killed 3 people, and injured another 23.

    I am an admirer of KK’s work, but it’s distressing to find examples like this which suggest that no one, starting with the author, bothered to fact check even the simplest assertion in the piece. It’s hard enough trying to figure out what’s reliable on the net.

    The New Yorker is famous for its fact-checking. John McPhee has a funny piece about the NYer’s fact-checking operation:

    • @Richard Bell: I did fact check. As you say, the Unabombers’s bombs blew up 26 people. That qualifies as “dozens.” Not all of them died.

  • Lucky

    If a primitive, village living, decentralised civilization were to meet an advanced, high-tech, organised centralised civilization…

    Well, you know what happened. Most of you live in a country built on what happened.

  • joobajoo

    It is human nature to want to create tools which will enable him to more easily achieve an objective.
    If by some miracle the unabomber were to bring about an end to civilization, sooner or later man’s inherent desire to create tools and make things easier for himself would build it back up again. In order for the unabomber’s plan to succeed indefinately, he would have to find some way of changing man’s natural behavior, precisely the very thing he accuses technology of doing. Thus his entire train of thinking is paradoxical.

  • Mark Speckman

    I think that you have to look at the environmental cost, most of all. If you do an inventory of the loss of species, of the mining of minerals, of the poisoning of the ecosphere, well, it’s pretty bleak. I love technology, but the problem is that the hidden cost of it is gigantic. We are almost certainly going to consume the resources of the world in erecting whatever it is that technology is exponentially marching off towards.

    So, to me, saying that technology gives you freedoms is all well and good, but what freedoms does it take away from the poor people at the bottom of the food chain? And even then, the total human suffering is just the tip of the iceberg.

    But don’t get me wrong. Even though I find this despairing, I am also excited by the rise of our technology.

    Did you know that the total number of transistors almost doubles every year? If the average speed at which those transistors are used doubles every 2 years, that’s an 8-fold increase every 2 years.

    There are a lot of exponentially increasing technologies. I think that they are the future “lifeforms” of this planet.

    Apparently, it is time for Gaia, or Earth’s biosphere and crust, to die. Some sort of cyborg/robot/artificial biology is arising, consuming the Earth (the outer parts at least) in the process.

    We may as well start worshipping it.

  • bloodyknuckles

    “…the machine of civilization offers us more actual freedoms than the alternative.”

    I don’t think this is verifiably true. It offers us civilization and that is all. Whether you find value in the so-called freedoms of civilization is your choice. I think there is plenty of material out there that provides an alternate view of freedom outside the framework of civilization. Read some Anthropological works. In any event, what is becoming clearer is that the experiment of civilization is good at breeding mass amounts of homogeneous humans to serve its demands. We live in its machinations largely because it is the only option currently available. Indigenous people still exist, but they aren’t spreading all over the world attacking their environments with science and technology like the cancer that is “us”. Nor do they create mail bombs or post their intellectual drivel on their own blogs. They live life directly.

    “There is a cost to run this machine, a cost we are only beginning to reckon with, but so far the gains from this ever enlarging technium outweigh the alternative of no machine at all.”

    To think of the world and our lives in terms of “costs” is the wrong approach in the first place. Accepting “the gains” is a lack of integrity. One could say the same about the achievements of the State and Capitalism within the structure of civlization. The state and the capitalists have produced the infrastructure for all of us to read and write here on the internet, haven’t they? We should accept their tutelage even if it kills us?

  • AjmoT

    Haha wow! I second Antti K’s timely plug for openfarmtech. Jakubowski is a man on a mission. Agroinnovations has a fine interview with him from May 22, 2008.

    (And… I’m sorry to be such a pissant sometimes in these posts!)

  • Billy Gannon

    You said you made $1,000 bet with Kirk Sale that civilisation would collapse (you nay, he yay).

    Surely if civilisation did collapse, $1,000 would be worthless? Therefore if you are proved right, and in 2020 civlisation still carries on, your reward for this bet would be far, far greater than the reward that Kirk Sale would receive if he’s right.

    • @Billy Gannon: I was very aware of the calculation you just made while I was betting Sale. What can I say?

  • Dion

    If it still concerns the author:

    I’ve read through the entire article and I’m unconvinced by your criticisms of the Unabomber’s ideas towards the end. You seem to be looking for some alternative to civilization in the event of its collapse which should already be set in place so that we can neatly fall into one method of functioning into the next. And this should preferably be provided by the anarcho-primitivists themselves. However this expectation by its very nature is antithetical to Kaczynski’s idea of autonomy. The point is that you should be able to decide for yourself what next.

    The question I find myself faced with is this: am I happy to sacrifice complete autonomy for the guarantee of my basic survival and comfort or should I sacrifice comfort for a greater degree of autonomy?

    Do I really want to be a part of this massive social construct we’ve created that causes such massive amounts of unhappiness in everyone involved at its core, for seemingly no reason, merely for the sake of my own existence?

    What is an unfulfilling and existence worth? This question is especially important if you consider the many ways in which modern life seems to pervert the method of living which seems the most natural.

    I think the only reason we are able to survive in the modern world is because we’re raised in it from birth. Look into the story of Ota Benga.

    Despite approaching the question from all angles to the best of my intellectual ability I have an instinctual nagging that suggests to me that Kaczynski was right.

    As far as I’m concerned civilization can continue to run its course for the next thousand years or longer as long as those who want it are guaranteed a sufficient space in which they may practice complete autonomy.

  • Dion

    neatly fall from one method of functioning into the next*

  • tinwheeler

    Having just read the article and following comments on Ted Kacynski, A image of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 flashed into my head. For good or evil, as a tool or a weapon, the ape throwing the bone into the air brought instant recognition, buried deep in our DNA, of technology.If Kubrick’s bell curve of the universe, or the rise and fall of the Roman empire are any indication we are destined back to the slag heap of humanity to be reborn with that same linear technological recognition. It seems at the present that the bone is still slowly spinning in space and we as a species haven’t decided if the technology is more important as a tool or a weapon.

  • Igor Alexander

    Kevin: Why the sarcasm and snarkiness? The issue I raised was whether or not TK actually said what you imply he did, not whether some people you know have iPhones or not.

  • Ralinda

    “Prior to civilization there generally existed ample leisure time, considerable gender autonomy and equality, a non-destructive approach to the natural world, the absence of organized violence, no mediating or formal institutions, and strong health and robusticity.”

    Ridiculous uninformed statement. Also obviously no women in that group – you gotta be kidding me “gender autonomy and equality.” I’m not making a better or worse judgement, but this stuff is blatently false.

    • John Cismyfullname

      and yet….no supporting documentation. Imagine that…

  • Jamie Ryan


    To begin, I thoroughly enjoyed reading both the post and the responses. I found the insights presented to be lucid and thought provoking, but I feel the need to address a few very important omissions.

    Several commentators have already pointed out the obvious fallacy of segregating technology and nature. I would like to go deeper. To say that technology is not natural because it is a product of human intelligence would be akin to saying that an egg is not natural because it is the product of the chicken’s reproductive system. However, there are aspects of technology that can be said to be more natural than others, and I believe this is the underlying argument of Kazinsky and the green revolution, though perhaps neither party realizes it.

    To illustrate, I’ll borrow some thoughts from Alan Watts, who is a contemporary philosopher and a leading mind in comparative theology. According to Watts, there is a Zen ideology to which he gives the title “uncarved block and unbleached silk.”

    If one were to look at a bird’s nest, it is essentially no different from a modern house, in that both are dwellings, and are merely assemblages of materials found in nature (at their basic and unprocessed level), albeit a bird’s nest is certainly closer to nature than is the house. Thus, as Watts once said, “…the distinction between the natural and the artificial is an artificial distinction.”

