Kevin Kelly: "The Unabomber Was Right"

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95 Responses to “Kevin Kelly: "The Unabomber Was Right"”

  1. Keeper of the Lantern says:

    One thing I have believed that was a strength of the Unabomber manifesto was that, even if I didn’t ultimately agree with it, you really have to think carefully about WHY you disagree with it.

    Actually, in my case, I found I didn’t disagree hugely with his appraisement of modern society (and technology’s role within it), but rather his conclusions.

    For me, with 6 billion people in the world, we no longer have the realistic option of overthrowing our technology overlords. The only really option is forward: To develop technology that gives us the power to free ourselves from the kind of dominance that is only partially technology-related.

    Cheap personal strong cryptography is one example.

  2. paradiso says:

    @Zuzu, @ Mgfarrelley, I was thinking this when Peter read the foreward. And wondering if conspiracy thinkers are that different from reason thinkers, or if they are just fearful. And hoping Olivia doesn’t really have superpowers, it’s such a lame plot device.

  3. urshrew says:

    @64

    “I just wish the guy could have figured out a way to get published without murdering people.”

    He could have. Its called the internet.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Why is it that people who are willing to admit of their own volition that they’ve read neither the full article nor Teddy’s actual manifesto seem to be possessed with this unrestrainable compulsion to post their own malformed criticisms of his ideas. Some of the posters above barely seem to realize what it is that they’re criticizing.

    How can people forgive themselves for this type of idiocy?

  5. Flying_Monkey says:

    Mark and others,

    I apologise if you got the wrong impression. I have read the piece. I always read things before venturing any criticism. I simply agree with the already posted comments that point out where the argument fails – and that the failure appears to be obvious. I was probably annoyed by the idea that the Unabomber’s arguments were ‘academic’ – it is off how this can be a term of praise in one moment, and a term of criticism the next. Apparently my arrogance is down to me being an academic. Well, no it’s just down to me not being perfect. No one is.

    There was more to my comment than that anyway. I was more interested in the idea put forward by some that the Unabomber represnted something in deep ecology that was ‘anti-human’ – that seem to have got lost. Probably my fault again.

    Just one thing that I can be correct about (please!) – buddy66 – if you are going to try to pick people up for language, try to get it right, mate:

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/controversialism

    And even if it didn’t exist, you’d know what it meant, right?

    Peace and out… I will be less aggressive next time. But I’d appreciate the same in return.

  6. cowmix says:

    This reminds me when Bill Joy gave Ted some mad props on this manifesto too.

  7. Davin says:

    Why can’t the escalation be transformative rather than apocalyptic?

  8. choupachoup says:

    perfect irony: i did not read the manifesto, however, i read the synopsis concerning the threat of technology on my personal computer. should i shoot my computer now ?

  9. Lucifer says:

    @Paradiso
    You would find Olivia having superpowers to be somehow disruptive to that suspension of disbelief necessary in watching a television show about people walking through walls and teleportation and interacting with the spirit of dead people inside memories?

  10. Anonymous says:

    It is not mere hardware; rather it is more akin to an organism. It is not inert, nor passive; rather the technium seeks and grabs resources for its own expansion. It is not merely the sum of human action, but in fact it transcends human actions and desires.

    s/technology/capital/g == Marx

    ?

  11. Jeff says:

    #29, exactly. For the sake of this argument I think it’s safe to say that technology is an artifact of human design, normally associated with tools. Stone axes, wheels, nanobots…gray goo, end of the world. Reboot.

  12. Lucifer says:

    There is a visceral compelling aspect to the argument but it boils down to being nothing more than the Colbert-coined term “truthiness.” Just as any woven fabric of conspiracy theories appear as well founded as any argument, it falls apart upon a real test of evidence and reality check.

    The main thesis of technology as the source of humanity’s evil is as inane as the practice of designating and sacrificing a scapegoat in biblical times. It is like blaming the bullet for the murder. Externalizing our own failures to do the right thing will not heal our corrupt souls.

    The conclusion is also a failure – for technology cannot be fought or destroyed. Technology is a mere expression of our humanity – we are fated, built, evolved, designed to build and innovate. We cannot escape that destiny just as Peter Pan really could not slay his own shadow.

    We must accept who we are as technological beings and realize that we express our morality through it and that it is not the vehicle which destroys our humanity but our own actions or failure to act. It is a great power and with great power comes opportunities to produce many sequels until the value of a comic book franchise is exhausted.

  13. buddy66 says:

    Mark says,

    ”…many of the commenters haven’t bothered to read the essay before weighing in.”

    Yeah, and it happens all the time. This site, and many others, fill up with yammerheads and bullshitters who are more interested in venting and quarreling than learning and sharing. If I were a mod I would kick every unserious son of a bitch out into the cold, except for the commenting wits, of course, who are the salt and pepper of these free meals.

  14. buddy66 says:

    There is some confusion on this thread concerning Kelly’s statement and Mark’s comment regarding it.

    Kelly: “The Unabomber is right that technology is a holistic, self-perpetuating machine.”

    Mark: “[Kelly] is saying that Kaczynski’s manifesto correctly described technology as a ‘dynamic holistic system. It is not mere hardware; rather it is more akin to an organism.’

    This is basic systems theory applied to technology. If there is a quarrel with systems theory, that’s one thing, but nowhere does either subscribe to the conclusions of Kaczynski’s mad diatribe.

    Some of you read too fast.

  15. ThreeFJeff says:

    Greg London@25: There are a few other things that interplay in your argument of fear. Evolution cannot keep pace with technology–we are still stone-age mammals. That’s where evolution with regard to technology is “frozen”. Instinctually, vibrant nature scenes (trees with rivers, &c.) are nearly universally seen as intrinsically pretty. Those scenes are places we instinctually recognize as safe: they have food and shelter. We don’t see this consciously, rather those reflexive positive associations evolved to help us find good places to live. Find a beautiful place to live, and there will be food.

    Cities look more like the barren and dead “ugly” places–even though that’s the wrong instinct. There’s some very deep, old programming in all of our heads which will take us down this path.

    An unfair society that steamrolls over its citizens (everywhere ;) combined with the perception of technology as a lumbering, self-controlled monster can easily bring out Kaczynski and his anarcho-primitivist followers, and lead them right to their ridiculous conclusion.

