3D 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 coverage), 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.

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 Fest. I noted that Wilson was far more than just a "gun guy."

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 printing."

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 part.

Silverman's alarm continues:

Wilson…and his collaborators hope that new technologies like bitcoin 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 equality."

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 reality.

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.

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  1. Sorry, you lost me at the New Yorker.

  2. 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."

    Oh, the projection is just so delicious. They're terrified. God this is good shit. Go Cody.

    1. But...but....guns aren't PRACTICAL! YOU'RE projecting! Yeah - that's it!

    2. I love this guy. He is making the progs piss themselves, and it is glorious.

      1. It's one thing to watch them piss themselves, but they usually have some kind of statist solution they can call for. With this, they're kind of running around like chickens with their heads cut off because there is no statist solution. That's the entire point of what Wilson is doing. And so it's way more than the normal pissing themselves over guns or caffeine or whatever. No, this is so much better, because the control freaks cannot figure out how to control this. Oh, it just so wonderful!


        1. When my grandkids are on the verge of printing LSD out of the kitchen replicator, I have no doubt that the New Yorker will also condemn that effort as divorced from reality.

        2. That article from Slate earlier today was filled with so much butthurt. I couldn't believe how much they were whining about the possibility that people might be free of state control.

          Progressivism is a very misanthropic political philosophy considering how much they lie to themselves about being idealists. The thought of people making choices of their own free will is so terrifying to the progressive worldview that they lose their shit over the very possibility of people doing That Which is Not Approved.

          They try to pretend they're radicals, but they're social conservatives, and they don't even realize it. Wilson's the real radical, and they hate him for running up against the status quo.

          1. Yes, they are social conservatives, which is why they hate the social cons so much. As always, it's a form of projection where they see all the things they know they are but aren't supposed to be according to their "philosophy", and they hate the people they see it in because it reminds them of what they really are.

            Plus they're just flat out scum who get incredibly butthurt when someone even implies they don't want to be a part of their "social contract".

            1. You say social conservative, I say neo-victoritan.

          2. Communism died and left-anarchists inherited its ideals, while progressives inherited its reality.

            1. That pretty much nailed it, ant1

        3. Of course there's a statist solution. Outlaw 3D printers.

          1. They don't have to go that far. They'll just put controls on the printers' software to prevent certain files from printing, like a v-chip.

            Whatever it is, you're crazy or naive if you think technology can save you from these kinds of rabid control freaks. All technology can do is annoy them.

      2. He's standing on the shoulders of giants: Gutenberg, Sam Colt, Phil Zimmermann, and all the anonymous people who taught a slave how to read or gave a hitchhiker a ride or listened to pirate radio.

        1. Well put. Is that your own, or a quote?

          I'm sure I'll be repeating it without attribution either way.

          1. Apart from the first few words (Newton), the rest is all mine. Not sure how I managed to keep it so short for once ...

            1. I was trying to come up with anyone else that belongs in there. Even the telegraph doesn't seem to be as much of a game-changer.

              1. Interesting .... I just typed away, but you're right, that's not a bad list for a few seconds impulse.

                Henry Ford? Edison? They're not in the same class.

  3. Nothing scares a progressive more than a government by the people and for the people. Because nothing scares a progressive more... than the people.

    I wonder what "Democracy Now!" thinks of all this. I'll guess: "Oh wait, that's not what we mean when we talk about 'democracy'"

    1. You've got it exactly. When they say "democracy" they mean, literally, Karl Marx's version of "democracy." Ask Michael Moore or Amy Goodman what they mean by democracy and you'll be whisked away to a worker's paradise where all the workers live in peace and harmony with Mother Earth.

  4. Jacob Silverman you are a cunt.

    That is all.

  5. "What's notable about this kind of talk is how divorced it is from any practical reality."

    Statement of desire, not fact.

  6. despite the "permissive liberal myth" too many are "really about building an entire social structure around a carceral panoptic culture."

    I like that. A lot.

    1. Cody's like that. He says something in 15 seconds that take me the better part of a minute to unwind what he said, then a couple days to work out the implications.

      1. What ytou said. I had to look up TWO words. One i could kinda guess...the other....not even.

        Like this guy!

      1. Well, thanks, that's my weekend.

  7. 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."

    Unfortunately, that will not be among the real answers.

    1. Agreed. The answer will be a long complicated set of laws which will do nothing except be a thorn in a side to law-abiding people everywhere.

