January 21, 2013
When Joel Spolsky, my business partner on Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange, asked me what I wanted to do after I left Stack Exchange, I distinctly remember mentioning Aaron Swartz. That's what Aaron was to us hackers: an exemplar of the noble, selfless behavior and positive action that all hackers aspire to – but very few actually achieve.
And now, tragically, Aaron is gone at the tender age of 26. He won't be achieving anything any more.
I never knew Aaron, but I knew Aaron.
Most of all, I am disappointed.
I'm deeply disappointed in myself, for not understanding just how bitterly unfair the government charges were against Aaron. Perhaps the full, grotesque details couldn't be revealed for a pending legal case. But we should have been outraged. I am gutted that I did not contribute to his defense in any way, either financially or by writing about it here. I blindly assumed he would prevail, as powerful activists on the side of fairness, openness, and freedom are fortunate enough to often do in our country. I was wrong.
I'm disappointed in our government, for going to such lengths to make an example of someone who was so obviously a positive force. Someone who actively worked to change the world for the better in everything he did, starting from the age of 12. There was no evil in this man. And yet the absurd government case against him was cited by his family as directly contributing to his death.
I'm frustrated by the idea that martyrdom works. The death of Aaron Swartz is now turning into an effective tool for change, a rallying cry, proving the perverse lesson that nobody takes an issue seriously until a great person dies for the cause. The idea that Aaron killing himself was a viable strategy, more than going on to prevail in this matter and so many more in his lifetime, makes me incredibly angry.
But also, I must admit that I am a little disappointed in Aaron. I understand that depression is a serious disease that can fell any person, however strong. But he chose the path of the activist long ago. And the path of the activist is to fight, for as long and as hard as it takes, to effect change. Aaron had powerful friends, a powerful support network, and a keen sense of moral cause that put him in the right. That's how he got that support network of powerful friends and fellow activists in the first place.
It is appropriate to write about Aaron on Martin Luther King day, because he too was a tireless activist for moral causes.
I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Let's be clear that the penalty in Aaron's case was grossly unfair, bordering on corrupt. I've been a part of exactly one trial, but I can't even imagine having the full resources of the US Government brought to bear against me, with extreme prejudice, for a year or more. His defense was estimated to cost millions. The idea that such an engaged citizen would be forever branded a felon – serving at least some jail time and stripped of the most fundamental citizenship right, the ability to vote – must have weighed heavily on Aaron. And Aaron was no stranger to depresson, having written about it on his blog many times, even penning a public will of sorts on his blog all the way back in 2002.
I think about ragequitting a lot.
Rage Quit, also seen as RageQuit in one word, is Internet slang commonly used to describe the act of suddenly quitting a game or chatroom after either an argument, extreme frustration, or loss of the game.
At least one user ragequits Stack Exchange every six months, because our rules are strict. Some people don't like rules, and can respond poorly when confronted by the rules of the game they choose to play. It came up often enough that we had to create even more rules to deal with it. I was forced to think about ragequitting.
I was very angry with Mark Pilgrim
for ragequitting the Internet, because they also took all their content offline – they got so frustrated that they took their ball and went home, so nobody else could play. How incredibly rude. Ragequitting is childish, a sign of immaturity. But it is another thing entirely to play the final move and take your own life. To declare the end of this game and all future games, the end of ragequitting itself
I say this not as a person who wishes to judge Aaron Swartz. I say it as a fellow gamer who has also considered playing the same move quite recently. To the point that I – like Aaron himself, I am sure – was actively researching it. But the more I researched, the more I thought about it, the more it felt like what it really was: giving up. And the toll on friends and family would be unimaginably, unbearably heavy.
What happened to Aaron was not fair. Not even a little. But this is the path of the activist. The greater the injustice, the greater wrong undone when you ultimately prevail. And I am convinced, absolutely and utterly convinced, that Aaron would have prevailed. He would have gone on to do so many other great things. It is our great failing that we did not provide Aaron the support network he needed to see this. All we can do now is continue the mission he started and lobby for change to our corrupt government practices of forcing plea bargains.
It gets dark sometimes. I know it does. I'm right there with you. But do not, under any circumstances, give anyone the satisfaction of seeing you ragequit. They don't deserve it. Play other, better moves – and consider your long game.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I've been thinking about "RageQuitting" and its impact on the web community for some time. I made a dedication page to try to end it: http://nooneknowswhy.net
I want to get an IRC channel set up specifically to deal with the human factors of programming — or to just give a coder someone non-judgemental to chat with.
Infosuicide aka RageQuitting is only going to become a bigger problem unless we start to acknowledge and fight it as a community.
