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From The Unabomber Manifesto by Ted Kaczynski:

  1. The breakdown of traditional values to some extent implies the breakdown of the bonds that hold together traditional small-scale social groups. The disintegration of small-scale social groups is also promoted by the fact that modern conditions often require or tempt individuals to move to new locations, separating themselves from their communities. Beyond that, a technological society has to weaken family ties and local communities if it is to function efficiently. In modern society an individual's loyalty must be first to the system and only secondarily to a small-scale community, because if the internal loyalties of small-scale communities were stronger than loyalty to the system, such communities would pursue their own advantage at the expense of the system.
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    What is a technological society? Definition?
    – Jo Wehler
    Feb 5 at 7:58
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    What output and input are we tracking to decide efficiency?
    – g s
    Feb 5 at 8:11
  • A technological society is one where technology plays a significant role in shaping its culture, social life, and economic development. There is widespread use of technology and dependence on it. It is marked by rapid innovation, globalization and automation. Feb 5 at 8:12
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    This seems to be a sociological or anthropological question rather than a philosophical one. Feb 5 at 17:11
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    Kaczynski is just making the argument that in the "fast moving, modern world" of today people tend to move around a lot rather than stay small and tightly nit. He's not presenting sociological evidence or studies but rather trying to make aesthetic, subjective, intuitive arguments about human social structures he observes. Most people can empathize with these perceived problems in society and so it is important to identify that these problems might exist, but to objectively determine they really exist is kind of outside of the extent of the manifesto. Feb 6 at 22:30

8 Answers 8

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I scanned the other answers (not comments) and thought these brief and relevant to the discussion.

"Technological society" defined:

"The chief complaint that sets existentialism over against positivism in diametric opposition is this : the claim of science and technology to expand the capacity of the human person for life and happiness is basically fraudulent, because technological society is not the least interested in values, still less in persons : it is concerned purely and simply with the functioning of its own processes. Human beings are used merely as means to this end, and the one significant question it asks in their regard is not who they are but how they can be most efficiently used.” --Thomas Merton, Mystics and Zen Masters, 1961

How functioning community works and the consequences of dysfunction:

"Subsistence-level hunters aren’t necessarily more moral than other people; they just can’t get away with selfish behavior because they live in small groups where almost everything is open to scrutiny. Modern society, on the other hand, is a sprawling and anonymous mess where people can get away with incredible levels of dishonesty without getting caught. What tribal people would consider a profound betrayal of the group, modern society simply dismisses as fraud. … This fundamental lack of connectedness allows people to act in trivial but incredibly selfish ways. … That diminishes you morally far more than it diminishes your country financially.” --Sebastian Junger, Tribe, 2016

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  • I've often wondered how society can work against the good of the people it is made up of? Wouldn't the people change the society? I guess it's like someone jumping to their death when none of the cells in their body particularly want to die. We're carried along like lemmings on a calving glacier.
    – Scott Rowe
    Feb 18 at 23:45
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    Re: “wondered how society can work against the good of the people it is made up of” It happens at a smaller scale even: "In every Church, in every institution, there is something which sooner or later works against the very purpose for which it came into existence.” --C.S. Lewis, Letters To Malcolm, 1963 AND also at a civilization level, with generally predictable stages which maybe you are referring to: Khaldun(1377), others, Dalio(2021), Urban(2023). I have a spreadsheet comparing these, if interested. Feb 19 at 1:35
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Kaczynski himself may or may not be a conservative, but "the breakdown of traditional values" is something conservatives keep fear-mongering about, and they keep asserting that this is somehow the same as the breakdown of society at large, even though it's rarely more than an assertion, and modern society is better than any point in the past by practically every conceivable metric (especially if you look towards more progressive societies).