    It turns out, there is also a good explanation from that same deep programming that causes technology to seem to lumber under its own will. J Robert Oppenheimer summed it up with this statement: “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success.”

  16. Thowe says:

    Leftwing extremists say, in the future, there is going to be a genuine human and a genuine society.

    Rightwing extremists say, in the past, there was once a genuine human and a genuine society.

    Both is escapism. Escapism backed by violence.

  17. buddy66 says:

    #50 Flying_Monkey,

    You use pretty big words yourself: “contraversialism.”

    You even make them up.

    :o)

  18. RedMonkey says:

    The argument falls down on points 2 and 3;

    re: 2 – it is not inherent the technology means less freedom, a) how does one define freedom? b) how does one define technology? – e.g. I like the freedom I have to visit Japan, this is not possible without the technology of boats or planes;

    re: 3 – technology does not inherently destroy nature, a) what’s nature? (life?) b) what technology are we talking about? Cloning is recreating nature, life-support and various medical techniques are technological in nature and save lives;

    I’m pretty sure this article is being written to cause controversy and get “clicks”; as such no, I haven’t RTFA but the summary above, if sufficiently accurate, is a ridonkulous conclusion based on faulty assumptions.

  19. zuzu says:

    Zerstorung durch Fortschritte der Technologie, eh?

  20. Lucifer says:

    JEFF
    But if we examine the way Ted lived his life – for as primitive his cabin and lifestyle was – it still made use of technology. It wasn’t just man in nature but man with the necessary tools and man-made artifacts to sustain a certain level of comfort and habitability. He didn’t reject the notion of technology in the purest sense but rather found some parameters within which human existence could be free of the shackling or corruptive nature of technology. Therein lies his fatal flaw. Where do you draw the line? Is a knife ok but a laser cutter isn’t? A hammer and nails are acceptable? Who makes the rules? Who enforces them?

    Through his terroristic activities, he embodied the governing body of a despot and became the worst hypocrite of all – by robbing men of his freedoms through killing and, in a small scale, his tyrannical rule.

  21. chris2001 says:

    Point two, that technology strengthens society, seems to be false. You might argue that tech strengthens the state, which is what I presume you mean by society, but technology is not homogenous.

    Some tech strengthens the state (eg Henry Ford-style industrial automation, surveillance etc), other tech strengthens the individual (eg this here internet), and yet other tech indeed strengthens society, which is different from the state.

    But this is a kind of big subject for soundbitery.

  22. buddy66 says:

    “…the entire argument self-destructs in a completely self-referential vaporization of verbal feces.

    Too much *shit* on this thread. I’m outta here.

  23. Lucifer says:

    What would happen if someone put an iPhone with web access in Ted Kazynsky’s cell?

  24. Takuan says:

    the more I see, the more Ted makes sense.

  25. gigantimous says:


    * Technology destroys nature, which strengthens technology further.” – depends on how you define Nature, not necessarily true

    “* This ratchet of technological self-amplification is stronger than politics.” – possibly true, depends

    “* Any attempt to use technology or politics to tame the system only strengthens it.” – unclear why this should be true

    Anyway, I agree – has the ring of truthiness but not truth. I agree that broadly defined “technology” tends to self-propagate (knowledge is built upon and with existing knowledge). However, I disagree that this somehow tends toward a force that is necessarily destructive to anything in particular except ignorance/lack of technology.

  26. MossWatson says:

    I think Ted’s point was that civilization is inherently unsustainable – it is rooted in destruction, often labeled as “production”, which is nothing more than the conversion of living things (trees, mountains) into dead things to be sold (beer cans, lumber). If production stops, civilization collapses, yet on a finite planet, if production continues, eventually you run out of living things to feed the machine.
    Unlimited growth on a finite planet = unsustainable and suicidal.

    see Derrick Jensen

  27. gollux says:

    On summarizing Ted Kaczynski’s Manifesto and the freedom that loss of technology would bring.

    Kaczynski confused great latitude within limited choices as superior over modest latitude in an expanding number of choices.

    On the reality of how much Ted Kaczynski was willing to give up technology.

    Except one: The Unabomber. Kaczynski went further than other critics in living the story he believed in. At first glance his story seems promising, but on second look, it collapses into the familiar conclusion: he is living off the fat of civilization. The Unabomber’s shack was crammed with stuff he purchased from the machine: snowshoes, boots, sweat shirts, food, explosives, mattresses, plastic jugs and buckets, etc. – all things that he could have made himself, but did not. After 25 years on the job, why did he not make his own tools separate from the system? It looks like he shopped at Wal-mart. The food he scavenged from the wild was minimal. Instead he regularly rode his bike to town and there rented an old car to drive to the big city to restock his food and supplies from supermarkets. He was either incapable of supporting himself without civilization, or unwilling to.

    Ironic. Thanks for the essay Kevin.

  28. spazzm says:

    akirabergman said:
    Those days there was a global terrorist campaign against scientists to silence and remove them from the political arena.

    And these days there isn’t?

  29. DylanMorgan says:

    This sounds a lot like Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle. Read at http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/

  30. Teller says:

    Technology doesn’t destroy people. People destroy people.

  31. Anonymous says:

    #4 sounded like a good point. Then I looked at who wrote it and realized it was the devil’s argument. Good try you sneaky bugger!

  32. Foofer says:

    The Unabomber was not afraid of technology. The Unabomber was familiar with the work of Aldous and Julian Huxley, HG Wells, Bertrand Russell, et al. He was able to envision the Brave New World Order which has become our reality. I am speaking of the Pharmacological Revolution and the rise of the Technocracy (aka Scientific Dictatorship). Mass mind, body, and spirit-control has been achieved variously through drugging the water, tainting the food, manipulating finances, etc. The dystopian future that your science fiction heroes promised you is already here and the joke is on you. Those great stories by people like Huxley and Wells were only written to prepare and encourage you along a predetermined path. If you doubt any of this, just listen to Huxley’s Berkeley lectures. It’s important to remember that Huxley’s brother Julian was the head of UNESCO (a eugenics front group), and both were tutored by HG Wells (eugenicist, world government advocate, coined the phrase “new world order”). Of course, they were also bound by the Masonic blood oaths to help complete the “great work”.

