Magnificent minds turned into maniacs by an exclusive society — the questions Ted left behind
The story of Ted Kaczynski is one of the most intriguing of my time. Most know him as the Unabomber, but if Ted had it his way, you would remember him as the Freedom Club.
From Ted’s infamous cabin — that he lived in alone for 17 years — to the insecurities that led to his demise, despite his genius, his entire story is bizarre and intriguing.
There is much to be learned from Ted, about the human condition, society as a whole, and the power and fragility of the human psyche. Upon thoughtfully considering the curious aspects of his story, there are many questions left behind by the man who wanted to save the world by blowing up society. These questions became even more relevant in 2020 and are questions we shouldn’t lock away with Ted.
Besides his Manifesto, Ted’s cabin was the most infamous and telling thing he left behind. The 12 x 10-foot cabin that Ted meticulously built with his own two hands held everything — including the last 17 years of his free life.
Ted moved into his hand-made cabin in 1971, nine years after graduating from Harvard, and would remain there until he would face arrest in 1996.
Out in the deep woods of Montana, away from society, Ted toiled away and lived off the land. Year after year, he isolated himself in his cabin, leaving very rarely to obtain essential items. Eventually, those essential items turned into ingredients for bombs.
Ted was a genius, but even considering that — take a second to imagine yourself, tucked away in the middle of nowhere, in a tiny room, teaching yourself how to make bombs. The strength of mind that would be required for such an undertaking is uncanny.
Seeing the inside of his tiny cabin, with all his belongings, evokes a feeling that I cannot describe. I guess the appropriate word of the ages would be to say that Ted’s cabin is a mood. And although it may not be a good mood, it is unique and mysterious beyond measure.
That comes as no surprise, though, considering that he spent more time in this 10 x 12-foot room than most of us have spent anywhere in our entire lives.
Just consider that for a moment — all day, almost every single day, for 17 years. Confined to one tiny room — alone. And all by your own choice.
The FBI even resurrected his entire cabin and transported it from the Montana woods to Washington D.C. — where it remains.
Ted’s debilitating inferiority complex — despite his genius
When you think of someone being as smart as Ted was, it is hard to imagine how blowing people up would seem like a sound solution to the decay of society.
Ted had an IQ of 167, seven points higher than Einstein is said to have had. He went to Harvard at age 16 and finished at the age of 20. He was a brilliant mathematician and polymath. Only .03 percent of those who test have an IQ of 160 or above. And you may consider that the people with the lowest IQs don’t typically take IQ tests.
How could you be brilliant enough to prove mathematical theorems that have puzzled professors for years, yet be stupid enough to think that you can save society by blowing people up? Such a juxtaposition in one person’s mind is hard to comprehend.
That is where we get into what many would call emotional intelligence or EQ. Ted may have been a genius intellectually, but emotionally and psychologically, he was a volcano waiting to erupt.
Ted suffered from debilitating fears of inferiority. Again, it’s hard to imagine that someone so brilliant could fear inferiority to such a destabilizing degree.
Ultimately, Ted’s fears of inferiority led to his demise when his uncommon use of variant spelling linked him to his manifesto. These spellings were used for a time in the 1950s by the Chicago Tribune. His unique linguistic profile, likely fueled by his obsessive perfectionism, was the mistake that eventually landed him in prison.
Even after he was captured and went through the trial, he resisted using a plea of insanity — even though it could have saved him from life in prison. He cared more about his legacy than his life — he knew no one would take him seriously if they thought he was crazy. And that was what Ted wanted above all else: to be taken seriously, to be of importance, to be brilliant, and for the world to be amazed by his greatness.
In the end, the most amazing thing about Ted would be that, despite his intelligence, he believed blowing people up would inspire the world to listen to him.
The infamous Freedom Club Manifesto
When Ted sent in his 35,000-word manifesto to The Washington Post and The New York Times, he demanded that it be published or he would, “start building our next bomb”.
He always referred to himself as we and was referencing the Freedom Club — of which he was the only active member.
After the FBI suggested that the piece be published publicly, it was.
Although you may not agree with all of Ted’s sentiments, it would be unreasonable to say that Ted made no valid and crucial points. The way he went about attempting to change society was horrendous. But his questions and concerns were and still are valid. Actually, they are more valid today than they were 25 years ago, as many of his arguments have become increasingly relevant during COVID and the rise of cancel culture.