Thanks for this post. You've concisely expressed feelings I've had difficulty articulating.
Thanks for writing this. It meaningful, respectful, and well thought out.
In regards to you contemplating your "final move" and your decision to keep on fighting, I want to say "thank you".
I've followed you since the beginnings of my web development career, even before you created Stack Exchange. Every day I'd sit down at my desk at that job I couldn't stand and I'd read the latest post on your site. I found them (and still find them) the be insightful, helpful, and even funny at times. Your contribution to the Internet made my days at that job a little easier to bare. In fact, I can honestly say that when there wasn't a new post to read that day, I'd be a little bummed. I can't imagine how bummed I'd feel if I knew no more posts were ever going to be created.
Please, please keep doing what you're doing. I really appreciate it. We all do.
You're right about us failing to support Aaron well enough. At least you're right about me. I knew he was right, and that he was being persecuted, and I did nothing about it. It's time to change that and get behind the people who are fighting for the things we believe in.
This is an awesome post...
I think a whole 'nother component of this concept is 'forgiveness.'
Not to forgive bad/inappropriate behavior but to forgive one's own anger etc. to be able to move on, see the good in people, etc., and the reason why I think of this is that 'forgiveness' and 'ragequitting' apply to all areas of one's life (personal, emotional, mental, etc. etc.).
Thank you for writing this...
Thank you, Tom
"And I am convinced, absolutely and utterly convinced, that Aaron would have prevailed.". You might be, Aaron wasn't. He called it quits when he still had the option. Once he would have been arrested, there would be no more options. From there on it would have been a gamble, where losing would mean spending the rest of his foreseeable life in federal prison, and winning would have been one off articles in Wired, Ars, mentions on Slashdot and Reddit: a minor win.
I'm not saying Aaron was right taking his own life, but I can certainly understand it. To me, this wasn't a ragequit. It was folding your hand, when all you have left is a chance to hit that last out, and win a small pot, and you stand to lose the rest of your life. When you say "consider your long game.", I think that is exactly waht Aaron did.
I enjoyed your article, the romanticized idea of martyrdom and ragequitting in terms of 'infocide' like the cases you mention it seems to fit well, but Aaron's case was not a 'ragequit'. It was a response to a serious mental condition.
"But do not, under any circumstances, give anyone the satisfaction of seeing you ragequit. They don't deserve it. Play other, better moves – and consider your long game."
Depression and suicide is about hopelessness and constant pain. It isn't about sticking it to anyone and depression by its very nature makes 'considering the long game' impossible. For people plagued by it, there is no future, only the black dog looking back at you.
There are many conversations coming out of Aaron's death, copyright, information freedom, the overreach of the law, predator prosecutions but an important one that is being overlooked, in my opinion, is mental health. Programmers, activists, and in Aaron's case a person of extremely high intelligence, all seem to be more susceptible to mental illness.
Maybe, even if nothing else comes out of Aaron's death. No changes to copyright, no prosecutor's getting fired, no open data. Maybe at least we can all take the feeling's of the people around us a little more seriously. Look a little harder for the people that are hurting. And try to help them.
Great post Jeff.
I too, feel the injustice brought upon Aaron by the American government and sympathize with how his family and friends must be feeling from his 'ragequitting'.
I too, have considered ragequitting. Not only would it be selfish for me to place that toll on my family, but as you've said,
"do not, under any circumstances, give anyone the satisfaction of seeing you ragequit. They don't deserve it."
Let us continue to fight (for what we believe) is right, and stay strong.
Conrad Black was convinced he would win, and he got most of his charges dropped or was found not guilty, but he still did jail time for a few counts. But people survive prison. Aaron Swartz likely had other problems that the case against him exacerbated. Seems like the UK was right not to send Gary McKinnon to the USA.
Plea bargaining seems so convenient and pragmatic in the movies and on TV, but in real life it has come to look like corruption and with different defendants playing the game against each other.
Jeff, I'm glad you can be open about some of your personal issues. Stay with us. We want you to bring us TIE Fighters, but whatever happens, just be there for your family.
Aaron still committed a crime (even if that crime is stupid as is plea bargaining) and so should accept responsibility for it. And the sentence wasn't unfair. He was offered 6 months if he pleaded guilty. I don't know how it works in the US compared to the UK, but here you are released after serving half the sentence. And should crimes go unpunished just because the perpetrator has depression.
