"I like Camus, man."
That’s how Cody Wilson, the man behind the first fully functional 3-D printed gun, replied when asked by the right-wing radio host Alex Jones to describe his political heroes. This past week, Wilson’s company, Defense Distributed, announced that it had created a functioning handgun produced by a 3-D printer — a device that creates products from electronic blueprints by layering plastic — and that it planned to make the schematics freely available online.
So far, Wilson’s effort has largely been portrayed in the media in two ways: as a dangerous way to circumvent gun-control statutes and as a tech story about how an innovative manufacturing technology is being harnessed for unanticipated ends. But there’s a political story here, too. While it’s easy to caricature Wilson, a 25-year-old law student at the University of Texas, as a right-wing nut hell bent on defending his Second Amendment rights, a common thread of anarchist thinking runs through nearly all Wilson’s public statements. This isn’t just a guy who loves his guns — this is a political project. Or at least it purports to be.
"Now that we have a [federal license to manufacture guns] we can … develop something like a single-shot completely printable plastic gun," he said on Alex Jones’s show back in March. "Yes, it’s undetectable, but more importantly it’s unobservable by institutions and countries and sovereigns…. This might be a politically important object."
Wilson is the rare gun-rights advocate who drops names like Michel Foucault, Albert Camus, and John Milton in his interviews, and the worldview he’s selling has more in common with hacktivist collectives like Anonymous than bearded woodsmen preparing for the end times. Here he is diagnosing the current state of American politics in a revealing Vice documentary:
There’s this Fukuyamaist idea that like history had ended after the Cold War. Right? And that like if we could just tweak neoliberal democracy, everything’s gonna be fine. Forever. You know that like somehow this is like the final political form? I mean this is ridiculous. And like you can see it — there is no evidence of a political program anymore in the world, in America. There aren’t genuine politics. There’s the media telling you Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney is like the epic clash of ideology when we both know they’re globalist neoliberals. They both exist to preserve like the interests of this relatively autonomous class of Goldman Sachs bankers.
So what exactly is Wilson proposing? Well, like any good leftist he’s short on specifics. But consider the following exchange with Glenn Beck — an appearance, by the way, that had Beck visibly uncomfortable:
GB: Ok, so are you an anarchist?
CW: I guess in a functional sense, sure. But perhaps like a principled one.
GB: I don’t know what that means.
CW: Well there’s a guy named Michel Foucault. And I’d recommend that you read him some time. Really I see the battle as one of just trying to remain human and against you know massive forces, anonymous forces of discipline and control that we can’t really understand. I don’t think there’s a massive conspiracy. But I do think the self is under siege and I think liberty itself is under siege…
So if we take Wilson seriously, his 3-D gun project is aimed at reclaiming some sense of individual autonomy, which has been stripped away by the regulatory impulses of the state. The project, he claims, is a deeply moral one aimed at forcing individuals to face up to their choices:
Milton’s Areopagitica is essentially the spiritual analogue that I’m holding out for people. Which is more to do not about like why guns are good. It’s more about why like speech and information is good. Why like you just must reckon with, you must be free to reckon with whatever ideas that you can. It isn’t enough that a society can just withhold things. That doesn’t befit you as a moral agent. That doesn’t allow you to exist or to, that doesn’t allow you to fully exercise your capacity as a human being, as a moral agent.
As much as Wilson would like to present himself as a gun sage, he also possesses a deal of old-fashioned anti-establishment anger, and that’s a perspective that doesn’t quite square with his high-minded invocation of John Milton:
But what this project’s really about, fuck your laws, you know what I’m saying? It’s stepping up, it’s being able to go, you know what, I don’t like this legal regime I neatly step outside of it. Now what, you know?
That’s a perspective that should ring a bell for anyone familiar with Anonymous. And it’s a serious problem when a group aspiring to real political power busies itself instead with cursing off the government. Maybe Milton has something to say about that.