If you hit someone with enough felony counts sooner or later something can snap. This in response to those that claim the DOJ didn't have anything to do with Aaron killing himself.
For some people the mere fact of being suspected of a crime they didn't commit is enough to push them over the edge. When you're placed in a holding cell the police will remove your laces from your boots so you don't hang yourself, that's how heavy being imprisoned can weigh on some.
Aaron did something that he thought was right, that he truly believed in and that upset a large number of applecarts and that had far reaching implications, had the proverbial book thrown at him and then some. The prospect of significant amounts of jail time (35 years for downloading scientific papers, it shouldn't even be a crime) and/or a felony record must have weighed very heavy on him.
For a person that is of a very stable mental make-up that would already be extreme pressure.
For someone with a mental issue it may very well be all it takes.
Aaron was inspiring to me, I think that no copyrighted piece of paper is worth a human life and that the DOJ, even if they are not directly responsible at least indirectly carry some of the responsibility here for beating down someone who was fighting for an extremely good cause in a somewhat haphazard way. The letter of the law and the spirit of the law should both be taken into account.
I hope those that had a hand in Aarons' continued prosecution will sleep miserably for a long time to come. Likely it won't weigh on their consciousness at all.
Aaron Swartz did something he knew was morally right but very probably illegal in some way, and, him being a prodigy, I'm very confident he was aware of this. It is called activism, and is a very brave and noble thing to do, something most people don't have the guts for. Governments often try to break activists who threaten their agenda (or in this case, that of a dying industry), and it seems they have succeeded with him, which I find very sad and which makes me so angry.
Maybe being indicted while free may even be a bigger psychological pressure on somebody than being in prison. When you are in prison, you can focus all your energy on your case, and the situation can only get better than your current one, not worse. You have certain legal protections, and your basic needs are taken care of.
Imagine having to work a job to earn an income (your assets probably being seized) and function in society with a constant feeling of danger looming ahead. They can fuck up your life one little piece at a time. Imagine working on your defence when the computer you are using to do so can be seized at any time (some DA having convinced a judge that you may be hacking right now). Imagine restrictions on travel that make making a living even more difficult. Imagine randomly being delivered a letter with one more bogus charge.
While being free seems to be better than in prison from an objective point of view, given the workings of the threat detection system in our mind, made for tigers in the savannah, not constant worry and fear, it may be much worse. It is well known that the functioning of our "higher" abilities like creativity and critical thinking are impaired under constant stress. It's easy to conceive what this means for the feeling of self worth of somebody who lives for doing cool, meaningful, big things (one of my favourite essays ever, btw):
Also, it neatly avoids the aura of illegitimacy that imprisoning peaceful activists would have for a government.
One lesson that could be learned from this is to try and consciously provide people in his situation with an environment that feels safe. Nut just a fund for legal and living expenses and therapy to cope with the stress, but much more importantly, reliable relationships with people who are supporting, compassionate and willing to listen.
Anyone with access to a university network has access to those documents. I have access to JSTOR also. What moral issue can you possibly raise with someone using their access to download these documents? It's OK to download 10, but not 1000000? Do you have a moral issue with automated downloads -- and if so, how can you justify JSTOR itself?
It is worth noting that JSTOR did not want to press charges in this case. After contacting Swartz, they were satisfied that he was not going to share the documents with others (and they "recovered" them, whatever that means), and that would have been that. The government decided to prosecute, probably to show how serious they are about restricting access to human knowledge (or whatever it is that they thought this prosecution would accomplish).
Or anyone who is a patron of a university library system, which in this day and age means anyone who has been given access to a university network. Where I am, anyone can get one-week access if someone who is affiliated signs in and generates a unique token for the guest; we frequently do this when researchers from other schools or companies visit my group, but there is no actual restriction on who can be given access. Most universities have a system for allowing members of the public to access their library system, and by extension, JSTOR.
Really, it is not much different from walking into a university library and reading the books there. Most of the schools I see allow anyone to walk into their library, without having to prove they have any sort of affiliation.
It is as though universities believe their purpose is to spread knowledge or something crazy like that...
> Or anyone who is a patron of a university library system,
> which in this day and age means anyone who has been given
> access to a university network.
Not everyone is in a university, in fact there are billions of people who aren't in school and who would absolutely benefit from having access to the scientific knowledge contained in these tax-payer-funded documents. The current majority of people who read papers are, of course, going to be in colleges because they are the ones who have access in the first place.
I challenge you (in a very light-hearted, positive way) to demonstrate how to access papers as a member of the public. Most universities seem to require you to show up in person to use the library computers. You can subscribe to classes and get a student id to access literature, but then you no longer count as the public, do you?
Also, DeepDyve and ReadCube are scams. Anyone who reads a healthy amount gets charged out the wazoo. I didn't even know I had a wazoo!
"Not everyone is in a university, in fact there are billions of people who aren't in school and who would absolutely benefit from having access to the scientific knowledge contained in these tax-payer-funded documents"
Sure, but that was not my point; my point was that there was no moral issue with him downloading these documents, because he had every right to access them, just like anyone else whose computer is connected to a university's network. The underlying assumption of people who think he did something wrong is a combination of (a) that access is only supposed to be for reading the articles, not archiving them and (b) that there is something suspicious about writing a program that automatically downloads things (unless you are running an operation dedicated to archiving). The assumption is that anyone who thinks about these things differently must be some kind of criminal or public danger, and it is an assumption that has been fueled by years of propaganda from businesses whose profits depend on people not doing such things.
"I challenge you (in a very light-hearted, positive way) to demonstrate how to access papers as a member of the public"
Unfortunately, the only response I have is that the current system is designed to thwart that sort of thing. We live in an anachronistic age when it comes to accessing human knowledge. We continue to assume that we need academic publishing companies to spread that knowledge. We continue to assume that it makes sense for people to physically enter a major library to find the journal articles they are looking for.
A century ago, that did actually make sense. You needed industrial-scale printing equipment to make enough copies of academic publications to satisfy the world's needs. For the most part, only universities had the resources to pay the publishers for that work, and only universities had enough space to archive those publications. In this day and age, that is not even remotely true: a typical desktop computer has enough disk space to store more than many university library systems could store on their shelves. One only needs to walk through the bound journals section of a typical university library to see the reality of this century: the bound journals are just sitting there, collecting dust, because everyone is downloading the articles using a computer.
So in theory, the general public could have access to this knowledge, and to all future research, and they could even help in the dissemination of that knowledge. In practice, only the lucky few (like me!) who happen to be affiliated with a major university can access it without jumping through hoops or traveling great distances. The sickest part about it is this: I would be prosecuted if I dared use the desktop in my office to give other people access to that knowledge. Stated another way, if I were to use my own knowledge and affiliation with a university to spread knowledge to others, I would be a criminal.
It's not a matter of restricting access to public knowledge; it's a matter of Aaron draining the village pool.
Information shares all of the downsides of the public commons: because it is freely available, no one wants to pay for the maintenance costs. JSTOR charges fees for access to cover the ongoing maintenance costs associated with storing access to thousands of journals and millions of articles published over several centuries. Note also that JSTOR provides assistance with locating articles relevant to the user's needs (i.e., library functions), and such services are frequently more valuable than its archival functions.
A wiki will not suffice to maintain access to this information; Wikipedia and Wikileaks have shown that. You would end up with all of the articles but no practical way to find the particular article or articles you are looking for.
"It's not a matter of restricting access to public knowledge; it's a matter of Aaron draining the village pool."
Copying documents does not destroy the original copies, so it does not drain anything.
"Information shares all of the downsides of the public commons: because it is freely available, no one wants to pay for the maintenance costs."
If JSTOR had made these documents freely available, there'd be plenty of people and organizations who'd gladly have paid for the maintenance costs. For example, archive.org.
"Note also that JSTOR provides assistance with locating articles relevant to the user's needs (i.e., library functions), and such services are frequently more valuable than its archival functions. ... A wiki will not suffice to maintain access to this information; Wikipedia and Wikileaks have shown that. You would end up with all of the articles but no practical way to find the particular article or articles you are looking for."
If anyone wanted to use those services, they could pay JSTOR for them regardless of whether these documents were also available elsewhere.
You can't have a tragedy of the commons when the commons belongs to one company. JSTOR isn't a village pool unless it's public, which it isn't.
JSTOR's charges aren't at all proportional to the hosting cost. If they were only charging for hosting then they should be happy if people share the data without using their servers, but they aren't, so it is manifest that they are charging for more than the hosting.
Indexing articles for browsing and search is not a real problem if the information is made public. If other people want to help JSTOR with this, they are not allowed to because JSTOR keeps all this publicly-funded information proprietary in perpetuity
So according to your argument, the risk is not that we will be unable to access such articles without JSTOR, but that we will be unable to search for articles? That's basically saying that a document search system is too costly to create or maintain for a university library to deal with, and so JSTOR is necessary for queries. Which sounds like an unfounded assumption to me, considering how widely deployed CiteSeerX is.
Even if your argument were true, what exactly was Aaron draining? If JSTOR is providing this valuable search service, wouldn't that alone fund their operation? If having millions of documents is useless because we have no way to search those documents, what difference does it make if Aaron really had been sharing the documents with others? Would it not have been a good thing if Aaron had amassed these articles and made them available using a better search service -- wouldn't we have benefited (and isn't that the whole point of copyright anyway?)?
Had Aaron been accused of hacking into JSTOR to download the source code of their search system, you might have a point. Instead, he was accused of copyright infringement and of violating a network use agreement (because he was trying to evade the ban of his laptop's IP address); at no point was JSTOR's valuable search service even an issue in this case.
There are already places for open-access articles, mainly PLOS and arXiv. PLOS stands for Public Library Of Science and was create around 10 years ago. It has got quite popular among scientist, and it's peer reviewed. However, it charges the authors with a small fee, usually around $1000 per article. For some scientists this is a problem. Personally I think this is a much better and a more economic systemic model than subscriptions. The subscription model unfortunately is pretty nasty (http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=890), to the point that thousands of scientists, and among them some renown geniuses, have decided to boycott it (http://thecostofknowledge.com). And now, with the death of Aaron there is one more reason to make the research articles free to the tax-payers, who in fact already fund the researchers, but somehow have to pay extra to access their results.
Because most academic research is at least partly funded by taxpayers (even more so everywhere but in the US), and scientists pay submission fees (again, with taxpayer money) to cover what the journals consider their contribution to the process.
For some more information about the business practices of this industry, this is a nice, short text: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/22/academic-pu...
That depends on your philosophy about knowledge. If you believe that the ability to communicate our knowledge to each other and to future generations is our most important advantage, then anything that makes it easier to access knowledge is a good thing. If instead you believe that individuals should profit from their knowledge, Swartz is just as bad as JSTOR and our government is corrupt for not prosecuting the lot of them (most of the people whose articles were downloaded were probably paid nothing for their writing).
Or, maybe you believe that corporations are our saviors and therefore anything that goes against their interests is a bad thing. In which case the government is doing exactly what it should be doing.
All academic journals where the underlying research was paid for by the state should be available to any taxpayer without cost -- which for all practical purposes means any person without cost -- because they have already paid for them.
Paywalled journals are a form of rent-seeking which while arguably an acceptable evil in the days of print are an unacceptable evil today.
Someone on Reddit explained this better than I can, but JSTOR is basically a scam. It pockets the money that it receives and doesn't pay anything back to the authors. As an author, you yourself have to pay for access to your own work (or your university does, via a subscription).
JSTOR has scholarly articles dating back centuries - when you consider that that information deserves to be free, and the societal cost of keeping that information and research hidden, JSTOR's mere existence is practically a crime.
CERN has been very clear in their opposition to JSTOR's practices, from what I know.
In the copyright wars, JSTOR is hardly a bad actor compared to the publishers. It's a nonprofit formed by libraries so that there would be a single entity to negotiate with publishers and digitize journals. I'm not saying they've always moved as quickly and aggressively as I'd like, but calling their existence "practically a crime" strikes me as very wrong. If they didn't exist, most libraries wouldn't have access to the journals JSTOR archives.
>If they didn't exist, most libraries wouldn't have access to the journals JSTOR archives.
