Foreword to this blog post
Why review a book written by a notorious terrorist who killed three and maimed dozens of people? That seems like the right question to answer before proceeding with this blog post.Theodore J. Kaczynskiis an extremely intelligent but wounded man. He became a victim of Cold War-era social experimentation and was an outsider his entire life. He withdrew from society and lived like a recluse in the Montana woods. Nonetheless, he was an activist seeking attention for his ideology and manifesto.
Numerous lives were sacrificed on the altars of freedom, ideology and a better world. Wherever you position yourself on the political spectrum, left to right, your heroes have blood on their hands. Reagan, Lenin, Bush, Mao, Napoleon, Robespierre, Obama, Chavez, Macron, Selassie and Guevara are in one way or another responsible for the deaths and suffering of many. Nevertheless, we read their memoirs, manifestos and biographies. We have their posters on the walls of our children's rooms. in this lightthe refusal to read and reviewIndustrial society and its futurewould be an act of hypocrisy.
Finally, the central claim that technology is inherently bad for society is relevant to this blog. I completely distance myself from the man's actions, but his manifesto definitely struck a chord. I can't think of a better way to challenge my techno-optimism than writing about it right now.
The power process
Industrial society and its futureis a 232 numbered paragraph essay in which Kaczynski explains what is wrong with society, how it should be and how we can get there. The most interesting parts of the essay describe the core concept of thepower process, its consequences and how technology is affecting it.
human drivescan be divided into three broad categories:
- Rides that can be satisfied with minimal effort: a walk around the block.
- Drives that can be satisfied with serious effort: felling a tree to burn wood.
- Drives that are unsatisfactory no matter how hard you try: Somersault off a high cliff and survive
That's what Kaczynski claimsAll people need a power process: (1) We all need goals, (2) effort to achieve them, and (3) achievement of some of those goals. Finally, it requires a degree of (4) autonomy. Consequently, the power process belongs to the second category of human drives.
When unachieved goals lead to death, they matter. When not achieving one's goals is compatible (i.e., not important) with survival, it leads to defeatism, low self-esteem, and depression (as I'll explain later). In the western world, it takes minimal effort to survive. The satisfaction of biological needs was reduced to a minor matter. You can live on welfare or have a crappy job to meet your physical needs. All that is required is a minimum of obedience. People have given up autonomy and effort to meet the needs of survival - the important goals. That is why man artificially creates the four components of the power process: he is involved in itsubstitute activities: Long-distance running, blogging, collecting stamps, gardening and even pursuing an academic career.
Technology messes up the energy process
Kaczynski distinguishes betweentwo types of technology: The first istechnology on a small scale, like a mill or a water wheel. The second type isorganization dependent technologyThis requires a great deal of social organization: a refrigerator depends on complicated and industrially manufactured parts and requires electricity. The first kind can produce real progress and freedom. The second kind affects our freedom negatively: the externalities outweigh the benefits. It isthe prisoner's dilemmaon a global level.
Since the Industrial Revolution, most new technologies have been of the second kind. The wave ofCleverandconnectedThe devices and software that are coming our way are no different. Algorithms can curate all available information on our timelines and only invite to produce more and more (fake?) articles. Autonomous cars are safer and offer the freedom to keep your hands on the wheel. However, since self-driving cars are just sensors on wheels, you have no privacy regarding your location. Self-service checkouts should be faster. However, as supermarket customers use them more frequently, fewer checkouts with cashiers will be available, reducing human face-to-face contact. Oh, and you need a loyalty card that's digital only, which you need a smartphone for.
Social and psychological problems arise when people cannot go through the process of power.In modern society, technology (particularly that of the second kind) tends to push drives into the first group: Collecting food is nowa tap away. Intimacy can be achieved throughto wipeor pay aminimum fee. Find free time onNetflixorsteam. Turn up the heat by asking yoursNest.
On the other hand,Technology has also pushed other drives into the third category. With urbanization reaching record numbers; To experience authenticity, harmony, nature, silence and clean air is almost impossible for many inhabitants of this planet.
