Published April 15, 2019
“War, trade, and piracy, allow/As three in one, no separation.” — Goethe (Faust 2 Act IV)
“Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press… the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” -The Bill of Rights
“This is what access to the means of production was always going to look like.” (C&TI; 8)
If you don’t know who Cody Wilson is or what Defense Distributed does; if you somehow missed the spectacular drama of the 3D Printed Gun, during the height of the Obama administration’s gun control maneuverings in the wake of Aurora, Sandy Hook, etc; I’m not going to take the time to expound a history of the recent past I trust you, my readers, & I do not want to waste your time with an exposition of an event which is ubiquitously documented on the internet. That said: don’t let this be your introduction to either. Watch a video of Wilson speaking for himself & come back later if need be. I would recommend this one. If it piques your interest I would recommend that you pick up a copy of the subject in question, Come and Take It: The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free. Full disclosure: I received my copy from the man himself after touring the Defense Distributed site in Austin Texas & read it on my flight home. But, believe me, if the book sucked, I wouldn’t be reviewing it.
I highly recommend the book. It is well worth reading for a curated trip through the spectacle of the Liberator from the perspective of its protagonist. & I must say, Cody’s prose is very good. His imagery is better than what you’d likely find in this week’s NYT Bestseller in Fiction. His book also doubles as a brief history of 3D printing/fabrication technology, and triples as a picaresque novel featuring settings as diverse as a radical bookshop in Austin Texas [“a mecca for those lunatics who drape themselves in the flags of the violent ideology of self-reliance” (C&TI; 92)]; the Maker Faire [“The neckbeard demiurge sees himself keeling in the throes of assembly” (C&TI; 76)]; & a den of Silicon Valley Carlylists [“Moldbug congratulated me. ‘By the way, bravo on your stupendous media-whoring.’” (C&TI; 237)]. If you still aren’t sold, I’ll leave you with my favorite passage:
“On a late summer’s evening, 2012, the sky over the blacklands was blasted red brass. The color of catastrophe. Dallas had released me south through her great gates and to the flaring evening, where, exposed on a broad plain, I caravanned with the dusty Fords and swaying tractor-tralers. We were each the silent, bronze subjects of an immense and setting sun.” (C&TI; 301).
But let us move past this car-salesman blurbery & get to the crux of it. Me.
My first introduction to Cody Wilson came when I was young adult with an interest in anarchist philosophy, a predilection I’d had since childhood. It is strange to think of myself, at the age of fourteen, reading the eclectic theories of Bakunin, Proudhon, etc.; those surly 19th century radicals that you’ll scarecly find on course syllabi. How had I even heard of them? Why was I reading such stuffy, anachronistic, political screeds? The answer is that this is more common than it appears on the surface. These works are quite popular among a certain american milleiu. These texts are passed down within a countercultural tradition adjacent to Punk music & the bohemian underground from which the likes of AntiFa tend to spawn. The most blatant example of this would have to be Wingnut Dishwashers Union’s song, titled “Proudhon in Manhattan,” in which Proudhon’s most well-remembered cliche is invoked by the band’s notorious frontman, the now retired, former-anarchist heroin-shooting, anarcho-folk-punker, Pat the Bunny.
I’d always been attracted to the aesthetics of Punk, particularly its more proletarian offspring that is sometimes specified under the label Hardcore. The cultural milleiu of my home, rural Massachusetts, was steeped in Hardcore, Folk Punk, & heroin. It is still steeped in Hardcore, & straight edge HxC teens continue to comprise a subculture in, at least, New England’s public schools, providing a needed bullwark against the opiate plague. I must make an important distinction here. The snotty & overwhelmingly British genre that comes to mind when the word “Punk” is tossed about- is as dead as the “phony Beatlemania” of yore.
The difference between Hardcore & Punk is that Hardcore is still alive and kicking. I’d note, with a bit of regional pride, that Bridge 9 Records & Deathwish Inc. continue to press & promote Hardcore albums every year. The differences between Punk & Hardcore can be explained quite simply, by comparing Black Flag & the Sex Pistols. The former was created almost spontaneously, from the ground up, with a decentralized methodology of artistic creation, while the latter was created consciously, as the birthing of a fashionable and avant-garde art movement, under the tutelage of Malcolm McLaren, who was an acolyte of the Situationists & educated in other radical aesthetic philosophies of the twentieth century. The Sex Pistols were not something that anyone could emulate. Black Flag was explicitly promoted Doing-It-Yourself.
