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Personality Research articles on personality


Overweighting the External: Ted Kaczynski, Linus Van Pelt, and Narcissism


Someone asked me where Ted Kaczynski fit into my recent Narcissism theory. He seemed to shun external things, i.e. was not superficial by conventional standards. Obviously intelligent, he also seemed fairly thoughtful and for some convincing with his writings on the dangers of large scale organized technological states. What externally aware person isn't concerned with ecological devastation caused by unchecked capitalism?

Kaczynski positioned himself as a revolutionary, using in his mind, the only effective means available to overthrow an all powerful and toxic system. How is he different from any revolutionary who used violence to stop/overthrow injustice? He in fact might not have been different, but that doesn't mean that he or even the most noble historic revolutionaries were not in fact zeal driven sociopaths with blunted empathy to some degree.

Regardless of whether he had good points, Kaczynski was as superficial and mad as the bitter aging starlet of the classic film Sunset Boulevard (link). He found an external thing which he identified with happiness and then when it became threatened he went into narcissistic revenge mode and started hurting people (without any capacity to understand why that was wrong). Regardless of his truly unique intelligence (he wrote a thesis that one colleague wrote could maybe have been understood by a dozen mathematicians in the world), he was not an intellectual. Kaczynski, like all narcissists, was operating at the most primitive level, to maintain pleasure and avoid pain. He was a slave to his emotions.

Kaczynski fits the model of the Alien Narcissist. He had an illness at six months that put him in medical isolation for eight months. His mother wrote upon his return "Baby home from hospital and is healthy but quite unresponsive after his experience." His life from then on was defined by social isolation and remarkable academic achievement. This is the story of someone who is disconnected from others and aggressively seeking connection in something else external. Instead of resolving the internal problem that causes one to be/feel different, the Alien Narcissist focuses on external things to find happiness, escape the internal pain/confusion.

But, relying entirely on external things does not make one happy, and Kaczynski, the youngest professor ever hired at UC Berkeley resigned without explanation at the age of 26. He was reported to have been very uncomfortable during lectures and would dodge office hours. Instead of addressing the internal discomfort in a constructive analytical matter, he assigned blame to math and people, and simply moved on to a new external means of happiness, nature.

Kacyznksi found (or thought he found) happiness living in a self built cabin in Montana. Kacyznski had found a new external comfort blanket to replace the inadequate math version he abandoned. Unfortunately, the problem with external happiness is that external things are never fully in one's control (which is why narcissists tend to be very susceptible to intense anger, frustration, and a controlling nature).

"The best place, to me, was the largest remnant of this plateau that dates from the tertiary age. It's kind of rolling country, not flat, and when you get to the edge of it you find these ravines that cut very steeply in to cliff-like drop-offs and there was even a waterfall there. It was about a two days hike from my cabin. That was the best spot until the summer of 1983. That summer there were too many people around my cabin so I decided I needed some peace. I went back to the plateau and when I got there I found they had put a road right through the middle of it" His voice trails off; he pauses, then continues, "You just can't imagine how upset I was. It was from that point on I decided that, rather than trying to acquire further wilderness skills, I would work on getting back at the system. Revenge."
—Ted Kaczynski,

Nature was Kaczynski's external security blanket and when it was threatened his life became about defending it against others. This is the same mechanism which drives religious extremists and ethnic extremists to kill others. This is the same mechanism which causes parents to try to control the lives of their children or spouses to control the lives of their significant other. This is why narcissists have no genuine empathy, because everything to them is just an object, a useful security/pleasure blanket or alternatively items of no interest/value. To empathize requires that you are capable of self reflection and the narcissist operates at the will of their emotions.

