Lecture 4: Industrial Society and its Future: Part 2

I discuss five broad points made by Kaczynski in Industrial Society and its Future in this second installment of the Unabomber lectures. The five broad points are: (1) Freedom and technological progress are incompatible; (2)Technocrats are necessary for any large-scale organization of technology; (3) Technology only augments the powerful and technological “progress” is a myth; (4) Reform is impossible so revolution is the only option available if freedom is to be regained; and (5) The positive political project must include a significant minority persuaded by Anarcho-primitivism through a form of populism.

I offer a few critical questions to probe Kaczynski’s thinking in the Unabomber Manifesto and update his criticisms to fit current developments in technology and society.

(1) Freedom and Technological “Progress” are Incompatible:
The advance of the technological system is predicated on the incorporation of human and non-human subject-objects into a synthetic technological environment. This requires disciplining wildness inherent in autarkic organic systems such as humans – for Kaczynski – and other sources of energy and labor deemed important to the reproduction of Industrial Society. This means that Kaczynski’s conception of freedom – a sort of environmental freedom to fulfill one’s power process and deal with problems through individual and small group efforts – is impeded by the growth of industrial society that must occlude the “important decisions” from the living it attempts to draw into its material organization. This process of drawing in the living into disciplinary networks mediated by and through the logic of the machine – he calls technical necessity – is witnessed most acutely in times of crisis. Policing, for example, is increased around infrasturucutre critical to the reproduction of the technological basis for social organization, such as hydrocarbons. Police regularly target and harass environmental organizations intent on protecting common lands and preserving communal reproductive ability for humans not fully incorporated into the techno-social body. These activities are usually accompanied by an advance of the technological system elsewhere through terraforming the planet in the shape of the machine as its model. This is done to territorialize resources necessary for techno-social reproduction and ape humans to the model of the machine while paying no attention to the regular needs of humans which Charlie Chaplin signaled in the 1936 classic Modern Times. Kaczynski blames the regimentation of humans into and through systems of norms based on the model of the machine as the cause for the mass proliferation of psychological maladies, such as depression and anxiety, as well as environmental destruction as a result of the interruption of the power process necessary for systemic expansion.

Chaplin’s movements mirror the technical necessity of the technological system as the gears themselves attempt to incorporate him into their being. The industrial system itself is presented as an unnatural way of organizing human behavior through the regimentation of labor relative to speed. Workers do not gain or use the commodities each helps bring into being through the division of labor necessary for industrial production representing an alienated subject that acts as a cog in the great gear-works of society as a technological system. The processes of abstracted, regimented production and social alienation are committed for the benefit of a small favored elite that draw their power and lifeform from the machines they serve as technocrats.

(2) Technocrats are necessary for any large-scale organization of technology:
Technocrats are extensions of technological society and acts as agents for the advance of the machine as the model for society. They are not always unified in their advances of technological society as they advocate for technological adoption in piecemeal fashion. However, their efforts always include an allegiance to the advance of society through technologies that must be woven into the web of interlocking technologies that create the synthetic environment. The technical regimes structuring humans and non-humans through environmental domination, following Lewis Mumford, is a regime of technics grounded in and structuring relationships to Nature. The role of the technocrat within industrial society is that of a manager and their duties include advancing technological adoptions during times of crisis sold to users as solutions to the problems created by industrial society. More often than not, these “solutions” are sold as “progress” but do not advance the project of human freedom and, in many cases are merely surveillance technologies used to gather information on users . This means that technological “progress” in times of crisis is, more often than not, used as a justification for increased managerial control that helps the technocrat fulfill its life functions as servants to the machine through the domestication of other humans and the interruption of their power processes through technological adoption. This is a form of techno-social evolution that necessarily robs the human of freedom while presenting the piecemeal adoption of technologies as benign, and singular additions within the lifeworlds of humans living under industrial society. The technocrat builds the lifeworlds of the machine through piecemeal advances of individual technologies to advance their own power and prestige as seen in the 2015 film Ex Machina.

