Thursday, November 27, 2014

A misguided manifesto

Nearly 20 years ago, the national media was abuzz with the publication of the Unabomber's manifesto. The editors at the St. Paul Pioneer Press wanted someone to read and analyze it, but the task proved to be beyond the ability of its columnists and journalists. Then the Technology Editor had the bright idea of having their twenty-something games columnist have a look at it, thereby resulting in the only time my name appeared on the Pioneer Press Op/Ed page.

I found this when I was digging through some of my old game review columns that I've been gradually scanning and putting up at Recommend. I thought perhaps it might be of interest to the sort of hardcore readers who will swing by today as well as those who used to read my WND column to see how my thought processes have been fairly consistent over the years.

Unabomber misses how technology aids freedom
St. Paul Pioneer Press
October 4, 1995

While the Washington Post’s publication of the Unabomber’s treatise, “Industrial Society and its Future,” has attracted much attention and commentary, it is unfortunate that most of the discussion has revolved around the question of publication rather than the manifesto itself.

The publication issue is not only of little interest to anyone outside the newsrooms, but also will resolve itself soon, as Unabomber imitators will either begin to crawl out from under their rocks, or they will not.

But the treatise is not worthy of attention so much for the macabre means through which it reached the mainstream media as for the concepts it contains. The Unabomber’s discussion of modern leftist psychology is not only thought-provoking but insightful, while his indictment of the evils brought about by industrial society carry more weight than the critiques put forth by latter-day Marxists. Nevertheless, when it comes to the issue of technology and human freedom, the Unabomber goes astray.

The manifesto traces many of the psycho-social problems of modern society to the Industrial Revolution. Since technology has made it unnecessary or impossible for humans to support themselves independently, it prevents them from exercising the natural Power Process of goal setting and attainment. (The “Power Process” is a concept that psychologists say is necessary for human mental health. The “Power Process” is the natural need of humans to exert some degree of control over their own destiny.) This inability to exercise the Power Process leads inevitably to the loss of dignity and human autonomy. The central point of the treatise thus revolves around the inherent conflict between technological development and individual freedom.

The Unabomber sees the seductive nature of technology as a more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom. While each new technology appears desirable by itself, the totality of societal-technological advance slowly envelops us, whether we actively choose to accept it or not. As we become dependent on the new technologies, government steps in and regulates access to them, removing even limited opportunity to exercise the Power Process and eventually resulting in the reduction of human beings to engineered products and mere cogs in the social machine.

What this theory ignores is that technology is a double-edged sword. Far from being the inevitable tool of government repression, technology has historically shown itself to be a primary force in providing freedom and power to the people. The monopolistic power of the medieval Catholic Church could not have been broken without the printing press, just as the omnipresent television cameras recently helped Boris Yeltsin and the infant Russian democracy movement survive the last reaction of the Soviet hardliners.

Governments and other would-be oppressors may use technology, but they are also afraid of it in the people’s hands. Witness our own government’s fear of high-level encryption software and its tawdry attempts to force the Clipper encryption chip on us. The Clipper chip would have allowed the FBI and other government agencies to read any data supposedly encrypted by the public. God forbid that we should send e-mail without the FBI being able to read it!

And the Chinese government has a tiger by the tail as it learns how difficult it is to allow free technological development and still keep the masses under control. The point is that technology can be a force for freedom as well as a weapon against it.

To prevent us from being turned into cogs in the techno-industrial machine, the Unabomber’s manifesto prescribes a return to a more natural state where our time would be spent exercising the Power Process by surviving via primitive methods, so we would no longer need to find surrogate means of exercising the Process. By “surrogate means,” he meant art, science, sports and anything not immediately related to survival. One wonders where the dignity and autonomy are to be found in the primitive life that Hobbes once characterized as nasty, brutish and short.

This regressive longing for a return to the natural state is nothing new. At the very least it echoes back 200 years to Rousseau. But human nature is very much a part of nature too, and like the Left he disdains, the Unabomber argues his way into the totalitarian corner of making choices for people in order to preserve their freedom to choose. George Orwell would have been proud.

But truly autonomous freedom, the freedom to choose and to exercise the Power Process also means the freedom to choose poorly. If Americans are working harder and longer than before, it is not because technology forces them to do so, but because many of us have decided to work more in order to pursue the larger TV, the BMW or the second home. These decisions to pursue things we do not need may well be foolish, but they are not the Unabomber’s to make. They are ours.

Day writes a Sunday technology column for the Pioneer Press.

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Anonymous LES November 27, 2014 12:14 PM  

"This regressive longing for a return to the natural state is nothing new."

It is the Left's futile attempt to break into Eden.