    “There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.” – Aldous Huxley, California Medical School (1961)

    The “great work” is to make nature perfect. What does that mean? It is a plan for the reorganization, and remaking of the world. It is a plan as old as the Egyptian civilization, and it’s clues can be found by looking at the architecture even of that era. I am not suggesting that the Egyptians had any foreknowledge of a plan to create the emotionless drones of future society, only their belief in science and their belief in the science of human control. You may say that this is all a stupid “conspiracy theory”, but I would point to the words of intellectuals and political leaders. They have stated many times what the agenda is, and they have even told you the means by which they intend to achieve their objective! The fact that you still refuse to believe any of this is a testament to their power over you.

  33. Anonymous says:

    As others have said, this argument falls down upon anything more than a casual inspection.

    Which makes me think it was seized upon by Kevin Kelly because it was such a “woah, holy shit!” reaction.

    I think what happened was the thrill of the idea that the unibomber being right caused Kelly to not look too critically at what was being said. He rushed to the exciting conclusion and didn’t let the little pesky stumbles along the way deter him from making a breathless post.

  34. noen says:

    It’s ok, it’s all coming to an end pretty soon anyway.

    Oh and I agree with Lucifer. Does that mean I get a better spot in hell?

  35. Anonymous says:

    all the book stores are closing – when congress tightens our belt – how many more jobs will be lost; can we all work for Apple and Amazon?

  36. Anonymous says:

    I’m actually tempted to create an account so as to respond to this, which is very unusual; although I am a severe internet addict, my interaction with it is almost entirely passive.

    In simple terms, it is obvious that technological progress grants us many freedoms. If I wanted a cold glass of milk right now, I could easier procure such from the refrigerator downstairs. This is hard to do without a refrigerator. The reduction in freedom that we experience as a result of technological progress is more subtle. The most clear-cut examples stem from a loss of autonomy incurred by the social pressures generated by the use of technology: widespread use of automobiles makes it difficult to live without an automobile. Ubiquitous telephones make things complicated for people who don’t like telephones. This sort of thing isn’t necessarily as silly as it sounds: the development of nuclear weapons has compelled us to keep an arsenal of ICBMs, although presumably we don’t like them. (One could imagine arguably worse scenarios. Presume that an effective human sex pheromone is discovered: will the unlucky soul who can’t afford a bottle ever date again?) A similar logic can be applied to scientific discoveries– recall that when Bush restricted federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, it was widely argued that the same research would be done elsewhere. There is no opt-out button.

    (As an aside, it’s also worth examining what technological progress hasn’t done for us. One might flippantly remark that we would appear godlike to our ancestors, but, individually, we certainly do not have the autonomy of gods. Most people do not get to choose (in a fundamental way) their occupations or socioeconomic status. They do not get to choose how much work or how little work they will do. Many people spend most of their lives living in autocratic hierarchies organized largely by seniority. It’s hard not to imagine that this state of affairs doesn’t owe something to our passionate pursuit of the luxuries provided by technology; otherwise, we might be better able to use machines as labor-saving devices, rather than as means of increasing the diversity and rate of production of goods.)

    The most pernicious problem with technological advance that I have yet considered, though, surfaced in J. B. S. Haldane’s Daedalus, which is probably the best discussion of the topic that I have ever encountered. There is a good essay about Daedalus here:

    http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/daedalus-and-icarus-revisited

    I’ll excerpt part of it to get at the central contention which I find disquieting:

    “Haldane seems to believe that science first pushes society to become more just according to the local standard of justice (‘the scientific worker is brought up with the moral values of his neighbors’). But then science, by increasing our power and changing our circumstances, helps to destroy that standard (‘an alteration of the scale of human power will render actions bad which were formerly good’). So at the very moment that society is forced to become more just, it is on the way to becoming more ‘outworn.’ When Haldane concludes that the prospect for humanity is ‘hopeful if mankind can adjust its morality to its powers,’ he means that progress can only in the most limited sense be seen as the achievement of what was ineffectively advocated by prophets and poets. His effort to soften his teaching on science’s power of moral destruction fails; progress is not the realization of old ideals but the necessary birth of new ones. ‘It is just because even the least dogmatic of religions tends to associate itself with some kind of unalterable moral tradition, that there can be no truce between science and religion.’

    Haldane eventually returns to what is central in his essay: the influence of the man for whom reason has become ‘the greatest and most terrible of the passions.’ The essay concludes with a poetic evocation of ‘the lonely figure of Daedalus,’ conscious and proud of his ‘ghastly’ mission, ‘Singing my song of deicides.’ From this point of view, moral progress would mean adopting the view that ‘mythology and morals are provisional’ or situational—with Daedalus creating the situations. In effect, Haldane transforms ‘might makes right’ into the hallmark of moral progress—an odd but deeply telling conclusion for an essay that has come to be seen as an ‘optimistic’ assessment of the future of science.”

    In this view, it is impossible to control the future state of society. Human religion, philosophy, politics, and ethics are effectively powerless before the advance of science. Might invents right. “If we don’t do it, someone else will.” If this is really true, then what real autonomy or power do we have?

    Finally, I’d like to note that the preceding vision is one that the devout believers in the Singularity actively embrace. A quick perusal of Singulatarian literature turns up a lot of assertions that technological advances presently considered unpalatable– like the genetic engineering of humans beings– are nevertheless inevitable owing to the economic advantages conferred by their adoption. What disturbs me about this is the uncritical acceptance of the idea that unstoppable progress is desirable, even if leads to the destruction of everything we might currently consider human. The people who find the Singularity compelling must the be kind of people who found Childhood’s End to be a cheery, uplifting sort of book…

  37. Brother Provisional says:

    The reduced bullet points are not entirely accurate, or at least not fully representative of the entirety of the manifesto.