> the path of the activist is to fight, for as long and as hard as it takes, to effect change
There's something about suicide so terrible, so sorrowful, that I can't help but feel bad for having negative thoughts about someone who gives up on life. I feel the same disappointment you feel, but I also feel guilty for feeling disappointed. Does it matter that Aaron was an activist? Perhaps it makes us expect him to be even more invincible than the average citizen. Would you feel less disappointed if he took his own life in some form of grant protest, rather than alone? Ragequitting is like giving up, and it's giving up that we can't accept, whether the victim is an activist or not. As a society. As people. As living beings. The instinct to live is so strong, must be so strong, that its absence shakes us to our core.
When all you have is a gun, everything looks like a gun target. That is, by definition, what government is. Today is a good day to think about the last thing modern abolitionist call for, stop the slavery of man by each other. No more taxes, no more threats against innocent people, no more cops knocking on your door and entering w/o a warrant and getting away with it.
Today, let us all put down the gun and become voluntaryists.
Note where Julian Assange is and why.
Remember the Anthrax attacks and the "person of interest" that lost his job and could not find another? No one remembers the suicide of the other person the FBI suspected and threatened, not even charged but harassed - note they tried to intimidate and coerce his son into saying something, anything, against his father as well as the rest of family, friends and acquaintances.
I could go on for pages about the people who you either never heard about and weren't controversial so you might not care either way - so is it only because it was Aaron that you care? - or people you would find odious or obnoxious so you desire to have the jackboots around assuming they will only destroy people you don't like.
Every so often the hacker community is attacked about rights it holds dear, and like the NRA it sometimes succeeds in beating back the tyranny. But like the NRA it is UTTERLY INDIFFERENT to liberty itself. There are no "fundamental rights" or you and the NRA would work together to insure the 1st, 4th, 5th, AND 2nd amendments were strictly interpreted and enforced.
When most people do not care BECAUSE the tyranny is part the 80% of the constitution they aren't affected by, each overlapping 80% means that NOTHING IS LEFT. You love speech and privacy but hate guns. Some love guns and privacy but hate speech. Some love speech and guns but hate privacy.
Deitrich Boenhoffer was the one who said "When they came for the gypsies/communists/jews I did not speak up because I was not one of them... [but] when they came for me there was no one left to speak for me".
Last election there was Ron Paul who was against the jackboots. But not enough people wanted him - and I would note that during the GOP primaries and caucuses the tech community was either apolitical or were democrats so didn't care to have a choice, so it was Romney v. Obama. There was rallying about SOPA, but nothing about the FBI and DoJ malicious prosecutions. I had hope for #occupy, but that seems to have fizzled although it did provide a constant witness against the corruption and injustice.
Does it matter if the tyrant who kills your liberty has a D or R label any more than the virus that kills you has DNA or RNA?
I don't see the effective point of this piece. You point out your disappointment in yourself, then flip it around and call Aaron a ragequitter. Totally hypocritical. It was his life, his ideas, and his activism that made the game what it is now. I'd say you live your life under the persecution of the DOJ, then write another commentary on what it feels like to be a martyr. If you want to stop feeling disappointed, get your ass out from behind your computer screen, stop writing these fluff pieces and let Aaron's legacy live on by getting out there and doing something. You're just like the rest of the brainwashed iMasses: unsatisfied, highly opinionated without warrant, at the ready to point fingers, and always waiting to take advantage of someone else's collapse to gain some clout. Thanks, for the comments, at least it was payback for reading this atrocious article. What a waste, you PIG!
Thanks for writing that, as someone who is self employed and running a software company,I see that we lost another good troop. It's unfortunate his mental health wasn't addressed at an earlier time. Now is the time for remembrance, but it is also the time to plan.
I'm in the process of getting funding and development started on a few projects of mine, please reach out to me if you are interested in a startup.
sorry for the weird reply
```My wife screams for pain killers during labor. I tell her, "What's you're problem? You chose to get pregnant and knew this would happen. I wouldn't need pain killers if I were lying there.".'''
Would you treat your wife this way, knowing that you don't know what it's like to give birth? Should you judge a suicidal person without knowing what they are experiencing?
Equating ragequitting with the need to end one's own life doesn't do justice to the helplessness and pain that Aaron must have felt.
Regardless of what a person might have achieved or what their personal philosophy was, I feel sad for everybody that has to suffer so bady, that the only way out is to end it. It truly sucks.
"But also, I must admit that I am a little disappointed in Aaron. I understand that depression is a serious disease that can fell any person, however strong. But he chose the path of the activist long ago."
"I'm so disappointed in Jane. I know she had cancer, and anyone can get cancer. But she was a triathlete!"
