UNABOMBER ECONOMICS, A CRITICAL COMMENT
Author: Piet Keizer
The UNABOMBER is the man, who send 16 mailbombs to people, who worked for a university or an airline company in the period 1978-1995. The FBI set up the largest search operation in her history. At 24 April 1995 the man – Ted Kaczynski – send a Manifesto to the New York Times, and asked for publication. In exchange for it he promised to stop sending mailbombs. Title: The Modern Industrial Society and its Future. The New York Times and the Washington Post decided to publish it. His brother David recognized the text of the manifesto, and went to the FBI. At 3 April 1996 he was arrested when he was at home in his cabin in the woods of Lincoln, Montana. Although his publication is available on internet and can be printed for free, there is not much debate about the content. In this essay I take his text seriously – it appears a very important topic, now more than ever.
Modern systems appear unfulfilling for many people, and all the modern systems as a whole – THE SYSTEM – is unstable. When man is adjusted to THE SYSTEM, and has accepted its requirements, he begins to look for surrogate ways of fulfilment: money, status, and other addictions. Powerful people use THE SYSTEM to their own advantage, which is a continuing source of aggression and violence. Compared with primitive man we see regression rather than progression.
To explain this position we will discuss the way Kaczynski (1995) explains modernity as the dual of primitivity. While primitive people enjoyed some freedom when earning their living and participating in group rituals, is the position of modern man demeaning. His freedoms are just surrogate – his dignity is at stake. In the second section we present his modernity versus primitivity. In the third section we will discuss why Kaczynski prefers revolution to reform. Revolution might be non-violent, especially when many people are inspired by the idea of revolution against The SYSTEM. Violence against the machines, which take their dignity away from people, is necessary: KILL THE SYSTEM. In section four we analyse his ideas more thoroughly. In a last section we will comment on the position taken by the UNABOMBER.
Modernity versus primitivity
From the beginning of manhood people searched for food, drinks, and shelter. They lived in the wild in small groups, and celebrated common life by means of rituals. Knowledge and skills were transported from father to son, and from mother to daughter. Many hours per day were spent on playing. Some groups were quite successful; these groups grew in size. They also produced instruments for the ongoing struggle against other groups. War was an excellent means for especially the men to show their power. The quest for meaning was answered by religion. Gods ruled and humans should beseech them by obeying the elderly: they were the most experienced.
Even in these primitive times there was some technological progress. There were powerful elites, which ruled the masses. Frequently some groups attacked other groups with their latest weaponry, and conquered their resources, including their wives. Other enemies were killed. Empires emerged, flourished and declined. But the essence of primitivity was the idea that humans are ruled by GODS, and are weak relative to NATURE.
In the 14th century Italian City-states proved successful, and used their resources to travel to the East and to the West. Entrepreneurs, supported by their governments, profited from trade routes over a long distance. If foreign people were not willing to trade, then they were forced to it. It was the beginning of modernity: God was not the Ruler anymore. The heads of the rich families took their own fate. Macchiavelli was the political philosopher, who formulated a series of principles, which guided them. Artists and scientists became increasingly secular – we call that period the Renaissance. In the 16th century Luther accused the Roman Catholic Church from corruption and fraud. It sold condolences to the laymen in exchange for absolution. In the 17th and 18th century philosophers abstracted from the existence of God, and developed analyses of an ontological type. These functioned as paradigms for scientific programmes – we call this period Enlightenment.Man is autonomous and has the potential to control nature.
In England a combination of scientific and economic activities led to a spectacular growth in innovation. Economic growth was the result – technological progress was the principal cause of it. We call these period Industrial Revolution. Until today this relationship is the core of mainstream economics.
During WWII the first computers were constructed. This machine is able to link language with numbers and numbers with yes or no electric stream. Nowadays computer scientists are able to develop software, which contains structured information. Now the computers are executing very complex tasks: not any human can do better. Machine-learning implies a network of computers, which control the production of motor-cars over the globe, link all banks to each other, and take care of the passing of a judgement. This phenomenon – artificial intelligence – is a threat to the humanity of humans. So far, man had control over machines. But now machines force humans to act, even if the actions are counterintuitive.