Modern society of course has problems, and some of those problems may be a result of advancement. It's rare to make a change without also introducing some new problems, but that doesn't automatically mean that the change was bad. The way to fix a problem with motorised vehicles is not to abandon them altogether and go back to riding horses, the way to solve climate change is not by going back to living primitively in the woods, and the way to fix the problems with some medication is not to discontinue it (unless problems outweigh the benefits, which has led to discontinuing plenty of medication, but essentially all medication has some risks or downsides, yet we keep using those because the benefits are greater).


Kaczynski seems to focus on social groups.

He presents "the system" as antagonistic to small-scale communities, but I don't see much support for that, and there are significant issues with his argument:

  • He seems to suggest that "small-scale social groups", "family ties" and "local communities" are both important and non-substitutable.

    But I know of way too many people who were physically and mentally abused by their family for years, kicked out on the street, or ostracised by their local community, often just for being who they are, if for any reason at all. Many end up committing suicide due to feeling hopeless being stuck in such situations. This is not because of technology (the opposite, usually), and in many cases technology provides a vital lifeline for such people to find community online, to form bonds with people in other places, and to find a new local community that accepts them, and they go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.

    Even within an accepting family, there could still be various mental conditions, personality conflicts or tendencies that could make it difficult for someone to connect with their family, that could make one feel entirely alone even among people who are trying their best to connect with you. Technology could similarly help here with getting people to connect with others (especially others who are more like them), or it could provide resources for families to understand one another better and connect through those barriers.

    None of this necessarily takes anything away from people with strong family ties and who value their local community, but it does give another option for those who don't, or those who want or need to supplement that with things they can't find in their local community.

  • Technology can and do help some families and local communities be more connected.

    It's easier than ever to instantly share information with dozens, hundreds, thousands or millions of people. Many people do use technology to keep up to date on local happenings, to organise local events and to form local groups based on similar interests.

    It's also easier than ever to keep in touch with other individuals. Plenty of people communicate with their partner constantly throughout the day, practically every day, for example (plenty of other people don't, and that's fine too).

  • He might in part just be objecting to capitalism (but who knows whether he sees it that way).

    People need to move to new places to financially survive in modern society, or they want to move there because they want financial security or because of the culture which deems how much money you have to be one of the primary ways to measure one's success in life. Or, on a more positive note, they move because that allows them to pursue their passion - if someone stays in their local community, that could severely limit the range of career paths available to them.

    It's more that this is enabled by technology rather than this being necessitated by technology. The driving force there is not technology, but rather financial needs or desires (or natural human variation in terms of interests). Technology was built within a capitalistic society, so it supports capitalism. If you dislike capitalism, you should push back against capitalism, not technology.

    (For what it's worth, I don't think capitalism is bad in principle, but I do think capitalism in its purest form leads to literal slavery... which is bad. And even if you aren't quite there, that doesn't mean it's good. Capitalism seems to be least harmful if supported by regulation and welfare, and there's an argument to be made that this combination also provides the greatest benefit to innovation and improvements to society.)


None of this is to say that technology is all good all the time (which I hope is already clear from my last point), and we definitely should be responsible and thoughtful in how we develop and use technology. But it certainly doesn't seem justified to say it's as bad as Kaczynski suggests, nor that it's more bad than good.

