Un­abomber still writ­ing af­ter 14 years in prison

One small pub­lisher, at least, thinks his apoc­a­lyp­tic mes­sages are worth pon­der­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - The Nation - Kim Mur­phy re­port­ing from port townsend, wash. kim.mur­phy@latimes.com

When the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon drilling rig dis­as­ter sent a tor­rent of toxic oil into the Gulf of Mex­ico, there was at least one per­son — sit­ting at the moment in a fed­eral pen­i­ten­tiary in Colorado — briskly pen­ning, “I told you so.”

Fail­ures of technology don’t get much big­ger than this, and Theodore Kaczyn­ski, whose mur­der­ous, 17year revo­lu­tion against technology as the Un­abomber got him sen­tenced to life in prison, couldn’t re­sist point­ing out the calami­tous col­li­sion be­tween man’s elab­o­rate in­ven­tions and the nat­u­ral world.

“As long as mod­ern technology con­tin­ues to progress, there will be hu­man­caused dis­as­ters of one kind or an­other,” he said in a let­ter from prison. “The greater the pow­ers un­leashed by technology, the big­ger the dis­as­ters get.”

Here’s what Adam Par­frey, who runs a small pub­lish­ing house in ru­ral Washington state, thought when he got the let­ter in June: There is very lit­tle about that state­ment that isn’t true.

Next ques­tion: Is Kaczyn­ski not crazy af­ter all? Or are lu­natics — in this case, Kaczyn­ski, the iconic mad­man of the tech­no­log­i­cal age — our most fear­less sooth­say­ers, un­chained by moral equiv­o­ca­tion and doubt?

More than 14 years af­ter he was ar­rested at his cabin in western Mon­tana and con­victed of the wave of mail bombs that killed three peo­ple and in­jured 23, Kaczyn­ski be­lieves the time is ripe for his apoc­a­lyp­tic mes­sage — that no good can come from the con­verg­ing paths of hu­man­ity, biotech­nol­ogy, de­for­esta­tion, chem­i­cal pol­lu­tion, ad­vanced com­puter in­tel­li­gence, nu­clear weapons and cli­mate change.

Par­frey agrees on the tim­ing, if not on ev­ery­thing Kaczyn­ski has to say, and has pub­lished a new edi­tion of Kaczyn­ski’s writ­ings.

“It was re­ally pretty re­mark­able ma­te­rial. He’s a very opin­ion­ated, a very bril­liant man, and a bit so­cio­pathic, as you know,” Par­frey said. “To make peo­ple pay at­ten­tion, he was will­ing to go be­yond that dot­ted line. On the other hand, he got his

‘If you look at hu­man his­tory, there are crim­i­nals and mur­der­ers that have put out amaz­ing works of art and writ­ing.’

— Adam Par­frey,

Feral House pub­lish­ing

work into the New York Times and Washington Post, didn’t he?”

The ini­tial pub­li­ca­tion of the Un­abomber’s “man­i­festo” in those two news­pa­pers in 1995 was the pub­lish­ing equiv­a­lent of ex­tor­tion: Print his long, ram­bling trea­tise on the evils of technology, the Un­abomber of­fered, and the bomb­ings would stop. Kaczyn­ski’s brother rec­og­nized the style and the mes­sage and turned him in.

Since his in­car­cer­a­tion, Kaczyn­ski, 68, has car­ried on a wide-rang­ing cor­re­spon­dence with sev­eral peo­ple, the lat­est of them Par­frey at his off­beat pub­lish­ing im­print, Feral House.

For years Par­frey op­er­ated out of Los An­ge­les’ Sil­ver Lake neigh­bor­hood, pub­lish­ing in­trigu­ing ti­tles on topics no one else wanted to touch: Satanism, se­rial killers, ex­treme Is­lam, a “se­cret his­tory” of NASA that re­veals the pur­ported dis­cov­ery of ar­chi­tec­tural rem­nants on the moon.

