Are the political views and actions of the Unabomber justified?

Another fun essay, this time from early-2016.

  1. Introduction

During the period of 1978 and 1995, Theodore Kaczynski (informally known as the Unabomber) launched a series of terror attacks targeting dozens of personnel involved in the technology industry (Kapusta, 2008). Upon the publication of his personal manifesto ‘Industrial Society and its Future’, Kaczynski’s attacks were discovered to be driven by a philosophical fear of technology and the disconnect it encourages from the natural world. In this essay I shall analyse the thoughts and ideas underlying Theodore Kaczynski’s terror attacks in order to determine whether his beliefs were well founded.

In §2 of this essay, I shall describe the fundamental assumptions that Kaczynski’s argument relies on. For §3 I shall continue to outline Kaczynski’s political views as expounded in his article ‘Industrial Society and its Future’. In §4, I shall highlight the flaws and inconsistencies in Kaczynski’s reasoning. Then, in §5, I shall question whether or not Kaczynski’s extreme lengths were necessary relative to the ends he achieved (or aimed to achieve). I shall conclude in §6 by providing an overall assessment of Kaczynski’s position, including a recommendation as to how he could have better achieved his ends using non-violent means.

  1. Underlying assumptions of Kaczynski’s argument

Kaczynski’s text ‘Industrial Society and its Future’ is divided into two sections, the first attacking the left-wing movement and the second addressing the proliferation and convenience of technology in industrial society. Collectively, these observations and criticisms amount to one single point – individual freedom is necessary to live a meaningful and fulfilling life, yet is obstructed by technological society; therefore, in order for humans to be happy, technological society must be rejected (Kaczynski, 1995). To better understand Kaczynski’s argument, this point must be elaborated upon, and can be understood in terms of what he calls the power process.

The power process, according to Kaczynski, is a basic human need containing four elements: goal, effort, attainment and autonomy. For the sake of this essay, I shall primarily elaborate upon the first three elements whose definitions are quite simplistic. Autonomy is the mere freedom to undergo these three elements at one’s own volition. Simply put, “Everyone needs to have goals whose attainment requires effort, and needs to succeed in attaining at least some of his goals” (Kaczynski, 1995, p.4).

I could then compare this process to the construction of this essay. According to the first three elements of the power process my goal is to complete this essay to the best of my abilities, I shall exert effort in writing it and will eventually achieve attainment of my goal. So far, I appear to have satisfied the criterion of completing the power process. However, Kaczynski would more than likely object to this claim on the basis of being a surrogate activity (Kaczynski, 1995).

In his description of the power process, Kaczynski often refers to physical necessities as examples for satisfying the power process. Though he doesn’t draw a comparison between the two, there are remarkable similarities which indicate that, if true, the power process might have been an evolutionary feature, for the pleasure and sense of meaning derived from undergoing this process contribute towards one’s own survival. For example: food, water and shelter all require effort to attain, are necessary for the survival of oneself and have reasonable rates of success in attainment. “But the leisured aristocrat”, Kaczynski writes, “obtains these things without effort. Hence his boredom and demoralization” (Kaczynski, 1995, p.4).

To circumvent boredom and demoralisation, the leisured aristocrat creates artificial goals to simulate the power process, goals that they pursue “with the same energy and emotional involvement that they otherwise would have put into the search for physical necessities” (Kaczynski, 1995, p.5). With regard to writing this essay, it does not immediately satisfy my own physical necessities and therefore does not qualify as being a part of the power process – it is a mere surrogate activity.

  1. Political views expressed in the article

Having understood the underlying supposition of Kaczynski’s argument, it is now appropriate to analyse its contents which can be divided into two categories: criticisms against modern leftism and criticisms against the proliferation of technology in society, the latter of which I shall address first.

In Kaczynski’s examples of ‘surrogate activities’, he refers to the leisured aristocrat as having access to life’s necessities without having to undergo the power process in attaining these goods (due to their enormous wealth). According to Kaczynski’s theory, this results in a person with their material needs satisfied and psychological needs ignored, compelling such people to adopt surrogate activities which simulate the power process.

Though this example appears to address people of the upper class, it concerns every individual in contact with the conveniences of modern society and is not so much a reflection on the individual themselves, but on society as a whole. This is due to the advances in modern technology which trivialise the need to attain our physical necessities (Kaczynski, 1995). Such a society, he claims, causes many individuals to live without purpose (as reflected by mental disorders prevalent in western culture) and many with an unrelenting drive for purpose, such as the leisured aristocrat adopting surrogate activities to simulate the power process (Kaczynski, 1995).Thus, the only plausible method of eliminating these disorders and creating a freer society is by revolution, which I shall expand upon in the coming paragraphs.

Modern leftism, Kaczynski argues, fails to address the overarching dilemma society faces, namely, our perpetual dependency on technology and its implications (Kaczynski, 1995). Proponents of racial, sexual and gender equality are deprived of the freedom to undergo the power process, which is to act autonomously in industrial society. With this comes feelings of inadequacy and the lust for power, which is simulated by accusing society of violating the principles it is expected to uphold. Kaczynski also refers to the actions of left-wing activists as being surrogate activities for they, just like the leisured aristocrat, are being deprived of the power process. Though their accusations may be well informed, Kaczynski views them as a mere short term solution to a larger problem in society, that is, the deprivation of individuals to undergo the power process.

