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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  The una-anarchist who saw evil in organized empathy
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The una-anarchist who saw evil in organized empathy

The Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, gained notoriety for his crude bombings across the US between 1978 and 1995. In his manifesto, he called for the overthrow of the economic and technological basis of society and criticised the psychological tendencies of the left. Kaczynski committed suicide in prison aged 81.

The una-anarchist who saw evil in organized empathyPremium
The una-anarchist who saw evil in organized empathy

As a columnist, I have never needed a reason, like a news angle or even your interest, to talk about things. So, to discuss the philosophy of a forgotten public figure, I did not need him to be in the news. But I had to wait for the death of a man widely known as ‘Unabomber’ to talk about his ideas. Between 1978 and 1995, he detonated crude bombs that he mailed or hand delivered across the US. He killed three and wounded more than 20. His victims were chosen by him, but he had no personal grudge against them. To him, they were symbols of technology and industrialization, which he blamed for the “disaster" that was modern life. His victims were mostly employees of universities and airlines, the reason why the US Federal Bureau of Investigation called him ‘Unabom’, which stood for “University-and-airlines bomber". The media eventually named him Unabomber.

In 1995, he submitted a detailed premise for anarchy and his philosophical complaint against the modern world, titled, ‘Industrial Society and Its Future’ to the New York Times and Washington Post. He threatened that if they did not run his 35,000-word piece, he would kill more people. The papers decided to publish it in a collaboration. It would appear in the Washington Post as an eight-page insert, and the Times would share the cost of printing. It became an instant hit.

One reader of the essay called in to say that the style of prose and ideas appeared to belong to his brother Theodore Kaczynski, a gifted mathematician who became a recluse. Kaczynski turned out to be the Unambomber. He spent the rest of his life in prison, watching the world fare better than he had foretold. But then foretelling is where most writers go wrong. His portrait of modern people, especially the fellowship of do-gooders, struck many like a bolt.

On 10 June, he was found dead in his jail cell. He had killed himself, but officials are yet to reveal how. He was 81.

Here I present some of the ideas from his essay, which was a call to action to overthrow the entire “economic and technological basis of the present society". Very early in the piece, Kaczynski observed, “One of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world is leftism, so a discussion of the psychology of leftism can serve as an introduction to the discussion of the problems of modern society in general." He perceived “the left" as “a psychological type." He focused on “two psychological tendencies that underpin modern leftism."

One of them was “feelings of inferiority," such as “low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, depressive tendencies, defeatism, guilt, self-hatred, etc." These feelings, he wrote, made leftists speak on behalf of other underdogs whom they discreetly deemed as beneath them. They did this not out of compassion as they claimed, but a subconscious craving for power. “Leftists tend to hate anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful… Art forms that appeal to modern leftish intellectuals tend to focus on sordidness, defeat and despair…"

Apart from “feelings of inferiority", the other defining trait of “the left", according to Kaczynski, was “oversocialization".

‘Socialization’ is a formal term in psychology for the conditioning of children to follow rules. So his description is puzzling at first glance because “the left" does fight authority. He explained that society’s moral codes are hard to follow. Most of us break these moral codes through minor infractions. But some people are such conformists that they need moral reasons to be nasty, like despising a group of people. “In order to avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin."

Kaczynski’s goal was to damage organized technology because it ruined nature. At some point, he had grown disenchanted with industrial addictions and wished to live at peace with nature, alone. But he had no peace because the advanced world encroached on his way of life. This was his true concern, and in his war against tech capitalism, he needed to muster moral rage on behalf of workers.

His disdain for “the left" or organized empathy emerged from his perception of it as a disease that infects and takes over all other revolutions. But, as the left is a fellowship of group-think who tend to ostracize those who do not agree with them, Kaczynski hoped that an early declaration of hostility towards them would make them disown his war, and he could then fight his battle without being appropriated by that “psychological type".

I waited till Kaczynski’s death to discuss his manifesto because any other moment would have made it look like a tribute. I do not have a problem with tributes, but it would make him look like the originator of these thoughts. But the truth is that many of us arrived at some of his ideas before reading him. In fact, he is powerful for the only reason why any writer is—not because he is transformative, but because he has corroborated your own thoughts.

Kaczynski’s lawyer advised him to plead insanity to escape a death sentence. He refused, even though he had a good shot at being formally declared insane. Kaczynski is a reminder that making immense sense is not the same as sanity. Being mad is not about having some beliefs; it is about doing something about them. Sanity, it turns out, is the ability to do nothing much to further your convictions.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, novelist, and the creator of the Netflix series, ‘Decoupled’

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Updated: 18 Jun 2023, 11:09 PM IST
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