Cold Hearted?

MSN: Mass Twitter protest honors dead Internet activist

Call me cold hearted but I’m not overflowing with outrage that a young man has hung himself, while awaiting a trail for federal charges.

Yes, this is about Aaron Swartz. Yes, I believe we lost an incredible mind and a talented Internet citizen. His contributions to RSS changed how people consumed blog posts – his co-ownership has helped spawn what is a site that many people cannot live without. He also exited his life by his own hand and as a coward.

Strong words, I know, but when you give up, when you take your own life, when you stop exploring options, you are taking the easy way out.

The question most people are struggling with – as often happens after a suicide – is why did he do it. So far, the running theory is that he was facing legal issues for allegedly stealing intellectual property… I don’t know if that’s the reality of it or if this young man was dealing with the depression that he’s publicly acknowledged over the years.

Either way, this is a man that, for all his brilliance, performed what he knew was an illegal act. He got caught. He got persecuted. He may have had to spend years in prison. That’s some scary shit.

But consider that: he knew that what he did was illegal. He was willful. He was methodical. He is every bit like the people that get persecuted for hosting pirated music or taking a camcorder to a movie theater. He didn’t accidentally download tons of documents. I don’t know if he actively planned to distribute them, but there were evidence enough that he did. Did he think that if he acted like a robber-baron that he’d get away with it? Because of who he was, he could side step the persecution? I don’t know what was in his mind. Further, if the case went to trial, who knows? Is the public outcry because he was doing what the people wanted or is it because he’s dead?

The sad truth is that by committing suicide, he’s either admitted his guilt or told the world that his medication was off. If it was the medication, then this whole affair is truly a sad story with no one to blame. If he was guilty of his crimes, then he’s taken the cowards path. He’s not a martyr. He’s not unjustly persecuted. Think the punishment didn’t fit the crime? Then fight the law. Do not minimize the crime or coddle and reward the criminal, even if it is post humorous. “Can’t do the time don’t do the crime” doesn’t apply anymore? “He didn’t mean it” is a valid argument? “He’s dead now so he didn’t do anything wrong”? Bullshit.

Making a stretch of a correlation, but consider the Mafia. For decades mob members performed crimes that went without persecution, some of them with the support of their neighborhoods. In the old school Italian neighborhoods citizens used the Mafia to take care of personal matters, for cash. Some legal, some illegal, but nominally with the support of the community. What you see in the movies is the sensational stuff… similar to watching a poker tournament on TV: you jump from exciting hand to exciting hand and they leave 95% of the hands on the cutting room floor because it’s boring. Part of the process but not fun to watch. Similarly, most of the world thinks every American has a cowboy hat and a gun under their belt… we know that’s not the case.

There were many a Mafia soldier that never fired a gun. Some members simply loan sharked or made book, which arguably hurts far less people than stealing intellectual property and dumping it for free.

What if said mob guy killed himself because he got arrested for loan sharking? Is there going to be a public outcry of support because he died to avoid prosecution? (There won’t be.) Now you’re looking at this analogy and thinking “This is nuts! How dare you compare a young creative mind against a Mafia thug and think they’re the same?!” I’m not making that comparison. I’m comparing one alleged criminal against another and pointing out the slippery slope hypocrites often stand one when you take the law and bend it for people you like or don’t like. If you want to prosecute the loan shark you have to prosecute the robber-baron: that’s how the law [is supposed to] work.

We lost a brilliant and young technologist this weekend and that makes me sad. …but not sad enough to absolve his actions because he took his own life.

I’ll celebrate his achievements but I will not support society’s attempt to make him an innocent martyr.

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