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Book Review: "Industrial Society and its Future" by Theodore Kaczynski

There once was an extremely intelligent man who was a master of mathematics, but despite his success, he was still miserable. He could sense that there was something deeply wrong with modern society, and he traced the problem back to the Industrial Revolution. He grew to despise what it had done to the world, so he took matters into his own hands. One day, he suddenly and inexplicably resigned from his position in academia and retreated to a cabin in the woods of Montana. He then proceeded to strike fear into the modern world by mailing bombs to universities and airports. By doing this, he was able to strong-arm the most prominent newspapers of America into publishing his manifesto before his inevitable arrest and life imprisonment. The man's name was Theodore Kaczynski, and his manifesto was called "Industrial Society and its Future". With this review, I hope to describe his ideas in a way that is easy to digest, as well as give my own thoughts on them.

The manifesto begins with that now famous quote: "The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race." He acknowledges that it has done good things such as increase people's lifespans and brought them more material wealth, but he also points out that it has inflicted upon society widespread psychological suffering and has caused severe damage to the natural world. He knows the system cannot last, nor should it last. This is why he advocates a revolution against it. This is not a political revolution because he does not seek to put a certain party or ideology in power. He wants to destroy the system itself.

He proceeds to describe the psychology of modern leftism. The term "leftism" encompasses socialists, politically correct types, feminists, LGBT activists, and other similar people. He states that leftism is animated by two psychological tendencies: feelings of inferiority and oversocialization. Feelings of inferiority consists of low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, depressive tendencies, defeatism, guilt, self-hatred, and other traits. Have you ever noticed how leftists interpret even the mildest comments about groups of people as derogatory? That's a manifestation of their feelings of inferiority. They are hypersensitive about the words they use. They are constantly walking on eggshells in their own communities, lest they incur the wrath of their peers. It can also be noticed that those who are most obsessed with using politically correct language are not the average black person, Asian, Hispanic, or disabled person, but upper-class white people. Those who constantly browbeat the commoners about "privilege" come from the most privileged strata of society.

Leftist activists identify with groups that have an image of being weak (women), defeated (American Indians), repellent (LGBT people), or otherwise inferior. They actively speak on behalf of these groups because they themselves see these groups as inferior, though they will never admit they have these feelings. They are also filled with envy and resentment, so they hate anything that is seen as successful. This explains their seething hatred of straight white men. They will never admit to being envious, though. They say they hate the West because it is bigoted, patriarchal, ethnocentric, and so on, but they don't say a word when these same traits appear in non-white cultures. They also want society to solve everyone's problems for them. This is because they have no confidence in their ability to solve their own problems. They hate the ideas of competition and self-reliance because, deep down inside, they feel like losers.

Kaczynski then describes how leftists hate science and rationality because those systems classify certain beliefs as true (successful) or false (failed). This explains their rejection of concepts like mental illness and disability. Since they hate the idea of personal responsibility, they always give society the credit or blame for an individual's ability or lack of it. This also explains why they are only able to feel strong when part of a large organization or mass movement. Their feelings of inferiority also manifest themselves in their masochistic tactics. They lie down in front of vehicles. They let the police brutalize them. They provoke people into attacking them and play the victim afterward. To give a more recent example, they will dish out giant shovels of troll bait on the internet, then cry when they get hit with the inevitable backlash. Kaczynski also exposes how leftist activism is motivated more by hostility towards those who are successful than by compassion or moral principles. Take race relations in America, for example. They don't actually care about black people, they just use them as an excuse to obtain political power and express their hatred of white people. Near the end of this chapter, he gives us this quote:

If our society had no social problems at all, the leftists would have to invent problems in order to provide themselves with an excuse for making a fuss.

