Remembering Aaron Swartz



Cory, please try to take the long view. We clearly are in the midst of a second renaissance, and it will be of even wider scope and more inclusive than the first. And the first brought down the medieval church and returned science to the Western world.

Power is decentralizing all around us and the level of discourse is improving - it’s no accident that, incomplete as it was, the Arab Spring happened a scant 20 years (one generation!) after the Web was created. I know that the oligarchs are working hard to centralize power, but this is a race they can’t hope to win. The fabric of the Web is intrinsically decentralizing of power.

You are deep in the thickets of it all, which can be discouraging. But change is happening, and you’re an important part of it. I heard you speak in Cambridge (MA) last year and you were brilliant.

And your grief over Aaron honors him.

Be well, and take heart -


To me, it seems that these issues of creeping copyright tyranny are part of a larger societal problem by which the law becomes less and less the good fences that make good neighbors, and more and more a yoke the powerful place upon the little people. And this goes hand in hand with the problem that the rules (both the formal laws and the informal social boundaries) have become less and less binding the higher one goes up on the social ladder.

Unless we can address this problem, everything else is a bandaid on a suppurating cancer.


http and https have been corrupted by the commercial forces that are vying for its territory. But anonymized http holds great promise. It’s in its infancy or early toddlerhood, but we will find a way to make it mainstream… because we have to.

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Thank you, Hillary.


Hillary’s comment about being “deep in the thickets” can also describe your feelings of grief, loss and guilt following the suicide of someone you love. Especially when it is still so fresh- all of that is combined with a sense of disbelief and unreality – it truly does seep into how you see and feel about everything else. And you feel that way for a long time- but- eventually it will get easier to carry the truth of it around.

My son’s oldest and closest friend took his own life almost exactly a year before Aaron. He was 1 month away from his 16th birthday. Brilliant,fiercely independent thinker who went where his intellect took him but was so gentle, funny and kind. He, like Aaron, had beautiful brown eyes and a mop of unruly black hair that he was just not interested in combing!

The first year was very hard - there were 2 more suicides and we felt scared - as if our whole town was falling apart. All I can say is that we all supported each other, the schools, hospital, mental health facilities and experts,houses of worship, friends - in large settings and small. Many of us dreaded the 1st anniversary, as the pain we had just barely learned to carry around would come roaring back. But we got through it together - his mother’s house full of friends and love.

Cory- it’s now been 2 years (Jan. 9) and I can look back and see the ups and downs, but mostly going forward and things getting better. A year ago I couldn’t have seen this - I was so worried, so sunk into sadness and guilt, feeling so powerless and ineffectual. You’ve been fighting big, difficult public battles- but you’ve also suffered the personal loss of a friend- an unrepeatable miracle- to suicide. Your feelings are understandable. If your experience is anything like mine- you will find the worst of it easing over time as you figure out how to live in this “new” world. We leaned on a lot of people, and we tried to find moments of joy to keep us going - music, nature, 3 season marathons of Modern Family, Parks and Rec and Arrested Development.

I probably haven’t said anything that you haven’t heard already- but sometimes it helps to be reminded to step back and get a fresh perspective. Thank you for all your good work - take care of yourself.

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actually, i am totally discouraged. okay, i’m thinking about all this (and many other things, hell, politics, ethics, corporate ownership of educational institutions, ah okay, people starving… the resurgence of fundamentalisms… hell, so many things)… and yah. i wish i were, i wish i were, i wish i were… more hopeful.

and i am not in my early 20’s and i have been fighting this battle for a long fucking time. early on, someone --a mentor, if you will-- warned me this was coming. and me, naively, said, no, there will be a new world and it will be better, kinder, smarter… than the old world. hah.

that poor kid. he believed, did he not.

I may be alone, but quite frankly they can pry my open source browser from my cold, dead, keyboard chafed hands.And if giving up Netflix is the cost, well there are other means of watching films.

We’ve lost battles before, The Telecom Reform Act, the DCMA. And we’ve bounced back, and turned their own weapons against them, and won victories. Precious few, but ones that will last.

All over the world people fought ACTA and its clones, demanding why their governments could not tell their people what they were signing in their name. Not hackers and activists, but ordinary citizens asking hard questions at their dinner tables. The forces that would place the net under tyranny are over-reaching, and the further they push, the harsher the public will be when they realise what’s happened.

Our day will come.

Math will carry us through. It’s not like we need to experiment to know what works and will keep people free. We don’t need to sit in a room together to plot a Declaration and then a Constitution and then experiment with democracy.

We’re already there. We know how to mask packet travel. We know high encryption works. We know low bit encryption is breakable and that some of the popular algorithms are untrustworthy. We can make up new algorithms if we have to. Because of this, whoever they are at any one time: they can’t take away our freedom of expression and they can’t take away our freedom to assemble.

Sure, they will try to associate ALL of us with the few who use these powers to do evil, but we can still work together for what’s right and good and deflect these criticisms by always working towards a high ideal. They haven’t by any stretch “won”. And they’ll never win, as long as we don’t give up.

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