RIP, Aaron Swartz

Click for ongoing posts about Aaron, his memorial service, his death, and the malicious prosecution brought by the DoJ against him

To the extent possible under law, Cory Doctorow has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to "RIP, Aaron Swartz."

Update: Go read Lessig: "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."

My friend Aaron Swartz committed suicide yesterday, Jan 11. He was 26. I got woken up with the news about an hour ago. I'm still digesting it -- I suspect I'll be digesting it for a long time -- but I thought it was important to put something public up so that we could talk about it. Aaron was a public guy.

I met Aaron when he was 14 or 15. He was working on XML stuff (he co-wrote the RSS specification when he was 14) and came to San Francisco often, and would stay with Lisa Rein, a friend of mine who was also an XML person and who took care of him and assured his parents he had adult supervision. In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts are what matter, and not who you are or how old you are.

But he was also unmistakably a kid then, too. He would only eat white food. We'd go to a Chinese restaurant and he'd order steamed rice. I suggested that he might be a supertaster and told him how to check it out, and he did, and decided that he was. We had a good talk about the stomach problems he faced and about how he would need to be careful because supertasters have a tendency to avoid "bitter" vegetables and end up deficient in fibre and vitamins. He immediately researched the hell out of the subject, figured out a strategy for eating better, and sorted it. The next time I saw him (in Chicago, where he lived -- he took the El a long way from the suburbs to sit down and chat with me about distributed hash caching), he had a whole program in place.

I introduced him to Larry Lessig, and he was active in the original Creative Commons technical team, and became very involved in technology-freedom issues. Aaron had powerful, deeply felt ideals, but he was also always an impressionable young man, someone who often found himself moved by new passions. He always seemed somehow in search of mentors, and none of those mentors ever seemed to match the impossible standards he held them (and himself) to.

This was cause for real pain and distress for Aaron, and it was the root of his really unfortunate pattern of making high-profile, public denunciations of his friends and mentors. And it's a testament to Aaron's intellect, heart, and friendship that he was always forgiven for this. Many of us "grown ups" in Aaron's life have, over the years, sat down to talk about this, and about our protective feelings for him, and to check in with one another and make sure that no one was too stung by Aaron's disappointment in us. I think we all knew that, whatever the disappointment that Aaron expressed about us, it also reflected a disappointment in himself and the world.

Aaron accomplished some incredible things in his life. He was one of the early builders of Reddit (someone always turns up to point out that he was technically not a co-founder, but he was close enough as makes no damn), got bought by Wired/Conde Nast, engineered his own dismissal and got cashed out, and then became a full-time, uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit-disturber.

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.

He also founded a group called DemandProgress, which used his technological savvy, money and passion to leverage victories in huge public policy fights. DemandProgress's work was one of the decisive factors in last year's victory over SOPA/PIPA, and that was only the start of his ambition.

I wrote to Aaron for help with Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother to get his ideas on a next-generation electioneering tool that could be used by committed, passionate candidates who didn't want to end up beholden to monied interests and power-brokers. Here's what he wrote back:

First he decides to take over the whole California Senate, so he can do things at scale. He finds a friend in each Senate district to run and plugs them into a web app he's made for managing their campaigns. It has a database of all the local reporters, so there's lots of local coverage for each of their campaign announcements.

Then it's just a vote-finding machine. First it goes through your contacts list (via Facebook, twitter, IM, email, etc.) and lets you go down the list and try to recruit everyone to be a supporter. Every supporter is then asked to do the same thing with their contacts list. Once it's done people you know, it has you go after local activists who are likely to be supportive. Once all those people are recruited, it does donors (grabbing the local campaign donor records). And then it moves on to voters and people you could register to vote. All the while, it's doing massive A/B testing to optimize talking points for all these things. So as more calls are made and more supporters are recruited, it just keeps getting better and better at figuring out what will persuade people to volunteer. Plus the whole thing is built into a larger game/karma/points thing that makes it utterly addictive, with you always trying to stay one step ahead of your friends.

Meanwhile GIS software that knows where every voter is is calculating the optimal places to hold events around the district. The press database is blasting them out -- and the press is coming, because they're actually fun. Instead of sober speeches about random words, they're much more like standup or the Daily Show -- full of great, witty soundbites that work perfectly in an evening newscast or a newspaper story. And because they're so entertaining and always a little different, they bring quite a following; they become events. And a big part of all of them getting the people there to pull out their smartphones and actually do some recruiting in the app, getting more people hooked on the game.

He doesn't talk like a politician -- he knows you're sick of politicians spouting lies and politicians complaining about politicians spouting lies and the whole damn thing. He admits up front you don't trust a word he says -- and you shouldn't! But here's the difference: he's not in the pocket of the big corporations. And you know how you can tell? Because each week he brings out a new whistleblower to tell a story about how a big corporation has mistreated its workers or the environment or its customers -- just the kind of thing the current corruption in Sacramento is trying to cover up and that only he is going to fix.

(Obviously shades of Sinclair here...)

also you have to read

For his TV ads, his volunteer base all take a stab at making an ad for him and the program automatically A/B tests them by asking people in the district to review a new TV show. The ads are then inserted into the commercial breaks and at the end of the show, when you ask the user how they liked it, you also sneak in some political questions. Web ads are tested by getting people to click on ads for a free personality test and then giving them a personality test with your political ad along the side and asking them some political questions. (Ever see ads for a free personality test? That's what they really are. Everybody turns out to have the personality of a sparkle fish, which is nice and pleasant except when it meets someone it doesn't like, ...) Since it's random, whichever group scores closest to you on the political questions must be most affected by the ad. Then they're bought at what research shows to be the optimal time before the election, with careful selection of television show to maximize the appropriate voter demographics based on Nielsen data.

anyway, i could go on, but i should actually take a break and do some of this... hope you're well

This was so perfect that I basically ran it verbatim in the book. Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues. I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics. His legacy may still yet do so.

Somewhere in there, Aaron's recklessness put him right in harm's way. Aaron snuck into MIT and planted a laptop in a utility closet, used it to download a lot of journal articles (many in the public domain), and then snuck in and retrieved it. This sort of thing is pretty par for the course around MIT, and though Aaron wasn't an MIT student, he was a fixture in the Cambridge hacker scene, and associated with Harvard, and generally part of that gang, and Aaron hadn't done anything with the articles (yet), so it seemed likely that it would just fizzle out.

Instead, they threw the book at him. Even though MIT and JSTOR (the journal publisher) backed down, the prosecution kept on. I heard lots of theories: the feds who'd tried unsuccessfully to nail him for the PACER/RECAP stunt had a serious hate-on for him; the feds were chasing down all the Cambridge hackers who had any connection to Bradley Manning in the hopes of turning one of them, and other, less credible theories. A couple of lawyers close to the case told me that they thought Aaron would go to jail.

This morning, a lot of people are speculating that Aaron killed himself because he was worried about doing time. That might be so. Imprisonment is one of my most visceral terrors, and it's at least credible that fear of losing his liberty, of being subjected to violence (and perhaps sexual violence) in prison, was what drove Aaron to take this step.

But Aaron was also a person who'd had problems with depression for many years. He'd written about the subject publicly, and talked about it with his friends.

I don't know if it's productive to speculate about that, but here's a thing that I do wonder about this morning, and that I hope you'll think about, too. I don't know for sure whether Aaron understood that any of us, any of his friends, would have taken a call from him at any hour of the day or night. I don't know if he understood that wherever he was, there were people who cared about him, who admired him, who would get on a plane or a bus or on a video-call and talk to him.

Because 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.

I'm so sorry for Aaron, and sorry about Aaron. My sincere condolences to his parents, whom I never met, but who loved their brilliant, magnificently weird son and made sure he always had chaperonage when he went abroad on his adventures. My condolences to his friends, especially Quinn and Lisa, and the ones I know and the ones I don't, and to his comrades at DemandProgress. To the world: we have all lost someone today who had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it.

Goodbye, Aaron.

Click for ongoing posts about Aaron, his memorial service, his death, and the malicious prosecution brought by the DoJ against him

(Image: IMG_9892.JPG, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from quinn's photostream)


    1. Cory,
      This is one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever written. Big hug for you my man. The internet lost a son. If anyone personafied the hope that this platform entails it was Aaron. Im sorry that I did not know him and sorry he didn’t allow himself more time on this earth to turn dreams into bytes and bytes into dreams.


  1. I’m very sorry to hear this. Thank you for the remembrance. He sounds like a fascinating person who made a difference in the world in his short time.

    1. My mind reeling at the
      thought of what we have lost in this brilliant articulate young man.  ‘The internet’ did not lose; justice lost.  He was fighting for what was fair and just for
      anyone.  I think we just lost a young man
      that was a combination of the Steve Jobs and Pericles, and modern Democracy is
      what will suffer because of it. RIP Aaron. 

  2. that our official institutions have no place for such sensitive and brilliant minds is a measure of the failure of the american old-paradigm we all are witnessing 

    1. There are official institutions both public and private that try to make a place for minds like Swartz’s, but they’re few and far between in corporate America ca. 2013. In the end, though, some of those minds just can’t stand office life (per Swartz’s words in the Gawker obit) or even the most minimal bureaucratic and corporate intrusions on their work. Which is perfectly fine. For minds like that, there’s usually nothing to do but make their own institutions. It looks like Swartz did just that.

      The true institutional failure witnessed in this sad case is a Federal Justice Department that would allow the rogues gallery of swindlers and money launderers who brought down the global economy to walk free while continually harassing a person whose alleged crime was performed in the public interest and whose alleged victims dropped their own civil cases. It’s an illustration of how seriously messed up this country’s official priorities are.

      1. This is because the freshwater/Chicago school/necoclassical economics, that both parties adhere to in some form or other, basically tells the prosecution that it must have been a external shock that set things in motion. And that the rogues gallery just followed economic “natural” laws in the aftermath. Meaning you can no more punish said gallery than you can punish the storm.

        1. Governmental oppression was not invented by UC law school. A preposterous proposition. We are witnessing it today!! It’s heart rendering that this genius didn’t find his way.

          1. Not what i am claiming either. What i am saying is that the current mainstream (at least in the political sphere) view on economics is more a religion than a science. It is stuffed to the rafters with assumptions that have no basis in empirical observations what so ever. More often than not the supposed laws of economics fly in the face of every day activity of individuals and companies alike. Yet they are used to set policy regarding all things economic.

          2. What he’s discussing has nothing to do with law schools, and everything to do with the economic mindset that informs both parties. That mindset further affects how the government, Dem or GOP, chooses to apply its legal resources: free passes for those who worship at the same altar of neoliberal globalist economics; rough justice for those who dare question it.

          3. Cryptofascists are pretty rough on the populace compared to “neoliberal” globalist economics. I am an old socialist. Is there a neosocialist group I  should join?

        2. I doubt Chicago school Economics encourages govt. intervention as you are claiming. Please watch some Milton Friedman videos.

          1. I’d rather have root canal without anesthesia, thank you. 

            Also, you must be unaware of the role the “Chicago Boys” played in helping the U.S. overthrow Salvador Allende in Chile. I’d call that some major government intervention there.

          2. The “Chicago Boys” were merely Pinochet’s economic advisers, and they had received their training at the UofC via scholarships from the Catholic University of Chile.

            They played no part in the coup that overthrew Allende.

            Ultimately, Pinochet rejected their theories

          3. It does actually, it encourages political oppression to preserve market liberty because they don’t believe that democracy will create a free market. Read Hayek or Friedman. (As Origami_Isopod rightly points out this is why the “Chicago Boys” supported Pinochet.)

          4. When it comes to the state’s aggressive use of the law, the Chicago School economists have always explicitly made an exception for the enforcement of property rights.  In practise, as we saw in Chile and now in the U.S., said enforcement is usually applied in favour of powerful incumbent corporate “persons” and cronies.

    2. Bingo! American society is so alienating to real (sorry to say it) geeks, hackers & outside thinkers it’s stifling.

      R.I.P. Aaron.

  3. I’m sorry for your and everybody’s loss Cory. It is terrible when one has to find the words to describe what you feel about someone in these circumstances. 

    I have recently lost a friend too due to suicide, and the effect on their group of friends is awful, not really knowing why other than their depression. All I know, with a few weeks distance from it, is that we’re all now just checking in that little more regularly with each other. It doesn’t solve or cure anything, but it just might help one of us that bit more in future.

    1. Having read many of the comments contained here, I will add my own. The decision to end his life was Aaron’s decision to make, and no one  (not the author of this piece or any of the commenters) has any standing to pass judgement on Aaron. How can any of you presume to say he should have lived a life suffering from depression while enduring decades of incarceration if that was not his choice? How can anyone accuse someone who has committed suicide of cowardice, selfishness, and stupidity? That IS what I am reading.

      Severe chronic depression is just that. It is not a episode of sadness or a period of weeks or months that must simply be survived. It is pretty much a life sentence in and of itself. ECT is, indeed, a rather barbaric and dangerous procedure, one which statistically helps only a tiny percentage of those who risk it, and one which even today no one can explain why it is sometimes effective. Remember, ECT patients sometimes receive several treatments per week and each treatment requires general anesthesia and a full medical team. I have first-hand experience and have spoken to patients who have received 35 of these treatments with no remission of their symptoms while the docs just keep scheduling new appointments. What a cash cow. Apologists for ECT, please contact me when you can scientifically detail what effect ECT has on the human brain. And, finally, the screening procedures prior to treatment are not the least bit rigorous, possibly because the psychiatrist making the decision to treat is also the one working to keep his program afloat and pay for that vacation home. If you take issue with this statement, you have not been there.