According to Kaczynski this is the beginning of the end of our life in the wild – of humans, who develop their talents in interaction with other living beings and their natural environment. A life without typical modern diseases, such as unfulfillment, depression, social aggression and violence. That would be great. But The SYSTEM is a cluster of many short-term interests of many people – not only of a small global elite. It means that modernization will continue. Psychological and biological instruments will be used to make people prepared to keep integrated with the modern system. Many people might not even notice that they are more alienated than ever – further away from their origins, from their potential to live a fulfilling life.
Revolution rather than reform
Most people prefer security and comfort to a genuine life in the wild – a life dominated by essential issues, such as life and death, and development of skills to deal with the natural environment. Nature must be respected, also animals and plants. They deserve – to a certain extent – their own life. If we compare this with the idea of modern man, who is controlling nature, it is clear that fundamental changes must take place. The reformist step-by-step approach might lead to some temporary improvements. But these will never be sustainable. A paradigm shift is necessary – it must change the direction of the spirit of the people. It needs a revolution in thinking and attitude. A revolutionary elite must set people in fire, so to speak. Only intrinsically motivated people can withstand the insecurity and the dangers, which accompany us on the road to freedom.
It would be great if violence is not necessary. But the habits of thinking, based on the drive to stick to a relatively comfortable life, are rigid. An explosive situation might help to break through these habits.
The most important element of a free society is the POWER PROCESS. A person or a small group of people has a strong drive to create and to make things, which is a source of lasting fulfilment. They feel autonomous and are responsible for the outcome. In case of failure they can only blame themselves, and persevere until there are satisficing results. Every man goes through a developmental process: from young to an adolescent to an adult to an old person until he dies. If all these stages appear fulfilling, there are no negative attitudes growing. In the modern society there is much stress between the different groups. Also politically there is much strive about pension arrangements. Life experience is not respected anymore. New generations want the older ones stop ruling them as soon as possible.
Modern society does not take this POWER PROCESS into account. Only the end result – maximum economic growth – counts. Work is an effort, a cost, and if the reward is higher, the job contributes to the welfare of a person. In the anarchic, wild view of Kaczynski modern work places are full of bullshit jobs – indignity creating rather than fulfilling. The frustration, which results from this incongruency, creates negative energy, and the aggression might lead to violence. The deviants should protect themselves against the system – destroy the machines, especially those full of artificial intelligence.
In the 1970’s the German Rote Armee Fraction attacked the American computers, which coordinated all military actions in Vietnam. The Arabic IS attacked the Pentagon, being an outstanding symbol of American global pretensions. Kaczynski: we must attack the GLOBAL SYSTEM, and especially those scientists who work at the forefront of computer and robot science. Also the genetic re-engineering is an evil to be attacked. Genetic manipulation forces people to adjust to the necessary conditions of THE SYSTEM,
The analysis by the UNABOMBER
According to Kaczynski the modern world is ruled by the idea that science is able to develop machines, which are superior to man. When implemented most humans are reduced to small links in a chain. Their freedom is almost zero; obedience to the rules of the system has replaced human discretion. Psychological and biological science is used to adapt humans to the system – disobedience is very costly. Genetic re-engineering is one of the most dangerous developments: man becomes a machine.
To function well a modern system must meet a series of biological, psychological and sociological conditions. A truly free man does not meet these conditions. So, there is a fundamental conflict between man and modern machine. Both want to kill the other. Modern technology focusses on a minimization of human intervention. A free man approaches nature and other people with respect of their dignity.
When children are raised in a natural way, they go through a power process. A free child learns to use tools, which exactly do what the child want it to do. A hammer, a simple bike, language, basic algebra: it can be used to make communication with the natural and social world possible. If the upbringing takes place harmoniously, the child has no problem with the transition to the following stage. It ends up with a job that requires efforts of a person, which he can deliver with some or much effort – but the performance is good, and it gives him much sustainable satisfaction. If the job requires hardly any effort, the performance does not give long-term satisfaction. If the work must be done under surveillance of superior people, it is difficult to get satisfied, even if the performance is fine. The boss claims the successes, and blames the subordinate in case of failures. This causes frustration, depression and aggression.
Most people hate psychological conflicts – it is very painful if a person disagrees with himself. A quick solution is to imitate the attitudes and behaviour of other members of the group – family, neighbourhood, labour organisation, church, ethnicity, or sex. Groups are led by superiors. They show the people how to behave. If the performance is not alright, people want to have a say in who is the next leader. For the rest they want just complaining but definitely not taking responsibility by doing something constructive. In such a world modernity has ample room to change the world fundamentally. Those with money and skills rule the world, especially through well-designed software.
