MIT Media Lab announces $250,000 "Rewarding Disobedience" prize


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They can cut to the chase and give it to Aaron Swartz estate.


It will go to a person or group engaged in what we believe is excellent disobedience for the benefit of society.

Unless the Aaron Swartz estate is engaged in disobedience, that probably won’t happen.


@earnestinebrown could have recommended awarding to Aaron directly, but he’s dead, you see, because he was being disobedient for the good of society. Maybe MIT should call it the Aaron Swartz Memorial Disobedience prize?


Maybe MIT should call it the Aaron Swartz Memorial Disobedience prize?

Maybe you should make your own prize and call it that. I doubt they are interested in rewarding disobedience from almost a decade ago. If they are, then history provides more worthy recipients than Swartz. Daniel Ellsberg, for example.


Are we sure this isn’t some honeypot set up by MIT to get the “winner” thrown in jail?

I remember Aaron Swartz was arrested and charged by MIT police for using his MIT guest-account to download JSTOR articles…


WikiLeaks comes immediately to mind.


You would think so, wouldn’t you? Seeing as how WikiLeaks has been one of the most effective and pro-social technical efforts this decade. But their criteria includes:

taking responsibility for one’s actions
Which immediately dismisses WikiLeaks out of hand (Assange is currently in hiding at a foreign embassy specifically to avoid punishment for his actions). It also disqualifies Chelsea Manning, who was ultimately forced to take responsibility for her actions when a traitor snitched her out, but she certainly didn't volunteer herself for life in military prison. And let's not forget Snowden. If Edward Snowden wouldn't qualify for your moral disobedience prize, that's a hint that something's wrong with the criteria.

It is beyond naive to imply that disobedience isn’t principled unless the person presents themselves for punishment - it’s actually insulting to figures like these who have actually done the most meaningful disobedience.


Nice spin.

Assange isn’t “hiding”; everyone knows where he is. He’s found refuge from example-setting persecution at the hands of the U.S. government, which does all it can to quash whistleblowers (as I’m sure you know). What strikes me as naive is your faith in the goodwill of whoever has the power to punish.


Yeah, I guess hiding isn’t the right word. But when people talk about “taking responsibility for your actions”, what they’re referencing is the Ghandi/King doctrine of being willing to accept punishment for what you do. Assange is definitely not doing that. He has used all kinds of clever legal and diplomatic technicalities to avoid punishment - and it’s working.

This is good, and I approve of it, because he does not deserve to be punished (for WikiLeaks, anyway). Which is why I think we shouldn’t overly romanticize this particular martyr-style of disobedience. At one point in history it was important because to take action in a public way was pretty inevitably also to get punished for it. But the internet makes it easier for people to commit extremely public disobedience and still remain beyond the reach of the law. That’s a super encouraging development that we should be celebrating, not disqualifying.


I see what you’re saying, but it’s apples n oranges to compare Assange’s legitimate reasons for avoiding prosecution at the hands of example-setting whistleblower-quashers (which, of course, would also stop him from doing the work that he’s doing) and King’s sitting in jail for a spell after being arrested for protesting (which of course also did not stop him from doing what he was doing). That’s not to minimize the risk and effects of King’s getting thrown in jail; it’s to say that it wouldn’t be same as Assange getting thrown in prison.

I don’t romanticize Assange nor WikiLeaks as martyrs. I just think they deserve a reward like this for the work they’re doing toward making transparent the inner workings of institutions that often only ostensibly serve the public.


At least they could call it the Aaaron Swartz Prize.

Edit: should have realized someone would have beaten me to it.


Aw then they can put the award $$$ to their legal defense when MIT and the other minions of the state come asking about that same disobedience.


The problem is that governments, and other large organizations, will claim that any subversive act done has allowed violence to more easily happen, and that large swaths of people are now even more unsafe. It may be untrue, but they have better access to the courts to argue otherwise. Thus, the giant flaw of this challenge.

Not all “benefits to society” are realized right away to garner the support of the people for the subversive act after it is done. A chunk of society’s members will likely have preferred the status quo. Plus, there’s the threat of various forms of retaliation the person, or group, may expect to receive after their subversive act. What I’m saying is the $250,000 prize might not cover the full expense of trying to claim the prize. Also, I wonder what types of watch lists those who submit their work to win the prize will be put under.

It’s a noble gesture, but not thought out very well. Or, it is thought out well in order to identify ( or catch) the low hanging fruit of hackers.

Just my two cents on the subject.


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