This isn't true. Something else would be in its place. The only question is whether it would be better. I believe that society has already paid a number of times for the benefit of most of the knowledge in this archive. This should be freely available to anyone with access to the internet.
I don't know much about this system JSTOR, but you know with what you said about "scholarly articles dating back centuries" I'd expect them to have some costs associated with those efforts. Its not a popular way to raise money, yes, but who else are you going to charge other than the people interested in using that system...just saying.
"JSTOR is basically a scam. It pockets the money that it receives and doesn't pay anything back to the authors"
We are not talking about "authors" in the sense of some guy living in a townhouse, smoking a pipe and drinking scotch while writing a novel. We're talking about people who are paid to do scientific research, usually by the government, and who must publish their work in a journal or conference to continue continue or advance their careers.
Really, JSTOR is not even that bad; they are a search service. Look at the journals themselves if you want to talk about a scam: the authors are not paid by the journal publishers, the journal publishers do not fund grants any more than any other tax payer does, and it is often the case that the reviewers of the articles (peer review, the foundation of scientific publishing) are unpaid, and in some cases even the editors of the journal are volunteers. What do the journal publishers do? They print and bind journals, sometimes, or else they charge people (including JSTOR) for access to electronic copies of the articles. Journal publishers are an anachronism that is being kept alive by an out-of-control copyright system; JSTOR is just an outgrowth of the problem, like a little hair growing out of a cancer (and make no mistake, "cancer" is an apt description of journal publishers: they get in the way of scientific research and make it harder for scientists to make their findings available to humanity).
JSTOR is a non-profit created to store scholarly articles and maintain archives of scholarly work for future access. JSTOR is and was a driving force behind the digitalization of scholarly works and most academic journals. JSTOR's sole function is to maintain these archives, even if/when it is not commercially viable to do so.
All of this costs money. Universities and companies pay for JSTOR so that it can keep doing its job. More importantly, universities and companies pay for JSTOR so that they don't have to take on the burdens of maintaining complete archives of all academic works.
Except that the access fees paid by any single large university would be enough to completely fund an open digital archive.
Yes, the fees are paid to the publishers— who themselves do not pay the authors, reviewers, and even (sometimes) the editors of the journals. As part of the NYC non-profit high society Jstor is far from the most efficient non profit— but their fault is not their inefficient spending and high salaries. Their fault is facilitating a system which is amoral and harmful to society.
Absent Jstor the universities and libraries would have an easier time reforming the system because writing a single big check per quarter wouldn't remove most of their problems (while leaving everyone outside of those institutions without access).
Oh really? I thought universities and companies paid for JSTOR so that they could redistribute those academic works for profit. If not, why would they care if someone else gets access without paying? And if the universities and companies didn't care, why would JSTOR, a non-profit, care?
It really rubs me the wrong way when something like this happens and folks jump to conclusions as you have here. You didn't know this person. For all we know he could have not given two shits about the whole legal process and this is linked to family or relationship problems or long term general depression.
To be clear -- I'm totally fine with people who knew Aaron well commenting on these matters. I did in fact assume that was not the case and apologize if I was wrong there.
I guess my rub is two-fold:
- The visible portion of public figures lives is only a fraction of the complete picture, and extrapolating from that visible portion rubs me the wrong way.
- These things are complex. As another commenter noted, suicide rarely has a single reason. (And I think we put labels on these things mostly for ourselves; it's easier to cope when there's an label to pin onto a tragedy.)
Agreed. But do want to say being a HN community its good to observe/"hack" his life and learn from this. As one big question arises: Was his death to make a statement, give up, or escape this life. Food for thought:
"I was miserable. I couldn't stand San Francisco. I couldn't stand office life. I couldn't stand Wired. I took a long Christmas vacation. I got sick. I thought of suicide. I ran from the police. And when I got back on Monday morning, I was asked to resign."
"I followed these rules. And here I am today, with a dozen projects on my plate and my stress level through the roof once again." "Every morning I wake up and check my email to see which one of my projects has imploded today, which deadlines I'm behind on, which talks I need to write, and which articles I need to edit."
Post Reddit Era:
"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."
"Later, I tried to take care of him while he was being destroyed, from inside and out. I struggled so hard, but not as hard as he did. I told him, time and again, that this was his 20s. It would be better in his 30s. Just wait. Please, just hold on."
-His Girlfriend http://www.quinnnorton.com/said/?p=644
Lessons to learn for myself: Depression is a serious issue ... no doubt the Govt case played a big role in his last moments, but so did the little things: previous thoughts of ending life, excessive stress, depression. Love how jacques_chester said below: "Depression is insidious because it makes all the alternatives to suicide seem much more difficult than they actually are." It might be easier to blame one person, than these smaller hard to see things. Things we can find fault in ourselves, and improve, putting bigger focus on these clues and hints of depression that exist in many of our relationships, and other early warning signs.
Aaron Swartz did many amazing and courageous things in his life, and his life was a great service for our nation, but had he lived another day...
I want to end with this word of hope to HN community and others by Pitarou:
"TL;DR If Swartz's death is triggering suicidal thoughts, you must understand that this will pass, and life will be worth living.
After seeing the impact of Aaron Swartz's death on the Hacker News community, I am concerned about the Werther effect (the tendency of a prominent suicide to trigger other suicides). I hope I can help by sharing what I learnt through 10+ years of depression and recovery.
Depression robs you of the ability to: 1. remember happiness 2. feel happiness 3. anticipate happiness 4. make considered decisions
#1-#3 make you miserable, but #4 is the killer. Bits of your brain actually shut down, and you run on pure emotion. For example, when I was depressed, I was easy prey for offers like "4 for the price of 3 on this crappy overpriced chocolate" because I couldn't weigh it up. All I could think was "chocolate: good. 4 for 3: good. 4 for 3 chocolate: irresistible". But if you're running on pure emotion and your emotions tell you "everything sucks" well ... suicide looks like a good option.
So why didn't I kill myself? Somewhere in my guts, there was a stubborn belief that "this will pass". You might even call it a sense of entitlement: "come on world -- you can give me something better than this!" And you know what? It DID! Thanks to some wonderful people, and to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I found a way to recover.
With the best 10+ years of my life lost to depression, starting from scratch in my 30s has been hard, but it's still a life, and I swear that life is worth more than you can possibly understand when you're depressed.
Even if the assumption were wrong in this particular case, it is a worthwhile discussion to have. Intelligent people doing something relatively harmless being threatened with the possibility of decades in prison means something is very wrong.
Aaron makes a parallel between the Batman movie and his own struggles, highlighting the corruption of the system and how the Joker was actually the only "sane" person in an insane world. Sadly, he decided to pursue the same path as Heath Ledger.
Wow I liked that decription of the movie better than the movie! Its a huge loss to society that he is gone; if the subject matter was not so grave I'd point to the staged suicide reference.... But it is, sadly.
I just want to say the desire to kill oneself does not have to do with outside circumstances. Its the faulure to realize who you really are, it requires a complete living inside the mind, and into believing that your thoughts actually are reality.
Some emerge from wanting to kill themselves enlightened - they realize the true nature of reality before they go through with it. Some of the most potent spiritual leaders today went throught this - Byron Katie, eckhart tolle both wanted to kill themselves.
Others, dont. There is no blame, it does not make it any less sad for those left behind, especially family members; Aaron lives on in all of us who were touched by him. I looked up to him as a hacker, brave hacktivist, and generally kick-ass guy. RIP Aaron.
This whole case really makes me wonder. A lot of people are blaming the DOJ for leveling so many charges against him. Yet when you read the case, it would seem the only entity who wanted to punish him was the government.
Maybe I'm just being optimistic, but with the sum total of evidence, I would have thought he had a better than 70-80% chance of winning outright. The other possibility is he would get a lighter sentence, or simply cop a plea for lesser time. The fact he may or may not felt compelled to take his own life based on what he perceived was going to happen to him is shocking. Instead of playing the hand he was dealt, he simply folded and ended the game.
It makes me wonder what advice people were giving him where he truly believed he was going to jail for the rest of his life. His case could've been a huge landmark case against this sort of unlawful litigation. Sad, really sad.
I asked the lawyers “Suppose that the government’s case is completely frivolous and Swartz is guaranteed to be acquitted. What would he expect to spend in legal fees to defend the case?” They didn’t want to reveal anything particular to Aaron’s case but said “Generally the minimum cost to defend a federal criminal lawsuit is $1.5 million.”
A daunting prospect for anyone. Apparently too daunting for a 26-year-old.
There is no need to speculate. The DOJ bought by corporate interests is directly responsible for his suicide. They are more worried about protecting corporate interests than worrying about the spirit of law.
> Nobody is directly responsible for Swartz's suicide but Swartz.
Numerous courts around the world have put responsibility on third parties pressuring victims into suicide. Cult gurus pressuring people into (possibly mass) suicides, companies and managers for their employees suicides, and individuals pushing their own parents to commit suicide for will benefits.
Supporting your (hypothetical reasoning, yes), I'd rather say that it is in most cases inexistent (at least from a relevance point of view): the urge can be so overpowering that 'responsibility' becomes almost meaningless.
That is why support is so so so so so so so important.
Actually, I think it's reasonable to say that if someone is so depressed, their responsible diminishes as the pain deepens. It's a terrible thing and if he was unwell he can't really be classed as responsible surely?
There have been a few people in my life who have committed suicide. Knowing what they went through, feeling it a lot myself, it often feels like the only way out, the only way it will bring an end to your pain. It's not true but it feels totally like that, like you have absolutely no option.
Adversity, even extreme adversity, doesn't cause suicide; if it did, many, many people on earth would kill themselves.
I would even argue that it's often the opposite; adversity gives motivation and meaning; meaninglessness is more dangerous.
People I knew who committed suicide did it when they enjoyed a limited level of success. For instance, twenty years ago I was an actor in a play by an author who had been trying to make it for years. This play was a (moderate) success. Two days after the last show, the author jumped out of a window in his grandmother's apartment.
It baffled everyone around him, but I think the reason is that success didn't bring him the joy he thought it would bring. There wasn't anything left to look forward to.
If you hit someone with enough felony counts sooner or later something can snap.
There are the conditions for suicide, and then there's the impulse that drives it to happen. The first is visible and appears over a long period of time-- felony convictions, mental instability, or extreme career adversity-- but it never seems that things are that bad (especially because a lot of people refuse to admit that good things can happen to bad people). The second is fairly sudden and seems "random". This is why suicides are so unexpected. A person can seem to be "not that bad off" one day, and the next day, commit suicide.
The scary thing is that the first kind of conditions are being more common. We have:
* draconian sentences for minor crimes, including drug possession, white-hat hacking, and file sharing,
* an increasing willingness of corporations to use extreme and illegal career adversity (e.g. blacklisting) against whistleblowers,
* increasing difficulty for a person to "re-invent" him- or herself in the wake of a bad reputation.
Thirty years ago, if your life got fucked up, you could pull a Don Draper. You could pay people off to represent themselves as past employers and reconstruct your career under an alternate name, and move halfway across the country. (I don't consider this unethical in the context of radical reinvention, providing that you're not feigning competences you lack or defrauding people.) In 2013, that's becoming increasingly hard to do.
"Thirty years ago, if your life got fucked up, you could pull a Don Draper. You could pay people off to represent themselves as past employers and reconstruct your career under an alternate name, and move halfway across the country. In 2013, that's becoming increasingly hard to do."
You can still do that today although agreed it is much harder. You could simply buy someone's company for example with a history and claim that is where you were (and modify the website with the appropriate collateral.) You can fairly quickly setup a linked in profile and get lots of contacts of people in any industry that you don't even know (source: I get people writing to me wanting to be a linked in contact constantly as I'm sure most people do.)
There are people that actually have an inventory of old websites that have been around since the 90's (and domains registered back then) representing a wide range of industries.
That said this is not as easy and of course if someone does a really through vetting much will be uncovered. But how often is that done?
"The criminal investigation and today’s indictment of Mr. Swartz has been directed by the United States Attorney’s Office. It was the government’s decision whether to prosecute, not JSTOR’s. As noted previously, our interest was in securing the content. Once this was achieved, we had no interest in this becoming an ongoing legal matter."