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    This answer is very much from the perspective of what I presume Ted would call a technologist. Your 1st and 2nd "issue" with Ted's points actually support his position. Your 1st point, kids getting kicked out, would need to compare today's society in child rejection and dis-ownership to a time before you were born. Current anecdotal stories exist in the technological society already, where the influences Ted talks about have already taken place. Your 2nd point illustrates technology making up for local communities being broken apart, not bringing them closer than they were, say, 200 years ago.
    – David S
    Feb 6 at 15:27
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    There are many metrics which are actually worse off today, specially in more "progressive" societies, and which often are caused by (or at least correlated with) the breakdown of the traditional family (others, more directly by technology). They are just underplayed and swept under the rug like OP does.
    – Mutoh
    Feb 6 at 19:18
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    @NotThatGuy: 9 examples, among many others: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_boundaries Feb 7 at 8:32
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    @NotThatGuy also higher rates of loneliness, of mental illness, of suicide, of divorce, of children born out of wedlock or in divorced households or being raised by single parents (all of which are correlated with negative effects), fertility below replacement levels, people have less friends (including more reporting no friends at all). Notwithstanding facts less related to OP's question, such as increased pollution and deforestation. With enough cherry picking anyone can paint a rosy picture of the world, and it won't do to downplay these issues, they prove Ted's point.
    – Mutoh
    Feb 7 at 10:34
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    @Mutoh: Your "points" seem haphazard. Born out of wedlock is not an issue in itself -- my very godfather lived in a stable relationship for 30+ years before finally marrying his partner (worrying about inheritance). Similarly with regard to divorce, I seem to remember a study showing that the availability of divorce seemed to correlate with higher life expectancy, especially for males. Finally, it's not clear whether being raised by single parents is problematic due to the "single" part, or the largely correlated budget issues part. Feb 7 at 14:00
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While this is hard to give an objective answer to, I'll give some thoughts.

As far as I can tell, Ted Kaczynski seems to believe that we like to act in our self-interest. Communities arise from mutual self-interest: if two people both want fish in primitive society, they will collaborate to get some if it means they get more or get it faster.

I think there's a good case to be made that technology essentially widens these groups such that you are reliant on collaboration which doesn't directly serve your best interest. For example, previously, people might collaborate to travel because it benefits them. Now, for most people, some amount of transport which relies on big, societal institutions (insurance companies, quality regulations, publically funded public transport, etc.), is needed for their daily lives, in a sense forcing technology to be in our best interest by eliminating other options. We can also see this with the rise of nationalism with the industrial revolution, as nationalism is in some sense an allegiance to and preservation of something much wider than your little self-interested group. It could also be argued that things like the internet and big institutions play to our natural desire for community, but don't fully satisfy its purpose.

The main argument I could see against it is essentially a view that connection isn't a zero-sum game. We can be just as connected to wider society as we are to our smaller community, and the technological benefits that wider society gives us actually serve the smaller communities in developing and prospering. For example, people having higher-payed, more specialised, industrial jobs brings more money for the smaller community. If small communities had more autonomy, they would stick to techno-industrial society because it serves them.

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    Higher-paying, specialized, industrial jobs are only really available to those willing to leave their small communities and be absorbed into bigger, more depersonalized communities e.g. big cities, more prosperous countries. This is behind brain drain and urbanization, which can hardly be said to benefit smaller communities more.
    – Mutoh
    Feb 6 at 19:12
  • @Mutoh I agree, I was more playing devil's advocate.
    – edelex
    Feb 6 at 19:27
  • I've often wondered why people stay in very small towns, sometimes just an intersection of two mileroads in the country. I figure they must be trapped there by economic forces (can't sell their house or business). But I've seen a lot of abandoned houses and businesses too.
    – Scott Rowe
    Feb 19 at 0:17
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I cannot really make out a question in the body of OP's post, so I assume all of that is just meant as context of what this question (in the title) is about. I also am not familiar with the ramblings of the Unabomber and will ignore that aspect. So:

Is it true that a technological society has to weaken family ties and local communities if it is to function efficiently?

Yes, even disregarding any revolutionary terrorist pamphlets, there seem to be good objective reasons why technological advancement (before the information age) is correlated with weakened families and local communities.

At least between, say, industrialization and before the "age of information" this surely has some base in reality. In pre-technological days, i.e. hunter/gatherer tribes of a size where everybody could still personally know everybody else and very strong intra-tribal bonds, it can be assumed that most roles of members of the tribe can in principle be done by anybody. I.e., anybody can find some utility either as hunter or gatherer or someone who cares for others, and so on and forth. Surely there is specialization, but not so much that a person has to actually move to a different tribe - in principle everybody could, and probably did, live very close to their family for their whole lives. Migration between tribes certainly happened too, and it probably helped the tribes by moving information around and freshening up the gene pool, and hence making things more efficient, but I would assume this was a relatively minor role; sticking with the tribe was probably always much much easier for all involved. (All of this is admittedly very much speculative and very hard to tell in hindsight; a commentor mentions inter-tribe marriage to keep the peace.)

