Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blast From The Past

Remember the good old days when the biggest threat was getting a bomb in your mail? I'm talking about the Unabomber, who was arrested in 1996. What was found in his shack is only now being made available.

I remember years ago reading it was a few messy rooms with a lot of books and writings, as well as enough stuff to make a bomb. Sounded like my place.

The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, evaded the FBI for 17 years. Ultimately he got a bit cocky and that was his downfall.

He studied math at the University of Michigan. So did I, and I can understand how it would drive you crazy.

Years ago, before he was caught, his Manifesto was published in The New York Times. (The FBI thought that printing it was a good idea and apparently it was, since he was caught soon after.) My book group read it. I didn't want to read it--it didn't sound like an important work of literature--but I was outvoted. We printed out copies.

It was chilling. Not the content, actually, which was mostly third-rate environmentalist chatter, but one particular sentence. He noted that the reader (me!) wouldn't be reading his manifesto if he hadn't been hurting people. I almost dropped the page. He was right. My reading this was the result of his maiming others. To this day I wonder if reading it--and continuing on after that sentence--was an immoral act.

8 Comments:

Blogger Irene Done said...

No no no. Wasn't he caught exactly because of that manifesto? As you say, the FBI released the writings in hopes that someone would recognize something. Kacynski's brother read it, indeed recognized it and went to authorities, right? I don't think reading it was immoral any more than looking at a police sketch can be considered immoral.

5:58 AM, November 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First There are several morally justifiable reasons for reading this manifesto (beyond the point above)
1. It was the work of a mind which outwitted law enforcement for 17 years- it is instructive to know how these minds think both for the expert and the casual reader- there are are several political leaders with murderous records whose readings are studied today (I hate to break the Hitler reference rule but Mein Kampf is the easiest example )
2. He hurt the people whether or not anyone subsequently reads his work. Possibly there is an argument that this will encourage other murderous individuals but it seems well-known killers and purveyors of mayhem get plenty of publicity apart from a readership so I don't think refusing to read these writings would have much of a deterrent effect.

Also there is the OJ angle- to the extent I think about him, I think he is dumb jock killer who beat the (criminal) rap for a variety of reasons but would reading his dumb book really be an immoral act. [ I don't think he killed people to get a book deal 12 years later]. Is satisfying curiosity over a publicized event really immoral?

(there's a Michael Richards comment coming - he's gotten more publicity out of being a racist than he has with anything else since Seinfeld ended & I think he is working up to cashing in on his shame & apologies-but this post has gone on far too long)

6:33 AM, November 29, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Hitler wasn't trying to take over so people would read his book. (Today Germany, tomorrow Simon And Schuster.)

Reading the the Unabomber Manifesto almost made me feel like an accessory after the fact.

1:58 PM, November 29, 2006  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

So let me get this straight. You've been in LAland for what, approaching 20 years, and now you're feeling dirty?

5:04 PM, November 29, 2006  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

LAGuy wrote:

Reading the the Unabomber Manifesto almost made me feel like an accessory after the fact.

Moral theology has a long tradition of examining the question of "cooperation with evil". (May a gunseller sell to someone who might intend murder? May a secretary type a blackmail letter for her boss?)

But it's only very recently that the mirror-image question of "appropriation of evil" has been analyzed. (Can doctors use Nazi data acquired through atrocities? Can LAGuy read the Unabomber's manifesto?)

Many factors need to be weighed in answering these questions, but one of the most important factors in "appropriation" questions is this: Does the appropriator of the evil use the material for the same ends as the creator of the evil? For example, if a mob boss creates a list of banks that can be robbed easily, and the police seize the list, they most certainly can use the list to foil the mob, because they have the exact opposite purpose as the mob.

So I agree with 'anonymous' that if the police read the manifesto in order to identify and stop the Unabomber, or a psychologist reads it to help cure future mass-murderers, that is certainly licit. On the other hand, if EarthFirst posts the statement on their website as a great example of environmental thinking, that would be an immoral appropriation of evil.

6:16 PM, November 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think he did - but what if the Unabomber had some good ideas in his manifesto- does the blood-soaked history necessarily invalidate them? I guess it goes to whether or not you agree with them in the first place. Would a condemnation of a hypothetical Earth First endorsement of the Unabomber extend to a group promoting some of the libertarian musings of Timothy McVeigh

5:38 AM, November 30, 2006  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I think the Unabomber did have some good ideas. Here is one:

Since many people may find paradoxical the notion that a large number of good things can add up to a bad thing, we will illustrate with an analogy.

Suppose Mr. A is playing chess with Mr. B. Mr. C, a Grand Master, is looking over Mr. A's shoulder. Mr. A of course wants to win his game, so if Mr. C points out a good move for him to make, he is doing Mr. A a favor. But suppose now that Mr. C tells Mr. A how to make ALL of his moves. In each particular instance he does Mr. A a favor by showing him his best move, but by making ALL of his moves for him he spoils the game, since there is not point in Mr. A's playing the game at all if someone else makes all his moves.

The situation of modern man is analogous to that of Mr. A. The system makes an individual's life easier for him in innumerable ways, but in doing so it deprives him of control over his own fate.


I think this is a very good statement about the dangers of big government. Many libertarians, conservatives and moderates would find it pithy and helpful.

But I won't put it on my bumpersticker.

(For that matter, I don't listen to Wagner either. My grandfather would turn the radio off when Wagner was played during WWII. If a Jewish person wants to listen to Wagner, or a black person wants to use the 'N' word, I will mind my own business. But as a white gentile, I avoid Wagner and the 'N' word and the Unabomber.)

2:25 PM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Boy, I felt guilty just reading the Manifesto. Now it's being published on my blog.

I wasn't too impressed with the Unabomber's ideas, and not just because they were mostly foolish. They were warmed-over ideas, ones I'd heard expressed previously, and expressed better. He might have been a first-rate bombmaker, but he was a third-rate thinker.

I'll listen to Wagner--he's long gone. A bigger question is will I see Apocalypto.

2:36 PM, November 30, 2006  

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