This article is translation of an article I originally wrote for Rage Magazine, Cody Wilson – la technologie comme moyen Politique.
The year is 2012. A video promoting a project of 3D printable weapons was put online. In it, in a very Steve Jobs fashion, a guy named Cody Wilson launched the crowdfunding of the very first “Personal Defense System”. It’s the start of a series of measures and countermeasures between Wilson and absolutely every instance of power : Indiegogo, government, Insurances, Visa MasterCard, State Department, the New Jersey, etc. A cybernetic guerilla with no clear winner : Defense Distributed, the project of Wilson and co, being right now 100% functional, with the hosting of the DefCad website (the Wikileaks of 3D weapons) and the distribution of physical Ghost Gunner printers, specialized in the creation of AR15 lower receivers (the only regulated part of a firearm). And that’s just one project among many: we could mention Cody Wilson’s involvement on Dark Wallet, a Bitcoin transaction anonymization software, or his crowdfunding site Hatreon, considered as the main funding pipelines for the Alt-right. There were even suspicions, on the 8chan forum, that Wilson was the real identity of Sanjuro, the unfamous founder of Assassination Market, a Dark Web site where anonymous users bet on the death of political figures. A claim as preposterous as it is plausible, and it reveals something: beyond a chain of events involving Cody Wilson, there is an abstraction of his persona, a template for every dangerous idea.
Most activists and people involved in western politics share an implicit ideology: the idea of the supremacy of neoliberal democracies that would inevitably lead to more and more freedom and security. Yet this idea of a sense of History is increasingly contradicted by the facts. Our Western democracies are increasingly comfortable with restrictions on freedoms (especially freedom of expression) and the rule of law has deteriorated to the point where large French and American cities are now below cities that 20 years ago were considered third world*.
“If you look back to 1950, and if safety and security are your standards, it seems that civilization has not brought more safety and security to this or any other country since that time. […] Draw a map and show me where it is safe to walk around at night with an iPad in your hand in 1950 and redraw that map in 2020. Tell me there’s no difference.”Cody Wilson, on the podcast What Bitcoin Did, https://youtu.be/hwH6Gs5SR90
And if you list rights and fights that are actually legislated (abortion, contraception, homosexuality, immigration, ecology), they appear not as areas that guarantee safety and freedom, but as population planning combined with energy restrictions. The West no longer seems to be heading towards its advertised Startrek utopia, but towards a grim dystopia featuring mass sterilization, assisted suicide and climatic confinement.
“One of the things that’s so great about this project is that it reveals beliefs that you didn’t know you had, and a number of them are public ideologies that we disavowed, only to affirm that they weren’t really ideologies.”Cody Wilson
And as this “sense of history” dissipates, larger and larger portions of the population are discovering that Politics, as it exists in our liberal democracies, is no longer real Politics, in the sense it does not exist as leverage of the People on the real, but rather to prevent the People from doing so.
“The goal of this new world order is the definitive prevention of any event, it is in a sense the end of history, not in the sense of an achievement of Democracy as Fukuyama describes it, but on the basis of a preventive terror. A counter-terrorism that puts an end to any potential event.”Jean Baudrillard, quoted by Cody Wilson during the 2022 NH Liberty Forum conference.
Paradoxically, the only gain of freedom, the only revolution our generation has ever known, has not been given to us by any political authorities or mainstream activists (who on the contrary are trying to cancel it by all means) but by a technology: Internet.
Technology as political mean
Technology is an engine of change. In his crypto-anarchist manifesto, Timothy C. May uses the example of barbed wire, which revolutionized property ownership and enabled the appearance of ranches and farms. More radically, the invention of the printing press literally drove a political, religious, and scientific revolution, precipitating the end of medieval guilds and the emergence of modern nations. Major technological changes do not just alter one domain, they change all domains, even to the point of changing the largest possible hierarchical instance, which is the State itself.
Technology makes existing laws obsolete, it moves the coordinates of the possible, creating new spaces of freedom. Let’s imagine that the State decides to ban Pitbulls: to bypass this law, all you have to do is cross a Pitbull with another dog breed. You will still have something that looks like a Pitbull (possibly more dangerous) but that will be completely out of reach. In a field closer to our subject, the Internet, a technology like the peer-to-peer protocol Bittorrent makes regular censorship obsolete. It is impossible to organize a police raid and arrest all those who share the same torrent file at once. And if you can not do this, you cannot stop a torrent file. And this is just one example among many: we could mention the Tor project, the blogging system, anonymous imageboards, mp3, etc.
However, despite these technologies allowing a total decentralization, the Internet is moving towards more and more centralization, a dynamic that became evident in 2006, with the appearance of Facebook and its first billion users. We had a technological revolution without the revolution. As a Design student at the time, I was struck by the absolute dullness of every project. It was a strange feeling, like consuming drugs that had their active molecules removed. The most striking example was when a professor decided to ridicule a student who was working on a coat to feel safe in public transports. Nantes (the city where I studied) now has a higher crime rate than Medellin*, the city of Pablo Escobar.
“You have to grasp the urgency of the moment, and the hardest thing I said about the Makers [the 3D printer user’s movement] in my book was that their revolt was not Luciferian, it was not serious. The movement’s flagship printer had been dubbed the CNC Cupcake in 2012. Seriously?”Cody Wilson, from the video An AR-15 in Every Home: 3D Gun Printer Cody Wilson on Resistance, Trump, the Media, & More https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xa87kudAVFs&t=1125s
This is the evil of the age that Cody Wilson has highlighted: the demilitarization (and thus depoliticization) of the Design, hidden under ridiculous layers of geek culture and political simulacra, an evil that could only be addressed by radical projects. Be like Cody Wilson, be like that student who wanted to solve the problem of insecurity on the train.