      People who have not experience severe depression and the various treatment methods have no business whatsoever discussing the subject let alone criticizing the poor souls who suffer from it. That includes medical professionals, psychologists self-help authors without personal experience. Write about what you truly know and understand.

      And please, don’t tell tell me what a narcissist the suicide victim was or how selfish he was to be inconsiderate of those who live on. They were spared the suicide victim’s anguish and have their entire lives to learn how to become more forgiving and less judgmental.

      1. Thank you for your  take on this.  Yes, this poor soul suffered from a disease.   We suspect that this is why he took his own life.  That’s all we know, nothing else. 

        My condolences to his family. 

        1. His family attributes his death not simply to depression but to governmental persecution. I do not think it is very respectful to them to gainsay this.

          1.  As we all (should) know, things in life are not all-or-none, or black and white.  Many synergistic forces combine to result in an outcome.  This is especially true of the human condition:  Nature vs. Nurture.  It is not purely one or the other, but rather a complex combination and interplay of both.  What I’m trying to say specifically about Aaron is that the relentless government persecution was probably the trigger and a major cause which combined with his vulnerability and disposition to depression resulted in his “decision”.  And having been there myself, this is not a true “decision” of free will, but rather a fatal outcome, much like that in other conditions such as cancer (which is also a result of genetic and environmental factors, as is depression).  And And actually every human being has these vulnerabilities,  But with a gradation of thresholds of vulnerability.  And actually, in Aaron’s case, it is no surprise that this extreme and relentless government bullying resulted in his downfall.  I’m heart broken for the tragedy of the loss of this young man.

          2. Thank you for this post. I was made much worse working in corporations in IT because of the bullying. Not by IT people. By suits and their molls. I refused to stop advocating for the mentally ill and bullied and, not surprisingly, got laid off over and over. If I had had money I had enough information on 4 companies to call bullying and could have won. Alas, I did not have money and needed the buy out package to survive as a single parent. You get that if you sign an non-disclosure agreement. 

            Bullies from schools become bullies in the work place including the government. My last psychiatrist told me there is no such thing as bullying in the work place or she would know about it. So, no help coping with bullies because there were none and it is my own fault for being fired. I was fired for bad behaviour she said. No, for good behaviour.  It is a damned crisis across the world! Australia and Quebec in Canada have laws against bullying in the work place illegal. Foxcon, in China, had to put nets around the building to keep them from committing suicide. To me, having passed that point, when despair kicks in love of life dies. I am alive for my son, period. 

            I suspect this brilliant man hit the despair point. It does not much matter who bullies you when you are mentally ill. It is painful and sets up anxiety that it will keep happening. The anxiety starts to affect your behaviour and your control over the depression. It is like a vortex that sucks you down kicking and screaming. And you know it will get worse if they ever find out you are ill. They will stick their fingers in the wounds, so to speak.

            I mourn this young man. Geniuses are often bullied and told to stop showing off. A singer can sing and get cheers. A painter can put a single stripe of white on a white canvas and be called a national treasure. The Greatest Living Novelist takes awards. Best field goal record gets all sorts of praise. But god help you if your gift is creative thinking. Being hounded by the government is to be hounded by these kinds of bullies, who deny that it is acceptable for there to be people gifted at thinking and problem solving, 

          3. If a person sees suicide as his only way out and you threaten to incarcerate him in an environment where he would not be able to take his own life, you are creating desperate circumstances that may make suicide more likely. I don’t know if this was the case with Aaron, but actions do have consequences.

      2. A prisoner cannot see outside the prison. However, outsiders are still allowed to debate how to help the prisoners. Even if the prisoners disagree, and even if well meaning attempts to help fall short. 

        One thing I agree with you on is that the current medical system, the medical knowledge out there, and the entirety of psychiatry falls catastrophically short of its goals. We are in the stone ages as far as understanding of these conditions is concerned. The entire psychiatric system is a slow death spiral of pills and hocus pocus science that doesn’t work. I was of this opinion before I had a very personal experience with it, and I am now more convinced than ever before.

        Very rarely, the chronically depressed escape their predicament before they take that last step; it’s very rare; very special. And I would urge anybody to listen to what these people have to say. Both Eckhart Tolle (was about to kill himself) and Byron Katie (clinical depression for over 10 years) fall in this category. 

        R.I.P Aaron; I’ve followed your exploits for over 10 years and I am truly sad to have lost a champion of internet freedom.

        1. Currently, 30% of people who are treated with therapy and drugs are not helped at all. I so agree with you about psychiatrists. I have worked with 6 psychiatrists not one of whom keeps up on the science or the drugs. This includes the head of a ward and the head of the education department for psychiatry in the other main hospital. The last one dumped me when she realized that I was right that she was making me worse.

          I have my hopes set on Neurology given what we now know. Mental illness is caused by gene expressions and life experience, particularly childhood and the teen years. Horrific events can cause it in otherwise stable people like losing your home in a fire or being in the military in the Middle East. Like PTSD; which is not always treated successfully. The only good therapists I had were psychologists, 2 of them. Alas, health care plans limit visits no matter how sick you are.

      3. Thank you. My heart was breaking for Aaron. 30 % of people diagnosed with depression never get well. Some pharmaceuticals are going to stop looking for new chemicals because nothing is ever good for everyone. 1 in 5 people is mentally ill right now and 1 in 4 will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Yet health care plans, assuming the ill person has one, do not pay for adequate treatments. The entire educated world knows that the combination of drugs and therapy work best and that some people will always need therapy just to keep going. 

        I am one of the ones who has found no help in prescription medication or therapy. I have learned that psychiatrists should be kicked to the curb for not keeping up with research, for assuming that a patient is a moron with no understanding and for getting bent out of shape when disagreed with. 40+ years of looking for help for nothing. When I am suicidal it is because of my brain chemicals and connections not because I reason my way to it. It just is and the mind set is that I would rather die than live with this pain any longer. It is to stop the chaos and fear of more years of this. My reasoning mind says that is bunk but my reasoning mind has no ability to overwhelm the horrors. 

        No one who has never been trapped inside can possibly understand the desire to die because their own brain does not tell them to die and stop the pain. Trying to define such a state to those who have not been there is like trying to describe the affects of large doses of acid, No way to do so. It is a different mind set. There is no way to determine what Aaron was running from other than mental anguish. That should be enough to generate compassion for this brilliant and broken young man. We do not need to know or understand. We need to feel and remember to be supportive of others even if we do not understand. Don’t blow them off as selfish. What happens in the brain of seriously depressed individuals precludes the able to stay with your values when your mind is being torn apart. 

        1. I love your passion about the subject, and your compassion. Thank you for expressing your wisdom on this subject – it is one that needs to be viewed on the outside and inside in order to really see the bigger picture. In recent weeks with the gun control issue at the forefront, I was surprised that there were not more calls for increased mental health care. Thank goodness we are not in the 1950’s, but I would have hoped we would be further along with acceptance, and treatment by now. Blessings. 

      4. I don’t get the sense that he was in an inordinate amount of pain, in his writings. Of course it is always “there” when we focus on it, and his intense focus on other things may have been partly to avoid staring down the abyss. One can not hide from it forever though. Perhaps by traveling down it he sought to solve its riddle, as he solved so many others. I wish him well on his journey.

  4. Aaron sounded like a brilliant young man. Passionate, committed and capable people of any age are an all-too rare phenomenon in this bad old world and we can ill-afford losses like this. My condolences to his family and friends. 

  5. Why was the government prosecuting this young man as if he were a criminal? I can find nothing he violated in the law of Moses.

      1. What is needed is to name those pursuing Swartz, the Times does this for one of them,  Carmen M. Ortiz. We need to petition the White House asking for an explanation and condemning the Department of Justice and Ms. Ortiz (who will probably want to be a judge at some time in the future). It would be a fitting memorial if we could get 25K+ signatures.

    1. I agree with your first sentence, but “the laws of Moses” are a crappy basis for the law in a modern, secular country. 

  6. I did not know of Aaron before I read this article, but as someone who has suffered from and seen the effects of depression, I can relate very much to some of the things you have written here.  My condolences to a complete stranger and fellow human being.

  7. I am very sorry for your loss Cory.  He sounds like a fascinating young man who accomplished much.  

  8. What a beautiful eulogy Cory.  I’m sorry for your loss and for what ultimately sounds like our loss as well.  I’m glad to know he existed and I’m sad to know he felt existing wasn’t worth it anymore.  Hopefully he’s found some peace.  I wish the same for his friends and family.

  9. “Because whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn’t solve them.”
    In fact, it did solve them — for him.

    The problem Aaron was facing was that he was experiencing unrelenting, unremitting pain so great, so impossible to comprehend unless you have been there, that there was no other logical way to end it.

    The pain of full-blown clinical depression dwarfs the worst physical pain.

    It’s not even close.

    Because it’s not just painful but frightening to have your world literally collapse in on you, with nowhere to turn, no respite, 24/7.

    There is a reason why Woolf, Foster Wallace, and uncounted others have chosen suicide: it is the only thing that will stop the pain.

    I have never been able to explain to the satisfaction of someone who has not been profoundly clinically depressed why suicide is a perfectly logical and appropriate response.

    I fear I never will.

    1. Suicide is a “logical and appropriate response” if you agree that succumbing to a brain dysfunction is worth the devastation it inflicts on the people around the suicider. 

      While the pain from depression can be unbearable, considering suicide as an acceptable “solution” ignores the millions of men and women who’ve come back from the edge of the cliff and rebuilt their lives with the help of ECT, psychoactive drugs, cognitive-behavioral therapy, etc.

      For the sake of lives other than your own, I hope you reconsider your position.

      1. I’m not defending the point of view of the first poster. But I do need to point out that in order to understand suicide, you can’t simply treat it as irrational. There are known characteristics of people that commit suicide and there is some insight into how suicidal people think. One of the things that is known is that suicide is a problem solving behavior from the point of view of the individual. If you are in emotional anguish, far beyond what your coping skills can help you with, then suicide will appear to be a solution. And that solution can be a comfort which will allow you to stop trying to build up your coping skills.

        While I commend you for remembering the survivors of suicide, I think you have failed to see it from the point of view of the individual contemplating or committing it. The way you have expressed yourself about therapies and impacts reflects this. You are looking at another person and saying that their suicidal thoughts are problematic and should be fixed like you would if they had a broken wrist. It doesn’t work that way. Intense and excruciating depression is not going to allow a person to abstractly look at their problems and solve them like you are suggesting. And trying to shame them by making them feel bad about their potential impact might even be counterproductive (meaning that I don’t recommend you try to shame a suicidal person–think of it the way they will think of it).

        I also think that you shouldn’t be recommending ECT because it is a method to intentionally cause brain damage. In 20 years it will be looked at the same way as lobotomies.

        1. Thanks for your well thought-out response. It’s true that suicide appears to be a reasonable problem-solving strategy for a person with suicidal ideation (and is successful at removing pain), but from perspectives outside the suffering individual, it is the most drastic and destructive therapy available.

          My list of treatment options wasn’t to recommend fixing suicidal thoughts like a broken wrist. Instead, I didn’t want persons suffering from severe depression to believe that suicide is a thorough or expedient option to end their suffering. It isn’t. It transfers the suffering from the individual onto the greater world, and leaves a void instead of healing anyone involved.

          My goal wasn’t to shame anyone considering thoughts of suicide, and if anyone reading my original post feels as though I’m marginalizing or stigmatizing their very real feelings, I apologize. I have been majorly depressed several times in my life, and have helped my father through a period of his own suicidal ideation. Given that we’re both alive today, my goal was to show that there is hope, and ending your life isn’t the only option.

          Thanks for the warning about ECT. I know that it’s an option for severely depressed patients, but I haven’t done enough research to weight its risks and benefits.

          1. Instead, I didn’t want persons suffering from severe depression to believe that suicide is a thorough or expedient option to end their suffering. It isn’t. It transfers the suffering from the individual onto the greater world, and leaves a void instead of healing anyone involved.

            Right from your point of view, but from the point of view of the individual, the problem is solved. The best treatment, IMHO, is to help a suicidal person cope and let them know (with evidence) that their coping skills are improving and can overcome their emotional turmoil. I also would hope that other people learn how to help suicidal people. Allowing a depressed person to self-isolate is too common these days. It is tough to talk to a depressed person–I get it, and so does the depressed person. This is probably the first reason they self-isolate: they feel other people can’t stand to be around them. And people also need to know that the initial recovery from a depression is the most dangerous time (because the person finally has the energy to do things).

            A suicidal person doesn’t want to hear people talk about hope and temporary conditions. They want concrete answers–how to have enough energy to take a shower or wash the clothes or even to make their dinner–how to deal with the shame and feeling that friends and family are disappointed–how to be able to focus and concentrate for 10 seconds–how to have enough energy to get out of bed, and how to stop the nightmares.

            I should note that I’m not a mental health professional. I’m just a person who has and has had a host of mental health issues, and I have done my research. Take what I say with a grain of salt, but also note that almost all of it comes from personal experience.