Depression causes suicide. We should celebrate Aaron for having accomplished so much, and for having been as bright a light, while he suffered. What good is it to stigmatize depression and denigrate Aaron as weak because he fell?
There is no good to this kind of "it's all in your head" and "just decide to forge on" sentiment. He couldn't. That's depression.
You dedicate one measly paragraph on your disappointment with the government, but many more on ragequitting. I find the priorities skewed and think a lot more time should have spent on what's become a government gone haywire.
A brother of a friend had someone send him, on his open IRC server, child porn. He deleted it the instance he found it, but was raided by the FBI who undeleted the file. He's in federal prison now for at least 7 years.
People tolerate this crap because they don't know it happens. It's not a concern until it happens to them. Can you even begin to imagine the stress of having to go through this while being innocent?
Stop pretending as if the current administration or the next one will bring some kind of change. People have selected to sacrifice their liberties. Mindsets need to be changed.
Ragequitting isn't necessarily a cheap exit strategy. It may be the only way out at times.
But Aaron _DID_ asked community for help.
Unfortunately as you hint at - rage quitting does cause change. There are more people speaking out about this than before.
Similarly - the case of the Indian woman who was raped and killed. I dont know why that particular case became headline news, when there are thousands of similar cases are ignored. Hopefully some thing good will come out it, but it might be a misplaced hope- people forget quickly.
I think this post underestimates the challenge that depression poses for some people and overestimates the ability of large systems, MIT and DOJ specifically, to tailor their response to a human scale.
Depression is silent; often, though not always, hidden. The kind of thing where you think you have a handle on it and then you find you don't. I'm always buoyed by stories of those who overcome these dark burdens but I'm more frequently unsurprised by those who don't.
And I think it is a dangerous problem when large bureaucracies like MIT and DOJ take action without looking closely enough at the motives, objectives, and, yes, character of the individual they are moving against using laws and penalties often designed for completely different circumstances.
It's a tragedy. I wish I had a better way of thinking about it. But I don't see it as ragequitting.
Well said. I don't agree with associating suicide to ragequitting, but I do agree with your assertions that Aaron could have had a stronger support system and met people that gave him more faith in humanity than he did. One just never knows what ended up going on in his mind... he mentions that the authors never seemed to live up to the books they wrote.
The reason for this is simple: those authors weren't perfect and their words weren't either. But you can keep trying and keep striving to approach it. Unlike habit and character, words on paper are easier to change. We should have done better for Aaron and I wish Aaron reached out to more people physically than just those whose works in code and prose he admired. Humanity is much more diverse than that.
Your closing words were great, so I made a poster for you:
Disclaimer: I am the founder of the above project.
Thank you for staying in the game. Should be lots of interesting things over the next 50+ years.
I like a lot of your articles, but this is an insensitive jab from someone who has never themselves been in a dark enough place to consider what you patronizingly call "ragequitting."
In multiplayer games, ragequitting is a sign of immaturity. In life, suicide is a sign that someone has been dealt more pain than they can handle for longer than they could take it. From the outside, you might think he should have been able to handle it. But dealing with that much pain for that long changes you. It distorts your thinking. It's like going through life with dark goggles on all the time, for so long that you forget what anything looks like without them on and they get merged into your face so you can't take them off.
Instead of the Cracked.com article, I suggest looking at http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/ , which is a compassionate, understanding guide for those with suicidal impulses.
At this risk of ridicule, I will say suicide when not the result of mental illness but depression and hopelessness is very sad indeed. People try to offer various remedies, theories and views. But ultimately, I believe hopelessness is a result of the idols we follow. There is only one person who can offer hope and fulfillment. Only one person that can pluck you from the pits of despair and plant your feet on solid ground. And that is Jesus Christ. I implore you to read the Gospels and find the truth.
The truth will indeed set you free through Christ. Not technology or ragequitting or anything else.
Seriously consider this. If someone as successful as Jeff has contemplating or research suicide, what of lesser folks? In Christ you will find true glory.
WHAT? You have recently considered suicide? That is big, horrifying news to everyone here. Jeff, next time you are thinking these thoughts, tell the community about it, OK? Wouldn't you agree that if Aaron had done so he'd probably be alive today - that the outpouring of concern for him probably would have been enough to get him through the crisis? It's true for you too. You are cared about and people rely on you. Stick with us please.
Aaron Swartz lived the life of a Cambridge hacker and fought for higher abstract causes like freedom of information. MLK was a black preacher living in a society doing everything within its power to marginalize and exclude blacks at any cost, including torture and murder.
MLK, like all blacks in the South at that time, had to confront the reality of domestic terrorism, and understood the price of standing up to it. Aaron could not, and ought not, have imagined that PDF downloading would come at the cost that it did.
