Pick Me Up! magazine asked for my professional opinion on Theodore (Ted) Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, who engaged in a mail bombing campaign that spanned nearly 20 years, killing 3 people and injury 23. Out in the 14th June 2012 edition, I supplied the following psychological insight.
Is there a link between Ted’s intellectual superiority and isolation as a child and his later actions?
Ted’s intellectual superiority would have contributed to Ted’s isolation as a child. It would have been very difficult for Ted to engage with children of his age, who were intellectually immature in comparison. His intellectual abilities would have also made him grow up much faster as he would have had a much better understanding of the world. The fact that Ted was a child prodigy likely resulted in a loss of childhood, as the demands on him would have been much greater than should have been expected of a child. In turn, the lack of isolation from others would have left Ted with many hours alone, where he developed this image of the world that he did not like. Many serial killers have the same profile of being isolated children.
Could a child ever advance to university at such a premature age and fit in?
It would take a unique and special child to fit into University at the age of 16, which was when Ted was accepted into Harvard University. More likely, the fact that he was different would have led to further isolation. Ted was too intellectually superior to relate to children his own age, but too young to relate to older teenagers and university graduates. Ted was likely to have been bullied, especially during a period when educational advancement was less prevalent.
What impact did the psychological experiment Ted was involved in have on the rest of his life?
There is no doubt that this psychological experiment would have been traumatic for all involved. It certainly wouldn’t pass an ethics committee today. The prolonged psychological attack and belittling that Ted endured would act to ‘squash’ the confidence out of most children, but given Ted’s intellect, it more than likely created a need to regain the control that he lost during this time. Indeed, it is likely that Ted was extremely angry about what he endured for the sake of an experiment; after all, he had the intellect to rationalise that what was happening was wrong.
Why would anyone want to be so isolated from society and modernity? What was Ted really looking for?
Did Ted really want to be isolated from society at first? It is more likely that he became involuntarily isolated as a child and carried this into adulthood. While many people like Ted end up seeking revenge on individuals, Ted felt that society was to blame for the suffering of individuals such as himself. The ultimate way to refuse to be a part of such a society is to reject it, with resistance to modernity being an effective way of achieving this.
Ted saw his attacks as revenge for all the suffering man had meted out on the natural world – but why did he take such a task upon himself? Did he ever believe his one man mission would be successful?
While revenge was involved in Ted’s crimes, so was the need to make a statement. Much of his efforts were about making a statement and, as far as he was concerned, educating people. Just think of his 35,000 word manifesto, ‘Industrial Society and its Future,’ which he used to bargain with the media and FBI; if this manifesto was printed verbatim by a major newspaper, he claimed that he would stop the bombings. In many ways Ted wanted to share his superior intellect with others, albeit in a far from conventional way.
Ted genuinely believed that his intellectual superiority surpassed that of other people, and thus he could only carry out his acts alone. He was intelligent enough to know what he was doing and intelligent enough to recognise that he would have to do this alone; no one else would understand his efforts.
Did he think he would be successful? Well, Ted appeared to think long-term rather than short-term. While it is likely that he knew legal forces and social conventions would not allow his efforts to be successful short-term, his bid to have his manifesto published demonstrates a belief in spreading his message in order to achieve success in the future.
Not only did he use bombs, but some of Ted’s bombs seem horribly cruel as they contained many sharp-edged chunks of metal. Why would someone want to increase the suffering of his victims in this way?
Ted needed to make an impact in whatever way he could. He needed to be heard. This wasn’t about making people suffer, but ingraining a message into people’s minds. Again, Ted was not focused on the short-term (i.e. the pain or death of victims), but the long-term (i.e. putting a stop to an increasingly industrial society).
He showed no remorse for his actions. How is it possible not to feel regret?
Ted balanced his crimes with the damage he saw being done to the planet. He was completely focused on the message he wanted to convey, which he believed was for the greater good of society. Many criminals and serial killers can justify the most atrocious of acts by convincing themselves that at the core of what they are doing is good.
Why do you think Ted made an attempt on his own life while in prison? Did he feel betrayed by his brother?
Once in prison, Ted found himself in an environment that was the absolute stark contrast to what he wanted – freedom and to live at one with nature. Instead, he was incarcerated and detached from the natural world, the very thing that he was trying to protect from modernity. The betrayal by his brother would have most certainly been a hard punch to Ted’s trust since he didn’t trust many people anyway. However, it is likely that his main motivation was to save himself from a world that he abhorred.
What made Ted a monster?
Interestingly, what made Ted a monster was his intellect; Ted was ahead of his time and couldn’t cope with the world he was living in.