I grieve for Aaron Swartz, as I grieve for all who have lost all hope in a world which consistently acts in opposition to our universal humanity.
I grieve, and I feel even more desperately called to action than usual.
But at the same time I have nothing but pity for those who feel the need, so steeped in the grubby brew of capitalist law that the meat boils off their bones, to condemn someone for the 'crime of stealing information' or 'holding information with intent to distribute', to suggest that some sort of justice could ever be served by prosecuting acts that do far more for the public good than they ever could against it. No appeal to convoluted logic or intellectual property rights can justify the warped discretion of those who utilize the law as a mace against the skulls of anyone who dares subvert power.
I wonder: In their never ending quest for a stable, structured society, do the well-meaning champions of law and order ever stop to consider why they share the same goal as the powerful monied interests of the world? Do they understand it is our orderly world that keeps the bulk of the knowledge, the money, and the power amongst the upper echelon, and leaves the destitute to rot away and die in the name of the self-fulfilling prophecy we call "the uneducated masses"?
No, it seems they ramble on about how we need to obey laws.
"Whose laws?" I ask.
"Whose laws are they?"
They're not our laws. We didn't agree to them. We didn't sign the social contract; it was signed for us.
We didn't write, lobby for, commission, support, or ever think we needed the DMCA, SOPA, PIPA, or any of their draconian offspring. But we know who did. We know - just as they do - that information is power, and withholding information, charging for it, is a form of control. So we've told them very politely where they can shove their accumulation of wealth, their lust for power, and their regulation of the most basic necessity of the human mind.
We say the internet should be free; information should be free. This is the lesson we've learned from seeing the medium move from open source, to broken links, to a wasteland of advertising and distraction. But the glory days lasted long enough to where we were able to get a sense of what we had long been lacking in life. We picked the forbidden fruit, ate it, and told all of our friends the location of the tree of knowledge.
And society as we know it did not crumble. In fact, we were all better off for it.
But now the 'cooler heads' are going to tell us not to rush to conclusions, not to tear down what has been created, as if we're just one or two steps away from utopia, and not living in a world where the powers that be destroy those who reveal wrongdoing while paving the way to the top for the wrongdoers. As if Bradley Manning, Jeremy Hammond, Julian Assange, Barrett Brown, and scores of others like them don't exist.
They'll tell us not to blame MIT and the Justice department, and indeed the whole government for being so fucking gung-ho about serving their corporate masters (who view the internet as just the latest medium they must control, so that the rest of us remain the good consumers we've always been taught to be) that they couldn't contain themselves from ruining Aaron's life. But these apologists are wrong. And they're the worst kind of wrong: ethically wrong.
Don't take it from me, listen to his family. They surely understood the weight on his mind better than most. A weight whose burden becomes ever harder to bear as your knowledge increases; as you open your eyes to a nearly unassailable evil. It's all there, if you pay attention and watch the events of each and every day of the year. Ten bad for one good, if we're lucky. And we're not often lucky.
Somehow, on occasions like this the rest of us have to carry on and continue to work toward the goals that elude us. Somehow, we have to manage to find a way to give our grief some meaning, and not be consumed by the disheartening thought that our activism might all be in vain.
Thankfully, every aspect of Aaron Swartz's memory drives us in the right direction.
Update: Jan 15
Regarding Aaron Swartz's depression, I've felt the need to reply on multiple occasions where commentators have taken the usual approaches to the topic.
To those who first think of mental health care, and risk factors to suicide, and of deficiencies and defectiveness:
Do you know what the biggest "risk factor" in Aaron Swartz's life was? His knowledge of the world around him: about politics and history and world affairs, and the motivations and incentives that drive us in today's society.
How does someone who has a strong sense of justice come to terms with a world which is so profoundly immoral – one which consistently rewards the worst of human behavior, while either ignoring or outright punishing the best? How can one continue to remain hopeful that things will change for the better, when nearly everything in our history speaks to the contrary? Not everyone is a Carl Sagan or a Howard Zinn who manages to find the optimism to carry on for a lifetime, all the while staring these horrors directly in the face.
And for Aaron Swartz, when everything he had learned about civilization from Uruk all the way to Washington DC came to bear on him in the most personal way, what was he to think? When he was being punished for a victimless 'crime', and at the same time war criminals and Wall Street thugs were given the highest of honors, how could this be anything other than an affirmation of everything he knew?
Those who refuse to forsake morality for personal gain simply have no place in our society.
But we don't want to see that. We don't want to consider that maybe we are the defective ones, able to continue living under conditions that deny our collective humanity, and euphamize away the gravest of atrocities. That maybe it's only because we close our eyes, or escape into other realities, that we're able to cope with a life that often makes non-existence a more ethical choice than existence.