          2. Just to pitch in here. ECT is a reconised medical intervention for medication resistant depression. As  a medical practitioner i have personal knowlage of it having saved the lives of some very ill people. 

          3. Their problem is solved (if successful – if not, life can become more complicated), but there still is a personal cost – the cost of experiencing the rest of their life and everything that goes along with it.

            Someone close to me often feels suicidal and will sometimes quietly ask me to call and we’ll easily be on the phone for 4-6 hours straight talking about the situation. When talking in some of these instances, the focus of the thoughts that lead to the suicidal feeling is awfully narrow. In the “right” state of mind, rejection by a single individual can stand in for rejection by the entire human and animal population of the world. Because one grocery store has too many people and is anxiety producing on a Saturday afternoon, it’s not worth going to any grocery store at any day or time.
            She is extremely smart, but it’s clear her normal logic is no where to be found when on the edge of suicide. But I’ve also noticed that at times, throwing everything away is one of her only way of thinking about solving problems – i.e. a lack of coping mechanisms as others have noted. Some people know they need to teach a kid to tie their shoes, read or program, but don’t realize they need to teach their kids to deal with emotions.

            I personally really like Heathervescents take on this idea:

          4. Please, there are many types of depression and the treatments are countless.
            Claiming that ECT is X or Z should be done in a proper place.
            These treatments have a huge imact in people”s health and lives and there are many theories.
            According to Peter Breggin ECT…
            No. This is not the place to discuss treatments.
            Depression is a word that lost it’s real meaning and we don’t even say anymore I’m sad.” We say “I’m depressed.
            Let’s focus on Aaron. It’s more ethical.

          5. As someone who has had ECT and benefited greatly from it, I second the warning about ECT and suggest anyone considering it to do their research. It’s not for everyone; in fact, candidates for the procedure are carefully screened and most are turned down. 

            ECT saved my life. I am not brain damaged from it. While I still have to cope with the cycles of Bipolar II, I have not descended into suicidal ideation, self-harm, nor been hospitalized since the treatments. I have not required a med change in nine years. 

            For me, it was my last hope, the last chance I had to break free of the soul destroying depression and pain that drove me to think I should end my life. I knew the risks and I took them because I just couldn’t believe the lies depression was telling me. It sat on my shoulder and whispered, “You’re useless, worthless, ugly, stupid, unwanted, unloved, alone…” I am none of those things and never was. The ECTs helped me stop those lies. 

            I don’t regret the ECTs; I’m alive. I still have issues — mental and physical — that make life challenging. I’m permanently disabled but not due to the ECTs. I’m as clear-headed as I’ve ever been; more so, in fact, now that I’m no longer dogged by debilitating depression. 

            I know I’m lucky. I also know it takes more than ECT to turn a life around. It may take meds, CBT, talk therapy, support groups, etc. It takes work, hard work, commitment, dedication, and belief in one’s self. 

            And before you say, “Oh, it’s easy for you to say…”, I’ve been on this road now for seventeen years. It’s not easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and remains a work in progress. But it’s easier now because of the ECTs, because the voice of depression remains muted, because I’m alive to do the work, because my life — this quirky, flawed roller coaster — is worth living.

            As I said, ECT is not for everyone nor does it work every time. But don’t dismiss it. It may be a risk worth taking.

          6. I recognize ECT works. So do lobotomies. The problem is that the treatment can be worse that the disease. In your case, you have come to the conclusion that ECT saved your life and you voluntarily consented to it. That is fine. However, you can’t discount the evidence of cognitive impairment and memory loss caused by ECT. It fixes some mental disorders by causing brain damage. It is as simple as that.

            If a person is fully informed* and voluntarily consents to damaging their brain to try to treat a mental illness, then I’m fine with it, much as I am with cutting the corpus callosum for a patient with incurable seizures. But I don’t think ECT should it ever be given involuntarily or to a child. I bring up the involuntary point because there are many loopholes that have been used to get past state bans against a patient’s wish not to suffer brain damage. In at least one of those cases, a judge threw out a state law that banned involuntary use.

            * By fully informed, I mean that the patient has been informed on all research on indicated brain damage, IQ loss, cognitive dysfunction (like being unable to read or write at the previous level they had), and memory loss. It cannot be a simple 5 minute consultation.

          7. @   bzishi

            As I said, ECT is not for everyone nor does it work every time. There are risks. Even a simple root canal has risks. Do the research, ask questions, decide if it’s worth it. Chances are you won’t pass the screening process. 

            I agree the treatment should be voluntary and the patient given a full consultation, as I was. 

            Yes, there are side effects. I experienced some short-term memory loss in the weeks following the ECTs. It resolved within a month. That was my experience; I cannot speak for others.

            Nor will I use anecdotal and uncited accounts of “brain damage” to frighten people away from a proven method of treatment for severe cases of depression. Let them do the research and make their own informed decisions.

          8. I had ca. 18 ECT treatments in 1973 for severe depression, and have complete amnesia for a lot of stuff that happened before then, even today. However, I agree that if careful (and sensitive) screening indicates that ECT would make a person at least able to function and enjoy some of life, then it is appropriate. I would never recommend it as a treatment without a clear understanding of that proviso.

            I hope you continue to benefit from the treatment, and thank you for your sane comments here.

          9. I am glad you are doing better.

            Unfortunately, the current state of psychiatric treatment requires that sufferers must make tradeoffs. The side effects of SSRIs are well known, but I will likely be on them for life, because the side effects are better than depression. ECT shouldn’t be undergone lightly, but it does seem to have its place for the moment.

          10. Another thing to keep in mind is that the term “depression” is really a vague catch-all for a number of syndromes which may have completely unrelated root causes. The term “depression” generally just describes a set of symptoms since a definite root cause is very rarely identified (for example, depression based upon a hormonal imbalance). Bipolar depression and severe chronic depression are two separate diagnoses with different symptoms and most likely different root causes. It should be clear that virtually all medical approaches to depression are really designed to mask or eliminate the external symptoms at the cost of possibly irreversible changes to the brain or an array of pharmaceutical side effects that are sometimes worse than the original symptoms (and sometimes negligible).

            Another issue regarding ECT is that while it may not be common that anyone is legally forced to undergo ECT, they are often coerced into agreeing to it in order to avoid being confined against their will or to escape from confinement.

            It is also interesting to see that many people seem to be saying that depressed individuals are not capable of making rational decisions regarding suicide but are still somehow capable of deciding whether or not to undergo a major medical procedure like ECT. I submit that statistically ECT is just as likely to cause permanent memory loss as it is to relieve depression.

            If ECT was really safe and effective, programs offering the treatment wouldn’t be so few and far between. Practitioners and advocates of ECT present statistics to show that ECT has helped a small percentage of depressed patients, but they have no scientific data to explain why it works, which patients it is likely to help, and what effect it has on the brain. It has its roots in trial and error experiments conducted during some very dark times in medical research. It has been in use for 75 years and still cannot be explained.

        2. ECT is a tool. Improperly used, it may cause severe damage. This is true of almost any tool. Be careful, be humble, measure the costs and benefits as accurately as you can.

      2. Greatwhiteshark, I think you need to re-read bookofjoe’s statement. He’s not taking a “position”on suicide, but rather explaining just how harrowing suicidal ideation is that it would make killing one’s self feel like the only solution.

        Suicide doesn’t end a person’s troubles. It just ends the person experiencing those troubles. So yes, your point that suicide doesn’t end someone’s troubles is correct. On that aspect, I do disagree with bookofjoe.

      3. he was to be facing decades in prison.
        But then did he really kill himself….recall the DC madam who went on Alex Jones radio sayong she would never kill herself… and then was found hanging…

    2.  But the thing about profound depression that those who are not experiencing it can, and need, to point out is that it is not necessarily a permanent state.  When one is seriously depressed it can seem impossible to imagine things changing, and that is why suicide seems like a good option…  but for many the feeling of hopelessness and pain do pass.

      Those who have suffered serious depression and come out the other side do not regret that they did not kill themselves.  And, speaking personally, I know that only the rational knowledge that my feelings will change, although they do not feel as if they will, has allowed me to survive suicidal depression.

      I can understand why depression might have led this young, talented, man to take his own life.  But it would have been infinitely better if he had been able to find another way to resolve his pain.  Cory’s message that Aaron did have friends, good friends, who cared about him and would have gladly been there for him is an important one.  Death is a solution, but it is not a good solution. 

      1. Although “not necessarily a permanent situation” does not mean “will not be a permanent situation.”

        And for some people, they’re not willing to take the gamble of living an indefinite amount of years suffering on the slim hope that it might get better.  Sure, the ones who came through the other side may not regret it, just like the people who stuck through a failing business and managed to make it successful are glad they didn’t quit, but the ones who stuck through it and still failed, they just suffered longer. 

        If you’re in that state of depression, the pointing out that “oh, it probably won’t last forever” and platitudes like “it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem” often don’t feel like encouragement and more like mocking, or at the very least someone who doesn’t “get it” (even if they themselves claim to have gotten through it).

        Now, I certainly think it’s fair to point out that it’s something you can’t undo, and that it CAN get better, especially if you have specific things that might help in their situation, and that there are people who deeply care about the person (particularly if you’re one of them, otherwise it risks ringing a little hollow) who would be devastated if they went through with it, but I don’t like the attitude that it is an absolutely unreasonable choice to make, the act itself a failure… sometimes the battle for happiness was lost long before and there was nothing else to do about it but pain management and deciding what level of suffering (even if it’s just mental) is too much for you to want to continue with.

    3.  Logical, yes. Anybody who’s been deeply clinically depressed will likely agree with you there. Appropriate? No. Suicide is one way, a logical way, but it’s not the best way or even a good way. It is also not the “only thing” that will stop the pain. There are other options, not so fast, not so immediate, not so guaranteed, but infinitely better in that the choice of life brings with it a future and all the possibilities it holds. In suicide, possibility disappears.

      1. Your comment about there being answers that are “not so immediate” implies that you think the people who commit suicide are just giving up early rather than spending the time required to actually get better.

        So here’s the thing — someone can spend decades trying to find solutions to the pain, and failing. Behavioral therapy, drugs, ECT, whatever, there have been people that have put huge amounts of effort into stopping the pain, and failed.

        At some point, is it not reasonable to come to the conclusion that suicide *is* the only (reasonable) way to stop the pain?

        Yes, you can never exhaust every single possibility for relief, but you can certainly exhaust all the normal ones and large numbers of uncommon ones. And every time a solution fails, that’s one fewer potential solutions left, so the odds of finding a solution that works get smaller and smaller.

        Many people won’t play the lottery because the cost (even if just a dollar or two) is too much compared to the minuscule chance of a positive outcome. And that’s just $1. Nobody thinks that not playing the lottery is unreasonable. Yet, if the cost is “unbearable pain,” it’s unreasonable to stop playing, even as the odds of success dwindle?

        Deciding when that trade-off isn’t worth it is a personal decision, both for the lottery and for these… heavier issues. It isn’t anyone else’s to make. Yes, someone you care about will cause you pain if they commit suicide. But it isn’t really your place to tell them that they should spend years or decades suffering just to save you the pain of their death.

        None of this makes the current situation any better, mind you. And surely, suicide is always a tragedy. But please don’t discount the suffering that he may have had to endure before coming to this. Sometimes someone has been through more suffering than you could possibly imagine.

    4. Yes, very sad to say, suicide is an act aimed at ending pain.
      There are a few other steps on the way here that should be mentioned.
      Alienation – numbness or not feeling anything.
      Unfortunately absorption in the abstract technical domain of the internet can seem to be the thing to lift a person out of their depression, but it isn’t in itself sentient. It can act as an avenue for escape from feeling, from painful feeling, as much as a receptacle perceived as full of hope.
      I imagine this is what Aaron Swartz was doing: alternately escaping into ‘internet space’ to escape pain and then imbuing it with all his human hope for some satisfying (ideal) form of contact.
      There is much to say about this.
      The internet is an new medium, it is a new form by which people may may contact, and it may take part in new or innovative ways in which people organise themselves. Look at Cory’s quote from Aaron Swartz above.
      But the internet is also a vehicle through which people are exploited and manipulated (more, less, different) as other media.
      And it is highly conformist – working with technology demands conformity at many different levels.
      This is an important point because people such as Aaron Swartz who have a passion to create something different on a social level are really just using the internet as a facilitating tool. That tool is very demanding, but such people (not to single him out, but as an example as I am on his blog, I would think Cory Doctorow is one such) need help through some form of reinforcement not to lose sight of the human social aspect their endeavor. In few words, the internet can overwhelm the human dimension and the human dimension in a person’s life should be available to them irrespective of the internet domain.
      And, where we are talking about depression there is the difficulty of admitting that emotional pain has a lot to do with a denial of feeling, which is a fight against oneself and one’s own vulnerabilities. It is about many other things too. The many details are personal to everyone.
      There is much else that can be said here, too.
      An aspect that I am interested in is the difference between scientific and technical endeavor and our own personal endeavor which can also be thought of scientifically, but a science of human compassion, not of experiment and metrics. Of gain, but not of profit.

  10. I never met the chap, but I’m crying. It is clear that the actions he was persecuted for were done in the name of freedom of knowledge and ‘the people’. It is also clear this is a personal tragedy for all who knew him. This has reminded me to contact a friend who lost her son and arrange a meet. Grief is horrible but necessary to honour those we loved and respected.

