Uncle Ted: History, Technology, and Prophet-hood:
Recently, I came across an article about how Ted Kaczynski had garnered a new following of acolytes trying to start a new “Neo Primitive” revolution. If you are unfamiliar with Uncle Ted then you might want to click on this handy link to the UNABOMB FBI page for some history. I for one lived through the events of his bombing campaign and read the maifesto “Industrial Society and Its Future” eager to seek some clues as to who the bomber was but I also was struck by some of what the person who would be revealed as Ted Kaczynski, was trying to say about our society and its possible demise from technology. Admittedly I was younger then and I may have lacked some of the nuance in 1995 but, today it is much easier to see what Ted was trying to say using the wrong means to get the message out.
Of course Ted is in fact mentally ill and because of that much of what he is trying to say at the core of his argument is padded with pedantry and a fair bit of sexism, racism, and lack of full clarity. However, once you prize apart some of his concerns you can see his point on how technology has really sort of enslaved human kind and may do so even more as we create more and more tech that we rely on to live. If you are not up for a long and pedantic read, you might want to check out “Manhunt: UNABOMBER” on Netflix to get a sense of where his head was and it turns out, still is. While the show is dramatized the point is brought out well on what Ted was trying to say about technology as a system and how it now is controlling our lives and destroying the environment.
Now back to this article that started my trip down the Kaczynski rabbit hole again. The whole thrust of the piece is that there are people who have latched on to Ted as a prophet of sorts about his ideas on technology and its ill’s today. Some of these people have banded together to start groups or join groups that believe that society will come to an end or that technological society to be precise, will be our collective end. These people have then decided that they need to be “Neo Primitives” living in groups in the woods learning hunter-gatherer skills and living off the land. Yet others though are taking more direct and troubling actions to fight the technological society using anarchist ideals and finally seeking the prophet’s (Ted) guidance on just how to do this.
Within the article these new true believers are seen to have varying levels of angst but it seems from the piece that more than a few of them have reached out to Ted in prison asking him for advice or direction. So far it seems Ted has dealt with them up to a point only to then turn them away and with some vehemence, branded them idiots in his brusque “stop talking to me you idiot” way. However, I suspect that these true believers perhaps got Ted thinking and by 2015 he had published “Anti-Tech Revolution: How and Why” for the masses. This is the most logically sound reason why I think Ted put this book together. It really makes sense if you take into account these people had been trying to get him to lead them but he did not want to be directly linked to them perhaps because if they did carry out revolution, it would come back on him legally. Of course he is in jail forever but I suppose they could impose further sanction on him were he seen as the leader of an anti-tech revolution from inside his cell by proxy of letters to and from the revolutionaries right?
So Ted puts together this how to manual on how to fight the revolution against technology and societies that are based on it. I read all two hundred and fifty dense pages and bring to you all my condensed thoughts on his book. It took a lot of whiskey and coffee in alternating shifts to get through much of what Ted wrote here. Like the “manifesto” it is exceedingly pedantic in style and dense in ideas while being so obtuse at times one has to stop and say “uhhh what?” between the sections of chapters of which there are only four.
But what large chapters they are….
Anti-Tech Revolution: How and Why:
Chapter 1: The Development of a Society Can Never Be Subject to Rational Human Control
Ted spends a LOT of time in the first chapter trying to link evolutionary biology to complex systems to humans and society. The distillate of this chapter is that Ted believes that technological systems and societies are like biological systems in the way Darwinism and evolution chooses the strong or the genetically lucky to live and to thrive. It’s a long long chapter and in the end I had to just shake my head at his bloviation. Just look at the title of the chapter to see how cognitively challenging this line of thought is! Rational human control? Wait, are you saying that society is rational? Ok ok ok, I can see the argument and there is some rationality there but really, the chapter drones on about societies throughout time and the building of society from hunter gatherer to today. It goes on a long winding path with a lot of citations from history, chaos theory, and philosophy that in the end does not really make a convincing argument. What it all boiled down to is this; Societies must be small and not technology based. Basic tools are ok but once you get to agrarian systems and large populations technology is required and then it takes over.
