Tuesday, 2 October 2012

O Brave New World

As you may know, I'm very leftwing, a voracious reader of science fiction, a skeptic and a huge fan of techno-idealism, of the kind peddled by BoingBoing, Ben Goldacre, Cory Doctorow, Richard Stallman and the Makers. Out there on the web, at Maker Faires (with Arduino we can change the world!) and similar events, one can exist in a bubble of altruism, creativity and kindness. Obviously I don't contribute to these in any way because I'm a crabbed and bitter man. But I can envy their optimism: to them, the radically decentred post-industrial networked world will empower the fundamentally-decent majority of humanity. We'll help each other. We'll find ways round our current unequal, resource-hungry and unjust political and economic structures, shorn of the need to seek profit and advantage in our dealings with each other. It's a kind of utopian techno-libertarian communism and it's massively attractive.

Being suspicious and (against my will) cynical, I was therefore far less surprised by the emergence of the dark side of the Makers than many others. I don't know if you've come across 3-D printers yet: essentially they use powdered plastic heat formers to construct pretty much anything once you've downloaded the schematics. They hold the promise of networked, on-demand manufacture. Once they're cheap enough, for example, you won't have to hunt for a new toilet stop-cock, replacement door handle or toothbrush holder. You'll download the blueprint and your printer will extrude a new one. Delightful.

Or so we thought…

Enter Defense Distributed. They're radical idealists of a sort. An American sort. They think the world will be a far better place if everybody is armed to the teeth. And they have - or rather had - a solution to America's most pressing problem: not enough guns. Why not print one out at home?

It might (at the moment) be single-use, but you can always print another one. You won't have to present any pesky ID, have a sanity check or criminal records review. Your freshly-extruded gun won't have any history or identifying marks, and you can melt it down after you murder someone with it. Anybody can have a gun. State and legal oversight vanished completely - which is what both the idealists and the psychopaths want. O Brave New World!

Unfortunately for them, their leased printer was confiscated by the owner - though it's not at all clear that what Defense Distributed had in mind with the Wiki Weapon is illegal, given that American gun laws are utterly ridiculous. But this is only a temporary setback, caused by a rental hiccup (and some technical limitations). It won't be long before wholly-owned printers will be churning out Saturday Night Specials in LA, Manchester and anywhere else there's demand.

There are drawbacks to anarchism and libertarianism - this is a prime example.


Jake said...

On the other hand, when was the last time we had any meaningful electoral or socio-economic reform in this country that wasn't dragged out of the Establishment with the shadow of the guillotine hanging over them?

The Plashing Vole said...

Agreed! But I still think states are important: they're a vehicle for fair distribution of resources and power. Unfortunately, the states we've had so far haven't been up to the job. Which is why I'm a syndicalist.