    In Zen philosophy, there is a certain gravitation towards that which can be said to be more natural, and a reverence for the beauty of what nature has already accomplished. For that reason, a preference would be given to a silk that is not bleached, and a stone that is not carved. Rather, an artist or builder will find a fitting stone, and work with the stone to accomplish a goal. Or, if a stone were to be carved, the mason would first ask the stone, “What do you want to become?”

    Another significant misstep is the assertion that no one has yet imagined a viable alternative to the highly industrial direction civilization is now taking. Again, several commentators have already corrected this misstep, but I would like to make a small addition. Perhaps the most desirable alternative would be a perfect fusion of technology and nature, so as to create a naturally sustainable post-industrial civilization. This idea is in no way easily accomplishable, but the sooner we decide that this is where we want to go, the sooner we will get there.

    As I have imagined it, industry would be employed only to the extent it is required to allow for self-sustaining communities. For example: devices such as solar cells, geothermal furnaces, wind turbines, fresh-water pumps and wells, and water reclamation systems could all be manufactured in an industrialized city, but all of these devices would allow for independent, off-the-grid cottage industry communities. Strength in these communities would allow for excessive production of agriculture, and particularly niche crops; the excesses would then fuel the cities.

    Emphasizing the growth of smaller, independent cells would allow for a gradual depopulation of the cities. This, in turn, would open up additional space inside the cities that could be reclaimed as green space – for parks, or gardens. With a smaller population spread over the same space, green innovations inside the cities would become more feasible. Water and geothermal wells would become the norm, as well as localized water reclamation systems. All of these developments would allow for reduced dependence on the grid, resulting in reduced necessity for manual labour. Thus, the end result would be – greater freedom.

    Because the cottage industry communities would continuously require new parts and tools, and because the existence of these communities would allow the cities to thrive, neither entity would be entirely exclusive, or else it would result in the eventual collapse of both. However, by carefully mitigating and controlling the industry, in conjunction with the equitable management of population distribution, the system as a whole would eventually find a mutually comfortable, non-destructive equilibrium. The end result might look something like a honeycomb, or a hive, wherein each cell would be capable of self-substantiation, but would be strengthened by the integration offered by the hive.

    A critical element to this hive-life would be the curtailing of personal excesses, and gluttonous over-consumption. We all need to be willing to live in smaller, more efficient homes, and to demand less of the ultra-consumerist manufacturing industry. Although, keep in mind that simplicity need not be boring. I might only have one book on my shelf, by my book allows me to share my thoughts on a global scale, just as it gives me unlimited access to the thoughts and works of others. Can a tree-pulp paperback do that?

    The process of transition will need to be multilateral, and it will be dependant on the actions and participation of individuals, as well as society as a whole. It will require effort, and sacrifice, and cooperation on a global scale, but it is possible; and, if we at all intend to hold on to what we define as humanity, it is imperative. Now is the age of our awakening, as people are finally becoming aware that we are capable of infinitely more. This will be our metamorphosis.

    Finally, I must address an issue that has thus far not been mentioned, and that is the very real threat of the technology present today. Kazinsky was right to fear the things that he observed, because he recognized the inherent capacity of technology to destroy nature. However, his aggressions were misplaced; technology itself is not the enemy. At the time, perhaps it seemed that his answer satisfied the equation, having based it on all information available to him. Today, on the other hand, we can follow the train of thought through to true conclusion, where we will find the real opponents of nature.

    Technology is fundamentally inert: it has no thoughts of its own. It is neither good, nor evil. The enemy is therefore the people and institutions that decide the direction technology will take: lobby groups, lawmakers, corporations, neo-colonialist governments, and the banks that make it all possible. As evidence, in our current world, there is no greater accelerant of technology than the military. It is a sad thought to admit that the most inventive minds of our age are all actively trying to find new and more powerful ways to destroy each other.

    If we continue down the same path we are now headed, there will be no awakening. The system prevents it. Logic, reason, and choice have been buried in an underground vault and encompassed by millions of barrels of nuclear waste, and now they’re selling tickets for admission. We are captive in a perpetual state of ignorance so that those with power can continue to grow more powerful. Real human evolution was left somewhere in the thirties, and what we’ve been sold in its place is merely fodder for a zombie slave state.

    What we need is a spiritual rebirth, and a realization of what human potential was meant to be. We are not hateful by design, but rather, we have been born into a hateful system.

    Consequentially, the revolution will not be armed with weapons of war, but with weapons of truth. Ours will be a revolution of re-education, and of enlightenment. It will be born of wisdom, and fuelled by the fire of love.

    We must cast off these shackles of damnation and come to understand the truth – we are all one being. How can I hate my neighbour, if I know my neighbour to be an extension of myself? Should I not be helping my neighbour to achieve the same things I want for myself, rather than trying to selfishly take what little crumbs are still possessed?

    We are all in this together – people of all nations, races and creeds. We, as a whole, will gain nothing by destroying our neighbour, no matter what crimes we may accuse them of; but we will all gain by forgiveness, and by coming together to build a greater future.

    Therefore, I feel a deep sympathy for Kazinsky, and I do not envy the frustration, or feelings of inadequacy he must surely have endured. He was wise enough to see that there is a problem, and he was courageous enough to attempt a solution, short sighted and counterproductive though it may have been. So I will not idolize him, or give him the distinction of labelling him a folk hero. To do so would only encourage more of the same.

    Jamie Ryan

    March 27, 2009

  • Jamie Ryan

    P.S. My sincere apologies – “Kazinsky” = Kaczynski.
    Yup. There it is.

  • Lee Johnston

    In the biblical myth, Adam lived in paradise.

    The moment another human being was introduced, things got complicated.

    I’d rather be here in technium “hell” than alone in paradise. (He said, while typing furiously on his laptop, after having made breakfast for himself and his Eve.)

  • CrawlingKingSnake

    You have presented an interesting article here,jack..however it seems to only raise the NEGATIVE aspects of TK…it is much better than the usual mass-media drivel that is served to the ever-gullable masses..what I don’t ‘get’,is how all these people are so ready to dismiss TK as a ‘nut’..those people,(courtrooms etc) came out with the absolutley absurd notion that TK was a ‘scizophrenic’,that way they could push the blame onto someone,ie,’It’s not anything we did(DA),the guys just a nut’,and the same with the public..’Well,the only person in the wrong here is TK…hes just a psycho’.This way the public who bought the medias lies dont have to look at what his true motivations were…he didnt just suddenly decide to do what he did,or because he was just bored.It’s ironic howthose people were so ready to castigate him,and label him,yet if he had commited an act that was deemed acceptable by societys standards,he would have been awared the merit of being a ‘genius’..whether you agree with him or not,it is very obvious he is a man of great intelligence,and that proves itself in his academic acheivements alone(assnt prof at harvard,math papers published etc),not to mention his arguments and insights presented in his so called ‘manifesto’…one last say the fact he used violence was wrong..can you name a time in history when serious change was brought about without violence?what about all the killing the government is doing?the same da who convicted TK failed to mention in his arguments how many women and children his buddies in law enforcement had slaughtered at waco,or Randy Weavers wife and child..

  • A.J.

    Honestly, seeing some of these comments show how many of us sound on a variety of subjects and only makes me want to farther my education. My father told me as a child that if I wasn’t positive I knew what I was talking about, not to speculate because someone would catch my folly. I thought he was just encouraging me to keep my mouth shut and listen so I could learn. Then I started poking around the Internet more. Wow. He was right.

