bookmark_borderMy tribute to Ted Kaczynski

Kaczynski in 1968, as an assistant professor at UC Berkeley

Theodore John Kaczynski (May 22, 1942 – June 10, 2023)

Earlier this month, Ted Kaczynski, also known as the “Unabomber,” passed away. Kaczynski, age 81, was residing at the federal prison FMC Butner in North Carolina and was suffering from advanced and incurable cancer.

Kaczynski is best known for having conducted a bombing campaign from 1978 to 1995, killing three people and injuring 23. Living in a primitive cabin in a Montana forest, he meticulously created explosive devices and mailed them to various people, including professors, scientists, airline and advertising executives, lobbyists, and computer store owners. His motivation was a fierce opposition to modern society, which he believed was destructive to human dignity and freedom. Kaczynski explained his views in a manifesto called “Industrial Society and Its Future.”

Ted Kaczynski was one of the most remarkable people ever to walk the earth. He was a murderer and a terrorist; that much is true. At the same time, I truly admire Ted Kaczynski, as strange as it might be to say such a thing about a murderer and terrorist.

Kaczynski had an IQ of 167. He was accepted to Harvard at age 15 and became a mathematician, before abandoning both his career and modern life in its entirety to move to the woods. There, he employed his intellectual gifts in constructing increasingly sophisticated bombs. To avoid detection, he enclosed misleading clues in the packages and carefully sanded down the containers to avoid leaving fingerprints. By the time of his arrest in 1996, he was the subject of the most time-consuming and expensive manhunt in the FBI’s history.

According to news reports, Kaczynski ended his own life. This is fitting, because it meant that Kaczynski died on his own terms, which is exactly the way that he lived his life. It is an understatement to say that not many people would give up both a successful career and the comforts of modern life in favor of a solitary existence in a primitive cabin. Equally, it’s an understatement to say that not many people would have the dedication needed to write a 35,000-word manifesto outlining their philosophical beliefs, let alone to undertake a decades-long bombing campaign to fight for those beliefs. At trial, his defense team attempted to use an insanity defense, but Kaczynski rejected this, choosing to stand up for his philosophical beliefs rather than abandon them in the hope of receiving a more lenient sentence. Throughout his time in prison, Kaczynski continued to express his views through frequent correspondence with the outside world (I regret not taking the time to write to him while I still had the opportunity).

A fun fact about Ted Kaczynski is that he became friends with Timothy McVeigh, another murderer and terrorist whom I greatly admire. Before McVeigh’s execution in 2001, they resided together in the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, specifically on a cell block nicknamed “bombers’ row.” The two infamous bombers passed the time by playing cards, swapping magazines, and discussing politics and religion. I am not a very religious person, but I am certain that somewhere, in another world, Ted Kaczynski and Tim McVeigh are hanging out together once more.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes by Ted Kaczynski:

“I am afraid that as the years go by that I may forget, I may begin to lose my memories of the mountains and the woods and that’s what really worries me, that I might lose those memories, and lose that sense of contact with wild nature in general. But I am not afraid they are going to break my spirit.”

“The big problem is that people don’t believe a revolution is possible, and it is not possible precisely because they do not believe it is possible.”

“Imagine a society that subjects people to conditions that make them terribly unhappy, then gives them the drugs to take away their unhappiness… Instead of removing the conditions that make people depressed, modern society gives them antidepressant drugs.”

“I must tell you that mathematicians are not scientists, they are artists. … Apart from the most elementary mathematics, like arithmetic or high school algebra, the symbols, formulas and words of mathematics have no meaning at all.”

“Never lose hope, be persistent and stubborn and never give up. There are many instances in history where apparent losers suddenly turn out to be winners unexpectedly, so you should never conclude all hope is lost.”

Kaczynski’s high school yearbook photo, around age 15
Kaczynski in prison
Undated photo of Kaczynski