  11. I am so sorry for your loss, Cory. That someone who accomplished so much ended his life at such a young age is a loss to us all. As I read the list of his accomplishments and exploits, again and again my mind flashed to “oh, he’s *that* guy.” Heck, I first read this sad news in an RSS feed.

    More importantly, your obituary was just as filled with honest compassion as it was with information about Aaron Swartz. I am certain you have provided his family with a great deal of pride and comfort under the worst circumstances imaginable.

    Given the nature of this man’s friends and acquaintances, and given their suspicion that an unrelenting “let’s make an example of this disruptive geek” government prosecution played a part in his dreadful decision, I have a feeling a lot of brain power and activist passion is about to be applied to ensure that this never happens again.

  12. Part of what makes the prosecution so enraging is that academics are nearly universal in wanting their work to be freely publicly accessible.

      1. You mean, like the academics, whose work is taken for free by the journals, which holds their careers hostage, and who demand a full assignment of copyright (something no professional writer would countenance for a mere magazine publication) as a condition of publication, and THEN charge fortunes the institutions that employ those academics, and that paid the academics’ salaries while they produced the work that the journals got for free, for access to the material that they paid to have produced?

        If there is any more blatant group of something-for-nothing grabby and entitled ripoff artists than the journal publishers, I have yet to meet them. They make military contractors look restrained and honest.

        1. Yes.  There is one step I might take further, though.  At *least* the blatant  rip-off artists that are the journal publishers are cynically operating in their own (criminal) interest.  Oh, publicly, they carry on about how they’re for the progress of intellectual research, etc., but of course they’re for-profit entities trying to figure out how to take advantage of the system for their own profit.

          However, the legal system behind them, the justice department, and the government that enforces their policies in the name of copyright law are supposed to be of, for, and by the people.  That’s what it says in the USA’s founding documents.  So, even though the justice department may not be *quite* as much a bunch of blatant ripoff artists as the scams that are the journal publishers, it’s the legal system that’s supposed to hold the ripoff artists in check, and yet that legal system is acting as the enforcement arm for the ripoff artists.  This is almost worse.  Yes, it’s gravity that is ultimately responsible for you hitting the ground when you fall, but you have to be a little annoyed when the net that was supposed to catch you instead decides to help gravity push you down

    1. Another part of what makes the prosecution enraging is that Eric Holder and company decide who to prosecute for white collar crimes based purely on how much political “juice” the alleged criminals have and not the damage their alleged crimes do.  

  13. Touching tribute, thanks for this Cory.

    This has been rankling me since morning, I did not know him personally but only as someone who co-founded Reddit, co-authored RSS etc. 

    Here is the think though, the powers indict him for downloading journals, academic journals for gods sake!, and let HSBC off the cuff after they colluded with criminals and laundered money. Disgustingly ironic I tell you…

  14. I don’t know for sure whether Aaron understood that any of us, any of his friends, would have taken a call from him at any hour of the day or night. I don’t know if he understood that wherever he was, there were people who cared about him, who admired him, who would get on a plane or a bus or on a video-call and talk to him.

    From the point of view of everyone else, suicide is a problematic behavior. But from the point of view of the individual, suicide is a problem-solving type of behavior. That is why suicidal people self-isolate and don’t call the people they know will listen. Someone who commits suicide has decided that the entire idea of coping is not enough, so calling someone to cope is useless. It is a distorted view, but people who are extremely suicidal talk this way. I don’t think you should conclude that the failure of this man to contact you or his friends indicated that he was unaware that you or other friends would try to help him. Nor should any other suicide survivor. Suicide is so difficult to deal with because when the problem is the worst, the person will be the least likely to try to get help and may instead decide that help is impossible.

    My condolences for your friend. He had an impressive life.

    1. I’m sure it appears and probably is to an extent selfish to the people left behind.  However, if you had a friend who was in undeniable, excruciating physical pain 24/7 with no hope in sight? What if he’d sought all the medical help (well known, best there is help) but the pain and agony just could not be stopped…..would you blame him, and think him selfish? Now think….what if by the sheer act of will this person, in spite of the pain could for bits of time, smile, entertain, be a goof and do great works?  Does it make a difference?  Not to me.  I’m dealing with this and very few know.  Don’t blame this brilliant young man.  He didn’t do it TO you, he just could not see any other way to escape the unrelenting anguish, and there is nothing you as his friend or family could have done or said to “fix” things for him, even if he’d asked.

      1. Thank you. 

        I understand how difficult suicide is on survivors, as I have lost a few friends that way, but the person who suffers the most is the person who ends his or her own life. Calling the person “selfish” is, IMO, a selfish act itself.

  15. He’s not the only one struggling to find his place. Many of us are. I’m a frustrated writer. I know what I need to do. I can’t seem to do it. I go through funks. I go through rages. And perhaps, I sometimes forget I have friends and family.

    Aaron sounds like the coolest kind of person there is: whip smart, unassuming, wanting to make a difference and restless enough to keep moving from thing to thing to find the one that helps the most people. I’m sorry he is gone, because the world needs more people like him, not fewer. May death grant him the peace he did not find in life.

  16. Godspeed, Aaron. 

    Having dealt ad-nauseum with the inanities and venalities of the academic publishing world, I have found myself torn about his exploits. This is not the place or time to bat it all around.

    We’ll probably never really know what drove him to this. But I, for one, consider him a victim of a rigid, self-enriching establishment and overzealous federal  gnomes looking to advance their careers by focusing on easy scores with highly suspect points of draconian law. Just because something is  “law”, it doesn’t make it right or moral. 

    A real tragedy.

  17. As a former sysadmin at MIT, I was very curious about this case and eager for the facts to come out, and I guess they can, but not like this. Definitely not like this. I also had the job of chasing intruders out of a segment of MIT’s network (fairly light duty, actually), and having been there I should state this publicly: 

    These over the top prosecution of nuisance intrusions makes sysadmins like me highly reluctant to initiate communication with the feds. The threat of criminal prosecution was enough to make Mr. Swartz back off from his actions. That’s why MIT and JSTOR backed off. Someone at DOJ decided to keep going, and he just made life harder for federal investigators in countless other cases, who will not be getting that first phone call from a sysadmin. 

      1. If she ever runs for office, I will personally start the Citizens for the Frustration of Carmen Ortiz’s Ambitions PAC and support her opponent. 

  18. I am very sorry to read about the loss of an extraordinary guy whose name I did not know, but from who work I have clearly benefited. Rest in an easier peace.

  19. What a punch in the gut to wake up to. I only ever knew Aaron online, and while it’s been a few years since I had last chatted with him, it seemed like just yesterday when I read the news.

    Much has been said about the JSTOR incident, to which I will add only this: if, in the end, Aaron’s greatest fault was that he possessed more intelligence and passion than judgement, is that not better than can be said of most of us? The law does not prohibit being vain or greedy or cruel, yet I never knew Aaron to be any of these things. The same could not be said for many people who are treated as praiseworthy by the law and our society.

    The world is a better place for having had Aaron in it, if only for a short – too short – while.

  20. Cory: I share your pain, and frustration at the fact that depressed people cannot see the many friends they have who are willing to help, to support, to share, and to offer a shoulder and a hand.

    That’s the vile and pernicious thing about depression; it makes the pain seem utterly normal, the natural way of life, and it makes even trying to imagine a different way of being is exhausting, futile, and a contemptible waste of mental energy.

    I am taking the largish liberty of sharing this piece I wrote about a close friend, another brilliant and accomplished man in his 20s, who succumbed to a likely mix of depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and other complications at the age of 44. Reading your loving post about Aaron, the similarities just leapt at me.

    If you prefer to keep this on Aaron, feel free to moderate this comment. Otherwise, here it is:

    1. As someone who has tried suicide only to be brought back by doctors, there is no real treatment for depression. The pills at best work for 30% of us. Therapy has been shown to be of even less value. Friends and lovers eventually result to “just snap out of it”. You are inevitably going to find out I am alone and life is pointless. It is unavoidable for those of us who actually look at the world clearly. Depression is just honesty.

      1. I kow what you mean AMericandreamscape. But there’s a further trtuth I find more meaingful: there is more than Only One perspective. You have to get better at carrying more-than-one simultaneously. It’s honest, but it’s no the only truth. There is another/are other perspectives also, and it’s learning to live within a balance of these all which is the trick to a painless or less painful life. It is tempting to feel that the one truth we know so well, so best, is the The truth, the sole truth, and it’s a trap to be lured into that — they’re all just perspectives, each and every one of them, though we resonate with some more than others. train your mind to see as many perspectives as possible on the same take of reality, and you expand your consciiusness to bigger truths, more plural realities, and you’re still in there somewhere, but less desolated <3

  21. What a sad and tragic loss. Thank you for your post and for raising more awareness about the severe impact that depression can have. It’s a topic that needs more awareness and less secrecy. My thoughts go out to you, Aarons family and his friends. 

  22. In reading this, I notice how much good he did and what a huge influence he was and could have continued to be over the years.  Seems like he made a powerful enemy of the government.  Sorry I find it hard to believe it was suicide – with someone this young who had so much ambition, it really strains credibility.

  23. I see. < script src = “ad-1.js” rel = “” >< /script >

    I like the idea. My apologies to the loss of your friend. Thank you for sharing.

  24. I met Aaron Swartz last Summer, when he was a guest on the 8/15/12 episode of Off the Hook. (edit: he appears starting at 22:47 in the file.)  He was entirely brilliant and it was a real pleasure speaking with him on and off the air, and I took the opportunity to thank him in-person for RSS.

    I’d always hoped we’d talk again sometime.

  25. i guess.. it was not about..

    “I don’t know for sure whether Aaron understood that any of us, any of his friends, would have taken a call from him at any hour of the day or night. I don’t know if he understood that wherever he was, there were people who cared about him, who admired him, who would get on a plane or a bus or on a video-call and talk to him.”
    “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”

    it is about being right in contact of someone who understands you whoever or whatever u are.. this understanding is not about saying “Yes.. ” / “I am here with you” .. etc. it is about being there, physically and/or mentally, with the person and sharing every situation for days… or years… it is about a bond. it is knowing, if i go away.. there is someone else who does not deserve to see me going… or solving the problem in this way. There is someone, who deserves a different step than this……..

    Finally, it is that, my existence is worth not to be faced/remembered by people in this way.

    Aaron missed that Someone / Something, and got messed up with the goal.

    i have tried suicide 2 times. and i have done a lot of introspection on each millisecond’s thoughts before the final action.. and those milliseconds.. in the process…. untill i decided, to let someone be in any proximity. if there was a 5 mins delay… i wd not be here.

    I have known a lot about depression and other stuff. People do break down.. at times, real badly, into pieces.. it is only on that person to collect those pieces and find attachments to somewhere more constant and substantial. Remember, our minds, naturally have the ability to heal themselves.. even if not to the full, scars will be there… but healed to a great extent……. you only need to provide it the space.. and arrange the peace for some time…. and u r the only parent of your mind… u gotta buy that space from this society and others, who u feel, is diverting you….. Even if it is a minor depression… or breaking up into pieces. u can always find a fair trade in providing nourishment to ur mind and keeping up with your duties and loved ones. But you have to take care that your mind does not grow into a spoiled brat..

    My first student’s name was Aaron. So, feeling bad.
    A part of Aaron lives in me… like everyone else..
    It is an unfortunate loss for this world..

  26. It’s a terrible loss, and a big shame that the “crimes” alleged against Swartz were even possible. Ultimately it is JSTOR who is responsible for providing a download service that meets the expectations of their publishers, in terms of rate of access, etc. If Swartz was able to work round JSTOR’s system, that represents JSTOR’s engineering failing. Bizarrely, JSTOR evidently wanted the prosecution stopped and only appeared when it was subpoenaed to give evidence against Swartz. The USA and the prosecutions there are strange.

  27. Obviously he was a genius, with an agenda. With all the lies and cover-ups going on in Washington, how can anyone not what to seek out the truth? It was great that you mentioned Behavioral Cognitive Therapy. I think it is so effective because we get to work with a team of therapists rather then just one on one all of the time.

    I’m sorry he didn’t seek this route but I can see how he might found the thought of going to prison as a failure. That is too bad. It might not have been too long. They send reporters there and they get through it.

    Just food for thought about how far are you going to go with this stuff.  It can eat you up inside but talk to people and be honest.with yourself. People do care and they want to listen. RIP.

    1. a lot of the “theory of therapy” it seemed to me was predicated on the fact that there was this burgeoning group of humanity out there also co-interested in making things generally better for all. there’s the concept of treatment for your own individual situation, then there’s moving beyond that into what’s called “the real world”, where there are a lot of better off people who truly could probably use therapy, it could be argued, but who are not nor will ever be interested, nor are they particularly interested in any socially conscious perspective. far from it. and if they do go to therapy it will be mostly oriented toward improving their own “getting”. and the therapists will help them in that, because that is what the client is paying them to do. one could argue this is considered “not truly crossing over”, but oh well….
      now that then can be REALLY depressing once you wake up to that fact. and after a long time therapy to me seemed to be just pretty much supportive of the capitalistic system, i now laughingly remember referring to it as the “conspiracy of yes!” but, it did save my life. it was VERY hard to get over that reality part, though.

