Another Martyr?

I read about a young man named Aaron Swartz who was so upset about his upcoming trial and pending jail time that he committed suicide.

Sure, it is always sad when young people (he was only 26) take their own lives when faced with really difficult situations. It is hard on the family and the friends as well as, in this case, people who were followers of the young man.

You see, he was a leader in the cause of free and open internet access. He did not believe things should be kept FROM people if it was data that should be freely accessible. And rather than make some new version of the FOIA, he created a manifesto and started a digital revolution.

Several articles say he was a martyr for the cause…

They claim he was a suicide…

Both claims are just wrong. Having been suicidal – in my younger days, so you don’t have to worry… they canceled that “suicide watch” some forty years ago – I have a pretty good understanding of what that entails. I have done volunteer work as a suicide watcher for cases of very depressed people and I don’t believe the very depressed kill themselves.

Why? Suicide is self-murder. Murder is a crime of passion and self-hatred is usually beyond the framework of the clinically depressed. They are usually so apathetic that though they may think of suicide, it is more a case of “what’s the use?” and though some may take too many pills or some such, a hangman’s noose is a little too active for those depressed. (I am, of course, not an “expert” in this field and I am sure I will get complaints from professionals in the area who will say I am dead wrong. Or something.)

The young man did not let on to anyone that he was A) despondent, B) depressed, or C) suicidal. There was no note, nor any clue as to the why of his action. And as his lawyers were fairly certain he was going to walk for his supposed crimes, what was his rationale for ending it all?


As for the man being a martyr… It is a subject I have studied in some depth (see my forthcoming volume How to Be a Martyr (or Die Trying) for more details) and I cannot see how an intelligent person would have chosen this method for martyrdom.

There should have been some statement about the reasons behind his death, whether a suicide note, a rant about his cause(s), or something.

Yet the press is calling it a suicide and a martyrdom when it seems to be nothing more than a simple murder. Conspiracy theorists are probably going to be all over this one but I cannot see that a conspiracy is required for someone to have had a motive.


Whether or not the police ever investigate the case further, there is another death recently that comes to mind. In July, a Chicago man, Urooj Khan, won the lottery and then dropped dead. It was reported as a simple “death by natural causes”.

Several members of his family fought to have more done on the case as they suspected foul play. It took four months before they re-examined the evidence and found cyanide. It has now been declared a homicide.

I can see something like this happening in Swartz’ case. Suicide and martyrdom make absolutely no sense. Revolutionaries and visionaries are not in the habit of bailing out when the going gets tough.

At least, none that I have ever seen.


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