VJMP Reads: Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber Manifesto II

This reading carries on from here.

The next chapter in Industrial Society and Its Future is ‘The Power Process’. The next few chapters relate to this. Here, Kaczynski outlines his take on Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power. He states that “in order to avoid serious psychological problems, a human being needs goals whose attainment requires effort, and he must have a reasonable rate of success in attaining his goals.”

Consistent failure to achieve goals throughout life leads to depression and low self-esteem. This is a particular problem in modern society on account of that we have a lot of leisure time – all that is necessary to be wealthy is to learn some simple skill and then to hold down a job. As a consequence, we have developed surrogate goal-seeking activities.

Kaczynski was able to point out, even back in 1995, that many leftists support their pet political cause by means of finding a surrogate for their need to partake in the power process. These surrogate activities can be dangerous because they aren’t as satisfying as taking care of actual survival needs. As a result, they tend to be performed without end.

In the chapter ‘Autonomy’, Kaczynski points out how a sense of being able to operate autonomously is important for a satisfactory resolution of the power process. Individuals need to feel like they have had some input into how things are run, or at least need to be able to have some autonomy in how they carry out their orders. Absent this, we get “depression, anxiety, guilt, frustration, hostility, spouse or child abuse, insatiable hedonism, abnormal sexual behavior, sleep disorders, eating disorders, etc.”.

‘Sources of Social Problems’ is where Kaczynski relates all the previous to the problems currently plaguing our society. Acknowledging that “the world today seems to be going crazy”, he argues that primitive man was free of many of the stresses that currently plague us. However, he is not a Rousseau follower – he acknowledges that primitive life was tough in many regards. The main point is that human beings evolved to adapt to a radically different from the one we now live in.

Here Kaczynski is extremely insightful. He pinpoints the origin of many social problems as excessive population density, alienation from nature, speed of technological change (what Alvin Toffler called “future shock”) and breakdown of the normal small-scale communities like the family and village. The crowding and isolation from nature follow naturally from technological advancement. A modern industrial society has to tame and emasculate people in this manner in order to function.

Modern people feel like all change is imposed in them from the outside – this is the origin of their frustration and discontent. “the most important cause of social and psychological problems in modern society is the fact that people have insufficient opportunity to go through the power process in a normal way”. Leftism is a symptom of this deep malaise.

In the chapter ‘Disruption of the Power Process in Modern Society’, Kaczynski gets down to the evolutionary psychology behind our current malaise. Essentially the problem is that all of our physiological needs are easily met: all we have to do is to be obedient at work. This means that the power process is not being met. We have very little autonomy at work with which to achieve our goals.

Capitalism is partly to blame. “Advertising and marketing techniques have been developed that make many people feel they need things that their grandparents never desired or even dreamed of.” We put a lot of effort into chasing meaningless things, and consequently life feels meaningless. The power process can only be fulfilled by external goals, not concepts like “fulfillment”. This is hard because “Today people live more by virtue of what the system does FOR them or TO them than by virtue of what they do for themselves.”

Frustration also arises from the fact that only 500 to 1,000 people have any real power, and the rest just get things done to them. Primitive man, although his life is shorter, is better off in this regard because he is not helpless. Modern man can do anything he likes as long as it is unimportant; our behaviour is tightly regulated in all other matters. Primitive man has fulfilled his need to participate in the power process and therefore avoids many pathologies that affect modern people.

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