    2.  People really don’t care. They don’t. Their eyes glaze over and they don’t want to listen to your troubles anymore. They don’t want to listen and they don’t care. People only say that after a tragic passing. Perhaps they have a moment or two of regret that such a tragedy happened, and perhaps they mean well at the time, but when push comes to shove, they don’t care, and they don’t listen. And the ones that you want there for you when something goes wrong are never there.

      1. I know how true that can feel.  But I think the first rule of depression is, “Your brain is lying to you.”  It sounds like you’re writing with a lot of weight on your soul.  Crushing weight.  I suspect you might be depressed yourself.

        It sounds like you’re feeling very isolated from the people you care about, which is how I feel when my depression is at its worst.  And to some extent, it’s true.  People are busy.  They have their own lives and their own troubles and their own need to be understood.  They can be so wrapped up in it that it makes it hard for them to give you the emotional support you need, or even notice that you need it.

        I say it’s true, but it’s not the only truth.  People want to be supported, and they want to give support.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of not being sure what support to give, or fearing that they’ll be intruding on you.

        Reach out any way you can.  Stay strong.

      2.  but in constrast to what i said earlier about therapy, my own situation came from years and years of what i learned only later was really bad traumas that happened to me and my family and friends. and i had to learn that you have to extricate yourself from that model, of being a problem-based person. i think back on my old self and wow, i used to go around being this well of problems, and yeah, most “happy shining” people shy away from that. happy people like like. but some people really do care. you just have to hang in there long enough to find them. and it might turn out if you make it, whatever that means for you, that you realize your greatest gift is knowing the plight of others who have it hard. that’s a rarity in this world. good luck. have fun (sometimes), i say, even to myself. :)

  28. My deepest condolences on the loss of your friend…this was a well written thoughtful peice…I am nobody really…never heard of Aaron but after reading this I do believe the world lost a great thinker…..

  29. what a beautiful what a terrible, terrible terrible thing. what a terrible thing. i loved him–the things i say are all technical but he punched right through the surface and when he showed up to have a coffee with his hoodie and his beautiful smile, full of mischief and conviction and internal charts, i don’t know what, i want that now! when i was all out of ideas about how to do something, when i was working on a campaign that had no hope and was just stuck, i would email him. and then there was the time he changed the way i thought about economics–just that! –by getting me to read Keynes, remember this one? , remember all of them? we’d talk about how to do it, how to possibly break through, how to change the way everyone thought about everything–he cared so much. I met him in San Francisco, in March, 2005 at a dinner party at Zacks, we got into some wonderful impossible conversation,and ever since then there are moments when no one in the whole damn world will do but Aaron. there are more reflective things to say some day, but stop the clocks, because we need him. i don’t know if his parents or dearest friends read this but aaron, you are very special to me, you touched my brain and heart and soul and i wish i’d done more, whatever that more was. you would always do more.  – zephyr 

  30. In my all too experienced perspective, in the wake of a suicide all the people who loved them are “collateral damage” who understandably suffer from survivors guilt.  Searching for the lesson to prevent this from happening again are logical but mostly fruitless; in the end you only have more questions not more answers.  It has left me with the conclusion that you should always try to be nice and reach out to your rarely seen relatives/friends.  We are all more fragile than we care to admit.  You never know what someone else could be going through, and you shouldn’t wait until its too late to do something.  

    As one of my greatest mentors told me, when someone can go against literally every instinct and kill themselves they are suffering from a sickness so awful it is almost incomprehensible to all but the most emphatic people.  When the “lizard brain” of self preservation turns on itself no joy is found in anything.  Happiness seems impossible to find.  its not true of course.  But I feel only from this perspective is it possible to understand how someone could do this. 

    Sadly when you errantly think you cannot escape a life of suffering the only logical things _seems_ to be end the the life.  This perhaps a neuro-chemical conclusion that for some seems tragically un-escapable.

    The best thing you can try to do, IMO, after the fact (for you and them) is to remember them not at their sickest (the end), but at their “well-est”.  My condolences to his family and you, Cory, and any one else who mourns Aaron tragic departure.

  31. What a shame. He achieved more in his short life than many of us who manage to reach the 30 score and 10. I hope he is at peace now.

  32. I’m so sorry about your friend. This is a wonderful tribute to someone who, obviously, made the world a more interesting place. 
    My heart goes out to his family and loved ones. 

  33. The good always die young. We aren’t sophisticated enough to deserve them yet. I pray we get there soon.

  34. My condolences. I only knew about him from following his blog. Knowing that someone my age could have done so much and have so much insight was inspiring.

  35. This is sad and at the same time I hope your tribute is read by others that might be experiencing what Aaron did. He is gone now and whatever problems he had will go unsolved but what he accomplished in his short life will never be forgotten. RIP Aaron.

  36. I am in utter and complete shock and so very saddened by this news.  He was such a sweet soul.  I feel privileged to have known him when I lived in the Bay Area and my heart goes out to his family and friends.  Hugs from too far away.

  37. I’m so sorry for your loss, and for the loss of a creative mind like his. While speculation about why is always, in the end, futile, i think you and i both know that sometimes, being truly different is just too much to take, no matter the gifts that come with it.

     Peace, Mari

  38. Very sorry to hear about this. I did a little work with Aaron a couple years ago, and didn’t get to know him nearly as well as he obviously deserved. Thanks for the very eloquent remembrance.

  39. I’m very sorry for your-Aarons’ loved ones,and obviously our loss Cory.I had never even heard his name untill today,and thru your eloquent tribute to your friend-I know its’ a loss for any decent, caring person.   what a brilliant young man-ahead of his time . I hope his immediate family is sent these posts in time,and ease their extreme pain. Thankfully-they understood his intelect-they knew they had to let him explore-away from them at a very young age-and let him fly. You helped his short and intense flight. Thankyou for the insight.

  40. Fast thinkers are too often unappreciated in our society. So sorry to hear this – RIP Aaron

    PS.: Recognizing the weak signals in other persons what we all shall focus more. What sometimes just seems to look like a tiny incident, is maybe a more screaming for help. Overcome your own fear to ask the other, “What is troubling you?” – even if the other won’t undisclose what is on her/his mind, that is a gift you can offer. The possible outcome is indefinite – at best chances, and triggering something in the other person to think about their troubles in life is the worst that can happen.

    This is by far much more of value than a person like Aaron to kill himself.

    Think about it!

  41. Nicely written article. He was lucky to have had some wonderful friends who loved him and understood him. To be understood in life, when you are not your typical guy/gal, is so hard to find that when you do it’s practically a miracle.

    Just a note: Whenever one is likely to be ‘chased’ by good guys or bad, it’s not a good idea to say publicly that you are suicidal/depressed.

    Just too easy to make it happen, if ya know what I mean. A little conspiracy theory-ish but doesn’t mean it’s not true.

  42. My dear, I´ve lost Luciano Sother,my husband, on Dec 3 rd, in my hands, He was 37 and a brilliant mind as your friend. As far as he commited suicide, we must pray a lot for his spirit. The only thing that may confort those who believe in God is that NOTHING ends and life is NOT only 26 years old or 37, like my husband. You must be sure you are part of his life and will continue being. Nothing ends, it´s just a curve and we will meet the lovable and good people again, one day. My prayer for you and specially for him. he needs much confort, really much. Rilza, Luciano´s Sother wife.

    1. This is so generous and loving of you to share your recent heartbreak in a meaningful way.  I believe in God and life after death, too.  Your dear husband and Aaron Swarz are now two of the brigher, younger angels.  God bless.

    1. This is what I’m feeling too. Corruption earns billions – revealing corruption earns torture (Manning), seclusion (Assange), prison (Swartz). There is no justice. No morality. America eats it’s young so the brutal elders may profit and thrive. Long live the kleptocracy!

  43. Such a terrible loss. I recently lost my sister in law to suicide, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully process it. My sincere condolences to Aaron’s family and friends.

  44. Even knowing enough history to know that the phrase “to the barricades!” ALWAYS ends badly, this story has me wanting to scream, “to the barricades!” A saner future would remember this guy as a martyr, if there weren’t too many martyrs to keep track of these days.

    I’m a fellow chronic depressive; my complication is autism spectrum disorder, not super-taster, but I get it. And here’s what I “get” that I don’t know how many non-depressives get: we chronic depressives serve a serious evolutionary purpose, there’s a reason this dysfunction hasn’t been bred out of the species as contra-survival. Studies have shown that we perceive reality more accurately, and remember it more accurately, than non-depressives. If there are things that the rest of you recoil in horror rather than study, or think about, we’ll do it for you; horror that numbs your minds is as comfortable and familar to us as a warm fuzzy blanket.

    There are days that I think that this makes us the sane ones and the rest of you the delusionals; the only reason that the rest of you aren’t chronically depressed is that you don’t know enough, don’t understand enough, to be as angry as you should be. As the bumper sticker says, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

    Yeah, we chronic depressives kill ourselves, a lot. Being the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind men and the elephant, being social outcasts and pariahs for not picking sides among the blind men in their fight over which part of the elephant is the correct description of the whole elephant, is soul-crushing.

    I’m angry that neurotypical, especially wealthy elite neurotypical, society failed to heed his warnings. But mostly I’m sad that his anti-suicide coping strategies (and all of us who survive early adolescence have them, so I know he had them) failed him.

  45. Wow. So sad. There are other young geniuses taking their lives too – Ilya springs to mind. As others have said, we need to connect more, inquire more, share more, support more within our community.

    This touchy, feely aspect of human communication doesn’t always come easy to many of us in the tech world. I wonder if there’s a need for more human support/connection? Samaritans for techies? Or something less formal?

    Hugs, Daniel

    Ah, yes, hugs, that’s a good start. Hug a techie today! It feels great! Hugs!

  46. As someone who has struggled and is struggling with depression, I understand. I know there is a plea from friends and family to ask why didn’t he reach out? I used to feel that way. I suspect the truly insidious thing about depression, particularly in those capable of abstract thought and eviscerating introspection, is that it snuffs out all wishful thinking and self-delusion that seem so necessary for happiness. Maybe ignorance is the only bliss. I’d like not to think so, but since I can’t think away my own problems, my emotional reality leads to that unhappy conclusion.

    No respite exists for those who carry the weight of the world upon their shoulders. And so, a choice was made here to choose non-existence, a choice that vexes so many who cared about him, and orders of magnitude more who may not have even heard of him. It’s tragic. It’s senseless. And that’s exactly what life feels like.

    So what can anyone do to prevent this? Take no one for granted. Reach out to friends. Habitually meet with them in person. Be a burden and a blessing to each other. Forgive each other. Forgive yourself. Don’t underestimate reciprocity. Depression is a vicious cycle, requiring a break that may never come. Genuine community can be such a break. Too bad we’re all so damned busy — cogs in a machine that spin and hum their way to an independent and insular lifestyle, signifying nothing.

    Farewell, denizen of the internet. You’ll be remembered. We all wish you could have been remembered more.

  47. Eulogies are so hard to write, but some end up so full of honesty and real emotion, that despite the loss they convey, you feel better for having read them. Thank you, Cory, for sharing yours of Aaron, and my condolences to you and all of his friends and family.

  48. Cory, I am saddened by your loss, and I’m saddened by our country’s loss, and the Internet’s loss.  May Aaron rest in peace.

    I hope it wouldn’t be untoward to express what I tell myself whenever I have reached such low points of despair, for these points (really, periods of time) are indescribable unless you have experienced them yourself.  It’s sadly too late for Aaron, but here goes:

    1) This is ultimately just a feeling, and eventually it will pass (as it has before).  And when it does pass, I”ll be glad I didn’t end it all.

    2) Suicide equals total surrender.  (I realize this requires a big sense of self-importance, but it works for me.)

    3) This solution has no backsies, no course corrections, and no future happy life experiences.

    Suicide is not irrational.  It is, as others say, a “solution”.  It is a “bad” solution to people not in the boat of the suicidal person.  But if a person who runs into bouts of depression can make a kind of pact with themselves for what to say to themselves while they endure the bouts, it may work in many cases, as it has for me.

  49. I’m so sorry for your loss, Cory.  Seeing this happen to a friend is devastating enough, but I’m sure the pain is compounded by the fact that this is someone you’ve known since he was a kid, and watched and helped grow up.

    I was really moved by your tribute to this brilliant, fascinating, but troubled young man.

  50. Thank you Aaron for everything you did for so many.  I am sorry you are gone.  

    For those reading this:  there is no place too low that you cannot get out of.  You can.  There is no place so devoid of light that you can never hope to see light again.  There will be light again.  Please never give up;  it will get better.  Just because you don’t see an answer to a problem does not mean there is no answer.  There is always an answer and that is why we must always help one another.  Never give up.

  51. Brilliant, touching and deeply honest. I’m sorry for this loss. Thank you for allowing me to peer through this window into your heart.

  52. Everyone asks, “why didn’t he tell anyone? We would have listened!”

    No, you wouldn’t have. 

    The first time, maybe even the first few times, that a suicidal person spills their feelings to someone who cares about them, the reaction is love and sympathy and strong urging to “get help.” When they’ve already gotten “help,” and it’s done nothing, and they aren’t getting better, for weeks and months and then years on end… people get tired of hearing it. No one wants to listen to the person who’s been wanting to kill themselves for years. No one has sympathy then– they’re just “doing it for attention,” or “sabotaging your own recovery,” or “not trying hard enough to get better.”

