Working Within the System: Ted ‘Unabomber’ Kacynzski’s ‘Ship of Fools’

Ship of Fools, a short story by Theodore John Kacynzski, is a startlingly dark but poignant tale of human folly. It illustrates perfectly the myth that we can ‘work within the system’ to affect any serious change. Through the tragic humor of despair, it lays siege to the extroverted dogma that the solution to any problem is always to DO SOMETHING rather than simply to STOP DOING whatever it is you have been doing all along. It absolutely mocks the foolish notion that our systems can be tweaked and fixed to operate more favorably while ignoring that despite any favorable operation, that system is itself the greatest danger we face, and should rid ourselves of it altogether rather than nit-picking it into a more comfortable delusion.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein (common source)




However, Kacynzski was not just talking about the lunacy of statism, but also about the eventual environmental and social disaster he reckoned would result from Industrialism. As a young math whiz, he became part of a CIA mind control experiment that subjected him to psychological stress. After that he experienced deep changes and became convinced that Industrialism was a danger to our species and planet alike. He left his job and his field and went off to ponder all of this in a cabin deep in the woods in Montana, where he eventually constructed bombs intended for those he viewed as directly responsible and emblematic of industrial excess. The rest is history.

Near the end of his mass murder spree, he released a manifesto to major news agencies. Entitled ‘Industrial Society and It’s Future’, the 50+ page document is at times enlightening and at others outright insane. His insights into the particular psychological defects of the political left are alone worth reading it. And while he is deluded to think that humans can turn back the evolutionary clock, he is quite wise in understanding how humans are prone to the idiocy of false dichotomies and symbolic appeasement.

In the short animated film (above) based on his story, we can see how this looks from the outside. Only one shipmate is able to see the larger problem, that the ship itself is heading for certain disaster. Meanwhile the rest of the crew become distracted with petty, piecemeal concerns that appease their own symbolic and emotional desires while failing to see that no matter how comfortable the delusion becomes, it is still going to kill them all. The ship is the system and the crew busy themselves ‘working within’ it while ignoring the most fundamental problem of all.



And so it is with statism. The state has already proven that it is willing to create and proliferate enough arms to destroy the world several times over. It has shown its willingness to destroy the individual and the planet on infinite occasions. This is not because the state has lost its way. This is the inevitable course and logic conclusion of that institution. As all systems experience an innate tendency towards growth, the state will eventually swallow even its own creators in order to achieve those ends. Systems are all instinct and no free will. They cannot be made foolproof or repaired. You cannot ‘fix the system from within’ because the system is not itself broken, it is the part of civilization which is.

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Yet for all of his insight and wisdom, Ted was still a mass murderer. He still used aggressive violence as a means to his ends, which makes him no different than the state in the end. Individual violence is the fuel which the state uses to increase its own ever-engulfing flames. In the wake of his bombings and other acts of ‘domestic terrorism’ the state used public fear and panic to experience more growth and to expand its control and power, as it did again after 9/11 and continues to do to this day. So while he should not be held as a heroic figure in anti-statist circles, his thoughts and ideas should still be read and considered.

He was right about Industrialism, though. It has been the source of numerous social and environmental ills. Its continuance would eventually lead to disaster. What he missed was that we do not need to go backwards to escape it. Technology itself may eventually lead to a post-scarcity civilization. Our ability to harness endless free energy and bend it into matter may save us from having to compete over the limited resources the planet provides. We may someday soon see an end to labor as we know it as automation frees us from its slavish clutches. We can then replace currency with the true source of all human value, the reputation of the individual. What freer market could there be and what greater fate for human beings than to evolve into creatures whose main occupations are of the mind, rather than matter?

But first things first- we have to turn this ship around. End the state!

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