Monday, January 14, 2013

And They Called Him Aaron

For those with knowledge of holy books, Aaron was known as elder brother of Moses and first high priest of the Israelites. When Moses went to challenge Pharaoh, it was Aaron who spoke for him to both the Israelites and to Pharaoh. He was considered wise and well-spoken, though in the end, he suffered the same fate as Moses, in being unable to enter the land of his people at the end of their long journey. He would not see the world he had worked so hard to bring his people to.

It should be fitting then that Aaron Swartz was named after the holy Aaron of ages past, for he, too, was endowed with great wisdom, spoke for the right of his people to be free to pursue the quest for knowledge as they wished, and devoted himself to their liberation, and in the end, would not live to see the completion of his work.

I did not know the man; you probably did not either, at least not directly. If you have this blog -- or any one -- linked to a news reading program through the RSS protocol, that is Aaron. If you read, use, or edit the site Reddit, that is Aaron. If you publish the data you create to the Internet using the Creative Commons license, that is Aaron. If you joined Demand Progress in fighting against SOPA -- the Stop Online Piracy Act -- to keep the Internet free from censorship and spying, that is Aaron. So you and I may not have known him, but he has touched our lives and continues to do so every day.

Aaron Swartz was, to all accounts, brilliant, forthright, fun-loving, inquisitive, and took action where most of us feared to. It was this combination that drove him forward, to not only seek to improve the quality of and access to information on the Internet, but to prevent other forces from seeking to lock the Internet down and dilute its power. This drive to preserve the freedom to use the Internet brought him to cross intellectual swords with the law.

He suffered, as many of us do, from depression, that bugaboo that seems to creep into our lives at inopportune moments, either allowed in by the vicissitudes of life or unbidden from the depths of the brain. Grappling with this personal demon at the same time he was being oppressed by the Federal government's attempts to clap him in irons for daring to free information for all to use, drove the man to suicide on January 11th, 2013. He was only 26. In the brief span of his life, he had accomplished more than most of us will in a lifetime, and as with many, it can be said that there was so much more ahead for him and for the world he graced had he lived.

Eulogies and remembrances are many, and will continue to in the days to come. But after he has gone back to the soil of the Good Earth, the void his absence creates must be filled. It is not enough that he falls and we look back -- it is better that we embrace and move forward. Aaron Swartz, in his time, showed us the way. Let us honor his memory by picking up his staff and continuing his journey.

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