Gun Printing is a Humanism
In September 2012, I was invited to speak at Bitcoin 2012 in London. The organizers of the conference had recently heard of Defense Distributed’s fundraising effort for the Wiki Weapon Project, and because we were accepting bitcoin I believe they were excited to hear about us.
I arrived in London knowing what I’d say. I don’t give prepared speeches, and refuse to read from notes. The following is transcribed from the speech I gave September 15. It isn’t the cleanest writing because I wanted to preserve its conversational tone and oratory pacing. I hope you’ll take a walk with the ideas.
We began on Indiegogo.com, a crowd-funding website, and over 22 days we raised $2k, having almost no attention. We made a YouTube video and a little website, and that website was just a free Wordpress theme (and still is). It’s completely inartful in so many ways, there’s nothing professional about it, there’s just three or four people handling the web stuff. And like I said, with almost no attention we received $2k. So I said, “Ok, wow, there’s a market for this.” Then we got picked up by some gun blogs, etc., etc. Then we got picked up by Forbes magazine, and this all kind of blew out of control. So I haven’t really slept since then, and I’m here right now.
But, interestingly enough, as soon as we got press, we were pulled down from Indiegogo. They completely froze our campaign, refunded all the contributions, and suddenly we had a lot of press, but no money. And so at that point we began raising money through Bitcoin. We thought, hey we’ll raise money through the crypto-currencies, you can send us money to our mailing address, and then we put a PayPal thing up because I didn’t know what to do. I’m not friendly to PayPal either, but, well in the 20 days after Indiegogo took us down, we raised about $17k. Which, for us, even though it’s still a shoestring budget, we’re accomplishing what we intended to accomplish, which is using an FDM printer to print out some components that form a functioning firearm. That might be a dangerous functioning firearm. That firearm might explode 9 times out of 10, but that’s- we’re just fooling around with it. That’s the point. And it was said- I guess the best way it was communicated to me is: you can’t invent a bicycle in theory, you just have to play around with models until one really works. And that’s what we’re doing. We’ve got engineering simulation and some other software, but really you can’t build this thing in software, as it’s just a bizarre kind of- like what is a Wiki Weapon? I don’t know. No one knows. Let’s just build them, and have other people send us designs, and test them until we find things that work. Perhaps that’s a bit too laissez faire, but let’s jump into some things here.
I wanted to open with Thomas Paine’s intro to The Age of Reason. Not that I favor English philosophers over anyone else, but I’m in the land of the Magna Carta here. Basically, Thomas Paine is saying I’ve always protected or defended other people’s rights to have their own opinions, please grant me that right at least. Because when you prevent me from expressing my own opinion, you also entrap yourself. You enslave yourself against changing your opinion. And that’s where I’ll begin. So whether we agree, whether we disagree, I think it’s important that this idea be expressed and be explored. I think that’s the same point in Milton’s Areopagitica, which is the spiritual analogue for the project that I held out on the website. Milton is saying, for truth to prevail, for there to be some ultimate good, for you to be a virtuous moral agent, you must be able to engage with every idea. You must be able to explore or hear at least whatever is to be said, and that whatever that thing is, especially if it’s controversial- because it’s controversial- it must be protected, it must be seen, it must be engaged with. If that’s all the project ever represents, then I’m good. We wanted the idea to be out there.
So beyond that, I don’t want to shoot through our project with too much explanation. If you guys have questions, please ask them when it’s question time, about the technicals of our project, but I want to get into why I said that “Gun Printing is a Humanism.” Well, was my tongue in my cheek when I said that? I mean a little bit, right, I’m trying to place us in a tradition here- you might recognize the reference to Sartre. Basically, I’m saying that- let me hold myself in opposition to some of our critics. On our YouTube video we have quite a few views, and on our website we have a lot of attention, a lot of people, when they oppose the project, they oppose it normally for a pretty narrow band of reasons that are all related to each other. They say things like, “you should obey the powers that be,” “resistance is disruptive,” “stay in your own station,” “this is a terrible idea, why would you do this? Why would you have this idea? Un-have your idea!” These kinds of things. They say “this will unleash the dark side of humanity!” When these people say these things, they almost believe in the project more than I do. They’re saying, “Oh my God, you’ve f----d the world,” you know- these people really believe that this is going to go somewhere crazy. All I’m saying, if I’m saying anything at all, is that we believe in activism, optimism, responsibility, and universalism. These forces that are in opposition to us, claiming to have some kind of moral superiority, really are the forces of docility, obedience, authority, futility, and resignation. “Don’t do it, for all of these reasons.” I don’t think those are healthy impulses, and I think ultimately our project, even if it’s scary, even if Freedom comes across as something radical and unsafe, and something that should be tamped down, that ultimate freedom underlines YOU as an individual actor, as a moral agent, and it says that there is a dignity in man. Humanism is probably just a BS metaphysical concept, but still, if there’s a dignity to being man, if there’s any truth to this Enlightenment principle of the integrity of the individual, then this is surely a project that has some import for that concept. I want to talk later about how I don’t think that progress is concept-driven. I think the progress of humanity is tool-driven now. We have 3D printers. That’s what this whole controversy is built around. If anything, this project, I hope, elevates some discussion about the human actor. It confirms you are important.