As my theory states, most people are Ordinary Narcissists. They operate under the same mechanism of the Alien Narcissist. The difference between Ted Kacyzinski and Ted Smith, is that the latter exists in a world full of other Ted Smiths who share the same external values. The average person is no more able to empathize with someone who doesn't share their external values than Ted Kaczinski. They just tend to live in mirrored, homogeneous enough environments that their foundation of happiness built on superficial objectification is never shaken.    When two groups of Ordinary Narcissists with different/incompatible objectifications have disputes, you get things like ethnic civil war, not mutual understanding.

What differentiates Ordinary Narcissists and Alien Narcissists from Self Actualists? I think the answer is over weighting the external. From conception to early childhood most pleasure is derived externally. This orientation never ends for most people. Humans are therefore engineered to derive happiness from external as opposed to internal things. As smart as Kacyzinksi was from a mental processing ability level, he was no different that the average minded person who lives a shallow suburban existence because it feels good or safe to them. The average person looks out in the world and finds rewards that make them happy. Kacyzinski did the same thing, but his external means of happiness was more unique, and harder to sustain.

Like most, he operated under the evolutionarily primitive mechanism that associates pleasure with right, and pain with wrong. That mechanism exists because evolutionarily it has proven successful. But it isn't one hundred percent accurate. So, if you are interested in being a better person, you have to operate under a different mechanism. That mechanism is called introspection, determining internal meaning, judgment, living a life that makes internal sense. Thoughtful people do no ignore emotions, they are just not a slave to them.

An emotional slave can feel happy and sad, but as soon as the emotion fades, so does their happiness or sadness, and with it their sense of identity. Only by intellectualizing what happiness or sadness really is (a never ending evolving process), can one actually begin to construct an internal sense of identity.

Emotions need to be processed and considered for accuracy, not heeded like orders. A person's style of thoughtfulness (and evolving process) is, I think, the best gauge of who a person is. Ordinary Narcissists and Alien Narcissists, a majority of the population, are ultimately more thoughtless people, more driven by the pleasure principle (seeking/maintaining pleasure, avoiding pain). If you want to understand them, study sociology, anthropology, evolutionary genetics/biology/psychology, because they are a product of genetically driven instinctual behavioral forces common to all humans, not self aware autonomous decision making and thoughtfulness.

The best measure in determining where one is on the Narcissism vs. Self Actualism spectrum may be how much of their behavioral profile is about reaction vs action. Reaction is prompted by emotion and environmental stimuli, action requires an internal mover, i.e. an actual internal identity. If someone can't explain in rational coherent why they live their life like they do, they are not a Self Actualist.

Sometimes, it feels really good to say or do horrible things to someone (because they hurt you or they don't mirror your values). If you operate under the pleasure principle, you will likely say or do horrible things. If you operate more self reflectively, you might say nothing or something more constructive. There would never be ethnic cleansing or bigotry if a majority of the population was actually intellectually autonomous, but there is because most people are not.

That's not to say constructive things won't also hurt people's feelings, but provided that's not your intent, that's not malevolent. When Kacyzinski found math and other people painful he abandoned them. When he found nature pleasurable, he rationalized killing other people in his defense of it. He mistook feelings for truths. He never directed his prodigious intellect inward. He spent a tremendous amount of time reading up on sociology and political philosophy and deconstructing the flaws of the technological state, and killing people with elaborate homemade bombs. However, he never thought to invest any energy in examining the validity of his own feelings and motives. As a result he never developed the ability to judge, to determine meaning, right and wrong, with any competence.

If he had spent more time focused internally, he would not have been able to commit those murders. Processing internal feelings in a self aware fashion helps you relate to the suffering of others, even those that you don't agree with. If you become self aware, you can't be blind to hurting others.   Authentic connection with oneself helps one better understand/relate to others. A self aware person has the same evolutionary tendencies towards enmity, and revenge as anyone else, but because they are thoughtful and consider whether those feelings are constructive, have merit, they won't act on them.    Feelings are not truths to them, they are just emotional feedback that needs to be thoughtfully assessed.

This begs the question, can you also overweight the internal?  Can you be too introspective and thoughtful.  That's a question I've just started to explore and have no conclusive answer to yet. If internal reflection increases self and other awareness, I'm inclined to think you can't overweight the internal but it merits some research.

