Catastrophe Pending

What follows is the introduction to Jean-Marie Apostolides‘ edition of Industrial Society and Its Future, a.k.a. “The Unabomber Manifesto.” His work to popularize Kaczynski has been analogous to the work of David Skrbina in the U.S.

What reason would there be to freely publish here what was already printed in September 1995 by the New York Times and the Washington Post, who did so under a threat? That is the murderous threat of one who defied American authority, over an eighteen year period, with his boobytrapped packages mailed to various representatives of our technician civilization; academics, engineers, computer programmers, and so on.

What reason would there be to edit this text that specialists from every field; psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers, who were first consulted by the FBI and then immediately afterwards by the authorized commentators, professors and journalists all who found common ground in viewing it as nothing but cliches directed against industrial civilization? A judgement that was, moreover, immediately echoed by the French press, after the April third arrest of the individual believed to be the author of this manifesto: “[a] muddled indictment against the alienation of industrial society,” according to the April 9 issue of Liberation or “prose oozing with cliches from 1968 and petrified in the neo-hippy delerium of zero growth and a refusal of the information-age Big Brother,” in the words of the April 11 issue of the Express.

Such a consensus couldn’t fail to alert certain people, of whom I am one, especially when our world that is so ardently defended here by so many experts has just offered us, in less than two weeks, all that could possibly reinforce the propositions of such a discredited text: the “mad cow” crisis, as an avatar of the disdain for natural balances, and the play acting ten years after the Chernobyl catastrophe by those who caused it or did so little to fight it, as proof of the collusion between physicists and those in authority. Finally, in order to sell our technology, the total amnesia in regard to the Tianamen Square massacre can be seen as a sign of the most serious deterioration in the state of human relations.

Moreoever, with things taking this course, none of these experts are in a position to note that the notion of criminality has become quite blurred, so why not pay attention to the ideas of someone who wanted to have done with this situation?  An individual who, while still active, had to his credit, in addition to the twenty-three maimed victims of his packages, the death in 1985 of a computer salesman, the death in 1994 of an upper level admin of an agency associated with the oil company whose Exxon Valdez was responsible for the 1989 oil spill in Alaska, finally the blowing to pieces of the president of the Forestry Association in California.

To boot, there is something not out in the open in the unanimity stirred up by the Unabomber (a word coined by the FBI in regard to his first targets, academics and airline companies). Here, as a matter of fact, are those who allegedly oppose one another to be found making common cause: police and protesters, business men and intellectuals, lastly the state and individuals, all uniting together in a single body in identical rejection of the “Twisted genius,” (as labeled by the U.S. News of April 15). Because the Unabomber is more than the public enemy number one of whom we have been told. He is the Enemy.

He has, contrary to the criminals of common law who are all more or less accidents of fate, chosen to reject this world. In this sense he “incarnates the greatest negativity in a society that refuses all negativity,” as noted by Jean-Marie Apostolides, to whom I owe my quick familiarity with this affair. Moreoever, excepting this friend, whose sharp and unbiased eye I have known for a long time, not a single American academic, up to the present time, has seriously taken the Unabomber’s propositions into consideration. If certain very rare intellectuals have accepted the interesting nature of one or another of his views, it is only for immediately insisting on the aberrant nature of their entirety. However this is not the case for part of the anarchist movement where discussions have multiplied in regard to this subject. Proof that the Unabomber is without a doubt correct in designating the academics as the most amenable servants of a system from which he has broken all ties. And this is his major crime.

None would doubt that, since the arrest of the once brilliant mathematician Theodore Kaczynski, the sense of an intimate collaboration between the press and the police to impose upon this man the image of a “serial killer,” who is hardly different from all the others, has been quite clear. At the very most it is granted that he is the most educated of serial killers, though it is not acknowledged that he has any ideas. Especially ideas that have logically led him to, not contest this world, but to utterly refuse it, in its organisation as well as in its finality.

The interest of this text derives from this, however criminal its author may be. It is without a doubt constructed of theoretical bric a brac, nonetheless it contains some impressive views on the life we consent to lead. Views, the strangeness of which are linked to the extreme asocial nature of the life led by their author for more than eighteen years. But views that, though distorted and distorting, make us see what we will not admit; for example that “it is impossible to reform the industrial-technological complex,” by virtue of the fact that “restriction of freedom is inevitable in industrial society.”

This is where the novelty of this phenomenon resides, even if one is tempted to attach it to the nihilist tradition of all or nothing. But since the Unabomber comes after the October Revolution, Stalinism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, also after the protest of the 60’s, the hippie celebration, ecological initiatives, and alternative movements, the perspective is completely different. It is even this history that the Freedom Club protests against precisely. This entity with which the author of this manifesto, (actually signed with the initials “FC”), wished himself to be mistaken for, is, if it is to be taken at its word, “strictly anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-leftist,” but especially anti-science and anti-technology, on the basis of natural anarchism.

After all, the unabomber is revolutionarily incorrect. This is his real interest for us.

First of all, as a relentless defender of the individual, he doesn’t trouble himself about that which he hasn’t personally experienced. What he feels, he says, without caring for the appearance of objectivity or its lack which results. It is in this manner that he proceeds in regard to the leftists of the American universities. There has been talk of his settling old scores with his old milieu, whereas the Unabomber developed reasons to see therein a fishpond of the best promoters of industrial society, in the measure where the activity of almost all of them can be recapitulated as thinking this world in order to construct it, that is ensuring its perpetuation in conformance to the system. That is what the dangerous buffoonery of “politically correct” demagoguery has no other objective but to conceal. On this point the Unabomber’s judgement is final: “the contemporary leftist projects are NOT in conflict with the dominant morality,” even if he provides the proof for it much later, by demonstrating that “the ideal of the left is  incompatible with the elimination of modern technology.”

