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Unibomber Essay Research Paper here

Unibomber Essay, Research Paper

here’s been some talk on this list lately about how we should distance

environmentalism from the Unabomber, and foil attempts by the media to unite

the two. Shouldn’t we also look inward, and see if in any way a love of ature

does or can lead to antipathy to humans?

he relationship between environmentalism and violence had been on my mind

prior to Ted Kaczynski’s arrest, because I had been reading _MindHunter_, John

Douglas’s memoir of his career heading the FBI’s serial crimes unit. In passing,

Douglas mentions a number of cases in which the killers were ardent

environmentalists or living back to nature. It was hard to know what, if

anything, to make of this (or of the author’s contention that an inordinate

percentage of serial killers drive Volkwagen Beetles).

atching the FBI take Kaczynski away as the prime suspect in the Unabomber

case, I thought, of course, of Henry Thoreau. Both were Harvard graduates who

chose to remove themselves from industrial America to go it alone in a simple

wilderness retreat. Thoreau is America’s most famous recluse — isn’t it likely

that Kaczynski is familiar with Thoreau’s writing, even that he was emulating

him to a degree?

If Kaczynski is the Unabomber, then an intellectual connection to Thoreau is

even more possible. After all, Thoreau is the father of North American

environmentalism, and the Unabomber is most definitely an environmentalist.

In his manifesto, after an exceedingly long discussion of how technology had

overwhelmed society and smothered persnal freedom, he writes, “But as an

ideology, in order to gain support, must have positive ideals well as a negative

one; it must be FOR something as well as AGAINST something. The positive

ideal that we propose is Nature. That is, WILD nature; those aspects of e

unctioning of the Earth and its living things are independent of human

management and free of human interference and control.” Such sentiment would

not be misplaced on the ASLE list. Of course, most of us would take issue when

he wrote, “In order to get our message before the public with some chance of

making a lasting impression, we’ve had to kill people.”

There have been, as we know, strands of the environmental movement that have

been too often linked to an anti-human mindset. Regardless of his renunciation

of EarthFirst!, Dave Foreman did at one time oppose famine aid to Ethiopia,

saying “the best thing would be to just let nature seek its own balance, to let

the people there just starve….” Up here in Canada, naturalist John Livingston, in

his Governor General’s Award-winning _Rogue Primate_, refers to AIDS

dispassionately as “a natural response to human overpopulation….” I think

environmentalists are people who understand that humans are part of nature,

and they seek to live accordingly. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems that we

are impatient for the rest of humanity to figure this out, and pessimistic tht

we as a species are smart enough to make it happen. Some environmentalists, I

think, find other humans (the more, the less merry) as basically troublesome.

All this led me back to Thoreau. Was there anything in his writing that could

have led Kaczynski (if he is the Unabomber) — and maybe all environmentalists

astray? On first glance, of course, Thoreau can be seen to be radically

pro-nature and anti-society. He looked around his America and saw a

civilization in which everyone was so intent on business, trade, and industry,

so intent on eking out a living, that they forgot how to live. _Walden_ is a

back-to-the-land how-to book, a carefully-crafted naturalist’s diary, a witty

response to Ben Franklin-industriousness, and a philosophical treatise on

self-reliance. A Ted Kaczynski could draw inspiration from it. But Thoreau does

not renounce society in _Walden_; he takes a trip from it to experiment with

isolation, to learn more about himself and his surroundings. When his

experiment is completed, he moves back to Concord and announces, “I left the

woods for as good a reason as I went there.”

The publishers of my edition of _Walden_ put “Civil Disobedience” at the end. I

wondered if Kaczynski (if he is the Unabomber) also united the two. In this

essay Thoreau defends opposition to unjust governments and describes a night

spent in jail for refusing to pay taxes, protesting the American war with

Mexico. Thoreau argues that one who wishes to be true to himself may need to

live outside of government. Again, a Ted Kaczynski could draw inspiration –

some environmentalists certainly have. Though Foreman left EarthFirst!, in

Defending the Earth_ he continues to draw inspiration from the story that

Emerson came to bail Thoreau out of jail, and asked, “Henry, what are you doing

in there?” Thoreau replied, “Ralph, what are you doing out there?” I worry that

some environmentalists see civil disobedience as in itself a sufficient

political act, and not only that but an act of allegiance to Thoreau’s gospel. In

fact, “Civil Disobedience” is not a monkeywrencher’s guide to bringing down a

government or changing society. It encourages people to take responsibility for

their actions, and instructs them not to succumb with blind approbation to a

government that acts wrongly. The point is that you have to learn about

yourself and your beliefs and act accordingly.

I wonder if Kaczynski, if he is the Unabomber, felt that _Walden_ shows how to

appreciate nature, and “Civil Disobedience” shows how to behave against a

society that does not appreciate nature. I hope this was not the case. Thorea

stresses that ultimately we have to save ourselves. The result may be that we

are geographically or psychically separated from society, but what of it?

Thoreau writes, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is

because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he

hears, however measured, or far away.” But just as important, in the passage

preceding this, Thoreau writes, “Let every one mind his own business, and

endeavour to be what he was made.”

Admittedly, this is an incomplete political philosophy. Environmental problems

will not disappear by minding our own business. But neither will they disappear

by sneering at society or threatening violence against it. Any environmentalism

that works will necessarily be one that accepts human beings and seeks to accommodate them in nature. I take from _Walden_ that I must live principally in nature, I take from “Civil Disobedience” that I must live principally in society. But as Thoreau might say, hey, that’s just my opinion.