So it's not as if anybody outside the government was still pressing charges over this.
Judges, United States Attorneys, they could have all put a stop to this, instead they allowed it to roll on destroying a life in the process, regardless of what Aaron did to himself or not.
Prosecutors can usually act on their own initiative. It's because of the historical legal concept that an offence against a person is really an offence against the Crown. So the Crown takes a legal monopoly on force and logically, this means that the Crown gets to decide what to pursue. The USA inherited this concept from England.
What I was trying to say above is that a prosecutor's goal is to prosecute as many cases as fully as possible. They do not consider whether it is meritorious to pursue a case according to some outside moral standard, that's not their job. Most of the time cases are picked if there's strong evidence.
I know you want to imagine that the DOJ prosecutors were some sort of Disney villains, according to a moral standard that they themselves do not abide by. A good man is dead, we all want somebody to kick.
But the place to make an argument that a case is flawed, or that a case is irrelevant, or repugnant to the letter or the spirit of the law, it's not in the prosecutor's office. It's in front of the judge.
> What I was trying to say above is that a prosecutor's goal is to prosecute as many cases as fully as possible. They do not consider whether it is meritorious to pursue a case according to some outside moral standard, that's not their job.
I have no idea what the situation is in the US. But here in England that's just not true.
The result is that CPS discretion is an important part of the system. And has the side-effect that the legislature has less incentive to narrow the scope of offences, since they believe (rightly or wrongly) they can rely on the CPS to not bring prosecutions where it wouldn't make sense to do so.
(Hence e.g. there's little pressure to amend the Sexual Offences Act with US-style 'romeo and juliet' laws to protect teenage couples who are technically both sexually assaulting each other, since the CPS guidelines (http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/rape_and_sexual_offences/...) in practice have the same effect).
Whether this system is better or worse than one where the prosecutor doesn't use discretion, but offences are defined more strictly, is an interesting discussion.
The situation in the US is this: prosecutors advance their careers by winning cases. It makes no difference whether or not the cases serve the public interest or even if those who are convicted are guilty. There are a lot of people in America -- possibly a majority -- who love the "law and order" approach to government and who will vote for a lawyer-turned-politician who runs on a right-wing platform and points to his history of throwing people in prison. If you want to see just how out-of-control this can get, read about the Kern County child sex abuse prosecutions from the 1980s, where one prosecutor proudly put dozens of innocent men and women in prison for crimes that never happened.
There is also an established system of prosecuting people the government does not like, and of robbing them of their ability to build a good defense -- usually by freezing their assets before they have been convicted, and building enormous cases against them that overwhelm their attorneys. I suspect Swartz was a victim of these tactics, probably because the government wanted to drive home the message that human knowledge must remain locked behind university firewalls and that hacking is a heinous offense. I would not put it past them to include Swartz' suicide in future propaganda about copyrights, as evidence that copyright infringement leads people to depression and suicide.
As you can see I'm not a firm believer in the 'this is my job so I do what I'm told' concept.
Everybody - including prosecutors - gets to decide what they do for themselves. If your job is so repugnant that you go after good people you have to question your own morality. Just following orders isn't good enough for me.
> They would have been doing what they think is the _right thing_ to do: prosecute suspects aggressively
Or the "thing" that improves their career, or annual review.
Let's see: Essentially defenseless hacker-type, historical success of draconian prosecution strategies, and penalties /way/ outside the realm of reason because of fanned-up hyperbole, fear and misunderstanding in the criminal justice system.
Low-hanging fruit, to a prosecutor. Three before breakfast every day. Aaron probably did not _matter_ once he was in the system.
Cases won versus cases lost. In this one, we all lost.
> an offence against a person is really an offence against the Crown
This is also common sense. If not, it would be difficult to prosecute murderers, since the victim doesn't exist anymore. It would be next to impossible to prosecute murderers of people who have no family and no friends.
In the actual UK, the "public interest" is the decider of whether the state prosecutes when it has enough evidence. The way you phrase it, you make it sound like the only criterion is likelyhood of conviction (i.e. strength of evidence).
A prosecutor's duty and role is to seek justice. Justice isn't always black and white, but it certainly isn't applying the toughest charges that could possibly be made to stick nor seeking the highest possible penalty in every case. The prosecutor should attempt to determine what a just outcome to a case would be, then seek to achieve it.
It's called activism. Sometimes bad laws must be resisted, by breaking them deliberately.
The best among us do it in public, under their own names, daring the state to make good on their threats.
The law is not a unitary piece. Were Aaron's case to proceed to its natural conclusion, the courts might have found that higher principles override the civil agreements that he was charged with breaking.
And even when the courts are of no avail - when the basic procedures and principles of the state are corrupt - then it is up to activists to fight that corruption, and one way is through the theatre of breaking the law in public.
The parent is narrow, but you beat him up with a position which is also contestable.
For some people, obedience to the law and its flaws, is itself a virtue because of the net win we all have by having a strong rule of law. Others are outraged at abusive exercises of power and find virtue in any struggle against it, even obligation. Others are indifferent to the system and focus on practical experiences. I think when you understand the way that different positions are built up, it's easier not to be heated about this.
Better eulogies will follow, to be sure, but in the mean time, much of what can be said about him is captured in a touching talk he gave called "How to Get a Job Like Mine" . What I think is especially touching about this is how he gently deconstructs his success, demystifying his own legend by pulling back the curtain on what would have otherwise appeared to be a string of miraculous accomplishments. In the process, he reveals himself to be a sensitive, seemingly grateful, and thoughtful person.
May he be remembered well; he seems to deserve it.
This. I first saw a raw_nerve post here on HN, and that's how i got to know of Aaron. Such writing requires an ability for introspection, among many other things. I find it hard to contemplate how someone with such a mind could possibly commit suicide. Sad day, indeed :(.
It's easy to deride suicide but fact of the matter is that it is the final but a very powerful option we have at our disposal. Instead of saying that a particular person should not have committed suicide, our hope should be that if a suicide happens, it is well thought through and is not done in haste. If a particular person decides that decades of painful life is much worse than simply ending the existence, who are we to question such a personal decision?
Of course, if everything was alright, I would have loved to see Aaron existing in this world for many more years and do wonderful things but not knowing what led him to this step and how he judged the current/future life for himself. Simply commenting that he should not have committed suicide is being insensitive to a person who has already done so much great work for humanity.
Life is not always better than no life. Context matters. A lot.
I beg to differ from what you are saying. I do understand your point though, but let me give you another picture. And this I say from personal experience.
People around the world go through tough times. For some the path is eased by good friends, family, "miracles", etc. For others the path becomes too difficult to tackle. In the end the person chooses not to fight any longer.
As much as we should respect this decision, we should also remember that many people avoid that decision to end life and actually become happier in life. Sometimes you may be just an inch away from being saved.
Every person who has every felt disturbed and suicidal and did not take the step, probably feels good about not taking the step. So if you ask me personally I would differ and say we should help each other till the last moment, never give up.
While brainless did commit the survivorship bias, I would consider you responding to what he said rather than what he meant to be attacking a strawman.
In this case, lets consider all humans who ever considered suicide. Now, while it's true that we can only observe those who did not commit suicide, we do have a substantial amount of data on humans in general that we can work from. If this claim has you skeptical (ie "successful suicides are a separate reference class"), I will remind you we have data on suicidal people who were forcibly restrained, which you are encouraged to look up.
So now let's look at the core of brainless' argument: people change with time. If you look at happiness rates for quadriplegic patients (or any of the hedonic treadmill research), you'll see that your happiness levels aren't so impacted by life events. This effect is present in both the population of completed suicides, and aborted suicides, and is likely a lot of the causal force brainless is trying to reference.
Which is to say that it's highly likely that people who kill themselves counterfactually wish they didn't.
Agreed! I'm incredibly glad I didn't commit suicide when things got bad and it was on the table. I would've missed so many amazing moments that have come since then, and I can only imagine I have many more in my future. But if I had done so, it's not as if I could've regretted it.
Maybe I put it in the wrong way. But the way I see it, he was a person with dreams. He wanted to go great things. Do you really think such a person wants to die? He was an activist - he lived doing stuff. Dead people can not. I am sure if he could think about it rationally, he was brilliant enough to understand that.
So I personally believe whatever happened is because he felt this was the only escape. To me, again me personally, suicide is no glorified option.
As someone who's suffered from mental illness for most of his life, I disagree. While I have things largely under control these days, it had nothing to do with the professional help that was offered/forced on me; in fact, it was a huge impediment. Receiving help is not a panacea, and I can't blame anyone who's dealt with it for a long time for completely lacking hope.
I don't think suicide is the answer, but I can at least see the point of view; after all, I could've seen myself going down the same path, if I hadn't figured out how to cope.
>I have no illusion that therapy is magically going to stop all suicides.
I think the very existence of "professional therapy" is a factor in FAVOR of depression and suicide.
It means that as a society we have compartmentalised social life, so that the help one previously expected from his family/friends (and ultimately: from the way he can structure his life) is now to be had from paid professionals (or tacky volunteers).
>Oh, no you do not understand at all. Depression cannot be dealt with just with an 'ordinary and structured life': it is an illness. It has existed always.
While there are cases of physiological depression (an actual illness) in the staggering majority of cases it's not an illness but an easy cop-out to deny any major wrong with societal structure and the modern way of life.
"The fact that there are specialists" just means that the medical industry has found another profitable malaise to exploit -- similar to all those BS ADD prescriptions.
Ironically, Aaron Swartz conveyed this quite well in one of his posts "fix the factory, not the workers":
"And when the system isn’t working, it doesn’t make sense to just yell at the people in it — any more than you’d try to fix a machine by yelling at the gears. True, sometimes you have the wrong gears and need to replace them, but more often you’re just using them in the wrong way. When there’s a problem, you shouldn’t get angry with the gears — you should fix the machine."
Well, it depends on what you understand by the word. It is obvious that in most cases, when one says "I feel depressed", he is just saying "I feel low", like "I'd like the Earth to swallow me", nobody means "I'd like to die" literally.
However, I just wanted to point out that there are REAL depressions, as you acknowledge (my fear was that you were not acknowledging even this).
>I just wanted to point out that there are REAL depressions
Ah, sure, we agree, there are real depressions.
I just wanted to point out that the absurd numbers of depressions one heres (up to 20-30% of the population) are based non on clinical conditions but on a personal life and/or society out of balance, and are fixable by fixing those, instead of treating the person.
"as a society we have compartmentalised social life, so that the help one previously expected from his family/friends (and ultimately: from the way he can structure his life) is now to be had from paid professionals (or tacky volunteers)"
What if the depressed person is estranged from his family and friends? Or what if he has none? What if he feels he can't talk to either?
You overestimate the help that family and friends can give, even if a depressed person is willing and able to go to them for help. They rarely have the training or understanding of human psychology to do more than provide the equivalent of first-aid.
Expecting family or friends to help someone overcome severe depression is like expecting them to be able to successfully perform surgery. Sure, if they happen to have significant medical training, they might succeed. But in most cases such expectations are completely unrealistic.
When I was first going through what turned into a very long diagnostic phase for some mental health (let's call them) oddities, every person involved at any stage asked, every time I talked to them, whether I had thought of suicide. At one point, I had been asked about it so much I actually started contemplating if I were to kill myself, how would I do it (mind you, this wasn't wanting to, or even entertaining the notion, but me going "Why not actually think through the reality of it?"). I came to the decision that if I were to ever kill myself, I would stab myself in the heart with a knife. Yes, it would be excruciatingly slow and painful (can't quickly stab yourself and dodge ribs, have to drive the blade extremely deep to get the heart, etc.), but it would serve a singular purpose: to signal that it wasn't a quick decision, to absolve people from feeling like there was something more they could have done and to remove all doubt about how strongly I felt about making the particular decision. When I explained this to the psychiatrist next time I was asked, his response was along the lines of "Do you think someone would be capable of that?" And the only response I had was "If they wanted to end it all that badly, yes".
All this as a long ways to get around to saying: I disagree with anything that may consider suicide appropriate in any situation as one persons personal decision and situation becomes an example or model that someone in a similar situation could look to. But, I also don't think anyone should say a particular person should not have committed suicide. Instead, what should be said is a particular person should not have felt the need to commit suicide.
