HARVARD AND THE MAKING OF
by Alston Chase © 2000 The Atlantic Monthly, June 2000
In the fall of 1958 Theodore Kaczynski, a brilliant but vulnerable boy of sixteen, entered Harvard College. There he encountered a prevailing intellectual atmosphere of anti-technological despair. There, also, he was deceived into subjecting himself to a series of purposely brutalizing psychological experiments--experiments that may have confirmed his still-forming belief in the evil of science. Was the Unabomber born at Harvard? A look inside the files.
Like many Harvard alumni, I sometimes wander the neighborhood when I return to Cambridge, reminiscing about the old days and musing on how different my life has been from what I hoped and expected then. On a trip there last fall I found myself a few blocks north of Harvard Yard, on Divinity Avenue. Near the end of his this dead-end street sits the Peabody Museum--a giant Victorian structure attached to the Botanical Museum, where my mother had taken me as a young boy, in 1943, to view the spectacular exhibit of glass flowers. These left such a vivid impression that a decade later my recollection of tem inspire me, then a senior in high school to apply to Harvard.
This time my return was prompted not by nostalgia but by curiosity. No. 7 Divinity Avenue is a modern multi-story academic building today, housing the university's Department of molecular and Cellular biology. In 1959 a comfortable old house stood on the site. Known as the Annex, it served as a laboratory in which staff members of the Department of Social Relations conducted research on human subjects. There, form the fall of 1959 through the spring of 1962, Harvard psychologists, led by Henry A. Murray, conducted a disturbing and what would not be seen as ethically indefensible experiment on twenty-two undergraduates. To preserve the anonymity of these student guinea pigs, experiments referred to individuals by code name only. One of these students, whom they dubbed "Lawful," was Theodore John Kaczynski, who would one day be known as the Unabomber, and who would later mail or deliver sixteen package bombs to scientists, academicians, and others over seventeen years, killing three people and injuring twenty-three.
I had a special interest in Kaczynski. For may years he and I had lived parallel lives to some degree. Both of us had attended public high schools and had then gone on to Harvard, from which I graduated in 1957, he in 1962. At Harvard we took many of the same courses from the same professors. We were both graduate students and assistant professors in the 1960s. I studied at Oxford and received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton before joining the faculty at Ohio State and later serving as chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Macalester College in Minnesota. Kaczynski earned a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Michigan in 1967 and then joined the Berkeley Department of Mathematics as an instructor. In the early 1970s, at roughly the same time, we separately fled civilization to the Montana wilderness.
In 1971, Kaczynski moved to great Falls, Montana; that summer he began building a cabin near the town of Lincoln, eighty miles southwest of Great Falls, on a lot he and his brother, David, had bought. In 1972, my wife and I bought an old homestead fifty-five miles south of Great Falls. Three years later we gave up our teaching jobs to live in Montana full-time. Our place had neither telephone nor electricity; it was ten miles from the nearest neighbor. In winter we were snowbound for months at a time.
In our desire to leave civilization Kaczynski and I were not alone. Many others sought a similar escape. What, I wondered, had driven Kaczynski into the wilderness, and to murder? To what degree were his motives simply a more extreme form of the alienation that prompted to many of us to seek solace in the backwoods?
Most of us may believe we already know Kaczynski. According to the conventional wisdom Kaczynski, a brilliant former professor of mathematics turned Montana hermit and mail bomber, is simply, mentally ill. He is a paranoid schizophrenic, and there is nothing more about him to interest us. But the conventional wisdom is mistaken. I came to discover that Kaczynski is neither the extreme loner he has been made out to be nor in any clinical sense mentally ill. He is an intellectual and a convicted murderer, and to understand the connections between these two facts we must revisit his time at Harvard.
I first heard of the Murray experiment from Kaczynski himself. We had begun corresponding in July of 1998, a couple of months after a federal court in Sacramento sentence him to life without possibility of parole. Kaczynski, I quickly discovered, was an indefatigable correspondent. Sometimes his letters to me came so fast that was as difficult to answer one before the next arrived The letters were written with great humor, intelligence, and care. And, I found, he was, in his own way, a charming correspondent. He has apparently carried on a similarly voluminous correspondence with many others, often developing close friendships with them through the mail.
Kaczynski told me that the Henry A. Murray Research Center of the Radcliffe Institute for Advance Study, although it released some raw data about him to his attorneys, had refused to share information about the Murray team's analysis of that data. Kaczynski hinted darkly that the Murray Center seemed to feel it had something to hide. One of his defense investigators, he said, reported that the center had told participating psychologist not to talk with his defense team.
After this intriguing start Kaczynski told me little more about the Murray experiment than what I could find in he published literature. Henry Murray's widow, Mina, was friendly and cooperative, but could provide few answers to my questions. Several of the research assistants I interviewed couldn't or wouldn't talk much about the study. Nor could the Murray Center be entirely forthcoming. After considering my application, its research committee approved my request to view the records of this experiment, the so-called data set, which referred to subjects by code names only. But because Kaczynski's alias was by then known to some journalists, I was not permitted to view his records.
Through research at the Murray Center and in the Harvard archives I found that, among its other purposes, Henry Murray's experiment was intended to measure how people react under stress. Murray subjected his unwitting students, including Kaczynski, to intensive interrogation--what Murray himself called "vehement, sweeping, and personally abusive" attacks, assaulting his subjects' egos and most-cherished ideals and beliefs.
My quest was specific--to determine what effects, if any, the experiment may have had on Kaczynski. This was a subset of a larger question: What effects had Harvard had on Kaczynski? In 1998, as he faced trial for murder, Kaczynski was examined by Sally Johnson, a forensic psychiatrist with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, at the order of court. In her evaluation Johnson wrote that Kaczynski "has intertwined his two belief systems, that society is bad and he should rebel against it, and his intense anger at his family for his perceived injustices." The Unabomber was created when these two belief systems converged. And it was at Harvard, Johnson suggested, that they first surfaced and met. She wrote:
During his college year he had fantasies of living a primitive life and fantasized himself as "an agitator, rousing mobs to frenzies of revolutionary violence." He claims that during that time he started to think about breaking away from normal society.
