March 25, 2019 | 44° F

Panel considers merit of Unabomber’s arguments

Critics look at murderer’s complaints against technology

Photo by Marielle Sumergido |

Jeffrey Young, technology editor at The Chronicle for Higher Education, wondered yesterday what could be learned from the Unabomber’s writings.

He was a prodigy, an assistant professor and a murderer. Theodore John “Ted” Kaczynski, also known as the “Unabomber,” mailed bombs throughout the country in a campaign against technology.

Though FBI officers arrested Kaczynski in 1996, he still writes anti-technology essays from prison. A crowd of about 40 gathered at Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus to analyze his publications and discuss the consequences of technology on society.

The Rutgers Center for Global Advancement and International Affairs sponsored the lecture to show technology in a different light and discuss the Unabomber’s philosophical credibility.

“There haven’t been enough critical voices about the subject of technology,” said Jeffrey Young, senior technology editor at The Chronicle for Higher Education. “And I’m not talking about whether the iPhone 5 is any better. There hasn’t been a lot of critical engagement.”

The Unabomber sent his infamous 35,000-word manifesto to The Washington Post and The New York Times in 1995, justifying his violence by claiming technology is destroying human progression and freedom.

“If man is not adjusted to this new environment by being artificially re-engineered, then he will be adapted to it through a long and painful process of natural selection,” Kaczynski wrote in his manifesto.

David Skrbina, who has been the Unabomber’s pen pal for years, said these publications have been neglected and should be studied as a valid philosophical theory.

“The media thinks that if someone sends fatal package bombs, he must be crazy and whatever he writes must also be crazy,” Skrbina said. “I think that’s not true. There are very important arguments in the manifesto, and they definitely deserve discussion.”

But Peter Ludlow, a professor of in the Department of Philosophy at Northwestern University, said the Unabomber should only be regarded as a violent extremist with weak and illogical theories.

“We have this weird infatuation with serial killers,” he said. “We have this idea that they’re mad geniuses. They’re made smart on TV shows and movies to make an interesting plot, but this is reality.”

But recent studies have revealed data that support the Unabomber’s theory.

Cellphone and email use has been associated with anxiety and stress hormones, Skrbina said. In the past decade, childhood autism rates have increased by 78 percent, anti-depressant use has increased by 400 percent, and bipolar disorder by 4,000 percent. Internet users are also reflecting multiple personality disorders increasingly as the years progress.

Skrbina said these numbers are astonishing and prove technology is robbing people of their ability to think in a deep, philosophical manner.

“Technology functions as a kind of mental AIDS,” he said. “It destroys the very sort of thinking that we need to overcome it.”

Skrbina said many intellectuals have expressed similar concerns in the past.

“[Albert] Einstein said, ‘Our entire much-praised technological progress and civilization generally could be compared to an axe in the hand of a pathological criminal,’” Skrbina said.

Ludlow said though criticism of technology is always valid, it should not take the manifesto into account, as it is ridden with ad hominem attacks and is devoid of logical arguments.

“If a Rutgers student wrote this and handed it in, I would be shocked if there was a teacher at this school [who] gave it more than a C-minus,” he said.

But no one denies that technology has some evident repercussions for society. Ludlow said technology becomes a problem when those in power seize control of it and use it against the public.

“Put control of technology back in the hands of everyone, not just those in power,” he said. “Information wants to be free. Liberate it.”

By Lisa Berkman

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