Summing up

Two things define all Narcissists

1.  External Orientation: enslaved to the external, happiness or pain avoidance can only be maintained via something external (religion, culture, ethnic identity, friendships, romantic partners, sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.)
2.  Pleasure Principle Orientation: enslaved to their emotions, pleasure = good, pain = bad, incapable or resistant to honest authentic thoughtful introspection, and consequently incapable of empathy for others since their emotions captivate all or most of their attention

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  1. “This begs the question, can you also overweight the internal? Can you be too introspective and thoughtful. That’s a question I’ve just started to explore and have no conclusive answer to yet. If internal reflection increases self and other awareness, I’m inclined to think you can’t overweight the internal but it merits some research.”

    Very interesting! I propose that internal/introspective is also another extreme, like self-actualized and narcissistic personalities. Overweighted internal/introspection leads to “paralysis by analysis,” inertia and almost a spectator-like position among the populace. That’s my theory. Great info here – enjoyed it!

  2. The best example of Ted’s Narcissism was how he treated the support of his brother. He realized at some point that he was unable to live an autonomous lifestyle so he borrowed money and other items from his brother to get by. He rarely repaid that money loaned to him or appreciated his brothers love and admiration for him. He seemed to have the belief that society owed him these things and that he was entitled to them. That sense of entitlement and debt mentality is prevalent in other narcissistic killers like Ted Bundy and Ian Brady for example. I came across this page after reading the unabomber manifesto, I’m not really into psychological debate. If this sounds unrelated, I apologize.

  3. I can relate to and agree to the analyses in the article. Self-actualization did not occur until I was over 40 yrs. of age. I was in a long-term, abusive relationship with a spouse who has the characteristics of NPD. I am sure I shared some of his traits in the beginning (I was 18 years of age). Whether or not these traits were significant in reaching self-actualization or whether or not my experience with this difficult spouse contributed to my development, I cannot say. I have a feeling it was a combination of both.

    As far as “overweighting the internal,” I find myself continuing to overanalyze everything. I have found that during times of overanalyzation, however, I remind myself that overanalyzing is not good in all situations and I am reminded of some old school trains of thought that many people know (whether they are an idiot, intellectual, narcissist, or self-actualist): “pick your battles,” “accept the things you cannot change,” “change the things you can,” and it’s ok to be “reasonably happy in this life.”

  4. I love this paragraph “If he had spent more time focused internally, he would not have been able to commit those murders. Processing internal feelings in a self aware fashion helps you relate to the suffering of others, even those that you don’t agree with. If you become self aware, you can’t be blind to hurting others. Authentic connection with oneself helps one better understand/relate to others. A self aware person has the same evolutionary tendencies towards enmity, and revenge as anyone else, but because they are thoughtful and consider whether those feelings are constructive, have merit, they won’t act on them. Feelings are not truths to them, they are just emotional feedback that needs to be thoughtfully assessed.” Although I may disagree to an extent and I can only use myself as an example. When I was in high school I was picked on by a group of jocks. And whenever I said anything, nothing was done so I planned on killing said jocks, chickened out and ruined one of their lives (or tried to) by lying in order to get in enough trouble to leave me alone. Although I admit I lied, I don’t feel bad that I did it and I still believe over 10 years later that he deserved it. I do think you can relate to others from the self-awareness standpoint for sure and as an adult I’d react differently and more rationally but I find that Ted was maybe triggered by his surroundings and he never developed that ability to connect with others or wanted to deal with his shortcomings personally. Our culture isn’t a culture of talking about feelings… maybe he repressed his? However, he has admitted to hurting others from his own free will and his brother chalks that up to him being mentally ill. The mental illness just made him more irrational to his reactions and triggers but it had little to do with him building bombs or lacking empathy. Thanks for writing this piece. Very interesting perspective.

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