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Were you a little spooked when someone made the first 3D printed gun? Did it trouble you when you realized that anyone with the digital designs for the component parts and a 3D printer could make assault weapons in unlimited numbers in his basement? Me too.

I guess this technology kind of snuck up on us. When I first heard about it, it sounded like the set-up for and absurd joke. Copy your ass on this Xerox machine, and… Ha ha. Now it doesn’t seem so funny. Handguns, assault rifles, and who knows what else can now be conjured up practically out of thin air — bringing us one step closer to a society bristling with armaments and soaked through with paranoia.

This is sobering, to be sure, but I think we could probably cope with it all — if only technology would stop and take a breath. It won’t, though; it never does. The next big breakthrough, no matter how absurd it may seem conceptually, is waiting just around the corner.

If 3D copying can challenge us with its consequences, how will we react to the next logical link in this chain of creation? What if that advance carries us beyond our ability to deal with its unforeseen outcomes? What if it brings a change so fundamental that one deranged person could use it to destroy us all?

What if the next big thing is 4D printers?

Yes, I am talking about printers that can make guns — that travel through time! I don’t want to be an alarmist, but what if the Persians had had AK-47s at Thermopylae? How different would our lives be if The 100 Years War had lasted a week? Where would we be now if the redcoats had been packing Uzis?

If these scenarios fill you with icy dread (and they should), remember that we set ourselves up for this. If only we’d had the good sense to say, when those first big Xerox monstrosities hit the market, “No thanks, I’ve got a mimeograph machine.”
Never Mind
Let me declare right off that I have nothing against labor saving devices. I like having my labor saved as much as the next person. I have resolved, however, that my affection for these tools will not blind me to their hidden costs.

A hammer, for instance, can really speed up the process of driving nails — especially if you’ve been using a big rock. A hammer will cost you a few dollars, but the hidden cost of the hammer is its weakening effect on our rock-wielding skills. If you put me into a home-building contest against some prehistoric carpenter and limit us to using only his tools, then Ugg is going to win the hut-off every time.

Now, you might suggest that pounding nails with a rock is not really such a valuable skill to lose, and you might be right. Even if civilization somehow lurches backward a couple of steps, there will still be plenty of hammers around for neo-Neolithic builders to use. Things would really have to turn sour before humans would need to re-acquire their stone tool expertise.

These issues might not be so clear-cut, however, if the tools in question are the home computer and the World Wide Web. The kinds of labor these devices save are of a different type than pounding nails. With computers, the hidden costs come in the form of a dulled memory, a blunting of our problem-solving skills, and a general decline in cognitive abilities. Who needs a memory when you have all that data on your desktop? Why nurture your cognition if you’ve got Google? And what’s the point of problem-solving acumen if there’s an app for that?

You don’t have to be a Luddite to be a little troubled by this seeming diminution of our powers. You can love computers and still be alarmed by their effect on us. You might wonder, for instance, does our reliance on these tools portend a decline for our species? Does our dependence on them make us vulnerable to sudden societal changes? Are we doomed?

Well, don’t worry — we have our best philosophers working on it. And so it is that Andy Clark and David Chalmers have stepped forward with the concept of The Extended Mind. According to them, we should not view these digital wonders as tools at all, but rather as extensions of ourselves. Not as crutches for our minds but as parts of them.

Under this theory, the horizon of our consciousness and control extends to the furthest reach of our instrumentalities. The hammer becomes a part of our hand, and the smart phone becomes an upgrade for our mind. That grocery list is a part of our memory, and the web is an extension of our ever-expanding brilliance.

So we’re not getting smaller, we’re getting bigger! Also smarter, deeper, and more godlike! I like thinking of myself this way, and I want to thank Andy and Dave for providing the philosophical underpinning to do so. It’s a total rush, man.

I just wish I could have made the high keep on going. When it faded, I was still left with the question, “So what?” So what if my self spreads outward with every new invention and interplanetary probe? If the asteroid hits and civilization crumbles, I’m all the way back to a hairless, talking ape, only this time I’ve forgotten how to take care of myself.

I’m going to keep using my computer, and I will continue to surf the web. For now, I am willing to accept the trade off that may end up destroying my mind. This bargain did, after all, save me the labor of researching Andy and Dave’s work the old fashioned way by getting me there with just the touch of a button. Which gave me the time I needed to catch up on Miley Cyrus’ latest escapades. I’ll take that deal any day.