Even if there is some analogy here, the extrapolation from Swartz to MKL is so massive that it is absurd. I find any comparison between the two to be very troubling. The stakes were so utterly different.
Comparisons between suicide and ragequitting also feel very out of scale.
Suicide is not rage-quitting.
True clinical depression can not be solved by willpower.
Suicide is the horrible end result of a terrible illness. I can only speak from my own experience, but I cannot help but think that he would not want any guilt to come to anyone from this.
Oh, and by the way... "I say this not as a person who wishes to judge Aaron Swartz." Maybe you should re-read what you wrote.
He ragequit? You think?
"And I am convinced, absolutely and utterly convinced, that Aaron would have prevailed."
In a FAIR/JUST System that could be the case. In ROTTEN and CORRUPTED System that is NOT true by far.
I am sure Aaron saw it exactly like that.
as the saying goes ... at the end we do not regret the things we did and failed, but the things we never did.
A thought-provoking piece. Assuming for a moment that I am reading correctly, I applaud the courage to state that you considered suicide, and rejected it. However, I would add my reiteration to those who have already stated it - true depression is a clinical brain-chemical-related condition. It is not 'having a bad day'. It is not something that 'just gets better with willpower'. It requires at least medical consultation, if not treatment, to correct the imbalance. Seek help.
In the more general case, I am always in two minds about such articles & events, as it highlights that we (whichever community 'we' represents) trumpet about given incidents as though they are unusual. Most often, these events highlight endemic or systemic problems; they are not aberrations per se. They happen all the time quietly to other less visible people, in whatever country they happen to live in that has the problem being highlighted.
In that regard I wish the US luck, as it's not really something the rest of us external to the US can assist with, other than moral support.
I think there's a healthy balance in our lives where we ask 'Should I really be doing this? Is this healthy for me?'. Sometimes the answer is no; that's not rage-quitting. Rage-quitting is typified by an immediate angry response, not a considered decision.
You can't fight your own mind, you are your own mind. It's like a machine trying to fix itself. Depression leads to self-destructive behavior, including the irrational wish to be alone with terrible thoughts, which continue until you get exhausted enough to sleep, snap out of it, or ...
Jeff, rationally speaking I agree 100%.
The problem with depression is it makes your brain to work beyond any rational logic. Including personal rational logic with which you operate when not in crisis. It's chemistry fighting against your power to think.
So, irrationality can win here.
The last thing people with major depression ever want to hear is "Just cheer up/Just snap out of it and keep going" (like they never thought of it), "Just act like you're all right and it will make you *be* all right," or "You have so much to be thankful for" and stuff like that. It only piles on the shame and contributes even more to self-loathing. That's why those kinds of things are among the most hurtful things you can say to those people. (Actually, I've had much worse thrown at me but that's not helpful, especially when blood pressure is already so high.)
So, did the prosecution affect him negatively and contribute: Definitely. Is it the sole, or even the primary reason for his suicide: Absolutely not.
Prosecution or not, it was a horrible, unfair, excruciating, painful thing he was experiencing. And we'll never know what actually tipped the scales in the end, but it doesn't matter because it could have been the most insignificant things just at the wrong moment (or, it could have been after days of trying to NOT think about the case - I don't know).
One thing I will agree on is that if there's the potential for any good to come from this, whether it's helping maintain or expand on-line rights, finding better ways of treating (handling and medically) mentally-ill defendants, more of us being proactive when this kind of malicious prosecution happens to a noname.usr we've never heard of – or something I can't even comprehend right now – then it won't have been in vain.
How direspectful and condescending article.
NOBODY IS READY TO HAVE ITS FREEDOM TAKEN FROM HIM FOR RIGHTFUL ACTIONS.
Do you think he was seriously considering having his life broken (30 years in jail) when trying to make public data financed by public money ? That was completely disproportionate and that's all the issue.
"But do not, under any circumstances, give anyone the satisfaction of seeing you ragequit."
LOL just say that to the people executed and emprisonned until death for non crimes. "Guys, you have to stay alive until your jailer decides to kill you".
That happens all around the world, and that was what Aaron was facing.
You are comparing suicide to "ragequit"? Wow... Sorry, two very different things there and if you actually do know the real differences and made a poor analogy I think you really should clarify things.
I registered for the first time after years of reading to respond to this thread.
I just wanted to say: <3.
You're the best and you're doing good. StackOverflow helps me out regularly. Keep working and don't be afraid of the dark nights. They come and then they go.
