The New Yorker has resurrected an excellent piece on the Unabomber’s trial from 1998, which you can find here. (One of the unexpected pleasures of long-form journalism’s online renaissance is a nascent culture of curation that has led old features to suddenly find new life when big stories break; in this case, a new request by the FBI for a DNA sample to investigate the Unabomber’s possible involvement in the infamous 1982 Tylenol poisonings. Last week, John McPhee’s 1987 epic on America’s battle to contain the Mississippi River was the most-read thing on the New Yorker’s site. This is something good that’s also something new. It’s hard to imagine the print edition re-running features, no matter how newly re-relevant.)
So, the Unabomber: A couple years ago, I met a famous violinist who had gone to Harvard with Ted Kaczynski half a century earlier. This was roughly around the time David Souter had retired from the Supreme Court, so conversation soon turned to Souter, whom the violinist also knew.
"You know, if you had given me their two names and asked me to pick which one was going to become the Unabomber, I wouldn’t have said Teddy," the violinist said. "David went to the mountains every weekend because he hated people. Teddy was just really good at math."
The violinist pondered the same dichotomy pondered by the New Yorker: Ted Kaczynski was a terrible murderer, but his ideas and anticapitalistic ideology followed extremely rigorous and careful logic. Could you call him insane? Or simply incompatible with the rest of humanity? And should the difference matter in court?