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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
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.