Aaron Swartz

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Well yes, obviously it does, but it’s not a sound anyone can appreciate or a sound that can contribute in any way to the rest of the world. It is most certainly a sound, but one without a point.

And with that, if a person has an idea of significance or interest, but keeps it locked up and hidden away, does that idea exist?

Yes, it certainly does, but by keeping that idea behind locked doors, that idea is useless and fails to have a point.

Aaron Swartz committed suicide on Friday. he was 26 years old.

For those like me who didn’t know until they came across the tragic story while browsing the news, Aaron Swartz was a prodigy, a genius, who at the age of 14 co-wrote the script that would change the way we share information on the internet, the RSS feed. He was the co-creator of Reddit and after selling the website, became what the media is referring to as a “Hacktivist”, or in more specific terms, an activist fighting for freedom of information on the internet, who happened to have the technological know how and intellect to actually do something significant about it.

Something about this recent news story struck a chord with me, something I can’t really explain. I’m not sure if it was the fact that someone so young with so much to give could take their own life like that. Or perhaps, it was the more shocking fact that soon became apparent that the US prosecution system would systematically work to take the life of someone so young with so much to give.

At the time of his death, Aaron was facing charges that, if found guilty, could result in millions of dollars in fines and court fees, plus a jail sentence of 35 years or more. Aaron, who was 26, could have been locked away until he was in his sixties.

I don’t care what anyone says, that kind of punishment is as effective, if not worse, then killing a man. You steal away his youth, his freedom, the prime years of his life and release him back into the world an old man.

For some, I would say such a punishment is deserved, for inexcusable crimes such as rape, kidnap, murder.

So what crime had Aaron committed that would cause the US prosecution to try and force such a harsh and defining sentence?

He broke into a closet at MIT, and hacked into it’s computer network, stealing JSTOR articles that were there for public viewing, but for a fee. Aaron planned to publish the articles and make them free.

When he was charged with theft, Aaron returned the data and JSTOR dropped the charges against him. That’s right, the only institution wronged in this situation did not press further charges.

It was the US prosecution that decided to take it further.

A minor crime. Breaking into an unlocked cupboard and stealing files that are available to the public anyway (for a price), which he intended to share with the public for free at no personal gain to himself whatsoever, and then returning those files, and yet someone decides that is a crime worthy of 35+ years in prison.

Yet another reason why some Americans confuse me.

A month before the case was to go to court, Aaron was found dead in his apartment, having committed suicide by hanging.

It’s a tragedy, there is no other word for it. The young genius who had struggled with depression, driven to taking his own life by a fucked up system and a deeper problem in society that needs to be addressed and that I imagine will become Aaron’s legacy.

I’m sorry if I’m unable to be objective and try to consider other point of view here, such as the POV from the US prosecution, became I really am just so riled up and upset about this whole bastard situation.

There are three point I’d like to make, that have been on my mind over the past few days.

First of all, suicide is something you do to yourself. No one forces your hand, it’s a conscious decision and a bad one. In this situation, it was ultimately Aaron who made a choice to end his own life, no matter what other factors drove him to see it as his best option.
There are always other options. You always have a choice. But having been depressed myself in the past and having toyed with the thought of checking out early, despite having other options and having the power to make a choice, it just isn’t that simple.
That’s the thing about depression. Ending your life starts to feel like the best option you have. It is one option of many that exist to you, and the reason people make that choice isn’t because they aren’t aware of the other options. It’s very simply, a conscious decision, that it is the best decision.
We all know it’s wrong and suicide is a tragedy that never loses it’s impact on the people around you. The deeper problem here is addressing that fact. Addressing the fact that people are sad, and are depressed, and not in a grin-and-bare-it kind of way, but in an overwhelming, all consuming kind of way. We have to acknowledge that this sadness exists, that’s it’s not something that can be ignored or brushed aside or forgotten like other kinds of sadness.
The shame and guilt and feeling of isolation that comes with depression is something that needs to be talked about and more widely understood. At the worst points of my own depression, the overwhelming point of shame and guilt was thinking about what a burden I must be to the people around me, and how much better and easier their lives would seem if I was gone. A thought that I know now is wrong, but at the time it was that shame and that guilt that prompted me to be alone as often as possible, to never talk about what I was feeling because I felt so guilty and so ashamed. Which of course, only makes the problem worse.
Society needs to abolish this stigma surrounding mental illness, and the ways people cope with their mental illness; should that be taking anti-depressants, or adopting a lifestyle or sense of self that gives a feeling belonging and a greater feeling of rightness, or whatever else.
Around the world, more focus needs to be given to mental health and the complicated problem it is.