Some important goals that remain in the second category, such as gaining status, can no longer be achieved autonomously. Reaching the top ranks of the corporate ladder requires adhering to corporate culture, networking, and passing opaque exams. A managerial position is often under the goodwill of another manager who is higher up.
Primitive man only had to fear disease and certain aspects of the environment. He could accept this stoically or invent gods and demons. But these problems weren't man-made, they were imposed on them by someone's choice over which they had no control. Although many of us create them for ourselves, for others,Substitute activities are not enough. The consequences are aggression, nervous breakdowns, burnouts, depression, mid-life crises and declining fertility.Because decisions are increasingly being outsourcedtrustworthyandunbiasedmachinery- thinkFace recognition by the police, orAlgorithms that send people to jail- Hopelessness and rebellion will only increase.
In modern society, mental health is defined by how one behaves in accordance with the needs of the system.
Technology is a rational answer to problems
A compromise between freedom and technology is impossible because technology is a stronger social force than the pursuit of freedom. Because every new technology seems desirableand only later threatened our freedom. Motorized transport allows us to travel much further. But once car adoption hits a critical threshold, you areexpectedowning a car: Local businesses and public services are disappearing and being centralized in malls and government buildings. The internet allowed us to communicate with each other faster than ever before. As companies have taken over the internet, it is no longer possible to apply for a job without an internet connection. Technology is changing society to make itself indispensable.
The following words read like a prophecy: “Generally speaking,Technological control over human behavior is unlikely to be introduced with totalitarian intentor even through a conscious desire to restrict human freedom. Each new step in asserting control over humanity is taken as a rational response to a problem facing society..."
For example, society has abandoned privacy to fight COVID-19 with apps and track and trace strategies. Facebook promised us freedom of speech and unlimited reach, but without the funding, you areScreaming in a vacuum. The Patriot Act (and themass surveillance technologythat belonged to it) served to fight terrorism, but led to legal arbitrariness. These three examples were allrational answers to existing problems, but led to unforeseen external effects.
As technology becomes indispensable, machines will take on more and more tasks andEver greater demands are being placed on the working people: they will have to have more and more training, more and more skills, and become more and more reliable, adaptable and docile, because they will increasingly be the cells of a giant organism.„
Think of the swarm of Uber or Lyft drivers who took a quick lesson on how to use the app and are now driving people around in obsequious silence. Your data feeds the algorithm, and the algorithm thinks for you.It remains only to stick to the system.
Which brings us to Kaczynski's "solution". This subject lacks the depth and clever analogies found in the earlier chapters. His recipes are not new: you can find elements ofFrom Baku,Gramscist, andDebrayistThink.
Because technology is the strongest social forcea gradual change is impossible. The only way to break this cycle, this slippery slope towards machine servitude, is through revolution. While the system could collapse under its own internal troubles, Kaczynski argues that we should encourage social stress and instability in industrial society. Mankind should return to nature to live in small groups and have control over life and death: food, clothing, shelter and defense. This is true freedom: the power to control the circumstances of one's life. It's not ideology, it's nature with a capital N:
“We have no illusions about the feasibility of a new, ideal form of society. Our goal is only to destroy the existing form of society.”
Manifestos are always boring, so I didn't expect this book to be an enjoyable read. But quite a few insights were so masterfully crafted that I often had to allow my mind to wander in search of (counter)examples and arguments to what I was reading. If you're interested in political theory, this will be a treat.
However, the structure of the book and the order of the chapters struck me as odd. Many of the issues - such as anti-leftism and motives of scientists - receive special attention, giving the impression that they are driven by his negative experiences and first-hand resentments.
This is not a finished work. Kaczynski touches the surface of many issues and at best provides the basics of a political theory. It definitely piqued my interest to read more about itaNarcho-Primitivismus, which seems to be the most consistent school of thoughtwith the Unabomber Manifesto.
This book is not for everyone. One should be familiar with manifestos and be able to separate the author and his actions from the scriptures. If you are ready, no one will stop you from reading this infamous work.