In a technological era (after the advent of industrialization; before a high-end information age) there will be much, much higher specialization. Both within the dimensions of ability, as well as interest, which are arguably strongly interlinked via the observation that students who are interested in what they are studying have a much easier time with it, there is a much more intense stratification. And before the information age (i.e., at a time when people needed to actually physically move to where the work was), this moving-around surely lead to weakening family ties and local communities. If you move to another city, you are not in your family anymore; and if you don't have the internet yet, you can at best write snail mail or phone home regularly. This would often fall to the side, when the job got more intense. Also, when you move to a city, all local communities are foreign to you; and not every human has an easy time (or interest in) integrating into those.

Now, in the information age, especially since COVID, we see that it is very possible for information workers to stay at home. There are problems associated with that as well (isolation, depression and so on), some of them very dire (especially for kids who were isolated in their formative years), but not related to the aspects this question is about. Anecdotally, I see plenty of young adults who stay at home with their family much longer than it used to be - either because moving out is considered a waste of money or time, or because it's arguably often more convenient to stay home. One could hence imagine that a hypothetical society where all jobs are basically information based, i.e. possible to be done remotely, could revert back to much stronger family ties and local communities. (Disregarding for the sake of this question the problem that kids who were isolated seem to be having a hard time entering even local communities like they did before COVID...).

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    "Migration between tribes certainly happened too, [...] but I would assume this was a relatively minor role; sticking with the tribe was probably always much much easier for all involved." << Actually I think that marriage was used regularly as a tool to prevent wars between tribes. If a few tribe members of tribe A move to tribe B to form families, and a few members of tribe B move to tribe A to form families, tribes A and B become much much less likely to fight eachother to death. So this happened regularly. At least that's what Jared Diamond argues in one of his books.
    – Stef
    Feb 6 at 12:34
  • Thanks, have spent a N.B. on that, @Stef.
    – AnoE
    Feb 6 at 15:03
  • I think people have been lonely and depressed in all kinds of situations for as long as there have been people. It has been asked whether the dramatic rise in autism corresponds with increasing awareness that it exists. Perhaps recent rises in measured depression rates go with looking for it?
    – Scott Rowe
    Feb 19 at 0:13
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    Very possible, @ScottRowe. My answer focuses on describing a potential (to me, very likely) mechanism on how this could occur (and on the family ties, not on psychology); I have no statistical data etc. to say anything about whether that is indeed the case. That said, I don't even want to know how depressed a low-income person (so, probably the majority of people) in the early 1900's or earlier felt - must have been a very tough experience indeed, even compared to everything going on today, indeed.
    – AnoE
    Feb 19 at 8:35
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    Absolutely, @ScottRowe. IMO, depression comes just as well from circumstances regressing (even if only slightly). I believe things perceived becoming worse is objectively much worse in itself than things being "absolutely" worse but improving slightly.
    – AnoE
    Feb 19 at 14:04
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There's an interesting online book, Meaningness and Time by David Chapman, about people's ways of relating to meaning through history and the concomitant structures of the self. Chapman's model is based on a parallel with Robert Kegan's model of psychological development including through adulthood. In it there's a stage where rationality, or systematicity, is the governing principle, which for Chapman relates to the Modern period.

To Chapman, coming into systematicity is a key step both personally and historically, but it does involve some disentangling from personal bonds. You'll recognize similarities to your Ted Kaczynski quote in the excerpts below (from here; manually scroll the contents box to see where in the book you are). But Chapman gives no sense of 'society' alienating its members from the small scale in order to achieve efficiency; rather both appear as consequences of the 'systematic' way of being.

