Moderately detailed response to unabomber manifesto

Martin Helick (cf059@FreeNet.Carleton.CA)
Wed, 27 Sep 1995 22:04:50 GMT

T H E U N A B O M B E R ' S G O T T E R D A M E R U N G

What follows are my tentative reactions to the first hundred
or so paragraphs in the unabomber manifesto. They were
quickly done and not too carefully thought out, and I offer
them only as off-the-top-of-the-head reaction to his state-
ments as I understand them.

I do, however, think that he (or she) is on to something. If
you ever have noticed and bothered to read any of my hekato-
logos postings, you will realize that I see technology not
as an adjunct to culture but a culture in itself, and there-
fore mortal. No angst, no wringing of hands, no crying out
for someone to do something, certainly no nostalgia for
living in caves and rubbing sticks together, just a quiet
faith in mankind itself, that somehow, sometime, something
will follow if for no other reason than something always has.

The manifesto has been posted many places on the net. I got
mine from the Time-Warner homepage ( but
it may or may not still be there. However you may feel about
the circumstances of its publications, it is, I believe,
worth a careful read, especially his opinion as to why
technological excess is a terminal disease.

If, after ploughing through all of this, you want to hear
what else I have to say, try

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 1==========================
The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster
for the human race.
Okay. But the roots go back to the Enlightenment and to the
delusion that this if this is the not the best of all possible
worlds, tomorrow is.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 4==========================
We therefore advocate a revolution against the industrial system.
I don't think that you have to advocate it. I think that the sys-
tem as we understand it either will self-destruct or, more likely,
become an abbreviated property of a militant elite.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 5==========================
For practical reasons we have to confine our discussion to areas
that have received insufficient public attention or in which we
have something new to say.
There are some important areas that you have omitted and that is,
in part, the purpose of this post.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 6========================== a discussion of the psychology of leftism can serve as an
introduction to the discussion of the problems of modern society
in general.
I know what you mean, but I wish you hadn't used the word "left-
ist" because that establishes a political dichotomy, whether you
intend it to or not, implying that if "left" is unequivocally bad,
then "right" is unequivocally good, and who needs any more of

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 25=========================
Some people are so highly socialized that the attempt to think,
feel and act morally imposes a severe burden on them. In order to
avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive them-
selves about their own motives and find moral explanations for
feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin.
We use the term "oversocialized" to describe such people.
Okay, although "malignantly socialized" might be a little more
descriptive. Such a condition, incidentally, is politically
neutral and applies equally to both extremes, whether knee-jerk
conservative or knee-jerk liberal. The only difference between
such types Rush Limbaugh and Daniel Schorr is the nature of
their self-deception and the species of rhetoric that they they
use to flaunt it.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 39=========================
We use the term "surrogate activity" to designate an activity that
is directed toward an artificial goal that people set up for them-
selves merely in order to have some goal to work toward, or let us
say, merely for the sake of the "fulfillment" that they get from
pursuing the goal.
I personally am not too big on goals, except of course when you
have to score a game. Also,there is something puritanical about
the insistence upon purpose and the proscription of frivolity.
Or maybe you've never heard of Shelley's skylark.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 45=========================
There is good reason to believe that primitive man suffered from
less stress and frustration and was better satisfied with his way
of life than modern man is.
This may well be true. And you can continue right down the
biological scale. The skylark again. If enjoyment, contentment,
fulfillment, whatever you want to call it, could be quantified
as ecstasy per ounce of creature or some such, who is to say
who is really the "happier", we or it, zipping about in three
dimensions, singing its hearts out, unaware that one day it
will die?