I don’t want to spend any more time than that defending the project. That’s it. That’s the only defense the project is ever going to get. I’m not going to hop on a plane and keep doing this. This is probably a one-time-only show right here, where I say to a crowd, which is probably more apt than any other crowd to at least receive the message I’m giving: “We believe this is a good thing. And in the same way that Bitcoin is a good thing.”
I want to talk about Incapacitation. Decentralism as an incapacitator. Mr. Sklar was this morning talking about the importance of peer-to-peer relationships among individuals, and how this basically obviates certain kinds of state action. And that’s what this project promises, or at least aspires, to be. I do think decentralism, and decentralist tendencies, are the future. What is Bitcoin? Why do these things matter? It is because of their decentralist tendencies. How do you regulate a bitcoin? How do you stop a bitcoin? How do you filter a packet? It’s the same thing with a gun- how do you stop a gun now? When a gun is communicated through the internet, when you can literally download a gun- and *not* just a CNC file- when a non-expert can click “print,” and is able to get that file from *anywhere,* it’s in the same vein of decentralism as Bitcoin.
Let’s look forward. Village economies, decentralized, independently-networked communities are likely our future. I think this project is a kind of cornerstone of that idea, even if it represents it narrowly, through the form of a gun. That’s unfortunate in one way, because it poisons the well with people. But the promise of this technology is the ability to print any object. We introduced 3D printing to people in a sensational way, it garnered some attention and will probably allow us to accomplish our goal. That really explains what we did.
What does bitcoin allow you to do? It doesn’t have its own intention as a project. It’s not political, I would say. It is just a protocol, but what does it literally allow you to do? I’m from the US. The US dollar is the world’s reserve currency. I’m on the plane ride over here, and I hear when I arrive that Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has announced the go ahead of QE3 to buy MBS in dollars. The Fed’s balance sheet at the end of 2013 will be four or five trillion dollars, and they’re going to keep monetizing until they reach some threshold that they believe represents “price stability” or until unemployment is at a level that, whomever these planners are, think is adequate. That monetization is the undermining of every single actor holding dollars in the world. Bitcoin allows you to slip outside of this “legal tender” regime. That’s what it is. It doesn’t have that intention, but that is what it allows. Whatever this political hierarchy is that built itself up and said “Legal Tender for Debts = The Dollar and Bank Credit. These are money and any other kind of money is illegal,” that regime can’t speak and can’t act in a world of bitcoin. And I think this is why I was ultimately persuaded to come speak to you.
Defense Distributed hopes to follow in the same kind of tradition. A world government says: “You Shall Not Have a Gun,” and let’s put aside our fictions about democratic legitimacy- a majority has spoken and therefore this is the will of all people- there are certain decisions, let’s say, that groups can no longer make. In the long term guns will be completely available to populations. That’s the promise of this project and technology. We’re in a gun control regime (The UK) right now. Cultural attitudes and tendencies will inform your opinion about guns, but there is still something fundamentally sound about that right of a minority, and we know the ultimate minority is the individual, to slip outside of these hierarchies if he so chooses. I’m not saying that’s not scary.
Max Keiser said that Bitcoin is the currency of resistance, but I think that Bitcoin IS resistance itself. That’s not just a silly semantic distinction. Gustav Landauer said “The State is a condition. It is a certain relationship among human beings. It is a mode of behavior.” When we begin to contract different kinds of relationships with each other, like the independent, peer-to-peer interactions made possible by Bitcoin, when we behave differently towards one another, what happens to the State? What room is there for the State? When we begin to expand free spheres of action in completely unanticipated ways, what happens? That’s a question we’re posing as well.
There is nothing sacrosanct about group decision-making or representative democracy. The future is decentralized action- individual planning over central planning.
I want to hold out a model. Protestantism as an idea wasn’t possible until there was the Printing Press. You can’t have Protestantism- Martin Luther, the further effects of Calvin and Methodism- you can’t have these until you have the printing press. This tool allowed people to completely invert an incumbent cultural order. What am I trying to say? Think of the radical inversion of authority- imagine a pyramid of authority with God at the top, the religious class, and the laity at the very bottom. Knowledge was filtered down. When you have the printing press, quickly everyone begins to have a bible in hand, they have to think for themselves, and now you allow this philosophy: YOU must determine what you are to make of this. It must be up to YOU to determine your relationship with God. I know we’re in a post-religious moment, and the project isn’t coming from a religious perspective, but think about how radical that was. The printing press forced you into an existential crisis. “My God, it’s up to ME to determine what my relationship is to the Deity itself!” One of humanity’s single biggest experiential interruptions. It was driven by a tool. The 3D printing analogy is clear. When you have self-replicating, networked, material printers, they will force humanity into similar inversions of authority.
We’re hoping to make people ask themselves these similar questions. You have the choice now, independently of others’ will, what you will do. Will you have a gun? Will you not have gun? It will be up to YOU to determine. No one else can decide for you anymore.
The Wiki Weapon (Video):
Cody Wilson is an engineer AND law student in the Drone Star State who is creating a freely distributed printable gun design for the world. (“The Wiki Weapon”). His project will revolutionize guns and kick-start the Printable Gun Hobbyist Movement, while pissing off both liberals and conservatives. Visit his website at DefenseDistributed.Com