Besides, if I ever change my mind, I have a big rock outside and I still know how to use it.
Thinking with Your Gun
It may be that the law has no remedy for the injustice done by George Zimmerman. Technically, he may not be guilty of murder or manslaughter or even negligent homicide. He may have a right as a private citizen, under the law, to stalk a teenager late at night while carrying a loaded firearm. Perhaps there is no way to punish a man for shadowing a boy he thinks is suspicious, even though the teenager had a perfect right and reason to be where he was.

And if Trayvon Martin, spooked by this close pursuit, turned to protect himself, well, it is then George’s right to stand his ground and fire his weapon. That is, after all, how the state law reads.

Perhaps the U.S. Attorney, seeing the injustice done in the criminal courts of Florida, will decide to charge that Trayvon Martin’s civil rights were violated or perhaps that he was the victim of a hate crime. The Martin family may file suit against Zimmerman for their son’s wrongful death. It’s quite possible, however, that none of these efforts will result in justice being done.

There is clearly a racial component to this story, but let’s set that aside for now and view this incident simply as an interaction between two citizens, one carrying a gun and one not. Each was doing what he was lawfully entitled to do. One was going about his business, and the other was making that business his own. Something made George decide to force the issue and play out a script he had written in his head about Trayvon. What’s more, he was prepared to back up his fantasy with a deadly weapon.

I can’t imagine Zimmerman being so brazen as to openly follow someone at night if he weren’t armed. To do so would be to subject himself to the obvious danger that his quarry might turn and confront his stalker. It was the gun that made this foolish idea become reasonable. After all, if things get dicey, you can always shoot your quarry dead.

It is obvious that Trayvon Martin would not have died if there had been no gun. In fact, he wouldn’t have been followed in the first place. It was the gun that emboldened Zimmerman to follow the boy. It was the gun that gave him the will to act on his misguided suspicions. It was the gun that fulfilled its own prophecy and discharged a bullet into Trayvon’s beating heart.

Stupidity is one of the constants of human existence. We are all stupid. Carrying a gun, since it clothes us in feelings of invincibility, magnifies our stupidity. In this case, we see that sometimes the gun can even move to fill the void between our ears and start doing our thinking for us.

Don’t believe the gun advocates. Guns do kill people. The stupid humans are only there to pull the trigger. If it’s justice we’re looking for at the end of this story, then we should move now to keep these weapons out of the hands of stupid people. And that means all of us, citizen.
That Thing
I found that thing yesterday. You know, that thing I lost two years ago. I remember being frantic about it at the time — not because I needed to have the thing, but because there was absolutely no way I could have lost it.

It couldn’t have happened, but I have to admit that these little episodes do occur. What’s more, they tend to undermine my self-image as a place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its-place, thoroughly together kind of guy. I can deal was this, but it will force me to spend a lot of time gathering evidence to contradict the growing mountain of data showing that I am not that guy. This will surely be exhausting, especially with all the time I’m already spending to prove that I am as young as I used to be. I’m beginning to suspect that such efforts may, in fact, be futile.

There had been a place for that thing two years ago, but the thing wasn’t in it when I looked. I am forced to admit that it had been used (by me, it seems, and not by my wife, who is always the prime suspect in these mysteries) then carelessly set down and forgotten. When I finally found the thing, it had been sorely abused by the elements. It had once been a nice thing; now it is shabby.

I have found a new place for the thing (it had long ago been displaced by a new version of itself), a place more suitable to its degraded condition. It will be a sheltered place, I have decided, but with plenty of the fresh air it has become accustomed to. Now I have to decide whether to make the new place clearly visible or to banish that thing from my sight.

My concern is that a prominent placement would constitute a further affront to my self-image, a constant reminder that I am not what I present myself to be. If I see it every day, it might even encourage me to abandon the hopeless task of proving the unprovable and to accept that I am flawed, weak, and unworthy of love. Such a realization would be healthy, no doubt, and signal the onset of some long overdue maturation. As with most advances toward maturity, however, this process would be painful and humiliating.

Right now it seems better for me to continue being immature. I suppose I might miss out on some deeper happiness, but I can’t imagine that it would be worth all the hassle. Life is simply too short for agonizing self-appraisal. I will conceal the thing in a less obvious place, then, and thereby avoid an excruciating confrontation with my own inadequacy.

I don’t see any harm coming from this choice. If I do forget where the new place for that thing is, I’ll just ask my wife a few pointed questions about when she last saw it and her whereabouts at the time it went missing. I am confident that she will have the maturity not to feel threatened by my accusatory tone and just tell me where it is.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon