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Around this time, every year, I await a mother’s declaration of love for her dead son. As he did on January 11, in his tweet. “10 years without this face, without this voice, without this thought, without this love, without this light.” I find the laments of the bereaved and their honest clichés more touching than loud. Good writers prose who are actors class. Perhaps the origin of human language was in sadness. Some years Susan Swartz’s message is shorter. “9 years, 9 YEARS,” he tweeted last year. “It is unbelievable that 8 years have passed. BUY my darling boy,” she wrote before. A mother doesn’t need birthdays to remember her son. So, “6 years, 2 months. GET MY DEAR GUY!’ His messages are always accompanied by an image of a smiling young man or a picture of him when he was a child.

He is Aaron Swartz, a programming prodigy. When he was 14, he was working on an early version of Really Simple Syndication, better known as an RSS feed. At age 15, he helped develop the Creative Commons license, a way to make copyrighted material free. At the age of 19, he was one of the founders of Reddit. Eventually, he became an activist and fought for a cause that seemed noble 10 years ago but doesn’t make much sense today: “free internet.” He hanged himself in Brooklyn on January 11, 2013. He was 26 years old.

After he made a small fortune when his startup merged with Reddit and then Reddit was sold, he became involved in activism, mainly to make information free. He hacked into MIT’s servers and stole a large number of academic papers from a journal behind a paywall, presumably to make them publicly available. He was caught and more serious charges were brought against him than he could have imagined. He seemed to have no intention of martyrdom. But he rejected an offer to plead guilty, which would have seen him jailed for a maximum of six months. At the time of his suicide in his Brooklyn apartment, he was facing 35 years in prison, in addition to financial ruin.

Many believe that MIT and the US federal government overreacted to one boy’s symbolic act against capitalism. Ten years after his death, his position as the Internet’s preeminent martyr is undisputed. However, the truth is probably more remarkable than the myths about the hero. After each suicide, people try to find reasons that tend to match their own sadness, ambitions and sorrows.

Swartz was an activist, but by the time he died, he had moved beyond the ambivalent space of internet freedom. The network itself had become complex. By 2013, it was starting to look like the world, and no one is fighting to keep anything “free” in the real world.

As with many successful activists, Swartz had some conditions that made it difficult to live a normal life and his usual joys. She had eating problems, hypersensitivity to ordinary experiences, ulcerative colitis, and possibly other ailments. A few weeks after his death, Larissa McFarquhar wrote about him The New Yorker magazine. I was surprised by this part. “His girlfriend Taren has always dealt with taxi drivers and waitresses. He hated feeling like he was in a position of authority over someone, and he hated asking for help.”

Swartz once wrote in his blog. “When I go to the library and see the librarian reading at her desk, I am afraid to interrupt her, even though she is sitting there specifically to be interrupted, even though she is being interrupted. It’s his work that causes people like me.”

MacFarquhar writes: “This was not a simple question of humility. Having power over other people made you something he despised. Being a boss was not just immorality. the bosses were stupid.”

He tried a corporate job but didn’t last long.

In an interview on Reddit, the interviewer asks Swartz: “You work at Reddit as a full-time developer?”

Swartz. “No, I quit Reddit a few months ago.”

Interviewer: “Why did you leave?”

Swartz. “My boss asked me to.”

Interviewer: “Can you explain what happened?”

Swartz then gives a vague answer about vacationing in Europe and returning to work in the U.S., where he was surprised to be fired. But what happened while he was in Europe was that his ulcerative colitis flared up. He didn’t tell anyone. This condition can cause suicidal thoughts. When his Reddit boss checked his blog, he found a short piece of fiction about a character named Aaron who was fired from his job and then committed suicide. He was fired, in real life, a few days after this episode.

In a 2005 blog post, he says he quit computer programming to study sociology because “I want to save the world.”

There was another one, closer, who did something similar. Microbiology student Rohit Vemula switched to sociology because, as he says, he wanted to make the world a better place. He committed suicide by hanging himself. On January 17, six days after the third anniversary of Swartz’s death.

Sociology is a strange field for those who want to save the world. One of the fathers of sociology is Auguste Comte, who invented and wore dresses that buttoned only at the back so that he could not wear them unaided, thus requiring the presence of another person to simply dress. What good can come of such thoughts?

The darkness lurking in some ideas endures as only darkness can, and infects the young, who wrap themselves in their agony, looking for a glorious reason to hang onto their unwarranted pain.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, novelist and creator of the Netflix series Decoupled.

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