It was at Harvard that Kaczynski first encountered the ideas about the evils of society that would provide a justification for and a focus to an anger he had felt since junior high school. It was at Harvard that he began to develop these ideas into his anti-technology ideology of revolution. It as at Harvard that Kaczynski began to have fantasies of revenge, began to dream of escaping into wilderness. And it as at Harvard, as far as can be determined that he fixed on dualistic ideas of good and evil, and on a mathematical cognitive style that led him to think he could find absolute truth through the application of his own reason. Was the Unabomber--"the most intellectual serial killer the nation has ever produced," as one criminologist has called him--born at Harvard?
The story of Kaczynski's crimes began more than twenty-two years ago, but the chain of consequences they triggered has yet to run its course. Dubbed "the Unabomber" by the FBI because his early victims were associated with universities or airlines, Kaczynski conducted an increasingly lethal campaign of terrorism that began on May 26, 1978, when the first bomb slightly injured a Northwestern University public-safety officer, Terry Marker, and ended on April 24, 1995, when a bomb he had mailed killed the president of the California Forestry Association, Gilbert Murray. Yet until 1993 Kaczynski remained mute, and his intentions were entirely unknown.
By 1995 his explosives had taken a leap in sophistication; that year he suddenly became loquacious, writing letters to newspapers, magazines, targets and a victim. Two years later The Washington Post, in conjunction with The New York Times, published copies of the 35,000-word essay that Kaczynski titled "industrial Society and Its Future," and which the press called "The Manifesto."
Recognizing the manifesto as Kaczynski's writing, his brother, David, turned Kaczynski in to the FBI, which arrested him at his Montana cabin on April 3, 1996. Later that year Kaczynski was removed to California to stand trial for, among other crimes, two Unabomber murders committed in that state. On January 8, 1998, having failed to dissuade his attorneys from their intention of pressing an insanity defense, and having failed to persuade the presiding judge, Garland E. Burrell Jr. to allow him to choose a new attorney, Kaczynski asked the court for permission to represent himself. In response Burrell ordered Sally Johnson to examine Kaczynski, to determine if he was competent to direct his own defense. Johnson offered a "provisional" diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, but she concluded that Kaczynski was nevertheless competent to represent himself. Burrell refused to allow it. Faced with the prospect of a humiliating trial in which is attorney would portray him as insane and his philosophy as the ravings of a madman, Kaczynski capitulated; in exchange for the government's agreement not to seek the death penalty, he pleaded guilty to thirteen federal bombing offenses that killed three men and seriously injured two others, and acknowledged responsibility for sixteen bombings from 1978 to 1995. On May 4, 1998, he was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Driving these events from first bomb to plea bargain was Kaczynski's strong desire to have his ideas--as described in the manifesto--taken seriously.
"The Industrial Revolution and its consequences," Kaczynski's manifesto begins, "have been a disaster for the human race." They have led, it contends, to the grown of at technological system dependent on a social, economic and political order that suppresses individual freedom and destroys nature. "The system does not and cannot exist to satisfy human needs. Instead, it is human behavior that has to be modified to fit the needs of the system."
By forcing people to conform to machines rather than vice versa, the manifesto states, technology creates a sick society hostile to human potential. Because technology demands constant change, it destroys local, human-scale communities. Because it requires a high degree of social and economic organization, it encourages the grown of crowded and unlivable cities and of mega-states indifferent to the needs of citizens.
This evolution toward a civilization increasingly dominated by technology and the power structure serving technology, the manifesto argues, cannot be reversed on its own, because "technology is a more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom," and because "while technological progress AS A WHOLE continually narrows our sphere of freedom, each new technical advance CONSIDERED BY ITSELF appears to be desirable." Hence science and technology constitute "a mass power movement, and many scientist gratify their need for power through identification \with this mass movement." Therefore "the technophiles are taking us all on an utterly reckless rider into the unknown."
Because human beings must conform to the machine, our society tends to regard as a "sickness" any mode of thought or behavior that is inconvenient for the system, and this is plausible because when an individual doesn't fit into the system it causes pain to the individual as well as problems for the system. Thus the manipulation of an individual to adjust him to the system is seen as a "cure" for a "sickness" and therefore is good.
This requirement, the manifesto continues, has given rise to a social infrastructure dedicated to modifying behavior. This infrastructure includes an array of government agencies with ever-expanding police powers, an out-of-control regulatory system that encourages the limitless multiplication of laws, an education establishment that stresses conformism, ubiquitous television networks whose fare is essentially an electronic form of Valium, and a medical and psychological establishment that promotes the indiscriminate use of mind-altering drugs.
Since the system threatens humanity's survival and cannot be reformed, Kaczynski argued, it must be destroyed. Indeed, the system will probably collapse on its own, when the weight of human suffering it creates become unbearable. But the longer it persists, the more devastating will be the ultimate collapse. Hence, "revolutionaries" like the Unabomber "by hastening the onset of the breakdown will be reducing the extent of the disaster."
"We have no illusions about the feasibility of
creating a new, ideal form of society, "Kaczynski wrote. "Our
goal is only to destroy the existing form of society." But this
movement does have a further goal. It is to protect "wild
nature," which is the opposite of technology. Admittedly,
"eliminating industrial society" may have some "negative
consequences," but "well, you can't eat your cake and have it
The Unabomber's manifesto was greeted in 1995 by many thoughtful people as a work of genius, or at least profundity, and as quite sane. In The New York Times the environmental write Kirkpatrick Sale wrote that the Unabomber "is a rational man and his principal beliefs are, if hardly mainstream, entirely reasonable." In The Nation Sale declared that the manifesto's first sentence "is absolutely crucial for the American public to understand and ought to be on the forefront of the nations' political agenda." The science writer Robert Wright observed in Time magazine, "There's a little bit of the Unabomber in most of us." And essay in The New Yorker by Cynthia Ozick described the Unabomber as America's "own Raskolnikov--the appealing, appalling and disturbingly visionary murderer of `Crime and Punishment,' Dostoyevsky's masterwork of 1866." Ozick called the Unabomber a "philosophical criminal of exceptional intelligence and humanitarian purpose, who is driven to commit murder out of an uncompromising idealism." sites devoted to the Unabomber multiplied on the Internet--the Church of Euthanasia Freedom Club; Unpack, the Unabomber Political Action Committee; alt.fan.unabomber; Chuck's Unabomb Page; redacted.com; MetroActive; and Steve Hau's Rest Stop. The University of Colorado hosted a panel titled "The Unabomber Had a Point."