    The parts of Kaczynski’s argument that I could at least partially see eye to eye with concerned not issues of freedom in industrial society, but rather psychological well being. Here the K-man reads like a crazy later-day Thoreau. He claims that being a mere clog in the giant and abstracted survival mechanism of technological society strips man of a sense of being in control of his destiny. His call for ultimate Luddite reversion is fueled by a vision of the problem solving process of coping with directly with one’s survival needs as being the ideal psychological environment for psychological fulfillment. Remember that he spend a great deal of his adult life living in a shack in the mountains, basically as a hunter-gatherer. Who knows, maybe he’s right. As human beings, we have spend most of our time on this earth coping directly with our natural environment, and it sort of makes sense in an armchair evolutionary psychological way that our brain’s reward systems work best in a fourth-world hunter-gatherer environment, and that they are not directly adaptable to our roles in the new technologically based environments we’ve made for our selves. I don’t know, I’m all for increasing residential micro-agriculture, but I personally am not going to trade in my laptop for a spear and a suit of “leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life.”

    I just wish the guy could have figured out a way to get published without murdering people.

  38. EeyoreX says:

    So, to summarize the summary:

    This is another version of that popular “Singuarity” delusion, only this time it is envisioned by a technophobe rather than an ASFRer.

  39. Teller says:

    #11: Wherever your spot is, thanks to my conduct, I’ll pick you up in a Cadillac convertible.

  40. buddy66 says:

    During Ted Kaczynski’s time at Ann Arbor it was considered de rigeur for intellectuals from other disciplines to audit the lectures of cultural determinist Leslie White of the anthropology department. Professor White offered an introductory course every other semester called “The Mind of Primitive Man”, where he would elucidate on his formula, Energy plus Technology equals Culture — E+T=C. It was, as they say, wildly popular during those years.

    The course was limited to 30 students for credit, but open to auditors and interested others. Each year it was held in a lecture hall instead of a regular classroom because of a hundred or more visitors. He would pretend surprise at the apparent student interest in a way of life fast disappearing from the earth, but he knew they were really there for the scandalous reputation of his lectures and not for the latest gossip about the !Kung or the Mbuti.

    In describing the culture process he focused on the role of technology, which he called “the hero of our little drama.” He saw technology as a system operating independently from the desires and wishes of humankind. We ride the whirlwind, he used to say, and the best we can do is hang on; we can’t control it. In fact, he saw human Culture (the consequence of energy + technology) as an uncontrollable system that evolved according to the integration of its own systemic vectors. Human life, all organic life, was a kind of cosmic joke on the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Our only choice was to laugh or cry.

    It seems unlikely that Ted Kaczynski passed up the opportunity to drink at Leslie White’s pessimistic and, some would say, poisoned well. TK got his hatred of technology somewhere; why not from a hard-core technological determinist?

  41. akirabergman says:

    #80 BUDDY66;

    Many people have identified “technology as a dynamic holistic system” before and after Ted Kaczynski. It is very wrong to address this concept by identifying it with a murderer of scientists and calling the piece “The Unabomber Was Right”. This is cheap and ugly to say the least. It would have been better if Mark apologized instead of defending the mistake (if it were a mistake).

  42. Ugly Canuck says:

    There’s the organic (living/once was alive).
    There’s the inorganic (never alive, just is what it is eg water, rocks).
    And then there’s technology: a little bit of one, a little bit of the other (the latter structurally modified by the former for utility).
    But still, a different order of existence, essentially different from the other two in its creation and coming into existence. Even the simplest tech, a hammer, a shaped bone.
    But note that the distinction drawn here is a structural, not a functional, distinction – a found rock, used as a hammer, without more modification, is not a piece of tech under this schema, but rather remains a part of the inorganic. Tech must be shaped, to be tech – to be other than simply the inorganic or the organic, but to be a piece of nature changed and adapted to use.

  43. Flying_Monkey says:

    Mark Frauenfelder – you’re one of the owners of this site, right? I don’t post here very often, so I have to ask do you usually respond in such a wise-ass teenager kind of way to posts from readers? Or am I just not in with Californian manners (which may well be the case)? If this is normal, I am not sure I’ll bother posting again. This is a shame because I like Boing-boing a lot (and have read it for years) and Cory and I share a lot of concerns (I research and write on surveillance issues)… maybe I will just stick to reading his contributions. Way to go to alienate your readership…

  44. Lucifer says:

    @NOEN
    The best, most sought after spot in Hell is the one by my side when I dine. People wish each other to go “dine with the devil in Hell” all the time. But well, sorry to break it to everyone but that reservation list only has two spots available so there is no way I can accomodate all these prayers. (the food is surprisingly good and wholesome btw)

    I was talking to Jesus the other day and he had the same exact, though somewhat converse problem where every do-gooder in history is vying to sit to his right side. For some reason, sitting on Jesus’ left side doesn’t seem to hold as much appeal, but whatever.
    To answer your question, agreeing with me doesn’t buy you any favors with me. Nobody likes a brown noser, not even me (this is one where God and I are in agreement for once).

  45. VagabondAstronomer says:

    Having read Kevin’s essay (and having survived reading bit’s and pieces of Ted’s from so long ago), it seems to me that the problem is still a human one. Like the old NRA argument, “guns don’t kill people, people do,” it is not technology per se that is the problem but how it is employed by the people who control it.
    Flogging a long dead horse, I know, so I’ll put down my pom-poms and quietly say “yay technology” one more time. I’m planning on building a cabin in the woods and writing a manifesto as well. Except that mine will be wired out the wazoo…

  46. bklynchris says:

    after reading the very succinct summary of the manifesto in question my only response is, “ummmm,ok?”.

    Man that lucifer is one funny dude. I am still chorteling. I have always wondered what the upshot of being a member of the church of satan, a room with airconditioning maybe?

  47. arbitraryaardvark says:

    I read an obscure autobiography of a doctor in kalamazoo. He discusses how when ted was a baby, he got (i think it was rheumatic fever) and was hospitalized. When he came home from the hospital he was withdrawn and didn’t like to be touched or have human interaction. The mother blamed herself, thinking the kid had abandonment issues, but the doctor thinks that the antisocial aspects were a result of the fever. So, if he’s right, it may be that Ted K’s antisocial personality is the result of a childhood illness,and not exactly his fault.
    I don’t know how to promote this meme more widely, so that it could be tested and discussed.