The Sex Pistols advocated the cultivated dandyism of “radical chic.” To ape the aesthetics of the Sex Pistols required a uniform: hairspray, safetypins- the iconography that was designed by Vivienne Westwood & conveniently sold by McLaren at their boutique called SEX. “Anarchy in the UK” & “God Save the Queen” were songs as well as t-shirts sold at their shop. It was analogous to the recent “pussyhat” craze launched by the pussyhat project after the election of Donald Trump, in preparation for the International Women’s Day marches after the Inauguration.
Black Flag, despite being named after a brand of insect repellant according to the band’s lore, summons the image of a Jolly Roger. They advocated piracy. To ape the aesthetics of Black Flag, all you had to do was dress in cheap clothes & keep your hair short, wear some old work boots. To quote Black Flag’s frontman, Henry Rollins, from a now-deleted Philadelphia Weekly column in which he was asked about fashion: “Getting dressed up means wearing a black T-shirt and some really basic dark pants…Fuck clothes. The more time you spend worrying about clothes, the less time you have to grab life by the balls.” The barrier of entry was nil, & this was purposeful. As Ian MacKaye, of Minor Threat & Fugazi put it: “We were really trying to differentiate between what people were calling punk rock, which was this really Sid Vicious kind of New York or London, kind of posie kind of fashion…That was punk rock…something hardcore wanted to get away from.”
What continues to fascinate me about Hardcore, more than the music itself, is how it functioned as a black market economy for art during the height of the record label’s cultural hegemony. Through a combination of Illegalism & Agorism, with some stolen or otherwise appropriated xerox machines & music equipment, anyone with the will to produce cultural artifacts could enter into the discourse of this subculture. Any dilettante who could scream, play power chords, and craft assemblages of imagery ripped from magazines became an artist, without approval or credentials supplied from a certified institution of quote-unquote “significance.” It was a radical usurpation of the conduits of cultural information into the hands of the proletariat.
I believe that Hardcore’s general antipathy toward homogenized & incorporated “elite” institutions that fueled the vague postures against “Capitalism” & “Authority” that have become associated with it. It’s quite blatant, to me anyway, that Hardcore is another instantiation of the beloved Americana archetype- the “small business owner”; Thomas Jefferson’s yeoman farmer, but in this case, he farms music from the cracked cement of the post-industrial era. Hardcore is as deeply American as the Emersonian philosophy of Self-Reliance, which Harold Bloom rightly calls “our unoffical religion.”
I’m neither the first nor the last to make this comparison of Hardcore with the multifarious religious revivals of Western Protestants. This is because there’s something substantial to the comparison. There is more than a kernel of the Puritan’s Protestant work ethic in Henry Rollins, especially. His only drug is a single cup of coffee that he sometimes sips throughout his stringently regimented & productive days. His bibliography is nearly Goethean in its length, which is to ignore his dozens of albums, his spoken-word lecture tours, albums, & videos, as well his filmography. Personally, I look forward to the future (perhaps posthumous?) publication of his lifelong journal, in which he continues to catalogue his perpetual accomplishments. A great parallel, I think, to the journal of Henry David Thoreau, which only covered twenty-four years, and ran to two million words. Compare this to the epicurean decadence of the Sex Pistols, as exemplified in the heroin-laced denouement of Sid Vicious, & Johnny Rotten’s late appearance in butter commercials.
The social elite with safetypins in their ear
I watch and understand that it don’t mean a thing
The scorpions might attack, but the systems stole the sting
Where am I going with this? Well, I stumbled onto Cody Wilson in the midst of my Hardcore theological furvor, in the midst of my disillusionment with the degenerate anarcho-leftism that I’d believed was a necessary accessory for any young & enterprising mind. I believe that the exact introductory artifact was this interview with Glenn Beck in 2013. I’d likely seen it linked on /r/anarchism, which I had been perusing since #OccupyWallSt started up. (& not to open up a whole ‘nother can of worms, but the drama on that subreddit was a key part of my disillusionment &, errr, “redpilling”.