…and that’s bad.
The only area that I enjoyed in this chapter was where he touched on chaos theory in relation to evolution and systems. His contention is that systems are not static and there is a great deal of volatility there. However, I think he missed the part of Chaos theory that lead to Complexity Theory where all the chaos forms a stable system on the macro level. Ted is a Mathematician but I don’t think he is that well read on Chaos theory never mind Complexity and those are two things you have to take into account in societal systems, human nature, and the universe itself.
Chapter 2: Why the Technological System Will Destroy Itself
The second chapter of the treatise is on why any technological system will destroy itself. Basically Ted goes on a bender here about how systems of technology are just rapacious machines that will, in the end, eat up everything the world has to offer in order to grow. This chapter also goes on further into the ideas of natural selection applying to technological systems. I got kinda lost here on this idea because frankly it is not the systems that are doing this, it is the people doing this to propagate the systems they create. Ted seems unable at times to separate the fact that the technology is not the slave but the tool to which we give up power. It is more about the human systems of psychology, society, and evolution that he should be concerned with, not the “systems” that we create.
Honestly the only way that I can see an argument like his being made using “self propagating systems” as he calls them, would be when we actually have a true AI that is self aware and is programmed to evolve and grow. When that happens we are likely screwed in my opinion but that time is not now and this book is not about that. Once again Ted gets lost in the details of citations from Solzhenitsyn to Max Weber. It’s a sea of ideas and is misguided in my opinion. However, I can see my way to his thinking about how we as humans are using technology more and more that in the end is allowing us to destroy the ecology of the planet. Once again though, the technology is just a tool that the humans are using within a society that they created and are expanding, it is not the system that is the problem, it is the humans using the tools without foresight on what they are doing to their surroundings. It is entirely possible to have a technological society and still have balance with ecology. It’s just that we as humans are just not there yet to grok this and really work towards that goal.
Chapter 3: How to Transform a Society: Errors to Avoid
This chapter delves deeply into varying political theories including quotes from Mao Zedong to Sin Fein. All of it though is oriented on groups that attempted to change society for their own system they wanted to install. Honestly most of the groups that Ted cites in this one are not shining examples of open societies or men known for their humanity. This all though dovetails into much of what Ted wants to the revolutionary to understand; “You have to break some eggs to change society” and all these people can be your guides. Ted continues on long diatribes about the failures of certain groups including a scathing review of the current crop of Neo-Luddites and “Techies” that, according to him, believe too much in rainbows and unicorns.
Chapter III Part IV: The Application
Let’s start with Chellis Glendinning’s “Notes Toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto,” which can be found in an anthology compiled by David
Skrbina.151 Glendinning’s statement of the goals of neo-luddism is long and complicated, and most of the stated goals are hopelessly vague.
Here is a sample:
We favor the creation ef technologies in which politics, morality, ecology,
and technics are merged far the benefit ef life on Earth: Community-based energy sources utilizing solar, wind, and water
technologies-which are renewable and enhance both community relations and respect for nature;
•Organic, biological technologies . . . which derive directly from natural
models and systems;
•Conflict resolution technologies-which emphasize cooperation,
understanding, and continuity of relationship; and
•Decentralized social technologies-which encourage participation,
responsibility, and empowerment .
. . . We favor the development of a life-enhancing worldview in Western
technological societies. We hope to instill a perception of life, death,
and human potential into technological societies that will integrate
the human need for creative expression, spiritual experience and
community with the capacity for rational thought and functionality.
We perceive the human role not as the dominator of other species
and planetary biology, but as integrated into the natural world with
appreciation for the sacredness of all life.
Frankly I agree with Ted here. These people are vague and believers that technology will solve everything. Where Ted and I part is that once again, I think the people are the key, not the destruction of the system. The people need to come to the conclusion that they need to manage the technology and the systems in a way to achieve balance in order to grow and not destroy the balance.