  48. akirabergman says:

    #63 SPAZZM;

    Sure there is, but different. Nowadays they more use disinformation instead of secrecy, and coersion, defamation and intimidation instead of violence and murder, mostly due to the media revolution. The long lasting alignment of the establishment with the anti-science and anti-spiritual Vatican and its proxies is no coincidence. They have also been trying to fuse Christians with Buddhists, Hindus and Judaists. They are very scared of the religious and ethical debate shifting towards scientists with spiritual tendencies. But they are on the retreat now. Scientists gained a lot of momentum from the successful predictions of the climate change.

  49. urshrew says:

    These are my two cents: People who think modern society is less free should examine how many small tribal groups can be as oppressive and restrictive towards its members also. The idea that somehow our ancestors were more free because they were not dependent on technology leaves out many important details. Many of these culture were exceptionally repressive towards women and whatever minorities existed in their midst. Our modern society generates different needs of production, but all societies do. Also, not all groups produce needs, but almost universally, when able, produce above and beyond their needs, that is, luxury goods and status symbols. The drive for more then necessity can be as destructive as it can be creative. Yet, there is one undeniable effect, the want for more things empowers people who in a pure hunting/gathering society would not have. The idea that we need to abandon technology offers no solutions to a more free future, and would probably insure quite the opposite.

  50. mgfarrelly says:

    @Zuzu:

    I want to see Kevin Kelly’s typewriter. It’s the only way to be sure…

  51. deathcakes says:

    Tried to post this on the article itself, stupid captcha thing wouldn’t work. Further proof that I am being subsumed by the machine, we are become one.

    @Wandering Author

    The advent of the machines taking over need not necessarily be construed as a terrifying loss of control. Example: You go to the doctor. With symptoms, presumably. The doctor then diagnoses your condition and presents you with options of possible treatment. This is a terrifying loss of control. What does it matter if the doctor is a human being, or an incredibly intelligent AI entity that specialises in medicine? If I were given the option I would pick the machine every time, since it would be less prone to error and more likely to cure me.

    What I’m trying to illustrate is that, like it or not, you face a series of terrifying losses of control to the system, as it already stands. I for one would feel happier if those decisions were given to a dispassionately intelligent machine, rather than a credulous, impressionable human who’s judgement can be obscured by a lack of regular caffeine intake, or a desperate need to empty their bladder.

    Or perhaps I’ve been brainwashed by the machine.

  52. buddy66 says:

    Granted, the irony of the lede may be lost, and perhaps it was an unfortunate choice, even open to a charge of being tasteless, but there was nothing exculpatory about Kelly’s essay. My point is that too many commenters mistakenly thought otherwise.

  53. Ito Kagehisa says:

    What I remember from reading the Unabomber manifesto was unbounded relief upon finally being done with it.

    Although some valid points were made, the long and tiresome journey was not worth the few high points.

    Lucifer, nice post up there near the top. You are the light-bringer after all, I guess! ^^

  54. consideredopinion says:

    Of course, before significant technological development, human society was governed by repressive organizations and vile slavery. Pick your poison friends.

  55. LogicalDash says:

    # The stronger that technology makes society, the less freedoms.

    This assumes that technology makes society stronger, but does not make individuals stronger.

    I’m trying to imagine how this would work. Is “Society” a distinct entity that can be improved without also improving the people that make it up? Is Society some kind of invisible all-knowing God who’s oppressing us all?

  56. Flying_Monkey says:

    Being someone who works in science and technology studies myself, I was thinking about writing a demolition of KK’s piece but what is the point? It’s so obviously stupid and aimed at what passes for popularity on the net, i.e. it’s just contraversialism.

    And the Unabomber’s manifesto sounds about as ‘academic’ as any confused student – he uses big words and concepts without giving any indication he understands what they mean (‘technology’. ‘society’ etc.). I do get depressed sometimes about how pseudo-intellectual stuff like this gets lapped up as if it means anything important.

    BTW @No.34 – you couldn’t be more wrong about deep ecology. Try reading some Arne Naess and then tell me he’s anti-human. You would find it hard to find a more humane person. The Unabomber doesn’t represent the logical conclusion of deep ecology any more than extreme and violent manifestations of any way of thinking say something that is intrinsic to those ways of thinking. All the Unabomber represents is a egocentric, disturbed and pessimistic figure who used a quasi-intellectual justification for exercising his bitterness on random victims. He just happened to be part of a culture in which one of the major critical political movements is based on ecology.

  57. greebo says:

    Okay, that’s two pieces of sheer folly from KK within the space of a week. Is he hell bent on shredding his reputation?

  58. tonyv414 says:

    Recall that, at one time, the stone axe, arrowpoint, and spear were the height of technology. Ditto the shovel and plow. ( one might argue that these crude instruments were quite important for human evolution and subsistence)
    And then of course, the art of language communication and the pencil and paper (or typewriter?) which Ted used to convey his “Manifesto” were also results of technological advancement. Finally, Ted’s methods of letter bombing and such were inherently technological. So it seems that Humanity (as well as Ted himself), are and always were inestricably linked to technological evolution and hence, the entire argument self-destructs in a completely self-referential vaporization of verbal feces.
    It isn’t technology that is ever really at fault….it is simply human stupidity that is the culprit.

  59. noen says:

    “Nobody likes a brown noser.”

    I beg to differ, however I have no intention of joining the GOP right now so I guess that is no longer the path to success.

    It isn’t like I’m not willing to “pitch in” though. I think you’ll be getting a bunch of new arrivals soon and could probably use an extra hand.

  60. Mark Frauenfelder says:

    Flying_Monkey@70: Well, you set the tone by deeming Kevin Kelly’s essay so “obviously stupid” that it was beneath your academic superiority to merit a reasoned response. What do you expect when you come in here and behave that way? As Buddy66 implied above, if you’re not going to contribute in a meaningful way to the discussion, at least try to be funny.

  61. Purly says:

    kookoo crazy nuts

  62. zikzak says:

    @mark,72: You know we’re an information society when the best threat someone can come up with is “I won’t read what you write anymore”.

  63. Jeff says:

    All systems that humans partake in are organic in nature. The Universe itself is holistic in nature. Quantum cosmology says so.

  64. Anonymous says:

    Observation. There will be no privacy any more, any person can be tracked with minute detail in various databases. This is on the way. This is the ultimate end of technology: a tool of total control….