The moment that he recommended Beck read Foucault’s “Discipline & Punish,” I felt the same sort of sardonic transcendence I felt when I had first heard as a teenager “TV Party”. Cody’s public appearances are always a blast to watch. He has an air of pranksterism & smarmish disdain for the received pieties of his interlocutors which tends to spawn hilarity. I believe that it’s this attitude that has marked Cody as one of Wired Magazine’s “15 Most Dangerous People in the World” moreso than his production of democratically distributed arms manufacturing. He’s well aware of the metagame of media spectacle, as he writes: “Prepping for the interviews on TV or the radio was really just a game. You’re competing with a producer to pack something unexpetedly ‘red pill’ into an unavoidable sound bite. That’s the best you can hope for, anyway.” (C&TI; 86)
I’d never been a fan of Glenn Beck, & he’s never given me a reason to reconsider my disdain; if anything, his charlatanry has only become more blatant as the years have passed, although this was readily obvious far before he donned the infamous cheeto-face along with a Born Again Mormonism. This interview seems to me now, four years later, to be a precursor of the schism in the american conservative mind that we are currently enduring. Beck, the icon of Boomer Neo-Conservatist Apologism, asks himself whether or not Wilson’s technology and modus operandi renders him “Friend or Foe.” He wonders what the Founders would think, making an almost incomprehensible gesture to the Federalist debate following the Articles of Confederation. His conception of History is composed solely of the inherited civic mythology that is clunkily reviewed, year after year, in the textbooks of America public schools. He is not fluent in the language of real-politik, preferring instead to LARP as the Thomas Paine of the nation’s Walmart libraries & senior center nightstands.
If there’s one thing to be said about Wilson, it’s that he is fluent in the language of real-politik. This is made evident in Come and Take It, which he describes as a “Moral Autobiography” and not a manifesto, following in the tradition of Nietzsche who proclaimed the following in Beyond Good & Evil:
“Gradually it has become clear to me what every great philosophy so far has been: namely, the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir.” Despite the playfulness of his public appearances, he is not fucking around.
Perhaps the best encapsulation of Cody Wilson’s philosophy is found in the following clip, from a recent Sundance Q&A following a screening of The New Radical, a documentary in which Wilson plays a major role. In this clip, Cody is played against a perfect foil encapsulating our culturally inherited conception of “Radicalism” in the form of, so I have gleaned from comments (but have been unable to confirm), David Talbot, the founder of Salon magazine (& if it is not Talbot, my description remains apt for whoever this fuddy duddy pearl-clutcher happens to be).
Cody’s interlocutor stumbles through a sermon of Progressive pieties without ever reaching a real question. He states: “I’m from the New Left days, & what we used to call the heightening of contradictions, are you familiar with that Marxist term?… But what you’re doing in the process is creating a very dystopian future, & there are a lot of people who have more to lose than you do. They’re black families, they’re muslims… There’s, as you know, many groups at high risk now, under Trump. & things are evolving in Washington literally by the hour now. We’re seeing announcements come out of Washington that are stunning… the logical extension of your thinking is the Weather Underground… that we should start getting armed, that we should prepare for an armed revolution. Is that what you’re suggesting?”
Cody responds, but not to the question which has already presumed its answer: “I’m a product of the New Left, & if you don’t like the Frankenstein that you’ve created you should consider the life that you’ve lived. I’ve read everything, all the critical theory… you stare at yourself as a younger man, in the face… Marx said the proletariat should never be disarmed… Of course, Marxists haven’t read Marx in thirty years… What you mean by the Left today is securitizing…a polite policing of tone & speech… overwhelmingly oppressive & suffocating… no one can stand that… ask any New Leftist you want there’s a bit of relief that he’s in there… Hillary Clinton was monstrous possibility, an impossible coalition of the consolidation of global power which none of us could have stood, & we narrowly escaped something very embarrassing.”
