A Tribute to a Man I Didn’t Know

Aaron Swartz committed suicide on Friday. I didn’t know of him or his work, although I use the technology he helped pioneer (RSS for one) on a daily basis.

Although his battles with depression likely played a role in his suicide, another contributing factor was likely his ongoing court battle for allegedly planning to distribute JSTOR documents he obtained illegally. (He never intended to sell the documents for a profit, however; and JSTOR declined to join the suit.)

From Lawrence Lessig’s remembrance (emphasis original):

Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.

Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good.

The world needs more people like this. From a piece by Glenn Greenwald {the guardian}:

…[Swartz] could have easily opted for a life of great personal wealth, status, prestige and comfort. He chose instead to fight — selflessly, with conviction and purpose, and at great risk to himself — for noble causes to which he was passionately devoted. That, to me, isn’t an example of heroism; it’s the embodiment of it, its purest expression. It’s the attribute our country has been most lacking.

See also: Remembering Aaron Swartz {via daring fireball}.