What The Unabomber Wants
"We're lucky Kaczynski was a mathematician, not a molecular biologist."
--From Bill Joy's
Anti-Tech Manifesto "Why
The Future Doesn't Need Us"
"Probably the most promising target for political attack is the biotechnology industry...
"--From Ted Kaczynski,
otherwise known as the "Unabomber", in
the newest issue of Green Anarchy, who, horrifically enough, may be reading his press
When I think of this frightening piece by the Unabomber in Green Anarchy I'm reminded of the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter (played by Brian Cox in Manhunter), where his seemingly benign phone calls and newspaper ads would expand and unfold exponentially like a Hoberman Sphere of Darkness, Terror and Evil. One of his messages to the outside world gave a serial killer the home address of FBI investigator William Graham, played by actor William Peterson, now the lead for the television show CSI. That was, as the Unabomber might phrase it, "hitting them where it hurts". I fear that if one looks at the darkest possible meaning in Mr. Kaczynskis newest prose efforts then one could conclude that his messages to the outside world are no less benign than the fictional Hannibal Lecter's.
Brian Cox First Played Dr. Hannibal Lecter
To be optimistic, and to assume the best of Dr. Lect, uhh, Mr. Kaczynski, let's take him at his word when he notes that "Biotechnology May Be The Best Target For Political Attack". He probably means letter writing campaigns, weekend bake sales, sit-ins, and the wonderful utility of the vote--an effectiveness so wonderfully utilized during the last presidential election. Perhaps, when he mentions "persuading" biotechs to change their ways he means hotly worded email spams, vociferously loud public marches around their homes drenched with the folk music of Si Kahn (a definite aspiration killer), sporadic displays of "shunning" and the creation of wickedly mocking Big Puppet Faces displayed at public events or online aimed at your average aspiring Craig Venters out there. I'm sure that's what Mr. Kaczynski means. Really. And when he says "By legal means, of course" let's presume that he actually means it. Although I wish an insightful and sardonic prison editor would have placed the words "nudge nudge wink wink" after that particular phrase.
You could take a more pessimistic view of Mr. Kaczynski's message, however. First, he makes the clear argument that "It is useless to attack the system in terms of its own values." In the essay he explains that what he refers to is this idea that traditional activists merely help the system when they ameliorate deleterious symptoms. For example, if I understand his argument, activists who get rid of sweatshops actually help create a more enlightened compassionate capitalism, which is actually quite good for capitalism, which probably isn't the overall goal of your average Green Anarchist True Believer. However, these are words written by a man who literally blew up people he didn't agree with. This is an act that also meets the requirement of not attacking the system within its own values. Combine this sentiment of not playing by the rules and his odd use of the word "persuasion" and somebody could interpret the seemingly innocent benign message of using political activity to attack biotech as something else. Namely, and I stress that this is dark lucid speculation on my part, there may be political advantage in murdering rising biotech stars. I suppose, within the orbit of my speculation, it would not be unlike the distorted rationalization of your average "prolife" assassin who kills abortion doctors. I happen to be pro-choice and find the phrase murderous pro lifers not only obscene but contradictory. But I can't say with certainty that it wouldnt work if the tactic were expanded.
Just for the record, I don't think the Unabomber is actually right any more than his more civil Republican anti-tech allies Francis Fukuyama or Leon Kass. One of the odd things about the Unabomber piece is that he uses the exact same language as Fukuyama and Kass when he describes his arguments against biotech. The Unabomber opposes biotech research because he believes "that it will radically transform fundamental human values that have existed for thousands of year." Odd. Those are similar sentiments stated by Mr. Fukuyama and Kass during their testimonies before congress. Great stasist minds think alike I suppose. And make no mistake: I believe Ted, Francis and Leon are united in their opposition to change. The problem with their methodologies--implied harassment and perhaps assassination on the one hand and hostile bureaucratic strangulation on the other--is that their methods only work in the United States. So, the net effect is that you're stopping or slowing down research in the United States. Other countries, which don't let nonscientists determine their tech policies, will simply move ahead of us in genomic therapies and research. Their tactics simply dictate that leading biotech firms will have headquarters in Britain, Singapore or China. Nice.
I prefer a more nuanced and subtler progressive response. There's a difference between terminator genes and nutraceuticals. We should lobby accordingly. There should also be lobbying for the idea of a Genetic Commons and against the wholesale privatization of our genetic heritage. I make this argument not only out of legitimate ethical concerns but because I believe that the establishment of such commons will be better for business, just as open source protocols, cheap domain names and affordable internet access are better for business.
I'm also waiting for the pro-choice feminist left to make the connection: We should have the right to choose these technologies for ourselves. For the first time, the choice issue applies to men and subsequently its appeal can be widened. The implied right to privacy now extends to men and where are you when we need you Katha Pollitt? Do you want Leon Kass deciding that viagra disrupts "human nature"? Or that life extension therapy should be outlawed? The constant I find between the Unholy Trinity of Ted, Francis and Leon is that they never ask for your opinion. There shouldn't be anything like a vote or a public referendum or personal discretion to hear them rant. I mean, to paraphrase a bit on my own site: If I want the artificial blood, the augmented antioxidants, the Rhino Horn, the creepy blood-red infrared eyes and a bio-networked version of a Spidey sense, then that should be my choice, my call. Will I still be human? I don't know. But I should have the right to find out, good or ill.