Revolution is necessary – a shock-therapy, so to speak. Only revolutionaries have the right spirit to radically change society. They must destroy the most dangerous parts, and build an alternative technology.
A critical comment
The main distinction made by the Unabomber is: wild versus modern. The Industrial Revolution (17th century) implied the beginning of the end of wild life. Technological progress was focussed on the fabrication of machines, which could replace humans. After WWII we see the introduction of the computer – ‘he’ appears to have the potential to rule people. He penetrates the body, also the brain, with the promise of an comfortable and happy life. But this is a false promise. Many people don’t have the resources to participate in the modern society. Nature might be damaged without possibility of recovery. And the happy few, who profit from the blessings are threatened by feelings of emptiness and depression. Some of them are nobodies, who are surrounded by luxurious goods and others work hard without developing feelings of dignity.
Kaczynski wants to break down the modern technological system and develop an alternative ideology. Unfortunately he does not give a description of what he sees as ‘wild life’, based on an alternative ideology. Personally I imagine an advanced wild life as follows: persons and small groups are the basic units of a society. They must protect their autonomy, economically, socially and politically. Leaders of the groups, which live in one and the same region, must consult each other, while every participant has a veto. Every job must contain a number of tasks, which is a challenge for the worker. If people decide to use technologically complex tools, they must have a ‘backup’, in the sense of a simple alternative in times of emergency.
I stop analysing his alternative ideology, because the Manifesto does not discuss this alternative in a detailed way. The author focusses on the negative sides of modernity, while his alternative is quite unclear – especially with respect to the gains of it in terms of freedom. So we cannot compare a few systems to see which performs best. He restricts himself to a list of costs of the modern system in terms of human dignity.
He uses the metaphor of the caged animal. For me it is easy to give a long list of my experiences in the course of my 50 years of work at a couple of universities. Modern economics as it is taught is a poor substitute of what economics has offered in the course of time. Especially after WWII economists, such as Samuelson and Friedman have reduced the discipline to something that can easily be formalised. Everything is reduced to flows of money and goods – the humans are gone. Econometrics emerged as an autonomous discipline, producing one quantitative model after the other. With the progress in computer science, it is relatively easy to develop software, which predict the future. In The Netherlands De Nederlandsche Bank has made software for the secondary school programme in economics. Students can easily calculate what happens with variable A, when they change the value of variable B. But these students have no clue whatsoever, about the model in the software. A very restrictive model gives bad predictions. It implies that a very small set of instruments should solve the problems – what only succeeds in periods of some stability. As soon as we really need advice the models don’t understand the situation. Policy failures leads to frustration and aggression among the victims.
Kaczynski considers evolution necessary. In hopeless times violence might be effective in awakening people. To me the reform strategy is more effective and definitely more human. Violence triggers counter-violence. Then all antagonists are frustrated and aggressive. In such a situation it is almost impossible to get the people to the consultation table. A reform measure, however, makes communication possible. Imagine a country, in which the care for the elderly is digitalised: the consumers are offered a robot for € 500, including a subsidy by the government of € 250. The robot can clean the house and have a chat with the elderly person – altogether in 30 minutes. The care institution has saved through the digitalisation s € 200 per elderly person. The union of elderly people protest against this digitalisation. In reaction to the protest Parliament decides that the care must be executed by professionals, and that every elderly person has the right to have the professional every week for 30 minutes. Half of the price will be paid by the government. In this case Parliament has intervened into the care for the elderly in a humane way, and limited the digitalisation. We can imagine that an increasing number of people become aware of the Kaczynski-problem. Step-by-step humans strike back. So with the position of children. Anthroposophical ideas are applied in our education systems already. We must just work on an improvement and extension of this practice.
The way back is not easy. As Kaczynski says: humans hate psychological conflicts. I add to that: people hate social conflicts. When combined we need to make ourselves more rational and more moral. We must learn to approach ourselves and relevant others as humans, who can do great things and who can fail. Especially in case of failure, we must learn to accept that and to approach each other with understanding. Throwing bombs is a big step backwards. Approaching each other in a personal and human way is the only way back from the typical modern strategy.