The only plausible solution, according to Kaczynski, is to replace the entire system, which he notes as being only possible through “promot(ing) social stress and instability in industrial society” (Kaczynski, 1995, p.24). In the same paragraph, he encourages readers to “develop and propagate an ideology that opposes technology and the industrial system” (Kaczynski, 1995, p.24). Collectively, these actions amount to one purpose: revolution, which Kaczynski believes to be necessary for society to function in such a way that is supposed to. He stresses the point that mere reform cannot create sufficient widespread change but provides little evidence as to why this may not be a more effective alternative.

  1. A critique of Kaczynski’s position

It is worth mentioning that on paragraph 231 of his paper, Kaczynski acknowledges that many of his claims are anecdotal because of his isolation from the outside world and “rely heavily on intuitive judgment” (Kaczynski, 1995, p.30). However, this does not excuse the wrongfulness of his assertions, it merely addresses them. As such, I would like to suggest that Kaczynski’s argument is fundamentally flawed based on its assumptions regarding the power process.

Kaczynski asserts that physical necessities provide a more adequate basis for living a meaningful and satisfactory life comparative to what is involved in surrogate activities. At no point does Kaczynski attempt to justify this claim with evidence or reason, merely stating that the power process is “probably based in biology” (Kaczynski, 1995, p.4). Clearly this is not sufficient to accept a claim of such proportion. This is not to say that certain aspects of the power process are false. Setting and achieving goals, for instance, can be reasonably claimed to be an integral component in maintaining one’s own mental health. It does not follow from this claim that these goals must address the attainment of one’s physical necessities in life. To do so would be mere speculation, which is exactly what Kaczynski fails to understand.

On another note, Kaczynski claims that it is impossible for one to maintain a close relationship with technology and live a meaningful and fulfilling life. The social disorders Kaczynski arbitrarily refers to as being inextricably linked to the proliferation of technology in society can indeed be caused by such, yet, as most would agree, can also be caused by a variety of other phenomena. This claim is, once more, mere speculation on Kaczynski’s part, and should be treated as such.

  1. An assessment of Kaczynski’s actions

In the article, and as has already been discussed, Kaczynski believes that widespread change in society is only achievable through revolution, not reform as many left-wing activists advocate. He reduces his proposed revolution into two courses of action which he urges his readers to adopt. The first asks us to “promote social stress and instability in industrial society” and the second to “develop and propagate an ideology that opposes technology and the industrial system” (Kaczynski, 1995, p.24). Presumably Kaczynski has achieved the former by attacking selected members of the technology community. In doing so, he has created a social stress in that field which had not previously existed (Cooijmans, 2005). However, I do not believe that Kaczynski’s tactics satisfy the second criterion, which is to propagate an anarcho-primitivist ideology. Murder, as was the result of his terror attacks, achieves the opposite effect to what Kaczynski intended, ostracising him and his cause from society, which is surely necessary to achieve a revolution on the scale Kaczynski intends.

This is, however, not to condemn violence as a means of achieving ends, it is merely to condemn Kaczynski’s use of it. As a consequentialist, I hold that it is the ends of an action that are primarily relevant, rather than the means by which one achieves such ends. In Kaczynski’s case, the use of violence in achieving the ends that he intended could be condoned if it were to meet sufficient criteria, which, as I have argued in this essay, I do not believe to be true. Further than the wrongfulness of his argument, his ends could have plausibly been achieved through using non-violent means, such as those tactics employed by Bill Joy (Joy, 2000).

In Joy’s article, he remarks upon the exponential growth in technology of the 20th century and its potentially disastrous future (Joy, 2000). Joy has similar opinions to Kaczynski regarding the danger that technology posits to society, though each are based on different assumptions. Joy’s method of communicating this fear was to write an article that both addresses the issue and presents us with a reasonable method of managing these crises, would they ever occur. Ironically, Kaczynski is referred to in Joy’s article as being one of these very dangers. “We’re lucky”, Joy comments, “Kaczynski was a mathematician, not a molecular biologist” (Joy, 2000, p.3).

  1. Conclusion

In conclusion, it seems clear that Kaczynski’s argument is mostly anecdotal and relies too heavily on intuition to be considered sound; therefore, we ought not to accept it. Though much of Kaczynski’s reasoning regarding the psychological needs of humans is plausible, his extrapolation of these and other merely assumed factors is not nearly sufficiently conclusive to be accepted by a well-informed person. Furthermore, the means by which Kaczynski met his ends did not justify the measures he took, irrespective of the soundness of his argument. Such ends could have been met far more effectively through non-violent means, such as in the case of Bill Joy, and with better reception.


Cooijmans, P., (2005), ‘Comment on the Unabomber’s Manifesto’, PaulCooijmans, Accessed on 11/03/16

Joy, B., (2000), ‘Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us’, WIRED, Issue 8.04.

Kaczynski, T., (1995), Industrial Society and its Future, Self-Published.

Kapusta, J., (2008), ‘Accelerator Disaster Scenarios, the Unabomber, and Scientific Risks’, Physics in Perspective, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 163-181.

Scroll to Top