Letters: Ted Kaczynski to David Skrbina (Sept 2004)

For the endnotes to these letters, please refer to the PDF of Technological Slavery. You can also view HTML versions of all correspondence between David Skrbina and Ted Kaczynski, as well as all the texts in the book.

I think that as a preliminary to answering your letter of July 27, it would be a good idea for me to give a more detailed outline of the “road to revolution” that I envision. The “road” is of course speculative. It’s impossible to foretell the course of events, so any movement aspiring to get rid of the technoindustrial system will have to be flexible and proceed by trial and error. It’s nevertheless necessary to give a tentative indication of the route to be followed, because without some idea of where it is going the movement will flounder around aimlessly. Also, an outline of at least a possible route to revolution helps to make the idea of revolution seem plausible. Probably the biggest current obstacle to the creation of an effective revolutionary movement is the mere fact that most people (at least in the U.S.) don’t see revolution as a plausible possibility.

In the first place, I believe that illegal action will be indispensible. I wouldn’t be allowed to mail this letter if I appeared to be trying to incite illegal action, so I will say only this much about it: A revolutionary movement should consist of two separate and independent sectors, an illegal, underground sector, and a legal sector. I’ll say nothing about what the illegal sector should do. The legal sector (if only for its own protection) should carefully avoid any connection with the illegal sector.

With the possible exceptions listed in my letter of 08/29/04, the function of the legal sector would not be to correct any evils of technology. Instead, its function would be to prepare the way for a future revolution, to be carried out when the right moment arrives.

Advance preparation is especially important in view of the fact that the occasion for revolution may arrive at any time and quite unexpectedly. The spontaneous insurrection in St. Petersburg in February 1917 took all of Russia by surprise. It is safe to say that this insurrection (if it had occurred at all) would have been no more than a massive but purposeless outburst of frustration if the way to revolution had not been prepared in advance. As it happened, there was already in existence a strong revolutionary movement that was in a position to provide leadership, and the revolutionaries moreover had for a long time been educating (or indoctrinating) the workers of St. Petersburg so that when the latter revolted they were not merely expressing senseless anger, but were acting purposefully and more or less intelligently.[14]

In order to prepare the way for revolution, the legal sector of the movement should:

(I) Build its own strength and cohesiveness. Increasing its numbers will be far less important than collecting members who are loyal, capable, deeply committed, and prepared for practical action. (The example of the Bolsheviks is instructive here).[15]

(II) Develop and disseminate an ideology that will (a) show people how many dangers the advance of technology presents for the future; (b) show people how many of their present problems and frustrations derive from the fact that they live in a technological society; (c) show people that there have existed past societies that have been more or less free of these problems and frustrations; (d) offer as a positive ideal a life close to nature; and (e) present revolution as a realistic alternative.[16]

The utility of (II) is as follows:

As matters stand at the moment, revolution in the stable parts of the industrialized world is impossible. A revolution could occur only if something happened to shake the stability of industrial society. It is easy to imagine events or developments that could shake the system in this way. To take just one example, suppose a virus created in an expimental laboratory escaped and wiped out, say, a third of the population of the industrialized world. But if this happened now, it hardly seems possible that it could lead to revolution. Instead of blaming the technological system as a whole for the disaster, people would blame only the carelessness of a particular laboratory. Their reaction would be not to dump technology, but to try to pick up the pieces and get the system running again — though doubtless they would enact laws requiring much stricter supervision of biotechnological research in the future.

The difficulty is that people see problems, frustrations, and disasters in isolation rather than seeing them as manifestations of the one central problem of technology. If Al Qaeda should set off a nuclear bomb in Washington, D.C., people’s reaction will be, “Get those terrorists!” They will forget that the bomb could not have existed without the previous development of nuclear technology. When people find their culture or their economic welfare disrupted by the influx of large numbers of immigrants, their reaction is to hate the immigrants rather than take account of the fact that massive population movements are an inevitable consequence of economic developments that result from technological progress. If there is a worldwide depression, people will blame it merely on someon’s economic mismanagement, forgetting that in earlier times when small communities were largely self-sufficient, their welfare did not depend on the decisions of government economists. When people are upset about the decay of traditional values or the loss of local autonomy, they preach against “immorality” or get angry at “big government,” without any apparent awareness that the loss of traditional values and of local autonomy is an unavoidable result of technological progress.

