Overweening Generalist

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Every Last Tie, by David Kaczynski: Review

David Kaczynski, brother of Theodore, AKA, "The Unabomber," has written a memoir subtitled, "The Story of the Unabomber and His Family." It's Dostoeyevskian but all-too true. I've been fascinated with Ted Kaczynski since a few years before he got busted, and in all my readings the thing that bothered me most were the tropes explaining Ted as "evil," and his brother's book rectifies this. It's a much-needed book in the Unabomber literature and it's filled with Buddhist compassion.

                             Ted Kaczynksi, with parrot on his shoulder, his little brother 
                             David at his side. This was their mother's favorite photo of them,
                             although the cover of David's book doesn't cut his face in half.

While the book is filled with the sorrow and psychic weight of a family member who turned out to be a serial killer, it sheds light on mental illness in Unistat and lends insight into a mind like Ted's that only a brother could. In a 26-page Afterword by David's friend, James L. Knoll, another Buddhist but also a Forensic Psychiatrist, we're invited to practice "forensic empathy" in order to put oneself in the mind of someone of a schizoid personality, which comes closest to a diagnosis of Theodore Kaczynski.

The schizoid craves human intimacy but is filled with terror over the possibility of humiliation or exploitation of their emotions by others. They desperately need but at the same time cannot allow themselves to have what they need. Knoll brilliantly contrasts the semantics of Buddhist's "attachment" and Psychology's "attachment," which has to do with the at times profound influence on infants of their caregivers.

When Ted was nine months old, he broke out in a rash that covered his body. At the hospital, Ted was separated from his parents, who were only allowed to see him every other day. David's mother told him, "I remember how your brother screamed in terror when I had to hand him over to the nurse and she took him away to another room."

Knoll elaborates on the schizoid personality - which is not the same as the "hearing voices" paranoid schizophrenic. (That was my brother.): "Such individuals inevitably choose the only 'reasonable' route: isolation and inwardness." Knoll notes that such suffering can be found in ordinary persons, and in writers such as Beckett, Kafka and Salinger. With time and distance, the ability to check one's own well-being becomes inaccessible, and their inner struggles constantly echo in their own minds, in self-imposed isolation.

David Kaczynski paints his family as lower-middle class secular Jews: intensely rational and progressive intellectually. When Ted threatened to kill more if the New York Times and Washington Post didn't print his Manifesto, someone at the Post read what "The Unabomber" had to say about progressive leftists in Unistat. This unnamed person found the serial killer so harsh toward US liberals that Unabomber was at first thought to be a "neoconservative." In fact, Ted was intensely technophobic and thought liberals were more to blame for the technology that was destroying Nature.

Ted was also reacting against his family. After he disappeared into the Montana woods for good, he at first sent long letters home to his parents and his brother. These letters gradually become emotionally violent toward his parents, who by all accounts were loving, nurturing people. In 1977 he sent his parents a 23 page letter accusing them of emotional abuse, filled with details from childhood of, as David writes, an "immense, dark tapestry of rejection and humiliation." Like when mom yelled at Ted for throwing his dirty socks under the bed. His parents were devastated but continued to their dying days to worry about Ted's well-being.

David always looked up to older brother Ted, who was always the most brilliant student in class. It's one of the darkest moments in the book, for me, when, David writes to Ted that he'd like to come visit him again in the woods. It had been a long time. Two weeks later a reply arrived:

I get just choked with frustration at my inability to get our stinking family off my back once and for all, and "stinking family" emphatically includes you. I DON'T EVER WANT TO SEE YOU OR HEAR FROM YOU, OR ANY OTHER MEMBER OF OUR FAMILY, AGAIN.

This was at the point when Linda, David's wife who had never met Ted but who listened to the family talk about him, had brought up the idea that Ted might be the Unabomber. David didn't really watch TV (he himself spent eight years alone in the wilderness, in West Texas) and had barely heard the word "Unabomber." Linda convinced David to read the Manifesto to look for tones, word choice, or a voice that reminded him of his brother. Or not. The very first time David ever used Internet (1995) was in a college library, reading the Manifesto. He and Linda walked out, and he whispered to her, nervously, "To be honest with you, some parts of it do sound like him..." He told Linda he'd estimate there's one chance in a thousand that Ted was the Unabomber.

After holing up together after work night after night, Linda and David reading the stacks of old letters from Ted and the Manifesto, David eventually thought there was a 50/50 chance his brother was the ingenious serial killer. Linda, a Philosophy professor, reminded David of Plato's dialogue Gorgias, in which Socrates argues that treating others unjustly harms the perpetrator too, not just the victims. The FBI gets called in, then a media frenzy, and a grappling with stigma, which the pioneering sociologist Erving Goffman defined as "a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity."

At its peak, the FBI employed 125 agents full-time on the Unabomber case, spending millions, but Linda solved the case. Prior to her textual analysis (which, by the way, see the chapter on literary forensic techniques and the Unabomber case in Don Foster's thrilling Author Unknown), Linda had connected her moments listening to David and his parents talk about Ted - what she took as emotional violence from Ted - with someone who might commit physical acts of violence as well. David needed a lot of convincing, and admits to a terror of "ratting" on his brother, or worse: provoking a violent FBI standoff with his brother. Why did he and Linda eventually call the FBI? They didn't want anyone else to be a victim of Ted's violence, if indeed Ted was the Unabomber. I tried to place myself in David's shoes throughout the book, and it was emotionally traumatic at times. I can't imagine the stress!

