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 groups 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.
Ted Kaczynski, early 1970s, in Montana.
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?
Not quite. Freedom Club was started with three basic ideas that everyone agrees on. The first one says that wildness is worth existing, and should be able to exist in a dignified manner. A healthy and free existence means wildness must pervade our lives. But, and this is the second idea, industrial technology destroys wildness, and will continue doing so unless it is ended or unless it ends itself. And the third idea is simply the logical conclusion of those two points: those on the side of wild nature must do everything they can to end industrial society.
I am not naïve enough to think that dropping out is the best effort we can make to save wildness. But we are still in the process of figuring out what that best effort looks like, or what even is possible, so there are some very specific things that need to be done right now in the area of theory, propaganda, and publications. Freedom Club is going to be doing those things.
Could you briefly trace your own intellectual or political trajectory? Basically, how did you arrive at your current worldview? Where did you start and where exactly are you now?
When I was living with my parents as a child, I read all the time, and since I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian, I spent a lot of time in the religion section of the library. By consequence, I ended up reading a lot of books about philosophy and political thought, since those sections were nearby. While I don’t remember reading those things and thinking they affected my worldview in any sort of drastic way, almost all of the texts making that major impact now are texts I at least attempted to read as a child. So I would definitely count that as the starting point of my intellectual growth.
Then there were a few years of espousing things that the adults in my life believed, of course. But the most significant thing that happened next is that in 2011, when Occupy happened, I was thrilled. I was very unhappy with the world around me, and though I couldn’t quite articulate what it was, Occupy seemed like it had potential to make that different. Besides, Occupy protesters couldn’t really articulate what they were unhappy with either. Unfortunately, I could only watch Occupy happen through the Internet. At the time, I was living with my aunt and uncle in a very rural North Carolina town, and no one was willing to drive me anywhere. So I did my best to interact with the movement how I could as a 16-year-old on a computer: I got introduced to some pretty radical thought through the magazine The New Inquiry, which I followed from the very beginning, I wrote and messaged people about the movement, and I considered calling myself an anarchist.
But before I really settled on that label, I wanted to give conventional politics a try. So the next year, I was living with my grandmother, and I asked if I could help out with the Obama campaign. She was against it for some reasons I can’t remember now, but I was adamant, so I eventually got to help out. It sucked. So much deceit and so many Machiavellian power plays. During the campaign I met someone who had worked with a group in Arizona called No More Deaths. She said it consisted of quite a few anarchists, at least when she went down there.
The project was compelling to me for quite a few reasons, and at that point I really wanted to explore the anarchist political label. Also, at that point in my life I wanted nothing less than to be free from school and my family, no matter what this meant. My father wasn’t providing any financial support at the time, and I was almost positive that he wasn’t going to when I left my grandmother’s, so I realized that No More Deaths was my best option. If I didn’t go to No More Deaths, I would be sleeping in a tent anyway, except I’d probably have the cops called on me then.
I actually never ended up going to No More Deaths. Instead I started dating my now ex-boyfriend, who was attending UNC. So, I figured, I would go with him to Chapel Hill where there was a fair amount of anarchist activity, at least as far as the news was concerned. Besides, I already had all the stuff I needed to make it through at least a few months of homelessness. Luckily, the anarchist community here in Chapel Hill helped me out a lot. They showed me where abandoned buildings were, where to get free food, and many of them let me sleep on their couches.
You’ll notice that at this point my story has become more personal than political, and that’s kind of what happened with my thought in general. While before I was concerned very much with abstract ideas, my life rapidly transitioned into one that cared about finding food, making friends, and reading wonderful stories.
And at some point during all this, I read an essay, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” and I loved it. For the first time, there was something that expressed what I had been feeling, and it did so in very rational way. Not that that’s the best kind of argument, but it was certainly appealing to me, since the only radical political arguments that I had heard up to that point were very moralistic and steeped in identity politics. But “Industrial Society and Its Future” was written by the Unabomber, and that made me feel weird. What did it mean that I had the same ideas as a guy who tried to blow people up?
Later, I read the essay “Why the future doesn’t need us,” which was a personal account of Bill Joy, a well-respected scientist and programmer, experiencing the same dilemma. Again and again I read similar accounts, and this really strengthened my ability to believe these things. Because it really speaks to the power of the Unabomber’s argument that scientists who could have received one of his bombs said publicly that he was right.
Since then I’ve been exploring more of those ideas. I don’t know if I would call myself an anarchist anymore. It’s not really a label that brings up questions I want to talk about. It has also been coming to my attention that the majority of U.S. anarchists outside of the group I regularly interact with have very different politics from me. So Freedom Club is kind of an exploration out of anarchism as a political label. I probably still technically fall within that category in some cases, and older anarchists are still helping me out quite a bit, but overall I’m developing into someone who could more appropriately be called a “luddite,” so for now that’s what I’ll call myself.
So it was Kaczynski’s “relationship with wildness” more than his politics or his ideas that were inspirational and your own politics have shifted over time from abstract to particular…how would you describe your own relationship with wildness?
My relationship with the wild is still developing. I’d say that in the day-to-day I experience wildness in an urban context: abandoned buildings, secret places I found when I was homeless, stuff like that. Places that are untamed but mostly hidden from sight, since they wouldn’t really be allowed to be wild if they weren’t on the margins.