    Now to prove my own hypocrisy, I will open with the statement that I do not know everything on the subject. I’ve done a little reading because it interests me, but I am by no means an expert.

    I realize that in the eyes of many “normal” people in our society, I could be totally disregarded as crazy for even reading this far into something, but I’m honestly bored. See, I’m one of the many unemployed and uneducated people in this society thanks to our lovely economy, and I honestly have nothing better to do than read all the information I can find on any subject I can find it on. That brought me here. I read the entire “manifesto” just yesterday. I went into it trying my best to keep my mind opened to potentionally sane and potentially crazy ideas. My boyfriend says I was insane for even thinking these could be sane thoughts. He obviously hasn’t read it. The man made some solid points. I could tell he was a mathmatician just by the way he spoke; he spoke logically, adding things up and subtracting what didn’t make sense. The first couple of pages that I read are mostly a word problem of sorts, the type of things I worked with taking formal logic classes in college. I took it out and sampled some of his phrases and tried to find some sort of fallacy. I honestly couldn’t find any. Now, I was immediately turned off and almost stopped reading because one of his first paragraphs has to do with “leftists”. I fancy myself as such, rather into the activities he spoke up. I’m all for humanitarianism and have been called a hippie many times in my life. Although I’m not over the edge and definately not a PETA loving organic food eater fo any sorts, I shared many of the views he was bashing. But it reminded me of something I wrote in school. I was bashing “smart” people as “uninteligent”. I was pulling two words out of my vocabulary that usually portray the same idea and using them as seperate ideas, saying “smart” people could memorize the information thrown at them while “intelliegent” people could form there own opinions and theories. Obviously this man is a radical. So I continued to read and made more and more sense out of what he was saying despite being turned off to the idea.

    Also, going into this reading, I believed I would be unhappy with a life that required more labor and less time to pursue the things I enjoyed in life. All the technological advancements of my time have made life enjoyable… right? But I have also had several psychiatric evaluations. And I’ve been screwed by the system. And I’ve seen what schools do to people. I’ve spent my childhood forced to learn subjects I have no interest in. I’ve been subject to the kind of punishment he belittles. I’ve been medicated. (Wow, I sound crazy.) Long ago I stopped taking my meds although I still see a psychiatrist regularly.

    I have a lot more to say that and not enough time to say it.

    My point is that we’re looking at him as a killer. I understand that’s what he was. I understand that’s what he did. I don’t believe in violence for any reason. But this killer got his point across in an intelligent paper he hoped people would read. Now, by reading it, are we negotiating with terrorists? Or are we learning for our own benefit? I urge people to forget who wrote it and to read it for themselves. Not until deep into the paper does he ever mention anything violent, and then only in passing. He actually hopes for nonviolence in his idea of revolution although admitting it may not be possible. And I’m not saying to start a revolution. I’m saying to learn from the past and learn from someone who obviously was intelligent although maybe not stable. Make your own decision.

  • Jeffrey Benner

    Kevin, this is a very smart and important deconstruction of anarcho-primitivism. We need to take anarcho-primitivism seriously as a potential new source of social chaos and destruction in the years to come. Anarcho-primitivism is rooted in the Neo-Romantic movement of the late 19th century, when industrialism emerged. In our time neo-romanticism was the source of many of the ideas of the hippies and the culture of the sixties; today we see it in much of the rhetoric of the Green movement and fringe religions such as neo-paganism and the ideas of the New Age.

    David Brin in his novel “Earth”, through his fictional protagonists the North American Church of Gaia (NorAChuGa), argued that an extended period of environmental difficulty or a sustained Depression could give rise to a powerful cult of anti-technologists. A powerful new apocalyptic religion, think of it as a revived Ghost Dance. A new Ghost Dance would have a built-in justification for genocide in the Peak Oil belief that a non-technological culture could only sustain one out of seven human beings. Prominent writers such as Jared Diamond ( ) have recently argued this very point, that Peak Oil makes a mass die-off very likely in this century. Expect the collapsitarian, doomer clamour to get only louder. Watch the horizon closely for cults which may attempt to capitalize on this fear and resignation.

    My own belief? In agreement with commenter Gerhard Stolz Jr., I belief that Man vs. Nature is a groundless dualism. Human beings are only animals with a few cognitive structures different from other primates. As animals, I believe digital, urban industrial humanity is, over time, more closely resembling a hive organism such as most species of ants, or termites. Digital technology and genetic engineering also seem to confer upon humans a kind of Meta-species quality since we seem to now be evolving the rest of the biosphere to match our needs. Human interests and the interest of the biosphere itself – Gaia if you will – seem to be becoming heavily intermeshed.

    I believe that the long-term prospects for life on this planet without advanced technological humanity are dim. Another round of supervolcanism may be just around the corner, and only a space-faring race can deflect planet-killer asteroids. Only a post-Singularity cognitively enhanced entity, either a Borg-variant, everyware-equipped humanity or AI, is going to be able to manage to balance the planet’s ecology with the deftness required to allow nine billion human beings to survive long-term. Only a hi tech civilization can advance DNA beyond our atmosphere and begin to construct independent biospheres capable of surviving a natural ecological catastrophe, such as super-volcanism.

    Some of what Kaczynski feared, the complete encroachment on the planet by ubiquitous computing, localiser and sensor grids embedding the wilderness areas and oceans, seem inevitable. The biosphere seems to be growing an central and peripheral nervous system to allow more fine control over the ecology. But what choice do we have? It’s either onward and upward, or planetary death (for mammals at least). We have a shot now at success that the dinosaurs never got – let’s seize that opportunity and survive. It’s only natural.

  • Russ

    Kaczynski is part of an age-old story begun in the Garden of Eden; heavenly bliss is cast aside by the hunger for knowledge.
    Increasingly complex civilization is consistently plagued by our wistful backwards glances as we walk increasingly farther from the pure freedoms of our ancient nomad ancestors and settle for the opportunistic squalor of soulless, yet technologically advanced cities (no matter be they ancient or modern).

  • Michael

    The thing is, anyone who wants to live like a caveman is able to in our current society. You can either do what Kaczynski did and live on the fringe of society to a greater or lesser degree, or you can move to another country and society where technology is rare.

    I believe that it is possible to create a technological society where decisions about which technologies to use are made on the basis of how they enhance peoples physical and mental well being. The challenge is figuring out how to create a government that is much less influenced by power and money and much more driven by creating a humane civilization that is sustainable. This will be impossible until the power and size of corporations is sharply curtailed, and the ability of individuals to accumulate unlimited wealth is dealt with. In the US the idea that there should be limits on an individuals potential to accumulate wealth/power is sacrilege, but it seems obvious to me that all people want control over their lives, and the more power and wealth they have the more they want to extend that control. This inevitably leads to a feedback loop where rich people use their power to influence government to create circumstances that are favorable to them (and less favorable for everyone else), and that leads to them getting richer and so on. Having a tax system that makes it so the richest you can get is enough to own 3 houses and a few cars is probably a good first step.

  • Muli Koppel

    KK, thank you for illuminating our greatest dilemma. I feel, though, that in your great bi-polar analysis, you have somehow went through a slight denial process, ignoring the fact that we’re living inside a “Faustian Deal”. One greatly enjoys the consequent POWER of such a deal, and you’ve wisely pinned-down the merriment Technology/The System provides us, humans, with, somehow ignoring that nothing’s for free, and that we’ve already paid for this TechnoPower with the hardest cash of them all – our lives. Ignoring this, is like living in the never ending orgies of a decaying Rome.

    I wish people will not pick a side in this terrible dilemma, but rather will continue illuminating each of the poles, so that we will never ignore the perils ahead.