Blogger Jason Roberts November 27, 2014 12:27 PM  

If feminism is Eve's revolt from God's judgment, isn't man's desire to automate as much work as possible Adam's revolt?

Anonymous Wyrd November 27, 2014 12:35 PM  

Currently watching 2001 on AMC. What a progressive vision of the future. That obelisk may be full of stars but chimps don't care unless they can eat or fuck it.

Anonymous LES November 27, 2014 12:42 PM  

Feminism is the rejecting of the curse God put on Eve and the taking on of the curse that God put on Adam.

Anonymous JohnS November 27, 2014 12:59 PM  

Here's an article from The Atlantic about how he got that way (maybe) :
Harvard and the making of the Unabomber

Anonymous The Scolds' Bridle November 27, 2014 1:26 PM  

Slow golf clap.

Nice work, and the reason why I have been a reader for years.

Anonymous Aeoli Pera November 27, 2014 2:01 PM  

Nearly identical to Paul Cooijmans' psychological assessment:

The manifesto interweaves two independent types of criticism:

1. Criticism of technology - part of this is sound, but the essence of it is probably disturbed;
2. Criticism of "leftism" - most of this is sound, and minor aspects of it are less convincing.

Anonymous Anonymous November 27, 2014 2:21 PM  

Is there anything you would revise if you were writing it for today?


Blogger ajw308 November 27, 2014 2:21 PM  

Looks like he spawned at least one like minded thinker.

Anonymous DT November 27, 2014 2:26 PM  

If Americans are working harder and longer than before, it is not because technology forces them to do so, but because many of us have decided to work more in order to pursue the larger TV, the BMW or the second home.

Large TVs are cheaper today then the small TVs of our childhoods. And the vast majority of Americans have neither BMWs nor second homes.

No, Americans are working harder because our government taxes us on one hand while inflating away the value of what they "generously" let us keep on the other. Meanwhile they import 3rd world laborers to do the jobs 'Americans will not do' for a fraction of what Americans used to do them for.

And let's not even get started on Wall St. and the banking class.

Agreed with the rest of your post, but looking at how my family, my friends, and I have fared over the past two decades...this quote struck a nerve. With the exception of those in government jobs, the life of everyone I personally know would have been immeasurably better if our government was not a greedy, gluttonous pig hell bent on lies and destruction.

Anonymous Big Bill November 27, 2014 2:37 PM  

And we were so worried about the Clipper chip.

That was a long, long time ago, wasn't it?

Blogger Maple Curtain November 27, 2014 3:17 PM  

Why would George Orwell have been proud? VD: can you elaborate?

Blogger Res Ipsa November 27, 2014 3:30 PM  


I very much enjoyed that piece. That was the kind of writing that first drew me to your work. Thanks for reprinting it.

Happy Thanksgiving. I don't know if you're being American traditional today or having some of Space Bunny's fantastic vodka penne, either way my best wishes to you and yours.

Blogger jdwalker November 27, 2014 4:04 PM  

Along the lines of some of the other posts, I was surprised by the fact that if it didn't carry a 1995 date I might have mistaken it for a current article, especially the bit about encryption and the FBI.

OpenID simplytimothy November 27, 2014 4:31 PM  

OT: A rhetorical principle I have learned here has come in useful in an important argument at Anthony Watt's Watts Up With That;

Watt had a guest blogger stating that it is time to expose the motive behind the AGW scam In the article the author used the example of Goebbel's big lie.

Predictably, claims of "How dare you call me Hitler" are raised in a response to that article; Although the author's do not strike me as the malevelont type of SJW, their argument is an attempt to disqualify. (thanks for teaching me to recognize that stuff, VD)

I think you might find the thread interesting for three reasons.

1. There is very significant push-back against the (inadvertent) SJW "can't we all just get along" admonition.
2. This is the first time I have read that a public accounting of the AGW scam is called for .
3. The existence and exposure of this scam is an important part of scientific history and should be studied in coming generations as a cautionary tale.

I have a hunch this could be the start of a major shift in the AGW scam debate.

Anonymous The other skeptic November 27, 2014 6:02 PM  

Speaking of a misguided manifesto, the Media has used its bully pulpit to publish the addresses of people for a while, including gun owners in New York State and the address of Darren Wilson, the cop who shot Gentle Giant Mike Brown.

Perhaps it is time to start making the addresses of Journalists available on line.

Anonymous bw November 27, 2014 6:06 PM  

"Una" bomber? The medium is the message.
He most certainly did it all on his own.

Anonymous The other skeptic November 27, 2014 6:41 PM  

Steve Sailer has an interesting take on reparations.

Anonymous tiredofitall November 27, 2014 7:15 PM  

"And we were so worried about the Clipper chip.

