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The Torment of Ted Kaczynski ‘62

“They took a clean-cut kid and made a killer out of him, that’s what they did.” –B.D.

As atheists and intellectuals, Theodore and Wanda Kaczynski were atypical among second-generation Polish-Americans who had been raised Roman Catholic in Chicago. Theodore worked in his family’s small sausage-making businesses. Wanda held part-time jobs and went to night school to earn a college degree.

Their oldest son, Ted, was born in 1942. When he scored high on an IQ test, a school psychologist recommended that he skip fifth grade. He went abruptly from being a popular kid to having no friends. In high school he was pushed forward another grade so that he would be among his intellectual equals. Thus he was one of the youngest freshmen entering Harvard in 1958. And there the helping professionals really worked him over.

A dean named F. Skiddy van Stade, Jr., decided that 11 of the “youngest, brightest” newcomers should live not in dormitories with roommates, but in a building outside Harvard Yard where they could have small rooms to themselves. Ted Kaczynski was one of the 11. As a sophomore he was assigned a single room in Eliot House, the favored abode of rich preppies whose “master,” a prancing snob named Finley, taught a course called “The Great Age of Athens” that made no mention of slavery. In a memoir written at his cabin in Lincoln, Montana, Kaczynski wrote that Finley “often treated me with insulting condescension.” 

Probably to earn spending money, Kaczynski (who had come to Cambridge with only two pairs of pants) agreed to take part in a three-year “experiment” devised and overseen by Henry A. Murray, a professor in the department of “Social Relations.” It was called “Multiform Assessments of Personality Development Among Gifted College Men.” Murray, who coined a lot of meaningless jargon, called it “Dyadic research.” 

Kaczynski would recall it as “a highly unpleasant experience.” 

For openers the students were told to write “the major guiding principles in accordance with which you live or hope to live.” Then they were observed defending their principles in a debate with a law student whose assignment was to demolish them.

As described in “Harvard and the Unabomber” by Alston Chase, “It was a highly refined version of the third degree. Its intent was to catch the student by surprise, to deceive him, bring him to anger, ridicule his beliefs, and brutalize him… When the subject arrived for the debate, he was escorted into a brilliantly lighted room and seated in front of a one-way mirror. A motion picture camera recorded his every move and facial expression through a hole in the wall. Electrodes leading to machines that recorded his heart and respiratory rates were attached to his body. Then the debate began. But Murray had lied to the students… Each student was led to expect he would confront another undergraduate subject like himself. So when they were confronted with what Murray called ‘our trained accomplice’ they were caught completely by surprise and not prepared for what followed.”

According to an admiring biography of Murray, “The unwitting subject… invariably was frustrated and finally brought to expressions of real anger by the withering assault of his older, more sophisticated opponent… while fluctuations in the subject’s pulse and respiration were measured on a cardiotachometer.” (Nice scientific touch.)

By the time he graduated, Ted Kaczynski had spent about 200 hours as a guinea pig in Murray’s bizarre “experiment.” As Chase points out, “Even by the standards of that day, these stressful ‘dyadic disputations’ violated… the holy writ of experimental ethics, known as the Nuremberg Code, which forbids deceiving participants.” Harvard somehow convinced the Army that their research contracts contained “guidelines” rather than strict rules. So much for the Nuremberg Code.

Chase describes Murray as “a towering figure in the world of psychology...His Explorations in Personality (1938), defining a whole new field of personality assessment that he called ‘personology,’ is considered a classic. Murray with his friend and colleague Christiana Morgan, conceived the Thematic Apperception Test, or TAT, which became widely used by psychologists… The TAT would take psychologists by storm, becoming the second best selling publication ever issued by Harvard University Press.

“During World War II, while working for the Office of Strategic Services (precursor of the CIA), Murray helped develop a system for testing recruits’ capacity for clandestine warfare that inspired an entirely new technology of employee evaluation, widely used by government and business today. Murray is also deemed the cofounder of ‘humanistic psychology,’ a discipline dedicated to expanding human potential, that gave birth to a variety of alternative therapies of the 1960s and 70s.”

Two-thirds of the way through “Harvard and the Unabomber,” Chase gets down to the nitty-gritty: “Seemingly scientific, ‘The Dyad’ was in fact a personal concept, signifying to Murray the strange, and secret 40-year love affair he had with Christiana Morgan… When together, the lovers threw themselves into the task Carl Jung called ‘completing the self,’ which included exploring the darkest parts of their souls. Attacking Calvinist taboos with gusto they explored the limits of their libidos. They gave themselves pet names. He became ‘Mansol,’ she ‘Wona’.”

In 1936, Morgan recorded in her diary, Murray came to her ‘wearing red fingernails and a beard.” Then the happy couple “discovered that our life was in the whip that hurt. Without that there is no passion for us now.” On another occasion, she wrote, “Harry wore a green Hindu shirt and a black velvet skirt” while whipping her.

With the most salacious lines edited out by your blushing correspondent, Wona’s diary goes on: “Mansol returned. Came on narrow shoes bringing bedspread. He brought chains, handcuffs, a whip and knife… He asked me if I was ready for a year of submission. He explained to me the sacrifice he demanded. He told me that I would submit to him as to the God of my trances. At night he wore the orange shirt and green skirt. Purple bracelets on his wrist.”

During World War Two Murray moved to Washington (with his wife) to advise the OSS and Christiana went into a severe depression. But their Dyad resumed after the war when he was back at Harvard, and continued intermittently until 1967 when she drowned in a tide pool near their cottage in the Virgin Islands. Murray was the only witness, and many acquaintances assumed he had offed her.

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