    Most people can’t handle supporting a deeply depressed person for much longer than a month or two. I say this from personal experience. When you’re sixteen and sobbing about how much you want to die, everyone wants to reassure you; when you’re seventeen and eighteen and nineteen, they’re exhausted but they give you a pass; when you’re twenty and twenty-one and twenty-two, all you get is exasperated sighs of “grow up already.”

    Don’t kid yourselves. Maybe you would have listened once, but you wouldn’t have kept doing it.

    Personally, considering that most people’s depression begins in adolescence, I think he was very brave for lasting as long as he did.

    1. It’s incredibly difficult for any one person to try and pull someone up from the depths of despair. Keep asking different people to listen. And don’t give up. Consider different types of therapies. Not everything works for everyone. I’m a bit worried about you.

    2. I’m sorry things are rough for you.

      I have been on both sides of that fence. It is asking too much of anyone to be the sole emotional support for a depressed person. If the supportive person is themselves inclined to depression, it could put them in danger.

      As DisGuest says, the depressed person needs professional help. 

      1. Exactly. That was my point. You can’t tell people who care about you, because that is far too heavy a burden to drop on someone for any length of time. It took me a long time to learn that, though. I guess that is why I got so irritated that I wrote the above post– it sounded so hypocritical to me. People ask to be told, but they’re not actually able to handle it.

        In any case, this post is meant to be an obituary for Aaron Swartz, not about depression in general. Let’s drop the subject.

  53. As someone who has struggled with depression ever since adolescence, I can truthfully say that it is always important to talk openly about mental health issues.  Even now, there remains such a social stigma discouraging honest discussion about one’s mental health – fear of embarrassment, ostracism, or even just “being a downer.”  While social media has made communication outlets more available than ever before, at times, I feel like it has simultaneously made us all feel like we have to be “on with a happy face” 24/7.  

    Aaron sounds like a remarkable, driven, principled high achiever…and, like many with depression, his own worst critic.  I was especially impressed by your mention of his work on PACER.  I am also an attorney, deeply familiar with the PACER system.  That system revolutionized federal court practice for the whole country, and it’s hard to imagine litigating without it.

    I hope that it was cathartic for you to write this, and I hope Aaron finds peace.

    1. American culture in particular is not comfortable with a lack of cheerfulness. We’re supposed to be “selling ourselves” every waking moment, and in this “ruggedly individualistic” country we’re not supposed to lean on other people.

  54. A really touching tribute. I feel your loss of a good friend. We must not give up the good fight, no matter what challenges come for indeed it is never worth taking your life, you must face it.

    Much love to you and a speedy journey home for Aaron.

  55. Thank you for writing this Mr. Doctorow. 

    Aaron was fighting the most important fight of this generation, over freedom of ideas, against a massive, corrupt and vindictive state that only punishes those who speak truth to power, while forgiving those in power who screw millions. Swartz, Kyriakoy, Manning, Assange and others are persecuted, tortured and jailed. Meanwhile, Yoo, Libby, Addington. Cheney, Blankfein, Greenberg, Pandit and all the other murderers, torturers, warmongers, thieves and scoundrels are free to continue their book tours and cocktail parties with high society. They laugh and “mingle”, the blood of thousands, the tears of thousands and the lives of thousands crushed under their greed. It’s not surprising that Aaron like many who see the world clearly for what it is, struggle with despair and a feeling of powerlessness. Ironic, that Aaron probably felt powerless, even while the power of his speech, idealism and passion was enough to terrify governments, corporations, venerable institutions into trying to crush him. In Aaron’s memory, let’s not forget the enormous injustice that underlines his death. 

    1. You are so right Andreas. This fight for freedom of being released from the shackles of marketeers and peeping government-toms. The fight for knowledge with the inaccessibility of websites, books and documents, except for the very rich and those that live out-of-country. (and they wonder why Americans are dumb, we are over-censored)  We need to take back our freedoms and our country. 

  56. Suicide is a solution that more than 20,000 people in the United States accomplish each year.  Depression is a much more powerful state of suffering than any legal problem he had.  It is second to only heart disease worldwide as a cause of disability. Too bad mental health funding is the first to get cut in budgetary talks.  

  57. I didn’t know Aaron but he sounds wonderful and is exactly my son’s age and this hurts me in the gut.

    The curse of depression is not that you feel as if you have no one who understands or no one to call.  It’s that you know you do and it doesn’t help. When I was 27 I woke up every day for a year plotting my suicide.  I was lucky the Feds weren’t harassing me–I’m pretty sure that would have been the final blow on the bruise.

  58. If the US prison system is so bad that people will opt for suicide rather than contemplate doing time, things have gone downright medieval…

  59. Is it a trial?

    Suicide is part of human condition. Period. People commit suicide for many reasons, not  only because of depression.
    When someone commits suicide because lost all the money or is in despair because cannot buy food anymore people “understand”.
    But if it is due to an existential problem that only the person can understand some people feel they have the right to judge.

    As if committing suicide was that easy! 

    R,I.P. Aaron

  60. Aaron would not have killed himself for fear of trial or charges right before the trial. He and the world stood to gain from the trial, in that it could have shown what he did was not a crime and brought light to this internet censorship he fought against.

  61. I can understand Aaron’s pain in the face of the futility of it all….I don’t know if it was a solution, i’m not sure about reincarnation…but the fact remains…when the hollowness strikes in all its might,you are miles away from anybody being able to help you, there is no reaching out for those who have gone through REAL downright depression, persons who give such suggestions have not lived it.

  62. Brings to mind Bob Dylan’s lyrics:

    Now, all the criminals in their coats and their ties
    Are free to drink Martinis and watch the sun rise
    While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten foot cell
    An innocent man in a living hell

  63. I did not even know his name before today, but having read about him, am in deep mourning for the loss. Thank you for letting the world know what we have lost.

    1. Exactly because he’s so intelligent (and sensitive): he knows he’d be a burden.

      It’s difficult to understand for people who never experienced clinical depression and/or had suicidal thoughts, but “asking for help” in those circumstances is a very difficult thing to do, especially for males.

  64. I would not for one moment think that someone who did the things that he did for people, taking risk by pissing off the fed ect. i seriously doubt he would throw in the towel and hang himself. i really hope further investigations come into play just to rule out murder..

  65. Cory, I was moved by your story, thank you for writing it. This is a lesson to us all that organizing funded voting groups that are powerful enough to back up those who fight for liberty and justice is very important. If a large voting group with dollars for a legal defense had been there for him, then he would have felt empowered instead of depressed. Back in the day, we were taught organizing and how to get together and elect or recall politicians. It’s different now because Bush took the teaching of civics out of the schools for two generations. My condolences to everyone.

  66. When I was a teenager, before we found the drug that worked for me (and that I have been taking since I was 18 and probably will need to take for the rest of my life), when I was at my lowest, dropped out of high school, sawing at my arms with steak knives to try to release some of the pain that was so bad that I could feel it physically coursing through my arms – I would spend some nights staring at the contents of the medicine cabinet, never quite having the nerve – having been feeling these feelings since I was 8 years old – my mom used to tell me, over and over, that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
    I was very lucky to have her and she saved me over and over again. She died last year and I miss her so much, every day, but on the darkest days when even the meds don’t seem to be doing their job, I remember what she used to say. And some days, staying around because I need to take care of my dad, who is lost without her, seems like a heroic action on my part. That’s what depression does. Sometimes suicidal thoughts bring a measure of relief, a reminder that there is a “way out” if things get bad enough. But I am so, so sorry that this young man ended up taking the “early exit”. Permanent solution to temporary problem.

  67. Wow. This is really sad. What a loss. So on we go. Let’s not forget his brilliant example. Someone has to keep up the fight.

  68. With Alan Turning dead I often wonder what we missed out on, that he would have worked on in his later years. Again with Alan Swartz it is the massive loss of potential, and as with Turing it was over a stupid issue.

  69. A lot of talk about depression, but I can’t help wonder if Swartz didn’t deliberately see suicide as a way out of surrendering to the inevitable crush coming from the federal government’s lawsuit.  À la Thelma and Louise, is his death a figurative ‘fuck you’ to those who wanted to break him?

  70. Honestly, I think we should take up Aaron’s cause, all of us, and continue it full force. The “Man” essentially killed Aaron, lets have him be resurrected in a zombie apocalypse of hacking and activism.

  71. A man who fought for my freedom has died.
    The Three Bills which he defied,
    COICA, SOPA, PIPA could,
    Not stop the power of the world,
    Led by this great modern sage,
    Who died at a far too young age,
    We fought, we struggled and we won,
    Aaron Swartz was the internet’s son.

    Oh, Creator of Reddit and RSS,
    Was it fear of the feds?
    We shall never know.
    We can hypothesize though,
    We can talk, comment forlorn,
    But Aaron Swartz is forever gone.

    Slashdot, BoingBoing, Reddit, and 4chan,
    BBC and Reuters all mourn this man.

    Thank you Aaron Swartz,
    I wish you would have stayed a bit longer.

  72. I didn’t know Aaron, Cory, but from everything I have read about him today, none were better than this close personal look at the person he was inside.  Genuinely. If all of us have at least one friend who would be able and proud to write such things about us after we are gone than we are extremely lucky.

    RIP, Aaron Swartz.

  73. I never knew him, only of him. What I’ve read resonates with my own life and struggles. In his shoes I would have lost hope in society and utterly crushed by the despair. You see, Everything is equal in the end, it all comes to naught, all monuments are destroyed by time. But what is the point in building monuments if people in power do nothing but tear them down? What does it say about our humanity that we put them in power? What does it say about us when our words of support are followed by societal inaction? What is the point? If you devote your life to building monuments for the greater good what do you do when you are reviled for it?

    I’m not saying I’m right, just the path I took and almost took. My monuments are small in comparison. I wasn’t entirely crushed, I got myself some counseling, it helped. I haven’t been the same, the sorrow never really ever left. I put my choice to live down to stubbornness, masochism and the support I found. I was lucky.

    Aaron I’m sorry you weren’t so lucky. We still need you.

  74. Such genius, and so young! Condolences to his family and friends.

    He made the a richer world with his life, and leaves it much poorer with his death. Maybe people like him are born too ahead of their time, just like Turing.

    I’ll never look at an RSS icon the same way again.

  75. I started writing a comment here, it ended up being a blog post:

    “I’ve lived through my fair share of internet lore in the last 15 years. Since 2001, Aaron’s name kept popping up here and there; he belonged to that special pantheon of people whose genius is so clear, it makes other people despair that they will never, ever measure up to it. When I found out he was A FUCKING KID, well, it wasn’t an easy day for my ego. His code was always, invariably fantastic; at a time when people were saying “Python will never match Java for raw performance”, he (re)built Reddit to sustain inordinate amounts of traffic, and gave away the code for good measure. He kept contributing his flawless logic to umpteen projects, from Markdown to Django, helping them succeed with grace and selflessness. And then he started going really political, and damn, was he fighting all the good fights. A lot of people claim to be “talented” or be “good”, but you could see he was the real deal. He was the sort of person I wanted to be if I only I could rewind my life 20 years and start again.Back in the ’90s, we used to think there was such a thing as “internet culture”. We used to think the online world was free, the ‘net community would have been immune to the evils of offline corruption, information wanted to be free, “they” couldn’t fight disruption, progress was inevitable. Lies, all of them. We are losing this social revolution like our fathers lost in the ’60s and ’70s. Established players have made clear, over and over, that they will crush our lofty ideals as soon as we hit their wallets. They will ruin our lives, bankrupt us, force us into exile. Aaron is the last casualty of this counter-revolution. Sooner or later there will be a Vienna Congress moment, indeed it almost happened last month. Aaron was the best we could be, and even him couldn’t bear the pain of living while fighting the good fight in this corrupt world. How are we supposed to cope? The small ones with simple jobs, normal families, little talent, broken dreams, and our own baggage of bad life choices and mediocrity — how are we supposed to still believe?Ah fuck. What a sad day.”

    1. “The only way to deal with an un-free world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” ~Camus
      Unless you are dead, you can still learn as much as you can, and take focus off of yourself and put it on the good of others. It will help you heal. Give youself a new beginning a new spirit. If 80 year old people with walkers can stand on the federal buildings step to stand up for what they believe in, so can you. You can change the world.

    2. If it weren’t suicide, if it were murder, we would rally around our fallen hero and redouble our efforts. But is driving someone to suicide all that different then killing them? The weapon of our enemy wasn’t a physical one, but it smote him none the less. We must rally, we must pick up the slack and do more; or accept defeat.

    3. There’s no “losing”, just “giving up”.  The “losing” frame is part of what’s made things so difficult over the last 35 years.  If you think you’ve “lost” rather than just “not won yet”, if every setback is a reason for outright despair, you’re unlikely to keep fighting.   And, yes, that goes for the ’60s/’70s people, too.  That revolution is still incomplete, but it’s not lost until we stop fighting.