  65. Anonymous says:

    Savages in the congo believe a camera can steel a man’s soul. Perception of a tool or knowledge base is derived by one’s adaptivity. Some will get left behind simply looking for a scapegoat.

  66. doug117 says:

    I think TK’s manifesto suggested that technology is oppressive in its own right, not that technology enables goverment oppression. (Although it does the latter.)

    Few people can survive in America without phones, cars, and email. Try to get and hold a job without any of this. IMHO, that’s oppression that occurs because of widespread deployment of technology.

  67. Lucifer says:

    @ITO
    Thanks for the compliment. I get so few these days, except for really superficial things that aren’t really “me” – like my awesome Bugatti Veyron or my sharp outfits. It’s so hard to make a good first impression these days when everyone talks behind your back and your reputation comes down to whatever so-and-so said about you in the Bible and the Kuran.

    I was just talking about that with Monica Lewinsky and she was “like, totally.” I really feel we had a nice moment there and we really “got” each other you know? She’s really great btw – wink wink. But enough with my whining right?

    Poor Ted really had some delusions of grandeur and rationalized to himself that he was doing something good for the world – and I guess I have a soft spot for that. True villainy is after all just misguided love isn’t it? Evil is just a vowel away from Love. I have a lot of these. I just hesitate to actually stick them on my Veyron… I feel the skull pendant on the rear view mirror is almost too much already – kinda “Hot Topic Gothy”. I mean it’s a real skull though so…

  68. buddy66 says:

    #29 hughelectronic, asks:

    Does anyone have a working definition for “technology?”

    Let’s try this…

    One of the subsystems of the larger system of Human Culture that is comprised of the material, mechanical, physical and chemical instruments, together with the techniques of their use, by which we exploit and articulate our habitats.

    Will it fly?

  69. akirabergman says:

    I think the reason for the passionate commenting is the sensitivity of the topic and the apparent insensitivity of Kevin and Mark. It is well known that the regressive sections of the establishment have been too keen to oppress scientists and intellectuals for centuries. They use every kind of method; appeasement, coersion, diversion, blame, defamation, intimidation, violence and murder. This has been particularly obvious in the USA. It is still not known if Ted Kaczynski was a part of this conspiracy. In the light of the increasing political tension between scientists and the establishment, Kevin and Mark seem pretty naive indeed (to say the least).

  70. GregLondon says:

    opening paragraph from the link:

    Ted Kaczynski, the convicted bomber who blew up dozens of technophilic professionals, was right about one thing: technology has its own agenda. The technium is not, as most people think, a series of individual artifacts and gadgets for sale. Rather, Kaczynski, speaking as the Unabomber, argued that technology is a dynamic holistic system. It is not mere hardware; rather it is more akin to an organism. It is not inert, nor passive; rather the technium seeks and grabs resources for its own expansion. It is not merely the sum of human action, but in fact it transcends human actions and desires. I think Kaczynski was right about these claims. In his own words the Unabomber says: “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.

    The entire point of Kevin Kelly’s article appears to be to agree with the unabomber’s anthropomorphism of technology.

    http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Anthropomorphism

    In essence, the unabomber took a concept he didn’t like, technology, imbued it with qualities of a thinking personality, and then portrayed that personality in a negative light to create an appeal to emotion against technology.

    It is an argument from fear, nothing more. Mary Shelley tapped into it to write a very effective horror story representing the advances in medical science to culminate in Frankenstein’s monster, something that escapes beyond our control, and yet is consciously trying to destroy humans.

    The implication of the argument is that if we continue xxx, it will create a monster that will try to destroy us, and if we stop doing xxx, then we will remain safe.

    Lets take a quick look at that first paragraph again and highlight the bits that anthropomorphize technology into something out to destroy us:

    Ted Kaczynski, the convicted bomber who blew up dozens of technophilic professionals, was right about one thing: technology has its own agenda. The technium is not, as most people think, a series of individual artifacts and gadgets for sale. Rather, Kaczynski, speaking as the Unabomber, argued that technology is a dynamic holistic system. It is not mere hardware; rather it is more akin to an organism. It is not inert, nor passive; rather the technium seeks and grabs resources for its own expansion. It is not merely the sum of human action, but in fact it transcends human actions and desires.

    Seriously, how can stainless steel, refrigeration, photovoltaics, and other technological advances have its own agenda? How is the the light bulb an organism that seeks and grabs resources for its own expansion? How does fuel cell technology transcend human actions and desires?

    The Unabomber wasn’t right, he was afraid of technology and arguing from fear against technology.

    What technology does do is make an alternate available to people that did not exist before, and that alternate is generally better than what was available before the new technology was available.

    Refrigeration: before refrigeration, you packed you food in salt and maybe you stored it in ice boxes. After the invention of refrigeration, using refrigeration to ship and store food was a no-brainer. Were you forced to choose to get a frige? No. But you would be choosing a harder path, for no real benefit. And in the unabomber’s case, he did so based on the faulty assumption that the invention of refrigeration took some kind of choice away from him, when it gave him a new choice.

    So, I don’t think the unabomber was “right” at all. I think all he did was anthropomorphize technology into a kind of Frankenstien’s monster and present it as the daemon he saw it as in an attempt to make people as afraid of it as he was.

    it’s nothing more than an appeal to emotion.

  71. Flying_Monkey says:

    @77 Dylan Morgan. Dylan, you are far from the first to notice! Back in 1996, William Brown wrote, The Ethical Spectacle (before the Unabomber was even caught), and made these connections (and also with the writing of John Zerzan).

    http://www.spectacle.org/496/brown.html

    He was rather less than charitable about the Unabomber’s writing:

    “A real hash this is, composed of leftover bits and pieces of populism, situationism, pop anarchism, long-discredited anthropological/religious illusions, and post-1960s “movement” theory. It gives every indication of being thrown together by a graduate student-turned-FBI agent who decided to “put to good use” all the subversive little books published in Semiotext(e)’s “foreign agents” series in the 1980s, but not to give up his dreams of making it big in the straight world.”

    Thirteen years later and we are still asked to give him the credit he does not deserver?

  72. zikzak says:

    I see the concept of “freedom” being thrown around a lot in these kind of discussions, and I think differences in understanding the word leads to misunderstanding of a lot of anti-civ arguments.