  • stopterraformingearth

    I wonder about one thing: This article does not adress at all one of the main concerns of green anarchists, the destruction of natural ecologies.
    Why not? It is because there is a flaw in the argument here in that this is actually the one thing that will not nessecarily get better as technology improves? How will the author “hike in the mountains, where cougar and coyote roam” or the young “return to the hill” for recreation, if the increasing urbanization of the natural landscapes, the diminshing number of wild places will eventually take these options away. Will they be glad to watch the cougars and coyotes in zoos together with thousands of peoples? Or are virtual worlds a valid replacement for such experiences?
    The reason, KK can do this now – can have high speed internet and a car and at the same time watch wild coyotes is, because the effects are delayed. The effects of chlorinated compounds on the ozone layer showed decades after they were used, global warming just now starts to show. People in the 1950ies had no reason to believe that they could not continue using chlorinated compounds in hair sprays and at the same time enjoy the afternoon sun in Australia.
    The article fails to take into account what will the effects of increasing “technium” be in the future, so it relies actually on one assumption: that the unabomber was utterly wrong in the assumption that humans cannot control technology. As it would require human or political control to halt the destruction of the “recreational” natural landscape KK wants to enjoy when closing his wireless laptop. The “technium” does not have anything to gain from these, but the author and all humans (not to speak of the other beings on the planet) have something to loose. Either people are able to control the devlopment or they will have to live with whatever is the result – and that may not include wild coyote and cougar.

    • Konrad

      “How will the author “hike in the mountains, where cougar and coyote
      roam” or the young “return to the hill” for recreation, if the
      increasing urbanization of the natural landscapes, the diminishing number
      of wild places will eventually take these options away.”


      Those of us (including me) who cannot live well without wilderness, will never be happy in our technological civilization, no matter what its obvious benefits may be. We need wild lakes, rivers, mountains and forests to live well and to plan our lives. We may not know exactly why, perhaps it is our wilderness gene that somehow has not been subdued yet. But we realize that there are more and more people every day who don’t need wilderness any more. In fact, they don’t know what it is because they have been brought up in a totally unnatural, artificial environment and have never seen a wild river or lake or a forest. They are essentially a new species, and they have taken over. We are a minority and destined to be ignored and pushed aside. Like many species before us, we are on our way to extinction, a very natural process. What the new, technology-dependent, species will eventually accomplish we don’t know. But one thing is certain: it, too, will eventually be subject to the relentless law of extinction.

      • Abresh Arquah

        Well then, your kinds are going to die off, since the VAST majority of people LIKE our current tech-oriented society.
        You are the ‘old worn horses’ of the world who pine for times that are never going to come again because you cannot compete in a technical society.
        You just are not intelligent enough to do so.

        • Konrad

          “My kinds are going to die off …” Well, this is just one of 3 errors you have made in 3 sentences! A good example of how illiterate you are. Go back to school, Abresh. Otherwise you will remain a perennial nonentity: a crude, goofy technophile, incapable of comprehending anything above high-school level. Learn your letters and don’t make a fool of yourself again by trying to participate in a discussion you don’t understand. I will not dignify you with a response any more. I am afraid others won’t either.

        • belive_in_urself


  • lydia

    The whole basis of your argument is that there is a net gain in freedom. Yet you don’t even seriously attempt to actually describe or compare losses and gains in freedom, even, for instance, in the years since the manifesto was published. Instead cite immigration from rural areas to the cities as evidence of the superiority of urban life, projecting your own values onto those migrating to cities.

    Obviously people define freedom in different ways. Your freedom is a consumer choice kind of freedom — you mention things like running water, electricity, toilets, size of living space. Others might call these conveniences. It’s telling that you see incarceration as preferable to living an autonomous, self-reliant and materially simple life.

    You write, “I argue that our continued embrace of more technology is further proof that we have made the calculation as we head for the greater good.”

    Let’s see the calculation.

  • Philip Welch

    I think you misrepresent the Unabomber’s argument. His argument isn’t entirely that we would have more freedom (and he’s talking about different freedoms than you’re talking about), his argument is more that people are happier when the primary goal in their lives is their own survival, and that when survival becomes too easy for them, they feel unfulfilled and seek out meaningless surrogate activities.

    I think it’s important to point out that Kaczynski was once a brilliant theoretical mathematician. His area of specialty was somewhat obscure—only a dozen people were able to understand or appreciate his doctoral dissertation—so it’s easy to imagine his frustrations at devoting his intellect to a seemingly obscure and meaningless endeavor.

  • Wandering Author

    The problem, as I see it, is more complex than you recognise. I agree that there is no better alternative that would actually work – the solution the anti-civilisationists imagine is nothing but a fantasy. And murder is never a good answer, to anything.

    Yet Ted Kaczynski was not necessarily wrong in his analysis of the problem, even if he failed to find a rational solution. He would hardly be the first person to recognise a problem, only to feel so trapped by it he lost his mind. Would any of us really want to live in a society where machines made the decisions? Could we trust a super-computer to make humane decisions in difficult times?

    Technology is a trap, one we can’t escape. All each of us can hope to do is live our lives as best we can – and hope the inevitable, natural solution to the dilemma doesn’t arrive in our lifetime. What do I mean? Look at the Roman Empire. I began thinking about this when I considered that one of the factors that brought their empire down was a single contaminant in their food which they failed to fully comprehend – lead (from water pipes and cooking utensils). We consume thousands of compounds that have never been fully studied in terms of, say, their long-term neurological effects on us. That got me to wondering, were there other parallels?

    Well, during the time before the final collapse farms and businesses both grew much larger. The economy got into trouble – and the government’s answer was to raise taxes, just as we will have to do now to pay for the huge “stimulus” packages. Sooner or later, the complexity, the cost of maintaining infrastructure, the cost of propping up tottering economies, all of these things among others grew too much for the Romans to cope with, and their civilisation fell. When it did, the population shrank drastically. The only other event in Western history to match it was the Black Death.

    At some time, it may be soon or it may be much later, the same factors will pull our own civilisation to pieces. I fear the past two decades of politics suggest more parallels unfolding, which might indicate it will be sooner. The differences will be twofold. The immediate difference will be one of scale. Many more people depend on technology today than did in Roman times – if this happened today, one survivor in five among the world’s population would be an optimistic estimate. The second difference will be long-term: we have used up all the more readily accessible resources in many categories (petroleum, for example) which will make it much harder to ever build up another advanced civilisation.

    That is a terrible prediction to make, but I fear it is unavoidable. Since I can do nothing to stop it (and delaying it would only increase its eventual impact) all I can do is come to terms with the inevitability of the negative in life (just as we must all also come to terms with the fact that we will, one day, inevitably die) and feel a pang of sympathy for poor Ted, who had the intelligence to grasp the problem, but not the wisdom to understand it was too large for him. That is not to suggest that I don’t also feel sympathy for his victims, of course, but I think their fate was cleaner – a quick death, or an injury they could heal from. Living for twenty-five years with the vision of a horror he lacked the mental resources to cope with must have been agony – and no one explodes in such a fury of violent hatred unless a great deal is eating at them under the surface, no matter how happy they think their life to be.

  • Reader

    Not only was his little shack small, cramped, uncomfortable, smoky, etc., but he obviously wasn’t getting laid much in there. I don’t think he ever had sex in his life. Not living too “in tune with nature” if you ask me. That combined with the asceticism and the strength of his beliefs reminds me of some kind of secular monk.

    Still, he was probably right that most if not all of the human species will get the axe once human labor is no longer required to keep the system running. Oh well.

