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The Dartmouth
May 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Professor talks about Unabomber

Intrigued by the 35,000-word "manifesto" authored by the Unabomber, who is believed to be responsible for killing three people and injuring 22 in a series of bombings over the last 17 years, History Professor Richard Kremer decided to investigate the document for himself.

And Kremer, who specializes in the history of science and teaches a course on scientific revolutions and modern society, said the manifesto provides important clues about the terrorist's identity.

In June, the Unabomber sent the manuscript, which is titled "Industrial Society and Its Future," to The New York Times and The Washington Post, threatening to continue bombing unless one of the newspapers agreed to publish it. The Post, with financial assistance from the Times, published the entire document in September.

Kremer said he became interested in the Unabomber's manuscript when he returned from Europe this fall and heard that the document is a critique of the history of science.

After studying the document, Kremer said he concluded that it is not a chronicle of the history of science, but rather addresses psychological issues.

"The manifesto is not a document on the history of science," he said. "It is really about psychology. The FBI realizes that now and sees him as a serial killer."

"One can see this in the document," he said.

Kremer, who described the manifesto as "psycho-babble," said the Unabomber outlines a psychological "power process" that he believes is intrinsic to humans.

According to the manifesto, there are four components of this process: goal, effort, attainment of goal and autonomy.

"Consider the hypothetical case of a man who can have anything he wants just by wishing for it," the manuscript states. "Such a man has power, but he will develop serious psychological problems. At first he will have a lot of fun, but by and by he will become acutely bored and demoralized. Eventually he may become clinically depressed."

In an article that appeared in The New York Times last week, investigators said the Unabomber's manuscript suggests he is a serial killer rather than a terrorist with a political agenda, as was originally hypothesized.

The article also states the manuscript suggests the Unabomber studies the social sciences instead of mathematics and computer science as was previously thought.

Kremer said he agreed. Although the Unabomber's citations are not esoteric, he clearly has read some material in the social sciences, Kremer said.

Kremer said the document calls for an economic revolution to topple modern industrial society.

"What he calls for is a revolution," he said. "You cannot fix industrial society, you need to break it down."

In the manifesto, the Unabomber calls for a reversal of the industrial revolution and a return to "wild nature."

"The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race ... They have ... destabilized society, ... led to widespread psychological suffering ... and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world," the manifesto states.

"We, therefore, advocate a revolution against the industrial system, ... not to be a political revolution," the manifesto states.

The Unabomber believes societal stress is a prerequisite for such a revolution and is delivering bombs to shake up society, Kremer said.

The manifesto states, "First, we must work to heighten the social stress within the system so as to increase the likelihood that it will break down or be weakened sufficiently so that a revolution against it becomes possible."

While Kremer described the document as "wonderfully weird prose," he said, "It's mish-mash. It's garbage. I wouldn't have my students read this."

Kremer said he thinks the Unabomber is somehow connected to the world of academics.

"Given the fact that most of the Unabomber's targets were universities, he fits the profile of a disgruntled graduate student," he said. "But the kinds of things he cites you could pick up anywhere. It seems to me that the profile is rather vague and general."

But Kremer said the FBI will probably apprehend the Unabomber anyway.

Kremer said the publishing of the manifesto set a dangerous precedent the news media should avoid.

"One should not be able to use threats of violence to gain access to the media," he said. "Had I been on the editorial board of The New York Times or The Washington Post, I would not have supported publishing it."

Kremer said some people argue that The Washington Post was justified in publishing the document because the FBI and Attorney General Janet Reno recommended it.

"One could argue that the two newspapers were manipulated by the FBI and Attorney General," he said.