    When anti-civ people talk about freedom, they’re speaking in a political sense, not a technical one. Obviously, industrial society does afford us many technical capabilities which we would otherwise lack. We have the “freedom” to play World of Warcraft, or eat jelly beans thanks to industrial capitalism. Without it, it seems we would lose this freedom.

    But considered politically, freedom is opposed by oppression, not technical inability. We don’t consider people who cannot photosynthesize to be oppressed by their need to eat, but we do consider people who are enslaved and cannot move freely oppressed. The former is a technical limitation, imposed by the nature of the universe itself, while the latter is a condition one group inflicts on another.

    Political freedom, then, /is/ a subjective concept – it’s not about what we are and aren’t able to do in an absolute sense, but what we’re able to do relative to what we realistically expect to be able to do. So it’s not enough to say “technology is constantly letting us do new things, therefore it expands our freedom”.

    Does the march of technology cause the oppressed to no longer be oppressed? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, and sometimes technology introduces methods for totally new forms of oppression.

    I’d say that anti-civ arguments are wrong in their universal condemnation of industrial society, but absolutely spot on in their specific critiques. The expansion of technical capability of an aggregate society in no way ensures the expansion of political freedom for the individuals, and we still have to fight long and hard to secure freedom in the context of each new wave of technology.

  73. Flying_Monkey says:

    @79 Buddy – oops! Not clever at all, just poor spelling. I noticed that you can’t edit your posts here (unlike most forums) – I guess that means I will have to be more careful to avoid the attentions of the spelling gestapo*.

    I notice the conspiracy nutters have arrived now, so probably time to wrap this one up…

    *universal disclaimer: this statement or variations thereof in no way implies an accusation of actual national socialist tendencies either past, present or future ;)

  74. Lucifer says:

    @ITO
    Thanks for the compliment. I get so few these days, except for really superficial things that aren’t really “me” – like my awesome Bugatti Veyron or my sharp outfits. It’s so hard to make a good first impression these days when everyone talks behind your back and your reputation comes down to whatever so-and-so said about you in the Bible and the Kuran.

    I was just talking about that with Monica Lewinsky and she was “like, totally.” I really feel we had a nice moment there and we really “got” each other you know? She’s really great btw – wink wink. But enough with my whining right?

    Poor Ted really had some delusions of grandeur and rationalized to himself that he was doing something good for the world – and I guess I have a soft spot for that. True villainy is after all just misguided love isn’t it? Evil is just a vowel away from Love. I have a lot of these. I just hesitate to actually stick them on my Veyron… I feel the skull pendant on the rear view mirror is almost too much already – kinda “Hot Topic Gothy”. I mean it’s a real skull though so…

  75. JayeRandom says:

    Mark, you could and should have included Kelly’s final graf in your post, because I think people get the wrong impression otherwise:
    “The Unabomber is right that technology is a holistic, self-perpetuating machine. He is wrong to bomb it for many reasons, not the least is that the machine of civilization offers us more actual freedoms than the alternative. There is a cost to run this machine, a cost we are only beginning to reckon with, but so far the gains from this ever enlarging technium outweigh the alternative of no machine at all.”

  76. buddy66 says:

    “It is well known that the regressive sections of the establishment have been too keen to oppress scientists and intellectuals for centuries.”

    Centuries? A long-standing conspiracy is it? Pan-generational? Dare you name it? Them?

    How could insane Ted Kaczynsky be a part of this?

  77. dculberson says:

    Reading just the summary above doesn’t give you the gist of what KK was agreeing with at all. His final statement was:

    “The Unabomber is right that technology is a holistic, self-perpetuating machine. He is wrong to bomb it for many reasons, not the least is that the machine of civilization offers us more actual freedoms than the alternative.”

    The only thing KK says that the Unabomber got right was that technology becomes its own engine of growth, that people grow to depend upon each new piece of technology and it quickly becomes a necessity rather than an option. That’s true. Think of: fire, electricity, telephone, TV, internet, cell phones. Every “big” technological luxury eventually becomes a requirement.

    The anthropomorphizing of it might throw you off, but that’s just a way to make the point. KK isn’t saying that technology itself is a living being, but that the benefit of technology drives humans to perpetuate more technology.

    And I agree with KK that it adds to freedoms, adds to choices, rather than subtracts from them. We lose some depth to each choice but gain more discreet choices.

  78. GTMoogle says:

    I’ve written 3 separate rants that I’ve decided not to post, guilty of attacking the interpretation of the material instead of the source (As others have already done here :) ) … :) … (Damn you http://xkcd.com/541/ !)

    So rather than criticize, I’ll merely throw some ideas out there for everyone to chew on or ignore as they see fit.

    1) There’s nothing specific in his observations about technology – ANY system can self-sustain – chemistry, biology, legalese, politics, games, forum discussions. Self-destructive cycles tend to disappear, so you don’t see many. Self-reinforcing cycles dominate and are so common we rarely notice them.

    2) Is Ted’s problem based on the faulty assumption that things as he knows them are somehow ‘good’, ‘planned’, or ‘as they should be’? We’re where we are because we’re here, if we weren’t we wouldn’t be. Any value judgment about it we can make can only be made from inside. Similarly, it’s silly to ask a lottery winner how they did it – clearly the only answer can come from outside, and their statement is not useful for replicating the result.

    Also: http://wondermark.com/490/

    3) To make a poor analogy, it kinda sounds like Ted was trying to cut off his left leg because he was afraid it would grow and make him unbalanced, without realizing his right leg would grow as well. (The analogy is poor because it implies other things like the start and end states being correct or natural, in violation of my second thought. I only mean to highlight that it sounds from the summary like he’s only seeing a problem with technology because he’s looking at it, ‘politics’, and ‘society’ in isolation)

    4) Are his value judgments of what’s good, and what about the society he sees technology bringing ‘bad’ based on anything other than his own neurotic desires?

  79. akirabergman says:

    Unabomber’s anti-science views are in harmony with the regressive side of the establishment. Those days there was a global terrorist campaign against scientists to silence and remove them from the political arena. I suspect he was a part of it. Bombing other targets like airlines as well could have been a cover.