David Kaczynski depicts vividly his brother, mother, and father, which was something I needed, being a minor scholar of the case. But David - from the same genes and environment as his serial killer brother - somehow manages to combine his intense rationalism with a profound compassion based in Buddhism. He became good friends with one of his brother's victims who wasn't killed. (Which speaks to the exceptional forgiveness of Gary Wright of Salt Lake City as well.) David helped run a shelter for runaways and has given more than a thousand talks about the need for improved mental health treatment in Unistat, as well as many talks against the death penalty.

Finnegans Wake exegetes: try on David and Ted as yet another warped version of Shem and Shaun?

Some who read this review who also followed the Unabomber case will be saying to themselves by now, "Where's the talk about what happened to Ted as a CIA MK-ULTRA subject at Harvard?" What David was willing to cover ran lightly from pages 10-12.

Personally, I think Prof. Harry Murray's Harvard work for the CIA probably had at least as much to do with why Ted eventually lost it, at least as much as childhood trauma or an errant gene and this Harvard criminality probably influenced Ted to perpetrate unspeakable harm to people he didn't even know, in the most devilishly clever ways. But David must not see it that way. For those interested in this aspect of Ted's life, I direct them to Alston Chase's terrific Harvard and the Unabomber, and the documentary The Net, by Lutz Dammbeck.

I wrote in the opening paragraph that I had problems with explaining Ted (or other schizoidal, wounded narcissist mass-shooters in Unistat) as "evil." This term will never get us closer to alleviating the problem, because we know it from myth and ancient stories. Clearly, we need to highlight a more empathic bio-social model, and I've been cheered the last few years over the anti-bullying and "It Gets Better" campaigns in schools. Hey, it's a start.


Eric Wagner said...

Great piece. I loved Author Unknown. I find your Shem and Shaun analysis thought provoking. Finnegans Wake has never really scared me, you know, nightmare scared me. You suggest an access point to its nightmare nature.

michael said...

You were the one who alerted me to Foster's book, _Author Unknown_. For OG enthusiasts - all four of you - that book also covers the time when it was suspected Pynchon was writing wild, Pynchonesque letters to a small newspaper in Northern CA. Foster gets to the bottom of it, via his computer models of textual analysis and comparing other writers' styles, etc. Foster also outed Joe Klein as the author of _Primary Colors_. That was one book I couldn't put down, probably because writing STYLE fascinates me so much.

In my mind, Joyce meant Shem and Shaun as archetypes. Shem is the dissolute, irresponsible artist who will resort to crimes like forgery if he must have money. Shaun is the responsible brother. With the Kaczynski brothers, David is an almost saintly Shaun; Ted a mathematical genius who read widely in anthropology, taught himself German, was fluent in Spanish, was quite adept at fixing things, but mentally ill, clearly, and a mad bomber if there ever was one. It seems a stretch, but Joyce encourages stretching, eh? Aye: what a nightmare!

A few years ago I was at a party and somehow the topic of famous crimes came up. I'd previously found myself expounding on Ted and it was too much for my listener: not everyone finds a case like that as interesting as I do. So at the party I began with a quiz: what Berkeley Mathematics professor sent a hidden explosive to computer science whiz David Gelernter, blowing off Gelernter's hand? And why did the Math Prof do it?

That seemed to pique interest.

Anonymous said...

This was well done. Thanks for breaking set and delaying part three of that particular media darling who seems to be suffering from ODD. Donald Dunphy died on Easter Sunday. Why? Because he accosted politicians on Twitter?

We are challenged to understand. James Joyce is still blowing our minds. CBC ticker at wrk had sometin' bout "Hitler Rule" in reference to...Godwin's Law?

michael said...

Yes, Godwin's Law is synonymous with the Hitler Rule, but many don't know how it came about. Since the actual story is too boring, I will tell a better one, viz:

Mary Godwin, who later married a bloke named Percy - a poet, or so one has read - and became Ms. Shelley. She was the first "Ms" due to proto-feminism in the bloodline, and I say, "Good for her!."

Now: Godwin - now Shelley, became something of a writer herself, if my researches can be believed. Mel Brooks got ideas from her! She created a "Monster" and later, in the 20th century, other monsters were created. Like Hitler. We created him. Someone once said we are all far greater artists than we realize. We also made up the Hitler Rule: if you start talking about Mary Shelley, eventually you will be talking about Hitler, or something like that. (Other liars tell different versions, but I'm the only liar you should trust.)

Now, a quiz to keep us all on our toes:
"All I know is what's on the Internet." - who said that?

A. Hitler
B. Frankenstein
C. Mary Shelley
D. It's a trick! It's a paraphrase of the Real Godwin's Law!
E. Trump
F. Eris
G. Edict of Nantes, Part IV