Wow, where have I heard that before?
There is a common theme, in a number of these rants, whether its Kaczynski, Stallman, or Joy. The theme is that complexity begats obscurity and our inability to predict the behavior of mostly obscured, highly interconnected systems exposes us to an 'unnecessary' risk.
I am not persuaded by the 'enslaving', 'grey goo', or 'police state' scenarios, but I do recognize the potential harm here. Generally however we've been adapting as these challenges have come up and I expect to continue adapting. I have yet to hear a credible argument for going back to living in caves (other than its demonstrable that with population management and technological restrictions one could create a stable non-growing human population).
Kaczynski's arguments are not mostly about the risk of technology, they are mostly about how technology forces us into ever narrowing conformist behavior. He makes the point about how it now impractical to function in North America without a car. You are largely denied your freedom to walk. Try to walk through most counties and see how that works out. Similarly, see how it's becoming almost impossible to legally live without owning a computer. You increasingly need one to remain in compliance with the IRS and so forth. Your freedom to forgo computer ownership, or even usage, is being taken.
That being said, how much would you say your claim of "impractical to function" includes some pre-defined notion of "function" ? Not trying to be circular here, there are real people who "function" (which I consider the basics, live, eat, work) without either cars or computers. I do not know if they use public transit to cross long distances or not.
This is why 200 years ago cultures all over the world varied quite dramatically, but now in the industrial age they are ever more similar, and people behave in increasingly similar ways. Even legal systems have undergone rapid convergence in the last 50 years.
I do know that he specifically focuses on how technologies gradually advance so that we're forced to use them. He refers to this as "control" and describes how technologies don't seem harmful independently, but as each technology forces itself upon us, the combination becomes more and more controlling, until we're completely controlled by the whole. It's as if technology is slowly chipping away at the foundation of freedom through compromise, or something like that.
Now, what I said was that he focuses on the controlling aspect of what were at first seemingly innocent technologies that were absolutely beneficial, but he doesn't see the increase in freedom that the same technologies provide over the long term. Yes, there are stop lights, roads, licenses, and jobs are further away from home, forcing us to own cars—but at the same time, you can go anywhere you want within hours instead of days. Is it controlled? Yes. But even with the control, the total amount of freedom the individual has is now increased, because one is no longer confined to a small area.
Kaczynski uses the neighbor scenario—there are two neighbors, and one is more powerful than the other. This more powerful neighbor asks the other to give him land, to which the weak one says "no." So the powerful one offers a compromise where he only gets half of the land he had asked for. The weak neighbor can't refuse. This goes on and on until the powerful neighbor has all the land. My argument here is that while the powerful neighbor might be taking away land, the big picture is that the powerful neighbor is also offering the weak neighbor lots more land somewhere else. Yes, technology takes our traditional freedom (the already established plots of land), but simultaneously extends our freedom in new directions (new plots of land). Kaczynski only views freedom as something that can be subtracted but not added to.
Perhaps I understand his arguments incorrectly, but this is what I've gotten out of what I've read. If you don't agree, go ahead and explain what's wrong, but don't just make an empty claim like that.
Of course, you can reply that Kaczynski is stupidly ignoring the positive effects of these technologies and that he is wrong when he asserts that the things that they give us are not fundamental to human happiness. To argue this, you will have to make certain claims about human psychology. Obviously there are plenty of things that we enjoy but that could be removed from our lives without causing great harm to us (Skyrim, for example). There are other things that are integral to our happiness (the love and respect of our family, for example). Kaczynski is arguing that technology attacks things in the second category while giving us lots of things in the first category. His underlying argument is that modern individuals have, through adoption of advanced technology, lost touch with fundamental sources of happiness. The setting in which to substantively debate Kaczynski is the setting of psychology, I think: what really makes us happy?
Paper tax forms are still available, and tax payments can still be made with checks. How do you need a computer to stay in compliance with the IRS?
I am rather sure Ted's argument isn't that it's difficult to pay your taxes. His argument is for "complete freedom" from what he views as technology. Social structures such as taxation are a form of technological innovation.
In his view, you wouldn't be enslaved to technology because it's difficult to pay your taxes with a computer instead of paper now(which, coincidentally, is also technology) but that you are enslaved to technology by virtue of being forced into this structure of taxation and the social contract.
At least that's the way I see it. It's the only way I can reconcile his philosophy. And it sounds like crap.
The unreasonable, or crazy, or just plain mean, miserable and bitter part is his thinking that he needs to save everyone else from themselves and to then try and do it by sending pipe bombs through the post. Whatever the lucidity of his arguments regarding the dangers of technology, they were all well spelled out in myth thousands of years before and are a foundation of our culture, so he is not a founder of some dangerous new philosphy, but rather is an arrogant murderous slave to one of the oldest ones.
If a convincing case can be made that particular technologies are causing specific harm, they should be addressed on a case-by-case basis as best we can. Instead, Ted is a modern day Don Quixote who couldn't cope with society and chose to tilt at windmills, at the unfortunate expense of innocent blood and suffering.
His intellectual value is largely cautionary.
Anti-technologists by and large seem incapable of actually understanding technology by any reasonable definition (and being magnanimous, I would even permit something as asinine as, "silicon-based Turing machines", if only to make the point that I don't have to agree with the definition for it to be reasonable). One of the reasons I like Nick Carr is that he argues against particular usages of technology more than technology itself.
My definition is "applied science", which in a broad stroke includes constructed shelters like log cabins and loincloths.
2) See my earlier comment - it's not about any specific technology! Your comment and parent comment indicate that you both haven't actually read the manifesto and are thus completely unqualified to discuss it or form opinions on it.
1) Being capable of doing something doesn't mean you've done it. For instance, you're capable of reading comprehension, but you completely missed the fact that I wasn't attacking your damsel in distress. I am actually talking about all anti-tech commentators.