By 1997, however, when Kaczynski's trial opened, the view had shifted. Although psychiatrists for the prosecution continued to cite the manifesto as proof of Kaczynski's sanity, experts for the defense and many in the media now view it as a symptom and a product of severe mental illness. The document, they argued, revealed a paranoid mind. During the trial the press frequently quoted legal experts who attested to Kaczynski's insanity. Gerald Lefcourt, then the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the defendant was "obviously disturbed." Donald Heller, a former federal prosecutor, said, "This guy is not playing with a full deck." The writer Maggie Scarf suggested in The New Republic that Kaczynski suffered from "Narcissistic Personality Disorder."
Michael Mello, a professor at Vermont Law School is the author of The United States of America vs. Theodore John Kaczynski. He and William Finnegan, a writer for The New Yorker, have suggested that Kaczynski's brother, David, his mother, Wanda, and their lawyer, Tony Bisceglie, along with Kaczynski's defense attorneys, persuaded many in the media to portray Kaczynski as a paranoid schizophrenic. To a degree this is true. Anxious to save Kaczynski from execution, David and Wanda gave a succession of interview from 1996 onward to The Washington Post, The New York Times and Sixty Minutes, among other outlets, in which they sought to portray Kaczynski as mentally disturbed and pathologically anti-social since childhood. Meanwhile--against his wishes and without his knowledge, Kaczynski insists--his attorneys launched a mental-health defense for their client.
One psychology expert for the defense, Karen Bronk Froming, concluded that Kaczynski exhibited a "predisposition to schizophrenia." Another David Vernon Foster, saw "a clear and consistent picture of schizophrenia, paranoid type." Still another, Xavier F. Amador, described Kaczynski as "typical of the hundreds of patients with schizophrenia. " How did the experts reach their conclusions? Although objective tests alone suggested to Froming only that Kaczynski's answers were "consistent with" schizophrenia, she told Finnegan it was Kaczynski's writings--in particular his "anti-technology" views--that cemented this conclusion for her. Foster, who met with Kaczynski a few times but never formally examined him, cited his "delusional themes" as evidence of sickness. Amador, who never met Kaczynski at all, based his ;judgment on the "delusional beliefs" he detected in Kaczynski's writing. And Sally Johnson's provisional diagnosis--that Kaczynski suffered from "Paranoid Type" schizophrenia--was largely based on her conviction that he harbored "delusional beliefs" about the threats posted by technology. The experts also found evidence of Kaczynski's insanity in his refusal to accept their diagnoses or to help them reach those diagnoses.
Most claims of mental illness rested on the diagnoses of experts whose judgments, therefore, derived largely from their opinions of Kaczynski's philosophy and his personal habits--he was a recluse, a wild man in appearance, a slob of a housekeeper, a celibate--and from his refusal to admit he was ill. Thus Froming cited Kaczynski's "unawareness of his disease" as an indication of illness. Foster complained of the defendant's "symptom-based failure to cooperate fully with psychiatric evaluation." Amador said that the defendant suffered "from severe deficits in awareness of illness."
But Kaczynski was not more unkempt than many other people on our streets. His cabin was no messier than the offices of many college professors. The Montana wilds are filled with escapists like Kaczynski (and me). Celibacy and misanthropy are not diseases. Nor was Kaczynski really so much of a recluse. Any reporter could quickly discover, as I did through interview with scores of people who have know Kaczynski (classmates, teachers, neighbors), that he was not the extreme loner he has been made out to be. And, surely, a refusal to admit to being insane or to cooperate with people who are paid to pronounce one insane cannot be taken seriously as proof of insanity.
Why were the media and the public so ready to dismiss Kaczynski as crazy? Kaczynski kept voluminous journals, and in one entry, apparently from before the bombing started, he anticipated this question.
I intend to start killing people. If I am successful at this, it is possible that, when I am caught (not alive, I fervently hope!) there will be some speculation in the news media as to my motives for killing....If some speculation occurs, they are bound to make me out to be a sickie, and to ascribe to me motives of a sordid or "sick" type. Of course, the term "sick" in such a context represents a value judgment....the news media may have something to say about me when I am killed or caught. And they are bound to try to analyze my psychology and depict me as "sick." This powerful bias should be borne [in mind] in reading nay attempts to analyze my psychology.
Michael Mello suggest that the public wished to see Kaczynski as insane because his ideas are too extreme for us to contemplate without discomfort. He challenges our most cherished beliefs. Mello writes,
The manifesto challenges the basic assumption of virtually every interest group that was involved with the case: the lawyers, the mental health experts, the press and politics--both left and right....Kaczynski's defense team convinced the media and the public that Kaczynski as crazy, even in the absence of credible evidenced...[because] we needed to believe it....They decided that the Unabomber was mentally ill, and his ideas were mad. Then they forgot about the man and his ideas, and created a curative tale.
Mello is only half right. It is true that many believed Kaczynski was insane because they needed to believe it. But the truly disturbing aspect of Kaczynski and his ideas is not that they are so foreign but that they are so familiar. The manifesto is the work of neither a genius nor a maniac. Except for its call to violence, the ideas it expresses are perfectly ordinary and unoriginal, shared by many Americans. Its pessimism over the direction of civilization and its rejection of the modern world are shared especially with the country's most highly educated. The manifesto is, in other words, an academic--and popular--cliché. And if concepts that many of us unreflectively accept can lead a person to commit serial murder, what does that say about us? We need to see Kaczynski as exceptional--madman or genius--because the alternative is so much more frightening.
