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Never More Relevant: Ted Kaczynski, Technology and Trauma

Henry A. Murray has much to answer for. Between 1959 and 1961, the Harvard psychology academic, as the leader of a team of equally unprincipled academics, was responsible for conducting an CIA-funded experiment most unethical on twenty-two undergraduates. The individuals in question were pseudonymised. One particularly youthful figure, named “Lawful”, was the mathematically gifted Theodore John Kaczynski.

A central theme of the experiments was examining the effects of stress, characterised by what Murray called “vehement, sweeping, and personally abusive” attacks. Ideals and beliefs were assailed; egos pulverised. For Murray, this came naturally. He had cut his teeth designing psychological screening tests for the forerunner to the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services. It was perfect preparation for what came to be known as Multiform Assessments of Personality Development Among Gifted College Men.

Kaczynski was the less than grateful recipient of the higher end of the experiment. “I had been talked or pressured,” he told his attorney Michael Mello in August 1998, “into participating in the Murray study against my better judgment.” It is indisputable that he, along with other subjects, had been sufficiently deceived to be victims of a breach of experimental ethics known more commonly as the Nuremberg Code.

Drafted in the aftermath of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial of German concentration camp doctors, the code stressed the importance of informed consent. “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential,” declared the judges responsible for formulating the code. The subject should also be “so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress…”

Kaczynski can hardly be said to go on to better things, but they were certainly bigger. In terms of notoriety, his position in the technology obsessed undergrowth of the United States was assured by his murderous and maiming efforts. His favourite method: the package bomb, 16 of which were mailed to his intended victims. Three people died; 23 were injured.

A central tenet of Kaczynski’s thought was levelled at those complicit representatives of what he called the Industrial Society and its state manifestation. Far from being critical of power, its methods, and its wielding by bureaucrats and planners, its members were adjutants and prosecutors of a sinister agenda of behavioural control.

The profiles of the victims, actual and intended, constituted a true fruit salad, at times erratic and scattered: academics in engineering, psychology, genetics and computer science; the president of the California Forestry Association; a computer store owner; an advertising executive; American Airlines Flight 444 and the United Airlines President.

In its unifying theme, the manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, opens its barrels on the role of technology. “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences,” goes the grave opening, “have been a disaster for the human race.” While it had “greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in ‘advanced’ countries”, society had been destabilised, life made “unfulfilling”. Humans had been subjected to “indignities” and “widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well).” The “natural world” had also suffered.

James Ley, reflecting on Kaczynski’s writing, finds his understanding of technology to be “the ultimate constraint on freedom, beyond any specific laws or political arrangements that might obtain.” The conservatives are deluded for conniving in the destruction of their own ideals in embracing technology; leftists merely pursue goals of improvement without dealing with the elephant in the room: the properties of technological enslavement.

In an area of surveillance capitalism, inexorable data mining, and Mark Zuckerberg, there is something haunting about this. The manifesto may not be the sprightliest work of originality, but the vision is contemporary and relevant. The technological society systematically oppresses; it cannot be regulated. With that monstrous genie out of the bottle, it can only be, according to Kaczynski, destroyed.

Kaczynski defied the authorities and the technological state he so despised, eluding capture for almost two decades. Being incapable of summoning the forces to destroy technology, he eschewed it, becoming a rustic version of the Savage in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the man who “ate civilization”, and in so doing ate his own wickedness.

He lived in a cabin near Lincoln, Montana, a place in every sense off the grid: no electricity, no television, no telephone. He moved about with a bicycle. He took an interest in regeneration in nature. He even foraged. This was his way of romancing the notion of the “pre-industrial city”, as he termed it, where the “19th century frontiersman” could create “change himself, by his own choice.” Change for the “modern man”, in contrast, was “imposed”.

Despite isolation, his pride proved too powerful, the need for recognition, consuming. His efforts to get the New York Times and Washington Post to publish his 35,000-word manifesto undid him. His brother David, and sister-in-law, on realising he was the author, identified him. The FBI, furnished by letters and documents provided by David, joined the dots, arresting Kaczynski on April 3, 1996.

The stage was set for the Unabomber to become a figure of medical interest. At trial, fearing that his brother would receive the death sentence, David, and the defence, opted for psychopathological grounds. Did the Murray experiments tip him over? The lawyers ran with the argument that the Harvard experience had provided the bricks and mortar of paranoid schizophrenia. Their client begged, with tenacious fury, to differ. His terrorism had been principled, rational, his Weltanschauung outlined in his manifesto. To suggest medical illness and disturbance was to give into the pathologizing agenda, something that would render him mad and therefore illegitimate as a thinker.

Far from being mad, the dystopia of Kaczynski’s industrial society has found solid roots. And the forces behind it, be they the myriad of social networks, data hungry platforms and the increasingly agitated discussion about Artificial Intelligence and its generative properties, implicates us all.