That was a long, long time ago, wasn't it?" - Big Bill

Yeah...just think, they can do it all with software now. No need for pesky hardware or letting folks know ahead of time they're being monitored. Ahh progress.

Anonymous JohnS November 27, 2014 8:49 PM  

Naw, that's the fbi being cute: UN= University, + A= Airlines, bomber.

Anonymous zen0 November 27, 2014 8:58 PM  

Maple Curtain November 27, 2014 3:17 PM

Why would George Orwell have been proud? VD: can you elaborate?

If I may: UnaBombast is using doublethink as an ideological tool. George Orwell identified doublethink as an ideological tool.

Ergo, George Orwell would be PROUD of UnBombast , in an ironic or sarcastic sense.

You a Canadian, Maple?

Anonymous bob k. mando November 27, 2014 9:20 PM

Anonymous bob k. mando November 27, 2014 9:29 PM  

just as a comment to the Palemoon 'posting problems':

i've had several posts show as appended to a thread subsequently disappear. in fact, this happened the first time i tried to post this message.

my suspicion is that we're having more problems with the commenting system, such as when simultaneously submitted posts would get merged with each other.

Anonymous Anubis November 27, 2014 9:57 PM  

While slightly off the topic of the unabomber, did you know that there are limits to how many bombs you can buy with the food stamp card?
"The men wanted to acquire two more bombs, the sources said, but could not afford to do it until one suspect’s girlfriend’s Electronic Benefit Transfer card was replenished. "

Anonymous bob k. mando November 27, 2014 10:26 PM  

AG OT, because no toys are ever marketed to girls:

Blogger Maple Curtain November 27, 2014 10:31 PM  

@zen0: thanks, and yes.

Anonymous zen0 November 27, 2014 10:37 PM  

> @zen0: thanks, and yes.

Your welcome, and me too. West Coast

Blogger Zimri November 27, 2014 10:56 PM  

"God invented tools, the devil machines" -- Don Colacho

Anonymous Anon November 28, 2014 12:40 AM  

"No, Americans are working harder because our government taxes us on one hand while inflating away the value of what they "generously" let us keep on the other. Meanwhile they import 3rd world laborers to do the jobs 'Americans will not do' for a fraction of what Americans used to do them for."

This. And don't forget that a lot of those goobermint spoils are because diversity. The social/economic costs of maintaining a welfare state for the invaders and freeloaders.

Anonymous Colorado Confederate November 28, 2014 12:42 AM  

I am impressed that Mr. Beale, even in the foolishness and impulsiveness of young manhood, could be so prescient. Moreso, even, than most so-called intelligent and mature analysts.

Technology is a tool, nothing more. Human nature, being what it is, ensures that all technology will be used to the maximum extent of evil; but like all tools, can be used for great good and increase.

Or, to quote General George S. Patton upon the development of the nuclear weaponry: "So far as the atomic bomb is concerned, while it is a scientific invention of the first water, it is not as earth shaking as you might think. When man first began fighting man, he used his teeth, toe-nails, and fingernails. Then one day a very terrified or very inventive genius picked up a rock and bashed a man in the head while the latter was gnawing at his vitals. The news of this unheard of weapon unquestionably shocked Neolithic society, but they became accustomed to it.

"Thousands of years later, another genius picked up the splintered rib of a mastodon and using it as a dagger struck the gentleman with the rock. Again pre-historic society was shocked and said, 'There can be no more wars. Did you hear about the mastodon bone?

"It’s the unconquerable soul of man, not the nature of the weapon he uses, that insures victory.

Anonymous Daniel November 28, 2014 1:55 AM  

Dread of nuclear apocalypse, a technological tyranny, or hope of a Singularity all have one thing in common:

They are only possible in our narrow imaginations. Such silver bullets bring down the werewolves while we dream, but in the light of day...they are but the powerful expression of that grand non-substance known as fear.

Blogger IM2L844 November 28, 2014 2:44 AM  

"It’s the unconquerable soul of man, not the nature of the weapon he uses, that insures victory."

I'm crushing your head!

Anonymous The Ghost of Gen. Patton November 28, 2014 3:03 AM  

I am death, destroyer of worl... Wait, that's from one of the engineers that worked on the thing. F*cking commies. Probably reincarnates of the Indus Army.

Blogger thimscool November 28, 2014 8:50 AM  

Vox, I remember reading this years ago, noting my accord, and then learning how much less accord I had with your views as developed in your column and this blog.

A whole lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, but I still read here, and admire your stamina if not your worldview... you are a consistent, bright light of libertarian christian thought. Thanks for providing such a wealth of information.

Anonymous Heaviside November 29, 2014 3:47 AM  

Perhaps the Catholic Church and the Soviet "hardliners" were in the right.

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