He then elaborates on oversocialization, which is a bit more complicated. To put it as simply as possible, it's where a person internalizes the morality of the culture around him, extrapolates it to its logical conclusions, and then heaps scorn upon society for not living up to the conclusions they reached. This is most evident with the concept of liberation. What started off with liberating people from the constraints of government has evolved into liberating people from the constraints of reality. Even more interesting is his observation that certain leftists (Antifa) commit violence in an attempt at seeking liberation, but they always justify their violence with mainstream values such as "smashing fascism" or "smashing bigotry" or the like. Near the end of this section, he notes how "experts" tell people how to eat, how to exercise, how to make love, how to raise kids, and so forth. This is even more true now than it was back when this essay was written, for the Western world is now ruled by a managerial elite who seek to micromanage every single aspect of human life, all under the auspices of science.

He then describes the power process, which is a technical term for a sense of purpose. Humans set goals for themselves. They exert effort to attain those goals. The effort exerted is the important part here. If a man had the power to attain anything he desired simply by wishing for it, he would very quickly become bored. This boredom leads to decadence, and decadence leads to self-destruction. The reason why settled aristocracies become decadent is because they wield so much power that their goals become too easy, so they turn it towards sinful activities just so they can feel something. Nomadic or warrior aristocracies, on the other hand, do not have this problem. This shows that power is meaningless without fulfilling goals towards which it can be applied. If someone consistently fails to achieve those goals throughout their life, then they become depressed. Therefore, in order to avoid serious psychological problems, a person needs goals whose attainment requires effort, and one must have a reasonable success rate in attaining those goals.

This brings us to surrogate activities, which are activities that are directed towards artificial goals that people set up for themselves just so they can have some goal to work toward, or merely for the "fulfillment" they get from attaining those goals. Modern society has made it too easy to satisfy one's physical needs, and more complex and wide-reaching goals have been made too hard to obtain without sufficient political power. Therefore, society has become filled with surrogate activities. These include scientific work, athletic achievement, humanitarian work, artistic or literary creation, increasing one's social standing, the acquisition of money or material goods, and social activism for causes that are not important for the activist personally. The most prominent contemporary example of surrogate activities I can think of is playing video games, be it achievement hunting or speedrunning. This section of the essay also reminds me of a quote from 4chan: "Men play video games to simulate achieving something. Women have sex with strangers to simulate feeling loved." Furthermore, those who are deeply involved in surrogate activities are never satisfied. They always crave more.

He then briefly talks about autonomy, which is the ability of a person to make their own decisions, or having a sense of agency. It is through having a sense of agency that one is able to set goals for themselves and exert effort to attain them. This brings them self-esteem, self-confidence, and a sense of power. Having no sense of agency leads to a host of mental problems, including boredom, demoralization, low self-esteem, feelings of inferiority, defeatism, depression, anxiety, guilt, frustration, hostility, abuse, insatiable hedonism, abnormal sexual behavior, sleep disorders, eating disorders, and other issues.

This leads us to one of the most important parts of the essay: the Source of Social Problems. The reason why modern people are so depressed, anxious, and frustrated is because the system under which we live requires people to live in conditions that are radically different from those under which humanity evolved. Most people live in concrete jungles, but the primal parts of their brains still believe they live in actual jungles. This disconnect makes them confused and agitated. The modern world demands constant economic growth, and that means stuffing more people into smaller spaces, more rapid social change, and more atomization. It is well-known that crowding increases stress and aggression, but neoliberalism does not care.

All pre-industrial societies were predominantly rural. When the Industrial Revolution began, the new technologies and systems it developed required people to mass migrate to the cities. At the same time, advances in agricultural technology meant that fewer people were required to farm the land. Many enjoyed the material benefits, but they failed to realize that the natural world provided a sense of stability due to its slow rate of change. This also brought with it a sense of security. Technology has advanced to the point where it's humanity that dominates nature instead of the other way around. The culture also changes at the same rapid rate as technology, thus creating a lack of stability and with it alienation and agitation.

I feel that Kaczynski's analysis on this subject is incomplete. The deeper reason why people in the modern world are so miserable is because they abandoned God. As humanity became more intelligent and advanced, they grew arrogant. They began to believe they didn't need His guidance. They turned away from Heaven under the pretext of conquering the Earth. They stopped caring about quality and focused only on quantity. The Industrial Revolution and everything afterward was a natural consequence of this line of thinking.

