A Critique of the Concept of "Leftism"

  • Posted on: 17 June 2018
  • By: Anonymous (not verified)

Source: The Wild Will Project

Note: Here I will not completely explain the concept of "leftism" as Ted Kaczynski uses it. Readers of this essay should instead refer to "Industrial Society and Its Future" (especially paragraphs 6-32, 83, 213-232) and "Izquierdismo" by Último Reducto. These pieces should provide the requisite knowledge for following this critique.

Two Meanings of Leftism

Theorists following Kaczynski's line of anti-civilization critique generally utilize two definitions of "leftism": leftism-as-psychological-type and leftism-as-ideology.

Leftism-as-Psychological-Type

The definition of leftism Kaczynski uses in "Industrial Society and Its Future" is mostly leftism-as-psychological-type. In his view, leftism is kind of pathology produced by industrial conditions, specifically industrial society's inability to fulfill basic human needs. Symptoms of this pathology include a sense of purposelessness, helplessness, and depression, which leftist individuals will try to ameliorate by attacking anything they view as powerful or attaching themselves to a large social group that can exercise more power than they can as individuals.

Kaczynski's analysis here is insightful, but it is bogged down by (I) his characterization of leftist symptoms as a unified pathology; (II) his tendency to associate leftism-as-a-psychological-type with leftist political ideologies and movements; and (III) his incendiary tone towards leftist behavior.

(I)

Leftism is not a single psychological type. In reality, the symptoms Kaczynski identifies as "leftism" can stand separately or together, and they are almost all widespread problems in industrial society. People everywhere feel powerless; people everywhere lack purpose.

In some individuals (but not all) these psychological problems create emotional attachments to mass movements or various social causes, which these individuals view as a means to cure their powerlessness or purposelessness. This is Kaczynski's primary problem with leftism, and the reasons he sees it necessary to distance himself from it (see "The System's Neatest Trick"). But even he recognizes that "leftism" is an extremely general concept that does not seem to account for nuances sufficiently (see especially the final paragraphs of ISAIF). For example, some people who experience all leftist symptoms do not, in fact, attach themselves to causes. Other people do not experience leftist symptoms much at all, yet dedicate their lives to social causes.

If leftism were a discernible, unified psychological type, it would be able to more fully account for these differences. Instead, "leftism," for Kaczynski, is simply a term for nearly all the psychological ills produced by modern society. What Kaczynski is actually concerned about, though, is a certain expression of those ills. For this we must refer to another one of Kaczynski's concepts, which is defined enough to be useful: "oversocialization."

According to "Industrial Society and Its Future," "oversocialization" is a phenomenon whereby a society excessively ingrains its moral code into an individual. This oversocialized individual then feels a profound sense of guilt at even minor deviant behaviors, or behaviors the individual interprets as deviant. To ameliorate this guilt, the individual embarks on a crusade to enforce society's moral rules, sometimes strongly rebuking society itself on the grounds that it does not sufficiently live up to its own moral code. However, in the latter case, the oversocialized individual does not always recognize his moral code as the same as society's. He often sees himself as a radical who is against society. This is because, Kaczynski writes, he is on such a tight psychological leash that he has an extremely repressed need for rebellion and autonomy.

According to ISAIF, the oversocialized underpin many social movements today. These movements claim that society is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., even though the dominant values of industrial nations are multicultural, egalitarian, and humanist, as demonstrated by, e.g., the perspectives advocated by NGOs, universities, major news organizations, federal governments, and international governmental bodies like the UN.

If we dispose of Kaczynski's concept of leftism as a psychological type, and instead we recognize that the symptoms of leftism are widespread, our critique of industrial society and its instruments of power become much clearer. Put simply: (1) Industrial society produces symptoms like helplessness, despair, and purposelessness; (2) It provides "medicines" for these symptoms, like mass movements, large organizations, and social causes; (3) The oversocialized preach on behalf of these institutions, or, when professing to be radical, provide other institutional "medicines" that advance society's values while claiming to be against society.

If we accept this account, then we can dispose of the concept of "leftism." We can simply point out various, sometimes unrelated, psychological problems instigated by industrial conditions.

(II)

Kaczynski tends to associate the psychological type of leftism with political leftism. But if the symptoms of leftism are widespread and not indicative of any unified psychological type, then large conservative organizations like the NRA or nation-states provide a means of ameliorating symptoms as much as leftist organizations do. They are as much of a problem, because they instigate just as strong an emotional attachment to the institutions of mass society.

"Oversocialization" is not confined to the political left either. Although world society is propped up by individuals oversocialized with a generally left-wing ideology (but see below on this meaning of "leftist"), right wing institutions also oversocialize its members. Consider some brands of populist conservative Christianity, which, although advocating basically the same values as mainstream Christianity, teach that mainstream Christianity is sinful and that true, rebel Christians have a duty to correct its problems. Oversocialization, then, is not a left-wing phenomenon, but a general psychological phenomenon.

(III)

If the symptoms of leftism are as widespread as I have suggested, then Kaczynski's incendiary attitude toward these symptoms and behaviors is not just unhelpful, but harmful. When I read "Industrial Society and Its Future," I certainly had a sense of purposelessness and helplessness, and I was attracted to many of the things Kaczynski identifies as indicative of these problems. I was also firmly planted on the political left. So the first several paragraphs of the manifesto, dedicated to an analysis of "leftism," definitely hit me hard, and certainly enraged me. Most readers in my same position are turned off by this effect and never finish the rest of the manifesto. But I happened to be reading it with a friend who coaxed me to keep reading, and with whom I discussed some of its logical points. Eventually I could not deny the logic in the piece, especially in regards to its incisive critique of the technology problem, and I was convinced.