Ted’s perception and synopsis of society’s malfunction were deep and well thought out. But his emotional and mental issues, especially delusions of grandeur and fear of inferiority, led to him believing in horrific ways to bring his ideas into reality. He saw a breaking system. And like many other insanely intelligent criminals, he thought that the only way to fix the system was to destroy it.
If the system breaks down the consequences will still be very painful. But the bigger the system grows the more disastrous the results of its breakdown will be, so if it is to break down it had best break down sooner rather than later. — Ted Kaczynski.
A disturbing psychological experiment at Harvard that likely evoked the violence behind Ted’s convictions
We will never know for sure what would have become of Ted Kaczynski, had he not been the victim of a vicious psychological study at Harvard in the 50s and 60s. But the unethical psychological abuse that Ted endured during these experiments was enough to drive any person insane — let alone a genius whose intellect is so profound that it already borders the line of insanity.
Conducted by Harvard psychologist Henry A. Murray, the goal was to test out the efficiency of interrogation techniques. The interrogation techniques in question were to be used by national security and law enforcement, and they were, as Murray described, “vehement, sweeping, and personally abusive”.
The subject would sit in a chair, hooked up to electrodes while bright lights were shined upon them. Researchers would take the ideas and beliefs that the students wrote about in their essays and attack them vigorously. They shamed and degraded their victims under these bright lights for long periods, testing their psychological resolve.
Ted being the self-aggrandizing fearer of inferiority that he was, continued to participate in the trials despite the damage it was doing on his psyche.
“Subjects were incompletely informed about the nature of the experiment [and] were tricked, or coerced, into remaining in the experiment. Given that the procedures were designed to ‘break’ enemy agents and render them so damaged that they would be operationally useless, it is reasonable to expect that they would have the same consequences for vulnerable young people who did not have specialized training to resist interrogation.” — Nigel Barber, Ph.D.
Ted participated in this experiment for more than 200 hours, throughout 3 years, beginning in 1959. His manifesto’s foundation focused on “forced feelings of inferiority” and, therefore, advocated for “revolution against the industrial system.”
It is safe to assume one thing: the violence behind his mission of mass-revolution and destruction of modern society resulted from the mental and emotional abuse that Ted endured during those three years. It would be absurd to negate the connection between the studies and the manifesto.
If you take away what became the end-aim of Ted Kaczynski — to explode people in a vain attempt to awaken the masses — you can find many remarkable and admirable traits in him. He is, in many ways, an astonishing human being.
Could you live in a 10 x 12-foot room, isolated from society for seventeen years, if you believed that is what standing for your ideals required?
Would you have the strength of mind to continue willingly accepting severe and catastrophic attacks on your psyche if you thought it would prove your worthiness?
If you honestly believed that you had the one solution to saving society, would you give up your life for it?
Are you capable of toiling away, day after day, hour after hour, for years upon years, before you would even have a chance of achieving your desired outcome?
Do you believe in your ideals with such conviction that it wouldn’t matter if you were the only person on earth who believed them?
I cannot honestly, simply and surely answer any of these questions with a yes. And I don’t think that many of us can.
I do not wish to harm other human beings in my lifetime. Quite the opposite, in fact. But if I can see this lifetime through with a fraction of the conviction and resolve that Ted embodied, I will have accomplished something magnificent.
When you consider the strength of mind and brilliance that Ted had at his disposal, it is mortifying to think of what he could have become — had he not been emotionally and mentally destroyed.
No, most of us have not endured the brutal, intense and consistent psychological abuse Ted did. But on a smaller scale, are we not all forced to feel inferior by our society?
Don’t we all have some societal demand that we must answer if we wish not to live a life of inferiority? Wouldn’t we all like to be free from forced feelings of inferiority?
Whether it’s your body, your level of success, your life choices, or your IQ, you are in some way asked by society to measure up or be haunted by inferiority. We all are.
How much does this paradigm of forced feelings of inferiority contribute to suicide, criminal activity, poverty, addiction, abuse and incarceration rates?
Furthermore, what is it about our society that takes magnificent minds and turns them into maniacs? And how do we go beneath the surface to solve the problem instead of merely treating its symptoms?
How many smaller-scale Ted Kaczynskis have walked the earth, and what happened to them? How many would-be-Einsteins could we have destroyed with our shameful societal constructs? Where would we be now if Ted and those like him lived in a society where they socially thrived instead of one where they barely survive?
These are the questions Ted left behind. And although he may deserve to be locked up until the end of his time, the questions he left behind do not. These questions are still begging for answers, and it is up to us to find them.
Written by Holly Kellums