Remember Aaron Swartz


An unforgettable mind

I met Aaron twice and, each time, I was struck by the searing lucidity of his mind, by his uncanny ability to see further than most of us. Issues fraught with complex consequences generally paralyze people; in his case, he would suddenly come up with a perspective that made clear that the rightness of the objective did not have to be compromised on account of the difficulties involved in reaching it. Not only was he brilliant, dauntingly so at times, he was ethically brilliant. At the same time, he was deeply approachable, profoundly human, so very pleasant to know. I write all this as an old professor who has had the privilege of meeting many excellent young people in my career. Aaron was simply the best.

His death is obviously touching a deep nerve everywhere, so unjust and stupid it is. Hounding a young man as was obviously the case here appears idiotic and needlessly cruel: if the Justice Department had expended as much energy on some of the banks’ leaders who created the recent economic disaster in the world as they did with Aaron, it would have been money well spent. In this case, the zeal of prosecutors is, to say the least, ambiguous. The possibility that someone wanted to score an easy “intellectual property” victory to advance one’s legal career will always linger in the back of my mind. I would certainly harbour a deep feeling of guilt if I were that prosecutor.

Let Aaron’s name stand as a symbol of redress and true justice in a very flawed world. Let it also stand as a reminder of warm humanity and deep concerns for others. We are mourning a truly extraordinary individual. We all miss him and his death makes us much poorer.