From a comment by Doc Searls in the context of a message-thread related to the death of Aaron Swartz:
“Self-definition is so huge for young people. And yet, it’s not so important as it seems. I was fifty before I realized that I was none of the labels I carried, but simply my self. One result of that realization is that nearly everything I’m known for is stuff I’ve done since then. It’s good to be liberated from the burden of expectations.”
Unless you dwell in a very specific, but highly technical and influential, corner of the Internet, the name Aaron Swartz probably didn’t ring a bell before Friday. But for those who dwell there — and, in some cases, helped to create what “there” is — his suicide on Friday is serving as a form of collective Rorschach test as some very talented ubber-geeks try to make sense out of something so senseless as suicide.
The news of Swartz’s tragic death has cross-over appeal to the general news media, as demonstrated by this WSJ article. Swartz is being portrayed as an archtype of the gifted young internet prodigy as tormented rockstar — a geek Kurt Cobain for today.
It goes without saying that I am deeply saddened by this young and gifted man’s death. And I appreciate how so many people who knew him are celebrating his life and his accomplishments. He deserves such praise, I’m sure. And I agree with those close to him who believe the circumstances contributing his belief that suicide was his only way out are worth investigating and analyzing.
I hope, however, that these deserved and appropriate rememberances and expressions of mourning, do not have the unintended consequences of glorifying the act of taking ones life.
I am grateful that a writer with so much credibility and standing in the tech-community as Cory Doctrow wrote what will be the definitive obituarial essay about Aarron, for in it he praises Aaron’s life, while emphatically condeming his decision to commit suicide.
“Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever. If he was lonely, he will never again be embraced by his friends. If he was despairing of the fight, he will never again rally his comrades with brilliant strategies and leadership. If he was sorrowing, he will never again be lifted from it.
“Depression strikes so many of us. I’ve struggled with it, been so low I couldn’t see the sky, and found my way back again, though I never thought I would. Talking to people, doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, seeking out a counsellor or a Samaritan — all of these have a chance of bringing you back from those depths. Where there’s life, there’s hope. Living people can change things, dead people cannot.”
I began this post with the quote from Doc as it speaks directly to those who assume that [fill-in-the-blank with whatever it is that you think will bring you peace: success, money, a job, a boy- or girlfriend, fame] has to come by a certain time, a certain age, or a certain accomplishment or circumstance.
Peace can come anytime, even without those things you may use to fill in the blank.
But it doesn’t come at the end of a rope.
As Cory writes, “Living people can change things, dead people cannot.”
To believe anything else is just a rock ‘n roll myth.