Hi Jeff, thanks for not quitting, out there is very dark, and sometimes that darkness comes closer to us. But in the end, is all we hav e, this little rock spinning in space is all we have. So lets make the most of it.
Don't give up, don't get even - get satisfaction.
I'm a bit frustrated by the whole tone of the comments toward you. You admit thinking about suicide and a bunch of knuckleheads think that anything else is important in relation to that. This post has bothered me all day.
I'm sorry you've seen that side of people, I give them the benefit of the doubt that they just skimmed your post.
While I think I'm preaching to the choir here from what you said in your post. Suicide is never the answer and especially not the answer when you have young ones that rely on their dad to be there. Get whatever help you need. Nothing else you said matters.
Ckincincy, I'd like to point you to two related posts. If Jeff has experienced that level of depression then he knows what Aaron went through. Jeff made the decision to live. Aaron did not. It was Aaron's decision to make. I myself suffer from major bouts of depression and thus the last person to ever judge a decision such as this. As human beings we can *NEVER* know what it is like to live someone else's life. The people who say "Suicide is never the answer" have no idea what severe depression feels like.
I wrote my tumblr post this morning have been receiving "thank you" messages all day. Sadly, they are being sent privately which is a very good indication of how embarrassed and ashamed some people feel about their depression. Jeff's post does absolutely nothing but alienate them.
Are you kidding? Aaron was a criminal who committed felonies to get what HE THOUGHT should be free out to the masses. Look at it however you will; one man's criminal is another man's activist. Federal law has a lot to say about computer crimes and recklessly stealing data isn't the way to get around it. Just because he was able to view the documents on JSTOR and other areas doesn't mean others were allowed to do the same. He's just a thief who got caught and he's absolutely not a hero or a "martyr" as some have pointed out in the past; if he couldn't handle the consequences he shouldn't have done what he did.
Dude, did you see his security camera shots? Dude was going to get 6 months in a white male-prison, reduced partway to his sentence for those.
The US Government didn't kill Aaron, lack of oxygen from a tightening noose that his depressed brain tied around his neck is what killed Aaron.
Charles Dortworth: "Just because he was able to view the documents on JSTOR and other areas doesn't mean others were allowed to do the same. He's just a thief who got caught"
People keep using the term thief in this case. Copying is not theft; even in the US where various lobby groups are pushing hard for the two terms to be conflated in a legal sense, courts have ruled this not to be so. In the UK it has been explicitly ruled that information is not property. Copying can be construed as illegal in various jurisdictions; it can be viewed as infringement of others' rights to make money from a given piece of information; regardless nothing is directly stolen. That it is not theft does not necessarily make it right, but that's a matter for the context, which is why we have legal systems in the first place.
Considering that JSTOR settled with Aaron, Aaron returned the items copied without distributing them when requested, and JSTOR even went so far to publish 4.5 million articles freely in a remarkably coincidental move after it dropped charges against Aaron (and before he died), I think you're skating on thin ice, colloquialisms or not.
Of course, it's easy to defame the dead, especially from the safety of anonymity.
From Navi: "Of course, it's easy to defame the dead, especially from the safety of anonymity."
Stating that suicide is like ragequitting is absolutely uncalled for. Stating that Aaron should have continued to suffer because he was an "activist" is utter bullshit. He was a human being, he had a disease, and that diseased caused him to take permanent action against a temporary problem. It is incredibly said but fuck anyone who feels like they are in a position to judge him.
Jeff, I can understand some users' objection to the metaphor, although I didn't think you were trying to suggest they were equivalent. And I agree with some others that some of the ways you describe choices doesn't seem to recognize how disease-like extreme depression is.
But, your acknowledgement of your own struggles made me view those minor differences in a different light. It made me read it less as, "is this untrained analyst's" metaphor and description accurate/helpful/etc?" Instead, I took it as, "I struggled, hard with depression, and this is how I'm feeling as I cope with this new event. And I'm being incredibly honest, however hard that may be, knowing that not just the internet, but my family - my kids - will all eventually read this."
Anyway, whatever individual aspects of this I don't agree with, overall I think it was very brave to share so much about your personal travails. So thanks.
I've had some experience here, and I have to admire the determination and guts of somebody who suffers from serious clinical depression and even tries to be an activist. I'm not surprised that a depressive would commit suicide under that amount of pressure, but I am that he held together as far as he did.
And, Jeff, if you really feel suicidal, presumably from depression, GET HELP. Not only because I'd rather not see your suicide on the front page of Slashdot, but because your life could be better for you and those close to you. Depression is treatable. The treatments aren't perfect, but they can be effective nonetheless. Hang in there and see what sort of help you need.
