Kevin Kelly: "The Unabomber Was Right"

Over at The Technium, Kevin Kelly has written a long, fascinating essay titled "The Unabomber Was Right." Of course, Kevin doesn't mean Ted Kaczynski was right to have murdered people. Kevin 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. 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."

(UPDATE: It's worth adding this part of Kevin's essay as well, since many of the commenters haven't bothered to read the essay before weighing in: "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.")

The truth of Kaczynski's observations does not absolve him of his murders, or justify his insane hatred. Kaczynski saw something in technology that caused him to lash out with violence, but despite his mental imbalance, he was able to articulate that view with surprising clarity his sprawling, infamous 35,000-word manifesto. Kaczynski murdered three people (and injured 23 more) in order to get this manifesto published. His despicable desperation and crimes hide a critique that has gained a minority following by other luddites. The center section of his argument is clear, remarkably so, given his cranky personal grievances against leftists that bookend his rant. Here, in meticulous, scholarly precision, Kaczynski makes his primary claim that "freedom and technological progress are incompatible," and that therefore technological progress must be undone.

As best I understand, the Unabomber's argument goes like this:

  1. Personal freedoms are constrained by society, as they must be.
  2. The stronger that technology makes society, the less freedoms.
  3. Technology destroys nature, which strengthens technology further.
  4. This ratchet of technological self-amplification is stronger than politics.
  5. Any attempt to use technology or politics to tame the system only strengthens it.
  6. Therefore technological civilization must be destroyed, rather than reformed.
  7. Since it cannot be destroyed by tech or politics, humans must push industrial society towards its inevitable end of self-collapse.
  8. Then pounce on it when it is down and kill it before it rises again.

Kevin Kelly: "The Unabomber Was Right"