Second point: I used to take a legal studies class and had to drop out because I couldn’t stand it.
Everyone has their own interpretation of what is right and what is wrong. Very often they overlap, but just as often there are huge gaps between what I think is right and what someone else does.
Here is a blog post which I think had the best point of view on this whole situation. If you’re interested in this case as I am, please read it.
In the meantime, I want to quote a line from this article that I liked.

Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash ofACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.

The first thing I thought of when I started reading about Aaron’s legal case, was another case years ago where I don’t think the offender was punished harshly enough.
Do you remember when Chris Brown beat up Rihanna badly enough that she had to be hospitalised?
Cause I sure as fuck do.
That case made me so angry. This mother fucking asshole beats up a woman and is not put in prison, is not given even a tenth of the harshness dolled out towards Aaron Swartz, but is delegated 5 years probation. The fucker is still free, can still work and is still considered a fucking celebrity, and still gets his fucking shitty music in the charts.
This fucker physically abused another human, someone he was in a relationship with, where there should have been some kind of mutual trust and respect, and he put her in hospital.
What does he get for chis crime? five fucking years on probation.
It’s like comparing apples to bricks I know, but it makes me so angry that Christ fuckface Brown was let off with a slap on the wrist for the really fucked up thing he did, and yet someone like Aaron Swartz who was trying to do something good for the public, who hurt no one and gained nothing, who was forgiven by the only people he might have offended, was being faced with the prospect of growing old in jail and losing everything. it truly is, in the most basic definition of the word, absurd.
Excuse me while I beat my own head in with a brick.

My final point is what I imagine will become Aaron’s legacy, which was the seed that planted this forest of a shituation.
If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
We live in an age of information, Information is worth more then money, more then nearly anything. Knowledge is power and thanks to the internet, knowledge is at our fingertips.
Before I learnt how to use the internet, I always loved libraries and encyclopaedias, because they were filled with knowledge that was yours. For free. Knowledge that after a couple of years became outdated, but knowledge all the same.
It was the inevitable passing of time that made the knowledge afforded by books a flawed system. The internet solved that. Information right there to be accessed by anyone who wanted it, that was in real time, updated on the spot, verifiable and free.
Well, “free”.
Because with information becoming the economy it is, that little switch flicked in the heads of some, that little switch that seems built into humans and you have to stay on your toes to turn off.
I’ve ranted before about greed and peoples inability to share, and the more I think about it the more I think I’m right.
It’s this idea that people seem to have, that if someone else has exactly the same as me, then in some way I must be missing out.
If two people have an equal share then one person misses out on having more. Even when there’s an endless supply to go around, it doesn’t matter, because you having the same as me somehow means that I have less then I potentially could.
It’s greed, in other words, the desire to have moremoremore at any cost.
The internet being full of information that everyone can access lights this spark of greed. And so, information gets tucked away and hidden. You have to pay to see it, or you have to be privileged, one of the special elite.
But like the tree in the forest, what is the point of having an idea that no one can see? The idea exists but it achieves nothing. The information is there, but my hiding it in a forest where no one can hear it, how can it ever have the capacity to do any good at all?
Aaron’s legacy is that he fought for freedom of information, and it’s a fight that won’t be silenced by his death.
The root problem here is greed, that somehow by having a monopoly on information you somehow have more, while the rest of the world has less. But there is very simply and inarguable, absolutely no point to this at all.

Rest in peace Aaron. You won’t be forgotten. I hate that it ended like this.

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