  • spacenookie

    I think you are making too much of the poverty and social isolation of Kaczynski’s situation. If anything, it illustrates the inescapability of technology. Kaczynski himself did not present shack living as paradise; it was the best he could do in the given situation, and as such demonstrates that there is no immediate alternative to industrial civilization.

  • haig

    Society and its discontents is one wicked problem, in the technical sense. We’ve really been feeling our way in the dark with how to organize society up till now, and we are pushing the limits of the current paradigm. Capitalism is really a faustian bargain that is starting to run its course. Communism doesn’t work and capitalism works so well it hurts, but are these our only options?

    It seems like technology and social structures co-evolve together. For example, democracy cannot exist without a literate populace and that requires printing. The dystopian scenarios where technology increases totalitarian rule are exactly opposite to what we actually find happens. It seems like the internet & its various spawned movements (open source et al) are clearing a path for another paradigm shift in how society is organized.

  • John

    “There is a cost to run this machine, a cost we are only beginning to reckon with, but so far the gains from this ever enlarging technium outweigh the alternative of no machine at all.”

    So why did you call this essay “the Unabomber was right” ???

  • John

    Anarcho-primitive = Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot too was willing to “face up” to the human consequences of destroying civilisation.

  • scs

    First I would like to echo a comment by cs:
    But at least the Unabomber seriously approached a complex set of problems. You’ve basically just asserted (because you didn’t really so much argue as assert, right?) that you’re happy with your life, that everyone seems to want to live like you, that no one can imagine an alternative, and that even the Unabomber was a hypocrite. (After all, you can’t seriously think about how incredibly destructive modern technology is to human freedom AND enjoy coffee, right?) This seems like a profoundly silly response to an author who was addressing what he saw as an immanent apocalypse.
    Posted by cs on February 19, 2009 at 1:39 PM

    Second, I would like to observe that Kaczynski was/is a genius at logic. Kaczynski’s framework of thought was highly consistent. I do not credit any critics of Kaczynski who fail to criticize him rigorously, and if Kevin Kelly had submitted this critique in one of my classes, I would have given it an F at the graduate level and a D at the undergraduate level.

    Third, I would like to point out that for decades the apologists of power tried to persuade anarchists that they would never, ever get an audience by killing people. Kaczynski’s murders are a counterexample to that claim. Kaczynski not only got an audience, he got his manifesto published and widely read.

    Fourth, I suspect that Kevin Kelly pays the taxes that support the sodomitical rapine of young men in Abu Ghraib, as well as the bombing of wedding parties in Afghanistan.

  • Dys

    Some comments have touched on a very important idea which I don’t think has the prevalence it deserves in the understanding of technology.

    That technology is not inherently unnatural is apparently readily understood, and some have even said that technologies are an inherent and inevitable extension of primate tool use.

    The point I would like to advance is that tool use in primates is an evolved behaviour, an inevitable result of evolutionary pressures within the system of earth’s biosphere.

    Once you have evolution, and not specifically biological evolution, the results are always inevitable, based on systemic selection pressures. Biology is one aspect of the evolutionary principle, technology another, but the nature of both is inherent in the nature of matter, the nature of reality.

    What I am trying to say is that from the moment the universe began there was potential for evolution, inherent in the physical laws that govern matter. As soon as the conditions were met, evolution on Earth began, and barring a cataclysm of almost inconceivable proportions, or the equally inevitable death of the sun, will continue without hindrance.

    Language is a technology, and an evolved behaviour, in both written and spoken forms, brought about by selective pressures on cultural systems regarding communication. Every thought you have is an evolved behaviour, dictated by myriad causes of selection, biological, cultural and so on. Technology I submit, is an evolved trait in human beings and our close relatives and as such, is subject to all the rules of evolution.

    On another point, resources cannot be consumed.
    When you take oil, and burn it for energy, the particles remain, in different configurations. The only thing that is consumed is the pattern. Even energy cannot be created or destroyed. At the fundamental level, the only enemy of technology and civilization is the enemy of structure itself, entropy.

    One of the favourite anti-evolution arguments is that biological systems by their nature increase complexity, reversing the law of entropy. This is fallacious, but not entirely so. Given an external source of energy any system can decrease its inherent entropy, ie cause CO2 to turn back into oil and all the implications which follow. We may run out of convenient pre-structured energy sources but that in no way presents a barrier to the continued advance of technology.

    Empires fall, and systemics generally agrees that increasing the complexity of a system exponentially inevitably leads to collapse. But the fall of Rome left us engineering technology still of use today. If the current civilisation were to collapse, and it may yet do so, there would still be left in the wake an array of scientific and technological achievements which will not simply fade away.

    The final analysis must be this: The technologies created by humanity are an aspect of our humanity, and not a threat to it. We are capable of thinking about ourselves, and our effect on the systems we inhabit, and of thinking about the nature an relationships of those systems. These too are inborn traits of human beings. All we can do, and what we will do, dictated by the overarching laws of nature, is to choose paths beneficial to the continuation of evolution, the continuation of our species. This may take the form of trial and error, but it is in every way as inescapable as your own skin.

  • Tena

    Kaszynski seems to suggest and you seem to agree, that culture and technology are the same thing – they aren’t. Technology is just a component of culture – not its driving force. You can’t jettison all previous human history and say we only began being civilized when we invented machines.

    You place the technology in its own universe and you put it in charge. It didn’t put itself in charge – this is where I take issue with this idea.

    The Unabomber was not able to mentally integrate himself into society – society did not reject him. You can’t build an entire idea about what technology is and what it is doing based on the ideas of a mad man – his perspective is skewed.

    • Pilskget

      Yes, he couldnt integrate probably because he wasn’t dumb enough.

  • John B

    Humans are a particularly nasty and vicious animal that becomes more psychologically unstable when not entertained by “challenges”. Technology is a preferable diversion compared to other human enterprises such as human sacrifices, inquisitions, wars, slavery, conquests or genocide to name a few. We could stop or limit technology but something worse would probably be devised to keep us amused.

    Hopefully, we can master and control our strange mental needs before technology has completely taken over governance of the human society.

  • boqueronman

    “Prior to civilization there generally existed ample leisure time, considerable gender autonomy and equality, a non-destructive approach to the natural world, the absence of organized violence, no mediating or formal institutions, and strong health and robusticity.”

    How, pray tell, have they convinced themselves of this?

    The collapse of “civilization” would inevitably result in the sharp decline in world population and a much reduced average life span. And, if it actually is a world-wide phenomenon, the die-off would drive the survivors into much smaller family, tribal or clan units randomly scattered.

    Analysis of pre-historical society is fairly clear. Hunter gatherers had some spare time. What did they do with it? Let’s get real. The males probably abused the weaker females since we now are in a society where muscle power is decisive.

    Also, of course, they fought with outsiders. Those who threatened their food supply, their mates, their land, and, last but not least their spiritual image of themselves. Anthropology reveals that early man was much more violent than civilized man.

    Ah, and they produce the widely disproved myth of the primitive stewardship of the natural world. No, again, small communities were always on the edge of starvation and, when food sources were abundant, they were abused right away. See native Americans driving buffalo herds off cliffs en masse.

    Sounds to me like they have deluded themselves into thinking that the “uncivilized” future would be an anti-Enlightenment, post-modern paradise of political correctness, multiculturalism, and anti-realism.

    Yeah, right. That, and a buck 50 will buy you a cup of coffee. Wait, speaking of that, can we keep Starbucks? I’m down with this destruction of civilization thing. But, I’m still gonna need my daily cup of java!

  • Gerhard Stoltz Jr.