The technocrat always promises technological “progress” in their roles as systemic incorporators and their siren-song promises to bring all good things to life. However, the human is often instrumentalized within the reproduction of the machine and is necessarily sacrificed to the uncaring and unfeeling logics of abstraction that serve as the social model. The technocrat, as an agent of the machine, works to blur the lines between human and machine such that their automatic operations seem human and normal in societies built upon the machine itself. Their relationship to the machine is underscored by their individual reproductive ability being mediated by and through the technical webs that allow for techno-social reproduction. This is because they pursue science and technology as surrogate activities with little regard to the consequences of that activity within the web of social relations forming the techno-social environment.

(3) Technology only augments the Powerful and technological “progress” is a myth:
The technocratic function of people within the construction of technological environments implies a privileged position for the technocrat within society. As industrial society is dependent on large-scale organizations operating to advance and secure the material conditions necessary for its reproduction, technological adoptions within crisis furthers techno-social managerial control. This can occur through the above processes of social advocacy, such as propaganda/advertising campaigns that persuade people into technological incorporation, or through the use of technological force to coerce recalcitrant subjects into proscribed behaviors. The latter can be accomplished through the use of law as a technology of government, or through forms of policing designed to destroy popular dissent and fragment movements into easily digestible components for machinic reproduction.

Kaczynski notes that the powerful will always take more from the weaker in a parasitic fashion and crisis is often used as a smoke screen to adjust features of the environment beneficial to the powerful. His point is that the powerful will always serve themselves, and, in so doing, serve the machines which give them their power. This is often related to the continued violence visited upon people historically outside of the techno-social regime that provides the material basis for Industrial society. Native Americans, for example, have been targeted by the agents of machine society that attempts to “incorporate” them through oppression, broken promises, socialization that takes the form of re-education and depriving them of their abilities to reproduce their communities and maintain their power processes. These anti-human actions often come under cloak of a “civilizing mission,” that promises to bring the technological “goods” of modernity to those living lives other than through the regimentation of the technological system.

The advance of the technological system and its local articulations through interactions with conquered peoples, animals, landscapes and floristic communities, however, always contains negative consequences. In the previous lecture, I noted Ihde’s Idol of Paradise as appropriate for understanding this sort of techno-fantasy. Every technological adoption comes with trade-offs so pretending that technology ONLY brings good things to life is to live the life of a techno-fetishist. High-tech agriculture, for example, is a technological system attempting to rationalize the production of food while seceding the most visceral domain of human existence to organizations built upon, and exhibiting the effects of technology. Industrial agriculture is an attempt to produce environments through and for the technological systems and often grinds against the humans yoked to it. Piecemeal technological adoption creates dependencies between technocrats, their organizations and end users and it is the aim of technocrats to create and exploit those dependencies for their machines. Indian farmers, for example, show us the psychological costs of convenience and high-tech agriculture. While ecological damage is committed in the name of technical necessity and “progress,” but in fact only serves the machine and its technocrats.

This music video, “Freedom,” by Rage Against the Machine documents surveillance, and violence by agents of machine society against Native American rights organizations in the 1970’s.

(4) Reform is impossible, so revolution is the only option available if freedom is to be regained:
Kaczynski is convinced that reform is impossible for a number of reasons, but a handy summation of his argument is “You don’t change the system, the system changes you.” This is because the technological system is so large and complex that it is beyond the grasp of any one human mind. Technical necessity governs the production of society itself and the purpose of that logic is to insure the reproductive ability of society’s technological basis. In the back of his mind, Kaczynski seems to worry about the ascendance of a technological singularity in which the ability for humans to control their techno-social and environmental development is seized by the technological system itself. This is, again, due to the piecemeal introduction of technologies within the environment that simultaneously extract information about it while attempting to control it. Piecemeal technological introduction means that there is a constantly shifting baseline of how invasive and regulatory technology is within synthetic environments. This inculcates a ready acceptance of almost any technology within a subject incentivising a constant consumption and trust of the latest-greatest while paying little regard to the overarching patchwork of techno-social regulation. This creates a technophilic attitude that does not recognize the incipient creep of technological enslavement.

