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  • On Mad Bombers
  • Wade Sikorski
The Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society and Its Future(Jolly Roger Press, 1995)

As it turns out, I am an overeducated Polish hermit who lives in Montana, has a beard, and writes anti-technology tracts. When the FBI arrested Ted Kaczynski and charged him with the Unabomber’s crimes I half expected the FBI to knock on my door, slap handcuffs on me, and say, “Right profile. Wrong address.” The FBI didn’t, to my relief, but friends I hadn’t been in touch with for years have been calling me up, a nervous curiosity in their voice, and asking, “Just how areyou, Wade?” Implication by similarity, I guess.

When the story on the Unabomber broke, I found myself drawn toward it, as if Kaczynski were a double that had secretly haunted my life, a shadow of myself that was emerging from the forests at the opposite end of the state. I am not, you see, at all like Ted Kaczynski. For one thing, I take a shower every day. In the summer I even take two. For another, Ted hunts rabbits; I talk to them. Most important, I am a postmodernist, and Kaczynski is a god dammed analytic philosopher. Maybe that is why—if he is in fact the Unabomber—he kills people and I don’t. I have always suspected that the analytic method can pervert, corrupt, and warp a person’s brain.

Kaczynski was trained as a mathematician, apparently a very good one. He landed a tenure track position at Berkeley, and he seemed likely to get tenure when he resigned and moved to Montana. This seems like neurotic behavior, even incomprehensible, but, I contend, Kaczynski was only doing what anyone truly committed to the analytic method would do—make logical deductions from solidly established premises and act accordingly. If it were taken as a given that technology was destroying the planet and destroying human freedom, it would be unconscionable to work at a job that promoted the development of technology. Mathematics is thelanguage of technology. Teaching it to students, when they would use it to build H-bombs, design computers, and develop new pesticides, would be selling out on his convictions. He couldn’t do that, so he moved to Montana and lived a life that was not implicated in technology. Logical, very logical.

Most serial killers are deeply disturbed people, the story goes, driven by irrational passions beyond their control. Yet Kaczynski insists that this is not true of him. When Tom Tyler, a social psychologist at Berkeley, was quoted in a newspaper saying that the Unabomber case was an indication of social problems, the Unabomber wrote him a letter saying: “The trouble with psychologists is that in commenting on what people say or do they often concentrate exclusively on the non-rational motivations behind the speech or behavior. But human behavior has a rational as well as an irrational component, and psychologists should not neglect the rational component. So if you take the trouble to read our manuscript and do any further thinking about the “unabom” case, we suggest that you should not only consider our actions as a symptom of social or psychological problems; you should also give attention to the substance of the issues that we raise in the manuscript.”

A fair and reasonableprotest. Notice that the Unabomber does not deny that his actions are an indication of social or psychological problems, in fact the Unabomber’s “Manifesto” almost acknowledges that the author is a tormented person. But this does not mean, according to the Unabomber, that he cannot act rationally to oppose technology. Seeking to break down the psychological diagnosis that would dismiss the rational purpose behind his efforts, the Unabomber asks us to judge his actions not by the categories of insanity, irresistible passion, and abnormal pathology that psychology has used to explain serial killers with but by the standards of reason, logic, and sound induction associated with modern science.

Here is an irony. Technology is the expression of reason, logic, and rigorous science, and the Unabomber wants to demonstrate that it is reasonable, logical, and justified to destroy technology. That’s what...

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