Harvard was a "tremendous thing for me," Kaczynski wrote in an unpublished autobiography that he completed in 1998 and showed to me. "I got something that I had been needed all along without knowing it, namely, hard work requiring self-discipline and strenuous exercise of my abilities. I threw myself into this...I thrived on it....Feeling the strength of my own will, I became enthusiastic about will power."
And indeed, most reports of his teachers, his academic adviser, his housemaster, and the health-services staff suggest that Kaczynski was, in his first year at Harvard, entirely balanced, although tending to be a loner. The health-services doctor who interviewed Kaczynski as part of the medical examination Harvard required for all freshmen observed,
Good impression created. Attractive, mature for age, relaxed...Talks easily, fluently and pleasantly...likes people and gets on well with them. May have many acquaintances but makes friends carefully. Prefers to be by himself part of the time at least. May be slightly shy....Essentially a practical and realistic planner and an efficient worker....Exceedingly stable, well integrated and feels secure within himself Usually very adaptable. May have many achievements and satisfactions.
THE ROOTS OF THE UNABOMBER
What pressures did Kaczynski face among his family? Kaczynski insists that the Kaczynski home was an unhappy one and that his social isolation came about because his parents pushed him too hard academically.
....in the fifth grade, Kaczynski scored 167 on an IQ test. He skipped the sixth grade, leaving his friends behind to enter a new class as the smallest kid in the room.
From then on according to Kaczynski and also according to others who knew the family, his parents valued his intellect as a trophy that gave Kaczynski special status. They began to push him to study, lecturing him if his report card showed any grade below an A...
Kaczynski was accepted by Harvard in the spring of 1958; he was not yet sixteen years old. One friend remembers urging Kaczynski's father not to let the boy go, arguing, "He's too young, too immature, and Harvard too impersonal." But again Turk wouldn't listen. "Ted's going to Harvard was an ego trip for him," the friend recalls.
GENERAL EDUCATION AND THE CULTURE OF
According to Perry (Wm. G. Perry Jr., director of the university's Bureau of Study Counsel), intellectual development for Harvard and Radcliffe undergraduates typically encompassed a progression from a simplistic, "dualistic" view of reality to an increasingly relativistic and "contingent" once. Entering freshmen tend to favor simple over complex solution and to divide the world into truth and falsehood, good and bad, friend and foe. yet in most of the5i college course, especially in the social sciences and the humanities, they are taught that truth is relative. Most accept this, but a number cannot. They react against relativism by clinging more fiercely to an absolute view of the world. To some of these students, in Perry's words, "science and mathematics still seem to offer hope."
Nevertheless, Perry wrote, "regression into dualism" is not a happy development, for it "calls for any enemy." Dualists in a relativistic environment then to see themselves as surrounded; they become increasingly lonely and alienated. This attitude "requires an equally absolutistic rejection of any `establishment" and "can call forth in its defenses hate, projection and denial of all distinctions but one, "Perry wrote. "The tendency...is toward paranoia."
As is evident in his writings Kaczynski rejected the complexity and relativism he found in the humanities and the social sciences. He embraced both the dualistic cognitive style of mathematics and Gen Ed's anti-technology message. And perhaps most important, he absorbed the message of positivism, which demanded value-neutral reasoning and preached that (as Kaczynski would later express it in his journal) "there is no logical justification for morality."
THE MURRAY EXPERIMENT
Perhaps no figure at Harvard at this time better embodied the ongoing war between science and humanism than Henry A. "Harry" Murray, a professor in Harvard's Department of Social Relations. A wealthy and blue-blooded New Yorker, Murray was both a scientist and a humanist, and he was one of Lewis Mumford's best friends. He feared for the future of civilization in an age of nuclear weapons and advocated implementing the agenda of the World Federalist Association, which called for a single world government. The atomic bomb, Murray wrote in a letter to Mumford, "is the logical and predictable result of the course we have been madly pursing for a hundred years." The choice now facing humanity, he added, was "one World or No World."
Yet unlike Mumford, Murray maintained a deep faith in science. He saw it as offering a solution by helping to transform the human personality. "the kind of behavior that is required by the present threat." Murray wrote Mumford, "involves transformations of personality such as never occurred quickly in human history; one transformation being that of National Man into World Man." Critical to achieving this change was learning the secret of successful relationships between people, communities, and nations. And coming to understand these "unusually successful relations" was the object of Murray's particular research; the interplay between two individuals, which he called the "dyad."
The concept of the dyad was, in a sense, Murray's attempt to build a bridge between psychology and sociology. Rather than follow Freud and Jung by identifying the individual as the fundamental atom in the psychological universe, Murray chose the dyad--the smallest social unit--and in this way sought to unite psychiatry, which studied the psyches of individuals, and sociology, which studied social relations. This kind of research, he apparently hoped, might (as he put it in a 1947 paper) promote "the survival and further evaluation of Modern Man," by encouraging the emergence of the new "world man" and making world peace more likely.
Murray's interest in the dyad, however, may have been more than merely academic. The curiosity of this complex man appears to have been impelled by two motives--one idealistic and the other somewhat less so. He lent his talents to national aims during World War II. Forrest Robinson, the author of a 1992 biography of Murray, wrote that during this period he "flourished as a leader in the global crusade of good against evil." He was also an advocate of world government. Murray saw understanding the dyad, it seems, as a practical took in the service of the great crusade ion both its hot and cold phases. (He had long shown interest, for example, in the whole subject of brainwashing.) During he war Murray served in the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, helping to develop psychological screening tests for applicants and (according to Timothy Leary) monitoring military experiments on brainwashing. In his book The Search for the Manchurian Candidate" (1979), John Marks reported that General "Wild Bill" Donovan, the OSS director, "called in Harvard psychology professor Henry `Harry' Murray" to devise a system for testing the suitability of applicants to the OSS. Murray and his colleagues "put together an assessment system...[that] tested a recruit's ability to stand up under pressure, to be a leader, to hold liquor, to lie skillfully, and to read a person's character by the nature of his clothing.... Murray's system became a fixture in the OSS."