      1. It's almost like they want us to be criminals or something.

        1. So very THIS!

        2. No, you're already a criminal. The law that says so just hasn't been passed yet.

          1. The Pre-Law division has decided that you've violated a law that will be passed one day. Off to jail!

        3. For people who believe in benificent unintended consequences of nearly random market activity, you guys are awfully quick to assume every consequence of legislative activity is intended.

          By and large, congresscreatures are just out to get on TV and get feel-good material for their campaign commercials and mailings when election time comes. They don't know or care about the side-effects of their lawmaking.

          1. Maybe that's how the system gets made, yes.

            But once it's in action and clever people see what's going on, a sociopath would have to be a complete idiot to not devote his whole life to taking it over.

            It's only a matter of time before the system produces a Stalin.

            1. You seem to be forgetting FDR.

    2. Mr Doherty and others don't seem to understand that in many/most cases, it's going to be governments saying "What are you going to do about it?" Living in a mostly free society gives people a very warped perception of the nature of power.

      1. What you don't seem to understand is that that's the way it's been for most of history, recorded or not. Technologies like this allow the shoe to be on the other foot, which is the whole point.

  8. Can't wait to get my 3D printer so I can start printing...3D PRINTERS! Aw yeah...MO MONEY, MO MONEY, MO MONEY!!

    1. The printrbot guy built a bot factory to print his bot parts. Though now he has a laser cutter and uses that.

  9. The idea that "when something breaks in our house, we could relatively soon have the technology to just print a new one" likely strikes fear into a hell of a lot more people than just gun control advocates.

    When that happens things are going to get messy.

    1. "People replacing their own faucets is....bad for business. And what's bad for business is not GOOD for business...."

      1. Personally I don't think we will see faucet making 3D printers in every home for a very long time. I can see it however in your local hardware store or your local generic 3D printer store.

        So it might be bad for the big mass producing business but not for the local business who can make things to order.

        1. Well, you can always replace the parts in your shower head that make it suck with something better.

          A drill works fine for de-EPA-ing shower heads, too.

    2. Well, there will still need to be suppliers of "ink", much like The Feed in Diamond Age. But yes, the implications of 3-D printing bust a lot of assumed paradigms. Which is why it's so delicious.

      1. Google cars too.

        If you think it thru, that model fundamentally breaks everything about the way modern cities are laid out.

        I love disruptive technology.

        Hail Eris! is often a joke, but for things like 3D printing and self-driving cars it isnt at all. Chaos brings the future.

    3. China will be so fucked. Everything will be nothing but software and its going to be awesome.

      1. How will it be awesome? If everything is made and run by robots and software, what are we going to do with all these employees? It's like ancient Greece or Rome. They had steam technology that could have maybe pulled them into an industrial age, but they just couldn't start using it because then what would they do with all their slaves?

        1. Well, it's going to be awesome for the people who know how to build robot empires.

      2. China pirates software. They won't be all that fucked, even if a lot of people there might be.

    4. On the first read through, your syntax in sentence one made me think you were talking about printing new houses from scratch after the first one was burglarized/vandalized.

      Which would be a pretty cool application for the technology, like a one-stop, singularly fabricated doublewide.

  10. Hey guys, can glass be 3D printed? Can I 3D print some cool glassware?

    1. Well, I'm pretty sure a clever person could easily automate glassblowing using a lot of the same parts and logic used for 3d printing, but I don't think a Makerbot is going to do the trick.

    2. Yes, but only with very very expensive printers.

      The basic desktop ones for home use for a few grand or less or the repraps currently can't.

      I suppose it's possible it could be done with FDM printers but realistically to print glass you'd probably need a SLS laser machine. I think those things cost like $800,000.

  11. Ever get the impression that labor itself will be obsolete? Have a google driverless car running on cheap energy send you the materials, that were mined by robots to run through your 3d printer and VOILA! Seriously, we're running out of shit to do-which I'm cool with.

    1. 3d printers depend on petro for raw materials and fossil fuels for energy.

      1. Right now they do.

        The emergence of 3D printing and more advanced AI at roughly the same time is a massive step toward the scarcity-free future previously seen only in utopian (bad) sci fi.

        1. I have seen the future and it is wearing a two-tone gray jumpsuit with a rainbow stripe running between the shoulders and an uncombable cowlick.

