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Cody Wilson: Sewing Disruption and the Maker Movement

When we have been talking about disruption, we have treated it as almost a natural force, something that happens like a storm or an earthquake, the results of macro-trends outside of any one person’s direct control.

But disruption is also something that people do, sometimes just for its own sake.

Cody Wilson is this type of disruptive actor. He does not describe himself as a maker. He is doing what he is doing — 3D printing working guns and designing and releasing open CAD files for assault rifles and high-volume magazines free on the Internet  — for political reasons.

This is Click, Print, Gun, the documentary Motherboard/VICE did on Cody Wilson, and the premiere for which I missed class for last week.

I think that Cody’s interview with Glenn Beck is also worth watching.

Cody is also spearheading, a thingaverse-esque CAD file bank, but designed to be disruptive, not fun. Right now, it mostly just contains the gun parts that Cody and the rest of the WikiWeapon crew made. But when we talked and I told him how lame I thought this dearth in truly patent-fighting files was — for all the talk about waving a pirate flag, theres not really any piracy going on — he told me all about plans to start putting medical, scientific, robotic, and other heavily patented technologies on there to “Napsterize” the world.

I think Cody comes off as super smart, super creepy, and impossible to read in the videos, especially the DEFCAD one. But, I was surprised to discover, he is actually really nice, easy going, and even kinda humble in person. His charisma is made even more dangerous by his earnest intelligence and willingness to engage in debate with anyone who presents him with one.

The other thing that is clear is that he is really into guns. This is something that understandably creeps a lot of people out. I just think its kinda lame at best, and super dangerous at worst — but mostly for him. The ATF and FBI dont mess around, and neither do other people interested in un-licenced firearms.

But politics is really what is interesting about this project. And politically, I think that it will really get interesting when they start dodging patent suits from BMW and Sony by changing bits of source-files faster than lawyers can sue them, in true Napster style. But its already having political effects.

I did my undergraduate thesis applying an idea called the Overton Window to American political history post WWII. The Overton Window is the idea that the center of debate — the “zone of political possibility” — is in fact positioned according to its extreme edges. This being the case, often the easiest and fastest way to change a political debate is from the radical fringes.

I use the example of radical right wing pundits, starting with William F Buckly and continuing on to FOX News, that consistently insert radical ideology into the political debate to gradually shift its center. Over the last half a century, these radical views have moved the political debate in this country from a place where The Great Society was a mainstream idea and a Republican president endorsed a universal minimum wage (Nixon), to a political reality where a Democratic President cant even defend a single payer healthcare system. This a diagram describing the current Overton Window position constraining the debate about torture — but the R2 center is about where we sit on most issues right now, when we take the last century of political history as context.


Anyways, back to Cody Wilson. I think what he is doing is defining the extremes of the Overton Window in the growing public debate about 3D printing and other digital fabrication technologies. And I think that even people who dont exactly agree with him will benefit from his political work.

Take Bree Pettis for example. In a 2009 interview, he said “We’ve gotten letters from companies with patents who have let us know that they are watching our every move.” While he was the forefront loony of 3D printing, this was to be expected. Enter Cody Wilson: Bre Pettis is now the nice uncle of 3D printing, Cody is taking the position as forefront loony patent boogyman. I think that Cody’s agressive posture will actually make it easier, opening up space for groups like Makerbot or the Open Source Hardware Association that have a more “live-and-let-live” atitude.

But asserting a new radical view could also have negative repercussions. Most people havent wrapped their heads around 3D printing yet, and introducing it to them as a DIY gun-fabrication technology will not help level heads prevail as society starts trying to decide how to deal with this stuff. Luckily, there are a bunch of other Maker Movement activists out there defining the hopeful future of digital fabrication, Open Source, and the Maker Movement.

I interviewed one such activist, Caterina Mota, for the second interview assignment. My questions and her answers will be up on the blog soon!



1 comment to Cody Wilson: Sewing Disruption and the Maker Movement

  • ti8

    One question I would like you to have asked Cody, and that I think you might want to ask yourself: What are the bounds of your personal Overton Window? What are the things you think should not be disrupted? What kind of a society would you leave rather than stay and live in opposition? You mention that “the FBI don’t mess around”. Would you feel better living in a society where they were trivial, or did not exist?

    I think everyone, no matter how radical, shares some ideals or beliefs with the mainstream of the society in which they live. These are the things that we seek to sustain. What are they for you? I’m not talking about things you wish would come to be, I’m talking about things which you think are already widespread, and which you think are central to a livable society.