A systematic culture answers “why” questions with “becauses.” The answers are reasonably consistent and coherent. [...]

A systematic society has a multitude of social roles—unlike a choiceless society, which has only a few. [...] Roles fit together into complex institutions—church, state, corporation, community—that accomplish society’s proper goals. [...] Systematicity makes possible the division of labor. This crucial social technology enabled the spectacular economic, artistic, technological, and intellectual advances of the systematic era. [...]

In the choiceless mode, you are defined by your relationships; mainly family ones. [...] The function of your self is balancing your personal impulses with the needs of others, according to those roles. Morality—being a good person—means maintaining harmony by conforming to collective clan decisions. The choiceless self belongs, and is embedded in a web of mutual caring.

This sort of self is incompatible with complex social institutions. Efficient, specialized work gives you obligations to strangers, on the basis of explicit rules, not felt needs. A self devoted to balancing needs based on relationships cannot make sense of systematic society. It can only experience impersonal obligations as unjust demands imposed by the powerful [...]

Creating a systematic self involves hardening boundaries, so other people’s emotions don’t flood you and compel your actions. [...]

[Ethics] means doing what is necessary to maintain the system and uphold its values.

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Yes, but for different reasons.

Social ties are certainly weakened in modern, technological societies. We have seen, in just a few generations, a dramatic reduction of family sizes from multiple generations living and working together to the "nuclear family" of 4+dog, to in many western cities nearly half of all households being a single person.

The quoted manifesto does list some causes that appear obvious causes, such as a job market demanding more flexibility for moving.

However, it makes the usual mistake of doing single-cause attribution, when in reality multiple factors are at work. Some that I can think of:

  • increasing individuality - more of us than ever before desire to "live our own lives", so leaving home earlier is more common, and staying single longer is common, and wanting to live alone as part of not having to make compromises with other people is more common.
  • increasing age of marriage also means that people live as singles longer, before merging two households into one.
  • social circles are formed more around shared interests today than as a local community. This has serious consequences, as most people in your life you share only a hobby or workplace with, while a community such as a village shares a lot of day-to-day concerns with each other, so the bonds are stronger.

All of these things are indirectly correlated to technology, such as having more options to communicate in a wider area, etc.

Does "the system" profit from smaller communities? I don't think there is much evidence for that. Threats to "the system" (I'll keep it in quotation marks because I'm side-stepping the question what exactly that means) have rarely been local, close-knit communities. As far back as history provides records, any serious power has always been able to squash smaller communities if they had ideas of revolution. It is when those ideas become widespread that "the system" begins to crumble.

There is no evidence given in this quote nor any that I can immediately think of that would support the hypothesis that "the system" intentionally attempts to break social groups into smaller unities.

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  • It can be easily argued that the three other factors you provided are caused/enabled by technology, and that it's still part of "the industrial revolution and its consequences"
    – Mutoh
    Feb 6 at 19:04
  • @Mutoh maybe, but that argument would have to be made, and there are likely other factors at work as well. Urbanization for example was certainly accelerated by industrialization, and wouldn't have gone to 50% in an agricultural society - but it is also a long-term trend over centuries, so it's definitely not JUST industrialization.
    – Tom
    Feb 7 at 6:44
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You may be interested in the book The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich (2020).

The author basically claims that due to a program started by the Catholic Church from late antiquity onward, which disrupted clan and kinship based social structures, people of Western European background are more prone to such cultural features as individualism, egalitarianism, literacy, analytical thinking (as opposed to system/relationship thinking), and inventiveness. (The very small jump from there to a technological society is left as an exercise to the OP.)

He spends some time/pages on presenting empirical data, stating that the extent to which cousin marriage is absent in a given society is a strong predictor of the prevalence of various of the above, and other, traits in that society.

