Rational Religion


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What Makes a Nut Cracked? {The Idylls of Kaczynski}

 

A reflective piece in the New Yorker, in the wake of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's acceptance of a guilty plea and a life sentence, raises a philosophical question that this quixotic character probably did not consider - or rejected - concerning the "nature of Nature" as it were.

 

Dr. Kaczynski is obviously a nut; "nut" being defined as someone whose views or level of functioning are sufficient degrees from society's Main Stream that he or she is marginalized and easily identified by the media and the spin-meisters of Convention as "out of touch with reality."

 

(By the way, how often have you seen him referred to in print, or anywhere in the media, by the respectful title of the advanced degree which he earned from one of the Nation's most prestigious universities?† We speak of "Dr. Mengele," a monster.† Dr. Kaczynski is media-officially just "Ted;" and a nut.)

 

Ted Kaczynski believed, and stated - not succinctly enough, but how many of us are talented writers? - that Humanity has been on a millennia-long Road to Ruin.† The inventors and engineers - clear back past Leonardo, perhaps - have betrayed our nature by betraying nature.†

 

Swept along by the great tide of technology, we are being seduced farther and farther from some ideal State of Grace - dictated, presumably, by our genes and their idealized pristine relationship to all their relatives in the Web of Life - into some artificial, mechanistic, faux-existence which will ultimately destroy us all.

 

In the name of this passionately-held belief, Dr. K. was willing to construct and post a number of explosive devices which killed and/or maimed a variety of unsuspecting persons whose only objective culpability in the species' impending disaster was that they were somehow vaguely involved in the process.

 

They were teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs whose participation in the dominant direction of human endeavor had unfortunately attracted the Unabomber's attention as being symbolic of what he strongly believed was the road to hell; never mind their Good Intentions.†

 

They were symbols; but in order to justify his equally symbolic gesture of attacking them, personally, the bomber had to personalize their individual contributions to what he considered the poisonous status quo that 98 percent of the rest of society thinks is innocuous to admirable.†

 

Now all of this doesn't make him crazy.† He may be crazy, but that's beside the point.† What it does make him is nutty; which is a popular term with no pretensions to scientific accuracy.†

 

(Neither is "crazy:" the accepted PC-ese being† "mentally impaired,"† "insane," or some semi-mythical specific illness such as "schizophrenia" or "psychopathic."† But "crazy" implies that we are at least aware of and willing to consider the ramifications of the more lofty scientific terminology.† "Nutty" means we can dismiss the guy out of hand, without considering anything about him as germane to our lives.)

 

Kaczynski didn't want an insanity defense.† He had spent his whole life exploring the theory that Technology was the Apple that humanity should never have bitten into.† He had lots of ideas on the subject and an extremely well-thought-out argument supporting those ideas.

 

Whether he was ultimately to be executed for mailing bombs which killed people was to him infinitely less important than those ideas and that argument.

 

With this in mind, the man was obviously (and predictably) defeated by the society of which he was a sworn enemy.†† We talked him into saving his life, which only succeeded in marginalizing him and his ideas even further; into the realm of almost total insignificance. (Still, the Manifesto is easily located on Google.)

 

Ted Kaczynski is not the first or only thinking human being to question the race's headlong commitment to "progress," technology and an ever-increasing dependence on machines and manufactured sources of energy, sustenance and pleasure.† For a couple of hundred years, at least, there has even been a defining noun: "luddite."

 

(Never mind that the original Luddites weren't interested - as Kaczynski seems to have been† - in actually reversing the process of social evolution.† They only wanted to hold onto their jobs in the face of the most recent wave of innovation.)

 

Now, I happen to think that Dr. Kaczynski and most of his fellow luddites are way off base in their definitions of "human nature".... or, more accurately, the nature of humans.

 

This is what I referred to at the beginning of this essay as the element which he had ignored or rejected.†

 

For better or worse, it is the "nature" of the species to be curious, innovative, often aggressive and acquisitive and almost universally exploitive; of everything around us, including each other.†

 

None of this makes us "bad," or "good," or even bodes particularly well for our long-term survival as a species.

 

This is what we are.†

 

The more we learn, the more we want to learn.† The more we can do in ways that have never been done, before, the more we are driven to innovate.† The more completely it appears that we can learn to control our environment and eliminate its nastier vicissitudes - such as diseases, earthquakes, hurricanes and the odd marauding asteroid -the harder we work at doing so.

 

This is our nature; not some idealized Garden-of-Eden sensibility which inspires us to seek a Thoreau-like existence in a mythical pastoral setting which never existed anyplace for more than a few minutes.†

 

The cardinal defining element of Camelot was that it lasted less than the reign of one (also mythical) mortal monarch.†

 

Our States of Grace are by definition impermanent.† We celebrate them in legend because we continually aspire to them, but that's just something that keeps us in the game even though all the evidence tells us that the rules are stacked against us.††

 

The highest ideal of Christians is the Imitation of Christ.† Those who aspire to it are most usually frustrated not by failure of dedication or Will, but by the impossibility of defining it.†

 

Ted Kaczynski is in jail because he is a sociopath; an individual willing to - more or less randomly - commit mayhem upon his fellow human beings in order to publicize his own personal cosmology.††

 

He is a nut because that personal cosmology is so at odds with everything that history and the nature of human society teach us about what we are that nothing he can say in its cause can be made relevant.

 

He may, indeed, have formulated an immaculate blueprint for saving the species from extinction, if only we could follow it.††

 

The problem has always been that none of us, including - as so emphatically defined by his own actions - Kaczynski himself, belongs to THAT species.†

 

Meanwhile, more of us ought to explore what he was trying - however fundamentally wrong-headedly - to say. (Anyone who wants to get a clear picture of the Unabomberís not-entirely-screwball philosophies can read the whole Manifesto on the Internet.)

 

We are, hopefully, evolving, after all; albeit slowly and for the last 30 to 100 millennia imperceptibly.† Our biological evolutionary pace is likely no match for our headlong cultural innovation and will probably fall prey to it, just as Dr. Kaczynski predicts; but who can without qualification foretell the future?

 

As long as we're still here, there is hope for us.