> By the time you are contemplating suicide, it's not even close.
This is classic begging the question. One could easily say someone who claims suicide is never a rational option is the altered one. It must be seriously condescending for those trying to help someone contemplating suicide to offer such plainly specious arguments against it, especially if that person is the contemplative type. It likely does more harm than good.
It seems to me that the problem in many situations is that suicide is a permanent response to a temporary problem. In most of these cases, were the person being rational, they would probably consider the expected remainder of their life to be more good than bad.
There are certainly exceptions. Terminal illness is an obvious one. A chronic disease - whether physical or mental - that has few prospects for effective treatment is another. I'm inclined to think that Aaron's legal troubles were not, by themselves enough to make suicide a rational option, though I don't know enough about the situation to be sure. If, however, he concluded that his legal troubles were part of conclusive evidence that the world is a bad place that isn't going to get better, suicide might look more rational to me.
No, if you want to be logical, it's clear that suicide is rarely the right choice, and that it's the suicidal person whose critical thinking abilities are impaired.
It's simple: Most people who feel suicidal are feeling suicidal because of/in conditions which are shared by hundreds, thousands, millions of other people. All you have to do, as a rational actor, to decide if suicide makes sense, is to look at what those other people are making of the same situation. In the case of being prosecuted for white collar crimes, most people go on to take their lumps (deserved or not), then go back to their families and a perfectly reasonable existence. There is life afterwards, plenty of it. In some cases, like fraud and hacking etc., quite a few folks turn their experience on the wrong side of the law into valuable consulting gigs. Humans have been evolutionarily selected for resilience.
And, on the flip side, if we're talking interminable physical pain or a fatal disease which is incurable & will only lead to worse and worse deterioration and an unbearably slow death, you can use the same approach to see that suicide may make sense in that situation, to avoid an inescapable fate that all those other people in the same situation are definitely and verifiably experiencing.
The thing about suicidal depression is it cuts off your ability to think like this. You cannot even IMAGINE a world where things get better, where there's an "After." You feel utterly alone… often because you cut yourself off from people who love you & would help you. You think your pains are so special and unique, nobody could understand, and you may even get angry when people try to help you because they can't possibly "get it". You think they're against you. You imagine how much your death will hurt the parties trying to persecute you (real or imagined). Maybe you even think "I'll show them!" or that you will make a good martyr. All of which is nonsense, even though it's very persuasive nonsense… when you're in a suicidal depression.
That's why suicidal depression is clearly, logically, and provably the impairment.
This is why, if you're even remotely contemplating suicide, you should ALWAYS, ALWAYS reach out and seek help. Because if you make a permanent decision, you will have been working off false information. As one of my favorite authors says, "DEPRESSION LIES."
In most cases, suicide is literally stupid. And such a damn shame.
Which lets face it is a Christian rule, and not applicable to all people.
I would like to die right now. I'm just too cowardly. There is no simple switch to do it quickly and painlessly. No way to stop others being upset. No way to stop others discovering something that may scar them. I do not wish to mess up others.
Why? I simply do not belong. I don't understand the human race at all, or the world that has been created. I want to leave, assuming I was ever part of it in the first place, which I don't think I was. Certainly not now. I want to shed my human slavery.
This is rational. It, for me, is not a label like "depression". It a conclusion based on my observation and experience. I willingly concede that others may well be different. How ever, many may not be able or willing to express it, especially given the amount of disdain and patronisation fired carelessly at people who feel this way, by people's knee jerk, ill-considered "opinion".
If you reply, be careful. Its too easy to be arrogant, ignorant and judgemental. Its too easy to trot out the usual tired incorrect tropes. Hearing or reading them just confirms conclusion.
Counselling? Don't make me laugh. I seen a few, none had anything to say. Nothing I had not already considered. Last one I tried packed it in after I left her with no where to go and she realised her profession was at best cosmetic. And that is all people have to offer, well, that or drugs. Oh yeah, be drugged up. That solves it all. Well, it might for people with things like chemical imbalances, but they do nothing by put thinkers to sleep.
Right now? I'm just waiting for it to all end peacefully, or at least quickly.
Sorry if this doesn't fit. But then, neither do I.
sorry Alan- u approach this with rational conviction but your emotions have your logic circuitry out of whack. don't take my word for it- come back to this thread in 5 years and you won't recognize the words! i've been there, i know.
that's why we are "life bullies" - because we've made it through tough times and can guarantee that it gets better. if you were a hungry child without a family or a roof over your head, i wouldn't be lecturing you. but then again you wouldn't have time for despair - you'd count every grain of rice as a blessing. buck up, cowboy up, weather the storm. if you feel out of place in this world, do something to make it better. pick up trash, help old people, build a website for a nonprofit.
throw this junk about how you're so special and don't fit in out of the window. being sad doesn't make you special or deep or wise. your life is YOUR LIFE - make it worth living.
if you like books, read Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth. it's good perspective shared with the weight of firsthand experience.
Being down in the dumps is not good for your mental health :)
You've very accurately described a humour that I find myself in from time to time, sometimes for years, and it's no fun.
The tired tropes are society's collective knowledge on how to deal with it, so to trot them out: I've had to grin and bear it as the saying goes, get some fresh air, cook myself proper food on a regular basis and seek company without getting intoxicated. Sometimes, music is the answer (upbeat stuff does it for me, no radiohead - although even radiohead works for some people). I make a routine of doing these things. I eventually forget the frame of mind, while still remaining a contrarian at heart.
> This is rational. It, for me, is not a label like "depression". It a conclusion based on my observation and experience.
Our rational minds are not somehow separate from our emotions and brain chemistry, though. Beware rational conclusions that have feelings attached, and that make you feel positive affect. And if it's only rational for you, well then that's a statement about your mind (brain), not the world or anything else.
I am also puzzled by this:
> Oh yeah, be drugged up. That solves it all. Well, it might for people with things like chemical imbalances
How would you know whether or not you have one (chemical imbalance isn't correct, but how do you know what your brain chemistry looks like?) And rational conclusions tend not to magically go away due to drugs unless it's drugs that make you seriously impaired in general (which you would notice). And SSRIs don't "put thinkers to sleep", go do some research, and note the thinkers that have been on them for large-ish parts of their careers/productive years.
Finally, have you been checked for common physical illnesses that can cause depression? Off the top of my head, vitamin deficiency is famous for this. Read about people with brain tumours and damage, too, and note how these things can have effects on feelings and whatnot without being noticeable by the person having them.
I understand where you're at, I've posted on this here before. Not existing is an option. It is not cowardly to choose "not today", it is a combination of biological drive to stay alive, and the fact that the choice of suicide is a one-time choice, you can't hit undo on a decision like that, so it is prudent to approach very cautiously.
That being said, I find myself to be fundamentally broken in ways similar to what you describe for yourself. I have found that this apartness can be mitigated, lessened and and accepted by myself and people around me. It isn't easy, and I have to consciously focus on it. However, I also know that by having looked at how I can solve my apartness and lack of understanding with less drastic measures, I have found solutions that work for me. This is why I've chosen 'not today' so far.
I would be glad to talk to you about this, share my experiences and strategies for interacting in a world of people I don't get. I won't try to talk you out of your choice - it is not mine to make. I won't condone it either - that too is not my place. The best I can provide is a simple sharing of my brokenness and hacks to fix it. The tl;dr of it tho, is: treat it like a puzzle or game, it helped me figure out the rules, and the resulting deep analysis helped me get some empathy and insight, allowing me to fit in better even though I didn't really "understand", and that feeling like I have a place even if my role is "that weird guy in the group" really is pretty awesome, and worth carrying on for (to me).
On the interntet nobody knows you are a human. No need to die for that. Also, there is a huge variety of human communities. Perhaps check Jared Diamond, I think his latest book describes tribes in New Guinea.
I bet there are people like you out there somewhere. If only there were some kind of communication network that could help you find each other, without having to reveal your true identity to all the ignorant and judgemental people.
It's painful to go through life so angry. Serious question: would you prefer to die now, or to feel a little less angry and disappointed every day? I also found therapists to be useless, and probably like you I was too smart for my own good. But there was something that totally changed my life. If you'd like to feel something other than rage or emptiness, please get the audiobook (this is important - the audiobook) of When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. It's not touchy-feely, feel good bromides… in fact, it's the opposite. It's about radical understanding of how crappy the world really is, and learning to work with that. Pema delivers everything in a way that someone in misery will identify with, but without PITY or condescension. Please try it.
Have you considered staying here just to see what happens next in the world? To me, it's kind of like a movie that I can't (don't want to) stop watching, even if I'm falling asleep and want to go to bed. I'm not sure it will end before I die, but it is possible and I wanna see it (I would love seeing a zombie apocalypse. But I would settle for another biological or nuclear one too). And if it does not end, at least I wanna see how far we get. Maybe I will live to see the colonization of Mars or something.
It seems to me that in majority of cases suicide is simply the final symptom of a mental illness that was not or could not be treated and in that the situation is not that different from one in which someone dies for example from cancer. I don't think anyone is really saying that "he should not have committed suicide", what would that even mean really anyway, but it's OK to be sad that we don't always know how to more effectively help people in such cases.
I understand what you mean, but it's the kind of logic I can only follow when I'm actually feeling suicidal. "This is a rational decision, it's not a bad thing to do, society has stigmatized it but I have a right". But (for me) a few days later, the weight just sort of lifts, and suddenly it seems like a really terrible, selfish idea again. I know it'll come back, and I dread that, but in the meantime I can't consider that it would have a been a reasonable choice. Things feel very real and very logical at the time, but looking back it's hard to understand why.
Last fall and winter, JSTOR experienced a significant misuse of our database. A substantial portion of our publisher partners’ content was downloaded in an unauthorized fashion using the network at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of our participating institutions. The content taken was systematically downloaded using an approach designed to avoid detection by our monitoring systems.
The downloaded content included more than 4 million articles, book reviews, and other content from our publisher partners' academic journals and other publications; it did not include any personally identifying information about JSTOR users.
We stopped this downloading activity, and the individual responsible, Mr. Swartz, was identified. We secured from Mr. Swartz the content that was taken, and received confirmation that the content was not and would not be used, copied, transferred, or distributed.
The criminal investigation and today’s indictment of Mr. Swartz has been directed by the United States Attorney’s Office. It was the government’s decision whether to prosecute, not JSTOR’s. As noted previously, our interest was in securing the content. Once this was achieved, we had no interest in this becoming an ongoing legal matter.
Can we not know who exactly (their faces/names etc.) were the people working in the "US Attorney Office" bent to indict him? It's easy for people to term it was not JSTOR, it was the Attorney Office but ultimately these things happen only because people forget how to treat other people properly.
I'm not sure what you're getting at here. While I'll agree it was overzealous to make a federal case out of this, you can't blame federal prosecutors for doing their fucking jobs just because someone kills themselves. Many people have survived federal prosecution without dying or killing themselves.
I'm shocked and horrified by this news too. It's awful that Aaron died. But it's foolish to blame anybody but him for his actions in this.
I mostly agree. But a potential 35 year prison sentence hanging over people for a white collar crime is sure to send a percentage of them over the edge.
With a more realistic and efficient judicial system, people would be under a lot less unnecessary stress and there'd be fewer straws to break the proverbial camels' backs. Being threatened with 35 years in prison for what he did is indicative of a sick judicial system.
Well, white collar just means generally "conducted using computers, paper, etc." vs. guns or sticks or fists. So defrauding people via the mail is white collar, or ponzi schemes, etc. There is usually a financial component, but the FBI 30k foot overview is "lying, cheating, or stealing". What aaronsw is alleged to have done was a white collar activity (except that he did sneaky wiring closet stuff), but not what people immediately think of as "white collar crime".
I mostly don't believe what Aaron did was a crime at all. If it was wrong, it was a civil tort against JSTOR or JSTOR's authors, who declined to give a shit (and I suspect most authors in JSTOR would support him). If it was a crime, it was a very minor crime -- not a 35 year federal felony.
I'm sad Aaron is gone, and angry he didn't fight this to the end. He probably could have won, or at least ended up with a suspended sentence or something like that, and this could have been a catalyst for reform of copyright laws (if not general laws, the scientific-papers-created-with-government-funding laws).