    I find it strange that people persist in interpreting the acts and constructs of humanity as -outside- the realm of the natural world. As if we are imposing something on the planet which is not of it.

    Granted, to bereave Mr. Kaczynski of his most favored meditative space in nature in order to build a road there may or may not have been a good idea. But to construct the road is not an unnatural imposition upon something, it is merely the imposition of a dominant order on a point where it causes enough unintended consequenses to warrant attention. (The obsession with building roads to everywhere has me annoyed as well, can`t we just get that bridge to nowhere on Jupiter from James Blish`s “They Shall Have Stars” underway already, so that road building politicians can get a new focus in life?)

    Technology is nature, nature imposes demands upon its aspects. That Kaczynski and so many other beings deny this has me flummoxed.
    Technology, as an undercurrent of nature, or reality if you like, has aspects of bereavement and aspects of empowerment. Dominance is to a large extent the order of the day in many of the systems existent in reality, and to single out the technological innovations of humankind as a kind of depreciative/domineering aspect of reality which we should steer clear of manages to belittle and aggrandize our supposed (though rather naive and dogmatical) “otherness” in relation to the system in which we are enmeshed.

    But Mr. Kaczynski raised a lot of very valid points about the nature of the human mind, through which methods said mind is imprinted, indoctrinated, forced into subordinate states, and otherwise left to a large extent in the forces of greater structure, whose veil remains unimprenetable. Is technology imposing? Most certainly. Is the sting of a mosquito imposing? Most certainly. How we alleviate these impositions upon our person is unfortunately relative to our place in reality at the point of exposure, to completely rectify that is impossible.

    That all of the brouhaha surrounding Mr. Kaczynski also contains that wonderful air of psychological experiments at Harvard conducted by the psychologists there who managed to do drugs discreetly is charming, to say the least.

    A retreat from the technological arts of humanity/nature is not, in my view desireable. A retreat from some of the domineering aspects which humanity is capable of embodying through usage of said developments is. The beneficiality of reneging attempts at dominance through the means available to human beings is debatable. To a certain extent it`s the good old “Basselope-gap” which haunts certain aspects of at least my view of our interrelations. Which puts us right back at exploring what we can do without getting caught, which is, apparently, a lot.

    “This is L. H. Puttgrass signing off and heading for the tub!”

  • Julian Lee

    The solution will come when wisdom arises again among technology-mongers, such that they perceive that technology never realize that technology does nothing but rearrange duality.

  • Julian Lee

    Oh, and just because a fellow’s cabin is a bit cluttered, wouldn’t please Martha Stewart or make centerfold of “Metropolitan Homes,” does not mean it is a place of unhappiness or desperation. Thoreau wasn’t spinning lies when he wrote Walden Pond. I, myself, find solitude and nature quite delicious. Even the poster gave account of Ted K.’s love of a certain place up yonder where he used to go.

    Sure, indigenous kids leave their simple homes for the city. Perhaps because of a cultural and spiritual breakdown in those communities that technology has itself fomented. And maybe in those big tech cities they miss things that they left. And maybe they also abandoned the opportunity to learn a simple bliss that their grandfathers learned, there in the appreciation of nature and its subtleties, instead learning the gross thrills of the city dweller and technology.

    Me, when I see the cabin of a hermit — undecorous clutter or not — and I think of the pure, untouched hills of nature I feel real pleased, and I envy him.

    Sure, Ted K. may not have been totally free of industrial products, but he was obviously working his way back. It’s a long way back to the simple life.

  • Hrrrrrrr

    It’s civilization that allowed him to be educated enough to compose this essay. Without civilization, there is no education, just superstition.
    “Sacrifice the virgin to make it rain.”
    And that is not freedom.
    Wonderful post by the way.

  • Julian Lee

    Oh, one last thought. (Sorry for 3-in-a-row but, hey, nobody seems to be around here.)

    Maybe the Ice Age will soon return, and mother nature will simplify all these thorny questions, drag us back to simple humanity by the hair, and nobody will have the splendid challenge any more of how they manifested dualistic technology in a dualistic technology world-dream. Or, maybe from their simple ice age perch they’ll figure out, all the faster, how exactly they created that nightmare.

  • deathcakes

    @Wandering Author

    The advent of the machines taking over need not necessarily be construed as a terrifying loss of control. Example: You go to the doctor. With symptoms, presumably. The doctor then diagnoses your condition and presents you with options of possible treatment. This is a terrifying loss of control. What does it matter if the doctor is a human being, or an incredibly intelligent AI entity that specialises in medicine? If I were given the option I would pick the machine every time, since it would be less prone to error and more likely to cure me.

    What I’m trying to illustrate is that, like it or not, you face a series of terrifying losses of control to the system, as it already stands. I for one would feel happier if those decisions were given to a dispassionately intelligent machine, rather than a credulous, impressionable human who’s judgement can be obscured by a lack of regular caffeine intake, or a desperate need to empty their bladder.

    Or perhaps I’ve been brainwashed by the machine.

  • i read complete Article, this article is very informative.
    thanks for sharing us.

  • Mike Swayze

    “the simple life” was a lot of work if I understand history correctly. It was always about maximizing leisure (the history of man to date that is..).
    Moving to the sustaineable is preferred- and anarchy would only work if man as a whole became moral. dream on- it’s what keeps us alive…
    (music quotes- better to burn out than it is to rust -Neil Young)

  • Mccallisterv722

    woww he had to me super messed up its scary

  • Pilskget

    Well, I havent read all of it but his bombing was to get attention which he got. It made me pick up the book The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul which I find a good read. Freedom is measured in lack of interdepedence. Basically everyone needs each other (for better or worse) no matter if technology is involved or not but I assume thats not what he had intented.  I believe what he has written that many people eat antidepressives due to the feeling of impowerement they face in a modern technological society. Timothy Threadwell is another example. Everytime he left his bears in that reservate or what it was he had to take Prozac to cope. Technological is always the most effective mean to gain resources but its still the same mean that seems prioritated above economy and those people happy with populationexpansion by absurdum seems like those people most sick in their head. More people more need to suck the earth dry at the cost of everything. People who dislike it is “unefficient” to sensitive and so on. What to do ? put them on a numbing drug which makes them less fantasyprone, less capricious, less human (or maybe more). Its those less-sensitive, lack of fantasypeople which drives this complex forward. But hey SSRI is good it kills libido to, it all starts to feel like f-cking eugenetic to me..

  • Phil

    Well since Peak Oil is at our doorstep it looks like the modern world will end and we’ll end up as nomadic Indians, farming Amish or best case is living out our lives like the Waltons.   By the way has anyone ever found out if Ted knows anything about Peak Oil?   Would he be Glad? 

  • henway

    The destruction of civilization would indeed kill billions, but overpopulation is also the problem as well. Of course, we can’t do a lot about it right now, but overpopulation is not a good thing and if we could turn the clock back to pre-agricultural era, i would pull the trigger.

    I’m not sure i agree with the Unabomber’s hatred for technology, but I do agree that the constructs of civilization opposes our natural, biological condition. 