“Feral House ar­tic­u­late[ the world­view of a global post-punk in­tel­li­gentsia trem­bling with pre­mil­len­nial dread,” wrote the LA Weekly, which also chron­i­cled the eclec­tic, avant-gardish art sa­lons hosted by Par­frey and his wife, Jodi Wille.

Par­frey and Wille three years ago de­camped for the Pa­cific North­west, a place where they could tap into the rainy artis­tic vibe of this pic­turesque port town and prac­tice the sur­vive-off-the­land skills they were tout­ing in books like “Ur­ban Home­steading.”

Par­frey was first con­tacted about the Kaczyn­ski writ­ings by David Skrbina, a Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor who had cor­re­sponded with the im­pris­oned Un­abomber. Skrbina had per­suaded Kaczyn­ski to put to­gether their cor­re­spon­dence, his new es­says and a fully cor­rected ver­sion of the man­i­festo into a new book, much of which had been printed in Europe in 2008. Par­frey agreed to pub­lish it un­der the ti­tle “Tech­no­log­i­cal Slav­ery.” Nei­ther Kaczyn­ski nor Skrbina get any money from the book; Feral House has pledged to share part of its pro­ceeds with the Amer­i­can Red Cross.

From the be­gin­ning, Par­frey and Skrbina strug­gled with the moral dilemma of giv­ing wider voice to a man who had com­mit­ted murder and may­hem in the name of his be­liefs. In the end, nei­ther saw any need to ra­tio­nal­ize Kaczyn­ski’s crimes, which they view as rep­re­hen­si­ble.

“If you look at hu­man his­tory, there are crim­i­nals and mur­der­ers that have put out amaz­ing works of art and writ­ing that have as­sisted us,” Par­frey said.

Kaczyn­ski’s vic­tims, mean­while, await an auc­tion of the con­victed bomber’s per­sonal prop­erty, in­clud­ing tens of thou­sands of pages of writ­ings, jour­nals and cor­re­spon­dence seized by fed­eral agents from his cabin. Pro­ceeds by court or­der will go to the vic­tims.

“I can say that his book will soon be over­taken by the re­lease of the auc­tioned pa­pers, which will be a much fuller look that will al­low peo­ple to judge whether his ideas had merit or not,” said San Fran­cisco at­tor­ney Steven Hirsch, who is rep­re­sent­ing the vic­tims.

The new book, pub­lished in June, has met with lit­tle fan­fare.

“I read his man­i­festo in 1995, and af­ter hear­ing about the book, I glanced at it again to­day,” said Adam Keiper, edi­tor of the New At­lantis, a jour­nal pub­lished by the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics and Pub­lic Pol­icy Cen­ter, which ex­plores the im­pli­ca­tions of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment. If the man­i­festo were sub­mit­ted to a se­ri­ous pub­lisher, “it wouldn’t even have mer­ited a for­mal re­jec­tion — it would have been thrown away,” he said. “It’s full of rub­bish claims and the most ju­ve­nile kind of phi­los­o­phiz­ing.”

But Skrbina says those who have fo­cused on the some­times dis­jointed style have missed what he be­lieves is a per­sua­sive ar­gu­ment, that so­ci­ety has cost it­self dearly by over­valu­ing tech­ni­cal in­ge­nu­ity and ever-ex­pand­ing con­sump­tion. “A high ma­te­rial stan­dard of liv­ing con­sists not in cars, tele­vi­sion sets, com­put­ers or fancy houses, but in open spa­ces, forests, wild plants and an­i­mals and clear flow­ing streams. As mea­sured by that cri­te­rion, our ma­te­rial stan­dard of liv­ing is fall­ing rapidly,” Kaczyn­ski writes.

“I don’t see a big groundswell of any kind de­vel­op­ing” around Kaczyn­ski, Skrbina con­cedes. “But the prob­lems have only grown since he first wrote about them.”

PLENTY TO SAY: Since his ar­rest and con­vic­tion for deadly mail bomb­ings, Theodore Kaczyn­ski has kept writ­ing letters. Now there’s a book of his works, right, in­clud­ing a cor­rected ver­sion of his orig­i­nal “man­i­festo.”

Elaine Thomp­son

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