When I can, though, I try to go out in the forests and mountains. They’re my favorite places to be, and really there’s no place wilder than wild nature. You can experience wildness in the city, but it’s a sick kind of wildness, wheezing, barely alive. In wild nature the spirit is thriving and beautiful. It fills everything and it puts you in this state of awe sometimes. It truly defines your time there. I’ve been trying to learn more wilderness skills so I can get out to the forests and mountains more, experience more of the freedom I’m fighting for. I don’t have a car, so I’d have to hitchhike out to these places once I have more time to, but it’s worth it.
What has your experience been promoting ideas critical of civilization, progress, and technology on a college campus? Are some sectors of the campus community seemingly more receptive to such ideas than others?
The experience has been good. One of the goals of the group is to stay small, kind of like a collective, so there hasn’t been a whole lot of non-personal outreach for the ideas on campus. Mostly we’re trying to figure out basic questions like how exactly to define “technology,” or what we mean when we say “wild.”
But I would say that the majority of the people involved have positive feelings toward these ideas. People really want to be free, you know? And, especially in the South, people love nature. Students in particular are either all for the ideas because of those reasons, or they’re immediately put off by them for what seems to be class reasons (working class people are more attracted to these ideas, for the most part).
The people I’ve had the most trouble with come from the community of political ideologues. Anarchists, liberals, and leftists who call themselves activists. They already have an ideology they’re trying to push, so they’re either dismissive of these ideas or they call them flat-out wrong. Which is fine. Many group members have realized that this project has strength not because of the political aspects, but because it really speaks to a fundamental desire for freedom that we all have. The things we are talking about aren’t lofty revolutions, but our every lives.
What is the UNC Freedom Club currently working on?
Well, there are a few different things.
1. Freedom Club’s main project is the FC Journal, so a big goal for the group is getting that journal to as many people as possible. FC Journal is meant to be something akin to the Dark Mountain Project, but with a little more analysis. The goal is to have a quality forum for discussion about the consequences of industry and what we can do about it, but another big goal is to have it be interesting to any random person who would pick it up.
2. Some of the group members are working on an essay “Beyond Anti-Capitalism,” which we’re really excited about. It’s going to do some scaffolding work for basic ideas we have, especially ones concerning technology, the anti-capitalist left, what wildness means after industry — stuff like that. The goal is to get feedback after this essay is published and then put out a more comprehensive book, “Technique.” “Technique” would kind of be like the “Das Kapital” of the anti-industrial position — except not nearly as theoretical, and written by 19 – 22 year olds. Hopefully it will be pretty comprehensive while still being accessible.
Ultimately, we want our collective to have some influence on the direction this kind of anti-industrial, rooted-in-wildness perspective goes, since it’s a pretty popular one worldwide, and, at least in my opinion, it certainly has the potential to be a big deal. Other than that, we have no lofty overarching goals, just a few concrete projects.
And in addition to that, I have seen some posters circulating that have been created by the group. One pointing out the fraud of “green” energy and another critical of body cameras as a way to end violence by the cops. Can we expect to see more stuff like that?
You’ll certainly see more posters. We want the online magazine to exist more than just online, so stuff will regularly be pulled and printed for distribution. One of those real-world things will be posters for every issue, which will go everywhere and be distributed to partner bookstores (we only have three of those, by the way, so if you own a bookstore, contact us!).
But the purely agitprop posters will definitely exist too. They’ll look more like the green energy poster than the body camera poster. I made the body camera poster, and while I think my anarchist friends really liked it, other members of Freedom Club thought the whole thing was way too charged for us, a young group. Before we do stuff like that, we need to better understand what it means to attack policing as a technology—whether in the form of surveillance, law enforcement, or the media—and better express that. Otherwise, our poster will get lost in the mixed bag of half-baked ideas.
But the green energy thing is very intentional. We put the green energy poster out because UNC is kind of bougie, full of people who talk about saving the earth. But we aren’t focused on the environment, per se, we are focused on wildness, and we are explicitly anti-industrial. The poster does well in making that distinction clear, scaring off the middle-class “activists” who are more concerned about the energy crisis than they are dying ecosystems.
More posters like that will focus on Google’s autonomous cars, artificial intelligence, and especially biotechnology. They’re great ways of getting these ideas in front of people who otherwise wouldn’t pay attention, and it expands those ideas’ presence into the real world. In other words, posters are one of the most effective ways of spreading wild values — which is the crux of what Freedom Club wants to do.
Are you aware of any other student group similar to UNC Freedom Club on any other campus?
Nope, but I’d love to see them pop up.
If someone were considering starting such a group on their campus and wanted to contact you, how might they do that?
I can thing of two major things, and they go for any student group.
First, contact people outside of the university. Work hard to build relationships with people who do the thing you’re trying to do. FC-like groups should contact bloggers, speakers, people who are influential and start a dialogue with them. Lots of people are out there willing to help, and as students we have this great opportunity to use the university name in our byline, which really draws attention.
Second, use the damn resources. Most universities are willing to throw away money for the sake of student groups. Groups here get thousands of dollars each semester. Use that to print things, to bring in speakers, or even just to have one crazy, well-attended campus event.
And, just a last thing, be sure to contact FC. We’d be happy to help you out.
To learn more about UNC Freedom Club visit uncfc.org More about the FC Journal can be found at http://thejournal.link/