Posts Tagged ‘“Ted Kaczynski”’

Orwell Watch #4: Jared Loughner – madman, terrorist, or both?

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Jen Paton over at 3quarksdaily has a provocative post comparing two Time Magazine cover boys:  Timothy McVeigh in 1995 and this month’s Jared Loughner.  One, the nation decided, was a terrorist; the other a madman.

In their way, the Times makes a nod toward balance, setting up a binary opposition: when it comes to Loughner, they say, there are “those who see premeditation” and “those who suspect he is insane, and therefore a step removed from being responsible for his actions…” Are the insane unable to plan? Do only terrorists plan? Is he a terrorist, or is he mad? The word terrorist remains unspoken: apparently, it could never apply here, not now.

Paton challenges our “reluctance to view a troubled young white American with no religious ties as a terrorist. In 1995, this was not a distinction we made so easily.”

Like McVeigh, Loughner targeted a symbol of government power, and hurt innocent people. Like McVeigh, Loughner had a complicated relationship with the military and, like McVeigh, he apparently had a deep mistrust of the United States government. Jared Loughner, like Timothy McVeigh, “had reasons of his own,” which are and always will be inaccessible to the rest of us.

But we called McVeigh a terrorist. Why isn’t Loughner a terrorist? Has America redefined its criteria for who can be one?

This is not to say Loughner’s actions weren’t swept up into other people’s political frameworks. …  David Brooks argued that mainstream coverage overemphasized possible political motivations, with all the talk of Sarah Palin’s map and the “violent rhetoric of the Tea Party.” Brooks describes  “a news media that is psychologically ill informed but politically inflamed, so it naturally leads toward political explanations.” Brooks is right in his diagnosis, but I see the opposite symptom: the media may be psychologically ill informed, but that hasn’t stopped them from attempting to psychologize Loughner to the nth degree.

What about John Hinkley, who also had a political target? Or  Nidal Malik Hasan?

Terrorism expert Jeff Victorof notes that though there is a lack of consensus on what defines terrorism, “two common elements are usually found in contemporary definitions: (1) that terrorism involves aggression against non-combatants and (2) that the terrorist action in itself is not expected by its perpetrator to accomplish a political goal but instead to influence a target audience and change that audience’s behavior in a way that will serve the interests of the terrorist”  (Victoroff, 2005)

By this definition, Jared Loughner fits the ticket, though he may also be psychotic.  It’s akin to the people who say that we cannot call Loughner evil — he was insane.  Well, why not both?  Why do we presuppose two non-overlapping categories?  And how does the craving for celebrity mutilate any political designs, whether garbled or coherent — or become a psychological disease itself?  How is language used to shape our latent political ends?

But read Jen Paton’s post here — and the comments afterward, too.

Postscript: Over on my Facebook page, Agustín Maes wrote this:

“Interesting, and similar to what I was thinking about after the Tucson shooting. It annoyed me that so much attention was being given to Loughner’s supposed insanity. Loughner does indeed seem as though he may be psychologically ill, but …talking about his mental deficiencies seems more like an attempt to rationalize his evil actions more than anything else. McVeigh wasn’t nuts, neither was Ted Kaczynski. (Neither was Hitler.) But the Unabomber was consistently called ‘crazy’ because it helped people cope with his amorality.”

The last few weeks events, especially the kerfuffle about the term “blood libel,” made me think about Jean-Marie Apostolidès and his writings about Ted Kaczynski.  I’ve written about it here.

Postscript to postscript:  Whoops.  I meant here, “Unabomber’s writings raise uneasy ethical questions.”

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

Monday, December 6th, 2010

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

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 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.