Arts & Entertainment

What We’re Still Getting Wrong About the Unabomber

By R.H. Lossin The Nation

Ted Kaczynski’s violence—reexamined in a new biopic—fascinates US audiences, but not for the reasons we think.

In 1995, The Washington Post published a 35,000-word manifesto in a bid to prevent the detonation of a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport and end the FBI’s most expensive manhunt to date. The text, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” was penned by Theodore Kaczynski, otherwise known as the Unabomber. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski, a Harvard-educated mathematician living off the grid in in Lincoln, Mont., killed three people and injured 23 more with bombs that he constructed in his cabin and sent through the mail. He was known to the public as the Unabomber in reference to his targets, which were almost exclusively universities and airports.

It is uncomfortable to admit that the manifesto, while the product of a morally unjustifiable actor, is not the ranting of a lunatic. Violence doesn’t need to be justifiable to be comprehensible. As citizens of an imperial power, we are in fact quite good at understanding and even justifying violence—in the name of progress, democracy, economic stability, the rights of women—so perhaps we should be a bit more curious about the function of our parallel and ghoulish obsession with the supposedly inexplicable violence of psychologically aberrant individuals. While Kaczynski was certainly disturbed, repeated popular attempts to “understand” his individual problems (there have been four feature-length films and two Netflix series since his capture, not to mention innumerable plot arcs organized around similar characters) seem more like anxious efforts to ignore something else.

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