I would say that it was about as serious as parking in a loading zone. We need to stop this nonsense where we expect people with no legal background to pay attention to copyrights. We don't tell people they will go to jail for 35 years if they park in a loading zone, nor do we threaten them with prison if they routinely park in loading zones; we give them a small but annoying fine and send them on their way.
> "You can't blame federal prosecutors for doing their job?"
Since when was it their "job" to tactfully subject a civilian under stress of facing criminal law with potential 35 years of imprisonment?
Apart from above, the intent to know the people and faces behind such a bench (read DOJ) is not the same as blaming them for the part called suicide in this entire story.
We should definitely know who said what in the case, just to estimate how much weight one added into the sinking of the ship. Blaming justice system "DOJ" is like letting the real criminals getting away with it, however you may want to put it.
You don't get to make up the law as you go along. If its possible to serve 35 years in prison for what Aaron Swartz did, that's absurd and needs to change, but the prosecutors aren't the ones who made that law.
I agree. That prosecutors aren't the ones who made the law, but aren't they responsible for their actions?
I think it's important to bring up names and faces of people (state agents) who make/made laws as well. As someone pointed out somewhere on HN today - "killing in the name of duty is an absurd bug in human psyche. The Lucifer effect? . Those in public duty should probably be publicly visible along with their actions."
It's an essential part of the rule of law that prosecutors prosecute the law as it is, not as they, or we, wish it should be. They aren't the ones to blame for this. To whatever extent they are, we all are.
True, anyone who pays taxes has a hand in this. The issue is that deciding not to pay your taxes means that the dogs are set on you. This is not a free society, unfortunately. Perhaps bitcoin will change all of this. I've been contemplating the idea of a shadow economy where people work remotely and anonymously, getting paid in an anonymous currency and completely circumventing the current economic and political systems. Anyone hiring developers for bitcoins?
It's not an issue of paying taxes. We have a responsibility and a duty to control our government and our political systems and to direct them to the ends of justice. Whether or not we pay our taxes, we still have this duty.
That's what makes this so tragic. Aaron Swartz was one of the few people willing to actually do this, even when it meant poking at a sleeping bear, one that, in the end, he couldn't face.
I believe that there are at least three stances on this issue. One is, as you mentioned, involvement in the current system in a positive sense (steering in the right direction). Another is involvement in the system in a negative sense (destruction of it). The third is abandoning the system and using something else altogether.
The last option has the side effect of bleeding the existing one dry through inaction (within the boundary of the current system). It is similar to a software fork. We have seen many a project where the ones in charge have become rigid enough in their ways that, for all intents and purposes, the cost and probability of convincing them outweighs the cost of detaching from the infrastructure and moving in a new direction. For example, XFree86 and X.Org.
An issue that we face with activism is that the structure in place is supported by individuals with orders of magnitude more wealth and influence than what the activists have access to. This is evident in the case of Mr. Swartz where he was rapidly running out of money to fight his battle in court. We are at a disadvantaged position in that sense.
As such, every [insert your unit of currency] we pay in taxes go towards feeding the policies we so emphatically disagree with. With a nod to The Art Of War, a valid tactic in such a case is to starve your enemy and wage a war of attrition - in other words, reduce their material wealth while increasing our own. The end result is that nobody gets hurt yet they slowly lose their influence and the new guard have the opportunity and resources to build theirs.
The issue is that deciding not to pay your taxes means that the dogs are set on you. This is not a free society, unfortunately. Perhaps bitcoin will change all of this. I've been contemplating the idea of a shadow economy where people work remotely and anonymously, getting paid in an anonymous currency and completely circumventing the current economic and political systems.
A fundamental misconception of Bitcoin is that using Bitcoin as a currency will magically obliterate the Government's ability to determine income taxes. The government never has tracked currency for the purposes of determining income. They track transactions in whatever currency or assets the transactions are denominated. Thus, governments have been able to determine taxes since the days of barter, and they will continue to be able to determine taxes until long after Bitcoin is digital dust.
Although bitcoin transactions are public, if you cannot correlate a hash to a human then they are essentially anonymous. The 'leaks' can only happen when exchanging bitcoin for traditional currency. Fortunately, there are ways to do this anonymously too. With some care, it is possible to stay hidden in the true sense, even though the currency is exchanging hands in public.
Also, notice that it was not "We're giving you 35 years in jail" it is "The absolute most that you could possibly receive for this crime is 35 years". I somehow suspect that number is far higher for rape cases but, as your comment demonstrates, that number is not necessarily indicative that that's how long you would serve.
You're attacking a bit of a straw man there. Clearly the prosecutors are guilty of overzealous prosecution, and the law itself is overzealous. It simply doesn't follow, however, that these people are responsible for Aaron Swartz's decision to commit suicide. Only Aaron Swartz is responsible for that.
The federal prosecutors? The division head? The attorney general?
How do you plan to identify the parties bent on indicting him? You certainly can't assume the prosecutors took this on as some sort of personal crusade.
Assuming you can identify the individuals most responsible, what do you plan to do to punish them for their actions? The implication of getting "names and faces" out in the public domain is potentially serious.
I've seen this sentiment echoed variously up and down this thread, and it is scary. Inaction is not the appropriate response here, but neither is the public stoning you appear to be proposing.
Congress decides the range of punishments for breaking laws, not the Department of Justice. Congress is elected by the people. Instead of trying to identify individuals to indict, consider the role of 300 million Americans who implicitly backed those decisions.
Or you could just take a step back to pause and lament the toll of depression.
Thank you all for your kind words and thoughts. Aaron has been depressed about his case/upcoming trial, but we had no idea what he was going through was this painful.
Aaron was a terrific young man. He contributed a lot to the world in his short life and I regret the loss of all the things he had yet to accomplish. As you can imagine, we all miss him dearly. The grief is unfathomable.
I am terribly sorry for your loss. Aaron was a huge inspiration for me too, just as he was for countless others. He has accomplished more in his short life than most can in much longer ones. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.
Dear Aaron's mum. There is a lot of wrong in this world, and people like him take it upon themselves, because that's the only way to try to make the world a better place. The evil system is stronger than anyone of us, and chased him down, til it crushed him. I can understand why having lost his hope and lifelines he would feel he could not go on. Many people give up because they cannot find their way out of a wrong system. But I am sure he will be reborn in no time, and next time, he will come back stronger and more capable than before. Let's just pray for his soul and his rebirth.
Having dealt with suicide of my brother I feel for you. It truly is a horrible thing to deal with... The pain never does go away. I hadn't heard of Aaron but have read some amazing articles about him since this story broke. Depression is terrible... Both dealing with it and watching someone else suffer. The feeling with both is just helplessness. Your son has done some truly amazing things in his life... I pray that these are the things that everyone remembers him for and not just the way he passed. My heart goes out to his family and friends, I see he had many.
No Mother should have to bury their own child regardless of the cause of death. My heart goes out to you and I hope you will rest with the knowledge that your son will be remembered as a true patriot, to whom we all owe a huge Thanks. If their were more people like Aaron this planet would surely be a better place to live. Stay strong and You are in my prayers.
Aaron was a unique, inspiring, and puzzling individual. I knew him only a little, but I always knew that whenever I heard his name it would be in the context of an ambitious and bold new adventure. It's truly tragic loss for the tech community, and I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for his family. Our thoughts and best wishes are with you.
My heart is warmly with you now, as are thousands around the world who mourn Aaron, even those who had never met him. Few things can really alleviate your pain now but I hope you will find some solace in our expressions of sympathy. They show that his values and contributions will live on and continue to inspire many. However brief his presence among us has been, you can be proud of what your son fought for - as we all are.
Your son will never die. For the soul never dies.
Also his beauty lives in our memory, and learned aspiration.
This world wil never be the same again, as he left a very strong mark, the mark of a beautiful soul. The world has been touched. Your son is a legend.
So very sorry that Aaron was in so much pain. He was truly an amazing person and in such a short life had a significant impact. The world is diminished without him.
Thank you for taking the time to address the HN community even at such a time like this, this means a lot to us. I am so sorry for what you as a mother have to go through. My prayers are with you and for your family.
I want to offer my condolences for your loss, Im very empathetic to Arron's situation. I can only imagine someone that graduated and took the right path in life to be potential labeled as a felon If in fact he what I assumed cared greatly about his reputation
I ask that you all watch; titled Illegal Everything
its my goal that maybe this tragedy may help the next Aaron????
I find it bizarre how quickly our minds jump to impossibly unlikely reasons when tragic events like this happen. Troubles with the justice department don't alone cause a bright young man to kill himself.
> I was miserable. I couldn't stand San Francisco. I couldn't stand office life. I couldn't stand Wired. I took a long Christmas vacation. I got sick. I thought of suicide. I ran from the police. And when I got back on Monday morning, I was asked to resign.
> I followed these rules. And here I am today, with a dozen projects on my plate and my stress level through the roof once again.
> I have a lot of illnesses. I don’t talk about it much, for a variety of reasons. I feel ashamed to have an illness. (It sounds absurd, but there still is an enormous stigma around being sick.)
> Sadly, depression (like other mental illnesses, especially addiction) is not seen as “real” enough to deserve the investment and awareness of conditions like breast cancer (1 in 8) or AIDS (1 in 150). And there is, of course, the shame.
This, seriously. People need to stop excusing the federal government for the monster that it really is. Yes Aaron was depressed, do you really think the DoJ had absolutely nothing to do with that? I'd argue their constant indictments had a lot to do with it.
Your analogy doesn't take into account political activism, which is acknowledged as a social good in the US almost every time our founding story is taught. Even then it would be a bad analogy.
A restraining order is also very different from the threat of excessive imprisonment.
If it was a threat of excessive imprisonment in your hypothetical situation, yes, the courts and laws would get a share in the blame. Not specifically for committing suicide, but for making your life needlessly worse.
> People need to stop excusing the federal government for the monster that it really is.
As the son of a federal employee, I feel I should address this specific sentence. Let's not confuse a couple of jerks for the entirety of the federal government. Many large organizations produce stupid, indefensible actions but I feel like your phrasing is overly broad.
From reading that, it doesn't sound much like clinical depression but a lot like ME. Especially the digestive stuff and how it makes you bed-bound.
I've known a couple of people hit really hard by ME (it takes years out of their lives and they are constantly ill and unable to live fully), and depression follows the reality of ME... not the other way around.
Both of the people I know who has ME started charting their physical state and comfort/discomfort of various bodily systems over time to try and gain a deeper insight and desperately seek some handling mechanism. Even though migraines, aches and pains were the initial symptoms, their own charts showed the upset stomach, cramps, etc being the dominant constant.
Both ended up very depressed from it... and that was without any external pressures being introduced.
/dying was very painful to read. Does Alex symbolize Reddit? Does the key lime cookie symbolize the money involved in the acquisition of the payment Reddit got? Is the "cafe trying hard to be international" the acquirer? Maybe I am reading into this too much, but the timing of that post seems too coincidental. It's almost like his will died with that whole process. RIP.
People with mood disorders (e.g. depression, bipolar, cyclothymia) and psychotic illnesses (e.g. bipolar, schizophrenia, schizoaffective) are at elevated risk of suicide. People with anxiety disorders (e.g. social anxiety, OCD) also tend to be prone to depression.
I'm not a big fan of diagnostic labels. Every individual is a different case. [disclaimer, worked in acute mental health, and brain injury rehab total seven years, before getting sucked into the software and analytics industries]
The description, from Aaron's writings, sounds like untreated (and possibly undiagnosed) bipolar.
I may be seeing this through bipolar-coloured glasses - I don't have it myself, but I have loved ones with it and know very well what it looks like from outside. It's not normal ups and downs of mood, it can be really scary stuff.
The legal case probably didn't help, but it's quite possible there could have been no way to stop this short of someone present on depression watch.
> I think that the way to beat the stigma is talk openly about it.
Easier to say than to do. If you're depressed / bipolar / schizophrenic and talk about it openly it can make people very uncomfortable, which can result in their not wanting to be around you, which can result in further isolation for you, which can make your situation worse.
Understandable emotion, but the country did not kill him. He did that.