But, if a revolutionary movement can show a sufficient number of people how the foregoing problems and many others are all outgrowths of one central problem, namely, that of technology, and if the movement can successfully carry out the other tasks listed under (II), then, in case of a shattering event such as the epidemic mentioned above,[17] or a worldwide depression, or an accumulation of diverse factors that make life difficult or insecure, a revolution against the technoindustrial system may be possible.

Furthermore, the movement does not have to wait passively for a crisis that may weaken the system. Quite apart from any activities of the legal sector, the dissention sown by the legal sector of the movement may help to bring on a crisis. For example, the Russian Revolution was precipitated by the tsarist regime’s military disasters in World War I, and the revolutionary movement may have helped to create those disasters, since “[i]n no other belligerent country were political conflicts waged as intensively during the war as in Russia, preventing the effective mobilization of the rear.”[18]

In carrying out the task (II) described above, the movement will of course use rational argument. But as I pointed out in my letter of 8/28/04, reason by itself is a very weak tool for influencing human behavior on a mass basis. You have to work also with the nonrational aspects of human behavior. But in doing so you can’t rely on the system’s own techniques of propaganda. As I argued in my letter of 8/28/04, you can’t defeat the system in a head-on propaganda contest. Instead, you have to circumvent the system’s superiority in psychological weaponry by making use of certain advantages that a revolutionary movement will have oer the system. These advantages would include the following:

(i) It seems to be felt by many people that there is a kind of spiritual emptiness in modern life. I’m not sure exactly what this means, but “spiritual emptiness” would include at least the system’s apparent inability to provide any positive values of wide appeal other than hedonistic ones or the simple worship of technological progress for its own sake. Evidence that many people find these values unsatisfactory is provided by the existence within modern society of groups that offer alternative systems of values — values that sometimes are in conflict with those of the system. Such groups would include fundamentalist churches and other, smaller cults that are still farther from the mainstream, as well as deviant political movements on the left and on the right. A successful revolutionary movement would have to do much better than these groups and fill the system’s spiritual vacuum with values that can appeal to rational, self-disciplined people.

(ii) Wild nature still fascinates people. This is shown by the popularity of magazines like National Geographic, tourism such as (semi-)wild places as remain, and so forth. But, notwithstanding all the nature magazines, the guided wilderness tours the parks and preserves, etc., the system’s propaganda is unable to disguise the fact that “progress” is destroying wild nature. I think that many people continue to find this seriously disturbing, even apart from the practical consequences of environmental destruction, and their feelings on this subject provide a lever that a revolutionary movement can utilize.

(iii) Most people feel a need for a sense of community, or for belonging to what sociologists call a “reference group.” The system tries to satisfy this need to the extent that it is able: Some people find their reference group in a mainstream church, a Boy Scout troop, a “support group,” or the like. That these system-provided reference groups are for many people unsatisfactory is indicated by the proliferation of independent groups that lie outside the mainstream or even are antagonistic toward it. These include, inter alia, cults, gangs, and politically dissident groups. Possibly the reason why many people find the system-provided reference groups unsatisfactory is the very fact that these groups are appendages of the system. It may be that people need groups that are “their own thing,” i.e., that are autonomous and independent of the system.

A revolutionary movement should be able to form reference groups that would offer vaues more satisfying than the system’s hedonism. Wild nature perhaps would be the central value, or one of the central values.

In any case, where people belong to a close-knit reference group, they become largely immune to the system’s propaganda to the extent that the propaganda conflicts with the values and beliefs of the reference group.[19] The reference group thus is one of the most important tools by means of which a revolutionary movement can overcome the system’s propaganda.

(iv) Because the system needs an orderly and docile population, it must keep aggressive, hostile, and angry impulses under firm restraint. There is a good deal of anger toward the system itself, and the system needs to keep this kind of anger under especially tight control. Suppressed anger therefore is a powerful psychological force that a revolutionary movement should be able to use against the system.