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  1. Clakka

    Wow! So The Mind Parasites (per Colin Wilson) are not from the moon, they’re from here and among us.

    The thing is, don’t be scared, like Groucho, just don’t join the clubs. Just roam the marketplace.

  2. Konn

    A movie came out late 2022, ‘MK Ultra’. One of their mind control experiments included one ‘Operation Midnight Climax’.
    I wonder what Ted K would have thought of the movie.
    Now anti-humanists have learned how to destroy psychologically the individual and also how to weaponize those techniques against larger groups. The best example was during the ramping phase of the covid era (2020-2022). The British public were treated to a anti-humanist psy-op run by the British 77 Brigade with able assistance from the Behavioural Insights Team, aka Nudge Unit.
    77 Brigade was tasked with monitoring the internet for Covid mis/disinfo, and they worked hard, looking in all the wrong areas apparently. It was not until late 2022 when EU Parliamentarian Rob Roos asked Pfizer rep Janine Small if her company ‘had tested their product in relation to stopping transmission?’ that Brigade 77 threw their hands up. The Pfizer rep’s reply which will ring throughout history was: “no” the company had to “move at the speed of science”. That is, Pfizer had to get the product to market as quickly as possible, without proper testing.
    All Govs & media suddenly looked pretty stupid in the face of that admission, but they never broke stride.
    What’s interesting, in a terrible way, is that Ted K, who was well above average IQ, entered the experiment at about age 21. His mind/psyche was wrecked and never repaired. Those who did their ‘job’ were never held to account and the ‘science’ continues to this day.
    ‘Trust the science’ is an invite to live dangerously if the scientists are anti-humanists.

  3. New England Cocky

    @ Konn: I understand your post and accept the point about corporations being profit motivated and bugger all else, but I must defend ”science” and the abuse of science by individuals, corporations, politicians and political parties.

    When the atomic bomb was being developed during WWII, thinking scientists strongly advocated against that development reasoning that a nuclear cataclysm could be uncontrollable. Roosevelt declined their advice and the trigger mechanism was twice tested on Japanese cities with enormous loss of life. Contrary to American propaganda, the Japanese surrendered to America rather than be overrun by Russian forces which would likely execute the Japanese royal family. (Think the fate of the Russian Romanovs in 1917).

    Atomic science has since provided many benefits including electrical energy generation (particularly in European built, rather than American or Soviet generators) atomic medicine plus research tools for use in biological and geological research. The problem is the person who selects the use for atomic science ….. in every instance.

  4. Phil Pryor

    The Cocky is right to amplify remarks to Konn here, about science as “pure” against the corruptions of people, not always good, scientific or enlightened. All should read, if possible, an essay by Samuel Goudsmit, “the Gestapo in science”, included in my decaying old Pocket Book publication, N Y., 1957, entitled “Great essays in science.” The whole is still relevant, readable, with selections by Oppenheimer, Darwin, The Huxleys, Ortega Y Gasset, Dos Passos, Wells, Fermi, Freud, Bertrand Russell (very relevant) and Einstein, among many others. I’m about to re-read from now…

  5. frances

    ‘Despite isolation, his pride proved too powerful, the need for recognition, consuming.’

    Perhaps the isolation of being the solipsistic subject of his own experiment finally brought Ted Kaczynski undone. He had been abused weekly for three years at Harvard and now here he was, maiming and killing others and torturing himself. Perhaps he was exhausted and looking to be captured in an ultimate statement.

    According to Wikipedia, well before the brutalising abuse suffered at the hands of Henry Murray at Harvard, he was bullied as a young teenager – an experience that for an already isolated boy (maybe these days a likely contender for a diagnosis of ‘autism’) would have laid psychological foundations for further social withdrawal. After Harvard, a brief obsession with gender transition alongside murderous fantasies towards the psychiatrist with whom he planned to discuss his intentions are strongly indicative of a pattern of psychic retreats and murderous substitutions – for example, a possible negative transference towards the psychiatrist as a surrogate for Murray – among the more or less random surrogates rationalised by his anti-industrialisation manifesto.

    Unconscious human drives and needs are rarely factored into grand utopian schemes, which are inevitably tainted and corrupted by this crucial omission. It follows that whatever remains hidden and unresolved within a profoundly traumatised and fragile human being – so deracinated by his circumstances and so maddened and broken by repeated human cruelties and sadism that these are elevated to ineluctable universals – will underpin an obsession to destroy whatever is deemed to be the source of so much misery.

    If you can’t kill a familiar, then go for the impersonal representatives of a system you have identified as the source of all human misery. The delusional psychosis is paranoid, messianic and sacrificial.

