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<nettime> I never met Aaron Swartz
un heimlich on Tue, 29 Jan 2013 02:58:11 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> I never met Aaron Swartz


I never met Aaron Swartz and cannot interpret his suicide. Suicide is never
the effect of a single cause, and it is always impossible to ?explain?
death.

Nevertheless I know something about the causes that pushed Aaron to do what
he did.

Aaron was a computer programmer, creator and developer of the web feed
format RSS, and a writer, activist and Harvard researcher. He recently
played a prominent role in the SOPA campaign (Stop Online Piracy Act),
which had a successful outcome.

Aaron was known ? by his friends and by FBI as well - for a history of
downloading massive data sets, both to use in research and to release
public domain documents from behind paywalls.

In 2008, Swartz downloaded, and released, approximately 20% of the Public
Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database of United States
federal court documents managed by the Administrative Office of the United
States Courts. 

According to federal authorities, over the course of a few weeks in late
2010 and early 2011 Swartz, having a JSTOR personal account as a research
fellow at Harvard University, downloaded a large number of academic journal
articles via JSTOR.

JSTOR is a digital archive comprising over one thousand academic journals,
and like most other academic databases, it is a pay-per-access provider.
Its annual subscription fees can reach $50,000 while the download of a
single article ranges between $19 and $39. But price is not the only
restriction to access. JSTOR only accepts subscriptions from institutions.
Any independent researcher without an institutional affiliation, or with a
precarious or irregular one is automatically denied access.

As Ana Teixeira Pinto explains (In memory of Aaron Swartz, e-flux journal
01/2013) academic pay walls are a form of privatization of knowledge and a
form of exploitation of precarious cognitive work: neither the authors nor
the reviewers of those articles that companies like JSTOR are selling are
paid: texts published by these databases are generally supported by public
funding, and often are the product of voluntary unpaid work. Furthermore
many universities can?t afford the subscription costs, or limit access
within their own university to specific research groups and institutes.

On January 6, 2011 Aaron was arrested near the Harvard campus by two MIT
Police officers and a U.S. Secret Service agent on state charges of
breaking and entering a building with intent to commit a felony. According
to Attorney Carmen Ortiz who has been the zealous prosecutor ?If convicted
on these charges Swartz faces up to 35 years in prison, to be followed by
three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of up
to $1 million.?

I don?t know why Aaron decided to do what he did on January 11th 2013 ? but
I know that he was under prosecution for doing what we should do every day:
giving back to the cognitive workers what private companies steal from
them.  Aaron acted according to a widely shared principle: property laws
are illegitimate in the field of knowledge, and the new reality of digital
production is blatantly at odds with privatization.

That said, I think that I have not yet reached the crucial point. Those who
have persecuted Aaron for the sake of private profits, those who have
haunted him and threatened him of prison and millionaire fines, say that
Aaron has killed himself because he was the victim of depression. 

That is false in their mouth. But it is true.

The same day I got the news about Aaron I received a call from a friend who
was upset because of the suicide of the young friend of his daughter ? a
young man 22 years old who was diagnosed as victim of depression and panic
crises.

Suicide has become the main cultural and political issue of the precarious
generation.

Also Muhamed Barghouzi was depressed, when he decided to kill himself
because he could not go to university because he was poor and unemployed,
and the Tunisian police had impeached him to sell fruit in the public.
Aaron Swartz was not a destitute person as Muhamed Barghouzi, but they
shared the same feeling of loneliness and precariousness.

Depression has much to do with poverty, unemployment and despair, and much
to do with the refusal of bearing the daily load of intolerable violence
when you start feeling that this load is not going to be uplifted.

All the political discourse about democracy and about the wonderful
horizons that new technology has opened to us is bullshit ?  if compared
with the daily perception of loneliness, the main psychological effect of
the process of virtualization in conditions of economic competition.
Depression is deeply entrenched in the intimate digital recesses of
precarious life.

The suicide of Aaron Swartz questions the present form of digital
alienation. Irrealization, disembodiment and loneliness: an every expanding
territory of excitement with no affective return. The same gestures and the
same signs are defining friendship, a codified automatic reaction.

According to the World Health Organization in the last 45 years suicide
rates have increased by 60% worldwide. Suicide is one of the three leading
causes of death among people between 15 and 44 years, and the second
leading cause of death in the 15?19 years age group, and these figures do
not include suicide attempts which are up to 20 times more frequent than
completed suicide.

I?m persuaded that suicide is a phenomenon whose political importance is
crucial in our times, but my focus is not on the impressive increase of the
number of people who commit or try to commit suicide, but on the special
meaning that this act is acquiring at the social and cultural level in our
times.

My point is that the biopolitical phase of capitalism, when capitalism
infiltrates the nervous cell of the living sensible organisms of human
beings, is essentially informed by a morbid sentiment which permeates the
collective Unconscious, culture and sensibility. Is there a way out from
the suicidal syndrome which taking its daily toll in the Chinese factories
and in the Indian farms, among young Islamists and among precarious
cognitive workers.

Is there a way out from this trend? I do not know.

I know that Aaron has been killed by the mix of techno-alienation and
repressive violence of financial capitalism which is the main feature of
contemporary oppression.

franco berardi bifo


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