The naturalistic fallacy in the Unabomber’s manifesto

“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in ‘advanced’ countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in ‘advanced’ countries.” [1]

Ted Kaczynski is and was a brilliant man, and my criticisms of his manifesto are countervailed by respect for him as my intellectual superior. I will attack the heart of his thesis as an expression of that respect, rather than picking away at secondary issues or quibbles. An example of such a secondary issue that I argued in a different essay is that Kaczynski’s focus on individual maladaptiveness is a red herring from the more encompassing multi-level selection model of evolutionary psychology. However, his more important mistake is to assume a moral ontology based on negative utilitarianism, and to assume that his audience shares this assumption, and proceed to commit the naturalistic fallacy repeatedly. A paragraph under the heading Human Suffering demonstrates Kaczynski’s dependence on this moral framework in microcosm:

“In the third place, it is not at all certain that survival of the system will lead to less suffering than breakdown of the system would. The system has already caused, and is continuing to cause, immense suffering all over the world. Ancient cultures, that for hundreds of years gave people a satisfactory relationship with each other and with their environment, have been shattered by contact with industrial society, and the result has been a whole catalogue of economic, environmental, social and psychological problems. One of the effects of the intrusion of industrial society has been that over much of the world traditional controls on population have been thrown out of balance. Hence the population explosion, with all that that implies. Then there is the psychological suffering that is widespread throughout the supposedly fortunate countries of the West (see paragraphs 44, 45).” [1]

Negative utilitarianism posits that moral people ought to act so as to minimize suffering [2]. However, many religious traditions have disagreed with this assumption and it is not clearly and obviously true. For example, in the Bhagavad Gita Krishna instructs Arjuna to increase human suffering because failure to do his duty as a warrior would compromise the divine order, which would be a greater evil than human suffering. The Flagellant sects of 14th century Europe serve as a more concrete example. And I certainly don’t agree with the premise myself, as there appears to be an Aristotelian mean of suffering to produce Christian growth toward godliness that is almost always higher than the amount we’d prefer by nature. 

Kaczynski relies on negative utilitarianism throughout his manifesto. While his whole essay can’t be reduced to the statement “We are morally compelled to reduce suffering if we can,” I believe any reasonable reader will agree with my assertion that most of his arguments would fall apart if the statement were false. At the risk of oversimplifying, I’d reduce the bulk of his manifesto to the enthymeme:

1. (Implicit, assumed) We ought to reduce suffering if we can.
2. Technology causes suffering.
3. We ought to reduce technology so that it causes less suffering.

This draws an “ought” conclusion from an “is” premise, while leaving the “ought” premise implicit and therefore unexamined and unchallenged. This is an example of the naturalistic fallacy (NB: distinct from “appeal to nature”). 

References

[1] T. Kaczynski, “Industrial Society And its Future,” The Washington Post, 19-Sep-1995.
[2] “Utilitarianism,” Encyclopædia Britannica. [Online]. Available: https://www.britannica.com/topic/utilitarianism-philosophy. [Accessed: 24-Nov-2021].

About Aeoli Pera

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9 Responses to The naturalistic fallacy in the Unabomber’s manifesto

  1. Aeoli Pera says:

    More colloquially: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=negative%20utilitarianism

    “The school of thought that states that suffering must be eradicated at all costs. The ultimate aim therefore of negative utilitarianism is to destroy all life. This aim is often termed global suicide.
    Many philosophers reject negative utilitarianism as being a terrible moral system because it asks for the destruction of life, which is normally considered very painful to all involved.
    However, achieving NU’ism goal will have no adverse effects because there will be no one around to observe them and decided that they are bad effects.”

  2. toxic schizoid super ego demon illusion MM says:

    He is just so incredibly misguided in regards to human nature.

    Man will fall back to the beasts or Man will be overcome. Nietzsche was right about that.
    How could it be otherwise?

    And that ‘after’ will not be a static either. There is no static!
    Whatever fallacy that is, it is the most persistent.

    Only a God is static.
    Which is why they create, so as to sanctify by living through creatures that can still be subject to life.

    Industrial Society will be swallowed by the Sun Demon, just as every society and every planet has been.

    Society is a temporary thing.
    If life persists there will not be a society.

    There will only be ‘HIM’.

    (not a metaphysical truth, an entropic truth. What does this universe select for?!!! )

    • mm says:

      There is no static!
      Whatever fallacy that is, it is the most persistent.

      (HA!!!)

      • Aeoli Pera says:

        This statement is false.

        More to the point, the statement that there is no static will never be true.

        • WW says:

          I was laughing at the contradiction.

          In any case live the good life, know thyself, blah blah blah.

          If following classic no suffering utilitarianism yeah you either kill everyone or worse you wirehead everything to [redacted] eternally.

          I find that more disgusting because it would ‘work’ and it lays bear the fact thwt such incrntive guides even the noblest of impulse. Not to rule out unknowable whatever thingies.
          Which are of course another answer, and the only answer such a person needs…

          Intellectual stimulation is a need though so I do not fault. Octopuses 🐙 become incredibly lethargic without prey or play.

    • what says:

      >Man will fall back to the beasts or Man will be overcome

      The second part as a prerequisite assumes that man is already part beast, and the first part assumes that man is partly not beast. Regardless the question is whether a transcendental will is maintained or not, and as far as I know that will is what defines man from beast. There is only overcoming or submission to bestial nature. Or rather, in christianity, a choice between, as man is deeply flawed.