You can disagree with the laws of the land, protest them, even violate them in protest assuming you are willing to pay the consequences.
You can blame the country, its politicians, or its voters for having bad laws. You can't blame those entities for this suicide. That was his choice, and it's unfortunate he will not be around to make his case.
We have no problem directing our attention at bullying when we consider elevated teenage suicide statistics, but if those bullies happen to be in government they are suddenly off limits and deserve no blame?
You're right, this isn't really comparable to bullying, the imbalance of power is much more extreme. It is comparable to an adult beating a child for using a profane word. A completely mindbogglingly disproportionate response; convicted rapists get less time on average than what he was looking at.
JSTOR didn't want him pursued like he was, but the justice department was trying to nail him to the wall anyway. They wanted blood, and unfortunately they got it.
I agree with you.
The parallel to bullying is a good fit and the only reason it is not _really_ comparable is because of the imbalance of power.
I would not be surprised to find myself and most others taking the same sort of action in a similar, unjust, situation.
Would you rather die today or suffer more than you lived so far in prison for something like that ?
Isn't just a matter of the law being unjust, I think this is pure evil and wrong interpretation of a wrong law.
The law needs changing and the people pursing this case need changing too.
This is so absurd. While you may disagree with the punishment sought and the law, the government is enforcing the law, as written at the time the crime was committed.
They guy actively broke many laws over a long period of time. The government is neither acting without reason nor intimidating someone for lawful behavior.
Bullies don't enforce proscribed consequences based on written law. Bullies don't use courts with impartial judges, juries, and defense advocacy. Comparing this to bullying is insulting to anyone actually bullied.
> They guy actively broke many laws over a long period of time. The government is neither acting without reason nor intimidating someone for lawful behavior.
I am arguing a massively disproportionate response occurred. Not that he was innocent, or that he deserved no punishment at all.
> Comparing this to beating a child? Seriously?
Decades of prison and 13 felony charges were in play. A man is dead. All for what? A little trespassing, a fake email, and a bunch of downloads? It is going to take more than your mock shock to convince me the comparison is anything other than generous. I am holding back here.
I don't understand the people saying the DOJ was just doing their jobs either. Are none of the people involved in that process given any sort of power of discretion at all? Any person in this case who was in a position to use some discretion but chose not to should be doing some serious reflection and consideration right now.
Of course they have that discretion -- prosecutors decline cases or seek reduced sentences all the time. Given the overbearing nature of our legal system, it would be impractical to do otherwise. This was just pointlessly maximalist DOJ behavior. On the other hand, shame on us for allowing these laws to exist at all, and creating opportunities for selective enforcement and massively unreasonable sentences.
I'd also like to add here that while maybe the DOJ had no way to know that Aaron would kill himself, their general pattern of ruining people's lives over minor offenses will, it seems obvious to me, result in some number of suicides. Heat up a pot of water and some percentage of the molecules evaporate. So while we can't hold the DOJ responsible for Aaron's actions, we can certainly hold them accountable for the aggregate misery they've created for so many people. And we should.
A Federal charge is a terrible thing, even before the gavel falls.
You'll note that he was indicted in June 2011, more than a year and a half ago. Throughout this time he must have been under tremendous stress: not knowing whether he'd be spending the next few decades behind bars, and not even knowing when he would find this information out. Months drag on into years and nothing seems to get any better. Your life is on hold until someone else decides what your life will be looking like.
This sort of stress tends to eat away at your insides. You can't make long-term plans of any kind; meet a nice person at the bar and you're reminded that you can't start anything serious since you might be going away for a long time. A thousand tiny reminders every day that you are already a prisoner and will be for an indefinite period while the lawyers are lawyering. All the defendant has is time to think about what prison would be like, how the course of their life is not in their hands. It is a feeling of abject powerlessness.
It's not unfathomable that a person in this situation might look at suicide as the only way to regain control of their life, even if it means ending it prematurely.
Suicide for a defendant can, therefore, seem almost enticing. A siren who sings of a quick and easy escape from seemingly insurmountable troubles. I do not know why he did it, but I have been where he might have gone to in his mind. It is a dark place, and much evil can be wrought there.
Because he was a brilliant and loved computer programmer who was facing 35 years in prison. Can you imagine the US Attorneys office treating you in the same manner they treat rapists because you wrote a downloader script? I'd say it's a very reasonable assumption.
Can you imagine the US Attorneys office treating you in the same manner they treat rapists because you wrote a downloader script?
Minor nitpick: The "justice" system treats rapists far better. Typical sentencing for rapists is 112 months, of which the typical rapist will serve half, from a system( rape is usually a state-level crime )with conviction rates hovering around 65%. Aaron was facing 3-4 times that, in a system( the federal courts )with a conviction rate over 90%.
Someone who could have contributed very positively to the society just killed himself. We can't reverse that, the best we can do now is to learn from this incidence and try to minimize it in the future. Explaining it away in the name of insanity will not help.
I've always found that position extremely selfish. If it wasn't for families and friends being devastated killing yourself would probably not seem like a big deal to many. The fact that it affects the ones you love so much is the very reason for why many that contemplates suicide goes through unimaginable suffering just to save it from others - it is a huge sacrifice, one that a typical person would never, ever, in their entire life even come close to experiencing. And if it just doesn't work out people have the stomach to call it selfish.
Someone described the process in which a depressed person takes his/her life with a person standing in the window of a burning building choosing between burning to death and jumping to death. It can basically be the very same thing.
And to a certain degree, jumping just makes your problems disappear - just like that. But saying that the person jumping is selfish because he/she didn't contemplate the consequences? Do you honestly believe that killing yourself is something that people take lightly? That it didn't occur to them that they would be missed? Think. That point of view makes me sick and expressing it makes you extremely selfish in my eyes.
As a stranger who's never known Aaron and who's only just read about what he's done in this world, I can say I'm somewhat devastated as well.
You're blaming Aaron for taking the supposedly cowardly approach and hurting his friends and family in the process, but what about the people who put him in this position? Are they beyond reproach? What about the people who affected those people? Clearly something fucked up along the way because I don't think Aaron deserved to be in a position where he had to do this because he downloaded bytes from a website.
Holy crap, stop being such an asshole. On the off chance you're "just playing the devil's advocate": it's time to quit, now. You can't possibly believe that Aaron deserved in any way what was coming to him. It also stretches the imagination that you actually think lawyers are in any way protecting the innocent. Your opinion on depression is likewise both immature and disgusting in its callousness. You should really be challenged for these beliefs if they are indeed your own.
As a society we do agree to follow the law and punish those who break them. But remember that the law of the land is not some God given set of laws. Several people broke segregation laws during the civil rights movement and in my view they should not have paid up (I think you may also agree with this). Turing paid up because he broke the law but now I guess there is almost unanimous consent that him paying up was not the right outcome. So paying up for breaking the law is not as black and white as it sometimes seems. Lets reserve our judgements for some time.
Edit : Also as Udo points out lets stop this line of argument for a bit. Some members of the community either knew Aaron or were affected by his work, lets not subject them to this argument right now.
Even if you're innocent, and even if you ultimately win, a federal prosecution can utterly wreck your life.
I don't think anyone disputes that Aaron was probably not in the best of mental health to be facing this kind of thing in the first place, but even for a paragon of stability, a multi-year witchhunt and prosecution by the feds will push you to the limit. I know of a few people who have been in the eye AUSA doom (and some ongoing, like Harborside Health Center), and especially for an individual defendant vs. a group, it's very hard.
He was being charged with the felony of downloading/distributing research done using public funding so that it could be made freely available to the taxpayers who funded it. JSTOR had no interest in prosecuting him, but the US Attorney's Office decided to go ahead anyway.
A promise of a pardon would have done just as well, especially for federal prosecutors. The DOJ isn't going to make a big case out something their boss has promised to throw out. That said, the president being superinvolved in an ongoing case like that would be very strange.
It's not your job to give this sort of advice to people here. It's not some sort of mental disfigurement to think about these things you know. He and everyone else has the right to explore and experience unhappiness. And anyway, by fixating on a peripheral detail of his post you derail the conversation and force him into a rather supplicatory posture. Not cool.
Maybe there is, maybe there isn't. I fail to see the relevance. The real issue here I would say is that you seem to have worked yourself up into a bit of a soul-saving frenzy, but your efforts are misplaced and frankly not appreciated. You seem not to realise that Hackernews is by and large a community of smart, stable, motivated and successful people, rather than a casualty ward for self-imploding depressives.
I would suggest you shift your efforts to a forum where people are actually starkly discussing hopelessness and self-destruction, rather than just briefly mentioning completely normal moments of weakness, and might even appreciate your help. For example, http://boards.4chan.org/r9k/. Enjoy.
> The real issue here I would say is that you seem to have worked yourself up into a bit of a soul-saving frenzy,
It's graceless of me. Oh noes, I might seem like a wanker who wants to help people.
> but your efforts are misplaced and frankly not appreciated.
> I would suggest you shift your efforts to a forum where people are actually starkly discussing hopelessness and self-destruction, rather than just briefly mentioning completely normal moments of weakness, and might even appreciate your help.
I'm not strong enough to do that. I'm just not. Soul-saving frenzies are as good as it gets for me.
You seem pretty upset. I think you should try and relax. Take a break from the computer. Go get some fresh air. I'm sorry if I pushed your buttons but I do think you are over-reacting. Nobody on Hackernews is going to hurt themselves any time soon, okay?
People usually call it "euthanasia" in such a case.
I think it's worth noting that depression and terminal illnesses are different cases. Euthanasia advocates emphasise the difference. See for example the legislative system that was passed in the NT in 1995:
Right, Euthanasia is a different subject and completely out of scope here. Was just getting pretty sick of the apparent defence of suicide as a good move in this case, and "blaming" various people/organisations for causing it.
I don't want to start an argument either, but for the sake of other people. This is a common view about psych medication, if only drugs would be able to fuzz your mind and give you happiness reliably :) I have been diagnosed with bipolar after an intense psychotic and manic break, and have been on medication ever since. To me, it feels like I finally have a stable basis to actually enjoy my freedom, and think clearly. It is a complete contrast to what was before. I don't feel less sharp, but I feel less need to stick my mental blade into everything that shows up. Also I feel happier, and that makes me use and enjoy freedom and mind that much more.
My experiences with the psychiatric system have been extremely positive, even in a small town like the one I live. The system is actually so unbureaucratic that I never received a single bill for all the help I got (except for the medication of course).
Ah yes, I remember this. I thought the way you do. I don't need the pills. Depression has taught me deep this and profound that.
Well let me tell you something.
That there might be a difference between 'objective' and 'subjective' happiness is triply-silly Cartesian dualist bullshit. You are absolutely embedded in the world, your happiness is not an abstract value that floats around on its own. And you won't be institutionalised for presenting with depression. The Kafkaesque bureaucracy was dismantled decades ago.
Ultimately, I can't help you. In fact, by arguing, I cause you to harden your position. I'm hurting you.
There is no more fuss in getting help for your brain acting up than getting help for having a dysfunctional pancreas or high blood pressure.
The only difference is that the symptoms are the sensors, that's all.
As odd as it sounds, I'm happy with the status quo. Frequently miserable, but content with that misery, as I've learned to use it productively.
My madness is both my undoing, and my doing. I would not have quit a highly paid job to strike out on my own and grow a successful business, were I not terminally malcontent. I would not strive as I do to improve both my lot and that of others, were it not for the fact that I always have a gnawing sense of "this could be better".
Either way, don't worry for my sake - while I may ideate suicide, I also ideate being an old man with crazy eyebrows. I don't think I'd class myself as clinically depressed, rather overly empathic and terminally frustrated at the human condition.
Glad you found the help you needed, and that it works for you.
I can definitely relate to some of this. Depression so profoundly altered the course of my life that I basically can't imagine what would have happened without it. Some of those consequences are really good and they make me happy.
He has a point, though. It's pretty conservative to say "get help" for every thought about suicide. I think there's a difference between thinking about doing it or, say, wondering what death is like or whether you'd have the stones to go through with it. Honestly, I wonder what death is like a lot.
