Some reflections on Aaron Swartz and the nature of martyrdom

Originally published at Quartz. Here are excerpts.

Martyrs tend to be made quickly, before the dust has settled on their lives, or their deaths. Such is the case with Aaron Swartz…


His rapid elevation to tragic folk hero is easy to understand when you look at his life. To those who knew him, Swartz was a kind of Arthur Rimbaud for the internet age…


The long list of projects that made up his brief but astonishingly productive career (covered in detail elsewhere) were united by a fierce commitment to making knowledge as widely available as possible.


The troubled young prodigy with the free-thinking ideals, the heartless bureaucrats exercising absurd governmental overreach—all the elements of a good myth, and in particular a good American myth, are here.


All movements that agitate for change make progress thanks to a mixture of radicals and moderates in their ranks. Swartz will be a martyr to some… But for the broader public, his death puts a human face to fundamental debates otherwise expressed largely in legalese and acronyms—SOPA, PIPA, PACER—about what sort of information society should be able to access without restriction. If his death helps makes those complex issues more widely understood, it will not have been entirely in vain…

Read the full article at Quartz.

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