(In blogging about David Kaczynski’s fine poetry book, A Dream Named You, I admitted to a dark fascination with his brother’s terrible crimes, but dismissed The Unabomber Manifesto as “turgid, dogmatic, hostile, and pretty quickly unreadable.” Lo and behold, my erstwhile walking partner, Michael Perkins, begged to disagree. In May 1996, he published a positive review. He also foresaw that the Unabomber, rather than being an oddball hermit of little consequence to history, was a forerunner to our present Age of Terrorism.)
Can Una Dig It?
By Michael Perkins
The Unabomber Manifesto:
Industrial Society & Its Future
Wide Open to Terrorism
By Tony Lesce
In the furor over the capture in Montana of a suspect believed to be the Unabomber, only The Nation has responded to his message to our society that is contained in his manifesto, first published in The New York Times and The Washington Post. His anti-technology screed is a rehash of the powerful arguments leveled against the baneful influence of industrialism by prominent ’60s thinkers like Jacques Ellul, Norman O. Brown, Herbert Marcuse, Lewis Mumford and Charles Reich. But he’s put his own spin on their ideas: He loathes the left and the right, and he (most curiously) approves of spanking children. But no one has talked about his ideas. It’s as if the anti-technology message is taboo, like talking about sex or death—a kind of pornography of politics.
The Unabomber (so named by the FBI—he calls himself “F.C.,” which most people think stands for “Fuck Computers”) stands accused of murdering three people and injuring 23 others with his mail bombs. You don’t have to condone such violence to agree with his critique. If we didn’t separate the message from the messenger routinely, no ideas would ever be transmitted and no political movement would be successful. (Israel began with the violence of two Jewish terrorist groups, the Stern Gang and the Irgun, for instance.) One person’s terrorism is another’s blow for liberation.
In The Unabomber Manifesto, F.C. opens with a rhetorical bang:
The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation.
Technophiles may debate this last sentence, but F.C.’s analysis otherwise seems to hit the nail on the head. But you don’t have to agree with him to wonder why his ideas aren’t talked about. Censorship comes in many forms; perhaps the most insidious is a result of our amazing powers of mass hypnosis and self-deception.
Why do so few question technology and the so-called wonders of the Internet? Why did F.C. feel that he had to blow up a few technophiles to get a hearing for his views? Perhaps because he’s only got one oar in the water, but also perhaps because he’s like the little kid saying the emperor wears no clothes.
Yet rather than focus on the ideas in The Unabomber Manifesto, as a society we’ll focus on the easy stuff, the human-interest crime story. We’ll just pretend that such scary (and obviously nutty) views as “computers might be doing us more harm than good” are the products of a mad bomber’s imagination.
In Wide Open to Terrorism, Tony Lesce writes about about how our advanced technological society has made us extremely vulnerable to acts of terrorism—from people and groups that make F.C. look like Little Bo Peep.
This is a pessimistic book because the picture is becoming worse. Terrorism isn’t merely a foreign influence. It’s clear that terrorism is as “American as apple pie,” despite the media portraying it as a foreign import, and we’re bound to see more of it in the future, even if foreign influences were to disappear miraculously… The future will bring more terrorism here because of growing imbalances in our society. The United States’s racial problems, far from being solved, are getting worse. As population grows and economic conditions worsen for those at the bottom, the pressure for violence will increase.
But the greatest danger to society as a whole is in the loss of personal liberties:
An open society such as ours is more vulnerable to terrorism than a closed society that uses media control, internal passports, residency permits and ubiquitous police surveillance. However, one way that terrorists “win” is by forcing an open society to adopt police-state measures for protections against them. We’ve already seen security checkpoints, identification cards and the like in America.
Lesce draws a profile of terrorists that makes them recognizably human:
Contrary to some opinions, terrorists are not necessarily mentally disturbed. One psychiatrist who actually examined some terrorists, instead of merely theorizing, found that they were both intelligent and humorous and showed no symptoms of mental disorders.
Far from being monsters, Lesce argues:
Both authorities and mainstream people are appalled by some terrorist tactics, such as killing and maiming innocent people. Government officials denounce terrorists as extremely immoral persons, but this is mostly propaganda.
There’s a simple reason why terrorists adopt brutal and inhumane methods. They’re merely following the same code of behavior that governments adhere to, a code based upon expediency, not morality. Governments do not behave the way their laws mandate private individuals to behave, and if a private individual behaved the way his government does, he’d be prosecuted.
So terrorism is war conducted by other means, by those on the outside looking in.
Wide Open to Terrorism makes a good case that the the United States is indeed ripe for many more terrorist incidents. But Lesce is against new “anti-terrorism” laws, because they “will only feed the aspirations of people who want more control over our lives. If the Federal government enacts a system of national identity cards, this will be merely another step towards a Big Brother establishment.”