What is fascinating about the book is the mechanism he describes that leads from a culture A to a culture B. (Dissolution of kinship ties leading to the spread and ubiquity of hi-tech a few centuries later - the opposite of what OP writes in the title of his question.) Obviously not all clear-cut in one direction, there are a lot of feedback loops, contributing factors, human ambiguities, etc. - it is certainly a possibility that more technology further weakens family ties, leading to more reliance on technology in place of that support network, etc. Not sure if there has been any research done on that.

An author is almost always enthusiastic and convincing about his own field, and I haven't looked into any critics or detractors.

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While I hesitate to respond to a quote of an angry, murderous person, Galileo said he could learn from anyone, so...

Given human nature hasn't changed in 10,000+ years, traditional family values have a time-tested place in any healthy human society. The development of technology is not the problem but the composite character of a society that determines how we spend our time researching and inventing(A.Huxley, 1945) and then how we use the end product.

Did the modern West's Industrial Revolution bring about the dissolution of small, close-knit communities? Sure, by providing economic opportunity in relatively small geographic areas(urbanization). The motivation ranged from survival to greed. No judgement, however cities increase the number and variety of people that we interact and as such reduces intimacy required for solid comradery. Technology and how we tend to use it also reduces practical interdependence thereby increasing the opportunity for division.

Our species is predominately social and traditional values encourage 'good'(amicable) character. That said, progressive ideas are also necessary. As a society develops over time we have to adapt foundation traditional values to new circumstances. I like metaphor of a pair of scissors where conservatives and progressives work together in opposition with moderates being the rivet they pivot on.


[Edit: Explainer for "bot" critic] OP: "Is it true that a technological society has to weaken family ties and local communities if it is to function efficiently?"

Maybe not "has to" but has.
At the beginning of my answer I distance myself from the quote from a lunatic which I essentially agree with. Then I defend our premise: Given human nature has not changed recently and "traditional values" which promote family ties due to increased likilihood of survival, have developed of a long period of time and lasted many challenges(Ibn Khaldun, 1377). Then I balance the defense stating the opposing NON-traditional values(progressive) have a legitimate place in society.

So, a fuller, more balanced response than the question requires but one I think appreciated by any soulful human beings who have read it-even if they disagree.

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    @NotThatGuy"do you concede that "traditional family values" has not been around for 10000+ years?" I'm saying basic or nuclear family = man/woman+kids is the result of evolution driving the species survive and hence, procreate with notable exceptions amongst royalty and the otherwise wealthy. Feb 7 at 19:07
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    @NotThatGuy "What does traditional family values have to do with the golden rule?" Both are products of evolution. The golden rule is the basis of all virtue (see Aristotle's doctrine of the mean) which are attributes of Character. Character enables human beings to get along, to develop sincere, caring relationships that is not possible if we rely on an impersonal authority haphazardly enforcing specific laws. Character is destiny said Heraclitus and per my experience he's still correct. Feb 7 at 19:19
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    "Are you saying slavery was a good thing?" I'm saying that in the context of history it is understandable. That if you or I had been born in ancient Athens to a rich family, we would have been slave owners. Before Ind. Revolution the labor required to produce enough food for a society to survive likely required labor organized as slavery. Since that time the rich have discovered more humane ways to organize labor. Not all slaves were poorly treated. Consider Aesop, Epictetus, and Joseph(from the Bible). Then as now it's better to be useful! Feb 7 at 19:29
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    @NotThatGuy "Given your apparent admission that slavery was indeed a good thing," I did NOT say slavery was "good." I said it was understandable and I say inevitable. We do agree we've reached a point of complete disconnect in our discussion. Feb 7 at 20:01
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    That point of disconnect should come w the discovery that the contention over "traditional family values" stems from the motivation to politicize the term within the context of contemporary American politics and is rendered disingenuous by a rhetorical ploy to characterize this answer's author as committed to the proposition that slavery is good. Ideologues curiously find themselves compelled to shoehorn discourse into a false dichotomy with a lack of awareness of their own motivation to do so. Such is discourse on the Interwebs, alas.
    – J D
    Feb 8 at 8:29

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