New Yorker: Larissa MacFarquhar on Aaron Swartz

"Aaron Swartz was brilliant and beloved. But the people who knew him best saw a darker side." A masterful profile of the late activist, through the testimony of many who loved him, written by Larissa MacFarquhar for The New Yorker.


  1. On an unrelated note, triggered by some of the comments in the linked article: Is that how Americans see themselves, when they use services and go shopping. As “bosses” of the people who assist them?

    I’m asking because American blogs seem to be quite full of stories where customers demand the firing of people or revenge fantasy posts where they wish that a certain so and so should be fired.

    (Not counting cases of actual abuses here.)

    1. I’ve only known a few fellow Americans that felt that way, and they all were either secretly** full of rage and/or the extremely low-class, anti-intellectual type of person that gives people from this country a bad name.

      **That is, I was one of the 2-3 people they’d ever admitted it to; they acted submissively passive-aggressive otherwise.

    2. Isn’t that the simplest way to understand the process?
      I pay the cabdriver and tell them what to do within the context of a cab driving role. When I purchase a tshirt I am telling Hanes of the Klein to turn on their equipment and yell at the workers to do something: a boss by proxy. By purchasing the lowest cost product I am telling them to minimize costs while keeping some quality to the product. I am telling them to keep worker and material costs low.

      How do you see yourself as a consumer?

      1. As someone who offers a contract with no obligation of the other party to accept that contract.  Certainly not as someone who can give orders (in the military sense).   
        A boss, in my view, has direct powers of sanction.  He can write me up, fire me (in acordance with law), tell me what specfic work I should to, etc.And as a freelancer, my customers are certainly not my bosses. They can’t tell me when and where and how I work.  I also declined contracts when I felt like it.I don’t have that freedom as an employed developer (I don’t mind, by the way, because it frees me from work I truly abhor) and *then* I have bosses.
        Perhaps it’s a linguistic difference.  I just noticed that English speakers usually don’t distinguish between a “Bestellung” a waiter to bring a certain menu or Amazon to deliver a certain good) and “Befehl” (ordering a subordinate to to something) 

        1. Most Americans don’t view themselves as a boss when they purchase items. Their particular attitude becomes apparent when an item breaks or they’re ordering food from wait staff. In my t-shirt example Walmart is more in the role of boss, the general public acting as Walmart’s distributed boss(unless Walmart gains monopoly, if it hasn’t already). But just because the meaning of one’s role in a power relationship is forgotten doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. The housekeeper still polishes the silver even if given an honorary title.

          How would one order a slave, befehl or bestellung?

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