The Unabomber, known as Ted Kaczynski, was not a fan of technology. To expose the world to his anti-technology philosophy, from the years 1978 to 1995, Kaczynski sent 16 bombs to universities and airlines, killing three people and injuring 23, before he was eventually caught and sent to prison. He remains there today. At one time, he was possibly the most famous criminal in the world.
The system does not and cannot exist to satisfy human needs. Instead, it is human behavior that has to be modified to fit the needs of the system. It is the fault of technology, because the system is guided not by ideology but by technical necessity.
In his essay Industrial Society and Its Future, Kaczynski argued that while his bombings were “a bit” extreme, they were quite necessary to attract attention to the loss of human freedom caused by modern technology. His book Technological Slavery: The Collected Writings of Theodore J. Kaczynski, a.k.a. “The Unabomber” breaks all of his philosophies down for those of us that just know him through corporate news stations.
I talked to David Skrbina, confidant of Kaczynski, and philosophy professor at the University of Michigan. Skrbina wrote the intro to Technological Slavery.
Can you tell me a bit about how you and Kaczynski began to communicate? Are you still in touch with him today?
Back in 2003, I began work on a new course at the University of Michigan: ‘Philosophy of Technology.’ Surprisingly, such a course had never been offered before, at any of our campuses. I wanted to remedy that deficiency.
I then began to pull together recent and relevant material for the course, focusing on critical approaches to technology. These, to me, were more insightful and more interesting, and were notably under-analyzed among current philosophers of technology. Most of them are either neutral toward modern technology, or positively embrace it, or accept its presence resignedly. As I found out, very few philosophers of the past four decades adopted anything like a critical stance. This, for me, was highly revealing.
Anyway, I was well aware of Kaczynski’s manifesto, “Industrial society and its future,” which was published in late 1995 at the height of the Unabomber mania. I was very impressed with its analysis, even though most of the ideas were not new to me (many were reiterations of arguments by Jacques Ellul, for example—see his 1964 book The Technological Society). But the manifesto was clear and concise, and made a compelling argument.
After Kaczynski was arrested in 1996, and after a year-long trial process, he was stashed away in a super-max prison in Colorado. The media then decided that, in essence, the story was over. Case closed. No need to cover Kaczynski or his troubling ideas ever again.