Thursday, May 9, 2013

3D Guns Advocate Cody Wilson is About More Than Weapons and That's What Most Frightens People About Him

image3D Guns Advocate Cody Wilson is About More Than Weapons and That's What Most Frightens People About Him:
Like the rest of the world (see J.D. Tuccille's copious
), the
New Yorker is pretty alarmed
by the possibilities of
3D weapon printing, but writer Jacob Silverman in expressing his
confusion and fear is at least more perspicacious than most about
the ideas and goals of leading 3D weapon printing spokes-gadfly,
Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed.

I interviewed Wilson by phone for an hour or so for
this December 2012 article for Reason
, which also fed
into a speech I delivered that month about 3D printing to the
Extreme Futurist
I noted that Wilson was far more than just a "gun
As Silverman notes, with alarm, the most important thing about
Wilson is not the specific gun he and his compatriots have now
designed, printable at home, but "the fusion of ultra-libertarian
politics and a prophesied manufacturing revolution fuelled by 3-D
Wilson is simply calling the maker movement—the scattered
coalition of tinkerers and manufacturers, such as Brooklyn-based
MakerBot, who believe that affordable, ubiquitous 3-D printing will
herald a new industrial revolution—on its bluff, daring it to move
beyond clothespins and garden gnomes (a popular design for
MakerBot’s printers). In a presentation at this year’s South by
Southwest Interactive, Wilson said that 3-D printing “hasn’t tried
to do things that make a lot of people mad.”
Wilson has.
Silverman gets it: Wilson is a full service provocateur for what
liberty really means, even if that means being initially a
snake-oil salesman of sorts, hyping possibilities beyond their
apparent reality at the moment. It's not what a 3D gun can do right
now that matters. It's the idea that anyone can make anything they
want at home, beyond most of the obvious points where they are
interacting publicly with others where they can be most easily
obstructed, licensed, regulated, taxed--that's the important
Silverman's alarm continues:
Wilson...and his collaborators hope that new
technologies like
 and 3-D printing will do nothing less than
abrogate government, returning power to individuals and small
sovereign communities. To him, 3-D printing presents “a world where
you can have a firearm if you want. This is a world of
Silverman thinks he's got Wilson and his wooly ways, though:
"What’s notable about this kind of talk is how divorced it is from
any practical reality."
Really? After noting, as I did, Wilson's propensity for
high-falutin' French literary theorists, and how other more mild
Makers are annoyed at the negative attention his provacateuring
brings to their quirky little tech-craft movement, Silverman veers
off course, as if merely stating that Wilson is the one divorced
from practical reality makes it so, because he knows most of his
readers aren't necessarily the types to think like Wilson or act as
he and his supporters do. But believe it Mr. Silverman: the
technologies Wilson relies on, and their plastic end results, are
as much a part of "practical reality" as it can get.
Silverman seems to think that merely noting something that his
readers will be disturbed by is sufficient to mark the disturber as
the delusional one. But everything about the rest of his
article--which rightly points out that no likely means of stopping
3D printing of weapons or anything else will likely be
effective--puts the lie to that glib declaration that
Wilson is the one divorced from practical
I noted re: Wilson after my December interview:
Wilson doesn’t want you to think he’s just a gun guy, a Second
Amendment guy, a political rights guy, or some kind of
insurrectionist seeking the overthrow of established power via
weapons. His group’s intriguing web site reads semiotically more
like an intensely ironic art project than a flamethrowing
techno-political manifesto—“The
apocalypse already happened
.” “The
Unconscious is structured like a language
.” “Tell your mom
we’re printing guns
.” He bears down on the techno-anarchy,
“information wants to be free” aspect of 3D printing, straining it
possibly to its breaking point by grounding the grand promise of
decentralized cheap ways to make ideas physically real in something
as troubling as weapons.....
“We’re using progressive language about information to confuse
the prohibitionist impulse about certain objects,” he says. Though
he mentions a yen for Ron Paul, Wilson ultimately sounds more like
a prankish French literary theorist, talking of how despite the
“permissive liberal myth” too many are “really about building an
entire social structure around a carceral panoptic culture.”
There are bigger questions about political reality raised by
Wilson. For the most part, restrictions only work on those who want
to be restricted--or who see the costs of not being so as too high.
How high those costs have to be are different for different people,
and statists may well just be happy to cow or make things really
hard for enough people--not to actually achieve what they claim to
want to achieve. (Some people haven't even bothered to learn how to
encrypt their online talk, find free online TV shows, or jailbreak
their smart phones, and never will.)
Wilson is an interesting character, a remarkably successful
provacateur to both sides of the debate over 3D printing (or
digital in general) liberty. It's bracing watching a new technology
shake up the world of ideology and politics in real time. But I'm
pretty sure Wilson is right about how it has to end: the people
will have the power. And as far as the core power at issue in the
3D gun debate, the power to possess a weapon that can kill people,
that is of course nothing new. So what are people afraid of? That
actions can occur with more privacy, less traceability, less
visibility, less manageability, more privacy (if they encrypt their
digital actions smartly enough). Even homemade weaponry was always
within the hands of the handy home craftsman; 3D printing just
makes it easier and quickly cheaper.
As I said in my talk to the Extreme Futurist Fest, the future is
going to feature a whole lot of: "What are you going to do about
it?" to which the only sensible answer is: "Nothing to be done."
Despite what Silverman thinks, that is the practical
reality governors of all sorts are facing.