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The Definitive Beach Book for the Oil-Gushing Summer of 2010
on June 15, 2010
Technological Slavery starts off with "Industrial Society and It's Future", the notorious 35,000-word essay that was published in the New York Times and The Washington Post on September 19, 1995 in accordance with a demand letter from "FC" which promised to cease its 17 year anti-technology bombing campaign in exchange for verbatim publication of the Manifesto in a major newspaper. The Manifesto begins, "The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race" and goes on to call for revolution against the industrial-technological system. Although he eluded the FBI for 17 years, Ted Kaczynski was arrested in April 3, 1996 after his brother read the Manifesto and tipped off the UNABOM task force. Kaczynski is now serving a life sentence in the Federal Supermax in Florence, Colorado.
It's good to reread the Unabomber Manifesto fifteen years later --during the BP catastrophe, it's downright therapeutic-- and to reflect on how many of Kaczynski's predictions about the evolving technological system are coming true (I'm thinking especially of the intensity of genetic engineering efforts and the increasing power of the psychiatric drugging/mood management industry). During these 15 years global warming caused by the Industrial Revolution has developed from a tentative theory into a widely-acknowledged reality threatening human survival. Kaczynski argues that "technological progress is carrying us to inevitable disaster", but unlike environmentalists, the disaster he most fears is the destruction of human dignity and freedom, as rapidly developing physical, psychological, chemical, genetic and artificial intelligence techniques are applied to humans to engineer us to satisfy the ever-more stringent specialization and control requirements of a complex social system. He argues that the inevitable use of emerging technological powers to expand social control will be undertaken in incremental steps, each seen as beneficial. One can't read his arguments and hypothetical scenarios without a flood of current examples of the encroachment process he describes springing to mind. Although lip service is always given to the need for ethical discussion, can you think of one technological power humans have acquired and chosen not to use?
The BP spill, an old-fashioned mechanical kind of disaster, has reminded me that one Unabomber target was an executive at Burson-Marsteller, the public relations firm hired by Exxon to clean up its image after the Valdez oil spill. In a twenty-year legal process, Exxon succeeded in shrinking its penalty from billions to a mere $500 million.(1). I wonder if anyone from BP will ever serve time, or even be seen as criminal. I don't advocate killing, but I would like to see violence acknowledged across the board, not just revolutionary violence: by my count, right now the score is BP 11, Unabomber 3, counting human lives only.(2) But it seems that if profit or national interest is being pursued and the actors are large organizations rather than individuals, predictably unpredictable `collateral' effects (such as civilian victims of remote-controlled drone bombings) are deemed purely accidental. Our political notions of personal accountability, liability and criminality cannot encompass the forms and scale of industrial violence and destruction.
"Our lives depend on decisions made by other people; we have no control over these decisions and usually we do not even know the people who make them...Our lives are depend upon whether safety standards at a nuclear power plant are properly maintained; on how much pesticide is allowed to get into our food or how much pollution is in the air; on how skillful (or incompetent) our doctor is; whether we lose or get a job may depend on decisions made by government economists or corporation executives; and so forth."
--Industrial Society and It's Future, par. 67
It's interesting to eavesdrop on Kaczynski's elaborations of Manifesto arguments in his correspondence with academics, anarchists and others identified only by their initials. He asserts that "social justice" issues serve the system as a red herring that diverts attention and energy away from an issue that is of incomparably greater importance, namely, the question of where technology is taking us. The book also includes a variety of material which gives a sense of his personality in the round; a detailed interview about the tranquility of his daily life in the Montana mountains where he lived for twenty-five years in a small cabin on the edge of the wilderness, making long excursions of up to 6 weeks into the wild country; observations about the nature of boredom--he never experienced it there; reflections on how living close to nature creates the luxury of a sense of alertness with fully opened senses while in the city "your environment is crowded with irrelevant sights and sounds, and you get conditioned to block most of them out of your consciousness."
"...one of the FBI agents who arrested me said, "I really envy your way of life up here.""
--"An Interview With Ted"
Blackfoot Valley Dispatch, Lincoln, Montana
The book contains his journal entry on the decisive day when he visited one of his most loved wild places a two-day hike from his cabin, "the beautiful and isolated plateau where the various branches of Trout Creek originate," to discover that it had destroyed by development. There and then he decided that war against the technological system would thenceforward be the main purpose of his life.
Kaczynski provides the first full behind-the-scenes account of how the justice system disposed of his case, first admitting evidence collected in an unconstitutional search, then coercing a guilty plea by restricting his only other option to an insanity defense prepared by his court-appointed lawyers. Kaczynski was denied his constitutional right to represent himself. He desired to stand trial, then appeal for a new trial based upon the search warrant lacking probable cause. He knew he then would probably be convicted and executed, but he preferred the slim possibility of freedom to life imprisonment (an echo of the values expressed throughout the Manifesto). As it stands, he is imprisoned for life after being denied a trial--his appeal based on the coercion of his guilty plea was denied in legal process a dissenting judge found Orwellian, as he rhetorically asked, "Is this 1984 or what?" In a final twist, the courts are currently poised to rule on a proposal by the US Attorney for the Eastern District to round up and confiscate the original and every copy of all Kaczynski has ever written, including confiscating the papers he has donated to library archives such as the Labadie Collection of the University of Michigan (archives of anarchist, communist and other non-mainstream political papers).