Radicality, a fuel for politics
“Radical: A person who advocates fundamental political, economic, and social reforms through direct and often uncompromising methods.”Introduction to the New Radical documentary
An open-source weapons project leaves no room for compromise: the weapons are online forever or are not. Crypto projects are different : they do not have this obligation of radicality. We’ve seen entire ecosystems compromise themselves, so that every shitcoin can be featured at the Davos forum. Amir Taki and Cody Wilson had already warned about this risk in 2012 and in response launched the Dark Wallet project (now called Dark.fi) allowing the anonymization of Bitcoin transactions, and thus preserving this radical idea of what is a crypto-currency: a financial ecosystem that cannot be ingested by the state.
On the other side of the spectrum, Ethereum has complied to every Davocratic requirements. The rejection of proof-of-work for proof-of-stake, promoted as an ecological progress that would bring more decentralization, turned out to produce the exact opposite: a centralization of staking’s servers in the United States, allowing both a near-total data collection on the users of the crypto-currency and a SEC investigation to find out if proof-of-stake was not a “security” [a contract with a guarantee of return]. We can also talk about user data collection (localisation, IP, browsed websites, etc.) officialised by Metamask, and the arrest of the coder of Tornado Cash’s smart-contract. It’s an abortion of the Politic, an opt-out from any kind of radical future.
Mastodon is another example of this refusal of radicality, the clone of Twitter appearing in TT every time the public ideology is in danger. It promotes itself as being both decentralized and “a Twitter without Nazi”. Which is funny, because decentralization should make censorship expensive, not trivial. This logic becomes even worse if you start making analogies with other similar services : Mastodon decentralization is based on a publication/subscription between servers, a dynamic very similar to how email or RSS work. However, I never encounter any Email service advertising the blocking of external sites for ideological reasons as a feature. In this perspective, GMAIL and RSS Feed Reader should be seen as more radical services than Mastodon.
And here is the final fact of radicality. It cannot be exercised without a certain amount of terror. Here is an example : Back then, when I was part of an anonymous imageboards federation, we learned about a decentralized and therefore (theoretically) incensurable chan project. Despite our shared vision for a certain form of cyber-anarchism, we were terrified by the abyss that such a project could open. It was probably a similar terror that held back the NRA (National Rifle Association) from any recognition of the Defense Distributed project: the possibility of a digitized AR-15 lower-receiver could only precipitate the examination of the constitutionality of assault rifles by the US Supreme Court, an unprecedented event with an uncertain outcome. And remember: the purpose of post-politics is precisely about preventing occurrence of such an event.
“History is not linear, it is a series of derailments”Cody Wilson
This is the strength of radical technologies, they put us on the tracks of an uncertain future that will come to challenge what we used to admit as zero alternative situation.
Pouring fertility into the future
We have seen in this essay that technologies can be nuclear, that by their very existence, they can change the state of things, forcing the world into realignments with uncertain outcomes. In a very George Battailesque fashion, technologies push their instigators to some unreasonable expanse of energy, eventually consuming their future. One would argue that death is a side effect of Tech, Tech (and by extension real politics) could not be other than a dead end. But it’s not. These Tech-powered self-sacrifices have often been gateways to a fertility that goes beyond one’s life.
Defense Distributed is still active, hosting 3D files and delivering Ghost Gunner printers all over the US. 20 years later after his creation, the 4chan site is still online despite an endless number of controversies and technical issues. The work of the Marquis de Sade, who spent half of his life in prison, largely because of these writings, is now freely available. These radical projects, propelled by new technologies, have not disappeared, they may even have turned into more or less profitable businesses. This is the message of Cody Wilson and Amir Taki: “invest in technological fields that the System restricts”.
Amir Taki and Cody Wilson were both ellected “World’s Most Dangerous People” by Wired magazine in 2012.
“In the General economy of Bataille [the Accursed Share], there is this solar idea that the sun is giving its energy away for free which is a beautiful image and idea. The source of all material wealth, capitalism and excess come from this nuclear reaction millions of miles away and we have nothing to do with it, we just have to absorb and build its excess in our economy. But Bataille would say no, there is a symbolic obligation that should not be ignored. The sun, as the Aztecs or any ancient people would know, the sun requires blood sacrifice. What is he talking about? What does he mean? I am simply saying that sacred horror, catastrophe, challenge, defense, provocation, these are essential initiatory forms. And I know that these things are outside of the sociology of let say Mises [Ludwig Von Mises, the Austrian economics author] where everything is directly and rationally oriented. Consider a symbolic domain which is often suppressed in Capitalist and Marxist conversation which is in fact essential to our interest and derives everything. Every single project where I put myself into is just from this Kamaze will to throw a grenade into the situation. And that has produced wealth, and that has produced good jobs for people, that produced meaningful work and collaboration, open metadata standards, a way of thinking about the booby-graphic control of the 3D files on the Internet, things that will sustain, work, and provide scientific advantages.”Cody Wilson, durant la conférence NH Liberty Forum de 2022. https://youtu.be/1QnSm4CvvcU?t=2144
For my readers who would like to delve deeper into Cody Wilson, I recommend his book Come and Take It, but especially the very good documentary The New Radical by Alex Lee Moyer that follows him from 2012 to 2016.
* Regarding the city safety index, I rely on these statistics, which may not be perfect, but at least it exists.