March 27, 2014 | 14 Comments

Design and Violence Debate I: Open Source

Debaters: Cody Wilson (FOR) and Rob Walker (AGAINST)
Moderator: Paola Antonelli

We want to continue the public debate held in the Bartos Theater at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, on March 27, 2014. We welcome and encourage comments from both audience members and those who couldn’t make it on this special debate follow-up page. Follow the conversation on Twitter at @desviolenz or using the hashtag #desviolenz. View the Storify archive of the first debate here.

Read about the design that served as the lens for this debate, the 3D printed gun “The Liberator,” here. Read a review of the debate here.


The debate motion: "We cannot limit open source design, even when we do not support the consequences." Are you for, against, or on the fence?

  1. March 28, 2014, 3:27 am

    Regina Coppola

    Natural Selection in Digital Evolution

    “The pen is mightier than the sword” and yet free speech is the first amendment of our Bill of Rights. I would never condemn the library that has “Mein Kampf” in its stacks and yet its very existence…and that of the monster who penned it…are violations of the equilibrium of our natural environment. I would never watch the KKK parading down Main Street and yet would agree that they have license to do so in a peaceful manner.

    It seems to me that the notion of Open Source is another example of creative, individual expression–perhaps a brave new age for DIY inventors! The fact that OS projects invite comments or contributions from the Wiki-masses might lead to the projects’ viability or demise through the process of “natural selection” within the evolution of digital designs. That is, projects with merit could continue to develop by virtue of public interest; those projects lacking the excitement of public engagement may simply die out. Perhaps I’m being too naive, however, in trusting the public’s wisdom.

    As to the specific example of Cody Wilson’s “Liberator”–if I heard Robert Walker correctly–the 3-D gun idea was kicked out of a crowd-funding site (natural selection in action), but he went forward with the project by and through other means. It appears that the object of his efforts was simply to prove that he could do it. There was a lot of verbiage in his opinion/explanations which tends to have me wonder about the pith of what’s actually being said.

    All in all, a great discussion session especially since I’m completely new to this material and subject. Wonderful… thanks to all who participated.

  2. March 28, 2014, 1:13 pm


    not a chance

    the idea that we can’t limit things because they are labeled “open source” by somebody or other is ludicrous. We can easily name all sorts of technologies, from nuclear fission, biological, and chemical compounds, which individuals are already prohibited from assembling. The same limits must apply to “open source” that apply to all other conduct. Further, if 3D printing and open source threaten to make much more widely available processes that were previously not illegal but practically difficult, then we should (and MUST) absolutely restrict their use and distribution.

  3. April 1, 2014, 6:07 pm


    more guns less violence

    this has been proven… or do you not want to believe it?

  4. April 2, 2014, 1:49 am


    We live in the land of the free. Not the land of the safe.

  5. April 2, 2014, 2:00 am

    […] is clear: “There is no moral judgment a priori, that’s left to readers, listeners and commenters. We want to provide the context and the […]

  6. April 2, 2014, 3:31 pm


    Gimme a break...

    Hoplophobia is no excuse to stifle open source creativity. If it weren’t a gun…would there be this much debate?

  7. April 4, 2014, 2:18 pm

    Lisa Capezzuoli

    make love instead

    The all debate about open source was based on the fact that guns are considered bad by our society.

    The gun isn’t bad by itself, It’s the way people use it. what if it becomes a symbol of love?
    Please check this project I started a while ago: MAKE LOVE INSTEAD

    Design and Violence favorited my tweet but I had no chance to expose my point during the debate.
    What do @curiousoctopus @JamerHunt @desviolenz think about it?

    L!SA 🙂

  8. April 7, 2014, 8:46 pm

    Rick Oleson

    I 3D print stuff almost daily, so maybe I’m not as much in awe of the technology as some folks … but what I don’t understand in all of this is what is so special about 3D printing in this context? I could make a gun as easily by a bit of machining as I could with 3D printing. For one I would need a milling machine, for the other I need 3D CAD software and a 3D printer, the threshold of entry is not much different either way. For either one I need to know how to do it. Yes, someone can upload a file to the internet that I could download (and use for either process), or I could work as easily from an old fashioned blueprint. As for WMD, some of the easiest ways to make bombs involve such exotic modern technology as plumbing pipes and drums of fertilizer. I just don’t see what fundamental changes come into all of this through 3D printing. The biggest difference between today and a generation ago is the ease with which information is shared over the internet – whether it’s CAD files or written material and drawings, it’s a lot easier to find whatever information you’re after, for good or evil, than it was before. But that is a very fundamental free speech issue that doesn’t need to be complicated by awestruck misunderstanding of additive manufacturing processes, regardless of which side of the argument you are on.

  9. April 10, 2014, 9:55 pm

    John Zibell

    More Guns = More Violent Deaths (Peer Reviewed Study)

    The data does not show that more guns = less violence; in fact, it shows the opposite. And the argument that guns are only a tool that “are considered bad by our society” doesn’t work for a number of reasons. First, if “our society” considered guns to be “bad” isn’t that reason enough to enact and enforce stricter controls or an outright ban? Doesn’t the majority vote elect officials and shape policy? Secondly, you seem to define “bad” as more guns = more violent death and your solution is for people to love guns? Isn’t the love of the gun a major problem to be overcome according to your own logic? And not the solution to violent death? From the Harvard Injury Control Research Center: “Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.” And “We found that states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups, after accounting for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and resource deprivation (e.g., poverty).” You can see for yourself here:

  10. April 19, 2014, 5:10 pm

    […] project during my time at MoMA, both online and at the fantastic series of debates: Open Source (Debate I), Designing Empathy (Debate II), and Eating Animals (Debate […]

  11. April 21, 2014, 7:37 pm

    Joseph B.

    This debate did an excellent job of evidencing the massive impact a single design can have. While Walker and Wilson began their debate talking about the specifics of the Liberator pistol’s creation and open source design, it was only a matter of minutes before the two were discussing the moral standing of the United States government and the notion of common good.

    In turning to these broader political and ethical concerns, it became clear that Walker and Wilson had differences of belief on issues far more fundamental than the regulation of open source design. Walker’s views, for the most part, are in line with those of a liberal Democrat. While he fully acknowledged that any attempts to regulate open source design will be (and have been) a messy process of trial and error, Walker advocated this position as being important in helping to sustain society as we know it. Wilson, on the other hand, was upfront about being crypto-anarchist whose efforts – including the creation of an untraceable weapon and Dark Wallet (described by him as a platform for money laundering) – are aimed at destabilizing and ultimately destroying the current values and power structures of Western Democracy. In Wilson’s words, “That which is falling should be pushed down.”

    That each participant’s language in debating the Liberator pistol was couched in political and philosophical beliefs served as a jarring reminder of how design can be used as a method for turning abstract into actual, in this case giving Cody Wilson’s anarchist views a physical manifestation in the form of a gun that challenges the society around him and has forced an uneasy conversation. Indeed, while the motion of “We can not limit open source design, even when we do not support the consequences” was a good place to start the debate, it felt that the most immediate question being debated by the evening’s end was, “Is Western Democracy still tenable?”

  12. April 30, 2014, 11:30 pm

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  13. May 2, 2014, 2:10 pm

    […] “It’s just money-laundering software,” Wilson said at a debate at the New York Museum of Modern Art. […]