Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The power of printing

Yes, I'm aware there are multiple skeletons peeking out of closets around the District of Corruption.  But I'm not inclined to talk about that cesspool today.  

Even before the current 'gun control' push and its scaremongering about 3D printing, I've been fascinated with the emerging technology.  This is a revolution in the making, that is only now really capturing the public notice.  And I think the implications are profound for society.

It's an axiom of military history that over time, technology shifts between offensive and defensive advantages, as the profession of arms scrambles to adapt to changes in capabilities.  In a similar fashion, I believe history ebbs and flows between developments that empower the individual, and those that favor the centralization of power.

Take the original printing press.  Before Gutenberg popularized the use of moveable type printing, information favored the wealthy and well-connected.  They alone could compile libraries of the tediously hand-copied manuscripts that were available.  Not only did the increasingly inexpensive printed page make information and ideas accessible outside the elite, it also empowered new voices to spread their own perspectives.  It's no coincidence the Reformation exploded across Europe less than a century after printing presses became a commonplace technology.

New pathways eventually lead to new gatekeepers, however.  The advent of the mass-media age concentrated enormous influence in the hands of people like William Randolph Hearst, who had the means to operate well-established networks to distribute information.

...then along comes this thing called the "Internet," and suddenly if I have a keyboard and mouse I can share my thoughts with the world... if I can interest it in what I have to say.  There's a reason that doesn't set well with 'the powers that be.'   The fight is on already to see if either governments or corporations can become the new 'gatekeepers.'

Nor is this the only example.  Knights and Samurai dominated their societies because specialized training--weapons, horsemanship, upkeep of gear--required time that most people didn't have.  In a world marked by eeking out a bare existence, those few 'men of leisure' who could pursue the martial arts had an unassailable advantage, and were only endangered by each other.

Then came longbows, and later, firearms.  Now any fool peasant could be taught to topple an armored noble from his horse in less time than it took to teach a page boy all the parts of a suit of armor!  A sci-fi/fantasy series I read a few years ago explored a world where suddenly gunpower, explosives and electricity ceased to work.  Some of the more memorable parts mused over just how reliant our traditions of social equality and individual freedom are on these enablers.

Naturally, that means those with a will to power will always try to become gatekeepers to that which empowers the individual. firearms.  The Bloombergs of the world have no qualms about employing armed bodyguards.  What horrifies them is the idea everyone should be entitled to access the same defensive power.  And yet some of these power-happy egos try to pass themselves off as "men of the people."  Pfah!

Which brings us to yet another cycle.  Industry--production of goods--once revolved around the home... literally, the 'family business.'  Only with mechanization did these processes begin to congregate in factories (centralization).   That very concentration provides opportunities for gatekeepers to block access, by controlling what's produced or how it's distributed.  THAT's why 3D printing terrifies the (gun) control freaks. 

We've recently seen decentralization in some occupations because telecommuting became feasible.  What happens when heavy manufacturing begins to undergo the same disruption?  The impacts go far beyond producing homemade firearms our "betters" would rather we not have. This, next to my Christian faith, gives me hope even as I see the corruption of our civic institutions entering a terminal phase.  Governments and individuals both can misuse any technology--that's simply the sin nature at work.  But given that nature, I favor any development that allows a responsible individual to hold his own in this fallen world, and stay one step ahead of those who would presume to control him.

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