The technophile is a sort of technological fetishist that advocates for technological fixes to social problems. They may be technocrats, however Kaczynski’s thrust is that they are mouthpieces for the technological system that naively believe the siren-songs of technology itself. They do not see social problems as arising from techno-social organization, or having their roots in the de-natured synthetic environments of industrial society and will blindly sacrifice people to the machine by advancing more technical adoptions. Thus, the technophile is simply allowing the system to spiral further away from human control by the treating the symptoms through advancing techno-addictions, but never addressing the causes of social maladies built upon the machine as model for society.

In the final analysis, then, the technophile is willing to secede judgement to machines or human-like machines that rob swaths of humanity of their autonomy and interrupt their power processes through increasing techno-social complexity. This means that there will be more technological intrusions in the everyday that surveil and police humans to lessen their abilities to interrupt techno-social reproduction. As Philip K. Dick asked regarding the identification of “dangerous” elements within machine society “How does the scanner see?” This question is largely decided by the designers of technologies constrained by the technical necessity to reproduce machine civilization at the expense of autonomy and freedom. Reform, therefore, is impossible as every aberration or anomaly is either incorporated into the developmental logic of the machine or crushed under its wheels.

Just watch this film. It has Alex Jones as raving lunatic (no acting class necessary) and Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson, and Robert Downey Jr. as paranoid, and strung out drug addicts (no comment on “acting” experience) living in an over-technologized and dystopian L.A. (not hard to imagine).

(5) The positive political project must include a significant minority persuaded by anarcho-primitivism through a form of populism:

Freedom and autonomy, for Kaczynski must be channeled through a non-conformist, anti-servile, and anti-technological populism that relies on a division between the technocratic elite and the rest of humanity subject to the rule of the machine. Kaczynski understands that there will be cast-offs of the system who do not want to, or otherwise cannot conform to the molds the system needs to reproduce. They are either left to wither and rot, or forcibly removed, or modified by the systems and its agents. In either case, his populism relies on mobilizing a sizable minority to overthrow the technological system at the heart of society and to smash the remaining pieces thus returning humanity to a primitive state of anarchy by producing an environment in which the power process can flourish away from the surrogate activities of modernity.

His populist project relies on organizing non-leftists to accelerate social breakdown and these people can be found dispersed throughout society and often live in the constructed wildernesses of civilization. He names right-wing neo-Nazi’s as cast-off, violent and frustrated groups ripe for the acclerationist revolution. However, one must bear in mind that Kaczynski sees racial politics as surrogate activities that do nothing to harm the machine. This implies that his revolutionary cadre who act as a sort of vanguard cannot allow themselves to be seduced by any other political project than overthrowing the system. He pushes constant agitation and movement building to accelerate social collapse but his deeper project is to stress the system to the point of failure and then use crisis to seize power and destroy the system itself. Leftists cannot, he believes, be included in these activities because they will always defer to their oversocialized psychologies and use the technological system to their advantage by pushing for reform. They cannot be trusted to carry out his political project because the temptation to use technology for the benefit of their inauthentic pet projects is so great that they will only use it to engineer a different hu-machine subjectivity. For Kaczynski, there can be no greater project than the destruction of the machines that regulate human behavior and any project attempting to steer humans by regulating their behavior is antithetical to revolution.

Populism must confront the status quo and define itself against it. Therefore, Kaczynski is on the hook for defining a positive political project that must serve as a negation to the status quo. His proposal is a return to Wild nature. Humans can reclaim the wildness within themselves and thus end the cycles of depression and anxiety stimulated by the environments constructed by industrial society by eliminating the techno-social systems that interrupt their power processes. Wildness, as his antidote to the ills of the technological system, will require adopting a new sense of self through the power process. He believes that humanity can reclaim its autonomy and free itself from the technological system if and only if it creates an environment through which the power process can be exercised by concerning the human subject with matters of life and death. This project, he believes, justifies his violent means of stimulating techno-social collapse as anarcho-primitivism is preferable to the technological enslavement of modernity.

