In Memoriam Aaron Swartz

Originally published on January 11th, 2014.

One year ago, on January 11th, 2013, a young hacker dedicated to the advancement of freedom, knowledge, and convinced of the power of individuals and collectives to bring forth humane values for a more egalitarian world, decided that he could not win the legitimate struggle he had been fighting for since he was a child, and chose to remove himself from our world, to comply with the corrupt order that suppresses life where it flourishes, and punishes the just for wishing to abide by the Constitution and general interest rather than the rule of the powerful criminal few and their particular interests.

His shock at being excruciated for liberating knowledge that should be public given the sources of its funding, and the purpose of its creation, and to be persecuted for doing what is right according to the spirit of his own country, and the narrative of the so-called free world, cornered him into a dead end. It came as a hard deadline for many of us, especially those close to him, for they knew the human becoming that he was, where most of us could only recognize his genius through his inspiring words and actions.

With his life, Aaron Swartz took for shroud the veil of the illusion of the free world’s narrative. Along with other suppressed freedom fighters, Julian Assange, Barret Brown, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, etc., he contributed to demonstrate that however hard we want to think about freedom, democracy, humanity, we’re not there anymore: that path and dream were stolen from us and we’re like insects following a light in the dark, taking it for the Sun, only to discover when it’s too late, that we’ve been lured into a death trap.

Repeating “I knew, I knew” won’t do it this time. It’s time to recover from the shock, and plant a new path, a new dreamscape, and that must be one of caring and sharing, one of humane and human spirit and community, and a path that can only be taken one by one, by each of us, to become the drops that will grow into a rain and wash away the nightmare that paranoid punishers want to impose on us. Whatever their narrative, we all know their ethics do not match their words, however beautiful and inspiring they can be: their time is done, as much as the time of kings and awe-inspired rulers was half-a-millenium ago. Our narrative must be complex, multiple, planetary, far-seeing, and will impose itself by the numbers, and not by force.

Hackers can only act so far as to constrain the technology to embed this ethics and this dreamscape into code, and choose to orient the politics of the technique towards personal empowerment, and collective freedom. There’s no technological solution to mental slavery, but indeed there’s a tension built-in the tools we make, that can help anyone to make choices for themselves and the rest of us.

If the Nasty Stooges of America founded their cosmogony on George Orwell’s 1984, we must stick to our fundamentals, and see how the military machine of the Listeners has in the 20th Century been subverted, appropriated, and expanded by the likes of Alan Turing, Alan Kay, Douglas Engelbart, John C. Licklider, and many more to build the Internet, this revolutionary expansion of the individual mind, into a reflection of a collective mind, and an enabler of collective intelligence that is revealing the complexity of our social agency.

We must use it as a tool not to build more technology, that most of it would be qualified by Ted Nelson as “packaging”, but to bring ourselves together into solving the most pressing and global challenges that humanity has been facing in its recorded history: world hunger, unleashing of fanaticisms, proliferation of nuclear weapons, degradation of the biosphere[0], etc. for humanity to succeed despite the obvious will or suicidal panic of a few.

This is an omni-directional endeavor of unprecedented proportions and not one single individual can understand all the keys to make it happen–neither will any single non-human institution such as a nation-state nor a corporation. But together, given the right narrative, the will to succeed, the tools to facilitate our will, and the tools to make it difficult and fastidious to oppose us, we shall prevail[1].

Nobody should be able to cut the wings of another Aaron Swartz, and the Aaron Swartz that still lives in each of us should be another shield against arbitrary, uninformed, fanatic, cruel, and idiotic decisions that wish to punish instead of educating. When society turns against its own subjects, we can diagnose metastasis. It’s time for a cure.


[0] In the words of Edgard Morin [1] In the purity of essence of all our precious bodily fluids.