That being said, I tend to agree with you to be more conservative, but I've had similar thoughts as the guy you're replying to and know without a doubt that I'd never kill myself. Of course, there's probably a psychological argument that me knowing that is up for debate.
(Don't take this as displeasure with your efforts in this thread: thank you.)
I was curious if some of those claims are true, especially since angst, existential despair and melancholy have been part of the human condition and described in one form or another by philosophers and others for thousands of years.
> Myth: All suicidal people are mentally ill. 'Normal' people do not think about suicide.
> Fact: Thoughts of suicide are not uncommon and can occur for anyone. People who see suicide as an option are in emotional pain and may be desperately unhappy. Although mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia may be associated with suicidal thinking and behaviour, not everyone who contemplates suicide is living with mental illness.
They don't cite their sources, though it seems to be an australian national suicide prevention site so presumably their claims are not just made up.
I agree, but they're putting the same facts in a different light.
This question is really about the stigma of suicidal ideation ("Oh no, what if I'm a crazy person?"), rather than the fact that suicidal ideation is a serious symptom that should trigger reaching out for help.
I've engaged in suicidal ideation for many years. I'm not at risk of suicide, but if I thought that there was help available I would certainly seek it out.
My question is: what are the forms of help that are available? I know of A) therapy and B) medication.
I've spoken to 5 therapist for a couple sessions each, and my impression was that they are just normal people who you can talk to. They're not people who have answers, nor do they conduct their sessions with an overarching strategic plan. Rather, they're just people who you can talk to, and they will try their best to listen, even if they don't necessarily understand what you say. I know a lot of people benefit from this, but when I tried option A I didn't get anything out of it.
In my case, my mental suffering derives from loneliness. I follow John Cacioppo's work on the subject, and he claims that loneliness is a biological signal (just like hunger) that requires a response. I believe in his explanation, and so to me applying medication to ease loneliness would be similar to giving someone a pill to end their feeling of being hungry. To me that's not really a solution: in the case of hunger, food is the solution, and in the case of loneliness, connection is the solution.
Neither forms of help seem to me like they will help in my particular case. However when you say there's easy help available, you sound very confident. What am I missing?
For some reason this is a shock to me. It shouldn't be, I didn't know the guy. But I was just playing with web.py framework. It is so strange, I thought just today, I wonder if Aaron would accept a pull request, I could see a few things to improve.
Looking back at his activity on github he was pulling in commits less than a week ago:
I don't know details about the "JSTOR" case or about what he did at Reddit but I can see in his code that he cared and wanted to make something better, smaller and elegant. I respect that and it is a loss to have him gone forever.
I also never met him, but this really upsets me too.
It was a bummer when I saw the headline, but I'm really, really upset now that I was reminded of his legal troubles.
Suicide is complex, so I don't want to speculate on whether or not he committed suicide to avoid a trial and probably incarceration. Regardless, it had to be a factor and it certainly fucked up his life somewhere between a little bit and a lot a bit.
When I realized just how many spiders I've written... When I think about that spider with a $240B+ market cap... When I think "This could have been me or one of my friends"... I started to cry :-(
Do quit it with the high and mighty attitude. I've made it very clear I'm not attempting to slander anybody, just clearing up a misconception. When you allow misinformation it will spread, and that shouldn't be acceptable.
Shocking and saddening. I've been working with Python lately and feel a particular loss because of web.py and all the other good work he did. My prayers go out to his family.
I wonder why some people here are assuming this tragedy is because of the JSTOR incident. It seems to me that everyone should just meditate on what's been lost, and defer judgement about why he would do this until there is evidence.
> I wonder why some people here are assuming this tragedy is because of the JSTOR incident. It seems to me that everyone should just meditate on what's been lost, and defer judgement about why he would do this until there is evidence.
Thank you so much. It's awful to see people in here blaming the trial when suicide is much more complex than a single incident pushing someone to the edge like that.
"This sort of stress tends to eat away at your insides. You can't make long-term plans of any kind; meet a nice person at the bar and you're reminded that you can't start anything serious since you might be going away for a long time. A thousand tiny reminders every day that you are already a prisoner and will be for an indefinite period while the lawyers are lawyering. All the defendant has is time to think about is what prison would be like, how the course of their life is not in their hands. It is a feeling of abject powerlessness."
> Did any of the employees of US Attorney Office forced him
No, but they absolutely chose to prosecute him to the fullest. They also I am guessing didn't do it randomly. Some decision went into it. If you look at a post above, even the original journal (at least "officially") lost interest, someone, a cog in the DOJ, for whatever reason (I assume, political) must have said "pedal to the metal with this one".
Here is DOJ, spending tax dollars, trying to shove this person in prison for 30 years or so, for downloading scientific papers. There is really no other more dangerous or more pressing cases?
I agree, the DOJ, they selectively enforce those crimes that render political gain rather than for public benefit.
Example, Wall Street Securitized Mortgages whereas tens-of-thousands of mortgage deeds were scanned into a database, then destroyed despite state laws stating otherwise so the loans on people's homes could be traded on Wall Street like they were pork bellies. Did the DOJ do anything? NOPE!!!
Oh, do you think that it's better to walk on your toes when you are walking pass anyone, just because they might have depression and you might trigger them to commit suicide?
How anyone can know that if you accuse someone of committing a crime, that someone will get so depressed that he will kill himself?
Do you propose to just get rid of courts?
https://www.google.com/search?q=doj+presecute gives me :
DOJ Will Not Prosecute Goldman Sachs in Financial ... - ABC News
9 Aug 2012 – The Justice Department has decided it will not prosecute Goldman Sachs or its employees for their role in the financial crisis...
Share the load
Even if your friends aren’t cheerful, just working on a hard problem with someone else makes it much easier. For one thing, the mental weight gets spread across both people. For another, having someone else there forces you to work instead of getting distracted.
"In the short-term, my life was much worse. I spent a lot of really painful time struggling to come to grips with my situation.
"After that was over, things went pretty much back to normal. There's now a low-level fear all the time of losing all the money (something PG's written about recently) and I'm constantly worried I've invested it badly. I didn't make any dramatic life changes so people don't really treat me differently.
"The biggest thing is that it provides a sort of mental backup -- when I'm feeling bad about myself or about to do something risky, I can tell myself not to worry.
"My sense is that it bears out what the happiness research says: dispositional factors are much more important than situational ones. PG was an abnormally happy person before he got rich and he's still abnormally happy. I was pretty miserable before and I'm still miserable. (The reasons are more complicated but the result is I prefer my misery.)"
I'm being quite restrained. I'm calling for a feeling of guilt, not their public lynching. If I'd been involved in the prosecution I'd be feeling guilty for proceeding in too heavy-handed a fashion and I'm sure most of the people on this forum would too.
Frankly if someone is incapable of self-recrimination when something like this arises I don't want them in this kind of role.
 Of course this presupposes a motivation of "doing what's best for the country/society" and not "showing this uppity young guy who's boss".
2) All of that requires the consent of the person involved. Do you think AS would have suddenly decided to accept support because the DA prosecuting his case offered it? If his family and friends couldn't stop his suicide, you think the DA could have done so?
3) Are you sure it is typically the responsibility of the DA to sort that stuff out in the US?
To be honest if I had to imagine the people at the attorney's office who decided to prosecute this I'd imagine vaguely malevolent bureaucratic dullards who derive validation from enforcing the rules in a heavy handed fashion.
My heart goes out to his family. I'm a big fan of his work, particularly web.py. He made a huge impact on the web by anyone's standards and his contributions have personally touched my life in many ways. Rest in peace, man.
This makes me think of Len Sassaman's (cypherpunk, remailer developer,etc.) suicide from 18 months ago :( It's terrible when anyone kills himself, but when it's someone who was doing something which pushed the limits like this, it's worse.
I'd like to write something nice, but I'm in too much shock to even know where to start. He showed his brilliance through code and his humanity through his writing.
And as much as it is "right" to respect him for his very personal decision, I can't help but wish he were still here. This is the premature end of the life of someone who could have dramatically changed the world. Reminds us that, now more than ever, that's our job here, too.
I didn't know aaronsw personally but I have just checked out his web.py that others have been praising and it's really neat because it's so simple. What an amazing piece of work. For others who may not be aware, just see this brief tutorial .
His writings on life and how to get better at it are also phenomenal 
It's very sad that aaronsw is no longer with us for he was very gifted and talented. May he rest in peace and my thoughts go out to his family and friends.
The other fucked up thing about this is that if he'd done this at Stanford, Berkeley, or anywhere else in the 9th Circuit (which is the best circuit!), or the 4th circuit, he wouldn't have been charged under CFAA. It's only the backward backwaters of the 5th, 7th, and 11th who would charge under CFAA. He was in the 1st, which hadn't yet ruled. SCOTUS would have been very likely to side with the 9th, since the 9th is the best in general, and was correct in this case.
So, yet another reason to be angry -- this case was perfect for removing ToS violations from CFAA.
I read this as I was preparing to head to my brothers memorial service in a couple of hours. He committed suicide last week.
I just wanted to say that I understand why some people do it. My brother suffered from schizophrenia - he was an incredibly nice and giving person who kept on hurting people due to his disease. I understand why he took his own life and I don't fault him for it. Of course I am incredibly sad about it and wish I could have done so much more, but 20 years of intense suffering wears on a person.
We don't know the exact details behind Aaron's decision. A significant percent of the people who knew Stephen, even those who knew him well, didn't know about his diagnosis either. It's impossible to draw any more conclusion than "he was suffering and couldn't bear the burden anymore". My condolences to his family, I truly know what they are going through and it's absolutely shit.
This post terrifies me. My own brother has been diagnosed with schizophrenia (then they retracted that diagnosis and came up with a different one), but the bottom line is that he has been suffering for most of his life and it seems like no one can help him. It feels inevitable that a day will come that will bring tragedy in some form or another.
I used to read his blog. Here's something I will always remember. When they sold Reddit to Conde Nast, back in 2007 or so, Aaron Swartz wrote something about it on his blog, saying how he felt about it and how he didn't have to worry about money anymore, etc. And then he decided to give away some money to startups in need. I replied to his blog post and he gave my old startup a $100 donation. It felt really generous. RIP Aaron.
Here is a thing you can do: Boycott JSTOR from now on. And refuse to publish to any journal / conference that demands $10 or more for downloading a paper that should be free (if you are not that lucky to have access to a subscription of that journal / conference).
In April 2011 i was accused of a small crime that could have given prison also. I was judged in January 2012 and accused to pay a fine of 500€ despite the accusation had no proofs. Every day i though about how to prove my innocence despite being a small accusation, it destroyed my work and mood for the whole year.
How to fix ? if no damage was done there is nothing to accuse of.
And distribution of knowledge should be free, or ransom ware the release of that info to the public should be made available upon compen$ation for the work done, ransomware maybe.
Aaron ideals of greater good and sharing are nobler than any politician or any other bullshitter that get media coverage and have the power to change the world for the better.
I know a lot is being speculated about how the whole JSTOR story is what could have possibly pushed Aaron over the edge. And I think the discussion is important in its own right, about easy access to academic journals. But, I think it is very important that we do get to know what it actually was that triggered this extreme act on part of Aaron. If someone as capable and intellectual as Aaron could fall prey to something that makes one end his life, what becomes of the average hacker who tries hard to achieve a level of success such as that of Aaron, and goes through phases of depression in life.
There has to be more to it then just the JSTOR case.
Agreed. Others already described it as a waste, and it's hard to disagree with the sentiment, but I doubt he would have been able to appreciate the amazing life he lived. In some of his writings there is little room for anything but the immediacy of his crippling disease and it's all the more inspiring what he was able to accomplish even while battling this condition.
Wow. Shocking news! I've been reading Aaron's stuff online and following him on twitter for years. Only last week I re-read his amazing "Raw Nerve" blog post series http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/rawnerve
Aaron Swartz was an excellent programmer and writer. I have bumped into his code and writings often. The raw nerve series ( http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/rawnerve ) have been especially influential in shaping my thinking. Above all, he was a wonderful human being: the world is a bit worse off and a sadder place without him. Rest in peace, Aaron.
Just the other day I emailed aaronsw asking about OCLC and his plans to topple it. His response wasn't very optimistic. I should have asked him a more humane question, like "sup" or "how's it hanging".
