They have Gameboy music, the Nokia ringtone, and dot matrix printers. I’m sold.
Rhodes is a novelist, and The Making of the Atomic Bomb is, as most reviewers have noted, a readable, and at times engrossing, epic (or as Hacker calls it, an “Atomiad.”) It traces the development of the atomic bomb from the early 1900s, when physicists were just beginning to suspect the existence of an atom (though he locates belief in the “atom” as “an invisible layer of eternal, elemental substance” in ancient Greeks Leucippus and Democritus) through Los Alamos and WWII, and on to the development and testing of the “Super” or hydrogen bomb in the 1950s. Various reviewers put their own political slants on Rhodes’ thesis, but Broad, I think, captures it most fairly: since 1945, when the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, science has for the first time become powerful enough to challenge the state. Critically, unlike technological determinists, Rhodes sees that though atomic technology has changed the way politics is enacted, the relationship between politics and technology is a two-way street – which means, following Bohr, that a peaceful, unified, global system is just as possible in the Nuclear Age as the current system of warring states.
David Skrbina and Ted Kaczynski have been corresponding since 2003, and they have a lot in common – intellectually, I mean. Both come from educational backgrounds in mathematics; both have since turned from math to philosophy; and both are fascinated by the relationship between technology and society. Skrbina has also written a good bit on panpsychism, a philosophy which sees ‘mind’ in all things and which he relates to eco-philosophy, so it’s not entirely unsurprising that in 2010 Feral House published a collection of Kaczynski’s writings as Technological Slavery: The Collected Writings of Theodore J. Kaczynski, a.k.a. “The Unabomber,” with a supportive introduction from Skrbina. Like Skrbina, Kaczynski develops a critique of technological society from a perspective of mind/ psychology rather than from more (academically) conventional dialectical or social constructivist approaches; also like Skrbina, he questions the levels of dependence on technology in ‘advanced’ societies.
If the publishers of Technological Slavery make good use of Kaczynski’s criminal fame to promote the book – a pipe bomb graces the cover, and its contents include interpretations of his court case and disclaimers that Skrbina and Feral House do NOT condone his crimes – they also, I think, perform a useful recovery. Like many anti-technology thinkers before him, Kaczynski fears technological domination of society, and reading his manifesto, I’m reminded at times of folks like Langdon Winner, Ivan Illich, and various anti-car bike activist groups, not to mention more mainstream doubters of technology like Thoreau and Lewis Mumford. If he gets lost in social psychology rather than cultural constructivism, he’s in good company there as well – cultural theorists have lately been recovering Freud, Lacan, and other psychoanalysts in pursuit of what makes society tick. I may think that psychological/ biological explanations tend to be more essentialist than useful, but not everyone does. And if he proposes radical, possibly violent, revolution as a solution to technological domination – well, really, what Marxist doesn’t?
I’m not in a position to determine whether Kaczynski is a truly original or important thinker, and I think Skrbina’s dismissal of the deaths he caused is a bit flippant. But I will say that historically, he is rather important: a man who withdraws from society, who diagnoses technological overdevelopment as a social ill, who resorts to anonymous violence to get his voice heard, and who is willing to trade life in prison for immortality in print, but who becomes largely silenced within the larger media spectacle surrounding his crimes – his trajectory has as much to say about the present dominance of the technological, capitalist system as do his writings. If other folks are writing about him, I hope they don’t try as hard to separate the two.
Review of Skrbina’s Panpsychism in the West, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2005
Skrbina’s Dissertation (why is the whole thing online? weird), University of Bath, 2001
The Unabomber’s Manifesto
Review of Technological Slavery, The Independent, October 3, 2010
Theodore Kaczynski, The Road to Revolution, 2009
Basically, Entrikin is arguing that narrative representation in general and emplotment in particular is the trajectory that geography should take, because it mediates between pure objective representation of the material world and subjective experiential interpretation of that world. Narrative creates relationships and a trajectory – in other words, it creates meaning out of otherwise disconnected parts. Since narrative is tied to a narrator, there are many narratives that could be told about a place and all would have equal value, BUT: geographers are in the unique position to tell geographical narratives, because they are trained to be objective, but they also live in the world and thus are subjects – they can describe and explain simultaneously.
Andrew Merrifield apparently thinks that Entrikin is trying to reconcile humanism, Marxim, and spatial geography in a static way that doesn’t admit for dialectics… maybe I see dialectics in everything (because I think they’re neat) but I think he’s got some mutually constitutive elements in here – subjective experience, objective world – and some narrators who look a lot like intellectuals or some other mediating specialist group. Actually… his narrators create narratives, but while these narratives interpret place/ give it meaning by linking the social with the spatial, I don’t know that the social and the spatial ever interact, or that these mediating narratives have any political impact beyond creating broader, more nuanced understandings of the world. Nothing moves – he’s just bringing together/ fusing the objective with the subjective, with no end in mind. He’s still stuck in the Enlightenment.
I buy Merrifield’s argument, but I also find some elements of Entrikin’s book useful, particularly his conception of narrative and representation as critical to the creation of meaning – he’s down with the whole linguistic turn, he doesn’t believe in the constitutive outside, and he locates the agency to create meaning in the subject/ narrator, who is simultaneously an expert/ outside the world and a subject who experiences the world. I imagine most PoMos (erm, de Certeau?) would say that such a position doesn’t exist, but that’s precisely why I like it – a (flawed) attempt to pull the best of both Mod and PoMo into a new conception of truth – multiple perspectives on the meaning of objective places. The objective location exists outside discourse – subjective discourse of narrative gives it meaning and turns a location into a place.
Really, I think the blurb on the back of this slim volume covers its purpose nicely: “To geographers arguing the merits of hard, scientific data versus subjective experience, Entrikin offers a compromise. ‘To understand place,’ he suggests, ‘requires that we have access to both an objective and a subjective reality. From the decentered vantage point of the theoretical scientist, place becomes either location or a set of generic relations and loses much of its significance for human action. From the centered viewpoint of the subjective self, place has meaning only in relation to one’s own goals and concerns. Place is best viewed from points in-between.’”
The virgin sidewalk – the physical embodiment of sprawl’s guilty conscience – reveals the true failure of suburbia, a landscape in which automobile use is a prerequisite to social viability.