David Skrbina, Introduction to Kaczynski’s Technological Slavery (2010)

The more sharpened tools the people have the more benighted the state

Lao Tzu (ancient Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism)

The sharper the tools, the darker the times” (Skrbina)


1.      Ad hominem fallacy: Attacking the person rather than her argument

2.      “Do we dignify Kaczynski unduly?”

         a.      Importance of freely discussing ideas

         b.      Especially those “that challenge the core of our modern worldview and even offer a kind of salvation”


3.      Skrbina is close to accepting technological determinism

         a.      We are enmeshed (entangled) in technology; no escape

         b.      It determines or shapes every course of action

4.      Accepts Paul Shepard’s “Mismatch Argument”: Mismatch between environment of our origin and today’s environment

         a.      Humans evolved during Pleistocene and are adapted to a primitive, low-tech environment

         b.      “No good reason” to think humans could adapt well to advanced, high-tech lifestyle

“As individuals we are...born and raised in tech world and so think we can adapt. But our physical and mental selves are really locked in the past. We try to hide this past with fancy clothes and sophisticated language, and we arm ourselves with all varieties of clever tech aids. But our ancient hunter-gatherer selves are still there, deep inside, struggling to make sense of the world” (p. 19-20)

         c.      Mismatch explains human unhappiness and lack of fulfilment, as well as our disastrous treatment of the earth

5.      Evidence points to our inability to handle advanced techs w/o causing massive disruption to                                             

         a.      Bodies, our physical health

                   i.       Cancer, obesity, auto deaths, over-medicated, modern-foods (chemicals, over-eating meat) killing us, WMD, cell phones

         b.      Psyche, our mental health

                   i.       26% U.S. mentally ill; 15% personality disorder, ADD due to TV and video games, internet rewiring our brains, Twitter threaten emotional/moral development, text messaging damaging language skills

         c.      Environment/nature

                   i.       Species extinction, deforestation, resource depletion, climate change, toxics all over–“much of our civilization will collapse” (ironic that tech civilization destroys itself)

6.      “In advanced tech we are dealing with something–a set of tools, structure, mindset, force, power–which is damaging all aspects of our lives and seriously undermining the health of the planet. And, for all practical purposes, it is beyond our rational control

         a.“All major problems confronting humanity are created/enabled by advanced tech”

7.      People recognize problems with tech

         a.      51% in U.S. are “Tech pessimists” (between indifferent and hostile to modern tech)

         b.      Widespread and deep-seated feeling something is wrong with our tech age

8.      Summary of Kaczynski’s argument (p. 26)

         a.      Humans evolved under primitive, low-tech conditions; this is our natural state of existence

         b.      Present tech society is radically different from our natural state and imposes unprecedented stresses on us and on nature

         c.      Tech-induced stress will get much worse resulting in condition where humans will be completely manipulated and molded to serve the needs of the system.

                   i.       Such a state of affairs is undignified, abhorrent, profoundly dehumanizing, and disastrous for nature

         d.      Tech system can’t be fixed/reformed to avoid this dehumanized future

         e.      Therefore, system must be brought to an end

         f.       Worry: Is our natural state necessarily a good state? Our natural state may be one that encourages reproductive fitness but why assume this is the same as fulfillment or happiness?


9.      Objection: Sure tech causes problems, but we have no choice: What are we suppose to go live in a cave?

10.    Reply 1: If you think you have no choice then Kaczynski has won as you have no freedom; you are a slave to the system, perhaps a comfortable slave, which is an undignified existence

11.    Reply 2: If you mean by cave a life w/o technology, this is crazy

         a.      For 2 million years we used tools, tech, to survive

         b.      Question is what level of tech shall we use?

                   i.       Simple, natural, manageable, biodegradable tools

                   ii.      Or complex, enslaving, toxic tools


12.    Objection: The simple, low-tech life being advocated (a life w/o electricity, internet, a/c, indoor plumbing, computers) is unlivable and brutish

13.    Replies:

         a.      Where the Greeks and men of the Renaissance brutes?

         b.      Greatest accomplishments of humanity occurred w/o computers, electricity, plumbing

                   i.       Such as? Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, thinkers who pushed for human equality and rights, even lots of science

         c.      “To have a good life requires almost nothing at all”


14.    No pain, no gain objection: Yes problems with tech but w/o mistakes we could not enjoy gains tech offers

15.    Reply 1: But pains not predictable, limited, or manageable

                   i.       Henry Ford not predict highway deaths, urban sprawl or wars over oil, and global warming autos would bring

                   ii.      TV inventors could not predict obesity, ill health, lower academic performance, and ADD it led to

                   iii.     Such consequences are unavoidable aspects of advanced tech

                   iv.     We can never know what the consequences will be and the more powerful/ubiquitous the tech, the greater the risk.

                   v.      Contrast this with Winner’s rejection of tech determinism and his willingness to do “philosophy of technology” to determine a technology’s appropriateness

         b.      Reply 2: Pains not fairly or justly distributed

         c.      Reply 3: Nor are the gains true improvements

Questions on Skrbina’s Introduction to Kaczynski’s Technological Slavery

1.      Identify and evaluate moral objections to reading and thinking carefully about Kaczynski’s ideas.

2.      What is “technological determinism” and to what extent are Skrbina (and Kaczynski) technological determinists?

3.      Identify and explain the “Mismatch Argument” and then evaluate if from your own perspective. Do you think it true that human nature was shaped in a primitive, low-tech world and that our current high tech world is not conducive to satisfying our nature?

4.      What are the five steps of Kaczynski’s argument as summarized by Skrbina? Evaluate the argument from your own perspective.

5.      Does Skrbina advocate that we live without technology? Explain.

6.      Describe the low-tech lifestyle Skrbina suggests is desirable. How does he respond to the objection that such a life is the life of a brute?

7.      Contrast Winner’s (in Technologies as Forms of Life) views on technology with those of Skrbina’s, specifically on the issue of technological determinism, and the possibility of assessing the meanings and effects of technology.