So Kaczynski has lived to continue writing, and Technological Slavery is basic reading for anyone concerned about the consequences of technology, because no one is as realistic as Kaczynski about the crucial problem - the impossibility of human (political) regulation, guidance or control of technological development--while remaining hopeful that there is still a window of opportunity during which we are still "unadapted" enough to change course. And he's the only civilization critic I know of who's not an armchair primitive.
Kaczynski knows a lot about primitive ways of life, and not just from experience -- his studies on this subject date back to his days at Harvard. A long, heavily-footnoted essay summarizes anthropological research indicating that primitives were not necessarily politically correct (in defiance of utopian, childlike innocence we would wishfully project upon them). He criticizes the selective scholarship of John Zerzan and fellow anarcho-primitivists as bourgeois, pastoral romanticism, a kind of false advertising for revolution. He instead advocates truthfulness about what sacrifices of technology-based benefits and protections entail-- but he thinks the sacrifices are worth a recovery of dignity and "the kind of freedom that counts." He analyzes how the modern concept of freedom is mainly symbolic, restricted to cultural consumption and lifestyle choices which don't interfere with, or even enhance, the smooth functioning of the system. He argues that contemporary leftism promotes reforms that actually strengthen the system and immunize it against fundamental challenges, but he reserves his ridicule for right-wingers who bemoan the loss of traditional values while endorsing a high-tech society that inevitably restructures social life.
My favorite Manifesto quote at this moment:
"One of the most dangerous features of the techno-industrial system is precisely its power to make people comfortable (or at least reduce their discomfort to a relatively acceptable level) in circumstances under which they should NOT be comfortable, e.g., circumstances that are offensive to human dignity, or destructive of the life that evolved on Earth over hundreds of millions of years, or that may lead to disaster at some future time."
--Letter to David Skrbina March 17, 2005
Kaczynski doesn't claim to be right about all his points, many of which he considers preliminary or tentative. He actively solicits revisions and modifications to the by-any-means-necessary argument that he is advancing, as well as his proposed principles concerning the dynamics of social change--revolutionary and otherwise. Technological Slavery is a discussion-generator. Perhaps Kaczynksi is unique as a non-utopian revolutionary who thinks in terms of the behavior of complex systems, not ideology. He argues that while a social future cannot be designed, the continued development of the technological system generates only catastrophic possibilities.
It seems most of all that he would like to cut through the ideology of liberal democrats, leftists and anarcho-primitivists, for a realistic assessment of where humanity is going, and what the options are. And failure is definitely an option. Technological Slavery permanently sets to rest any notion that TK is insane (while perhaps raising questions about the sanity of others). I appreciate the courage of Feral House in publishing this book, especially when it's possible that Kaczynski's ability to communicate from the Florence, Colorado Supermax may be cut off in the future by proposed Federal Bureau of Prisons regulations that would silence prisoners designated domestic terrorists. (Kaczynski should be flattered that the justice system finds his prose so powerful. Incidentally, nowhere in this book does he advocate violence.)
I have long been concerned with the dangers invoked by Kaczynski, so I hope there will be journalists with the guts and independence to review this book -- it provides a perfect framework for analyzing the uncontained Gulf disaster and subsequent reform efforts, attempts to regulate the financial/market system, political paralysis on global warming and nuclear proliferation, panics about obesity and mental illness epidemics, and it is highly relevant to a recent sudden burst of `who knew?!?' media features on the psychic effects and addictive nature of networked digital accessories. Technological Slavery also makes it clear that traditional political delineations are obsolete. It provides a lens through which the daily news with all its separate issues coheres into one big story -- about technology.
This book faces an uphill battle for visibility against political taboos of our times. But no one need worry about rewarding militant acts with authorial exposure -- The New York Times and The Washington Post published the manifesto unedited before Ted was even arrested! (...way back when, before newspapers were ravaged by internet.) Also, I understand that all profits will be going to non-profits working for environmental recovery in the Gulf and elsewhere.
* * *
(1) It had been stated in the Earth First! Journal that Burson-Marsteller handled Exxon's Valdez oil spill PR. Exxon was definitely a client of B-M, but the New York Times denied that B-M had any connection with the Valdez incident. But given B-M's previous work for Union Carbide in what's known in PR as "crisis management" for the Bhopal incident, it's hard to believe that B-M didn't strategize Exxon's oil spill PR. In the worst industrial accident in history, Union Carbide's pesticide factory in Bhopal leaked toxic gases that immediately killed thousands and permanently disabled thousands more, leaving a permanent toxic waste dump at the city's center. The accident was caused by extreme corporate negligence, and although India sought 3.3 billion in compensation, Union Carbide was able to minimize its penalty at 350 million (plus interest), which was entirely covered by its insurance. Arrested in India in the days following the catastrophe, Union Carbide's American CEO spared himself any convenience by promptly skipping bail and returning to the US.
BP's current "This s--- never should have happened" public relations strategy includes the hiring Anne Kolton to direct its damage control efforts. She was formerly Dick Cheney's press secretary, and was director of public affairs at the US Department of Energy during the W. Bush administraton.
(2) At least 2 clean-up workers have died since this writing.
It will be interesting to see whether BP's experiment of dumping hundreds of millions of barrels of toxic chemical dispersants into the depths of gulf has unforeseen consequences of its own.