"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 13 January 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Right to Kill


[dreams about chimneys]

The real atrocity in the

Unabomber case: The only thing

we agree on is that his methods

were absolutely right. A handy,

humanist solution to the moral

threat of an extremist is

co-optation: The fanatic, it is

said, has some good points

there, but he's gone too far.

Precisely far enough: too far.


In its November issue, the

academic gossip-sheet Lingua

Franca reported on an unsolved

murder at an Italian University.

A student walking across campus

was shot in the head, apparently

at random. The shot, detectives

said, had to have come from the

philosophy building. Mug shots

of the victim, a

washed-out-looking young woman,

and the accused, an

unwashed-looking young man, ran

under the headline, "A

Philosophical Murder?" With its

faintly repulsive air of piqued

sexual curiosity (the article

described her mourning as a

"Roman orgy"), its heady stench

of academic privilege (the

university blocked attempts to

investigate the murder), and the

downright flatulent odor of

Umberto Eco, the World's

Smartest Talk Show Guest (the

suspects had been hawking a

paper that promised a rigorous

definition of the Perfect

Crime), the article's ambiance

stuck to the fingers like old



Most pungent was the figure of a

certain Professor Romano,

detained by police for a week

after a wiretap caught him

ordering the philosophy

department not to cooperate.

Romano had insisted on pissing

off the cops with a barrage of

discourse ("... [T]he modalities

of evil are ambiguous; evil

insinuates itself ... It is the

language of men that is

ambiguous. It is not a

mathematical formula, and

everyone receives truth in their

own way.") rather than answering

their questions.


[with the rain falling around]

Romano's abstract speeches, in

the context of his pragmatic

orders to the department to clam

up, look like sophistry: words

that aren't meant to be true but

to serve an ulterior motive, as

if truth itself is the effect of

ulterior motives. But what was

the motive? We don't know yet,

but the effect is clear: By

playing on the clever, ambiguous

aspects of the murder, both

Romano and Lingua Franca present

academics as possessing a

mysterious kind of authority.

They don't have to answer cops'

questions, or ours, instead

firing back more mysterious and

interesting ones. Such behavior,

publicized, can turn an

interrogation into something

else: a contest or conversation

where the positions of both

interrogated and interrogator

come into question.


Turning the tables like this is

tougher when you're in lockdown.

Ask Ted Kaczynski, or better,

don't ask him (if he's insane)

because he won't submit to

questioning from clinical

interrogators, unless it might

prove him sane, after all. Can

you blame him? For killing

innocent people, yeah. But not

for not playing the sanity game:

Kaczynski's answers could be

used to classify him as Paranoid

Schizophrenic (a fuzzy and

disputed category), itself a way

of dismissing the message he

claims he killed to deliver.


Whether or not he's criminally

insane (a totally different

thing than regular insanity),

there is something evil about

Kaczynski. To be Kantian about

it, he's reached the worst level

of ethical self-deception,

seeing laws and morality as mere

social programming designed to

prevent us from fulfilling

pathological desires. In this

way, Kaczynski's rationale,

finely honed and hermetically

sealed, is no different in its

ethical quality from Romano's

post-post obfuscations or the

crack dealer's retort that the

CIA started with the shit in the

first place.


[the missing white duckling nowhere to be seen]

So much for ethics; but what

about power? Here we're more

involved than you'd think: We

tell ourselves that no

reasonable person would agree to

the Unabomber's methods, but we

admit that his critique of mass

society has a few good points.

Yet our actions make the exact

opposite point. Few of us can

really agree on what his good

arguments are, but we all

recognize him as one of the 25

most intriguing people of the

year because of what he did.

David Gelernter, a right-wing

computer scientist and target of

one of Kaczynski's bombs, saw

this problem clearly. When Ted

Koppel and CNN encourage public

debate of Kaczynski's opinions

they present a forum in which his

attacks become messages,

mysterious but loaded with

urgency and significance.

Gelernter's outrage at a public

discourse so fragmented that you

can't tell legitimate speakers

from illegitimate ones is

well-placed. The multiple forums

in which Kaczynski's acts and

opinions are now debated means

that, whatever we may say, the

Unabomber is a public voice, on

the verge of legitimacy.


[-Brought to you by 17 year old Port]

But it's just as clear that he

won't be tomorrow. Except for

the genuine anarchists (who

communicate by the

self-proclaimed illegitimacy of

the "rant"), the media sources

always frame Kaczynski's views

with a crime blotter and confine

his speeches to the time line of

his life, attacks, and trial;

this implies that his speaking

role has an endpoint. But

Kaczynski is not giving up

without a fight: In his recent

attempts to act as his own

attorney, Kaczynski again tried

to move into the role of

legitimate speaker.


In his book, Authority:

Construction and Corrosion,

Bruce Lincoln defines authority

as an effect produced by the

right speaker on the right stage

at the right time. What's

special about contemporary

authority is that it's claimed

on so many different stages in

so many different ways. But this

doesn't mean less authority,

just more fights for it. As a

lone individual without any

institutional support, who has

taken a dazzling variety of

stages out of sheer hatred for

the system that built them, Ted

Kaczynski ends up functioning as

an emblem of authority itself. A

figure for authority's

fascination by diffusion, the

Unabomber has become the man we

hate to love.

courtesy of Hypatia