As an undergraduate student Tim LaPietra published Ted Kaczynski’s essay “Ship of Fools.” The Wildernist interviewed LaPietra in 2016. For more on Ted Kaczynski’s concept of “leftism,” see also “The System’s Neatest Trick” and my own “A Critique of the Concept of ‘Leftism’.”
December 26, 2000
A few weeks ago we had cell rotation. (For security reasons, inmates here are periodically switched around to different cells.) While packing my stuff for the move I came across a copy of OFF! (Fall 2000, Issue #1), opened it idly, and noticed your article “Liberalism, Leftism, and Activism: A Flaw in the Human Genome.” I read it, and I thought it was excellent.
I agree with most of what you say, and your article is original, too, since it makes a point that I’ve never seen clearly expressed in print before, namely, that if we want freedom we will have to accept that there will be some evil in the world. A perfect world would have no room for freedom.
At this point I should apologize for the fact that I’ve never gotten around to giving you complete answers to some of your letters. The problem is that I just can’t keep up with things. Too many time- and energy-consuming difficulties come up — some of them caused by self-styled anarchists whose talk sounds convincingly idealistic but whose actions show their greed and egotism.
It’s a bit late to answer some of your letters, but in regard to your letter of June 15, 1999, I’ll mention that I still haven’t written the kind of article that I proposed in my letter of September 6, 1999; that is, an article dealing with the reasons why those who want to get rid of the technoindustrial system should separate themselves from leftists. But haven’t you yourself given some of the reasons in your article “Liberalism, Leftism, and Activism”? Beyond that, there’s a problem here of the tail wagging the dog. Leftist individuals and groups are extremely numerous. If serious antitech people mingle themselves freely with leftists, they are so outnumbered that their message gets hopelessly diluted. Antitech becomes just one more “cause” (and not the most important) among many. That’s why I think that an antitech movement should be formed that is clearly separate from leftism. Once such a movement has firmly established a distinct identity of its own, it should be able to attract to itself many people who are not of the leftist psychological type but have been drawn to leftism because it addresses their problems. An independent, non-leftist antitech movement would be able to make people realize that many of the problems addressed by leftism actually are rooted in the nature of technology itself. That realization may come eventually anyway, but I think it can come a lot sooner with the help of an antitech movement whose message is not submerged in a torrent of leftist outpourings.
Concerning the Autumn, 1999 issue of OFF!, about which you requested my comments in your letter of October 27, 1999, my only substantial criticism is, of course, that much leftist material was included. In terms of the purely technical quality of the issue, it looks to me like a very professional job. I read the Spanish translation of “Ship of Fools” and liked it — and I learned from it, too, some ways of saying things idiomatically in Spanish.
January 4, 2002
In your April 25 letter you wrote about the Victory Gardens in central Maine and you added, “I feel the significance of this project lies in that it serves to foster a respect and love for nature among the inner city youth, an important step in the right direction.” With this I agree 100%.
However, I disagree, at least provisionally, with the next paragraph of your letter, which reads:
It’s not too hard to figure out that a successful movement must be rooted in established communities (not the punk rock scene or a college campus, but true, organic communities, urban, suburban and rural). A successful movement must also be made up largely of the downtrodden, the working class; not middle class kids with identity problems. History has done a fine job showing the consequences of bourgeois revolutions…
Here’s why I disagree:
It’s true that bourgeois revolutions — not surprisingly — have been in the service of the bourgeois world-view. This includes the Russian Revolution. [*] To my knowledge — and I don’t claim to be widely read in the history of revolutions — bourgeois revolutions have been revolutions against systems that seriously restricted the expression of bourgeois values, hence they have been revolutions designed to free bourgeois values from such restrictions. But I see no reason to discount the possibility of a revolution originating in the middle class but against bourgeois values. The present is distinguished from earlier times by the fact that only during the last couple of decades have large numbers of people — especially middle-class people, by the way — began to realize that the bourgeois ideal of “progress” represents not hope for a “better world” but disastrous folly.