To tie the strings together here, the contrast between these figures reminds me of The Sex Pistols & Black Flag, of Punk & Hardcore. What the New Left, & Punk, succeeded in was creating an aesthetic of transgression against unjust authority, which was promptly adopted by the very superstructure it ostensibly challenged as a means of reproducing itself. Their stated philosophies were nothing but an updated ad-campaign. New Leftists are now deployed to defend such things as the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, a demonic War Hawk, & perhaps the most blatantly corrupted presidential candidate in american history. But because her vocabulary & aesthetic more closely resembles the vocabulary & aesthetic of the New Left, she is “the lesser evil,” a blessing of a pox compared to our vulgarian in chief. Hillary is a hippy, you know. She was on the board of directors for the New World Foundation. She wrote her thesis on Saul Ailinsky. I mean, Le Tigre came out of their Punk retirement to give us the hit “I’m With Her”…
Cody Wilson, on the other hand, resembles more of the Hardcore ethos. His projects aim toward “irreversability”; to invoke a change that cannot be contested or co-opted. With the Liberator & the Ghost Gunner, complete gun-control became an impossibility; & with the recent launch of Hatreon, the corporatized policing of patronized content creation was subverted, much to the consternation of would-be appendages of the nanny state. (& as I write this, Hatreon was taken offline by Cloud-Flare in the hysterics following the Charlottesville farce; but it wasn’t down for long!)
Talking to Cody, he informed me that Hardcore was never really a part of his life, although he has an affection for albums like Wire’s Pink Flag. The comparison to Hardcore is less about tracing a specific lineage from bands like Black Flag to Defense Distributed, & more within the realm of media ecology, as a means of comparing the relationships within a Tetrad (A:B:: C:D) under analogous conditions.
What differentiated Hardcore from Punk was in its revolution via medium over message; its cynicism toward the facade of content in favor of an inspection of praxis. The packaging of Hardcore, through its dispersed independent networks in the form of xeroxed zines, house shows, and replicated cassette tapes, is what differentiated its products from Punk albums which were bought from the same presses that manufactured “mainstream” content of a less “radical chic” aesthetic. Thus The Sex Pistols were pressed by EMI, one of the largest label conglomerates of all time. A fun little synechdoche in relation to the New Left is that EMI still holds the copyright to Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Black Flag on the other hand was signed to SST Records, founded by Greg Ginn at the age of twelve as a small business dealing in electronic equipment, particularly, modified surplus army radios leftover from World War II. Later he started the band Panic, which eventually became Black Flag. In the early days of SST Records, as portrayed in Michael Azzerad’s history of Hardcore Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981–1991, Ginn’s phones were tapped & he was perpetually surveilled by undercover LAPD. Cody’s run ins with the law were a bit more serious, although, they included phone-tapping & surveillance. There is a section of his book which was redacted by the US Department of State, as it detailed the method of creating a 3D Printed pistol (a court case on first & second amendment on these grounds is ongoing).
“It’s not even about the gun, I thought. What was at stake were flows of information…” (Come and Take It; 37)
More than the gun, more than the sum of Hardcore’s cultural artifacts, is the revolution of a decentralized network routing the hegemon’s fantasies of control. the most important political issue of the 21st century is the regulation of information conduits. In the wake of Charlottesville & the unpersoning of Andrew Anglin, the creation of independent platforms has become a necessity in order for our rights to be secured. The Right to Free Speech is not the right to scream inside your skull, or into a pillow; it is the Right to enter into the discourse. This will be met by the zombie choir chanting: “Freedom of Speech is Not Freedom from Consequences,” which is a fair point, but one made in service of the informational conduit controllers that own the most widely available platforms for discourse. The Government cannot demand that Google, or Cloud-Flare, or Facebook, or Twitter etc, allow speech that their moderators find offensive. These corporations have the right to wielding their tools as they see fit. I recall a moment during my tour of Defense Distributed- one of the employees showed off the epigraph of a technical manual with a most auspicious epigraph:
“Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.”
You cannot rely upon the tools of corporate empire, nor the tools of government, nor even the tool of the Constitution & the courts to ensure your liberty.