  • Ryan Schambers

    So he uses basic things like a house, a desk, modernized food, etc. That doesn’t mean he is hypocritical. That means that he chooses to use technology that does not harm society. Why would he not use these things if it helps him and does not hurt anybody? I think you really missed the point of his book. He isn’t saying ALL technology is bad, he is saying it often makes society worse by “oversocializing” us. It is where we just are so used to accepting what everyone does around us that we do not think for ourselves, and are not able to fully realize the consequences of our actions as a whole society. He points out that technology can be good or bad, he doesn’t say it is always bad. He just doesn’t like how we are so focused on new technology that we overlook all of its consequences, such as pollution, oversocialization (which leads to people feeling shameful about themselves, for more info read The Industrial Society and Its Future), worse labor conditions, etc. This reminds me of the argument conservatives use against those in the Occupy movement. “These people are protesting against corporations, yet they have Iphones and stuff.” That is because they aren’t protesting against corporations, they are protesting against corporate abuses and corporations dominating our political structure. It is a straw man argument. It is good you did a lot of research in this article, but I think you were too quick to pass this guy off as insane that you didn’t really think about what he wrote. Do I agree with his bombings? No, but what he published was very true. The only thing I am curious about is why he stopped bombing from 1987-1993. Some say he was institutionalized, others say he was scared after a sketch of the Unabomber came out. It should be easy to figure out, we could just ask him, but that is kind of hard since he is in the Colorado Supermax right now, and they don’t really allow visitors unless under super rare circumstances. If he was institutionalized, I am sure it would have been found out by now. It seems like the reason was because he saw that a sketch of him come out, and wanted to spend time researching on better ways to do things without getting caught. That is why his bombs got better and why he stopped bombing for awhile, I believe.

  • Jake

    Good article. But here’s an example of the flaw in your argument that these anarcho-primitivists are technology-dependent hypocrites, in Kaczynski’s own words:

    “I have quite a bit of experience identifying wild edible plants,” he said proudly, “it’s certainly one of the most fulfilling activities that I know of, going out in the woods and looking for things that are good to eat. But the trouble with a place like Montana, how it differs from the Eastern forests, is that starchy plant foods are much less available. There are edible roots but they are generally very small ones and the distribution is limited. The best ones usually grow down in the lower areas which are agricultural areas, actually ranches, and the ranchers presumably don’t want you digging up their meadows, so starchy foods were civilized foods. I bought flour, rice, corn meal, rolled oats, powdered milk and cooking oil.”

  • ibghor .

    And yet , there might perhaps be an alternative to a clash between the technium – capitalism – progress machine , and the inertia of the “lost Eden” .

    I am replying in particular to the post by “inabilites to separate” , who suggests there should be an option for those who wish to separate from “technocracy” , while stating that “Capitalism must end ” .

    Here is my take on the matter , in a sort of “pamphlet” or manifesto I posted on blogger several years ago :

    As it stands , I have purchased my piece of land in October 2012 , in Italy , in the Roman countryside and have started my first experiments with self-sufficiency . More than a year later , December 2013 , I have received a letter from the Italian revenue service telling me that the 7000 euro I paid were subject to “rectification” , as according to them , the property is worth about three times as much . They therefore claim the remnant of the taxes on the deed and a fine of a 100% on the taxes owed .
    Believe it or not , there is a law in Italy which puts a buyer of farmland in the situation of signing a blank cheque to the government . They are entitled to come back and tell you how much you were supposed to pay for a property even years after the purchase and you are treated as a tax evader .
    By the way , the law gives no parameter to the buyer in order for him to determine what an appropriate price would be .
    Round 1 : I am demonstrating to them why the price I paid is appropriate .
    I am awaiting a reply on that one , but round 2 will eventually consist in my taking them to court . Round 3 , in taking the case to the highest possible court . Round 4 , if I will get no satisfaction , I will have to proclaim that territory as indipendent from the Italian state and defend it .
    ( I do hope , and I trust , it won’t be necessary to reach such extremes ) .

    Thank you KK for your interesting space .


    Kirk Sale is an idiot!

    If society collapses, money will be useless…

    Do you know other lunatics who would be willing to take a similar public bet with me?

  • Meg

    I just finished reading the old Unabomber book by Robert Graysmith. I would say there is a little of something for everyone in the life of Ted Kaczynski. And if given the choice of his little shack or his prison cell, what would most people choose?

  • yann kervennic

    Unabomber will be uniquely remembered in the future. People will see, after this Ponzi scheme that drive our demographic growth collapses, that one guy took this seriously and did indeed desperate things.

    The important word there is one, only one. Where it would take one out of one thousand people like kaczinsky too take down this system, there was only one in all the western world, on billion of people.

    Why is that ? Because we are domesticated beasts. Like farm chiken we are have been genetically selected to be peaceful and obedient and we are unable to oppose a resistance. Those who were not obedient were slaughtered, like all those american indian who refused to live like those colonists, ploughing the land instead of hunting.
    Those who opposed the system everywhere have been imprisonned, killed, denied social status and the right to reproduce.
    Just like chicken, any person who raides animals will acknowledge this: we do not let the nasty one to breed, it is too much pain.

    So here we are, passive chicken in a warming chicken feed lot, compressed, entertained, fed with bad food that we find good if we never had other food, fat and ugly, mostly sick. We have lost all lust for freedom, just like chicken. The wild bird that gives rise to our domesticated species is fierce, he likes to fight want to reproduce with exotic mate he would fight for. The drive is not to live long, be protected and entertained like a coach potato. It is to live according to the powerfull drives that nature sets in: curiosity for new territory, sexual curiosity, the need to prove himself. All this because nature wants the species to improve and the wild animal endorse nature fight for survival.

    We do not endorse nature fight for survival, we reproduce like pigs in a farm and use ever twisted tools to plundr nature to accomodate our sick growing number. We do not care about our species and least about nature. We care about making some fat, being warm, not being punished by our master, just like farm animals. And we know the all thing we end up pretty bad, just like farm animals, but we have the internet to forget about our miserable end, and forget that we live in concrete blocks (because fewer and fewer have the possibility to reach the ever decreasing wild patched).

    But even among the most tamed animals, remains always a remaining bad genes. Unabomber is the proof that domestication is never complete.

  • congokong

    You make a common mistake in your rebuttal to what Kaczynski claims. You seem to believe he argues that we should all live in shacks like he did. That is false. What he did was a compromise, and even that compromise became more and more in favor of technological civilization when the wilderness around his home was getting destroyed. Ideally he suggests we should all live as nomads as most humans did throughout human history.

    Yes, as a nomad you still have restrictions of choice. You for example mention how you can listen to mathematicians one day while hiking the next. Our ancestors couldn’t do that. The trade-off however is immense; freedom to hunt what you want, when to wake up, where to go, etc. It’s autonomy. Even your examples are governed by rules, and these rules shrink people. Kaczynski already explains it vigorously.

    I can imagine someone asking “Then why did people embrace technology in the first place?” Because they didn’t understand the implications. Even people such as you who have the implications thrown in your face in a 35,000 worded essay don’t accept it. And the effect on our ancestors was subtle such as the example of the automobile that Ted points out. It starts as an option but eventually becomes mandatory, and even though this pattern repeats many are ignorant to it.

  • louis redfoot

    he could have just made some money and retired as a recluse in mexico or something. seems like his manifesto was a drawn out excuse of an outcast’s attempt to become somebody

  • Pandemonium

    I bumped into this researching about he Unabomber, and I got to say, your last paragraphs from the moment you start talking about how technology gives you more freedoms, proves entirely his point. You’re talking about immediate material gains, pleasures and experiences, immediate choices, you’re not evaluating that he was absolutely right, that in the long term you’re not only dependent on all these technologies to feel free and happy, but they’re intrinsically connected and one gets to a point when one can’t escape it!!

    Having where to urinate has nothing to do with happiness! a lot of your examples have nothing to do with happiness! He tried all this alone, and that is the problem, because in a community, he’d have like minds and he would have been supported and feel accepted and that he belonged, feelings and immaterial things that are vastly more important than what technology can afford us!! You can have the internet, social media, and still feel disconnected, misunderstood and lonely, and people will take you cyber life as a representation of who you are and what you do, they’ll think they don’t need to stay in touch, as they feel today!!