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 46=========================
We attribute the social and psychological problems of modern
society to the fact that that society requires people to live
under conditions radically different from those under which the
human race evolved.
Agree. It seems only natural that the more and more we allow
allow ourselves to be shaped and transmuted by stimuli of our
own making, which is what modern society is all about, the more
incestuous the process becomes and the more vulnerable we become
to entities (whether third-world warlords or viral and bacterial
mutants) that we presume to understand but do not.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 49=========================
For primitive societies the natural world (which usually changes
only slowly) provided a stable framework and therefore a sense of
security. In the modern world it is human society that dominates
nature rather than the other way around, and modern society
changes very rapidly owing to technological change. Thus there is
no stable framework.
This should be obvious but alas, is not. One of the reasons why
we have so much trouble with "values" is that the field upon which
they must be played changes from decade to decade.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 50=========================
The conservatives are fools: They whine about the decay of
traditional values, yet they enthusiastically support techno-
logical progress and economic growth.
Totally agrese. The word "conservative" is a horrible misnomer.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 54=========================
A few pre-industrial cities were very large and crowded, yet their
inhabitants do not seem to have suffered from psychological
problems to the same extent as modern man.
This evokes one of my pet peeves. Not too long ago, the popu-
lation of a typical American city was reasonably diverse. The
automobile changed all of that, creating inner-city ghettoes
and suburban mediocrity, polluting the air, creating shopping
strips of incredible ugliness and causing our wealth to flow
out of the country in an ever-increasing stream. I can think
of nothing more culturally destabilizing than the automobile.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 65=========================
It was reported in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago that
many of the franchise-granting companies require applicants for
franchises to take a personality test that is designed to EXCLUDE
those who have creativity and initiative, because such persons are
not sufficiently docile to go along obediently with the franchise
If true (and it sounds true), what a commentary on the supposed
ingenuity, initiative and creativity of the American entrpreneur!

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 72=========================
In matters that are irrelevant to the functioning of the system we
can generally do what we please. We can believe in any religion we
like (as long as it does not encourage behavior that is dangerous
to the system). We can go to bed with anyone we like (as long as
we practice "safe sex"). We can do anything we like as long as it
is UNIMPORTANT. But in all IMPORTANT matters the system tends
increasingly to regulate our behavior.
Which is why produce at the supermarket is securely wrapped in
plastic, why 120 channels on TV are not six times better than 20,
why health care gobbles up 15% of the gross domestic product and
why we each year we more Americans are slaughtered on the highways
than were killed during the VietNamese war.

=======================FROM PARAGRAPH 76=========================
In response to the arguments of this section someone will say,
"Society must find a way to give people the opportunity to go
through the power process." For such people the value of the oppor-
tunity is destroyed by the very fact that society gives it to them.
The fallacy of classical liberalism in a nutshell

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 77=========================
Not everyone in industrial-technological society suffers from
psychological problems. Some people even profess to be quite
satisfied with society as it is.
I happen to be one of these. I have no complaints. With minor
exceptions, society has been good to me. But how long can I (or
anyone else) expect this to continue? It was Ortega y Gasset,
I believe, who said that the moment a society takes itself for
granted, and as is the fashion today, considers itself a discrete
phenomenon, that society is doomed.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 79=========================
Some people may have some exceptional drive, in pursuing which
they satisfy their need for the power process. For example, those
who have an unusually strong drive for social status may spend
their whole lives climbing the status ladder without ever getting
bored with that game.
You have implied that unless a man makes something useful and
productive of his life, however humble, his life is unfulfilled.
I think that that is okay for anthills and puritanical zealots
but not for human beings..

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 83=========================
Some people partly satisfy their need for power by identifying
themselves with a powerful organization or mass movement. An
individual lacking goals or power joins a movement or an organiza-
tion, adopts its goals as his own, then works toward these goals.
Which is why and how the Japanese moved so easily from a totali-
tarian system to a free-market one. And why and how radical
right-wing evangelism seems to have fascist overtones. What is
thoroughly overlooked by conservatives and liberals alike is that
the essence of totalitarianism is not brutality, not the loss of
privacy, not even our personal prerogatives, but the coalescence
of individual identities into a common will.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 86=========================
But even if most people in industrial-technological society were
well satisfied, we (FC) would still be opposed to that form of
society, because (among other reasons) we consider it demeaning
to fulfill one's need for the power process through surrogate
activities or through identification with an organization, rather
then through pursuit of real goals.
"Real goals", you say. But by what mandate do you (or anyone else
for that matter) judge what is really real and what is not?

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 87=========================
Some scientists claim that they are motivated by "curiosity," that
notion is simply absurd.
What an arrogant thing to say! The "surrogate activity" mantra
thing again. I think I know what you mean but I wish you had a
better way of putting it.

=========================FROM PARAGRAPH 88=========================
Some scientific work has no conceivable relation to the welfare
of the human race - most of archaeology or comparative linguis-
tics for example.
Nor do the arts. But so what? Would you say, for example, that
the culture of ancient Greece "had no conceivable relation to
the welfare of the human race"? And yet it (or at least as we
like to recall it) was "surrogate activity" in spades!