I'm not surprised you're getting some heat for this, but I think what you've written is pretty well balanced. Yes, suicide is often an act of rage; Yes, clinical depression is a catastrophically self-reinforcing illness.
But what a person does under the influence of depression is not disconnected from who they are before it strikes, so it's good to plant a seed of resistance in people's minds when they're sane enough to hear it.
I think it's important to clarify that only 12 states permanently take away a felon's right to vote, and NY is not one of them.
I like "Play other, better moves – and consider your long game" part :D
I think that rageQuit is an essential action that expand your mental space. When someone got a considerable amount of frustation, with no experience of post-rageQuit situation, they tend to walk the easy, rageQuit route, especially when kids playing the game.
I think we all doing rageQuit at least once in the lifetime and we growth. Just hope that's not the last action they do.
Your post came at an important time for me. A good friend who I mentored and worked with for a long time 'ragequit' life this past Saturday. I wish there was a good way to implement a support network for people like my friend. He was a very gifted programmer and had made several important contributions to the free software movement. Perhaps if he had support available, on line , he may have been able to avoid his final choice. Of course all his friends and associates would have listened or advised but something stopped him reaching out for help. I am almost sure that had he had the resource available online he could have used it.
I share your view on ragequitting, but have a deep well of forgiveness for Aaron. Lifelong depression is unspeakably painful; I ask no one to live with that pain unabated. It seems Aaron was facing pain on almost all fronts; I can feel little else but compassion.
And despite his amazing accomplishments, he was quite young. As I have aged, and as a friend noted last night - through considerable laughter - that it seems life is a long series of conquering one hill only to find another in your path. The first few times this happens to you can be shattering, until you learn to enjoy the brief coast downhill and the challenge of getting to the to of the next.
Did the government pursuit of him exacerbate the pain in his life? I frankly can't see how it would not. It was deliberately (I am struck by that word - de-liberate) structured to wear him down. Was it shameful on our part? Absolutely.
Is this odd? Nope. The current powers-that-be are fighting madly against the future-that-will-be, the future that Aaron could see wholly and clearly. This is a pattern we've seen throughout time as those who have the power struggle to maintain an ever loosening grip.
Bless you, Aaron. You did what you could. You will be remembered and cherished.
Well, in 2001 I was facinated by the RDF, when I was teen. It seems that RDF was hipnotic idea at that time when you were teen. I never heard about Aaron before, but accrding to Wikipedia Aaron was facinated by the RDF too (even in active role) as a very young person. So I feel now sad that he is gone :(
I've experienced moderate and deep depression. It left a part of my mind still broken, but the moderate/deep depression is gone. I'm not offended by the suggestion that Aaron's sucide was wrong, or was a mistake, or was quitting.
Depression is worse than almost anything. Would you kill yourself if you lost an arm and a leg? No? People kill themselves because being depressed is so painful. Even more depressed people would kill themselves, but they are too depressed. Because as well as pain, depression means a loss of judgement. Sometimes loss of judgement so severe that you have difficulty carrying out everyday tasks like stopping at red traffic lights, let alone planning and achieving suicide.
It's not cruel or thoughtless to say that depressed people make bad judgements. It's a description of the condition.
The loss of judgement is a thing that made my mind hurt. The hurt is a thing that caused loss of judgement. I don't know which comes first - the loss of judgement or the pain -- but the pain goes when the judgement comes back, and the judgement comes back when the pain goes.
Would Aaron have been hurt or offended by the sugestion that suicide was quitting? Would telling him that suicide was immoral have been helpful? Is it OK to kill people who can't defend themselves? Was suicide the right answer for him in his situation?
He was depressed. His judgement failed. You can't use his answers to those questions.
Jeff, you already are an example like Aaron and we need more of you in the world. You are honest, intelligent, caring, enthusiastic, supportive, positive, engaging. You've changed the world for the better. Don't ragequit, not for us, but for yourself and the ones you love.
I am struggling to find the words I'd like to offer after reading that. It wrenches deep inside to think of others hurting enough to consider such ultimatums. Those of us who fight with depression and darkness share a common understanding of what a powerful foe it can be. Thank you for finding the strength to share.
To boil depression leading to suicide down to the pithy phrase 'ragequitting' is highly insulting to the victims of depression and their families. You shame the memory of Aaron and undo his work. I suggest you take the post down. Ragequitting is what you do when you can't compete with your peers, suicide is what you do when you see the pain of death as being less than the sum pain of living.