For whatever reason, I keep bumping into his work, whether it's through the python world or through BOSSlab, geurrilla open access, or The Sprouts. He has had a very strong impact on some very important problems in the world. I suspect that he might have seen some (perhaps twisted) value in being a martyr, especially in the face of extreme stress.. So far I prefer the living version of aaronsw.
I think a lot of us can see parts of each other in Aaron, both in his values and work. Another someone pointed out, just how many spiders have you written? Everyone does it, but hardly nobody talks about it. Is it really so terrible that we want to read science? or share code? And then this happens.
All of the criminal documents from his last court case are published on the Internet Archive. This one in particular is rather thrilling to read:
"An analysis of one of the fingerprints on the Acer laptop purchased and used by the defendant cannot exclude his friend, Alec Resnick."
"Promises, rewards, or inducements have been given to witness Erin Quinn Norton. Copies of the letter agreement with her and order of immunity with respect to her grand jury testimony are disclosed on Disk 3."
"a. The computer was registered under the fictitious guest name “Gary Host.” b. The computer’s client name was specified as “ghost laptop.” A computer’s client name helps to identify it on a network and can be chosen by its user. In this case, the name was simply created by abridging the pseudonym “Gary Host,” combining the first initial “g” with the last name “host.” c. The fictitious “Gary Host’s” e-mail address was identified as “email@example.com.” This was a “throwaway” e-mail address. Mailinator is a free, disposable e-mail service that allows a user to create a new e-mail address as needed, without even registering the address with Mailinator. Mailinator provides this service for users to have an anonymous and temporary e-mail address. Mailinator accepts mail for any e-mail address directed to the mailinator.com domain without need for a prior registration, and it allows anyone in the world to read that mail without having to create an account or enter a password. All mail sent to mailinator.com is automatically deleted after several hours whether read or not."
"... "The defendant has requested first that the government provide ".. any and all notes and reports provided to USSS or USAO by CERT in relation to the forensic analysis of the ACER laptop, or any analysis of any evidence including but not limited to the PCAP log information"."
`.. earlier posted on one of his websites, guerrillaopenaccess.com, a call-to-arms entitled "Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto" which concluded "We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerrilla Open Access."`
My housemate committed suicide four years ago; his wife and I found the body. Since then my charity of choice has been AFSP: their programs and support were very important to nth of us afterwards. They do good work.
There is a mental illness here and the mental illness is thinking that his suicide is unrelated to the massive witch hunt against him by the US Federal Government hellbent on his personal destruction at any cost.
Those who deny that that had anything to do with this, and it was only a "brain disorder" or other such claptrap are truly insane.
I've had students who for years were systematically abused and tortured by adults. This abuse caused them pain, distress, depression, and suicide ideation, not a chemical imbalance. Despite this, counselors they saw diagnosed them as having a chemical imbalance and pumped them full of pills that have psychosis and suicide as known and documented side effects.
Who is insane in this situation? Who is responsible for the damage it causes when a young person is targeted for destruction by sociopaths and it causes them to crack? A chemical imbalance? Not the things that are being done to them by others intentionally trying to harm them?
This attitude justifies the abuse of people. This attitude leads to suicide. This attitude needs to stop.
did he have a history of depression? perhaps it was simply due to stress or pressure? The thought of spending the next 35 years in prison for downloading documents can be pretty painful... probably as bad as someone who was wrongfully tried for murder.
I'm one of the fortunate people for whom first-line SSRIs (in my case, sertraline) are very effective. I no longer rely on the meds, but I have additional comfort knowing that they're there if I need them.
I still have bad patches. And it's weird, being inside yourself, intellectually cognisant that this emotion of pointlessness and worthlessness is an illusion, that it doesn't exist -- yet being, sometimes, unable to beat it.
I know that, left to build gravity, the black spiral is stronger than me because it is me.
But I also know that the treatment is stronger. And that is there, if I ever need it again. If I ever get too many of those days in a row, I won't hesitate to seek help.
And neither should anybody else. The suffering is entirely unnecessary.
As life moves as the currents in the ocean, some of us find ourselves in tropical paradises, whilst others are gifted the horrible cold of the artic. There are some who manage to hang on to another current and make headway towards warmer climates, there are some who do not. The world is now saddened to learn that you were caught up in the harsh artic cold of life. We could ask questions as to why did you not swim harder or faster, but none of us were in your place.
Your short life was anything but worthy of such tragic end. You decided to leave too early, too soon. Still, your presence still lives through your work, the community you helped build, and the people you touched.
As someone who has read pg's writings and watched YC grew, the reddit story is very close to my heart. I always felt I knew Aaron, Steve and Alexis well even though I never met or interacted with them. This is such a shock. RIP.
Just read the talk. I didn't realise it was given at the college I studied in. Sad to hear the news. Only today morning my daughter was saying how depressing classes are at school because every subject they study talks about how humans might become extinct. We can sometimes get too focused on problems and such times all that we need is a person to just say "It is not too bad. There are good things happening as well". Perhaps a lot of suicides are down to this missing person in our lives. We are all more connected thanks to the Internet, and also increasingly isolated.
I'm sad, really sad. I didn't know him personally and have never spoken to him. But few times when I read one of his tweets or when I visited a page of his site from a link elsewhere, I was saying to myself that it should be hard to be in his position actually, that it must put your life on hold and shut any of your plans to be stuck in such a preposterous legal situation. I as a simple citizen command you Aaron Swartz for all your inspirational work, Thank You.
I am deeply sorry to hear about this and it brings back memories of last year when a friend of mine did the same.
Depression is a terrible thing, and I hope we are one day able to cure it. It is treatable, seek help immediately if you are thinking about suicide! I hate that you cannot look upon someone and instantly know if they are depressed or not. If I could, I would drop everything to help a person I saw having trouble.
I hope Aaron found peace, and I wish his family the best.
I was always amazed that the wunderkind with the pizza stain on his shirt that visited us at Arsdigita University accomplished so much. He was reserved, but focused, forthright at such an early age. I couldn't help but feel he was a little disappointed in the rest of us, but he never showed it.
For the record, a few months ago we had a back and forth about his writing process, and he was kind enough to write one of his pieces in one of those editors that keeps track of your changes so you can see the piece evolving. Very insightful.
At the end of that, I wrote a reply commenting on what I thought about his writing process, and never got anything back. He must have not been feeling great at that point.
Meanwhile, the guys who wiped out literally trillions of dollars of wealth by cratered the global economy in an orgy of greed, fraud, and reckless disregard for everything but their own inflated bonuses couldn't get arrested if they tired.
There are a lot of things wrong with this situation, but the egregiously misaligned priorities of the US Attorneys are near the top of the list.
Aaron, thank you for all you've done. It's had a tremendous impact on my life.
Aaron had a really interesting blog post on pain worth reading called, "Leaning into the Pain". It's worth considering that pain doesn't just impact the individual. Try to let others help. http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/dalio
I didn't know Aaron, but I've been using web.py for years, so I kind of felt like I knew him from hanging around the online community. I really don't know what to say - he was incredibly intelligent, and made great contributions - the 'net gets a little lonelier every time we lose someone like this. :( RIP.
I find it odd that, to my knowledge at least, no one on HN has so far noted the connection between Aaron's activism against the US government re: SOPA/PIPA and his terrible treatment by them. Surely it's one of the reasons why they went after him.
35 years for downloading something that is morally, and supposedly be free (funded by taxpayer money)? This is a big joke! I believe homicide cases dished out lighter sentences.
If access to journals, or more accurately scientific research, is to be restricted in such manner, then all government should stop funding/ providing grants for scientific researches, at least not from taxpayers money. These interested parties, namely the journals publishers, should come out with such funds as eventually they are making money from such works. It's ridiculous for the public to fund their business.
RIP Aaron Swartz.... you have make yourself heard, loud and clear, to the civil society.
If anybody is partial to listening to music during times like these, I recommend Tchaikovsky's Symphony no. 6 . The fourth movement in particular is extraordinarily moving and an ice cold glimpse of disdain, depression, and ultimately the death (some say suicide) of a romantic genius . Of course the entire work is something to behold in all its movements.
Shit! one of the most brilliant minds of all time, his series raw nerve http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/rawnerve has inspired hundreds of people including me to overcome life pain and depression. how could he just do that ?
Aaron, you should have not done that .. I'm sure thousands of people of this community would have fought for you to get you out of your problems .. your contributions will always be remembered ..
it's just so sad ..
I haven't been in touch with Aaron for several years, but I had a brief encounter with him in 2008. I was between jobs and decided to help out with his watchdog.net project of the time. He was always incredibly kinda and once tracked down my number and called to check that I was OK after I was unexpectedly offline for a several days.
This is extremely tragic. The world is a horrible place when some of its best people loose all hope and choose to leave it early. It is quite crazy that that downloading scientific papers can incur sentences longer than the maximum for crimes such as rape, manslaughter, etc.
Regardless of everything happening in his life, it's terrible in any instance when someone is pushed to the point where they rationalize taking their own life. Best wishes and thoughts to Aarons family and friends as they mourn during this horrible time.
Goddamnit, this is just horrible. My sympathies to Aaron's friends and families. I always found his work and his writings interesting and sometimes even inspiring. Our society would have benefitted from an extra 60 years of this guy.
Does anyone have a copy of the source to theinfo.org or any of this previous versions? I have a complete archive of the mailing lists. I'd like to make sure it doesn't disappear, it and other things Aaron did inspired things I made.
What a terrible loss. Aaron had many fruitful years ahead of him. He left us far too early. My condolences to his family and loved ones. I hope at least this compels others who have depression to seek help for themselves.
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Accordingly, I've added a memorial banner to PlainSite to ensure that everyone who uses it daily to find cases (including many in government and the DOJ specifically) will be reminded of his contribution--one of many.
I remember most of the teachings from those days, back in the early 2000's. Before hacking, before startups, before entrepreneurs, before changing the world felt like a cool, common thing.
Before all of that, I remember this guy doing it, doing it well. And that inspired me to believe I can do it.
An artist's only passion is to create, until the day you die. In between you fight all sorts of battles that they don't warn you about. But the most important being that when you create, you carry with you a savagery of sorts, of making something new, of living in the edge.
And it's hard to survive. Nowadays we take for granted the Google style lunches and buslines, but being at the edge of something has always been trying to eke out in an hostile environment.
But this guy was there, all day, all night.
And that's special. Because it's an isolating experience.
I get the same suicidal thoughts that drift in and out too. It's partly chemical and it's just your personality. When you stand outside of the system long enough, watch long enough, suffer the heartbreak of seeing the wrongs enough, you may end up there too.
I have no words. I've been sitting with my phone's cursor blinking in this box and, for the first time in a long time, my stomach has turned so much from this news that I have nothing to write.
What an absolutely dreadful shame. My heart is wrenched for his family and all of us, who lost a brilliant young man. I'm a month older than he was, and to imagine someone my age thinking there was no way out... with all of the possibilities of his life, a life just beginning.
A lot of prisoners have no access to the outside world, including the internet. Many prisons lack even a basic library. Inmates working with The Last Mile (http://thelastmile.org/) tweet by passing their tweets written on paper to volunteers who actually enter them.
Like many others here, may path also crossed his several times as I kept bumping into his work. He had a ton of really cool side projects. I pinged him a few times about some of them and he was always really gracious and helpful in his responses. I didn't find out his stature in the community (reddit cofounder etc) until recently and was shocked he had taken the time to reply to me.
As for the reason he did this now: I'm sure it was a combination of things that had built up over many years, however in a criminal case like this, now would be the time his lawyer would be attempting to work out a plea bargain with the prosecutors. If they were demanding a long prison sentence and multiple felony convictions, and the evidence against him was very strong (as it sounds like it was) many people would probably contemplate suicide.
At 24, he was just a kid. I can't even imagine the amount of stress in his life. Who are we to question or speculate on why he did what he wanted to do. I'm glad he contributed what he did in this world. I'm glad we had 24 years. He decided we weren't getting any more. I never feel sad for suicide. You can't tell people you want to do it or they will have your freedom taken away.
Sorry for bad grammar... small comment boxes make me feel pressured to get out everything in a few lines quickly.