Letters: Ted Kaczynski to David Skrbina (Jan 2005)

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.


The first point (freedom). …I and some other people place an extremely high value on freedom; and I do so because today there is an acute shortage of freedom as I’ve defined it. If I had grown up in a society in which there was an abundance of freedom but an acute shortage of (for example) physical necessities, I might well have been willing to sacrifice some of my freedom for physical necessities. Poncins says that the Eskimos he knew considered it a reward and not a punishment to be imprisoned, because in prison they were fed and kept warm without having to exert themselves.[117]

Second point (autonomy/freedom). …I wouldn’t say flatly that medieval peasants (for example) had more freedom than we have today, but I think one could make a strong argument that they did have more of the kind of freedom that really counts. See my letters to J.N. (in the Labadie Collection).

Third point (surrogate activities). I’ve never said that surrogate activities “must be abandoned.” Also, the line between surrogate activities and purposeful activities often is not easy to draw. See ISAIF, paragraphs 40, 84, 90. And surrogate activities are not peculiar to modern society. What is true is that surrogate activities have come to play an unusual, disproportionate, and exaggerated role in modern sociey. …In any case, I don’t see that anything would be accomplished by attacking surrogate activities. But I think that the concept of surrogate activity is important for an understanding of the psychology of modern man.

Fourth point (revolution). …In the present historical context a successful revolution would consist in bringing about the complete dissolution of the technoindustrial system.

Fifth point (reform). Essentially I agree with this, though I wouldn’t express it in exactly the same words.

Sixth point (revolution is demanded). Yes, revolution is demanded. I’ve never said, and I certainly do not believe, that a revolutionary movement must be peaceful and nonviolent. I have simply declined to discuss the violent aspects of revolution, because I don’t want to give the authorities an excuse to cut off my communications with you on the ground that I’m “inciting violence.” I do think that a revolution movement should have one branch that will avoid all violent or otherwise illegal activities in order to be able to function openly and publicly. I’ve never said that a revolution should be led by a “small group,” which to me would mean 10, 20, 50, or at most 100 people. (The “Handful” of people I referred to in an earlier letter would be initiators, probably would not retain leadership permanently.) I do think that the active and effective part of a revolutionary movement would comprise only a small fraction of the entire population. Finally, I’ve never said that the revolution should be led by intellectuals. Of course, that is mostly taken to include college and university faculty in the humanities and social sciences, and persons in closely related occupations, such as professional writers who write on serious subjects. When the word “intellectual” is understood in that sense, it is my impression that very, very few if any present-day intellectuals are potential members of a revolutionary movement. I can imagine that some intellectuals could play a very important role in formulating, articulating, and disseminating ideas that would subsequently form part of the basis for a revolutionary movement. But in reading The New York Review, The London Review, and The Times Literary Supplement over the last several years I’ve found virtually no mention of the technology problem. It’s as if intellectuals were willfuly avoiding what is obviously the most critical issue of our time. That’s why I’m so pleased to find at least two intellectuals — yourself and your unnamed colleague — who take a serious interest in the technology problem.

Seventh point (avoidance of stress-reduction). …I decidedly disagree with your sentence, which says: “In fact, [revolutionaries] should actively OPPOSE such actions…” Absolutely not! Let’s take minority rights, for example. The big problem there is that the fuss over minority rights absorbs the rebellious energies of would-be radicals and distracts attention from the critical issue of technology. By opposing equal rights for non-whites, women, homosexuals, etc., revolutionaries would merely intensify the fuss over minority rights and thus distract even more attention from the issue of technology. What revolutionaries have to do is show people that the fuss over minority rights is largely irrelevant.

Further, the principle that revolutionaries should work to increase the tensions in society is merely a general rule of thumb, not a rigid law that can be applied mechanically. One has to give separate consideration to each individual case. Are the social tensions arising from discrimination against minorities useful from a revolutionary point of view? Clearly not!

For example, if black people are harassed by police, then their attention will be focused on that problem and they will have no time for the technology problem. Thus, again, problems of minority rights distract attention from the technology problem, and we would be better off if all minority problems had already been solved, because the associated tensions are not productive. See ISAIF, paragraphs 190-92.

