They say Aaron Swartz did “the unthinkable” in taking his own life. I hear people singling out his “mental health issues” as the cause of his suicide. One person even said, “An innocent man does not commit suicide.”
I disagree with this entire line of thinking. Yes, in our culture, most of us are taught that suicide is a selfish act. To take one’s own life is considered symptomatic of deep mental illness, perhaps even insanity. Many of us are even raised to believe that suicide is a sin. We have been trained by our media and to say, “How could he do such a thing? I can’t believe he did that! That’s so selfish.”
Bullshit. The kid had balls.
Let’s look beyond our narrow western Judeo-Christian mindset. Aaron Swartz was an extremely well-educated and intelligent young man. I’m sure he was aware that in many cultures and throughout history, suicide is last resort of the noble hero. Before the Christian era, it was more honorable for a man to take his own life than to allow himself to be captured by the enemy. In Asia, whether among the Samurai or Buddhist monk activists, suicide is the ultimate weapon.
Was Swartz mentally ill? No more so than anyone else. If you or I got embroiled in the sort of prosecution that has dogged him, I bet we would feel a little blue, don’t you think? Our culture no longer allows us to be angry or depressed. When we express human emotion we are told that we are “crazy” and that we need to be medicated. Lord forbid we express anything other than happiness or a flat line of numb apathy. If we fly too high or sink too low we are sent to the doctor and coerced into taking mind-altering prescription drugs.
This young activist was facing the juggernaut of Federal prosecution. His only out was a plea bargain that would have forced him to bear the scarlet letter of “felon.” He was not willing to accept that. This young warrior refused to give Big Brother the satisfaction of winning their case… even on paper. Symbols have power. Precedents shape law for generations. He knew that if he allowed Big Brother to win… even if they were to merely give him a slap on the wrist… that it would be a mighty victory for the bureaucratic empire and a crippling blow against freedom.
I don’t necessarily support Swartz’s cause. His was a battle that I personally would not have waged. There are other causes that are more dear to my heart. Nevertheless, I have the utmost respect for this young warrior. I am grateful for the work he did in stopping SOPA and PIPA. I believe that our government has thrown genuine freedom under the bus of corporate feudalism and that the greater part of our government’s work has been the protection of banks, military contractors and multinational corporations at the expense of freedom and economic opportunity for ordinary American citizens.
Like a true warrior, Swartz availed himself of the final option of a battered and cornered hero. He took his own life. I offer my condolences to his family and friends. I know their grief is overwhelming and bottomless but we need heroes and knights in this world. We need to be men again and not the obedient trained seals our education system has shaped us into.
Aaron, may your soul find light on the other side. And, if you are so inclined, may your spirit continue to fight for freedom in this world and inspire us all to stand up for that which we believe in.