One of the tests that Murray devised for the OSS was intended to determine how well applicants withstood interrogations. As he and his colleagues described it in their 1948 report "Selection of Personnel for Clandestine Operations--Assessment of Men."
The candidate immediately went downstairs to the basement room. A voice from within commanded him to enter, and on complying he found himself facing a spotlight strong enough to blind him for a moment. the room was otherwise dark. Behind the spotlight sat a scarcely discernible board of inquisitors...The interrogator gruffly ordered the candidate to sit down. when he did so, he discovered that the chair in which he sat was so arranged that the full strength of the beam was focused directly on his face....
At firs the questions were asked in a quiet sympathetic, conciliatory manner, to invite confidence...After a few minutes, however, the examiner worked up to a crescendo in a dramatic fashion....When an inconsistency appeared, he raised his voice and lashed out at the candidate, often with sharp sarcasm. He might even roar, "You're a liar."
Even anticipation of this test was enough to cause some applicants to fall apart. The authors wrote that one person "insisted he could not go through with the test." They continued, "A little later the director...found the candidate in his bedroom, sitting on the edge of his cot, sobbing."
Before the war, Murray had been the director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic. After the war, Murray returned to Harvard where he continued to refine techniques of personality assessment. In 1948 he sent a grant application to the Rockefeller Foundation proposing "the development of a system of procedures for testing the suitability of officer candidates for the Navy." By 1950, he had resumed studies on Harvard undergraduates that he had begun, in rudimentary form, before the war, title "multiform Assessments of Personality Development Among Gifted College Men." The experiment in which Kaczynski participated was the last and most elaborate in the series. In their postwar form these experiments focused on stressful dyadic relations, designing confrontations akin to those mock interrogations he had helped to orchestrate for the OSS.
Planning for the last of Murray's "multiform assessments" was well under way by the spring of 1959. The idea, according to Murray's notes, was to "call for volunteers from a large undergraduate course."
Get about 80 sophomores; administer a series of scales or questionnaires dealing with various dimensions of personality; pick 25 subjects, some extremely high, some extremely low and some in middle on each of these scales; study these 25 subjects over a three year period by the multiform method of assessment; come up with 700 ran orders, and using a computer, obtain clusters of intercorrelations, factors, but final decisions are reached after prolonged discussions and reassessments; enormous amount of data which staff analyzes, interprets, formulates.
Kaczynski told Mello that he was "pressured into participating" in the Murray experiment. His hesitation turned out to be sensible. Researchers gave the volunteers almost no information about the experiment in which they would participate. Each was simply asked to answer yes to the following question: "Would you be willing to contribute to the solution of certain psychological problems (parts of an on-going program of research in the development of personality), by serving as a subject in a series of experiments or taking a number of tests (average about 2 hours a week) through the academic year (at the current College rate per hour)?"
In fact it would never be clear what the "certain psychological problems" were. And the test that served as the centerpiece off this undertaking appears remarkably similar to the old OSS stress test. Students would be given the third degree. But whereas the OSS applicants must have known that enduring unpleasant interrogations could be part of their job, these students did not. The intent was to catch them by surprise, to deceive them, and to brutalize them. As Murray described it,
First, you are told you have a month in which to write a brief exposition of your personal philosophy of life, an affirmation of the major guiding principles in accord with which you live or hope to live.
Second, when you return to the Annex with your finished composition, you are informed that in a day or two you and a talented young lower will be asked to debate the respective merits of your two philosophies.
When the subject arrived for the debate, he was escorted to a "brilliantly lighted room" and seated in front of a one-way mirror. A motion-picture camera recorded his every move and facial expression through a hole in the wall. Electrodes leading to machines that recorded his heart and respiratory rates were attached to his body. Then the debate began. Bu the students were tricked. Contrary to what Murray claimed in his article, they had been led to believe that they would debate their philosophy of life with another student like themselves. Instead they confronted what Forrest Robinson describes as a "well-prepared `stooge"--a talented young lawyer indeed, but one who had been instructed to launch into an aggressive attack on the subject, for the purpose of upsetting him as much as possible.
Robinson has described what happened next.
As instructed, the unwitting subject attempted to represent and to defend his personal philosophy of life. Invariably, however, he was frustrated, and finally brought to expressions of real anger, by the withering assault of his older, more sophisticated opponent...while fluctuations in the subject's pulse and respiration were measured on a cardio tachometer.
Nor surprisingly, most participants found this highly unpleasant, even traumatic, as the data set records, "We were led into the room with bright lights, very bright," one of them, code-named Cringle, recalled afterward.
I could see shadowy activities going on behind the one-way glass...[Dr. G]...started fastening things on me. [I] had a sensation somewhat akin to someone being strapped on the electric chair with these electrodes...I really started getting hit real hard...Wham, wham, wham! And me getting hotter and more irritated and my heart beat going up...and sweating terribly...there I was under the lights and with the movie camera and all this experimentation equipment on me...It was sort of an unpleasant experience.
"Right away," said another, code-named Trump, describing his experience afterward, "I didn't like [the interrogator]."
[Dr. G]...came waltzing over and he put on those electrodes but in that process, while he was doing that, kind of whistling, I was looking over the room, and right away I didn't like the room. I didn't like the way the glass was in front of me through which I couldn't see, but I was being watched and right away that puts one in a kind of unnatural situation and I noted the big white lights and again that heightens the unnatural effect. There was something peculiar about the set-up too, it was supposed to look homey or look natural, two chairs and a little table, but again that struck me as unnatural before the big piece of glass and the lights. and then [Mr. R]...who was bubbling over, dancing around, started to talk to me about he liked my suit...the buzzer would ring or something like that, we were supposed to begin...he was being sarcastic or pretty much of a wise guy...And the first thing that entered my mind was to get up and ask him outside immediately...but that was out of the questions, because the electrodes and the movie and all that...I kind of sat there and began to fume and then he went on and he got my goat and I couldn't think of what to say....And then they came along and they took my electrodes off.