(v) Because the system relies on cheap propaganda and requires willful blindness to the grim prospect that continued technological progress offers, a revolutionary movement that develops its ideas carefully and rationally may gain a decisive advantage by having reason on its side. I’ve pointed out previously that reason by itself is a very weak tool for influencing people in the mass. But I think nevertheless that if a movement gives ample attention to the non-rational factors that affect human behavior, it may profit enormously in th elong run by having its key ideas established on a solidly rational foundation. In this way the movement will attract rational, intelligent people who are repelled by the system’s propaganda and its distortion of reality. Such a movement may draw a smaller number of people than one that relies on a crude appeal to the irrational, but I maintain that a modest number of high-quality people will accomplish more in the long haul than a large number of fools. Bear in mind that rationality does not preclude a deep commitment or a powerful emotional investment.

Compare Marxism with the irrational religious movements that have appeared in the U.S. The religious movements achieved little or nothing of lasting importance, whereas Marxism shook the world. Marxism to be sure had its irrational elements: To many people belief in Marxism served as an equivalent of religious faith. But Marxism was far from being wholly irrational, and even today historians recognize Marx’s contribution to the understanding of the effect of economic factors on history. From the perspective of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Marxism was plausible and highly relevant to the problems of the time, hence it attracted people of an entirely different stamp from those who were drawn to religious revivals.

It’s possible however that faith in Marxism as dogma may have played an essential role in the success of the Russian Revolutionary movement. I read somewhere years ago that Lenin himself did not believe dogmatically in Marxist doctrine, but considered it inexpedient to challenge the faith of the true believers,[20] and I suspect that the same must have been true of others among the more rational and intelligent Marxists of Lenin’s time. It may be that a movement should not try to impose too rigid a rationality on its adherents, but should leave room for faith. If the movement’s ideology has an underlying rational basis, I would guess that it should be able to attract rational and intelligent people notwithstanding a certain amount of nonrational or irrational ideological superstructure. This is a delicate question, and the answer to it can be worked out only through trial and error. But I still maintain that a largely rational basis for its position should give a revolutionary movement a powerful advantage vis-a-vis the system.

In any case, the kind of people who constitute the movement will be of decisive importance. The biggest mistake that such a movement could make would be to assume that the more people it has, the better, and to encourage everyone who might be intersted to join it. This is exactly the mistake that was made by the original Earth First! As it was originally constituted in the early 1980s, Earth First! may have had the makings of a genuine revolutionary movement. But it indiscriminately invited all comers, and — of course! — the majority of comers were leftish types. These swamped the movement numerically and then took it over, changing its character. The process is documented by Martha F. Lee, Earth First!: Environmental Apocalypse, Syracus University Press, 1995. I do not believe that Earth First! as now constituted is any longer a potentially revolutionary movement.

The green anarchist / anarcho-primitivist movement, in addition to attracting leftish types, manifests another kind of personnel problem: It has attracted too many people who are mentally disorganized and seriously deficient in self-control, so that the movement as a whole has an irrational and sometimes childish character, as a result of which I think it is doomed to failure.

Actually there are some very good ideas in the green anarchist / anarcho-primitivist movement, and I believe that in certain ways that movement takes the right approach. But the movement has been ruined by an excessive influx of the wrong kinds of people.

So a critically important problem facing a nascent revolutionary movement will be to keep out the leftists, the disorganized, irrational types, and other unsuitable persons who come flocking to any rebel movement in America today.

Probably the hardest part of building a movement is the very first step: One has to collect a handful of strongly committed people of the right sort. Once that small nucleus has been formed, it should be easier to attract additional adherents.

A point to bear in mind, however, is that a group will not attract and hold adherents if its remains a mere debating society. One has to get people involved in practical projects if one wants to hold their interest. This is true whether one intends to build a revolutionary movement or one directed merely toward reform. The first project for the initial handful of people would be library research and the collection of information from other sources. Information to be collected would include, for example, historical data about the ways in which social changes have occurred in past societies, and about the evolution of political, ideological, and religious movements in those societies, information about the development of such movements in our own society during recent decades; results of scholarly studies of collective behavior; and data concerning the kinds of people involved in Earth First!, green anarchism, anarcho-primitivism, and related movements today. Once the group had gathered sufficient information it could design a provisional program of action, perhaps modifying or discarding many of the ideas I’ve outlined on the preceding pages.

But for anyone who seriously wants to do something about the technology problem, the initial task is quite clear: It is to build a nucleus for a new movement that will keep itself strictly separate from the leftists and the irrational types who infest the existing anti-technological movement.

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