The suicide of a 26-year-old principled hacker (if you can be that) has people speculating. They speculate that because he was facing prosecution for hacking into JSTOR and liberating scads of academic papers he became fatally depressed. No doubt being incredibly young and facing a serious trial whose outcome might be jail time undermined him; but he had a history of depression as well.

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From the New York Times:

In 2007, Mr. Swartz wrote about his struggle with depression, distinguishing it from the emotion of sadness. “Go outside and get some fresh air or cuddle with a loved one and you don’t feel any better, only more upset at being unable to feel the joy that everyone else seems to feel. Everything gets colored by the sadness.” When the condition gets worse, he wrote, “you feel as if streaks of pain are running through your head, you thrash your body, you search for some escape but find none. And this is one of the more moderate forms.” Earlier that year, he gave a talk in which he described having had suicidal thoughts during a low period in his career.

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5 Responses to ““But Aaron was also a person who’d had problems with depression for many years.””

  1. Jack Laughlin Says:

    In our time and place, revolutionaries self-execute.

  2. Bernard Carroll Says:

    The description Aaron Swartz gives of his serious depression rings true for an episode of melancholia. Here is a short poem on that topic that appeared last year in the journal Bipolar Disorders. I wrote it based on many years of treating such persons. I lost some like Aaron.

    MELANCHOLIA
    Spirits bleak, week on week;
    Drive is weak; God won’t speak.
    Empty shell can’t get well.
    Knell the bell, I’m for hell.

    Wake in fright, night on night;
    Worst at light; what’s that sight?
    Cannot play, cannot pray.
    Haste the day I decay.

    Thinking slow, words don’t flow;
    Why so low? Do not know.
    Unlike grief, dark motif
    Lacks relief, even brief.

    Cannot eat, feel so beat.
    Doctors treat – their conceit.
    What’s this pill? Makes me ill.
    It could kill – hope it will.

    Cannot cry, want to die.
    All is hurt, I am dirt.
    Gone past sad; call me bad.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    A powerful poem, Barney. I’m reminded of this one, by Donald Justice:

    Counting The Mad

    This one was put in a jacket,
    This one was sent home,
    This one was given bread and meat
    But would eat none,
    And this one cried No No No No
    All day long.

    This one looked at the window
    As though it were a wall,
    This one saw things that were not there,
    This one things that were,
    And this one cried No No No No
    All day long.

    This one thought himself a bird,
    This one a dog,
    And this one thought himself a man,
    An ordinary man,
    And cried and cried No No No No
    All day long.

  4. Timothy Burke Says:

    Yes, you can be that. This might be a case where more reading and less shoot-from-the-hip is a good thing. I hardly know where to start with the outpouring of writing from the last three days, but on the hacking part, here’s a good piece:

    http://io9.com/5975592/aaron-swartz-died-innocent-++-here-is-the-evidence

    Another good essay:

    http://lessig.tumblr.com/post/40347463044/prosecutor-as-bully

    Another:

    http://crookedtimber.org/2013/01/12/remembering-aaron-swartz/

    And another:

    http://boingboing.net/2013/01/12/rip-aaron-swartz.html

    There’s another ten to twenty eloquent, passionate, smart pieces out there.

  5. Mark Says:

    Yes, “if you can be that” seems highly inappropriate in the circumstances. And as Burke shows, entirely inaccurate to boot.

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