2) Of course it's not about any specific technology. That's precisely my criticism. If they were specific, then a serious discussion could be had. But because they can't quite figure out what they themselves are critical of in a precise fashion, they're unable to get anyone to listen.
You're welcome to provide substance to this by pasting in Kaczinsky's definition of technology.
Criminologists may be interested in him as a case study (like a psychological autopsy), but I wouldn't want to read him for fun.
It's the extremist version of the Alt-F4 prank.
The teacher in the article has certainly got his students interested, they meet before the session to work out the arguments to use. Excellent!
The journalist Gitta Sereny writes about evil people to try to understand where the evil comes from, this struck me as similar.
"Anyone who has a little money can have something printed, or can distribute it on the Internet or in some such way, but what he has to say will be swamped by the vast volume of material put out by the media, hence it will have no practical effect. To make an impression on society with words is therefore almost impossible for most individuals and small groups. Take us (FC) for example. ... Even [if] these writings had had many readers, most of these readers would soon have forgotten what they had read as their minds were flooded by the mass of material to which the media expose them. In order to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression, we’ve had to kill people." 
I really don't understand the allure this professor feels for his luddite ideals.
> "It's always around the same theme of, This system is irreconcilable, it has to be ended," Skrbina says. "How can we make this clear? How can we convince people that technology is the root cause of the problem? It's not bad government. It's not the capitalists. It's not minorities. It's not illegal immigrants. He really wants to get away from blaming anything else or anybody else."
Maybe he has difficulty convincing anyone of that because it's not a particularly compelling argument?
And it is part of the human story to use tools/manipulate their environment. However, when you abandon the idea of 'natural' you also loose the reassurance of some kind of limit to our particular random walk. The human journey could lead to our destruction, or to a life among the stars. We have to work on internal evidence and read the data we have effectively.
Clearly this student didn't learn anything from their earlier reading of Phaedrus.
edit: Especially since Socrates was put to death for 'corrupting the youth' and 'teaching new gods', which is more or less the usual argument against teaching Kaczynski.
"And there's the chance that a serious consideration of the Unabomber's ideas could encourage others to send bombs to get attention." --> corrupting the youth
"The primary concern of Kaczynski's writings is freedom, and he argues that the complex systems required by modern technology necessarily force individuals to give up too much liberty in the bargain" --> teaching new gods
(In this case 'the bargain' is literally straight out of the Adam and Eve story in the bible, and a direct challenge to western religion/civilization.)
He's not teaching new gods. He's fetishizing the old ones. Western thought of the 20th and 21st centuries is bloody obsessed with "freedom", often (nowadays usually) to its own active detriment.
Refute it, however, and you make it more likely you can stand your ground against the next person who asks the question to push them aside from the same path. Plus, it increases intellectual rigor as a bonus.
Has anyone else read a book called Ishmael? That's basically the premise except instead of being an opinionated rant, the points are made through dialog (a talking gorilla) and instead of forcing opinions on the reader, it's much more philosophical and nudges you logically toward the conclusion. Pretty enjoyable book.
In particular, Kaczynski's discussion of the Power Process, Autonomy, and Surrogate Activities rings true and explains a lot. I get the impression a lot of this stuff has only been further confirmed in recent years: people without autonomous, difficult, and meaningful tasks are unhappy.
I also thought his discussion of the psychological character of the Left has some value.
Furthermore, the achievement of most (societally sanctioned) goals is part of the problem, because they are merely surrogate goals! So it sounds like by attempting to skim the text you got precisely the wrong meaning out of it!
Every other week, he teaches his adoring young undergrads to understand Rudolph's subtle, nuanced position on the sanctity of human life... not.
FWIW, both Kaczynski's and Rudolph's philosophical opinions are worthy of debate. Their persons, however, are icky. Icky rubs off - even if you're a professor.
Somehow this is controversial. But you can see it easily if you flip the political polarities. Hence, Eric Rudolph.
Something obvious you can't see is called a "blind spot." Is there anything else in your blind spot?
Ie: you don't feel perfectly fair, rational, and justified in applying the "icky," simplistic, five-year-old algorithm to Eric Rudolph?
If not: you don't agree that this remarkable tolerance for violent right-wing extremism is unusual among your social and intellectual peers?
This applies to everyone who responded below. Good luck in composing an answer that evades the questionnaire...
I don't worry about being unusual, I worry about being right. Lots of people are intellectual and emotional five-year-olds. That's not my problem, but whether I'm one of them is my problem.
That's an interesting point - could you expound on it? I have a few theories myself, and I'm curious what you think the reason is.
This is why we're all supposed to be all nuanced and shit when it comes to Communist atrocities, but when it's time for the Fascist atrocities everyone has to stand up and yell HITLER HITLER HITLER. Precisely like a five-year-old.
It's just a sort of national lookin' after #1. We naturally ignore the sins closest to us and focus on those of others. Left is "self" and right is "other." Otherwise, we would need to express genuine collective guilt rather than dime-a-dozen collective contempt.
The supposed distinction between the "moderate" and "extremist" left is wildly overblown. There's no social exclusion, etc, in either direction. Nobody cares or is surprised about President Obama's association with Bill Ayers. Or, for that matter, Thoreau's with John Brown. Again, there's really nothing new here.
(I do think it's appropriate that in the nation of John Brown, we all need to walk through metal detectors to get on an airplane. Nothing could be more American than terrorism.)
Do you see the need to examine the arguments at all? Would it be ok for the teacher to discuss the manifesto as a text without the dialogue with Kaczynski?
If Jack the Ripper or Jeffrey Dahmer had left behind something like Kaczynski's manifesto (and later prison essays), some respectable intellectuals would pinch their noses and study them.