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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ted Kaczynski

For a long time, the Unabomber was a figure of terror, mailing bombs to a seemingly random assortment of people. When Ted Kaczynski was finally caught, he seemed, as is so often the case with serial killers, a strangely pathetic figure.

He lived alone in a cabin in Montana and when arrested, had $33 in his bank account. And rather than the somewhat dashing-looking police sketch of him, he turned out to look like your average homeless guy:

He has been described as a Luddite, who railed against our industrial society; somehow this seemed a fitting cause for him. It was my impression at the time that he was probably a paranoid schizophrenic, although I didn't look all that closely.

It turned out that he had gone to Harvard, and had been some sort of math genius early in his life, with a tested IQ of 167, before he dropped out of society. He had also spent two years as an associate professor of mathematics at Berkeley

When he was caught, many news reports mentioned his 35,000 word manifesto, but it never once occurred to me to read it: why bother looking at the ravings of a madman?

Not to mention that his crimes were so despicable, so cowardly, and so destructive, that he didn't deserve to have his manifesto read.

But someone told me the other day that he had taken a look, and he read me a brief excerpt. The portion he read me made sense, so, curious to see what the freak had written, I took a look for myself. It's certainly easy enough to find on the internet.

It turns out that the first part of his manifesto (all I've read so far) is an analysis of leftism. I don't agree with the analysis in its entirety (then again, I don't agree with anybody on everything). But parts of it are actually brilliant, with insights I'd never heard before. An excerpt:

Almost everyone will agree that we live in a deeply troubled society. One of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world is leftism, so a discussion of the psychology of leftism can serve as an introduction to the discussion of the problems of modern society in general. But what is leftism? During the first half of the 20th century leftism could have been practically identified with socialism. Today the movement is fragmented and it is not clear who can properly be called a leftist. When we speak of leftists in this article we have in mind mainly socialists, collectivists, "politically correct" types, feminists, gay and disability activists, animal rights activists and the like. But not everyone who is associated with one of these movements is a leftist. What we are trying to get at in discussing leftism is not so much a movement or an ideology as a psychological type, or rather a collection of related types.


By "feelings of inferiority" we mean not only inferiority feelings in the strictest sense but a whole spectrum of related traits: low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, depressive tendencies, defeatism, guilt, self-hatred, etc. We argue that modern leftists tend to have such feelings (possibly more or less repressed) and that these feelings are decisive in determining the direction of modern leftism.

When someone interprets as derogatory almost anything that is said about him (or about groups with whom he identifies) we conclude that he has inferiority feelings or low self-esteem. This tendency is pronounced among minority rights advocates, whether or not they belong to the minority groups whose rights they defend. They are hypersensitive about the words used to designate minorities. The terms "negro," "oriental," "handicapped" or "chick" for an African, an Asian, a disabled person or a woman originally had no derogatory connotation. "Broad" and "chick" were merely the feminine equivalents of "guy," "dude" or "fellow." The negative connotations have been attached to these terms by the activists themselves. Some animal rights advocates have gone so far as to reject the word "pet" and insist on its replacement by "animal companion." Leftist anthropologists go to great lengths to avoid saying anything about primitive peoples that could conceivably be interpreted as negative. They want to replace the word "primitive" by "nonliterate." They seem almost paranoid about anything that might suggest that any primitive culture is inferior to our own. (We do not mean to imply that primitive cultures ARE inferior to ours. We merely point out the hypersensitivity of leftish anthropologists.)

Those who are most sensitive about "politically incorrect" terminology are not the average black ghetto-dweller, Asian immigrant, abused woman or disabled person, but a minority of activists, many of whom do not even belong to any "oppressed" group but come from privileged strata of society. Political correctness has its stronghold among university professors, who have secure employment with comfortable salaries, and the majority of whom are heterosexual, white males from middle-class families.

Many leftists have an intense identification with the problems of groups that have an image of being weak (women), defeated (American Indians), repellent (homosexuals), or otherwise inferior. The leftists themselves feel that these groups are inferior. They would never admit it to themselves that they have such feelings, but it is precisely because they do see these groups as inferior that they identify with their problems. (We do not suggest that women, Indians, etc., ARE inferior; we are only making a point about leftist psychology). 

Feminists are desperately anxious to prove that women are as strong as capable as men. Clearly they are nagged by a fear that women may NOT be as strong and as capable as men. 

Leftists tend to hate anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful. They hate America, they hate Western civilization, they hate white males, they hate rationality. The reasons that leftists give for hating the West, etc. clearly do not correspond with their real motives. They SAY they hate the West because it is warlike, imperialistic, sexist, ethnocentric and so forth, but where these same faults appear in socialist countries or in primitive cultures, the leftist finds excuses for them, or at best he GRUDGINGLY admits that they exist; whereas he ENTHUSIASTICALLY points out (and often greatly exaggerates) these faults where they appear in Western civilization. Thus it is clear that these faults are not the leftist's real motive for hating America and the West. He hates America and the West because they are strong and successful. 

