Posts Tagged ‘Unabomber’

Anders Behring Breivik: Maybe he’s not insane

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011
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Copycat crimes

Anders Behring Breivik has left behind a screed,  and large parts of it appear to be lifted from another screed, penned by Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber.

Over a year ago, I interviewed Jean-Marie Apostolidès, the French literary scholar who befriended Kaczynski, at his lawyer’s request. Apostolidès also has a background as a psychologist.  He insists that Kaczynski is not insane.

I wrote then:

The translation of Kaczynski’s 1995 manifesto, which Apostolidès began the day after he read it in the Washington Post, was the first step in a longer journey. The next began with a secret.

“In the past, I was in a certain way tied to a secret that I think has no more value,” he explained. Shortly after the arrest, Apostolidès was approached by Kaczynski’s team of lawyers, who said they were concerned for the prisoner’s sanity and well-being in prison.

The Unabomber ... in Berkeley days

“They thought I would be a perfect penpal,” he said. Apostolidès was told to keep the correspondence secret even from his family. Thus began a brief, lopsided correspondence screened by Kaczynski’s lawyers and the FBI.

The brief correspondence did not go smoothly: “He did not want to talk to me; he wanted to preach. I detest that,” he said. “On one side he was scolding me, on the other side complimenting me.”

In retrospect, Apostolidès thinks the lawyers wanted him to help certify Kaczynski was insane. Yet, he said, “I’m convinced he has neurotic problems – but no more than anyone else. He has to be judged on his ideas and his deeds.” Our insistence on his insanity may be a way to avoid grappling with that, he said.

In an interview, Apostolidès leaned forward across the desk in his campus office and his voice dropped: “This will shock you. He’s a very nice guy, sweet, open-minded. And I know he has blood on his hands. You cannot be all bad – even if you kill, even Hitler.”

We would like our villains to be 100 percent evil, psychotic Snidely Whiplashes counting money in the backroom. (Look at the outcry at the portrayal of Hitler in the 2004 film Downfall.) We are uncomfortable when they look even a little bit like us, but such ambiguity is the stuff of life, said Apostolidès.

The most obvious ambiguity may be centered within Apostolidès himself. He admits he has a longstanding interest in avant-garde ideas – but he writes about radical thoughts from the safe perch of a university professorship and his comfortable home on the Stanford campus. In short, as a part of the petite bourgeoisie Kaczynski despises.

Kaczynski’s manifesto argues that the leftist liberals who present themselves as rebels are, in fact, obedient servants of the dominant society – a symptom of “oversocialization.” He singles out “university intellectuals” as prime examples.

Apostolidès, who says he wouldn’t kill a fly, finds the criticism “absolutely appropriate.”

Right again, René

We have our little boxes for people.  “Christian fundamentalist” – although Breivik insists in his own screed that he’s not religious (“Although I am not a religious person myself, I am usually in favor of a revitalization of Christianity in Europe” p. 676) .  “Psychopath,” though he has no criminal record, and his former stepmother describes him as a nice guy.

Perhaps we are dealing with a new psychology, a new class of criminal – aided and abetted by technology and mass communication – and none of our usual boxes fit.  Perhaps psychology itself doesn’t fit.  As Apostolidès said, some in this growing class of murderers are more than willing to kill brutally to promote their ideas.

A scary thought, and apparently a contagious one.  Each atrocity attempts to outdo the other in scope and depravity.  It seems like we are trapped, globally, in an irreversible spiral of imitated violence.  Violence, as René Girard notes, spreads mimetically like a fever over the planet.

Postscript on 7/27: Thanks to Morgan Meis of 3quarksdaily for the mention today.

Unambomber in the news again: “He’s not crazy,” says Jean-Marie Apostolidès

Monday, December 6th, 2010
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The man known as the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, has been in the news again — or rather, his property has.  The Huffington Post announced that Kaczynski’s 1.4-acre parcel in western Montana is on the block for $69,500.

John Pistelak Realty of Lincoln said that the listing offers potential buyers a chance to own a piece of “infamous U.S. history.”

Kaczynski was a subject of a blog post on the Book Haven awhile ago — on the basis of his writings, not his crime.  Psychologist and French scholar Jean-Marie Apostolidès takes the Unabomber’s anti-technology manifesto very seriously. He tells the story of how he translated the Unabomber’s works into French, and was briefly Kaczynski’s pen pal:

In retrospect, Apostolidès thinks the lawyers wanted him to help certify Kaczynski was insane. Yet, he said, “I’m convinced he has neurotic problems – but no more than anyone else. He has to be judged on his ideas and his deeds.” Our insistence on his insanity may be a way to avoid grappling with that, he said.

In an interview, Apostolidès leaned forward across the desk in his campus office and his voice dropped: “This will shock you. He’s a very nice guy, sweet, open-minded. And I know he has blood on his hands. You cannot be all bad – even if you kill, even Hitler.”

More here.

“Dangerous ideas”: Harrison discusses the Unabomber

Monday, February 1st, 2010
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jeanmarie

Robert Harrison with Jean-Marie Apostolidès

“The Entitled Opinions show on the Unabomber with Professor Apostolidès received quite a lot of feedback from listeners, not only because of the provocative content of the program but also because it was the first show to be podcast after a three-month summer hiatus, so listeners were eager to welcome us back.  In general the reactions had two main aspects.  On the one hand, there were plenty of comments about our decision – considered gutsy by many — to do a show about the ideas of a convicted criminal.  On the other, there were comments on the ideas discussed on the show.

The first kind of reaction is best summarized by a remark that one listener sent in by email: ‘Daring show. That will shake the jelly in administrative heads.’  Most of the listeners who communicated their reactions applauded us for our boldness.  A minority expressed consternation and felt that Ted Kaczynski may be a brilliant man but that his criminal actions disqualify his ideas from being taken seriously in a public forum of debate.  Why?  Because he used crime as a tactic to draw attention to his ideas, and that by doing a show on him we were ‘allowing him to get away with murder,’ as it were.  While Kaczynski did not get away with murder, there is something valid in this viewpoint.  Professor Apostolidès and I were aware that we were in some sense rendering Kaczynski’s tactics successful, yet it must also be pointed out that few people would want to proscribe, or condemn an academic discussion of, Mein Kampf, even though it was authored by one of the greatest criminals in history.

harrison

Harrison at KZSU (Photo by L.A. Cicero)

Many listeners felt that the way we discussed Kaczynski’s ideas was refreshingly fearless.  To quote from one communication we received from a professor of philosophy who teaches at Emory: ‘The content is provocative as all hell, if not disturbing, and delivered without compromise. You were seriously discussing dangerous ideas and it was powerful, if not breath taking. And then to hear this heavy French accent talking about Kaczynski (the unabom-bear) as a writer who achieved the dream of every writer — to have his or her words change the world – was magnificent radio. Incredible show!  Singular! Bravo!’  That’s not the last word on it, to be sure, but it’s good enough for now.”

Robert Harrison, “Entitled Opinions”

What do you think?  Robert Harrison invites comments on the KZSU radio interview, or the article and video.  Leave a reply below.