Wednesday, January 16, 2013

#16 / Suicide

Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz, twenty-six years old and an extremely accomplished innovator, took his own life on Friday, January 11th. His suicide has received widespread news coverage. An editorial in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle questioned the appropriateness of the federal criminal charges pending against Swartz at the time of his death. 

The fact that Swartz was facing a possible thirty-five years in prison for the crime of hacking into a private website, and making public on the internet various academic documents that were, admittedly, owned by someone else, is generally thought to be a reason, or even the reason, for his suicide. It does seem to me that the Chronicle is right, and that this kind of penalty would be an unfairness.

I doubt that suicide can ever really be understood through some sort of "rational" analysis, but if analyzed in rational terms, does it actually make sense for a person to commit suicide when faced with facts that are overwhelmingly "unfair," daunting, and discouraging, and that understandably lead those  who are experiencing them towards despair? 

"Life," the fact that we are "alive," and not dead, that we "exist" rather than not existing, is an attribute of what I call the World of Nature. We do not create our own lives; we receive them (some would say as a gift; others might say as a burden or curse). In a very real way, it seems to me, when events within the world we most immediately inhabit, the "human" world, make us decide to take our own lives, we implicitly are choosing to elevate the importance of "our" world over the significance of the World of Nature, the world we don't create. 

Facing thirty-five years of an unfair imprisonment (or facing extreme poverty, or the loss of one's children, or physical disability, to provide some other examples) can be both daunting and discouraging. Truly, life is not "fair." But the conditions of our lives are, in fact, a "human" reality. "Life" itself is something different. "Life" is part of that world we do not create ourselves, and that is, ultimately, though not immediately, the foundation of our existence. 

We all know the saying, "where there is life, there is hope."

If that is an "accurate" statement, and I believe it is, then what it means is that in "our" world, whatever exists can be changed. Unfairnesses can be remedied. Limitations can be overcome. "Realities" can be modified.

This realization can be, and I believe it should be, a counsel against despair.

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  1. I understand what you're saying, Gary, and to some extent agree. The gift of life also gives us a responsibility to do our best to be hopeful. But I think that another thing we can aspire to after this tragic ending is to do our best not to take hope from our fellow human beings. Even in the interest of justice.

  2. Late to say it, but I completely agree.

  3. Not that late, and certainly not too late. Thanks.


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