In his manifesto, the Unabomber can be rambling and repetitive; he doesn’t make his points in the optimum logical order; he doesn’t have much of a way with words; and he can sometimes sound plumb crazy… In other words, he’s like many other philosophers I’ve read over the years.
In a nutshell, U believes that modern humans feel unempowered, and thus frustrated and unhappy. The best way to remedy this unhappiness is to re-empower the modern human-being and restore unto him –by putting an end to his “oversocialization”– a sense of self-reliance and personal (as opposed to socially dictated) morality– and the first step before all of THAT, is to, well– overthrow the government, dispose of all modern technology, and go back to partying like its 1699.
Failed Power Process
U has determined that to feel empowered, a human being must successfully complete the three stages of what he has termed the Power Process. The three stages of the Power Process are: 1) formulating the goal, 2) making an effort toward the goal, and 3) attaining the goal.
A requirement over-arching all these stages is a fourth necessary element of the Power Process, autonomy. Also, U states that for the Power Process to be satisfactorily exercised, a person must feel that he has chosen his goal on his own initiative and that his efforts toward goal-attainment are under his own “direction and control.”
People who cannot complete the Power Process begin to feel psychological distress and experience symptoms such as: “boredom, demoralization, low self-esteem, inferiority feelings, defeatism, depression, anxiety, guilt, frustration, hostility.” U goes on to claim that additional results stemming from a perpetually disrupted Power Process could include: “spouse or child abuse, insatiable hedonism, abnormal sexual behavior, sleep disorders, eating disorders, etc.”
Furthermore, U also blames the short-circuited Power Process for “modern man’s obsession with longevity, and with maintaining physical vigor and sexual attractiveness.”
U admits that not every person has the same will-to-power, and those with a weaker drive for autonomy may not be as disturbed by an impeded Power Process as stronger hearts might be. He then goes on to make some derogatory comments about such weak people, stating that “we” [in his manifesto he always uses “we” instead of “I”] “sneer at people who are content with servitude.” He also belittles those who need to satisfy their Power Process by attaching themselves to large, successful groups, finding it“demeaning to fulfill one’s need for the Power Process through surrogate activities or through identification with an organization, rather than through the pursuit of real goals.”
The human need to cycle through the Power Process is so strong, says U, that, once all of our physical needs are met, we will invent “artificial goals” to pursue. Roman aristocrats, he writes, had their literary pretensions, medieval nobility their hunting and falconry, etc. U calls such non-essential pass-the-times “surrogate activities,” and he observes that modern society is chop full of such things. Under the rubric of surrogate activities, he includes, among other things: science, sport, art, writing, humanitarian work, and climbing the corporate ladder.
Since, according to U, surrogate activities are not as fulfilling as efforts made toward truly necessary goals, people pursuing surrogate activities will never be satisfied. He also blames marketing and advertising with creating the numerous artificial goals toward which many surrogate activities aim.
A big reason why surrogate activities fail to satisfy us is that they are often missing the vital fourth element of the Power Process, autonomy. Most people do not have the freedom to pursue their goals independently, but must act within the confines of some authority. “Thus the Power Process is disrupted in our society through a deficiency of real goals and a deficiency of autonomy in pursuit in goals.”
U claims that we modern humans actually feel less secure than our forebears despite the increased average life-span we now enjoy. He comes to this conclusion by making a distinction between “physical security” and “psychological security,” maintaining that the sense of psychological security increases in parallel with an increase in the “confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves.”
Primitive man may have had to fight off beasts of prey, but at least he had the ability to fight back in self-defense, which brings with it a sense of empowerment. However, the threats felt by modern man come from situations largely beyond his control, such as: “nuclear accidents, carcinogens in food, environmental pollution, war.” U also adds to the list of “threats” the tax man, government surveillance, and economic downturns. Sadly for the mental well-being of the modern man, “most individuals are unable to influence measurably the major decisions that affect their lives.”
In the oppressive miasma created by modern life, U believes that he discerns the devolution of a certain subspecies of human being– the Oversocialized. An oversocialized person has largely replaced his own moral judgment with the moral dictates of society and “is kept on a psychological leash and spends his life running on rails that society has laid down.”
Some people become so oversocialized that “the attempt to think, feel, and act morally imposes a severe burden on them.” For this reason, they handover the judgment of right and wrong to society. U considers oversocialization to be “among the more serious cruelties that human beings inflict on one another.”
Because the oversocialized person has put himself in a tragically weak position, he tends to identify with groups he perceives as being also weak. The Oversocialized “tend to hate anything that has an image of being strong, good, and successful,” and for this reason they also “hate America.” He writes that “words like ‘self-confidence,’ ‘self-reliance,’ ‘initiative,’ ‘enterprise,’ ‘optimism,’ etc. play little role” in the vocabulary of the Oversocialized.
The overly socialized person also retains a deep-seated sense of inferiority which fuels his detestation of strong individuals. This abhorrence of anything exhibiting superiority leads to a relativistic worldview in which the Oversocialized believes that no philosophy or value-system should be judged “inferior.”
Because he has handed over his own autonomy to Society, the overly socialized person feels that everyone else should do the same. Thus, he is naturally biased in favor of ever-greater centralization and collectivization. Feeling weak, he seeks strength in large organizations or mass movements with which he can identify. Also, since in his worldview the will’s power-center has migrated from the individual to the society, the oversocialized individual tends to credit –not the individual– but the society for personal behavior, with bad behavior often being viewed not as a personal, but as a societal, failure.
U believes that modern technology is largely to blame for the creation of a society full of “oversocialized” members. In fact, U obviously possesses a deep and red-hot hatred for technology.
Due to modern technology, writes U, people today live in an artificial environment for which evolution has not prepared them. This mismatch between evolutionary preparedness and actual environment is, fundamentally, the source of modern man’s problems, pains, and degradations.
U contends that the only solution to this technology-driven mess is revolution. There is “no way of reforming or modifying the system so as to prevent it from depriving people of dignity and autonomy,” he writes. Nothing less than total revolution will do. Worldwide revolution.
“A society is a system in which all parts are interrelated,” U explains, “and you can’t permanently change any important part without changing all the other parts as well.” The entire “economic and technological basis” of modern society must be overthrown. Small, surface changes would only prove transitory. The whole system, already showing signs of the sickness eating away at its heart, must be destroyed, for “if we compromise with it and let it recover from its sickness, it will eventually wipe out all our freedom.”
Since radical, possibly violent, change is necessary, there is no predicting what the fallout from total revolution might look like exactly, only that the transition will doubtlessly be very painful for many people. That is why “permanent changes in favor of freedom” can only be accomplished “by persons prepared to accept radical, dangerous, and unpredictable alterations of the entire system.” It is likely that the revolution will bring massive unemployment and shortages of commodities.
U makes the distinction between simple and complex technology.
Simple technologies, like weaving or carving, do not require large-scale communication and cooperation. These types of technologies would probably survive the revolution. However, complex technologies, requiring large numbers of interconnected workers, would disappear. He cites the example of disappearance of the skill of aqueduct-building after the fall of the Roman Empire.
But for U, the high price to pay for revolution will be worth it. “To many of us,” he writes, “freedom and dignity are more important than a long life or avoidance of physical pain. Besides we all have to die some time, and it may be better to die fighting for survival, or for a cause, than to live a long but empty and purposeless life.” Therefore, he says summarily, “it would be better to dump the whole stinking system and take the consequences.”
U appears to imagine the members of his dreamed-of, post-revolutionary society as mostly herdsmen, hunters, small-scale farmers, and fishermen– all with little contact with the outside world.