    As the author of this piece points out, chilling are certain rational aspects of Kaczynski’s manifesto that resonate with contemporary social realities. Yet the fact that a man can think and identify truths about the world deriving from his own real-world experiences is psychologically distinct from the (out)rage that consumed him, co-opted his intellect, and destroyed his sanity.

    Perhaps there is something perversely redemptive about Kaczynski’s life that precludes too ready dismissal of him as a crazed mass murderer – which indeed he was – while mundane human cruelties continue and unconscious motives and the deranging impacts of psychological trauma remain excluded from our efforts to explain human behaviour.

  6. Canguro

    frances, your piece reminded me of something that Cormac McCarthy said in an interview he granted to the WSJ in 2009…

    “There’s not much you can do to try to make a child into something that he’s not. But whatever he is, you can sure destroy it. Just be mean and cruel and you can destroy the best person.”

    He was, after all, essentially still a child when he had the misfortune to encounter Henry Murray.

  7. Michael Taylor

    Canguro, Cormac McCarthy. Small world. See our latest piece. 😀

  8. andyfiftysix

    Humans havent changed in 100,000yrs. The way we treat each other hasn’t changed either. Same shit, different colour. Still its surprising what crap we put with and how most of us adapt from one form of slavery to another. Some of us even rebel, how surprising

  9. frances

    Thank you for the link Canguro.

  10. Konn

    NEC “I must defend ”science” and the abuse of science” – I half agree. I defend science but not the deliberate abuse of science, aka scientism. Re the drug industry, scientism is rampant due to a lack of independent research into the final product. There is no negative feedback loop. The TGA, once an Aussie icon, now reduced to rubble as outlined by Dr Philip Altman. He worked with them for 40 years prior to the covid. His substack ‘did-you-know’ notes 10 ways the TGA is sleep-walking its way through the landscape of scientism in relation to mRNA.
    Re atomic power, if waste could be stored longterm without leaking, if the plants were guaranteed to never meltdown, then I’d support.
    @ frances, the science of how to traumatize humans, what purpose does it serve?
    Back in the day, rulers maintained control of the serfs by instilling fear; public hangings & beheadings etc reminded the chattle of who had the power. Then someone invented TV. Now people can get a dose of violence vicariously without threat to personal safety. Today, much of the physical violence lives on the sports field but the most destructive of it still happens behind closed doors in institutional settings. A prime example is the ADF. It’s no surprise to see a Ben Roberts-Smith come off the production line. The powers who-ought-not-be know how to create a criminal mind to serve their purposes, but not how to de-commission them. It never enters the head of most people the system is working as designed by negative mind. The system will change after empathy is the most common attribute of decision makers.
    Great summary btw, “mundane human cruelties continue” and the “unconscious motives and the deranging impacts of psychological trauma remain excluded from our efforts to explain human behaviour.”

  11. frances

    Now Daniel Ellsberg’s death feels oddly significant in being so close in time to the deaths of Cormac McCarthy and Ted Kaczynski.

    Perhaps it’s the sad and angry child somewhere in all of them. Wire

    @ Konn: Thank you. I’m sure any of the time-worn repertoires available to human beings to savage one another will continue to burden humanity with their interminable transgenerational consequences. We know perfectly well how to hurt one another without needing to construct a special science for it.

    So I’m not certain there exists a science dedicated to “how to traumatise humans”, though from what I can make out – as in Kaczynski’s case – Murray’s experimental torture was little more than state-sanctioned co-option of a scientific discipline otherwise dedicated to understanding human behaviour and to healing. It seems to me more like what is done in its name than the thing itself.

    War is, of course, the Great Traumatiser, and it’s hard to imagine how, with each and every conflict overtaking the last in the savagery of its abominations and traumatic sequelae, there can ever be an end to the compensatory thrills of raw power and annihilating revenge. The “negative mind” is a damaged mind ideally suited to building brutal resilience in soldiers by killing off all feeling for other human beings who happen to be the designated enemy.

    Babies and children are just so much collateral damage.

    But perhaps it’s more about prevention than cure, about grasping the broad psychological fact that there is no ‘resilience’ in children, only that they will respond to their night terrors in their own fashion.

    Canguro’s quote from Cormac McCarthy might well be tagged onto Roswell’s boy. I recently stumbled across a similarly arresting family photo, a haunted face staring out from an otherwise raucous children’s party and realised with a shock this was the then fatherless child – now an elderly semi-recluse – who rang me drunk twenty three years ago to tell me of his rape as a boy by two men of the cloth. Soon after, being bearer of this horror and a fresh trigger, I became persona non grata.

    There is a unique kind of damage done to us all when we savage a child, something perpetually radiating and irrevocable.

  12. Canguro

    Jung coined a term, ‘Synchronicity‘, which in a nutshell referred to “circumstances that appear meaningfully related yet lack a causal connection.”

    frances writes (above) that “War is, of course, the Great Traumatiser”, and additionally, refers to a child’s haunted face, a child who grew to become an elderly semi-recluse, a child abused beyond rational understanding and consequentially damaged forever, an individual amid a legion of similarly damaged individuals of both sexes.