…Then again, I am not mentally ill like Ted.
The takeaway here is that Ted is setting up the argument in the next chapter. That argument basically is that the “revolutionaries” need to steel themselves for the right time to take over if not make that moment happen themselves.
Chapter IV: Strategic Guidelines for an Anti-Tech Movement
The final chapter is really where the rubber meets the road so to speak in this book. As you can tell from the title, Ted is setting the revolutionaries up with a pep talk on how they need to proceed to win the war. The thrust of the chapter is that the revolution needs to be resolute, have a consistent single minded narrative, and to be somewhat ruthless. Of course Ted is careful to not go over the line in this chapter into areas of illegality. No, in fact he calls out in one place that the revolutionaries should not commit crimes while hinting at actions that may very well be criminal to fight the battle.
Ted covers everything from creating small small agile teams of people with the right skills (cells) as well as leveraging media, propaganda, and the very technologies that the movements are to be fighting. Yup, in fact he has a section where he says there should be teams within the revolution who are expert at such technologies and ideas as surveillance, crypto, hacking, etc to be used against the system. I don’t know about you, but a lot of what he is laying out here sounds like a terrorist cell. Of course Ted is using the rubric of the title “revolution” but honestly, how many revolutionaries in your lifetime have been anything other than varying shades of terrorists?
This last chapter is the clearest and yet most couched message to the would be revolutionaries. It is an epistle on how to form a revolutionary cell, create a larger structure on multiple continents, and wait for the right moment to strike. How to strike? Well, for one thing wait until the technology fails and then take over once everyone is demoralized. The other method is to maybe cause the failure of the technological system and then follow through taking over once the people are demoralized. Either way, Ted is advocating for active resistance to technological society and to take measures to fight it and take it over.
It’s really that simple.
All his preambles in the first three chapters are just long winded thought bombs to convince those who frankly, if they are already reading this treatise, are already convinced. But hey, you gotta lay out the premise right? Overall this book tries to brain dump a whole ethos using junk political thought, science, and a smattering of radical action to prep those Neo-Luds out there unable to focus their efforts properly per Ted.
Final Thoughts on Anti-Tech Revolution How and Why:
While I am rather fascinated with some of Ted’s ideas, this book was just a long winded exhortation for someone to take action in Ted’s war on technological society. Since he is incarcerated there is no one carrying out the war he started, and frankly I suspect that kinda rankles him. I am sure that once these kids started reaching out to him (once again read the article “Children of Ted”) it all got stuck in his craw again that no one picked up the fight since his arrest. His manifesto did not reach the right people I guess until now and he is trying to kindle that flame but feels that these kids are all morons so he will teach them with a book.
Speaking of the kids, that article should worry you about these kinds of movements as we see more things going wrong out there climate wise as well as politically. Ted was right about a few things in the manifesto, we are slaves to the technology but we allow ourselves to be. However, in that enslavement we have also become more alone and insular. We have higher rates of depression and we are seeing civility basically coming apart at the seams online while we get a steady feed of advertising and disinformation with a side dish of hate. The technology is allowing our basest of instincts run amok and so far we are ill equipped to do anything about ourselves doing this never mind our aggressors like Russia. No, Ted did have some ideas that are pertinent but his mental state rendered him unable to get the core ideas to the masses without using explosives and terror.
What Ted has laid out here will likely be ingested by the true believers but it is the last chapter that should concern us all. If these Neo-Luds and Eco-Terrorists mesh, then we are likely to see a new kind of Monkey Wrench Gang working out there against the “technological society” at large seen as the enemy of the planet. I know that certain agencies and military branches have already been talking about these kinds of activities ramping up as climate change starts affecting more people. I for one will keep an eye out for this as well because it seems that climate change is only getting worse and the effects are becoming more discernible by the lay people.
Including the Neo-Luds and Ted’s children.