Chilling Picture of the World Crushed by Industrial System; Technology Will Come to Rule Us by Changing Our Environment, Writes Saliem Fakir

Article excerpt

The courts and media in the United States condemned the Unabomber (named after his targeting of airlines and universities with letter bombs), Theodore Kaczynski, as a lone character, crazy and prone to hallucination. Is he a madman or a mad genius with a message we cannot ignore?

Some have compared him to America's mystical ecologist, Hen-ry Thoreau, minus the bombing part, but certainly in sharing Thor-eau's rejection of materialism and Thoreau's opinion that city slickers have permanently rid themselves of nature's healing presence.

Both question whether the enlightenment tradition has delivered us progress and happiness.

Kaczynski seems to have mimicked one of Joseph Conrad's fictional characters in his novel, The Secret Agent (1907), where a mad professor builds a bomb and goes after the false icons of science. The similarities are striking.

Kaczynski's act of bombing was partly precipitated by his fury at the mass media for blocking any opinion that challenged the prevailing system and its hegemony over public discourse.

His killings were calculated to bring attention to his cause - and in that he has certainly succeeded. His ideas and acts seem to have aroused a great deal of curiosity and a steady following of fans.

About 40 000 odd pages of his writings (including journals and letters) are tied up in a court battle - the Unabomber accuses the US government of violating the First Amendment by trying to sell off his writings so that the proceeds from their sale can be used to compensate the Unabomber's victims.

Kaczynski would prefer that his writings be housed for posterity at the University of Michigan's Laba-die Collection, which already boasts the largest quantity of anarchist material and writings.

Kaczynski was born in Chicago in 1942. His parents were working-class people of Polish-Catholic origin. Most of his youthful life was uneventful, and he was generally described as a quiet and shy boy, who was extremely bright - Kaczynski skipped two grades to enter university early.

Kaczynski attended Harvard University as an undergraduate and received a PhD in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1967. After a brief teaching stint at Berkeley, and finding himself despondent with society, Kaczynski devoted the rest of his life to living in Montana in a makeshift cabin he built in the woods which had no electricity or water.

Kaczynski was the most wanted serial killer by the FBI in the longest manhunt in the history of the FBI, which followed 50 000 leads.

His bombing spree went on for 17 years from 1978, killing three people and injuring 28. It was mainly aimed at scientists and businessmen. He was nabbed in April 1996, not through good detective work, but having been given in by his brother David.

The Unabomber was once described by the Economist as a "lethal Luddite" - a technophobe railing against the advance of modern science and technology. The Economist had it half-right.

Ned Ludd, who inspired the Luddites, led the first attacks (1811) on the new milling machines, not as a rejection of technology per se, but as a protest against paternalistic laws that promoted a laissez faire economic system that denied workers their rights and livelihoods.

EP Thompson, who wrote the seminal work, The Making of the English Working Class, described Luddism "as a violent eruption of feeling against unrestrained industrial capitalism".

Kaczynski is espousing something different. The Unabomber's manifesto against industrialism and technology, titled Industrial Society and the Future, displays a thoughtful and well articulated analysis of the pathology of modern society.

In it he attacks our seduction with the idea of technology-driven progress. He wants us to be saved from it entirely and go back to "wild nature".

His ideas echo some of those in the works of Jean Jacques Rous-seau, particularly Rousseau's rebuke of cold rationalism and his praise for the noble savage. …