If Kaczynski had realized how widespread the symptoms of leftism truly are, and if he made the distinctions I outlined above, his critique could have produced a lot more individuals like me. Instead of turning people off immediately, he could have brought their attention to the source of their unease and pointed out how insufficient the system's "medicines" for that unease truly are. This would have just as effectively countered the phenomenon he is most concerned about in regards to leftism, namely, the system's ability to convince people that they are being radical by actually correcting errors in that system, or by advancing the system's own values.

Leftism-as-Ideology

Because of the way Kaczynski's concept of "leftism" lumps in several distinct elements of critique, some theories he has helped birth further obscure the concept of leftism. For example, Último Reducto (UR), in his essay "Izquierdismo," defines leftism by its values. He argues that the three main values of leftism are equality, expanded or indiscriminate solidarity, and sympathy for victims. These, he says, form the dominant ideology of techno-industrial society.

UR was on to something, but I do not think that the best term to describe this is "leftism." For one thing, some on the political left do not associate themselves with these values exactly. And as even he points out in the essay, some on the right can be included in this definition. In any case, whatever we call UR's concept of leftism-as-ideology, it is yet another distinct element of the "leftism" concept, and must be clearly separated from the other, psychological elements. To address all these problems, I have been using the term "humanism" instead.

The concept of "humanism" needs to be fleshed out more, and may be altogether useless. For example, talking of a dominant ideology may suggest a cohesiveness to the values of techno-industrial society that simply does not exist. And "humanism" still may not be the best term. Still, this term allows us to seperate the ideological element from other elements in the original concept of "leftism", and therefore to examine it on its own merits as we develop a more nuanced critique of technological civilization.

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Comments

I liked this. A useful piece on post left concepts. Especially as I see other nd projects (crimethinc., Etc.) Move more towards embracing the worst aspects of what you refer to as psychological leftism.

I am also pretty sad about Crimethinc's turn. I understand that appealing to these movements might lend some immediate power, but they show either that Crimethinc is playing fast and loose with its values or doesn't have the ones it has professed to have.

Great article! Nice to see you writing again.
Also, Instagram @Feralmeme is the largest collection of anti-tech memes on the internet. New content almost daily.

added it to the list of recommended links on my website

*Shrugs* Yes, Stirnerians are wild.

"even though the dominant values of industrial nations are multicultural, egalitarian, and humanist"…

… … … … … trump owns slaves in dubai and he pardoned arpaio, who is also a slaver. US cops murder unarmed folks at will. The israeli government is trying to make it illegal to film them murdering unarmed folks at will. the saudis execute women and children by sword in the street and they're on the UN "human rights council". residential schools in "canada" were a thing in my lifetime and I'm not that old...

WTF ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?! "dominant humanist values …"

Kaczynski's analysis (aka dumbass attempts at pathologizing anyone who can spell compassion, revealing his arch-reactionary bias) is the least interesting thing about him.

If you look at the prevailing discourse of the UN and the advanced liberal nations the statement remains fact regardless of the practice failing the rhetoric.

Exactly.

You're completely missing the point. He's saying that the industrial system's values are to eliminate all of the things you mentioned, even though the system often fails to live up to those values. This is consistent with everything printed in the media, and taught at schools (most of which decry the very things you mention). Kaczynski is saying that even if all of the things you mentioned were solved, not only would it be of RELATIVELY little importance, since it would still allow technology to rush toward its disastrous conclusions, but solving them would aid in the efficiency of the technological system, thus allowing for technology to rush toward its disastrous conclusions even faster than it currently is. Focusing on those things therefore only serves as a distraction from the real problem.

You also overlook the role that technology plays in exacerbating the very things you decry. In primitive conditions, slavery is nearly impossible, and exploitation is infinitely reduced. All anthropological evidence bears this out.

Dunno what you guys here do with spam.

Also, not read the essay - first of all, because its critiqueing essays thoughts by Ted Kaczynski - have I got something wrong, or is this not the guy that murdered a lot of people in a bomb attack (aka the Unabomber)? Sorry, I think engaging with people that act in ways like that are not worth my time to engage with...

First of all, the whole of human history is built on violence. The only reason Marxism is as prominent as it is is because some Bolsheviks took violence against the Russian Tsars, the reason we talk about the U.S. Constitution is because some colonists took violence against the British crown, etc. etc. etc. etc. You owe your life and education to violence, so if you want to be morally consistent, you would have to ignore huge swaths of knowledge, which I'm betting you don't do.

Secondly. it is MORE important for us as a society to engage with ideas that we may abhor, or that may have been generated by people who do things that we abhor. In Kaczynski's case, his whole reason for the violence was because he did not consider the people he killed were "innocent" and therefore he did not consider it "murder." On the contrary, he considers anyone promoting technological progress to be among the worst criminals who have ever lived, because they are actively creating a world that will be worse than Hitler or Stalin ever dreamed of. Obviously, these ideas are wildly inconsistent with modern values. This is because Kaczynski's ideas DIRECTLY CHALLENGE modern values. If you are serious in an analysis of modern society (including its values) then you have to be willing to "engage" with people who have radically different values from yours. Otherwise, your just stuck in an echo-chamber.

Lastly, if conformity to contemporary values is more important to you then social analysis, then you probably don't really care about social analysis. If you wont "engage" with someone who's ideas concern the fate of the whole world because you're more concerned with established values, then one has to conclude that you really don't care about the fate of the world at all.

Everything I've said is consistent with hundreds of years of Enlightenment thought, but besides, it's simple logic: The validity of ideas is in no way affected by the personalities of the people behind them. That's logic 101.

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