Background: In 1998, Gary Greenberg, a psychotherapist living in rural Connecticut, began a correspondence with Ted Kaczynski, the murderer known as the Unabomber. He and Kaczynski exchanged dozens of letters, with some of Kaczynski’s as long as 20 pages. In the letters, they discussed the insidious influence of technology, the preservation of wild nature, the dubious claims and conclusions of the psychiatric profession, the appetites and proclivities of the American media, Kaczynski’s life in prison, the choices made by Kaczynski’s family, and the lessons of Russian feudalism.
In a wide-ranging essay, Greenberg discusses the evolution and dissolution of his relationship with Kaczynski, along the way eviscerating the media that courted and then devoured the Unabomber, the judicial system that did everything possible to avoid another O.J. sort of trial, and the psychiatrists who muted Kaczynski’s principles by labeling them as paranoid schizophrenia.
Please note: a) This story is absolutely real; b) The excerpts being presented comprise only a portion of Mr. Greenberg’s article, which in its entirety is 23,000 words or so; c) The order of the excerpts is not necessarily the same as that in the print version.
The Mark of Zorro.
There are 27 letters, a stack one inch thick. They date from June 9, 1998, to June 1, 1999. Twenty of them came between August 11 and December 11 of last year. They’re on lined, usually white but occasionally yellow paper, mostly written in pen. Kaczynski’s evenly spaced block letters are neat and unadorned. His left margin is ruler-straight, his right taken to the edge of the page unless that would disrupt the orderly rhythm of his print. Perhaps Kaczynski’s penmanship is his attempt to mimic his impounded typewriter, the one on which he wrote the Manifesto. Maybe he misses it.
Kaczynski’s grammar and syntax are as precise as his handwriting. His carefully unbroken infinitives and faithfully maintained parallel structures read like examples from Strunk and White. I imagine sometimes a schoolboy’s pride in following the rules, his relish of a job well done, lurking in all this compliance; Kaczynski’s rebelliousness, his love of the wild, stops here.
In his letters, Kaczynski is sometimes pedantic and other times argumentative. But leavening them throughout, in addition to his unfailing politeness and moderation of tone, is a sense of humor that stops just short of wiseass. In this, he reminds me of a very smart adolescent boy whose sharp intellect and way with words can, if only momentarily, put his insecurity out of mind. In a word, Kaczynski’s letters are jaunty, a quality that I don’t have to quote in order to show. I just have to tell you that when he signs his name, he often underlines it with a scrawled “Z” that looks, for all the world, like the mark of Zorro.