      >Which is why they create

      Creation glorifies God, and the outcome of the creation glorifies God. The christian God, at least, is not dead, both good and evil glorifies him, although only one pleases him. Things are self-evident. Satan, even as a force of evil, seeks to accuse men of evil, meaning he knows what is good and evil. He’s constantly trying to make God submit to the fact that man isn’t worthy of him. This glorifies God, but it doesn’t please him.

      Let’s put this way. Why would a human be living, but a God dead, in the your sense of the concept of being alive? It would be because a God would not be able to change. Why would a human be able to change? Because, fundamentally, he’s ignorant, and he can make a choice, regardless of whether that choice is an accurate representation of who he is, and what he would’ve done given a perfect understanding of his own nature and of both the past and the future. Ignorance is his mode of perceived change, whether that change is real or not. That leads to the question of whether a change has to be real or not in order to be change. Naturally, it does, as otherwise submitting to two contradictory beliefs, to both be changed and be unchanged, would be true. It’s very easy to get into perspectives but I won’t for the sake of… brevity. The answer of whether either man or God is alive or dead, on the definition that life is not static, would depend on the question of determinism or free will.

      If determinism, the perception of being alive as defined by being non-static is a non-starter. Any perception of free will is illusionary, any perception of change ignorance, things were always going to lead in a specific way and there was never anything non-static. If free-will, both man and God is alive, since everything is always an option, there is always the possibility of change. If someone chooses to stay still, he is not dead. If someone chooses to stay alive, he is not dead. Although, he’s dead when every chemical reaction in his body is stopped. Since I don’t know the nature of God’s own being I wouldn’t know of an equivalent of complete inaction, if there is one.

      To be completely inactive means to no longer exist. In a sense, in a way that I won’t explain, to be static is the aim of evil. I may, or may not, be aping this from an anime I like.

      One allows for eternal changing, another is static. A rule set that allows for infinite complexity doesn’t negate itself. The appearance of change only reveals a change of appearance. Free will doesn’t negate the appearance of necessity.

      In relation to all these abstractions to christianity, whether God wants an effort, or if he wants real change, from men, assuming that man is capable of acting in a way that reveals true creativity, of him being capable of changing his creation, would be to undermine God. I assume that God wants only what we can provide, which is an effort. But I don’t know. Could very well be that an effort to change one self is possible, but how is it reasonable to think we’d be capable of self-fueled change, as to align ourselves to God? It’d be equivalent to assuming that one is capable of creating, by ourselves and our own efforts, God’s own creation within our own minds. There is no such thing as a fate that we make. In this thinking, man is not capable of truly changing, he’s only capable of choosing, but the same doesn’t apply to God. As he is perfectly capable of changing by his own will.

      An easy way out of this thinking is to accept that the act of putting an effort and faith in God is an act of creation, an act of choosing to refuse being dead, an admittance, by the nature of your own freewill, to the fact that God is capable of creation. Or rather, that I naturally fall into the orthodox view of an energy-essence distinction.

      This will also lead me to reject the premise that man is capable of, by his own effort, overcoming man. Without a creation that is constantly being created there is no overcoming of anything. There is no CHOICE. If entropy was all there is, then there is no choice. The only selection, one in which it itself chooses, is that which acts against it, an inevitable defeat rejected until the last moment. Creation itself would be just a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy repeated forever until there’s nothing more to copy and nothing more to do or say. Life is a slow burn.

      This thinking is inevitable when appearances are accepted as facts, facts that are imposed and then accepted. Appearances can be deceiving, and I personally consider rejecting appearances and primarily engaging with intuition as the only way out of being a materialist, of being someone who only accepts appearances.

      But I think your comments actually relates to whether the connections created by reason are themselves metaphysical laws, and the answer is simply no. They may indicate it but only through the presence of appearances, which as you pointed out is the appearance of necessity, or entropy. Which goes back to what I stated above.

      If instead you’re referring to koanic refutation of reason through things that can’t be reasoned, then in itself such paradoxes are refuted by realizing the central error in the premise of reason being at all capable of making sense of things, that are by construct, unreasonable. Transcending reason then going right back to it since that’s man’s only mode of comprehension, all other states are sense based. Senses are more unreliable. If enlightenment and rejecting things that aren’t reliable or true is not the goal then, I don’t have to explain that one, again.

      If you accept mere appearances then you’ll logically have to submit to a lot of leftist ideology. Genders aren’t actually real, they only have ‘existence’ within a specific form or species. Man is genetically malleable and given enough time and the correct pressures could assume different forms, and the categorical claim that ‘man’ is at all an essence is delusional. There is no essence to anything. You could cast off the idea of negative utilitarianism, at least, since at it’s core it’s an ‘ought’ and oughts aren’t real.

      But let’s stick with oughts. An entropic truth would be a statement of perpetual loss, it would in one sense be static and in another non-static. It’s only non-static in the sense that things are slowly simplified, into an essence, which remains static. It’s a slow removal of potential within a system. It’s a downward spiral into hell, when all options are removed in time, there is no possibility of escape. Why is this thinking wrong? Is it proper to call it wrong? It’s not wrong, it’s incomplete, it doesn’t answer why there was any energy in a system to begin with. It’s not complete is all I can say.

  3. what says:

    I didn’t expect a reply but I’m glad you considered it.

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