And so it went. One subject, Hinge, thought he was "being attacked." Another, Naisfield, complained, "The lights were very bright...Then the things were put on my legs and whatnot and on the arm,...I didn't like the feel of the sticky stuff that was on there being sort of uncomfortable."
Although the "stressful dyadic proceeding" served as the centerpiece of Murray's experiment (it occurred during the second year of the three-year study), it was merely one among scores of different tests the students took in order to allow Murray and his associates to acquire, as Murray wrote, "the most accurate, significant, and complete knowledge and understanding of a single psychological event that is obtainable."
Before the dyadic confrontation took place, Murray and his colleagues interviewed the students in depth about their hopes and aspirations. During his same period the subjects were required to write not only essays explaining their philosophies of life but also autobiographies in which they were told to answer specific, intimate questions on a range of subjects from thumb-sucking and toilet training to masturbation and erotic fantasies. And they faced a battery of tests that included, among others, the Thematic Apperception Test, a Rorschach test, the Minnesota Multiphase Personality Inventory, the California Psychological Inventory, a "fantasy inventory," a psychological-types inventory, the Maudalay Personality Inventory, an "inventory of self-description," a "temperament questionnaire," a "time-metaphor test," a "basic disposition test," a "range of experience inventory," a "philosophical outlook test," a food-preference inventory, analysis of their literary tastes and moral precepts, an "odor association test," a "word association test," an argument-completion test, a Wyatt finger-painting test, a projective-drawings test, and a "Rosenzweig picture frustration test." The results were then analyzed by researchers, who plotted them in numerous ways in an effort to develop a psychological portrait of each personality in all its dimensions.
Only after most of this data had been collected did researchers administer the stressful dyadic confrontation. During the year following this session each student was called back for several "recall": interviews and sometimes was asked to comment on the movie of himself being reduced to impotent anger by the interrogator. During these replays, Murray wrote, "you will see yourself making numerous grimaces and gestures" and "uttering incongruent, disjunctive, and unfinished sentences."
During the last year of the experiment, Murray made the students available to his graduate-student assistants, to serve as guinea pigs for their own research projects. By graduation, as Kenneth Keniston, one of these researchers, summarized the process later, "each student had spent approximately two hundred hours in the research, and had provided hundreds of pages of information about himself, his beliefs, his past life, his family, his college life and development, his fantasies, his hopes and dreams."
Why were the students willing to endure this ongoing stress and probing into their private lives? Some who had assisted Murray in the experiment confessed to me that they wondered about themselves But they--and we--can speculate that some of the students (including Kaczynski) did it for the money, that some (again, probably including Kaczynski) had doubts about their own psychic health and were seeking reassurance about it, and that some, suffering from Harvard's well0known anomie, were lonely and needed someone to talk to, and that some simply had an interest in hoping to advance scientific knowledge. but in truth we do not know. Alden E. Wiseman, a former research associate of Murray's who has long been bothered by the unethical dimension of this study, said to me recently, "Later, I thought We took and took and used them and what did we give them in return?"
What was the purpose of the experiment? Keniston told me that he wasn't sure what the goals were. "Murray was not the most systematic scientist," he explained. Murray himself gave curiously equivocal answers. At time he suggested that his intent was merely to gather as much raw data as possible about one interpersonal event, which could then be used in different ways to help "develop a theory of dyadic systems." At other times he recalled the idealist goal of acquiring knowledge that would lead to improving human personality development. At still other times his language seemed to suggest a continued interest in stressful interrogations. For example, Murray explained in his "Notes on Dyadic Research," dated March 16, 1959, that an ongoing goal of the research which focused heavily on "degree of anxiety and disintegration," was to "deign and evaluate instruments and procedures for the prediction of how each subject will react in the course of a stressful dyadic proceeding."
Such equivocation prompts one to ask, Could the experiment have had a purpose that Murray was reluctant to divulge? Was the multiform-assessments project intend3ed, at last in part, to help the CIA determine how to test, or break down an individual's ability to withstand interrogation? The writer Alexander Cockburn has asked whether the students might have been given the hallucinogenic drug LSD without their knowledge, possibly at the request of the CIA. By the late 1950s, according to some, Murray had become quite interested in hallucinogenic, including LSD and psilocybin. And soon after Murray's experiments on Kaczynski and his classmates were under way, in 1960, Timothy Leary returned to Harvard and, with Murray's blessing, began his experiments with psilocybin. In his autobiography, Flashbacks (1983), Leary, who would dedicate the rest of his life to promoting hallucinogenic drugs, described Murray as "the wizard of personality assessment who, as OSS chief psychologist, had monitored military experiments on brainwashing and sodium amytal interrogation. Murray expressed great interest in our drug-research project and offered his support."
Forrest Robinson reports in his biography that Murray took psilocybin and in 1961 delivered a talk on his experience to the International Congress of Applied Psychology. That Leary had Murray's support was confirmed by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Schlain in their book Aicd Dreams: The Complete social History of LSD (1985),
Leary returned to Harvard and established a psilocybin research project with the approval of Dr. Harry Murray, chairman of the Department of Social Relations. Dr. Murray, who ran the Personality assessments section of the OSS during World War II, took a keen interest in Leary's work. He volunteered for a psilocybin session, becoming one of the first of many faculty and graduate students to sample the mushroom pill under Leary's guidance.
Kaczynski thinks he was never given LSD. And after exhaustive research I could find no evidence that LSD was ever used in Murray's research. Nevertheless, whether the research had a defense connection of some sort remains an open question. Although direct evidence of support from a federal defense grant is so far lacking, circumstantial evidence 3esists: the strong similarity between the OSS stress tests and the later experiments. Murray's association with the OSS, his grant proposal to do research for the Navy Department, and the lack of any clearly explained purposes for the study. Obviously, the dyadic studies would have had considerable utility for the defense establishment, either as a framework for testing recruits or as continuing work on how to improve interrogation techniques.
