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In his manifesto* "Industrial Society and its Future", the mathematician, philosopher, and terrorist Ted Kaczynski espouses a deeply pessimistic view of the effects of technology on society. He argues that it has made life unfulfilling and has caused widespread psychological suffering.

One could, of course, disagree - both with these opinions and with the violent manner in which he tried to make his message known to the world (he murdered multiple people involved with modern technology by means of letter bombs). At the same time, I think we ought to take his philosophy seriously. In our society, we do have many problems with technology and they could only exacerbate in future - for instance with regards to climate change.

Moreover, it is hard to deny the brilliance of the man. His mathematical writings, the manifesto, and his later philosophical writings demonstrate an ability to think clearly and present arguments persuasively.

I am interested in whether philosophers and other academics have specifically addressed his writings, and have written any essays or articles that argue in favour of the opposite point of view: that technology is largely a positive force. I would also be interested in writings that address Kaczynski's work and - instead of arguing for the opposite viewpoint - present a more neutral, nuanced, or different outlook on Kaczyinski's perspective on the effects of technology.

(*) One can read it here (part 1) and here (part 2)

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    Not specific, but there is a journal Technology in Society dedicated to that living issue. May 19, 2022 at 7:21
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    Many people have made the same points without sending mail bombs to people. I object to making this guy into some kind of intellectual hero. He's nothing of the kind.
    – user4894
    May 22, 2022 at 19:55
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    @user4894 I'm not saying he's a hero. I think we shouldn't discard his philosophy purely on account of the violence he committed in his personal life. There have been quite a few violent, racist or allround terrible people in the past who nevertheless made signficant contributions to the arts, sciences and philosophy, including Caravaggio, Galois, Ronald Fisher, Céline, James Watson, Shockley, Mullis, and others. However reprehensible their views or actions, we take their professional contributions seriously - and it's wise to do so, in my opinion. Humanity can learn from their work and faults
    – Max Muller
    May 22, 2022 at 20:47
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    @MaxMuller Galois was a violent racist? New one on me. I reiterate my point. There are many people who have made the same political points as the Unabomber, but managed to go through life without sending mail bombs to people. I strongly oppose all who try to make the guy into some sort of intellectual hero for blowing people up. Not a single one of the people you mention ever blew anyone up or physically harmed anyone in any way. If you can't tell the difference between having an unpopular opinion versus sending mail bombs, you're exactly the person who needs to hear what I'm saying.
    – user4894
    May 22, 2022 at 22:35
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    @user4894 Number of things: 1. "Not a single one of the people you mention ... ever harmed anyone in any way". Simply not true. Caravaggio killed at least one person - look it up. 2. I said "violent, racist or allround terrible people". Galois entered a duel to the death, and lost. He intended to murder the person he was duelling with. 3. You keep banging on about me making Kaczyinski out as some "intellectual hero." Asking a question about someone's philosophical work is decidedly not the same as an endorsement - that should be clear from the way I phrased the question.
    – Max Muller
    May 23, 2022 at 9:57

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I am not aware of anyone who has taken Kaczynski seriously enough to do academic work on his manifesto. "It is hard to deny the brilliance of the man". No this is not difficult at all. The manifesto is a lot of declaration and generalizations, and appears to be little troubled by anthroplogy, sociology, or psychology.

In general Kaczynski's perspective is representative of the Luddite inclinations of Romaticism, which treats any change from the way things were in an idealized past as a negative, leading to hostility to technological advances. Romantic Ludditism is an attitude that humans fall into easily, and one can find similar decrying of basically every technological advance in history, throughout history. Note, humans are intrinsically dissatisfied with their lives. This is not a unique feature of the industrial age, unlike Kaczynski's delusion.

The refutation to romantic Ludditism is through anthropology and sociology. Humans pre-technology were at great risk from starvation, predators, and disease. And the needs of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle were so time-consuming, that there was no time for the development of the sort of knowledge that Kaczynski articulated -- there was no philosophy 200,000 years ago. Nor writing, etc.