The view that clinical depression is within one's power to treat is the minority view of literature. The reality is that sufferers of depression frequently enter a "depression-maintaing cognitive-affecting" cycle (Teasdale 1988). Initial genetic predisposition to depression tends to induce the evaluation of ones life events in worse terms leading to greater feelings of helplessness and powerlessness if left untreated. This forms a reciprocally reinforcing relationship between the depressed mood and negative cognitive processing. In Aaron's case, he lost the ability to critically evaluate his own mood and to seek help when he really needed it.
The death of Aaron Swartz is a reminder of many things. You should have highlighted the need for increased awareness of treatment options available to men (who largely seek treatment less than women do) rather than painting Aaron as a coward.
I'm not going to join the herd tossing your salad when you fail to grok what depression is.
Thank you for the thoughtful article. I don't have much to offer that hasn't already been said in the comments, but you (Jeff) "get it". More people need to have a view similar to yours - suicide is "giving up", and every single person has the innate capacity to rise above.
Aaron's story may be the saddest I have ever known. It is hard to bear. Sometimes you think you have the world figured out, and then..
The "government" ended him. Period. And nobody commits suicide by hanging themselves so easily. There are other ways less painful to leave this world. The "hanging" style of suicide is the way of the government telling you "I owned him and I will do the same to you, if I have to". Period. All the other stuff written before me is for kids to read.
Dammit, Jeff, if you dare become "An Hero", I will walk my fat ass over to California (from Eastern Canada!) and kill you again with my own two hands!
What happened to Aaron is, well, it's a reflection on the insanity that pervades modern government. This culture of fear and paranoia is the enemy of all man. Note that it's never the cousin-&@#$ing creationist swine that hang themselves... As a non-US citizen, I've always held a very cynical view of the US Gov't, and the moment I let my guard down, they go out of their way to remind me why I hated the system in the first place.
We must not let Aaron's loss fade into obscurity. I agree with "D", the government murdered him. They didn't tie the noose but they most certainly painted the picture leading up to it. Sadly, tech pioneers go largely unnoticed outside of our geek cliques. He wasn't some laudable diplomat, born with a silver spoon up his ass. He was just your everyday good-hearted genius, like so many of us, and thus he was dismissed by a system that favours profiteers over problem solvers. He represents everything that is wrong with the world today.
It was a relief to read your blog. I have had too many rage quits online. Including Stack Exchange, but fortunately I came back, thanks to the kindness of one person, who has pointed me to your blogs before. I stumbled upon this one though.
My husband suicided 10 years ago, when I was on chemo and desperately ill, leaving me with 3 young children. I have an incurable, disabling, life threatening illness (and I suffer physically most of the time). There's not a month that will go by when I don't feel like killing myself. The thing that stops me, is my children. I care more about their happiness than my misery.
In the past ten years, I have been dragged into court many times. People get greedy when someone dies. I also got dragged through the court by our Government. It was shocking. Ultimately it cost me half a million dollars, it would have cost the Government in excess of one million dollars (with all the associated costs to the case). I won my case.. Yes, sometimes justice is served.
BUT this has left me a broken woman. I feel like a leper. My reputation is gone, I've been stigmatized.. Although I won my case, the reasons (it was not criminal, it was civil but life shattering) for the case, I cannot even mention here, as people have been so savage and vitriolic and used it against me and my family. Much as my husband's suicide has been used as a weapon to socially ostracize us at times.
I have starting learning programming in my mid 40s. I regularly despair that I will be a competent programmer before I die.. as living with diffuse scleroderma, it's always stressful and I'm mindful, I have this illness that is always trying to kill me. I've been hospitalised more than 100 times (most of these were for day infusions, so I didn't stay overnight), but there were many ambulance tripe, surgery.. I am often miserable, as my gut is damaged and doesn't move, so I am living with the (almost daily) discomfort of having semi to fully impacted bowel and it is extremely depressing. That and my muscles have been affected on and off over the years by a severe polymyositis.
I say this, as I feel daily shame about who I am and feel like a worthless, lower rung member of humanity. It's been gutting. The most disappointing thing has been the face of humanity my children and I have been exposed to being vulnerable. The bad experiences have left a foul taste in my mouth.
Funny, my husband's family call me a murderer and blame me for his suicide... Yet I have been pushed to the far edges and who would be to blame if I was to suicide - well I think it would be me.. And in spite of the garbage we inherited as a result of my husband's suicide.. I was left holding the baby (actually my muscles were too wasted to carry my children)... I am one of he most determined people I know. So within my misery of this past decade.. I still stumble through each day and have these vague hopes in the back of my mind that it will improve, despite my despair.