Theodore Kaczynski’s infamous status amongst radical environmentalists is unparalleled. His life as an underground activist and work as the Unabomber, for which he now serves 8 life sentences with no possibility of parole, have branded him a domestic terrorist within popular culture. And while he isn’t always viewed positively by environmentalists or anarchists, his influence in the world of tech-critical and radical-activist thought is undeniable.
Kaczynski, Harvard graduate who holds a PhD in Mathematics, is obviously a highly intelligent and analytic thinker. His cipher journals stumped the US intelligence agencies, “cracking” his code 10 years after his arrest after finding his own key to the code. So reading his book, Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How, with the intent to write a review was personally quite a daunting task.
Kaczynski starts the text by inviting the reader to look past the writings of similar thinkers and to focus on strategy, in such a way he suggests has not previously been done. He states that the book is not one to be read but one to be studied, suggestive of a program to be analysed by the reader and followed – a program he argues should be practiced “thoughtfully and creatively” rather than “mechanically or rigidly”.
The first section, The Development of a Society Can Never Be Subject to Rational Human Control, is extremely well argued. Kaczynski presents a well constructed argument as to why the “green revolution” has been “nothing short of catastrophic”, arguing that “(i)n order to control the development of a society you would have to be able to predict how the society would react to any given action you might take, and such predictions have generally proven to be highly unreliable”. He analyses predictions regarding macroscopic systems and argues that “(i)n some contexts, reasonably reliable and specific short-term predictions can be made …”, but ultimately concludes that “no society can be consistently successful in planning its own future in the long term”. He covers historical attempts to rationally control society by humans and states that “… not even a powerful dictator like Francisco Franco can overrule the laws of economics … (e)very complex, large-scale society is subject to internal developments generated by “natural selection” operating on systems that exist within the society … (t)he result will be that the development of the society in the long term will wander at random, rather than being steered in any consistent direction or in accord with any consistent policy as to what constitute desirable or undesirable outcomes”.
The second section, Why the Technological System Will Destroy Itself, opens with Kaczynski acknowledging foundationalist assumptions and that he will be drawing inferences from them. Over the course of this chapter, Kaczynski analyses self-propagating systems – “a system that tends to promote its own survival and propagation”. He presents an argument as to why “desperate competition among the global self-prop systems will tear the world-system apart … new self-prop systems will be arising all along to challenge the existing global self-prop systems and will prevent the hypothesised “world peace” from ever being consolidated in the first place … fierce competition among global self-prop systems will have led to such drastic and rapid alterations in the Earth’s climate, the composition of its atmosphere, the chemistry of the oceans, and so forth, that the effect on the biosphere will be devastating”. Most of this chapter follows this line of argument, covering Kaczynski’s pessimist and determinist positions on the potential for action.
In section 3 the line of argument takes a decisive and unexpected turn. Titled How to Transform a Society: Errors to Avoid, a number of postulations and rules for practical radical actions are presented for an anti-tech revolutionary movement. These rules and postulations are obviously written with the intent to create and maintain a structurally organised and pragmatic approach for the movement Kaczynski hopes to ignite through his work. Towards the end of the section he states “(a) neo-luddite movement would be able to gain control over the resources it needed only if it became big, powerful, well-organised, hence ripe for corruption. In order to carry out the necessary social reorganisation, the movement would have to be the dominant force in society, and the process of reorganisation would surely take at least a few decades … (c)onsequently, the reorganisation of society in accord with neo-luddite principles would never be completed”, which appears confused in conjunction with the rest of the chapter. Kaczynski draws from nationalist and Marxist political movements to support his arguments over the course of the chapter, stating “let’s follow Mao’s advice and ask what is the principal contradiction of the situation with which we are faced.”
The fourth section, Strategic Guideline for an Anti-Tech Movement, follows from previous one, presenting an argument that fits the politics of nationalists and Marxists more than those of anarchists and (even militant) environmentalists. Kaczynski’s Leninesque argument throughout this section draws from Castro, Trotsky and Stalin, in it’s appeals for organisational uniformity to his program. Later though he goes on to critique leftism and mainstream environmentalism, in a way befitting the typical green-anarchist criticisms of these movements.
The argument Kaczynski presents over the course of the text is highly reliant on determinist social-ontological presuppositions, drawn from a certain interpretation of evolutionary theory, which is open to criticism. Determinism is highly questionable in a metaphysical sense, as I argue in my book, and as such warrants exploration in radical environmentalist discourse. But if we do presume a determinist social ontology, following from Kaczynski’s arguments in the first 2 sections, why should anyone follow his program for an anti-tech revolution? Determinist philosophy seems incompatible with any radical project, so why should anyone who embraces determinist philosophy embrace any radical project?
Also, assertions like “(t)he principal contradiction, clearly, is that between wild nature and the technological system” presents a Manichaeist cosmic and moral dualism, of an entirely domesticated outlook – the ideology of the very system Kaczynski wants to stop. As I argue in my book Feral Consciousness, the struggle against this global system isn’t a moral struggle, alienated from the authentic Being of the individual, but an egoistic one; we aren’t living in a cosmic dualism of forces, but a corrupted cancerous monism, which should be treated as such; and, while tactical organised resistance is clearly needed to lessen the effects of this culture and hasten its collapse (with perhaps some strategic influence from similar movements to those Kaczynski draws from), we need to avoid alienating Symbolic narratives, that mediate us from the horrors of the Real we are immersed in, and forge personal subject-sensitive relations to the world.
Ultimately though, this book, even with its inconsistencies, is an important addition to radical environmentalist thought. It is engaging, well researched and is deserving of any potential readers time. I would suggest though that the reader doesn’t read it in isolation though as the-radical-environmentalist-book-I-read, as reading it alongside other writers who focus on this stuff, such as Zerzan, Jensen, the new Atassa Journal and (dare I say) myself, should help them identify the weaker aspects of Kaczynski’s arguments and separate them from the stronger elements.