The only way to stop the incipient creep of technological enslavement, for Kaczynski, is through a detonator. “Wild Nature” as a political project, is used as a negative within a dialectic analysis of “civilization,” with “technology” as the status quo within the dyad. Therefore, his only positive political proposal within Industrial Society and it Future is the release of wild nature through the destruction of and resistance to the technological system. Don’t be scared, he believes that the destructive breakdown of society will be less violent than the everyday violence justified by the technical necessity of the system itself.

The End Scene of Fight Club – SPOILER ALERT – signals the narrator’s project as one of anarcho-primitivism. There must be a significant minority ripe for revolution in the wilds of hydrocarbon civilization and Fight Club explores these possibilities. The end of the film (above) rests on the “blow it all up,” alternative presented in a Unabomber anarcho-primitivist style.

For more on technological “progress” and the possible death of freedom see Rick Roderick’s Lecture on Herbert Marcuse and One-Dimensional Man.

For more on the technocrat as an environmentalizing extension of the machine, see Chapter Four of my dissertation.

Lecture 3: Industrial Society and Its Future, part 1

Please click above or download the file for the lecture.

I discuss page’s 1-35 in the Jolly Roger Press edition of Industrial Society and its Future by Dr. Ted Kaczynski popularly known as the Unabomber. The Unabomber rose to fame through a serial bombing campaign stretching from 1979 to 1995 culminating in his arrest by the FBI after the forced publication of his manifesto. The Unabomber Manifesto is an Anarcho-primitivist clarion call for the acceleration of social breakdown through the destruction of its material foundation. As a pattern of rule and a political formation the United States – and any society claiming the mantle of ‘Modernity’ – is built upon a material, technological and extractive basis, constituted as functioning social machine, or “the System.”

The Unabomber has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity both philosophically and within popular culture. Within the time he operated, Kaczynski was largely reading the writing on the wall and responded to the depression and malaise that characterized the ascendance of neoliberalism and the generational ennui of the 1990s. In order to understand him as a cultural phenomenon, we need to deal with his writings analytically to understand its moving parts, and the cultural zeitgeist experienced in the decades he terrorized America.

