If the primary arena of control in our contemporary world is the digital realm, then the current revolutionaries will be working in the digital field. At least, The New Radicals would have you believe this. The film is a documentary about two young men on the forefront of the digital revolution, the impact they are having on our world, and the struggles they are facing as they work. By “digital revolution” I mean the anarchic kind. These two men hope to dramatically alter the foundations of our global society.
The first is Cody Wilson, the man who in 2013 developed and released plans for a 3D-printable hand gun called “The Liberator.” After being forced by the US government to remove those plans from the internet—though not before over the plans were downloaded over 100000 times—Wilson developed a CNC machine to sell that would etch out an unregistered pistol on command. Wilson’s company, Defense Distributed, is engaged in an ongoing legal dispute with the US government over Wilson’s right to make his gun plans available to the world.
Wilson claims his first and second amendment rights protect his ability to distribute these plans. Information transmission is a form of free speech, he claims, even if the information being transmitted would enable someone to build a weapon. Also, people have the right to own guns in America, and the Constitution doesn’t delineate how those guns are made.
Wilson’s concerns are more than constitutional though. He wants to destabilize governments by giving the populace the ability to manufacture guns at will. A philosophy aficionado, Wilson could be described as an extreme libertarian. He’s interested in preserving individual freedom above all, and developing his print-on-demand gun was originally a kind of political statement about freedom.
Wilson is friend and co-conspirators with Amir Taaki, a British-Iranian man who was instrumental in developing Bitcoin, a digital currency outside the control of any physical banking system. Taaki is especially interested in freeing financial data from corporate and federal systems, so he is working with Wilson to develop an anonymous payment system known as Dark Wallet. Taaki’s political beliefs are harder to pin down than Wilsons, but he does believe in libertine ideals. Also like Wilson, he’s a kind of free fugitive in his home country.
That’s a lot about the subjects and almost nothing about film. The New Radicals is interesting but slow. The revolutionary ideas Wilson and Taaki have created are fascinating, and the effects of their activity will likely be felt for years to come. But this documentary spends much time on incidental moments in the men’s lives. Cutting a half hour from this would have made it much more compelling. (Julian Assange is, indeed, an interesting figure in this realm, but the frequent cut-away interviews with him aren’t necessary to the story. The just disrupt its rhythm.)
The New Radicals suggests that we have much reason to be concerned about the direction our world is heading. Maybe the film is right. After all, the idea of printable guns is rather scary when you remember that public libraries are installing 3D printers in some US cities. The idea that the government is recording my key strokes as I write this review is scary too. The only comfort I find when I watch movies like this is when I remind myself that God supersedes this all. Christ holds all things together. That may be an ungainly segue, but it’s all I got.