He also directs his ire towards conservatives. He points out how they whine about the decay of traditional values yet enthusiastically support the rapid technological progress and economic growth which caused that moral decay in the first place. He also makes the same observation that traditionalists have made: that the breakdown of traditional values leads to the dissolution of the bonds that hold together small-scale social groups (i.e., families). This destruction of traditional social bonds is accelerated by modern society encouraging people to uproot themselves from their families and move to giant cities full of equally atomized and alienated people. This atomization has an even more sinister purpose. The modern secular state seeks to be total and absolute. It demands that the individual be loyal only to it. If a person is completely deracinated, if he has no sense of family, community, or spirituality, then he becomes entirely dependent on the state.

Kaczynski goes on to detail the three human drives: those that can be satisfied with minimal effort, those that can be satisfied with serious effort, and those that never be satisfied no matter how much effort is exerted. People derive meaning from drives in the second group, but with every passing year, more drives are pushed into the first or third groups. The second group is increasingly filled with surrogate activities. He goes on to show that industrial society deprives people of any sense of agency, even going so far as to exclude intelligent and creative individuals because they are insufficiently docile and obedient. Modern civilization desires a population of soulless wage slaves whose only purpose in life is to grow the GDP and consume products.

He then lists the ways in which people have adjusted to these rapid societal changes. Some people are docile and accept whatever change is forced upon them. Others get satisfaction from gaining social status. He then details advertising's role in social control. Some are so susceptible to advertising that they will always crave the latest products, thus preventing them from ever questioning the system. Others are immune to advertising and have no desire for material acquisition. The system fears these people.

Kaczynski has a special disdain for scientists. He states that scientific pursuits are the quintessential example of surrogate activities. He backs this up by showing that most scientists work on highly specialized projects that are not the object of any normal curiosity and have no relation to the welfare of the human race. Rene Guenon had similar sentiments when he stated that modern science was obsessed with accumulating a large quantity of facts which were completely irrelevant to understanding God's creation or living a virtuous life. He ends the section by stating that science marches on blindly without regard for any standard, but why is that? It's because they abandoned God. Without His light, science stumbles blindly in the darkness. If there is no Absolute Truth, then science has no idea what the truth really is.

He then goes on to talk about freedom, which he defines as the opportunity to have a sense of purpose with real goals, not the artificial goals of surrogate activities, and without interference or manipulation from anyone. I would define freedom as the ability to become the virtuous people God wants us to be, but that's another story. He notes how society has become less free as technology becomes more advanced, which grows more true as the years go on. The most sinister tyrants of ancient times could only dream of the systems of control that modern governments possess. He also points out that on paper we have freedom of the press, but it means nothing in a landscape dominated by multinational corporations that drown out all competition. He also predicted our current predicament where the internet has become so oversaturated with useless facts that it's impossible to find the truth.

He then lists his principles of history, which are as follows. First Principle: If a small change is made that affects a long-term historical trend, then the effect of that change will almost always be transitory - the trend will soon revert to its original state. Second Principle: If a change is made that is sufficiently large to alter permanently a long-term historical trend, then it will alter the society as a whole. Third Principle: If a change is made that is large enough to alter permanently a long-term trend, then the consequences for the society as a whole cannot be predicted in advance. Fourth Principle: A new kind of society cannot be designed on paper. That is, you cannot plan out a new form of society in advance, then set it up and expect it to function as it was designed to do. Fith Principle: People do not consciously and rationally choose the form of their society. Societies develop through processes of social evolution that are not under rational human control. Using these principles as a basis, he determines that reform is insufficient and that only revolution can bring about any substantial change. He then concludes that industrial society cannot be reformed and must be overthrown.

The first three principles reminded me of Gustave Le Bon, who stated that most attempts at reforming society never last more than a generation, and only rarely do changes become permanent. The fourth principle immediately brought communism to mind. They sought to plan out society and engineer mankind towards their utopian vision. They failed miserably. And it's also true that societies develop through social evolution, and it was through this social evolution that monarchy became the default type of government for nearly all of human history. Monarchy can take many forms, from tribal to feudal to absolute, and there are historical outliers such as Athenian democracy and the merchant republics of Medieval Europe, but the fact remains that all these different societies created the same type of government independently of each other.

Kaczynski then illustrates how the restriction of freedom is inevitable in industrial society. The modern system relies on predictability in order to function, and in order to achieve that predictability, it has to closely regulate human behavior. It can't be obvious about this, however, so it developed psychological tools to bend the populous to their will. This is made worse by the fact that those in power force people to behave in ways increasingly detached from how humans naturally behave. Since these modes of behavior are so unnatural, it inevitably creates a growing number of people who cannot or will not conform to modern society. These are the rebels and outcasts. Production of advanced technology depends upon complex networks. Because of this, it cannot be broken apart into smaller, more autonomous units. In order to fulfill their needs, these complex systems demand ever greater control over the individual. Kaczynski then says, "If you think big government interferes in your life too much now, just wait until the government starts regulating the genetic constitution of your children." Recent events have shown the government will do far worse than that. They'll turn your children trans behind your back and then take them away if you object.

He then makes one of the most powerful points in the entire essay: technology which starts off as optional eventually becomes mandatory. Cars are one of the most prominent examples, but one of the most recent is the smartphone. It started off as a novelty, a computer that fits in your pocket. Now it's required for even the most basic activities. Once a technological innovation has been introduced, people become dependent on it and can't imagine being without it. Their lives become more convenient, but they become less free.

It is then noted that modern society, despite all the advanced technology it uses to control people, cannot solve even the simplest problems. This touches on a deeper issue, namely that liberal technocrats - the so-called "experts" - believe they can solve any problem if they just throw enough money and technology at it. The misery plaguing the modern world requires a solution that transcends the material, but the "experts" reject this because they cannot comprehend anything that cannot be quantified. To them, if it cannot be plotted on a graph, then it does not exist.

After describing how it's easier to destroy a rotten and corrupt system than it is to reform it, Kaczynski spends some time discussing the control of human behavior. He points out that in the past, human nature has put limits on how tyrannical governments can become, but now we have reached a moment in history where technology can be used to modify human beings. It is here that he gives us this hard-hitting quote:

Imagine a society that subjects people to conditions that make them terribly unhappy, then gives them drugs to take away their unhappiness. Science fiction? It is already happening to some extent in our own society.

This reinforces the point I made earlier. Instead of seeking a metaphysical solution to the metaphysical problem they created by discarding religion, modern civilization uses technology to apply band-aid fixes that only make the problem worse in the long run. He also states that computers are used to collect and process vast quantities of information about individuals, something that is much more true now than it was back when this essay was written. Entertainment, education, these and more are used to condition people to conform to industrial society. He also states that future tyranny will have a humanitarian justification. We have already seen this happen during the Coronavirus pandemic. Near the end of this section, he highlights how modern society pathologizes dissent, which is also what the Soviet Union did.

In the next section, he advocates accelerationism when he says that people must work to heighten the social stresses within modern society to increase the likelihood that it will break down. He acknowledges that the collapse of industrial society will lead to widespread death and suffering, but he states that we all have to die at some point, so it is better to die fighting for survival or for a noble cause than to live a long but empty life devoid of purpose. After illustrating how modernity just creates new problems in their attempts at solving old ones, he warns of the dangers of artificial intelligence, saying it's impossible to know how such machines will behave. He then paints a bleak vision of the future where people are raised in psychologically sterile environments that condition them to conform to the constantly changing demands of modernity, where machines will take over most of the work that is of practical importance, where everyone is assigned pointless busy work to keep their minds from wandering off in unapproved directions, and where anyone dissatisfied with society undergoes "treatment" to cure their "problem".