Kaczynski became both a philosophical darling in some anarchist communities and a banalized cultural joke following his arrest. The process of banalization both allowed the proliferation of his philosophy and the production of the image of the Unabomber as a psychologically unstable kook taking revenge on those who harmed him personally through the bombing of surrogates representative of a “system” that both produced and oppressed him. The above clip shows how the country immediately psychcologized Kaczynski’s actions while mildly poking fun at the targets of his bombing campaigns. The Unabomber is a conjunction of University and Airlines as his targets were largely engineers and scientists at universities who helped industrialists by expanding the system of technologies driving ecological destruction and the hollowing out the human soul as Kaczynski saw it.
The Unabomber as a topic of discussion has seen a recent resurgence as more people come to grapple with his philosophy. Netflix has authored a docuseries called “The Unabomber in his own Words,” that chronicles his life and how Kaczynski became the Unabomber. However, the broader conversation seems to be whether “technology” is helping or hindering society through the changes it creates within the subject. This is exactly the conversation Kaczynski wanted to have with his publication of Industrial Society and its Future.
Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” released in 1991, captures the malaise produced by the system’s expansion through Neoliberal development. The lyrics suggest a disaffected, listless, purposeless and pointless existence in a society built around consumption for consumption’s sake and the pointless pursuit of status that only causes people to subject one another to the demands of the social machine. The Grunge genre exhibits the depression and anxiety of the 1990’s as its sound trudges along to lyrics that hardly matter. The empty self is so tired of trying to fill the void with surrogate activities that fame becomes pointless within an environment that acculturates alienation. Instrumental rationality as a moral economy characterizes the Neoliberal attitude toward society, self and community through the senseless, and masturbatory pursuit of profits for remote interests. The music industry is heavily criticized for pretending to produce alternatives through a systems that instrumentalizes art and artists for the pursuit of profits showing how the system seized a space of resistance that led the way for the last generation’s cultural rebellion.
Politics becomes an arena of surrogate activities for Kaczynski as activists campaign for meaning in their own lives more so than the banner they rally behind. PC as a culture becomes a host of satellite “causes” that fail to address the system causing psycho-social problems among the disaffected and identity politics becomes a surrogate activity of rich white college students who, for the Unabomber, have no skin the game they’re playing. Their misguided behavior is evidence of oversocialization which Kaczynski names as a disorder affecting the minds of those on the Left. Further, he blames oversocialized individuals and activists for creating more problems by assimilating historically oppressed minorites to the demands of the system through cajoling people into socially acceptable behaviors through PC culture. This is captured in the 1994 film, PCU which explores the excluded middle of two warring camps: one of PC culture and the University administration representing the Left,; and the other composed of misogynistic, homophobic, racist elitists representing the Right. The university, after undergoing a series of transformations in the 1980’s that rearticulated it as a quasi-business project and thus a private good ripe for commodification, becomes a battleground for the soul of the country in empty displays of cultural politics.
The Unabomber Manifesto targets Society for producing psychological torture and cultural death through the interruption of the power process that reinforces hierarchy and organizational governance. The remote interests of individuals are served through the adoption of surrogate activities that distract people from the emptiness of their lives. The Offspring’s “Americana,” though released after Kaczynski’s arrest, shows the spirit of society as dead and run by the system’s lieutenants, priests, and sycophants who empower themselves through hierarchic organizations beyond the reach of democratic politics. The “Important decisions,” taken from the individual within the system are relegated to the functioning of machinery that doesn’t care about the individual insofar as the individual performs their duties to the machine. The environment itself is structured in a way that favors the uncritical adoption of mediocrity through social, economic, and cultural assimilation beyond the powers of formal politics. The “choices” presented are merely manufactured surrogate activities standing in for the power process reinforced by hierarchy that encourages boot-licking obedience.
Kaczynski’s suggestion for reclaiming the power process is a return to primitive communities by destroying the system. The subject is dominated and shaped into a consumer and this has followed the historical trajectory of industrial capitalism as the emptiness of the self is channeled through commodity fetishization. Habituation and the control of one’s environment are largely determined through technologies pretending to bring all good things to life as they circulate through machinic networks of production. The regime of the commodity encourages subjects to fill their meaningless lives and frustrated power processes through the pursuit of things such as science, and technology that are ultimately useful to the system and its expansion at the expense of excluding humanisitic or “frivolous” pursuits. This is the ascendance of instrumental reason as the only viable way of thinking in an environment that neither values the human, nor the planet. In the final analysis, the subject is a slave within a technological system who operates under the illusions that their lives matter or that they can find meaning in meaningless activities distracting them from the death of their wildness and autonomy. Kaczynski argues that there can be no return to autonomy without total destruction of the system itself and that reform is impossible.
Those who wish for and work towards reform, therefore are simply trying to subjugate others through social, cultural, political and economic domination. The modernizers of culture are merely agents of the systems whether or not they realize it. For Kaczynski, the plan is the destruction of the social machine if humanity is to be free and avoid their domination by the system and those who would use it to enforce their conceptions of society and empower themselves through weak-minded surrogate activities. The violence of systemic destruction is supposedly less than the violence the system has wrought on the planet and humanity.

Ihde’s Idols on Metanexus: See the linked article for further elaboration on Ihde’s idols and the post-human condition brought by the ascendance of the machine as the dominant social formation.

A Brief History of Neoliberalism, by David Harvey is an excellent introduction to the dominant political rationality of our age.