Aaron Swartz at Risk

January 17th, 2013

Published on naked capitalism, by Lambert Strether, Jan, 15, 2013;

… This isn’t a post about intellectual property rights, so I’ll merely present an example of the good that Swartz’s vision can do. As is well known, Swartz wrote the spec for RSS (Really Simple Syndication). At age 14. And so:

RSS changed our lives:  

  • I need to let the people who knew and loved Aaron know that his work changed my son’s life for the better, forever.
  • Diagnosed with autism at age 2, My son’s best help came from the RSS feeds and papers that I could get access to that offered the truth and science about autism. Every morning I read the RSS feeds from academic journals world wide to find out more about my son’s regressive autism, fragile X premutation (which is only known in scientific academic circles) the MTHFR gene and new and critical treatments. Because of his work I was able to find out about UC Davis, about current scientific treatment, and research studies to get us this treatment. My son is now four and his is doing great… BECAUSE of the scientific information I had access to. I have an MLIS. I interned at Elsevier. I have seen all sides of the academic pay wall and I have felt my ignorance around my neck like a boulder, at great cost to my son’s health. But Aaron, you helped us. Thank you. Until we see that the populace will never be scientifically aware UNLESS we have access to the information we will not be able to go from a people of belief to a people of ideas [not a bug].
  • In other words, Swartz helped this woman and her son by removing information from the grasp of rentiers. That’s what “open access” means, operationally.  (See also on PACER, where Swartz provided open access to the law.)
  • I would now like to dolly back from Swartz’s views on open access, and show how three overlapping lethal systems, each one structured for its own corrupt purposes by our rentier state, narrowed his life chances by piling on risk factors, and set him up for an untimely death. First, I’ll look at the health care system, then at health in the tech community, and finally at health in the technical activist community. In each system, Aaron Swartz was at risk — or the nature of our current arrangements in political economy put him at risk.

Risk Factors from the Health Care System: … //

… Risk Factors in the Activist Community:

  • Zooming in to Swartz’s associates, friends, and family, we find additional risk factors when the power of the state*** was brought to bear on him. Stoller explains:
  • Corruption isn’t just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It’s also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or … you are bankrupted and destroyed. … Corrupt self-interest, when it goes systemwide, demands that it protect rentiers from people like Aaron, that it intimidate, co-opt, humiliate, fire, destroy, and/or bankrupt those who stand for justice. … [T]he person who warned about the downside in a meeting gets cut out of the loop, or the former politician who tries to reform an industry sector finds his or her job opportunities sparse and unappealing next to his soon to be millionaire go along get along colleagues. I’ve seen this happen to high level former officials who have done good, and among students who challenge power as their colleagues go to become junior analysts on Wall Street.
  • And such an additional stressor — and I’m sure there were many others besides this one — put Swartz at risk. Quinn Norton’s howl of pain:
  • We were destroyed by the investigation, and by enduring so much together in the five years of the difficult love affair of difficult people. In the end he told me he needed to get away from me. I let him go, and waited for the day he’d come back. I knew that one day we’d have a day to be together again, though probably not as lovers. Together, as something that doesn’t have a word. He went on to another relationship, and I know he touched her like he did me, because that’s how he touched people.


I don’t have the right word for the way that the rentier state zeroed in on Swartz until he cracked: How it piled a rentier-directed health care system on top of a rentier-optimized technical ecology on top of a rentier-driven justice system. But perhaps I have a metaphor: The Salem Witch trials, where those convicted by the justice system of that time were “pressed” to death with stone after stone after stone:

  • Depression.
  • Oppression.
  • Repression.
  • Simple, direct, neat.

However, I am hopeful because I believe that our state acts as it does because it is weak, not strong. And I expect to have a way to use the cold and burning anger I too feel in the service of justice.

NOTE *,** If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, do, please, seek help (for example). Multiple asterisks for emphasis!

NOTE *** Ortiz was a leader in collecting fines for lawbreaking:
Ortiz and her office have won attention for taking on a number of high-profile cases, including the ongoing murder prosecution of notorious mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger. Her office also announced in December that it was the largest contributor to the $13.1 billion in criminal and civil fines recovered  in 2012 by the nation’s 94 U.S. Attorney’s offices. Ortiz’s office collected $8.8 billion during the fiscal year, accounting for almost 67 percent of the total collection.

These cost-of-doing-business fines are corrupt, as Yves points out. They are the precise equivalent of shell game operators passing the cop on the beat a fiver while they continue to rope in the shills. Ortiz is, as one would expect, a rising star in the Democratic party, and she’s not spending more time with her family. Yet.

NOTE *** One very, very obvious thing the left should be seeking to redress is the different life expectancies shown in Chart 1. Single payer health care would be of great help to the Aaron Swartz’s of this world who are still alive. And we shouldn’t be fighting merely to “save” Social Security, but to make the benefits age neutral. How the elites must laugh among themselves for having inveigled us into selling out our own children!

(full text and map).

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