In fact, I argue that middle-class participation would be absolutely essential for a successful revolution. As far as I know, during the last several centuries there have been no successful revolutions carried out solely by the downtrodden classes. Successful revolutions either have had heavy middle- or upper-class participation or leadership, or have in the end been taken over by the middle- or upper-classes.
The following I think are some of the reasons why this has been so.
The middle and upper classes are more educated and sophisticated than the downtrodden classes, they are more willing to submit to discipline, and they have organizational skills that the downtrodden do not have. Consequently, peasant revolts have tended to be disorganized outbursts of rage, while counter-action by the dominant classes has been much more systematic, organized, and disciplined, therefore eventually successful in suppressing or co-opting the revolts. It’s true that peasant revolts are not always disorganized and undisciplined. (See A Plague of Insurrection, by William H. TeBrake.) But even so the dominant classes win in the end, as long as there is no revolt within the dominant classes.
Social affiliations and solidarity of the downtrodden classes tend to be localized or confined to certain regions. The affiliations and the solidarity of the dominant classes reach much farther. When the peasants in a certain locality revolt, the revolt tends not to spread beyond a certain region; but the dominant classes of neighboring regions recognize the threat to their own security that success of the revolt would represent, hence they cooperate with the dominant class of the beleaguered region in suppressing the revolt. I think this still holds true today. It is difficult to imagine that one could get the downtrodden people all over the industrialized world to revolt at the same time, yet it is certain that the dominant classes of all industrialized countries would cooperate in suppressing a revolt in any one country if that revolt represented a serious threat to the dominant classes’ way of life.
In addition, the dominant class is dominant because it is strong. As long as it remains strong, it will survive any challenge from the downtrodden classes. Therefore, the dominant class must be weakened by revolt or disaffection within its own ranks. In other words, revolution must occur, in important part, within the dominant class.
This is more true today than ever before. In former times the downtrodden constituted the great majority of the population, whereas in modern industrialized countries the middle and upper classes comprise the majority of the population. Furthermore, the dominant classes today have at their disposal advanced technologies and tools of organization, and, especially important, a sophisticated system of propaganda, that make the methods of earlier dominant classes seem crude and amateurish by comparison. Clearly, as long as the middle and upper classes in our society maintain their loyalty to the system, there will be no chance that the system can be overthrown by the downtrodden. Revolution must occur within the middle class.
Also, I believe that the middle classes offer the most promising revolutionary material precisely because they do not constitute a true, organic community. A member of a true, organic community will generally be committed above all to the interests of that community, and therefore will be extremely hesitant about undertaking a revolution aimed at overthrowing the technosystem; for the collapse of the technosystem will have such drastic and sweeping consequences that it will be at the very least disruptive, and more likely catastrophic, for any existing organic community. Members of true communities have too much to lose to be good revoutionaries under present-day circumstances.
The most directed revolutionaries will be those who have nothing to hope for within the present system and nothing to lose through its collapse; they will be those who find themselves adrift, without attainable goals and without strong loyalties. The needs of such people can be met by a revolutionary movement that offers them a goal to work toward — namely, revolution — and something to which to attach their loyalty — namely, the movement.
At present, these people tend to become leftists (unless they go to the extreme right or join a “cult”). What we have to do is provide them with a better alternative — a movement committed to the overthrow of the technosystem.
I’m not suggesting that all or most of those who now become leftists would make suitable recruits for such a movement. Recruitment would have to be selective. Too many leftists are neurotics whose own sense of weakness and powerlessness makes them identify obsessively with those whom they see as victims. It would be impossible to pull such people away from victimization issues such as racism, sexism, neocolonialism, etc., etc. But I strongly suspect that there are many people who are not obsessed with victimization, but are drawn to the left simply because it is the only movement that seems to offer any plausible challenge to the system. Many of these people might make suitable recruits to a movement truly committed to overthrowing the technosystem.
[*] Even though the Bolsheviks affected to scorn bourgeois values, most of their leaders were of bourgeois origin and their ideals were emphatically of bourgeois character — technology, “progress,” subordination of individuals and local communities to the nationwide (or, as the Bolsheviks would have preferred, the worldwide) System.