A TURNING POINT
What was the state of Kaczynski's mental health at the time of the multiform- assessments project and immediately afterward? The evidence suggest that hew as entirely sane during those years. By he spring of 1998 Kaczynski had obtained from the Murray Center his answers (along with those of other Murray-experiments participants) on the Thematic Apperception Test, which Murray had given to Kaczynski during the first year of the experiments. At Kaczynski's request, his lawyers sent these to a psychological-testing expert: Bertram Karon, at Michigan State University. Because participants were identified only by code names, Karon was able to conduct a blind evaluation--measuring the answers without knowing who had given them. Karon found that on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 a complete absence of illness and 10 the highest degrees of illness, "Lawful" scored 0 to "Schizotypy" and 2 for "Psychopathy." Kaczynski's undergraduate experience and behavior had been unremarkable. The reports of his housemaster, his adviser and the university doctors attested to his normalcy, as did the observations of classmates. There is no evidence of immediate mental degradation in the project's aftermath. Emotional turmoil is another matter. As Sally Johnson, the forensic psychiatrist, reported, Kaczynski clearly began to experience emotional distress then, and began to develop his anti-technology views.
And there is one thing that come through clearly in he essays, test answers, and interview of Murray's subjects at the outset of the experiment: many of these young men already exhibited attitudes of anger, nihilism and alienation--reflecting, perhaps, just how persuasively a culture of despair had infused student attitudes and suggesting that some might have been especially vulnerable to stress.
Bulwer admitted that "right now I have sort of a nihilistic outlook on life....How do our justify studying if you regard yourself as an ant crawling through a great huge anthill with millions of others?"
Ives (speaking of living a conventional life) confessed,
And for doing all this I will hate myself. I mourn the world in which I live because for me there is no place unless I compromise. All I can do is gather up the shattered remains of my hope and love and in the debris of the world keep at least one small blaze of poetry burning....I most feel akin to the artist sand the philosophers and have a hatred for the scientists. The scientists I hate because they are pursuing goals which are destined to remove man even further from himself.
Naisfield averred, "I don't feel that there is any purpose in my being alive..."
To describe his philosophy of life, Oscar (roughly) quoted Bertrand Russell (whose writing were assigned in Gen Ed): "only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."
Quartz announced that there were "No such things as objective values."
Dorset wrote simply, "society as I see it stinks."
Sanwick, as one researcher put it, is "basically distrustful of the whole enterprise of life." Researchers found analyzing him "almost impossible," because "his whole life is conceptualized within a bombastic framework of philosophical concepts: being, life, death transcendence, preservation, liberation, repetition, chaos...One feels...a great tumult and chaos of awarenesses, perceptions and feelings."
The analysts deemed one subject "a young man in a state of considerable distress, depression, and confusion...extremely alienated" and another prone to "withdrawal, silence." And so on, and on.
It is clear, also that Murray's experiment deeply affected at least some of its subjects. From interviews conducted after the project ended, it is apparent that certain students had found the experience searing. Even twenty-five years later some recalled date unpleasantness. In 1987, Cringle remembers the "anger and embarrassment...the glass partition...the electrodes and wires running up our sleeves."
Likewise, twenty-five years later Drill still had "very vivid general memories of the experience....I remember someone putting electrodes and blood pressure counter on my arm just before the filming...[I] was startled by [his interlocutor's] venom...I remember responding with unabating rage."
What Hinge remembered most vividly twenty-five years later was being "attacked" and hating "having all my movements and sounds recorded....we were led over to the chairs and strapped in and as the wires were attached to us...I began to get move involved in the situation and I began to realize that...there I was, actually was going to be in front of the movie camera...I was surprised by how strongly he was attacking me..."
And twenty-five years later Locust wrote,
I remember appearing on afternoon for a `debate' and being hooked up to electrodes and sat in a chair with bright lights and being told a movie was being made....I remember him attacking me, even insulting me, for my values, or for opinions I had expressed in my written material, and I remember feeling that I could not defend these ideas, that I had written them not intended for them to be the subject of a debate...I remember being shocked by the severity of the attack, and I remember feeling helpless to respond...So what I seem to remember are feelings (bewilderment, surprise, anger, chagrin) sensations (the bright lights used for the filming, the discomfort of the arrangements) reactions (how could \they have done this to me; what is the point of this? They have deceived me, telling me there was going to be a discussion, when in fact there was an attack.)
And at his twenty-fifth college reunion Ives wrote to Murray,
My memories of the encounter 25 years ago...
The young lawyer was surprisingly hostile...
He had wavy jet black hair...
The subject was the nature of love.
I argued that love could only be for a specific person.
He argued that one could love all mankind.
We talked about Natasha from WAR & PEACE.
I did not enjoy the experience.
We don't know what effect this experiment may have had on Kaczynski. As noted, I did not have access to his records, and therefore cannot attest to his degrees of alienation then. Diana Baumrind, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, observers that deceitful experimentation can be harmful if the subjects "have been emotionally unstable prior to the experiment." Kaczynski must certainly have been among the most vulnerable of Murray's experimental subjects--a point that the researchers seem to have missed. He was among the youngest and the poorest of the group. He may have come from a dysfunctional home.
Lois Skillen, Kaczynski's high school counselor, is among those who believe that the Murray experiment could have been a turning point in Kaczynski's life. Ralph Meister, one of Turk Kacynski's (Kaczynski's father) oldest friends and a retired psychologist who has known Ted Kaczynski since he was a small boy, also raises this possibility. So does one of Murray's own research associates. The TAT results certainly suggest that at the outset of the experiment Kaczynski was mentally healthy, but by the experiment's end judging form Sally Johnson's comments, he was showing the first signs of emotional distress.
As Kaczynski's college life continued, outwardly he seemed to be adjusting to Harvard. But inwardly he increasingly seethed. According to Sally Johnson, he began worrying about his health. He began having terrible nightmares. He started having fantasies about taking revenge against a society that he increasingly viewed as an evil force obsessed with imposing conformism through psychological controls.