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 92=========================
Thus science marches on blindly, without regard to the real
welfare of the human race or to any other standard, obedient only
to the psychological needs of the scientists and of the government
officials and corporation executives who provide the funds for
But then again, don't we all? Can either you or I, for example,
honestly say that we are writing this stuff for the "real welfare
of the human race"? Come on, now! We're doing it because there
is something rowdy within us that says "do it!", and if it is
truly for the "real welfare of mankind", fine. Or, if it's just a
wild trip for our own fevered and probably frustrated egoes, that's
just the way that it is.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 94=========================
By "freedom" we mean the opportunity to go through the power
process with real goals, not the artificial goals of surrogate
activities......(to be) in control (either as an individual or as
a member of a SMALL group) of the life-and-death issues of one's
existence....(to have) the power to control the circumstances of
one's own life.
This is okay when the parameters are physical, if you really have
little or no control over your environment, like a man in prison
or an animal in a cage. My idea of freedom is a bit more meta-
physical; it has something to with a quiet awareness that any
decision that I choose to make is not only workable but produc-
tive, and if I have to maneuver that decision around obstacles,
human or otherwise, what the hell; we don't, after all, live in a

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 95=========================
It is said that we live in a free society because we have a
certain number of constitutionally guaranteed rights. But these are
not as important as they seem. The degree of personal freedom that
exists in a society is determined more by the economic and techno-
logical structure of the society than by its laws or its form of
Except in states with a single, dominant culture (pre worldwar2
Japan) and/or where church and state are one (Islam).

=========================FROM PARAGRAPH 96=========================
As for our constitutional rights, consider for example that of
freedom of the press........Anyone can have something printed
or can distribute it on the Internet.....but what he has to say
will be swamped by the vast volume of material put out by the
media, hence it will have no practical effect.
Yes. Freedom of speech is one thing. Freedom to access every-
thing that is being said is something else again. The Internet
is supposed to remedy this, but by the time the communication
cartels get through locking out everyone who doesn't buy into
their particular system of access, I'm afraid it'll be the same
thing, all over again.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 98=========================
Freedom is restricted in part by psychological control of which
people are unconscious, and moreover many people's ideas of what
constitutes freedom are governed more by social convention than
by their real needs.
Once again, you lose me. Some social conventions are counter-
productive but some are excellent, even some accepted by great
masses of people.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 103========================
If a change is made that is large enough to alter permanently a
long-term trend, then the consequences for the society as a whole
cannot be predicted in advance.
Which is why revolutions inevitably are stolen. For once power
passes from an organized government to a collective assembly, the
flow of events is as mercurial as the collective and inevitably,
the original mandate becomes diverted.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 114========================
As explained in paragraph 65-67, 70-73, modern man is strapped
down by a network of rules and regulations, and his fate depends
on the actions of persons remote from him whose decisions he cannot
influence........The system HAS TO regulate human behavior closely
in order to function......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 function-
ing of industrial-technological society.
If we are going to fill our lives with mechanical and electronic
gadgets, we not only must put up with their complexity, we must
put up with the infinitely greater complexity of the gadgets that
create them, not only the machinery itself but the logicistical
network that puts into one package components from all over the
world. And all we have to do is suffer a power outage or a fuel
shortage to understand how vulnerable that network can be.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 118========================
Conservatives and some others advocate more "local autonomy." Local
communities once did have autonomy, but such autonomy becomes less
and less possible as local communities become more enmeshed with and
dependent on large-scale systems like public utilities, computer
networks, highway systems, the mass communications media, the modern
health care system.
Mentioned before but worth repeating.

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 128========================
Electricity, indoor plumbing, rapid long-distance communications,
how could one argue against any of these things, or against any
other of the innumerable technical advances that have made modern
Something else that has scarcely been mentioned: the thrill,
satisfaction, whatever you want to call it, that comes with a
new invention (like a new toy) eventually begins to fade. Does
a passenger taking his or her first ride in an airplane feel
any greater thrill than a passenger 150 years ago taking his or
her first ride in a train? It's a temptation, of course, to
say yes, but is that really true? Or, to put it differently,
is the ephemeral (relatively) pleasure gained worth the real
labor and anguish spent?

========================FROM PARAGRAPH 129========================
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.
The Enlightenment made the promise of ever upwards, ever better,
the Darwinians made it into a biological metaphor. But just as
species can evolve from the simple to the complex, so they can
retrogress. Progress is not inevitable and society, however
mechanized and electronically stitched together, is no exception.