For another example, suppose revolutionaries were to oppose political action designed to reduce pollution. In that case people concerned about pollution would become hostile toward the revolutionaries. Further, tension between opponents of pollution and the system would be reduced, because opponents of pollution would attribute continued pollution in part to the obstructive behavior of the revolutionaries. They would say, “The problem is those damned extremists! If it weren’t for them, we would be able to swing the system around and reduce pollution.” So, instead of opposing reformist efforts to reduce pollution, revolutionaries have to emphasize: (i) that such efforts can never really solve the pollution problem, but only alleviate it to a limited extent; (ii) that pollution is only one of the many grave problems associated with the technoindustrial system; and (iii) that it is futile to try to attack all of these problems separately and individually — the only effective solution is to bring down the whole system.

The tensions that are useful are the tensions that pit people against the technoindustrial system. Other tensions — e.g., racial tensions, which pit different racial groups against each other rather than the system — are counterproductive and actually relieve the tension against the system, because they serve as a distraction. See ISAIF, paragraphs 190-92.

On page 4 you write that “we should seek optimum levels of technology and social order.” Several other people who have written to me have raised similar questions about an optimal or acceptable level of technology. My position is that we have only two choices. It’s like flipping a light-switch. Either your light is on or your light is off, and there’s nothing more to be said. Similarly, with only minor reservations and qualifications, we have only two choices at the present point in history: We can either allow the technoindustrial system to continue on its present course, or we can destroy the technoindustrial system. In the first case, technology will eventually swallow everything. In the second case, technology will find its own level as determined by circumstances over which we have no control. Consequently, it is idle to speak of finding an “optimal” level of technology. Any conclusion we might teach about an “optimal” level of technology would be useless, because we would have no means of applying that conclusion in the real world. The same is true of any “optimal” level of social order.

I’ve read the pieces of Jacques Ellul and Ivan Illich that you sent me. Illich wrote: “If within the very near future man cannot set limits to the interference of his tools with the environment and practice effective birth control, the next generations will experience the gruesome apocalypse predicted by many ecologists.” Illich wrote that 32 years ago, and the “apocalypse” is not yet upon us. I think it’s safe to say that the system will break down eventually — if only because every previous civilization has broken down eventually — and the breakdown when it comes will no doubt be gruesome, but I see no reason to believe that the system is now on the brink of collapse. Dire predictions made by “ecologists” 30-odd years ago have proved to be exaggerated and/or premature.

To me, a lot of what Illich writes is completely incomprehensible. E.g., on page 109 he says: “When business is normal the procedural opposition between corporations and clients usually heightens the legitimacy of the latter’s dependence.” Can you explain what this setence means? I find it hopelessly obscure.

As for Ellul, “Anarchy from a Christian Standpoint, 1 What is Anarchy?,” I think he’s all wrong. It would take too much time to discuss all the ways in which I think he’s wrong, so I’ll just mention a couple of points. First, he’s wrong in claiming that, in history, violence has proven to be an ineffective tactic. Actually violence has been effective or ineffective, depending on the historical circumstances of each particular case. See James F. Kirkham, Sheldon G. Levy, and William J. Crotty, Assassination and Political Violence: A Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1970, page 4. THe authors concluded that, in history, systematic assassination had been “effective in achieving the long-range goals sought, although not so in advancing the short-term goals or careers of the terrorists themselves.” On this subject the authors go further than I would.

Secon, Ellul writes: “[The] two great characteristics [of people], no matter what their society or education, are covetousness and a desire for power. We find these traits always and everywhere.” It’s not completely clear to me what Ellul means by “covetousness.” But he writes that covetousness “can never be assauged or satisfied, for once one thing is acquired it directs its attention to something else.” So Ellul evidently has in mind a desire to accumulate property indefinitely. If my interpretation of his meaning is correct, than Ellul is dead wrong about covetousness. There have been many societies in which the desire to accumulate property has been absent. E.g., most if not all nomadic hunting-and-gathering societies. To take a concrete case, the Mbuti pygmies: According to Schebesta, “No urge for possession … seems to dwell in them”; “there is also the fact that among the Mbuti, any intention to pile up supplies, or at all to accumulate wealth, is lacking.”[118]

The need for power undoubtedly is universal, but it does not have to take the form of a desire to dominate other people, as Ellul seems to assume. It may well be true that an impulse to dominance is innate in humans, especially in males, but I think Ellul greatly overestimates its strength. Moreover, there have existed societies in which any impulse to dominance has been kept well under control: Among the Mbuti, and among the Bushmen studied by Richard Lee, no one was allowed to set himself above the rest.[119] Thus, these societies come surprisingly close to the anarchist ideal.

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