If ignorance is bliss, then optimism must be euphoria. Thanks to a mechanism called the optimism bias, humans are pretty much incapable of applying basic risk statistics to their own lives. We know smoking causes cancer, but we don’t expect it to happen to us. We find a lump on our body and we tell ourselves it’s probably nothing. Although the term optimism bias was first used in the 1980’s, psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman was most likely the one who made it part of general vocabulary. In his 2011 book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Kahneman notes that “people tend to be overly optimistic about their relative standing on any activity in which they do moderately well.” The optimism bias generates the illusion of control: the idea that we are in control of our lives. Bad things only happen to others. […]
According to the “depressive realism” proposition, people who suffer from (moderate) depression actually have a more accurate perception of reality. They are less affected by the illusion of control and therefore better capable of estimating their chances in life. In other words, people with depression are not pessimists, they are realists.
(Some will say this is not the time. I disagree. This is the time when every mixed emotion needs to find voice.)
Since his arresting the early morning of January 11, 2011 — two years to the day before Aaron Swartz ended his life — I have known more about the events that began this spiral than I have wanted to know. Aaron consulted me as a friend and lawyer that morning. He shared with me what went down and why, and I worked with him to get help. When my obligations to Harvard created a conflict that made it impossible for me to continue as a lawyer, I continued as a friend. Not a good enough friend, no doubt, but nothing was going to draw that friendship into doubt.
The billions of snippets of sadness and bewilderment spinning across the Net confirm who this amazing boy was to all of us. But as I’ve read these aches, there’s one strain I wish we could resist: Please don’t pathologize this story. No doubt it is a certain crazy that brings a person as loved as Aaron was loved (and he was surrounded in NY by people who loved him) to do what Aaron did. It angers me that he did what he did. But if we’re going to learn from this, we can’t let slide what brought him here.
First, of course, Aaron brought Aaron here. As I said when I wrote about the case (when obligations required I say something publicly), if what the government alleged was true — and I say “if” because I am not revealing what Aaron said to me then — then what he did was wrong. And if not legally wrong, then at least morally wrong. The causes that Aaron fought for are my causes too. But as much as I respect those who disagree with me about this, these means are not mine. But all this shows is that if the government proved its case, some punishment was appropriate. So what was that appropriate punishment? Was Aaron a terrorist? Or a cracker trying to profit from stolen goods? Or was this something completely different?
Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured “appropriate” out: They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its. MIT, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse he needed to continue his war against the “criminal” who we who loved him knew as Aaron.
Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.
Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.
For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House — and where even those brought to “justice” never even have to admit any wrongdoing, let alone be labeled “felons.” In that world, the question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a “felon.” For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it.
Fifty years in jail, charges our government. Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time. That begins with one word: Shame. One word, and endless tears.
The trap of modern life is not selfish workaholics unable to peel themselves away from their careers long enough to smell the flowers – or the “pink minty cocktails” of Kreider’s afternoons – because they fear loneliness, but a political and economic reality that has workers of all stripes being bilked and squeezed to the breaking point against the backdrop of soaring corporate profits.
…He said that the older you get, the lonelier you become, and the deeper the love you need. Which means that this hero that you’re trying to maintain as the central figure in the drama of your life— this hero is not enjoying the life of a hero. You’re exerting a tremendous maintenance to keep this heroic stance available to you, and the hero is suffering defeat after defeat. And they’re not heroic defeats; they’re ignoble defeats. Finally, one day you say, ‘Let him die— I can’t invest any more in this heroic position.’ From there, you just live your life as if it’s real— as if you have to make decisions even though you have absolutely no guarantee of any of the consequences of your decisions.
Painting is not meant to decorate apartments, painting is an instrument of war.
Straczynski then presumably added, “DC’s action subjected Siegel & Shuster to years of extreme poverty. They forced Jerry Siegel’s wife to beg DC to give her husband work. By the time Joe Shuster was 62, he was almost blind and living in a California nursing home, despite having created a character known and beloved throughout the world. And those are the reasons why I’m extremely proud to make comics for DC today. Those are my dogs! Those are my dogs that did that! That’s how my bros make it do, nephew! Woot Woot! Alan Moore signed a crummy contract, Joe Siegel signed a crummy contract, Jerry Shuster signed a crummy contract, DC is an empire of cruelty built on a mass grave of crummy contracts signed by broken men, but if that’s why I can make money today, then obviously, it was all worth it. And if I can anticipate your next question: no, there’s technically no evidence yet that anyone at DC was implicated in the death of Whitney Houston, but my fingers are crossed.
If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.