  12. returning power to individuals and small sovereign communities

    Silverman is very clear about what he doesnt want.

    To which I state: Fuck off, slaver!

  13. Alt-text: Buy my lousy book!


  14. It seems a lot of people are all giddy over 3D printing and there's a lot of genie out of the box talk. I think it is delusional. You can also argue that the drug genie is out of the box, but that does not prevent the government from destroying countless lives over them. People think the internet genie is out of the box. Nothing is out of the box as long as the government has the power to destroy lives over it and the government will find a way to do that for anything they feel their authority is threatened over. Sure there will be people 3D printing proscribed items just like there will be be people using meth and heroin, but there will also be many more people rotting in jail cells or dead at the hands of jack booted thugs. As long as the government has the power to do these things it will. I remember reading some guy talking about how you didn't need to worry about authoritarian government because it is so inept. Well, that just means they won't be ruining the lives of, say, the "kingpins" generally, but they'll get whomever they can and very happy with that. They don't have to get the "right" people to keep the machine rolling on, they just have to get a sufficient number of people to keep the beast fed and fat.

    1. They're losing the drug war. In another generation or two, they'll abandon the battle altogether. The the IP web war is in its last stages, as private solutions are massively more effective than government intervention.

      No one's expecting a utopia or a body count of 0, but there's no conceivable way to control how people use 3D printing, and the technology is too important and too appealing to prevent its spread one way or the other. It may take a decade or two of failed prohibition efforts, but there's no way this doesn't end in the favor of the Cody Wilsons of the world.

      1. No, they are not losing the drug war. You are assuming that the drug war is about controlling the consumption of drugs. It's not. It is about feeding the massive industry that has grown up around it. It is about the state acquiring more power and wealth and private interests in conjunction with the state doing the same. It has been and continues to be hugely successful at that - it's true purpose. The drug war is not about drugs. Likewise, the war industry has nothing to do with "spreading freedom" or whatever. It is about perpetuating itself.

  15. Graphene

  16. "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"

  17. That sure is one silly looking gun!


  18. As technology advances, so does the technology to stop it. First you have phones, then you have wiretaps. First you have cell phones, then you have GPS. First you have the internet, then you have viruses and trojans.

    Just because 3d printing has the potential to automatically improve liberty, doesn't mean someone else won't come up with a way to stop it.

  19. The really funny part of all the hyperventilation from the progressives and so-called liberals is that at the practical level, nothing has really changed. At the end of Doherty's piece he says, "Even homemade weaponry was always within the hands of the handy home craftsman; 3D printing just makes it easier and quickly cheaper." To the contrary. It isn't much easier, nor is it much cheaper. $10 at Home Depot will provide all the materials for several zip guns with change left over.

    What is significant about the Wikiweapon is the provocation itself. I have a copy of a Wikiweapon on a computer and I'm serving it anonymously to others through a BitTorrent. I have no plans to get a 3D printer. Right now the Wikiweapon is an idea that I share. How government is reacting to the idea will tell us what we need to know. The Wikiweapon is the canary in the coal mine. It's an indicator.

    1. I don't know, but I'm thinking the actual canary is a long rotted corpse by now. This is, maybe, a new canary, but the government has long attempted to control the dissemination of information it didn't want getting around.

    2. I think you're underestimating the seduction of ignorance. To make a zip gun the 'normal' way, I have to know something about design, and know the process of making things like that. The 'new' way is to download a file and press 'print'. Any 2 year old can do that, and that's what makes 3D scary to a lot of people - no longer is education, trade unions or licensing a barrier to entry: I don't have to know anything to build what I want (at some point), and the gummit can't tell what I'm making based on raw material consumption, so can't force me to get a license.

      That's going to change things, including housing - you think you're home will appreciate in value when it's easier for me to melt it down and recast it (or just buy new raw materials)? And if I build my house myself, why do I need a building permit (mostly enforced at the point of sale) since I'll never sell the house.

      Unfortunately, thinking everything is download and print isn't the same as it's being that way. The two year old printing a gun may not understand that a bullet that seems to fit may still be too large to be safely fired, or that the furnace I printed for the house will burn it down with my family inside. So we need to push the technologies (think project DOME at MIT) a lot faster to make sure we don't get tripped up by system interaction problems... that is we want subsystems to interact without conscious effort by their consumer/producers as well, which implies much 'smarter' artifacts.

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