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The Riddle of Kaczynski

No one knows the true contours of Theodore Kaczynski's psyche and the pending psychological report will be sealed. What we do know is that the accused Unabomber is determined to confront the public as a revolutionary rather than a psychotic. To understand his struggle to control his fate, or meet it, one must look to his ideas, and his self-conceived revolutionary identity.Judging by an essay of Mr. Kaczynski's (given to the FBI by his family), he became an acolyte of Jacques Ellul's disparaging theory of technological society early in the 1970's. Apparently, the new disciple set out to exceed the master. Rejecting Ellul's Christian pacifist spirituality, he seems to have embraced the anarchism with which Ellul sometimes flirted, but just as often criticized. Withdrawing to the fringe of society, Kaczynski challenged Ellul's assertion that the freedom of an isolated, hermetic life was not possible in the modern world.If Kaczynski wrote "Industrial Society and Its Future" (aka, "The Unabomber Manifesto"), he also challenged Ellul theoretically. For the French thinker, technology was to the modern world what sin was to the traditional world -- an undefeatable barrier between humanity and God. The Manifesto underlines the argument that technological society is evil and unfree, but invokes other thinkers to claim that revolutionary action can exploit the system's instabilities to the point of collapse.In the Unabomber Manifesto, dedicated partisans of freedom are urged to battle social control for the future of humanity. Oppression does not come in the iron fist of raw physical coercion so much as the deceptive manipulations of, among other things, psychology. Policemen and soldiers are not the important enemy. The enemy is Dr. Spock and his manual for child rearing, and hell is psychologist B. F. Skinner's Walden II -- a society full of happily unfree drones. Freedom is more like the original Walden, a life of early 19th Century radical self-reliance described by Henry David Thoreau.Historically, a surprising number of groups have embraced self-destructive paths rather than abandon their sense of who they are. At the end of the Old West, an American Indian movement known as the Ghost Dancers persuaded themselves that bullets could not harm them, with predictable results. Bushmen of the Silver Lake area in Southern Africa chose to cease bearing children, slowly dying out rather than be absorbed into the modern world.Revolutionary patriots differ from these examples only in that they have made a more conscious choice about how they define themselves. We do not have to know the exact shape of an individual psyche in order to understand the implications of such a position.In court on January 7, Theodore Kaczynski was told that he could not force his attorneys to present a political defense instead of asserting "mental defect." His ideas and beliefs would be translated as psychiatric symptoms.Worse, enforcement of this arrangement over his objections meant he was powerless. If Mr. Kaczynski wrote "The Manifesto," he believes that freedom is defined by one's ability to make independent choices about the goals one pursues and achieves. According to this view, global chaos, massive suffering, and personal death are preferable to disempowerment.Mr. Kaczynski is so well read that he may even be aware of the doctrine of "revolutionary suicide" propagated most notably by Jim Jones. It holds that active self-destruction robs the enemy of final victory, and demonstrates to the world one's unyielding dedication to principle. That doctrine impelled the mass suicide and murder of over 900 people at Jonestown.As I left the courtroom on January 7th, the implications of all this slowly grew clearer. That evening, I asked several friends to consider the plausibility of my fear that Mr. Kaczynski would commit suicide during the night. We agreed that my instincts should outweigh the usual standards of professional non-involvement and I should, at the very least, make a pressing inquiry into whether a suicide watch was in force. Not surprisingly, the Marshal's office would not even admit that they knew where the defendant was being held for the night, and no one was answering the phone at the county jail.When Mr. Kaczynski's attempt to kill himself was announced the next day, I was less impressed by my prescience than I was depressed by my impotence. Obviously, though, my powerlessness was less traumatic tan Mr. Kaczynski's own.The morning after failing at self-destruction he asserted his wish to take charge of his own defense. Now, apparently, he can even accept a psychiatric exam as the price of escaping powerlessness, for just a little while longer.PNS analyst Scott Corey, a political scientist specializing in political violence and revolution, is a freelance writer covering the trial.

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