Of course, by not taking the ideas he advances into account, it is easy to object to the weaknesses in his reasoning, even though he evokes at the end his text: “for want of sufficient information and pressed by the necessity to be brief, it has been impossible for us to formulate our hypotheses in a more precise fashion and to add to them the reservations  that have come forward. Not forgetting and to add to them the reservations that have come forward. Not forgetting the fact that, in this type of analysis, intuitive judgement plays a role, and this sometimes leads to errors.” But is it because of “the necessity to be brief” that he has come to make use of “intuitive judgement” or is it not, rather, to escape “revolutionary” thought, of which, throughout the whole text, he implicitly objects to for its abstract and dogmatic nature that has so little connection to reality.

In fact, if there is no time to lose, it is because he must transmit all the impressions of which he is certain, free to be pasted pell mell together with the theoretical considerations that came to mind. Thus in the same manner he threw together his bombs, with as little elements of industrial civilization as possible, he threw together his proclamation deliberately ignoring revolutionary rhetoric. It could even be said that his thought is a-political just as his behavior is a-social. He has paid no heed whatsoever to everything that everyone else has felt forced to sacrifice to radical logic. He posits his ideas as acts because he formerly used acts as ideas.

With no pretensions, contrary to what has been said — “Unabomber betrayed by his own pride” reads the headline of the April 13th issue of Le Point — this frustrated thought has the merit of revealing, in contrast, a kind of theroetical decorum which has perhaps affected revolutionary reflection, concerning itself more with coherence than reality. This point is far from lacking importance at a time where we witness the frantic aestheticization of theories wishing to seem radical, without, however, having rendered such a process impossible. A danger that the Unabomber doesn’t look out for, who pushes bad taste, in other words honesty, so far as to announce the dangers inherent in what he proposes. Of all the world’s would be transformers, I believe he is the only one to place the terrible  contract in our hands: catastrophe for catastrophe, isn’t the one we design better than the one that is being prepared for us?

Is this not also the echo of another cry in the night who, for want of being understood in his time, returns here tragically deformed? At the time I became aware of this text I immediately thought again of the revolt of Andre Breton, explaining when confronted by the scope of the nuclear peril, shortly after Hiroshima: “This end of the world is not one of our choosing.” But this led him to immediately conclude; “the transformation of the world, unquestionably more necessary and incomparably more urgent […], by reason of the common threat hanging over all humanity, demands to be rethought out from top to bottom.” [1]

This was in 1948 and no one followed up on it, the leaders of the left less than the others. Four years later, Breton came back to the atomic question and the changes that it required; “Against his habitual laziness he […] will have to shatter the old frameworks and so proceed to an overall recasting of ideas that today have become cut and dried, not one of which can be relied upon.” [2] Then on February 18, 1958, facing the aggravation of this situation, he signed with his surrealist friends the tract entitled UNMASK THE PHYSICISTS, EMPTY THE LABORATORIES.

No observation could have been clearer and less understood; “Nothing, today, nothing distinguishes Science any longer from a universalized and permanent threat of death, the quarrel over whether it will assure the happiness or unhappiness of humanity is over, as it has become quite evident that it has ceased to be a means and become an end in itself. Modern physics has promised, it keeps its promise and it promises still more tangible results, in the form of heaps and corpses.” The immediate implication attendant to this, according to the signatories of these lines, would be that “revolutionary thought sees the elementary conditions of its activities made so marginal that it must reinvigorate itself at its sources of revolt, and, on the other side of a world that knows no more but to feed its own cancer, and rediscover the unknown fortunes of fury.”

That fury has, incontestably, accompanied the entire journey of the Unabomber. Unfortunately, having been deliberated ignored by those who, in the course of the last fifty years, have each other in their turn proposed to change the world, this fury reappears here, prisoner of an absolute solitude, for want of never having been capable of engendering that other way of thinking hoped for by Breton.

It is without a doubt that, over the last dozen years or so, people haven’t been lacking in their criticism against this or that aspect of technology. Ecologists have transformed themselves into specialists who are consulted by those in power just as other specialists, since the current situation has become so alarming they are henceforth obliged to act as if they were concerned with the crimes of this technology. But who has proposed that everything be rethought in this catastrophic illumination? Who has gone back, as Breton did fifty years ago, to this mutinous sentiment, that has been, taking it all in all, shackled by the limits of a theory, which has thought itself revolutionary.

To be, first of all, of the sensible order, this revolt is a weapon that doesn’t kill, so long as we are fit to make use of it. But are we still fit? This is one of the serious questions the Unabomber has posed for us. Especially when, in view of the recent ravages of food engineering, nobody — in France, at least — has recognized that it already was a question of the same future of the same industrialized society, accurately depicted by someone it is most convenient to portray in the image of a “mad bomber.”

Look out!, this blindness is a dangerous time bomb.

Annie LeBrun
April 16, 1996


[1] Andre Breton, La Lampe dans l’Horloge, Robert Marin, Paris, 1948, then republishes in La Cle des Champs, Saggitaire, 1953, p. 117.

[2] Andre Breton, Entretiens, Gallimard, 1952, p. 240.

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