Hacker, Activist Aaron Swartz Commits Suicide
Soyeun Choi stashed this in Fuel for Life
I don't know where to stash this story. It's sad and moving and important.
I knew him. He was a great guy.
Aaron was thoughtful, creative, and one of the smartest people I've ever met.
I hadn't talked with him since last year.
I'm sad that he and I will never talk again.
Aaron's mother wrote on Hacker News, "Aaron has been depressed about his case/upcoming trial, but we had no idea what he was going through was this painful. Aaron was a terrific young man. He contributed a lot to the world in his short life and I regret the loss of all the things he had yet to accomplish. As you can imagine, we all miss him dearly. The grief is unfathomable."
From the Hacker News thread: "Aaron did something that he thought was right, that he truly believed in and that upset a large number of applecarts and that had far reaching implications, had the proverbial book thrown at him and then some. The prospect of significant amounts of jail time (35 years for downloading scientific papers, it shouldn't even be a crime) and/or a felony record must have weighed very heavy on him."
And: "Aaron Swartz did something he knew was morally right but very probably illegal in some way, and, him being a prodigy, I'm very confident he was aware of this. It is called activism, and is a very brave and noble thing to do, something most people don't have the guts for. Governments often try to break activists who threaten their agenda (or in this case, that of a dying industry) and it seems they have succeeded with him, which I find very sad and which makes me so angry."
A reminder of how hard it is to be an activist and fight for what's right.
Also a reminder of some of the challenges of our legal system.
Great essay by Aaron: http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/productivity
Larry Lessig about Aaron Swartz: http://lessig.tumblr.com/post/40347463044/prosecutor-as-bully
"He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you."
Cory Doctorow about Aaron Swartz: http://boingboing.net/2013/01/12/rip-aaron-swartz.html
"The post-Reddit era in Aaron's life was really his coming of age. His stunts were breathtaking. At one point, he singlehandedly liberated 20 percent of US law. PACER, the system that gives Americans access to their own (public domain) case-law, charged a fee for each such access. After activists built RECAP (which allowed its users to put any caselaw they paid for into a free/public repository), Aaron spent a small fortune fetching a titanic amount of data and putting it into the public domain. The feds hated this. They smeared him, the FBI investigated him, and for a while, it looked like he'd be on the pointy end of some bad legal stuff, but he escaped it all, and emerged triumphant."
Cory Doctorow on depression: http://boingboing.net/2013/01/12/rip-aaron-swartz.html
"Whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn't solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever. If he was lonely, he will never again be embraced by his friends. If he was despairing of the fight, he will never again rally his comrades with brilliant strategies and leadership. If he was sorrowing, he will never again be lifted from it."
"Depression strikes so many of us. I've struggled with it, been so low I couldn't see the sky, and found my way back again, though I never thought I would. Talking to people, doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, seeking out a counsellor or a Samaritan -- all of these have a chance of bringing you back from those depths. Where there's life, there's hope. Living people can change things, dead people cannot."
My favorite Aaron Swartz article: http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/dalio
It's about dealing with pain:
When you first begin to exercise, it’s somewhat painful. Not wildly painful, like touching a hot stove, but enough that if your only goal was to avoid pain, you certainly would stop doing it. But if you keep exercising… well, it just keeps getting more painful. When you’re done, if you’ve really pushed yourself, you often feel exhausted and sore. And the next morning it’s even worse.
If that was all that happened, you’d probably never do it. It’s not that much fun being sore. Yet we do it anyway — because we know that, in the long run, the pain will make us stronger. Next time we’ll be able to run harder and lift more before the pain starts.
And knowing this makes all the difference. Indeed, we come to see the pain as a sort of pleasure — it feels good to really push yourself, to fight through the pain and make yourself stronger. Feel the burn! It’s fun to wake up sore the next morning, because you know that’s just a sign that you’re getting stronger.
Few people realize it, but psychological pain works the same way. Most people treat psychological pain like the hot stove — if starting to think about something scares them or stresses them out, they quickly stop thinking about it and change the subject.
The problem is that the topics that are most painful also tend to be the topics that are most important for us: they’re the projects we most want to do, the relationships we care most about, the decisions that have the biggest consequences for our future, the most dangerous risks that we run. We’re scared of them because we know the stakes are so high. But if we never think about them, then we can never do anything about them.
Ray Dalio writes:It is a fundamental law of nature that to evolve one has to push one’s limits, which is painful, in order to gain strength—whether it’s in the form of lifting weights, facing problems head-on, or in any other way. Nature gave us pain as a messaging device to tell us that we are approaching, or that we have exceeded, our limits in some way. At the same time, nature made the process of getting stronger require us to push our limits. Gaining strength is the adaptation process of the body and the mind to encountering one’s limits, which is painful. In other words, both pain and strength typically result from encountering one’s barriers. When we encounter pain, we are at an important juncture in our decision-making process.
Yes it’s painful, but the trick is to make that mental shift. To realize that the pain isn’t something awful to be postponed and avoided, but a signal that you’re getting stronger — something to savor and enjoy. It’s what makes you better.
Pretty soon, when you start noticing something that causes you psychic pain, you’ll get excited about it, not afraid. Ooh, another chance to get stronger. You’ll seek out things you’re scared of and intentionally confront them, because it’s an easy way to get the great rewards of self-improvement. Dalio suggests thinking of each one as a puzzle, inside of which is embedded a beautiful gem. If you fight through the pain to solve the puzzle, you unlock it and get to keep the gem.
The trick is: when you start feeling that psychological pain coming on, don’t draw back from it and cower — lean into it. Lean into the pain.
I am alternating between really sad and really inspired. What's frustrating are the systems that are around to protect us fail and sometimes, fail spectacularly. There really has to be a better way.
I read a lot more today about Aaron than I ever knew:
No system is perfect, so I question whether there CAN be a better way.
Sometimes I think the key to life is resilience. We can always benefit from more resilience.
My heart has been breaking over this since yesterday. He was a terribly bright young man who had already helped to change the world for the better in ways larger than I could ever hope to. I keep deleting my comments elsewhere on the web before posting them.
The harassment by the federal prosecutor should not go unexamined. In pursuing a case such as this, one that even the 'victims' did not support because there was no loss... The unbearable pressure extinguished a light that should've shone on for many years. The loss to us all is incalculable. I'll leave it at that.