  80. akirabergman says:

    I must also add that science and technology go hand in hand, therefore anti-technology is anti-science. The Internet is also technology and see where it has brought the society and weakened the power mongering establishment. Mark’s efforts to paint K.Kelly in a benign color is in vain. Being human is using tools, communicating and inventing. Scientific evolution is as natural as the organic evolution. Anti-science is anti-human and it serves the interests of the regressive establishment who are only interested in preserving their tight-hold on the government.

  81. buddy66 says:

    @#76,

    contra – contrary – “contraversialism.”

    Gee, I thought it was a witty misspelling…

    That’s why I smiled.

  82. Anonymous says:

    So what’s the alternative???

    Going back to a pre-industrial, agrarian society where the average lifespan was 35 years old and everyone toiled 16 hours a day to barely feed themselves???

    You can keep that….

  83. Mark Frauenfelder says:

    Flying_Monkey@48 : “Being someone who works in science and technology studies myself, I was thinking about writing a demolition of KK’s piece but what is the point? It’s so obviously stupid and aimed at what passes for popularity on the net…”

    Color me impressed. Thanks to this science and technology scholar’s well-reasoned argument above, there’s no reason to discuss this any further.

  84. Jeff says:

    I for one welcome our technological overlords! (They will see my notes and know I’m I won’t need to be sent to a “re-education camp.”) Did I mention that I’m in favor of turning this entire planet into smart matter?

  85. akirabergman says:

    #88 FLYING MONKEY;

    You don’t need a laughable cover to throw mud at me. Be a true monkey and do it anyway.

    What is plan to the predator is conspiracy to the prey. A good conspiracy is covered by weaker conspiracy theories.

  86. hughelectronic says:

    Does anyone have a working definition for “technology?”

  87. akirabergman says:

    Galileo is enough to demonstrate the deep history. The church burnt many at stake. One of Hitler and Stalin’s first acts was the arrest and murder of intellectuals and scientists. The modern examples are many, from the harassment and murder of medical doctors, to intimidation and terrorizing of climate and other scientists. I recommend some research.

    The use of the insane, ignorant, fundamentalist and children for assassinations is well known. The technique is called “plausible deniability”. You pick a naive would be assassin and train him/her through indirect means so that the sponsor could not be directly identified.

  88. Lucifer says:

    The only point I can make from the points I read is one that Ted never makes himself. It is that technology grows ever more complex as innovation changes and refines designs to fulfill more specific yet broader functions. Out of this arises unpredictable and unintended consequences. Such as a worldwide defense system gaining sentient consciousness at 0700 hours and launching a unilateral strike against humanity. Or how GMO corn is someday going to spread airborne Aids.

    But the same can be said of humanity. You never can tell what some baby is going to grow up into – the next Mozart or Mussolini. A certain king tried to minimize the uncertainty and risk by eliminating variables by killing every male infant child in the realm. That didn’t work out too well because that in itself sets into motion a whole slew of cause and effect karmic cascade in the shape of a razor sharp boomerang, like the one that wild kid had in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Man that was an awesome movie.

  89. buddy66 says:

    Ah, systemic! Sure. The inherent madness of civilizations. Interesting take, calling the inevitable ruthlessness of class warfare a ”conspiracy.” But I would say it’s no more conspiratorial than the crocodile’s jaws.

    You do know that TK was an MKULTRA subject, don’t you?

  90. dculberson says:

    Yes, I love technology
    Not as much as you, you see
    But I still love technology
    Always and forever

  91. garyb50 says:

    I once was a carpenter and did everything by hand. I had nothing but disdain for guns and electricity. Finally, I bought some guns
    and damn it was so much easier and faster. Then I shot a 12 penny into my brain and I’m paralyzed from the neck down. Ted was right.

  92. akirabergman says:

    When looked at a very macro scale it is a natural part of the machine, you are right. The conspiratorial angle comes in with the increased awareness of humans in designing systems of oppression and passing them onto the next generations as a part of the elite’s culture of government. Egyptian crowd control systems are still in use, religious and otherwise, but not known by the general public. Secrecy is another weapon they use. Thats why they don’t like science practiced by the others and dislike the media revolution.

    Now that you mentioned, I heard of the MKULTRA link but did not have a clear memory of it.

  93. Lucifer says:

    The only point I can make from the points I read is one that Ted never makes himself. It is that technology grows ever more complex as innovation changes and refines designs to fulfill more specific yet broader functions. Out of this arises unpredictable and unintended consequences. Such as a worldwide defense system gaining sentient consciousness at 0700 hours and launching a unilateral strike against humanity. Or how GMO corn is someday going to spread airborne Aids.

    But the same can be said of humanity. You never can tell what some baby is going to grow up into – the next Mozart or Mussolini. A certain king tried to minimize the uncertainty and risk by eliminating variables by killing every male infant child in the realm. That didn’t work out too well because that in itself sets into motion a whole slew of cause and effect karmic cascade in the shape of a razor sharp boomerang, like the one that wild kid had in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Man that was an awesome movie.

  94. Anonymous says:

    The thing that bothers me about the manifesto (as with most ‘deep ecology’ ‘thinking’) is it relies on some concepts that are transparently recycled from Christianity, and not necessarily true.

    The notion of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ as intrinsically separate and opposed? Genesis. The Fall. Because of original sin, we are separated from nature and have to struggle against it.

    The idea that society will ‘inevitably collapse’? the Book of Revelation in drag (THE END IS NEAR! REPENT!)

    Both are faith-based propositions, but both are fundamental to his dichotomy between freedom and technology. They are also based in a human exceptionalism (‘we are totally unlike any other animal or living thing!’) that is really deeply ingrained in our culture but is not true.

    I see no _a priori_ reason to see humans as anything else than an integral part of earth’s ecological systems. Like any species, we have an ecological impact.

    I think TK is right in that our rapidly expanding technology has an ecology of its own, but I think it’s an epiphenomenon. Technology is part of the ecology of the human species, which is in turn part of the ecology of earth as a whole. To elevate it to an autonomous force is foolish and basically anti-human.

    Which, frankly, is the problem with Deep Ecology in general. It’s a fundamentally anti-human philosophy, based in an assumption that humans are sinful and deserve punishment. Perhaps through a mail bomb.

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