These thoughts upset Kaczynski all the more because they exposed his ineffectuality. Johnson reported that he would become horribly angry with himself because he could not express this fury openly. "I never attempted to put any such fantasies into effect," she quoted from his writings, "because I was too strongly conditions...against any defiance of authority...I could not have committed a crime of revenge even a relatively minor crime because...my fear of being caught and punished was all out of proportion to the actual danger of being caught."
Kaczynski felt that justice demanded that he take revenge on society. But he lacked the personal resources at that time to do so. He was--had always been--a good boy. Instead he would seek escape. He began to dram about breaking away from society and living a primitive life. According to Johnson, he "began to study information about wild edible plants" and to spend time learning about he wilderness. And like many American intellectuals before him, from Henry David Thoreau to Edward Abbey, he began to form a plan to seek personal renewal in nature.
Today society would not tolerate the deceptions inherent in the Murray experiments. The researchers seem to have failed at least two requirements in the American Psychological Association's current code of conduct: that they obtain "informed consent" from their subjects and that they "never deceive research participants about significant aspects that would affect their willingness to participate, such as physical risks, disc comfort, or unpleasant emotional experiences. But different standards prevailed then, and what we now view a the abuse of human subjects was common. Researchers around the country performed experiments on undergraduates that put them in psychological peril.
In an infamous experiment conducted in 1962 by the Yale professor Stanley Milgram, subjects (forty men recruited through mail solicitation and a newspaper ad) were led to believe that they were delving ever-more-powerful electric shocks to a stranger, on orders from the researchers. Nearly two third of them continued to obey the orders even when they were asked to administer the highest level of shock, labeled "Danger: Severe Shock." Some participants broke down on learning of third potential for cruelty. "I observed a mature and initially poised businessman enter the laboratory smiling and confident," Milgram wrote, concerning one of his study subjects. "within 20 minutes he was reduced to a twitching, stuttering wreck, who was rapidly approaching a point of nervous collapse."
A 1971 experiment by the Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo embodied the pursuit of scientific truth at the expense of students' psychological health. Zimbardo selected twenty-four students to play a game of guards an prisoners. Nine were "arrested" and taken to a basement "prison" where they were guarded by the others. In a very short time the guard began abusing the prisoners. This sadism erupted so quickly that Zimbardo discontinued the experiment after six days--eight days earlier than originally intended.
The Murray experiment may not have been as intensely traumatic as these other experiments. And its ethics were definitely acceptable in their day. But the ethics of the day were wrong. And they framed Kaczynski's first encounter with a reckless scientific value system that elevated the pursuit of scientific truth above human rights.
When, soon after, Kaczynski began to worry about the possibility of mind control, he was not giving vent to paranoid delusions. In view of Murray's experiments, he was not only rational but right. The university and the psychiatric establishment had been willing accomplices in n experiment that had treated human beings as unwitting guinea pigs, and had treated them brutally. Here is a powerful logical foundation for Kaczynski's latterly expressed conviction that academics, in particular scientists, were thoroughly compromised servants of "the system," employed in the development of techniques for the behavioral control of populations.
It was the confluence of two streams of development that transformed Ted Kaczynski into the Unabomber. One stream was personal, fed by his anger toward his family and those who he felt had slight or hurt him, in high school and college. The other derived form his philosophical critique of society and its institutions, and reflected the culture of despair he encountered at Harvard and later. The Murray experiment, containing both psychological and philosophical components, may well have fed both streams.
Gradually, while he was immersed in his Harvard readings and in the Murray experiment, Kaczynski began to put together a theory to explain his unhappiness and anger. Technology and science were destroying liberty and nature. the system, of which Harvard was a part, served technology, which in turn required conformism. By advertising, propaganda, and other techniques of behavior modification, this system sought to transform men into automatons, to serve the machine.
Thus did Kaczynski's Harvard experiences shape his anger
and legitimize his wrath. By the time he graduated, all the elements that
would ultimately transform him into the Unabomber were in place--the ideas out
of which he would construct a philosophy, the unhappiness, the feelings of
complete isolation. Soon after, so, too, would be his committeemen to
positivism--morality was nonrational--made him feel free to murder. Within
four years of graduating from Harvard he would be firmly fixed in his life's
plan. According to an autobiography he wrote that chronicled his life
until the age of twenty-seven, "I thought `I will kill, but I will make at
least some effort to avoid detection, so that I can kill again."
THE EVILS OF INTELLIGENCE
Today Ted Kaczynski is serving four life terms in a maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado. Out of sight, he is not out of play. His manifesto continues to be read at colleges around the country.
It is unlikely that Kaczynski will someday be a free man again, but it is not impossible . Although he pleaded guilty in January of 1998 to the Unabomber crimes, that outcome is currently under appeal. He claims that his attorneys deceived him and acted against this wishes by preparing a "mental defect" defense for him, and that by allowing hits to happen, the court violated his Sixth Amendment right to direct his own defense. The Ninth Circuit Court has agreed to hear his appeal, and a new trial is a possibility.
No one other than Kaczynski's three victims has yet been murdered by a fanatical environmentalist, but investigators consider it merely a matter of time before someone else is killed for similar reasons. "I think we've come very close to that line," one federal agent told the Oregonian, "and we will cross that line unless we deal with this problem."
We may cross that line sooner than we think. In a September, 1998 letter to me, Kaczynski wrote,
I suspect that you underestimate the strength and depth of feeling against industrial civilization that has been developing in recent years. I've been surprised at some of the things that people have written to me. It looks to me as if our society is moving into a pre-evolutionary situation. (By that I don't mean a situation in which revolution is inevitable, but one in which it is a realistic possibility.) The majority of people are pessimistic or cynical about existing institutions, there is widespread alienation and directionlessness among young people...Perhaps all that is needed is to give these forces appropriate organization and direction.
Seen from that perspective, it might seem that the rest of society is only a few steps behind Kaczynski. When Henry Murray spoke of the need to create a new "World Man," this was not what he had in mind.