Words like "self-confidence," "self-reliance," "initiative", "enterprise," "optimism," etc. play little role in the liberal and leftist vocabulary. The leftist is anti-individualistic, pro-collectivist. He wants society to solve everyone's needs for them, take care of them. He is not the sort of person who has an inner sense of confidence in his own ability to solve his own problems and satisfy his own needs. The leftist is antagonistic to the concept of competition because, deep inside, he feels like a loser....

Modern leftist philosophers tend to dismiss reason, science, objective reality and to insist that everything is culturally relative. It is true that one can ask serious questions about the foundations of scientific knowledge and about how, if at all, the concept of objective reality can be defined. But it is obvious that modern leftist philosophers are not simply cool-headed logicians systematically analyzing the foundations of knowledge. They are deeply involved emotionally in their attack on truth and reality. They attack these concepts because of their own psychological needs. For one thing, their attack is an outlet for hostility, and, to the extent that it is successful, it satisfies the drive for power. More importantly, the leftist hates science and rationality because they classify certain beliefs as true (i.e., successful, superior) and other beliefs as false (i.e. failed, inferior). The leftist's feelings of inferiority run so deep that he cannot tolerate any classification of some things as successful or superior and other things as failed or inferior. This also underlies the rejection by many leftists of the concept of mental illness and of the utility of IQ tests. Leftists are antagonistic to genetic explanations of human abilities or behavior because such explanations tend to make some persons appear superior or inferior to others. Leftists prefer to give society the credit or blame for an individual's ability or lack of it. Thus if a person is "inferior" it is not his fault, but society's, because he has not been brought up properly.

[The leftist's] feelings of inferiority are so ingrained that he cannot conceive of himself as individually strong and valuable. Hence the collectivism of the leftist. He can feel strong only as a member of a large organization or a mass movement with which he identifies himself.... 

Leftists may claim that their activism is motivated by compassion or by moral principle, and moral principle does play a role for the leftist of the oversocialized type. But compassion and moral principle cannot be the main motives for leftist activism. Hostility is too prominent a component of leftist behavior; so is the drive for power. Moreover, much leftist behavior is not rationally calculated to be of benefit to the people whom the leftists claim to be trying to help. For example, if one believes that affirmative action is good for black people, does it make sense to demand affirmative action in hostile or dogmatic terms? Obviously it would be more productive to take a diplomatic and conciliatory approach that would make at least verbal and symbolic concessions to white people who think that affirmative action discriminates against them. But leftist activists do not take such an approach because it would not satisfy their emotional needs. Helping black people is not their real goal. Instead, race problems serve as an excuse for them to express their own hostility and frustrated need for power. In doing so they actually harm black people, because the activists' hostile attitude toward the white majority tends to intensify race hatred. 

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. 

We emphasize that the foregoing does not pretend to be an accurate description of everyone who might be considered a leftist. It is only a rough indication of a general tendency of leftism.

That is actually an insightful description of why some -- not all -- people become leftists. And this first part of the manifesto itself is actually Exhibit A for why we should judge arguments on their own merits, not on the merits of the arguer.


Anonymous said...

John--I just read the entirety of what was posted. Like you, I never considered reading his manifesto knowing it was written by a deranged murderer. And yet, he writes very eloquently about the leftist psychological dynamics with utter clarity. I'll have to say that having heard what some of the leftist folks say, I did notice some pretty strange ideology. But then recently I'm also seeing extreme rightist say that abortion should be denied even to rape victims, so both extremes are quite strange. Very, very illuminating. He might be really on to something and too bad he has no credibility given his past. Well, even I learned something new. Thanks for sharing! Brian

John Craig said...

Thanks Brian. Yeah, I've had the same reactions.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing. Analyses like these of socialists are hard to find. I never thought about socialists as being people with ingrained senses of inferiority before, but I guess he's right. All the socialists I've known do like complaining a lot about their own individual circumstances; they're never Stoics who just get on with it. They're frequently work-shy, as if they think the world owes them things they shouldn't have to earn.

Shame Kaczinski couldn't have stayed the brilliant mathematician he was. He might have turned out to be a real asset to society.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
It is a shame. But what a shock about how insightful he is about human nature! When I originally heard mathematician and mad bomber, I figured some sort of autistic savant who went off the rails. But while he did obviously go crazy at some point, he started off as a brilliant social thinker as well as mathematician.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting post. Ted Kaczinski actually was a smart man - what he say's about leftists makes sense, insightful. I don't know what caused Ted to go "off the deep end," but I agree with Gethin - it's too bad we lost a "brilliant mathmetician" who if he'd stayed sane, could have been contributed a bit of good to society. After I get my own computer work done, I will do a little research on this man.


John Craig said...

Birdie --
Thank you. Yes, I was amazed when I read that part of his manifesto how cogent and insightful it was. I always thought he was schizophrenic, which would have fit with his behavior; he had none of the hallmarks of a sociopath.

Anonymous said...

I did a limited amount of reading about Ted. What stood out was his genius/brilliance. As a graduate student in math, his professors were intimidated by his intellect. One said that the mathematical work he did, was so advanced that only about a dozen mathematicians in America were likely to comprehend it.

John Craig said...

Anon --
That's interesting, I hadn't heard that. Most accounts of him merely say that he started out as a brilliant mathematician. Thank you for that.