6:21:12 The Unabomber, a modern Thoreau?

Others see similarities between Ted Kaczynski and Henry David Thoreau: high IQs, Harvard-educated, cabin-dwelling hermits given to Luddite utterances. But for me, the interesting question is, Why did the lives of these two men, with some common traits, follow markedly divergent paths?

Thoreau, one of America's most notable writers, has influenced many beyond his time and place. Mohandas Gandhi but one example.

But Kaczynski came into the public eye when unmasked as the Unabomber, who mailed package bombs, maiming and killing a string of victims during the 1980s and 1990s.


In 1993, I realized the abhorrent terror of the Unabomber. I was writing for a software company. We had an OS for heterogeneous, distributed parallel computing. I read Yale professor David Gelernter's Parallel Programming in Linda, a software language like ours, a few months before Gelernter became one of the Unabomber's maimed victims on June 23, 1993. He wasn't a faceless name on the news.

Years later, I wasn't unhappy to see the authorities lock up Ted Kaczynski and throw away the key.

But that resolution doesn't answer my question.

Although both men enjoyed solitude, I think key differences foretold doom for Kaczynski. Kaczynski lived life tenuously in one dimension. A mathematics prodigy and the youngest professor ever appointed at Berkeley. But hiring a teacher so antisocial he refused to keep office hours for his students?

Kaczynski resigned his position two years later. The feedback from students was apparently humiliating.

Contrast Kaczynski's flameout with Thoreau. Extraordinary writer, true, but also teacher, canoe builder, land surveyor, and employee at the Thoreau Pencil Company founded by his dad, where Henry David's ingenuity led to improvements in pencil-making.

Given success at a variety of occupations, Thoreau was well-grounded.

The Walden retreat was to feed Thoreau's writer muse, not to nurse neo-Luddite grudges.

This is not to say individuals like Kaczynski can't succeed at very specialized lives, but a spark of imagination helps.

At Berkeley, why didn't Kaczynski think of hiring a speech coach, if he was nervous and stuttered in class?

Was it easier for him to retreat to Montana and childishly tell the New York Times and The Washington Post: Publish my manifesto or I'll keep killing?

And was it fate the Unabomber Manifesto was published and David Kaczynski would read its words--so like Ted--and see he had no choice but to drop the dime on his brother?

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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

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