    The person in the mountain doesn’t feel poor necessarily, just as Amazon Indians don’t and din’t feel poor till they’re were told they were savages and had less!! They’re vastly more happy than us, they have respect for each individual and they know they place in the community, they know they’re needed and they know how to collaborate, it’s that kind of thing that gives us fulfillment and happiness, not how easy it is to do one thing or another. What is hard is to try to clean a Beverley Hills mansion without technology and maids!! and the mansion doesn’t bring you happiness; if you have a hut you might have more spare time, and happiness is the friend that comes by and knocks, and asks how you’re doing and if you want to go fish or have a cup of coffee with them!! You confuse the ease of doing things in a complicated society, material comfort with the profound happiness of belonging and being needed!! He isolated himself from the material culture that supports any individual, even the most basic life of aborigines has practical knowledge being transferred through generations, had basic tools, had knowledge and human relationships where every one had an easier time than a person living in modern Western civilization and deciding to go live in a hut somewhere, in a way, he had no culture!! He disassociated himself with ours and he didn’t join one that could be supportive like the Amish. What makes young people come out of the Amish community, orthodox whatever or mountain is the “light”, the attraction of activity and social mobility and interaction, we’re seduced by it, it doesn’t mean it’s valid or substantial, they’re are all illusions!!

  • mondosinistro

    Well, it appears it’s been eons since anyone said anything here. But it’s been on my task list for months to respond to the flow of comments on this topic. So here goes.

    Previous postings seem centered on the question of freedom–does living in industrial society take away your freedom. Ted–can I call him Ted?–seems focused on that himself. But for me, ever since I read his FC essay in 1996, the disturbing part has been something else. For him, it’s not just about freedom. I’m sure he’d agree that when you live in a society, you give up certain freedoms in order to enhance others. But he’s against the whole idea of civilization, and modernity, in general. We get too soft. We don’t have basic problems of survival to keep us on our toes. So we invent various forms of what he calls “surrogate” activities to substitute for what we’ve lost.

    Hell, I thought that was the whole point!!! Better tools (broadly conceptualized) give us more time and energy left over to engage in more creative, sublime pursuits.

    But this doesn’t sit well with some. It’s hardly a new objection. I remember Solzhenitsyn, in the ’70s, berating us in the West for our decadence and softness. (A lot of Russian commentary in general seems to keep coming back to that theme.) Well, maybe we are. Maybe some of us need more challenges. But I’d prefer they be challenges of a higher order than skinning animals and chopping wood. Otherwise, what’s the whole point of our species even existing?

    • August West James

      Ted K may have been writing about the ills of technology, but the motivation behind it was his lack of connection with his fellow man. If anything, even with the ability to communicate at a moments notice, we have become more detached and disconnected with the advent of modern technology. That can definitely be traced back to the Industrial Revolution and, if unabated, will continue until societal collapse if we don’t find a way to evolve faster spiritually.

      • mondosinistro

        I think you’ve put your finger on something very important. The more I think about it, and the more I observe certain other conspicuous social critics, the more I think Ted was not unique at all. On the contrary, there seems to be a “standard critique of modern civilization” that gets repeated over and over. Go to certain discussion forums, or even just the comments on some YouTube clips, and it seems like an echo chamber at times. And these individuals seem to generally have various, serious dysfunctions in their lives. Most are not as isolated as Ted, but there seems to be a serious alienation that runs very deep. Not only that, but they seem to think their dysfunctions are associated with a certain superiority. The ordinary individuals who seem blissfully unaware of the alarms they’re trying to raise—well, they’re just the sheeple, or the booboisie, What gets confusing it trying to figure out if this alienation is the cause, or the effect, of the belief system they have adopted.

  • Emily

    I don’t think the answer is going back to tribal culture, I think it is a matter of questioning our technology and the direction it is going and the actual need for some technology. He wrote “Not only do people become dependent as individuals on a new item of
    technology, but, even more, the system as a whole becomes dependent on
    it”. “Dependent” is an understatement, ‘addicted’ is more like it. Is some of this technology really benefiting us as a culture?

  • Kisse Ellis

    Unabomber is nothing more than a garden variety Marxist. Didn’t Marx make essentially the same argument….that industrial ‘capitalist’ society degrades and exploits men and therefore must be destroyed and/or controlled by “government” – i.e. and elite few…………….. the natural implication being that many many will have to be killed or die ?

    Of course, where unabomber goes wrong is exactly where Marx goes wrong. For one, civilization is not linear. There are golden ages and then dark ages…..booms and then busts………this process cant be stopped.

    Secondly, as the author has noted, he fails to balance the benefits with the costs: the facts are that humanity is living in the most abundant, healthy, peaceful, time ever …………….

    third, like Marx, Unabomber fails to deal with his own psychology. He projects his own neurosis on to society as a whole. Because he cannot adjust or is unwilling to learn how to adjust to the society, he wants the system destroyed …. in this way, he wants to manifest his own power process……the very thing he claims modern society is thwarting. Marx too lived in miserable poverty all his life. His philosophy was as much as projection of self hate as anything….

    His is instinct to destroyed society is his subconscious desire to destroy himself.

    So, the unabomber makes some interesting insights …. he is correct in the sense that Marx was……..he makes some interesting insights………but the conclusion is as horrifically and murderously wrong.

  • robert lemmon

    here is the only way to START OVER. Let artificial intelligence run its course to the point
    that it does control all our lives. This artificial intelligence puts humans to live in a simulation world. (think of the matrix)
    were the AI feeds us through a tube. At this point AI DELETES all records of this industrial age.
    Deletes all knowledge of power and electricity, physics and so on… It also gets rid of all the physical remains of such things.
    Then at the very last second, destroys all there is of AI and releases us into the nature world. I think this would be the only way.
    The issue is I think eventually 10’s of thousands of years society will just basically repeat itself and we will have to destroy it all over again.
    So this has to be repeated over and over. So in a way we are living in a simulation
    as some of the most intelligent people on earth say today in the year 2017. Wow!!!

  • Gregory Scott

    Two random observations, based on nothing more than my own personal experience:

    1) true, lasting spiritual contentment is largely independent from context. One can be happy in a completely wild state, and one can be miserable. One can be happy in an extremely regulated and technologically advanced culture, and one can be miserable. The primary variables, as far as I can tell, are an individual’s ability to accept ‘what is’, and their ability to feel gratitude for life and anything/everything in it.

    2) the arguments against ‘what is’ (in this case, expanding technology and increasing environmental impact) are typically rooted in fear; fear of loss of a pristine planet, fear of the ultimate downfall of humanity and possibly everything else, fear of… fill in the blank. But the certainty that current trends must necessarily continue to bad effect is no less naive and speculative than the assumption that somehow everything will work out for the best.

    It is inescapably true: none of us have any idea where all of this is going, and none of us are in control of the greater system within which we exist. But that was *always* true, and whether the ‘system’ was a wild ecology or an industrialized society. We have always been powerless against the greater forces of the cosmos, yet within our personal spheres we have all the power in the universe to shape the quality and depth of our personal experiences, to shape the meaning of our inner lives as we are shaped in return by external circumstances beyond our control or understanding.

    Whether you fight reality or agree with it, reality will win. Every single time. I find my body feels the most at peace when I accept what is, am grateful for whatever time I’ve got, do good work, act generously, and extend to everyone the respect I my self appreciate being shown.

    As always, YMMV.

  • bucketjr

    The man’s mind was fractured by clinical LSD experiments while at Harvard, To debate his schizo-treatise seems silly.