  76. May be he wanted to prove that institutional forces can not break his material existence down. may be he wanted to appear as free protestor and fighter.. forever. Or, may be he has kept some secrets from unfaithful hands that he knew he would not be able to keep under extreme conditions. May be it was the final one of his many movements… against submission to injustice and crime.
    things like this also go on in different amplitude…. mind is complex, as well as brain is.
    and such act of a crucial person must be for a combined effect of these…

  77. I was so sad to read the news.  Cory, your article/memorial is beautiful.  My heart goes out to you and his family.  If we can do anything please let us know. 

    The Surviving Project

  78. RIP Gentle Aaron.
    It’s sad that the US after 911 is now run amok by a paranoid government, lobbyists, and corporations, more focused on ‘things’ than ‘people’. WAKE UP! Data will always be compromised and has been that way since people communicated by drums and carrier pigeons. You can kiss copyright laws goodbye since US corporations outsource everything it’s pretty easy for other countries to copy what’s in their factories and claim ignorance. The cloud servers and data servers located in other countries will make data compromise easy. No law blocking the internet in the US is going to make a difference for these reasons. Controlling the US Internet is really a power/greed thing. “Let’s be honest”. Hopefully the public will see that this US/Corporate bullying on gentle souls like Aaron has got to Stop!!! It’s wrong. Civilized people used to take care of the vulnerable. A compassionate US would have had the resources to help Aaron instead of hurting him. The world needs more people like Aaron that are trying to make the world a better place.

    1. The “anti-terrorist” monitoring is made up to catch people like Aaron early to be able to focus the bullying efforts more effectively. Sadly, it seems to have worked this time.

  79. Thanks for sharing this, it’s truly an awful event. Question: You write ” and it was the root of his really unfortunate pattern of making high-profile, public denunciations of his friends and mentors.”  Could you explain this? Where/when did Aaron publicly denounce his mentors? I could not find this on his blog.

  80. Cory, My heart breaks for your loss and the loss of all who loved Aaron.

    Maybe there are other people who,like me, are only today stringing together the pearls that are the life and work of Aaron Swartz. I recognize each one of the projects you describe, but I didn’t know that Aaron was involved in all of them.

    I am profoundly grateful to Aaron because I personally can’t grasp the structure and scope of these issues. Were it not for people like Aaron, and like you, Cory, I would feel helpless against the sweeping power of private and governmental interests.

    I weep for the loss of this man, so young and so valiant a champion of human liberty. To his loved ones and his colleagues, I hope I may be permitted to say, “Courage.”

  81. Cory, you and I have never met in person or even spoken but we have been friends online for a number of years. I have read many things you have written, both onscreen and in the form of your hardcover and paperback books.

    Your appreciation of Aaron Swartz is the best thing you have ever done.


    Because the passionate discussion which has resulted both here and across the wired world has — without any doubt in my mind — resulted in saving at least one life, either directly or indirectly, as a result of someone somewhere in the world stopping whatever it is they were doing and taking the time to pull someone else back from the brink.

    Maimonides wrote, “He who saves one life, saves the world.”

    You have saved the world.

  82. Okay, so how do we make sure he stays alive? What do we do to carry on his vision and make it happen. Fuck the prosecutors. We’ll get the legislators in place, per Aaron’s ideals, and we’ll make it happen. A few more of us will die, I’m sure. You don’t revolutionize without sacrifice, but it will happen. No more talk. Time for action!  Swartz’s suicide will not be in vain. Let’s move!

  83. His talk at our conference EuropeanaTech in Oct 2011 in Vienna. We had to have him via Skype because he was not allowed to leave the country.

    He will be missed.

  84. The founding of Creative Commons alone has proven to be an inestimable improvement to the world, so if only by Mr. Swartz’s contribution to that, he still literally changed the world for the better — which is more than some of us will probably ever manage.

    This was a terrible thing. Surely the prosecution — or should I say persecution — by the DOJ must have played some part in the final decision. The greatest minds and most generous beings throughout history have been persecuted by ignorant, venal interests. What a dismal tradition, though.

    It seems to me that those of you who knew Mr. Swartz were very fortunate. I’m sorry as can be for this loss and for the pain it is causing. 

  85.  Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,

    To render with thy precepts less

    The sum of human wretchedness,

    And strengthen Man with his own mind;

    But baffled as thou wert from high,

    Still in thy patient energy,

    In the endurance, and repulse

    Of thine impenetrable Spirit,

    Which Earth and Heaven could not convulse,

    A mighty lesson we inherit:

    Thou art a symbol and a sign

    To Mortals of their fate and force;

    Like thee, Man is in part divine,

    A troubled stream from a pure source;

    And Man in portions can foresee

    His own funereal destiny;

    His wretchedness, and his resistance,

    And his sad unallied existence:

    To which his Spirit may oppose

    Itself — and equal to all woes,

    And a firm will, and a deep sense,

    Which even in torture can decry

    Its own concenter’d recompense,

    Triumphant where it dares defy,

    And making Death a Victory.

    – Prometheus

    Lord Byron

    July, 1816

  86. I didn’t know Aaron Swartz, but am incredibly moved by his story and your obit. I am twice his age and still dream of changing the World. He has. Significantly. 

  87. I must respectfully turn the charge of selfishness back upon those who say that suicide is selfish. We must look past ourselves. Suicide is about the other person, not about us.

    Suicide is a tragedy for everybody. Suicidal people are in a dramatically altered state of consciousness. If they don’t care for their own lives, how can they be expected to think straight about other people’s lives?

    I wouldn’t call suicide a solution, I’d call it an end that happens when people can’t see a solution. Aaron, may perpetual light shine upon you. May those who mourn you be consoled.

  88. My condolences on the loss of your friend & comrade and thank you for this moving tribute to him, Cory. 

    As I write this, I realize there are any number of horrible, evil people — who have contributed nothing even remotely as important as Aaron Swartz to the value of our world — robbing the planet of its oxygen supply while Aaron lies at peace. The people whom he touched are now forced to ponder the totality of his legacy and the potential power of his work on this & future generations.  Barring abstraction, this balance strikes me as exceedingly unfair, knowing that the prosperity of Aaron’s wisdom can only be reinterpreted with a modicum of success through those who knew him, but I hope.

    I hope that someone reading this can tap into the dedication to change that Aaron represented & that his death is not in vain.  Let those affected by his work and his causes, especially those whom he knew well, take to heart his dedication & carry on his work in a way that may create a greater good to humanity. Please: do whatever is necessary to continue exposing the biased hypocrisies in our current systems. There is no recovery in reticence.

  89. I actually thought his case was winnable. I was trying to keep up to date about it and spread information about it through my contacts. I was waiting for the moment when a big rally online would take place to support him and the cause. It’s such a shame it came to this. I hope he found peace. His loved ones have my sympathies.

  90. A very loving and moving tribute to a remarkably talented and idealistic young man. The world is diminished without his presence and his loss will be felt every day forever more by his parents and family.

  91. Depression is a mental health disease and there is no way he had any comprehension to do anything other than what he did. Until the U.S culture starts addressing mental illness as real and stop this stigma, we will continue to lose greatness like Aaron. Dont let his death be in vain

  92. Sorry, Cory, but this statement is bullshit:
    “Because whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn’t solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever. ”

    Maybe we all should take from this a message, a message Aaron was sending (at least as I see from my semi-privileged position of having some personal insight from his vantage point): he COULDN’T solve them. He didn’t WANT TO HAVE to solve them. They weren’t HIS making, they weren’t HIS doing. He was facing a PERSONALLY HOPELESS situation. It is far too easy to dismiss this as “depression” or “mental illness”; has anyone considered the immense amount of intellect and thought he MIGHT HAVE PUT towards his decision??? Aaron never did anything without intention, he wasn’t stupid or prone to hyperbolic drama, and we should not be so dismissive as to believe this was anything but a deliberative act. If so, he showed US ALL what he was willing to SACRIFICE in this fight. NOW it is up to the REST of us to fight, to SOLVE what he felt HE was unable to SOLVE.

    Anything less, and we do Aaron’s legacy a disservice. We are ALL just as capable of doing that work; we just need to get off our asses and do it. Remember that street vendor in Tunisia? That Aaron went this far is a spark, if we don’t ignite in action then we have failed to hear his message.

    How much are WE willing to SACRIFICE?

    (I’m sorry for the CAPS, but this has hit a nerve with me. Some actions speak nothing, but some speak loudly. Aaron’s actions, I have learned through following his escapades through the years, are almost always deafening. This, to me, is loud and clear.)

    1. I agree, and I speak as someone who has had massive struggles with depression. I see too much willingness across various comment threads to pretend Swartz’s suicide was solely about his mental health and had no political aspect whatsoever.

  93. I can’t abide the idea that someone who did so much while suffering so much had “more work to do.” It sounds like, in spite of the pain it caused him, he did more than enough. I wish he had found another way out, but if anyone has a right to call it quits it’s a guy like that.
    A belated thanks for every day he mustered the strength to face another day.

  94. Well, I’m going through ECT treatment at University of Miami right now. I’m willing to try anything since the different medications I’ve been on since 14 just don’t seem to quell the pain or the sadness. Before you call me an apologist, remember that, as others have said, it (depression) is a life sentence and if you can find a stepping stool so that you’re able to see a little light out of an out of reach window, don’t tell me you wouldn’t attempt to stand on it.

    If I end up disabled over it, so be it. But to me, the chance to get out of bed in the morning without crying over how I wish I had just died in my sleep and having hardly any coping skills with life in general…I’ll take that chance. I know the risks and I know the benefits, but it’s a respected treatment when administered correctly.

  95. Thank you for writing this, Cory.  I didn’t know the guy, but feel like I know far more of him from your post than any of the articles I’ve run across today.  I’m sorry that you lost such an amazing friend.

    Speaking from experience, even if his friends and family had all told him regularly that they would be happy to be there for him, it likely wouldn’t have made a difference… I have incredibly supportive parents & friends — people that I know from experience will react to phrases like “boxes of rat-waste-infested clothes” by spending their weekend helping clean it up (as Dad did today) — and yet when my depression was at its worst, I truly believed that killing myself wouldn’t affect them.  Nothing positive can penetrate a mental state like that; nothing you guys could’ve tried or said could have let him see the truth, AFAIK.

  96. He was one of those people who was just too damn pure for the dirty world we live in.   I think there’s  a part inside most of us that really does know how he felt when he saw the kind of abuse of power and institutional corruption that he dedicated his life to combating; or rather, that he lost his life combating.  

  97. There is no word for the ache and pain.
    A world is lost with a murder or suicide.
    Damn you, Aaron, you could have done so much more.
    May God have mercy.

  98. Hi Cory, Your article reflects a thoughtful and empathetic nature.  Your article is the first I have come across that is both direct/clear and human.  Others gloss over ‘suicide’ mentioning only that he died or attack him for being selfish.  

    Your post sounds authentic and refreshing.  That said, it was heartbreaking to read about Aaron’s energetic, passionate and recklessness and then the recap:

    This morning, a lot of people are speculating that Aaron killed himself because he was worried about doing time. That might be so…

    I have was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder five years ago.  The crash that lead to this diagnosis and a hospitalization was a shock to family, friends, to me.  Turns out, I tend toward the manic end or the bipolar scale.  Looking back today, I cringe as I recognize the extremes of my manic behavior – exuberant but illogical ideas, recklessness mentally and physically extreme almost religious ferver.  I was passionate and excitable about every injustice.  Sadly, this had the effect of equating incompetent planning of foot-traffic patterns on campus with Serbian death camps.   This doesn’t begin to describe my passions and extreme convictions and actions.  Yet, never, not once, was I cautioned about my behavior.  My odd, wacky  sometimes absolutely crazy behavior was perfectly acceptable even laudable.   

    I did not know Aaron Swartz but the man who broke into MIT is almost like a brother.  I’m certain he felt that a higher law directed his actions – the small restrictions of a University could have no bearing on his cause…passion for progress that ends up burning all in it’s path.

    In 26 years, Aaron achieve more than most of could imagine achieving in 3 life times.  But at what cost?  Our culture accepts or ignores manic behavior because we prize the idea of over work, under-sleep and wild passion.  It could be argued that the bipolar/manic is the hero of our GTD, mobile phone obsessed culture.  But everything has a price.

    Truthfully, almost nothing can compare to the joy, the glow, the creativity of mania.  Carrie Fisher described mania as, “it’s like every song on the radio is playing just for you.” – every song is your song – your lyrics and you can see through the word to the concept.  Mania is intellect and feeling dancing and growing.  

    I love those part of mania – I can’t put words to much of it but I would give everything to go back and find someone who would stop the madness, observe that no one is superhuman/constantly awake and brilliant.  There is a cost.  Mania is over leveraging with your life and the payback is unbearable.  

    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.

    The thing about depression is that there is no hope.  Imagine living without hope.  Can you imagine disconnecting the two?  Depression feels like being crushed, suffocated, gasping for a glimmer of possibility, future, hope.  Of course, hope is gone and although your body may live, your soul gasped and lost for the last glimmer of hope a long, long time ago.  It is not a given that life = hope.  Depression is the opposite – you remember hope and it is gone.  Your body breaths as you suffocate under the pressure of hopelessness.  

    Sounds dramatic but it seemed useful in order to make the point that depression isn’t sadness, it isn’t the blues, it isn’t the tragedy of a loved one dying.  It is like a smothering of an all-pervasive void.

