I didn’t know who he was, but read a bunch of his blog entries yesterday. Brilliant guy, and seemingly very well grounded. I liked his analysis of Wikipedia’s contributor base and community structure (or lack thereof).
Aaron Swartz was a kid… he was not ready to take on the world, and the book was thrown at him for some minor electronic mischief, more on principle than on any actual harm or damage done. (Perhaps it was a tactic to “encourage” settlement because our courts are overburdened, but this reality of the way law is applied seems hardly laudable; it is not justice, it’s coercion.)
Imagine the torture and torment he must have felt at the end. There needs to be a larger lesson for us, a lesson about a scary place in which we’ve ended up (the danger lies below the surface, where we’ve pushed anything we consider challenging), and how we need to wake up and gradually change that direction. In our zeal for creating this perfect garden kept free of weeds we’ve saturated the ground with weed killer; we keep out the plants and flowers by which some people or entities feel threatened, but we’re really throwing out our best collective long-term hope. The sensitive voices of intelligence, rationality, principle, and outside-the-box thinking which only results from the box itself sometimes being ignored with respect to thought and action, are trampled by a cold system with particular ends in mind, which are often not ends which serve the common good but rather the system itself, and the predictability of the inside-the-box careers of those with authority.
That said, also, I believe that individuals need to learn another kind of “grounding,” which is how to become more free of the tremendous emotional torment and dissatisfaction which the mind is capable of generating. If we freeze time and look at just one moment… just the physical reality, minus all these complex social concepts and entanglements of thought, then what is there? What leads a person to kill himself? It’s an evaluation of self-worth (ego), a prediction of continued pain and lack of self-worth or respect in an imagined future (ego), a form of confusion which leads to unclear understanding of worth to others, and a lack of the sense of being wanted and of understanding one’s actual value to the world. This is all mind-generated pain.
This should be approached from two sides, although I only have vague ideas: (a) From the top down, by striving to treat people fairly and in seeking to minimize stress by disallowing the law to be used as a threat, and (b) From the bottom up, by teaching people how to stand up for what is real (this present reality) and fight against the imaginary demons of depression and just the general discomfort which their own minds generate, which come from thinking (and taking the judgments, often imagined, of others, and even themselves, personally) as opposed to simply being here and now which contains no such concepts.
But pain is also real, and this is all “easier said than done.” All of us, but smart people especially, tend to get attached to words and concepts, to ideas and principles, and this forms a kind of prison. We can say “don’t take it personally” and but really, can you just decide not to take it personally, to turn off your emotional reactions to something, which is coming from a deep and conditioned place? It takes a lot of self-work over a lot of time… work looking inside oneself (meditation) and out at reality (presence) to lower the security level of that prison of as-is concepts.