In the months before 9/11, I had a chat with a pal about toting heat:
Me: “So you think everyone should have a gun?”
Him: “Yes. Everyone has the right to carry any weapon. The right to bear arms.”
Me: “What if someone wanted to tote a fully-automatic in the shopping mall?”
Him: “Even a machine gun. We’ve got the right. You should be able to have a motherfucking nuclear bomb if you want to.”
Now this was not before McVeigh’s bombing in 1995, or the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, or before the Weather Underground bombs of the early 70’s. This was in 2001, and he was suggesting that I, that he, that “anyone” had the right to own any weapon, up to and including the worst ones. Up to and including (the as yet un-buzzed) weapons of mass destruction. It’s not like terrorism had never happened before.
That stuck with me as my interest in transhumanism grew — the notion that there were Bible-thumping (this particular fella was not), red-blooded (as they say) American patriots (which we both were — and still are) who took the Second Amendment of our Constitution so seriously and fundamentally (even if they’d ignore certain court rulings that gave cooling context and legal interpretation) as to suggest that anyone should have access to even atomic weapons. And even in the context of past acts of terrorism.
This knee-jerk reactionary stance, which is based in fear of a coming totalitarian (often thought of as “liberal”) government turned out, to my great surprise, to be the key component in my cheerleading for transhuman concerns.
The folks who want wide availability of arms usually hold the position that acts of terror (from school shootings and Post Office rampages to box-cutter attacks on airline pilots) would be minimized if we all knew that the potential for deadly response to any given crime was ubiquitous and instantaneous.
Transhumanism, then, became important to me for mainly one reason: Singularity-driving technologies will be available to most everyone, or it will only be available to the elite.
Rich people get the coolest tools — and they have the time to learn how to use them. Some hand-to-mouth gangbanger may have a .22 pistol in his hip pocket, sure — but it’s the salty old regional manager of a high-end grocery chain that has the closet full of Rugers, 4-gauge shotguns, and the (shhhhh!) de-commissioned M242 Bushmaster that his buddy down at the Sheriff’s office helped him land.
So who do you think will be the first to have swarms of telepathically networked dragonfly spybots?
If an elite group are the only ones to attain and learn Singularity-drivers, then we’re all in big trouble. Corporate / government interests are not always the same as truck driver, librarian, and waitress interests. Once Boeing and Lockheed are brought in to outfit XE (hey, let one contractor help another) with pain rays, force fields, and nanite organ-repair sludge, then free people have suddenly got big trouble. It won’t be long before that stuff trickles down to local private security firms, the guard houses at gated communities, and the dude running the metal detector at your daughter’s high school. They call that “dystopia” last I checked.
Gray goo is going to go black quick, abuses will be rampant, and the non-moneyed will never be able to catch up. Making goo “green”, open source, free, or copy left? Could be illegal.
The Second Amendment argument for transhumanism is, in this light, the most important one. If regular folks “arm” themselves widely and early, there will at least be a foothold in the future for the demos.
Will insurgent or even evil non-state actors ably access these technologies and use them as weapons? It is inevitable. Does that mean that we should trust only the technocrats in board rooms and Capitol Hill to decide who gets them and how? Only to the extent that we trust our representatives to be champions of our freedom.
This is the real tension, and in an ideal world it shouldn’t be framed in binary terms — it isn’t realistic to expect that we couldn’t do things to prevent access to terrorists (incidentally, think Miller Lite and 500 rounds of “cop killas” before you think beards and minarets — most acts of domestic terrorism are carried out by fundamentalist Christians), or that we couldn’t cede ground to restrict the unready from some well defined “licensure” process.
I don’t think of myself as a “Second Amendment” dude. I don’t have a concealed carry permit. I only shoot guns with family back home in Mississippi once every year or two. But we do have a right to bear arms (even if not bombs) — and if we want to keep our rights to access advanced and powerful technologies before they get deemed weaponry and regulated out of our reach, we’d better take a minute to consider the way “gun nuts” frame their arguments.
I never asked that pal if he’d changed his mind after 9/11, but I’m sure he still stands by the principle (even if not his choice of words) — if there’d been a few well armed Bubbas on UA’s Flight 175, then we might not have The Patriot Act today.
As for me, I’d rather us all have access to the goo, weaponized or not, than for it to be only in the hands of jackbooted .biz mercenaries. I put my trust in Makers and Hackers and good old fashioned Phreaks — the many anonymous tinkerers who find ways to exploit (and therefore to patch) systems before we all have to eat a big helping of our own hubris.
Goo will be hacked for the better, even as terrorist attempt to exploit it for the worst. I think it’s just another way to say “guns should be both common, and never used in anger.” And maybe that puts me closer to “the Bubbas” than I think.
Photo courtesy Olegvolk