He then lays out his strategy for bringing down industrial society. He states that in order for an ideology to gain enthusiastic support, it must have a positive ideal as well as a negative one. In other words, it needs to be for something as well as against something. This is more true than most people think. The reason why so many protest movements that have tried to combat the system have failed is because they defined themselves only by what they opposed, not what they supported. If you want to create a successful movement, you need to provide a compelling counternarrative, one that promotes virtues which are grounded in the transcendent.

He then makes another poignant observation: that history is made by active, determined minorities, not by the majority. He recommends that revolutionaries should spend less time trying to win the shallow support of the masses and more time building a small core of deeply committed people. He also emphasizes that if any social conflict is to be instigated, it should be between the masses and the elite, never between the masses and the revolutionaries. He also discards the idea of minority rights because the fight against industrial society transcends race. He then states that the destruction of the system should be the only goal of the revolutionaries, for any other goals would divert energy and attention away from the primary goal. He also recommends having as many children as possible.

Although I agree with his tactics of destroying the Satanic system under which we live, I disagree with his foundational proposition of wanting to return to a pre-industrial world. Technology is an inevitable consequence of human intelligence. As long as humans are smart enough to come up with clever solutions to problems, they will develop technology. What we need to do is prevent ourselves from becoming slaves to technology, and that involves fundamentally changing how we view the world. Ancient man believed in both the material and the spiritual. He saw technology as merely a collection of tools that could be used to better understand God's creation. We need to return to that mindset. By once again accepting the existence of the spiritual, we can go back to using technology responsibly.

He then describes the two types of technology: small-scale technology and organization-dependent technology. Small-scale technology is technology that can be assembled by one person or small local communities. A brick oven is one example. Anyone can form clay into bricks and assemble them into a fully functional oven. Organization-dependent technology is technology that is dependent on large-scall social organization. A refrigerator is one example. The raw metals had to be mined out from several different locations, all the parts were manufactured in another, they were assembled in another, and then the end product was delivered to the customer. He makes it clear that if industrial societ were to break down, then organization-dependent technology will be lost. That's already happening in some areas. The competent men who keep the complex systems maintained are either retiring or dying of old age, and there is almost no one around to replace them.

Kaczynski then warns of the dangers of Leftism. He illustrates a pattern that is now very familiar: leftists will flood into a movement until leftist goals distort or replace the original goals. I've lost count of all the group and hobbies that were infiltrated by leftists, taken over, and redirected towards leftist ends. They do this because their feelings of inferiority give them a lust for power. If any organization wants to avoid being subverted, they need to take a resolutely anti-leftist stance.

Leftism seeks to bind together the entire world into a unified whole. This implies a highly managed and interconnected society, which implies advanced technology. You can't have a united world without rapid transportation and instant communication. You can't achieve egalitarianism without social engineering. You can't have a managerial state without the technology necessary to do so. Leftists will never give up advanced technology because it gives them too much power. They claim to oppose it, but only when they're outsiders. As soon as they gain power, they will gleefully use it to their own ends.

Near the end of the essay, he describes leftism as a secular religion, which it is. They have their own god in the form of equality. They have their own holy books and sacred doctrine. They have their own rituals and holy days. They have their own mantras and iconography. They have their own saints and martyrs. They have their own infidels and heretics. They have their own priesthood in the form of "experts" and "fact checkers". They have their own conception of original sin in the form of "privilege". They even have their own conception of blasphemy in the form of "hate speech".

For most of my life, I was told that Kaczynski's manifesto was nothing more than the incoherent ravings of a violent lunatic, but when I finally read it, I discovered one of the most articulate and clear-minded takedowns of modernity and leftism ever written. This is the real reason why those in power don't want people to read it. Leftists hate him because he used their own weapon of psychoanalysis against them. Scientists and technocrats hate him because of his opposition to advanced technology. Corporations hate him because of his opposition to consumerism. The government hates him because he dared to defy them. Despite all of this, he has managed to develop a large following, especially on the internet, which is funny considering his hatred of that technology. I don't agree with everything he said, but he had a deep understanding of the ills that plague the modern world, and his warnings of the danger posed by our growing dependence on advanced technology resonate louder with every passing year. He was a modern prophet, one who will be remembered for generations to come.