We Can Build Compact Walkable Towns Instead of Suburban Wastelands
Friday, January 23, 2015
Interview with John F. Jacobi (a new friend of mine)
To start the new year, Uncivilized Animals is covering new ground with its first ever interview-style post. The subject of this first interview is John F. Jacobi, founder of UNC Freedom Club and one of the editors of the group’s FC Journal. UNC Freedom Club describes itself as “an anti-industrial, ecological student group at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill”.
The name Freedom Club may carry a certain connotation for those who identify as green anarchists and other critics of technology. How did you decide on the name for the group?
For those who don’t know, maybe I should note that “Freedom Club (FC)” was the name of the group who later turned out to be Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. The intent behind the bombings was to get Kaczynski / FC’s manifesto, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” published in a major newspaper. He succeeded. And as far as I know, to this day Kaczynski has continued to refer to “FC” as a group.
But the name is not hinting at some kind of new armed struggle. In fact, some people who belong to the group have an overall negative impression of what Kaczynski did, even if we agree with his ideas on technology and industry (and, to the extent he talked about it, wildness).
But the compelling thing about Kaczynski wasn’t his ideas or his political actions, it was his relationship with wildness and life. When I wrote Kaczynski, I got the impression that his interactions with me were, ironically, very mechanical, as though he structured them just right so they would work perfectly as part of the larger revolutionary machine. But there are more relatable aspects to Kaczynski’s character. Take, for example, this excerpt from an interview first published in Green Anarchist:
“This is kind of personal,” he begins by saying, and I ask if he wants me to turn off the tape. He says “no, I can tell you about it. While I was living in the woods I sort of invented some gods for myself” and he laughs. “Not that I believed in these things intellectually, but they were ideas that sort of corresponded with some of the feelings I had. I think the first one I invented was Grandfather Rabbit. You know the snowshoe rabbits were my main source of meat during the winters. I had spent a lot of time learning what they do and following their tracks all around before I could get close enough to shoot them. Sometimes you would track a rabbit around and around and then the tracks disappear. You can’t figure out where that rabbit went and lose the trail. I invented a myth for myself, that this was the Grandfather Rabbit, the grandfather who was responsible for the existence of all other rabbits. He was able to disappear, that is why you couldn’t catch him and why you would never see him… Every time I shot a snowshoe rabbit, I would always say ‘thank you Grandfather Rabbit.’ After a while I acquired an urge to draw snowshoe rabbits. I sort of got involved with them to the extent that they would occupy a great deal of my thought. I actually did have a wooden object that, among other things, I carved a snowshoe rabbit in. I planned to do a better one, just for the snowshoe rabbits, but I never did get it done. There was another one that I sometimes called the Will ‘o the Wisp, or the wings of the morning. That’s when you go out in to the hills in the morning and you just feel drawn to go on and on and on and on, then you are following the wisp. That was another god that I invented for myself.”
An essay that does quite well expounding on this aspect of Kaczynski’s character is “Freedom Club” by Julie Ault. The essay recounts some details from the lives of Kaczynski and Thoreau, pointing out the obvious parallels, and it also follows the life of James Benning, who is attempting to build a cabin based on the one Kaczynski built in Montana. The implicit message here was that all these people belonged to “Freedom Club,” and that was really where the idea to adopt that name for the club came from. It was just a beautiful narrative.
Of course, without the mail bombs, “Industrial Society and Its Future” would likely have never made it into print…or at least it would not have enjoyed the widespread distribution of being included in the Washington Post. Do you think the low-tech lifestyle alone—minus the violence and the political tracts—something to emulate? Basically is “dropping out” or, perhaps more charitably, “living by example” a good idea?