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Unabomber's Manifesto Makes for Good Reading

Column by Anders Hove
Opinion Editor

Of all the works of William Shakespeare, I like Hamlet the best. Crazed people with bizarre motivations sometimes have a lot to say. Generations of Hamlet readers will agree that just because someone has gone off the deep end and murdered a court intellectual or two doesn't mean he can't tell a hawk from a handsaw.

I think the Washington Post and New York TImes were right to publish the Unabomber's manifesto, but not for the reasons they gave. The manifesto is news, and it's an interesting read. To me, that screams "Copy!"

I've always enjoyed reading unfiltered news, whether it comes to White House press conferences or speeches in Congress. Political manifestos are no exception; if a document or speech is news, the public deserves to see the text itself, not just the watered down, edited version most broadsheets put out.

Unfortunately, the Unabomber's pronunciamento violates one of the most important style guidelines for manifesto-writers: It's too long. He doesn't get around to telling his readers why they should launch a violent revolution against technology till the 140th paragraph. And when he does, his advocacy comes out a little flat: "...This implies revolution, not necessarily an armed uprising, but certainly a radical and fundamental change in the nature of society." Let's face it: Karl Marx he ain't.

Stylistic objections aside, the manifesto is a decent read. Unlike most Op-Ed writers, the Unabomber actually makes some interesting points about contemporary society. He begins with a crushing attack on leftist intellectuals, arguing that the entire "politically correct" movement is motivated by self-hatred and low self-esteem. Indeed, his critique of leftism and elite politics is certainly more sophisticated than anything right-wing radio talk shows have contributed thus far.

What really gets the Unabomber's goat, however, is the weird psychology of modern society. Taken by itself, the Unabomber's rambling about the individual's need for autonomy, power, and cognitive harmony would seem like only another undergraduate psychology term paper. But as part of a political creed? Even the lay reader must jump to the conclusion that his digression on psychology is itself a result of "projection" - the avoidance of one's own faults by attributing them to others.

The main reason the FBI wanted to print the manifesto in the first place was to put people on the lookout for a person with the Unabomber's psychology. This silly, print-version of "America's Most Wanted" will undoubtedly fail to bring the bomber to justice. But the absurdity of the FBI's reason for publishing the manifesto should not be allowed to spoil the well for better justifications.

The best reason for printing this bomber's drivel is that it's good reading. Reading bizarre, ideological canons is good intellectual exercise. I take the recent upsurge in letters-to-the-editor concerning "Jim's Journal" as a sign that this particular community could use a little more of the Unabomber's weird fulmination. Ideologues are the spice of politics.

While we must all condemn the Unabomber's murderous actions, no principle stands in the way of reading the interesting (if neurotic) things he has to say. By giving into the Unabomber's demand, the Times and Post only gave in to the need to print compelling and readable stories. The editors of the two papers did not give in to terrorism any more by printing the manifesto than they do by regularly printing the demands of terrorists in Waco or the Middle East. If a newsmaker says something, it's news, and it's printable.

Finally, nobody should be worried that anarchism will spread through the publication of the manifesto. The marketplace of ideas remains the best place for the airing of political views of any type. Puffed-up dogmas (including the anti-technology mantra of the Unabomber, Marxism, and other ideologies) eventually die out by their own self-contradiction. Meanwhile, not only do the fittest arguments survive, but they are bolstered by the ordeal of their exposure to extreme or wrong-headed ideas. Perhaps our own American ideals would be the stronger if they were exposed to the wild world of extremist dogmas a little more often.