    Jail doesn’t make you kill yourself.  Especially for some like Aaron.  Suicide is an attempt at relief from the torture that is depression.  It is not a way to get out of jail free.  

    I have never responded to a post/story/comment until today.  I don’t enjoy this grandstanding but this is more important than my proclivities.

    Every day that we ignore the desperate energy of the manic moment we condem that person to the depression that pays it back.  

    Don’t belittle this genius, amazing person by assigning cowardice to his final act.  Simple answers are easy, but ask yourself: do you really believe Aaron killed himself for a “get out of jail free care?”

  99. I am so sorry to hear of your loss, Cory. And to learn how immense a loss it is for everyone. I know from my own experience how easy it can be to fall into a depression that puts up black walls around you which limit how much of the rest of the world you can see. There are too many deaths of young, brilliant people today. How can we stop it?

  100. It seems no one is questioning the authenticity of the suicide. Is it not possible, in fact likely, that Aaron’s ‘suicide was staged? The authorities have been known to perform such actions against their adversaries.

  101. I think in all the rush to “black helicopter” conspiracy theories about Swartz’s untimely demise, people forget that Doctorow specifically wrote that Swartz had been suffering from serious clinical depression for many years and had openly admitted it. Sadly, it was only a matter of time before this untimely end. :(

  102. RIP AARON , es la primera vez que se de tu persona , me pregunto porque la sociedad aun no esta preparada para brindar a los genios y defensores de la libertad de informacion ,el lugar que merecen como aportadores humanos al hombre, a la libertad y el mundo, en vez de darles el lugar de respeto que merecen le dan el lugar de perseguidos por la herejia de saber mas , de ver mas alla y comprender lo que aun no existe y es necesario , lamento que el mundo perdiera tu talento y vision en esta etapa.

  103. I read Aaron’s blog as it was subscribed to by default in the RSS reader, NetNewsWire. I can’t think of anyone on the internet who demonstrated more intelligence than Aaron in his blog, so it was shocking to find out he was a 16 year old high school student. That must have been 10 years ago. More recently he has popped up on current affairs programs on TV, being interviewed about internet censorship bills. I have continued to read his blog over the years.

    I feel I am personally surrounded and defined by depression, and while I normally want people to talk about it, I’d rather now people were talking about Aaron’s work. From what I recall of an article about the ‘hacking’ incident from many months ago: he allegedly ‘stole’ copies of digital documents that were basically public anyway. He made it possible to analyse a huge body of legal data for the first time. The data showed evidence of institutional corruption. And he faced 50 years in prison for this research! That was the first shock. Every week there is a new billon dollar/pound white collar crime scandal, where the guiltily are promoted and given bonuses, and the people who report their crimes are hounded, smeared, secluded, locked up indefinitely and tortured – not to be heard from again. 

    It may be true that our institutions have always been highly corrupt, and the internet merely makes the corruption transparent. This at least provides some reassurance that transparency drives actual change. Perhaps the vehemence which meets anti-corruption activists is more proof that corruption can’t stand the light of public scrutiny. It sounds hopeful but it doesn’t feel like it right now. It feels like a kick in the face. The injustice is shocking and nauseating. People kill themselves every day. But they are not Aaron Swartz. And they are not facing 50 years in prison for breaking library rules. Rest in peace, Aaron.

  104. Everyone in our community needs to know that help is available if they’re having suicidal thoughts. We just can’t lose another person like Aaron to suicide.

    In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK is a 24-hour free, confidential service that people who are considering suicide should call. Even people in crisis who aren’t considering suicide are welcome.

    The Web site also has a text-based chat interface for hackerly people who prefer typing to talking.

    In Canada, has a list of crisis centres by province.

  105. Such a sad, sad end to a promising young life. I’ve been in a bit of a shocked daze since I started reading about this yesterday all over the internet. Your elegy here is among the most moving, honest and evocative I’ve read. And, on finishing it, I could not help but think that people like Aaron tend to live on in spirit. Their spark is just too bright.

  106. RIP Aaron Swartz, even if there was much more he could have done, he still did so much more than most people can ever even conceive of doing in their entire lifetimes, everyone should mourn his passing.

  107. IQ, verbal skills, friends, money, etc do not fix broken, inherited brain circuits.  These are medical, physiological problems.  Suicide is a major symptom of depression not an existential crisis.  It is dehumanizing to deny his medical problems.  There are no cures for brain disorders, just symptom management.

    No need to pretend or make things up.  Sounds like there was lots of denial about how sick he was.

  108. Aaron contacted me a few years ago, enthusiastic about a website I’d put together featuring a worker-run newspaper from the 1840s. At the time the site was unfinished and long neglected: so neglected, in fact, that a few days after his message, it was taken down because I hadn’t paid the hosting company. Which I learned about from Aaron, who sent me this on the day the site went offline:

    “Hey, Rajeev — what can I do to get voiceofindustry back online? I tried asking GoDaddy if I could pay your hosting fee, but they said not without your phone pin.”

    So, before contacting me about the site being down, he had already tried to get it back up, *at his own expense*. This level of kindness and support was typical of Aaron, who not only encouraged me to resume the project, but played a major role in its completion: when the original issues of the paper were lost, he helped recover them; when I had trouble finding articles that were incorrectly cited, he read through the paper to help locate them. He helped fix technical problems on the original site, and suggested developers to work with when we decided to redesign it last year. When the project was finally done, he was excited about the new site, and sad that he couldn’t make it to the launch event (though of course, he helped get the word out for it).

    All of this was, of course, a tiny corner of the universe that was Aaron’s activism. But his interest and support helped me to recover my own interest in justice issues, and for that I will remain grateful. I’m sad that I never got to thank him in person.

    Thank you, Aaron Swartz.

    – Rajeev Ruparell

  109. As with the suicide of Len Sassaman, Aaron Swarz’ suicide has me more than slightly bewildered (and no, it’s not ‘all about me’… obviously).

    Even if the JSTOR case (the replicating of some bits) is not the direct cause of this terrible event, one thing seems clear to me (I’m a particularly vengeful person): if the prosecutor can be shown to have been aware of this young man’s emotional fragility (depression etc), then they are appropriate targets for the full force of the Internet Hate  Machine.

    The prosecutor used the State’s machine to terrorise a fragile kid (26 is very young – although I would not have said so when I was 26), and it’s high time that people like that get shown what it feels like to have an oppressive machine crushing the life out of you.

  110. RIP Aaron. 
    I wish I had the chance to know you.

    Tragic? Yes. 
    Waste of a life? Not from where I sit. 
    Everyone will die, but does everyone really live?

    My deepest condolences to his friends and family.

  111. How about a bunch of bright people put together a Kickstarter to create software to change politics as Aaron envisioned and Cory wrote in his new book?  As a political action committee type of entity, it could support and demolish candidates in both main political parties.

  112. T’is a pity that this young man who gave so much to defend our freedoms, has now succumbed to his inner demons and outside pressure (Government). Who  now, will take up the challenge to continue his work and not let his efforts died with him.?

  113. Why isn’t the suicide of Aaron Swartz triggering the Internet equivalent to the suicide of Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi that triggered the Arab Spring?

    When is ENOUGH, ENOUGH??

    The overzealous prosecutors of the US Justice department  aren’t an anomaly. They are part of the takeover of the US Government by RIAA/MPAA Copyright Maximists. This out of control Klepto-Oligarchy is now in complete control of all aspects of the US Government. 

    Today we read about Verizon implementing the 6 strikes against the use of the Internet. We see this kind of over reach everywhere. Congress is held hostage, by the Republicans, but the Democrats are enablers. They all are working for the 1 percenters and against us citizens. Whistleblowers are kept in Guantanamo like conditions. We have still have a Guantanamo and all these other dark CIA renditions! Torture and assassinations of citizens is legal if the President orders it.

    Its time to say STOP!

    Its time to take back our future.

    We should call for a strike of anyone who thinks the Government is no longer of and for the people and demand immediate change.

    I don’t know what the best way is to focus something like this, but this is my reaction and I think we have to do it now before its even more too late.

  114. Thank you for that heartfelt tribute, Cory.  I didn’t know Aaron Swartz at all – though of course I knew a fair bit about him.  I have sometimes felt depressed myself; sometimes I’ve been extremely depressed – but obviously I’ve never suffered the depression he did.

    I had LONG wanted to write to Aaron – but most regretabbly kept putting it off, and off and off…  I had actually wanted to write to him about a powerful systems aid to problem solving and decison making that, if he had ever known about it, may have helped prevent him from taking that irrevocable step he felt impelled to take.  It would surely have helped him pretty significantly in his heroic fight against the unfair monopolization of the wonderful tool to enhance human freedoms that the Internet is (/could be). 

    I didn’t write to Aaron because I wasn’t sure if he would actually get to see my message and and if he would then actually check out that tool for himself:  it does take a month or two to convince oneself that this simple means of ‘inquiry into one’s own situation (and into one’s own heart and mind)” can help one tackle the kind of terrible ‘external’ problems and pressures he was evidently facing.

    From the ‘outside’ of wherever he was, I’m pretty sure he could never have been incarcerated for the ‘crimes’ he was alleged to have committed.  How I do wish I had written…

    As “rushrhees” writes:  how can we who are left behind ensure that his vision is carried forward?

  115. Cory, I’ve never commented on this blog before. But reading your obit for Aaron (whom I did not know) I wanted to. Specifically about your comment that what if Aaron understood that any of his friends would’ve taken his calls for help at any time of the day or night. A few years ago, a friend of mine, a coworker, killed himself. The day before we’d been talking about music. I’d gotten it into my head that I would make him a mixtape/CD, and then the next day he was gone.

    I asked myself that same question(s): didn’t he know we cared? Could I have said anything? Could I have saved him? Could I have said “it will get better”? Could I have simply gotten him to come over and lose himself in some mindless TV so he would be safe for just a few hours more?

    Sadly, I’ve been told (and I still haven’t accepted it) that I couldn’t have done anything. That the thing that was wrong was too far wrong in such a way that nothing really could be done. And that is as painful if not more so than the loss that happened. My friend’s pain and Aaron’s is over, but we keep going with the questions and the pain that is left behind.

    I hope this isn’t too maudlin or sentimental.

  116. James Jacob, Shinjoung Yeo and I have nominated Aaron Swartz posthumously for the American Library Association James Madison Award.  That award is given to people who have promoted open access in general and open access to government documents in particular.  We were preparing the nomination for Aaron when we heard of his death.  We were shocked and heartbroken but decided to nominate him anyway posthumously.  I do not think it would hurt if librarians campaigned for Aaron to receive this award.  So if you are a librarian and believe as I believe that Aaron was an heroic proponent of open access I encourage you to support his nomination.  To do so write Jessica McGilvray at  The deadline for nominations is January 16th. 


    Bruce Sanders

  117. This has touched me deeply. Share this and esp with those who experience deep depression and a real caring for humanity and trying to fix the wrongs around us. His act. although criminal in essence, as one of courage in the face of tyranny which exists all around us. How many of us have done something about it? Aaron’s life and actions have humbled me!!

  118. If you want to gain a better idea of who it was who wanted to help and make a difference, have a look at the photos of Aaron when he was participating in the RDF Working Group at the W3C back in 2001. Dan Brickley wrote about meeting him in that group back then:

  119. Aaron Swartz was a good boy the video is very interesting Cory thanks for sharing and my sentiments go out to all friends who knew him, family and anyone who read or watched his YouTube video’s. This is very sad news a boy consumed by fear as an after effect of persuing his dreams and other peoples rights. Very sad indeed, bloggers and rich activists like this deserve more support, Pride is a big. I am sure if he was in a more supportive environment this would never have happened. That is one problem with cities the support is there but you have to really want it constantly. Reaching a plateau then moving goal posts and investments here and there of time and collateral in these difficult days although admirable seems a complete waste of time. That said I am no martyr, I am sure Aaron will find his place somewhere and if it helps other people then great. Thanks for also explaining the shift in Reddit, bought out by big companies, becomes completely different with a left wing agenda, to be bolstered by politics of the highest order. I just realized another thing watching the movie for this one will be massive. RIP AS

  120. Such a bummer. My best friend growing up did the same in his mid thirties. We were close until 30, then he moved away and we sort of didn’t stay in touch as often. He was the last person I would have guessed would do something like this. Then the violin player in my band did the same thing 3 years ago, also unexpected. And thus the problem – it’s VERY hard to tell conclusively if a friend is seriously depressed. At least for me.

    If anyone knows a good link that really encapsulates warning signs for the layman, it would be in everyone’s best interest to read it, because I guarantee you probably know at least one person with medium to severe depression which you are not aware of said condition. After watching 2 great people choose this path, I will not make the mistake of ignoring warning signs again, and your story is a reminder I need to do my homework and learn more so I can at least attempt to be a better friend.

    Sorry Cory, nothing anyone says will make it feel any better, but maybe doing something like you just did is the smartest move. 

  121. I feel like ‘our team’ just suffered a terrible blow.  In reality humanity at large will suffer from this, but it’s my favorite names – Cory, Lawrence, Amy, Deeplinks  etc who seem most vocal.

    It’s sadly ironic that I learned about this from an RSS feed.

    I was also shocked by Cory’s mention of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  I’ve faced the same struggles and found CBT helpful.  I released a CBT App on Friday but it’s too late for Aaron…


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