Humans developed technologies of tanning, pottery, twine, adhesives, fletching, etc, and made homes, storage vessels, clothing, and weapons. This technology made life better for the inventors for a time, until the Darwinian process of population growth drove humans further out into what had previously been uninhabitable regions. Tech assisted hunter-gatherers were able to live almost anywhere on the planet, but life was not GOOD. They were far less at risk from predators, but no more secure from starvation or disease. And humans have always preyed upon each other. ~15% of hunter-gatherers died from human on human violence. Life COULD have been idyllic in an under-populated and rich hunter-gatherer environment, at least when disease or other natural disasters weren't messing with it. But humans only transitorily lived that way, they overfilled their niche, and starved, and fought -- and the phenomenon of a gang or pirate boss is typical of how our natural social system operated. Life was not idyllic for tech hunter gatherers.

Note that Kaczynski treats an underpopulated time as representative of what pre-industrial society was like. His model was frontier America, where an early industrializing society, with its massively larger potential population densities and much better weapons, had driven lower technology native American societies off the land. This was the transitory "happy" times for pre-industrialists, when population had not yet risen to its sustainable limit at that tech level. Note, Kaczynski declares all pre-industrial people to be psychologically healthy -- using as far as is discernable from his manifesto -- rose colored glasses as his "research" tool into the psychological health of frontier Americans, and every other pre-industrial culture he cites.

The development of agricultural technology was transformative, as the population that could be supported per acre from agriculture was many times that from hunter gathering. This did not end warfare, or disease, or starvation, though. What is DID allow was the development of a small educated class, and writing, and the process of knowledge accumulation that eventually lead to science and modern medicine. It also lead to caste systems with an inherited boss class, and professional armies to maintain that boss class in its advantaged status. Life was not idyllic in agricultural societies.

Modern industrial technology has given us the capability to limit our population growth, which is critical to keeping a benefit from technological advances. It has dramatically increased the size of the educated class, allowing more than just a few priests and warlords into the ranks of those who debate our potential paths forward. It has enabled the development of modern medicine, so that debilitating injury and disease, plus devastating plague, are no longer likely life paths for many. And the democratization of public discourse, has lead to the gradual moral improvement of human attitudes as a whole. The Better Angels of Our Nature is an outstanding compendium of that gradual transformation, leading to far far less murder and warfare today than 20,000 years ago.

Kaczynski would have been far better off referencing the Gaia hypothesis, and studying Deep Ecology, than his Romantic Luddite illusions. Gaia is not able to reason, nor does she have the technology to protect the biosphere from external threats. Humans, as the reasoning element of Gaia, CAN study the threats to Gaia, and develop the technology to mitigate them.

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Here's an example of more or less consistent critique of TJK's ideas:

A critique of Theodore Kaczynski from an excentric point of view.

However, western academia has a certain bias towards TJK's writings due to the fact that he's talking about emperically evident issues of the modern society, often brought up by many envoremntal researches, anthropologists and sociology practitioners, while simultaneously denying certain widespread premises and standardized academic world view, prevalent in humanities.

TJK is going much further in his thought, сriticizing not just the economic or political order, as it is common in today's academic environment, but rather criticizing the idea of progress and civilization itself, which simply does not fit the framework of the average PhD holder.

The well-known British cosmologist and astrophysicis Martin Rees Kt, OM, FRS, FREng, FMedSci, FRAS, HonFInstP, with tremendous recognition in the scientific community, wrote the book titled Our Final Hour where he argues that human survival are in far greater danger from the potential effects of modern technology than is commonly realised, highly likely agrees with TJK's ideas and premises.

The Canadian scholar Jean-François Gariépy Université de Montreal PhD Society for Neuroscience the Next Generation Award winner, in his book titled The Revolutionary Phenotype: The amazing story of how life begins and how it ends, argues that gene-editing technologies like CRISPR can lead to the so-called phenotypic revolution that has already taken place in the past and led to the displacement of RNA-based life forms from their dominant positions in the biological hierarchy.

According to the Jean-François Gariépy, his book essentially complements TJK's writings by providing a specific example of an existing technology, that could lead to the loss of dominant DNA-based life forms i.e. humans ability to control gene replication by delegating it to the theoretical AI, armed with technology like CRISPR, that will select conditionally "good" and "bad" genes and will eventually lead to the selection of genes that will benefit the AI and human productivity as a result, but at the expense of crucial human characteristics and the ability to give birth independently i.e. without gene-editing, special screenings etc.

Which means the loss of the most important freedom for humans as a biological species - freedom to replicate the genome, in favor of AI-driven selection of "good" and "bad" genes.

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