The Science Museum in London’s South Kensington has changed a lot since 1986. Cool interactive exhibits show you how you’ll look 10, 20, 30 years from now. (I declined). You can see what you would look like or sound like as a man or woman, and ‘paint’ a wall with your shadow. I had some trouble with the exhibit that tells you what kind of ‘planner’ you are. Mine came up as ‘bloody awful’ or something similar, which I was putting down to jet-lag. Then I wandered off to yawningly peruse the world of 3D printing, which I was finding only mildly interesting, until I saw this….
It’s called the ‘Liberator Gun’. The description read that the first time someone tried to fire it, the bullet blew the gun apart. I was transfixed. A new order of social implications paraded across my mind’s eye, like a manifested footnote in a second-rate Hollywood sci-fi. The whole gun ownership debate turned abruptly on its head to be rendered essentially meaningless.
This is the dark side of ‘open source’ technology. It’s going to get really crazy. If you think it’s already crazy then you’d better tighten your seatbelt. Nothing ever gets ‘un’ invented. America’s gun lobbyists will seem rather quaint. When you can just knock one off while you print out your movie tickets, guns won’t need a lobby any more. When anyone can just print and shoot, there will only need to be a certain percentage who do so, for everyone to justify following suit. I leave it to the economic sociologists to figure out exactly what that percentage is. I only know that it’s coming. Either no one has guns or everyone has them. The danger lies in all the places in between. And that’s a whole lot of danger.
The Ayn Rand Libertarian fringe believe in the wisdom of radical individualism, which I would argue has already been proven to be a profound failure. A sense of collective values are required for us to live together respectfully and successfully. This wasn’t so urgent 500 years ago or even 100 hundred. But with the population tottering at 7 billion, and State systems groaning with the weight, with resources diminishing and our environment changing, we need to learn how to form communities that offer an alternative to the two dishes we’ve seen on the political menu; that is, every man for himself or rote subservience to authority.
A week later I read this in a story on the BBC
‘A 3D printer and suspected “homemade” gun components seized during police raids in Manchester are being examined….The world’s first gun made with 3D printer technology was successfully fired in the US in May.
(The gun was made on a 3D printer that cost $8,000 (£5,140) on eBay)
The BBC story continues: ‘The group that created the firearm, Defense Distributed, said it planned to make the blueprints available online [italics mine]. Defense Distributed is headed by Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old law student at the University of Texas, who defended making the design available by saying: “I’m seeing a world where technology says you can pretty much be able to have whatever you want.”‘ In an interview with the Guardian, Wilson said:
“I think we should be allowed to own automatic weapons; we should have the right to own all the terrible implements of war, as [American political philosopher] Tench Coxe said, and I think this principle probably applies globally.” Guns are just the beginning. Wilson envisions everything from drugs to birth control.
Wilson is described as a market anarchist activist and crypto-anarchist (from the Capitalist-Libertarian mould) who believes in information access and a citizens economy that by-passes any State legislation. True to form, he’s funded Defense Distributed almost solely through donor use of the digital crypto-currency, Bitcoins. He was voted by Wired Magazine as one of the “15 most dangerous people in the world.” Says Wilson in A Forbes report, “Anywhere there’s a computer and an Internet connection, there would be the promise of a gun.” He admits, “It’s kind of scary.”
I walked away from the Liberator with a hollow sense of foreboding. “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy,” wrote Ayn Rand. “The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”
In a world of instant weapons, I have the freedom to print or not to print, but that freedom starts to look a lot like another round of slavery to the desire factory.