    Today is my father’s birthday – he would be 108 if he were alive, but he isn’t, having died a quarter of a century ago – and it’s also the birthday of my sister, seven years younger than me, and from whom I’ve been functionally estranged from the greater part of my life, close to six decades now of limited or no contact.

    There’s a book to be written here if I choose… I did in fact begin, but put the pen down after more than 600 pages (or more correctly, walked away from the keyboard, after having scribbled in doctor’s scrawl into notebooks then typed up); I’d rationalised that I was writing for my children, from whom I’m also estranged, but more recent correspondence, or lack thereof, convinced me of the pointlessness of writing for a pair of young middle-aged siblings who clearly didn’t want to have anything to do with their father following the breakdown of his relationship with their mother 25 years ago. My motivation had been that there would come a time when they’d want to know who their father was, and was born in part from my own personal sense of never having known who my own father was, and mother, truth be told.

    Both of them mysteries, both of them wrapped in impenetrable shields, guarded, wounded, damaged beyond redemption, and in turn damaging, and particularly so towards their second son, this writer, and lesser towards my elder brother, and lesser still towards the youngest, the sister who shares today’s birthday anniversary with her father and by which random fact of seeding and procreation has managed to carry throughout her life a sense of special relation to her father along with a casual dismissal of the damage he inflicted upon his sons… a lifelong sentence that wrought sadness, madness, unfulfillment, estrangement along with a host of poor-choice coping strategies and personality disorders; in my brother’s case, full-blown narcissism and alcoholism, in mine, drug & alcohol abuse as constant crutches and a leery relationship with the law for, essentially, forever, as well as a total misunderstanding of the significant difference between the domains of loving relationships and those based purely on the physical act of sex.

    The British poet Philip Larkin wrote the following poem titled This Be The Verse:

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    War is, absolutely and eternally, the great traumatiser, and it effectively completed the job on my father, given he’d had the misfortune to be the first born of a well-off Adelaide family who then suffered the tragic loss of their second and third-born sons four & eight years respectively after his birth; this ruthlessly fatal introduction then capped by his being raised in atmospheric grief & gloom and eventually escaping by moving to Malaya only to be captured by the IPA and sent to work as a POW on the Burma Railroad… a narrative of neutered potential if ever there was, with the inevitable onflowing after parenting and the ensuing transmission of intergenerational trauma such that more than seventy years later it’s only now possible to take a somewhat relaxed position in relation to the perplexing and dumbfounding quasi-analytical reflection on what has been, for me, a significantly less than thrilling and joyous journey through this unique experience known as ‘inhabitance of human form.’

  13. Konn

    @ frances and Canguro, interesting ideas there. Each person is simultaneously operating within a realm that could be described as 2 worlds – the timeless and the temporal: #1. as a natural, innate-at-birth, open-ended awareness which is unprogrammable, and #2. as a product of the environment they were borne into as it unfolds. #1 is a more like a verb, #2 is a more like a programmable noun, a ‘fiction’ of sorts. The ‘unfolding’ is not set in concrete, anything can change at any moment.
    The range of environments to be borne into is so vast it is impossible to entertain what it would be like to be subsumed by an experience at the opposite end of the spectrum of one’s own experiences. For example, anyone ever met a child soldier from the Congo? Even if a child soldier could explain what they went through who would understand what that felt like? And who creates a ‘child soldier’ – the child’s parents who were killed due to lack of fighting skills or lack of a weapon, the child, the attacker who traumatized the child, the people who traumatized that person, a husband who bought his wife a diamond ring which just happened to be an undeclared ‘blood diamond’, the diamond seller who knew it was a ‘blood diamond’, etc?
    Re wars in general. This might be news to some, but I think we are currently in WW3 – so more trauma is in the pipeline. This war is basically informational. Those who seek to control and profit from the public are using psyche trickery to move the masses, mainly via MSM messaging. Do this, agree with that, don’t think about that, buy this . . I became aware of this on a small scale in 2019 when researching the best 5G phone to buy. I dropped into a lake of facts related to the lack of safety of this new technology, all the while being shouted at by the mainstream media, gov agencies and shills for the Telecom industry that the tech was safe. It’s not, it’s dangerous.
    Then along came the covid and things got more obvious. Any ‘facts’ presented by gov, media or advertiser these days needs to be verified. That’s still possible. There are some science journals around not yet removed by Big Tech fact-scrubbers. Some of our ‘leaders’ in the public space appear to blissfully unaware of what is going on.

  14. frances

    Make it a masterpiece for the world Canguro and I reckon your story will somehow find its way home.

  15. Steve Davis

    Canguro, I second the suggestion by frances.

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