The Change Game and Aaron Swartz’s “Martyrdom”
It’s fashionable to lament the death of tech genius Aaron Swartz. But I find it hard given to passages like the one below from New York Magazine’s Wesley Yang which quotes Swartz’s girlfriend on his personality and his mindset leading up to his suicide:
“He had this thing about not being able to bring yourself to do things you don’t want to do,” Stinebrickner-Kauffman said. “Everybody has to do things that they don’t want to do. And we all know that it’s really annoying and maybe even painful. But those kind of things were even harder for him than for most people.” Swartz had said that he would rather spend the rest of his life without a fixed residence, sleeping on other people’s couches, than work at an office job that he did not want to take. “He occupied a higher plane where everything was thinking and writing and doing and meeting with people who were really interesting and smart. And he filled as much of his life as possible with that, far more than anybody else I know. But when it came to having to do something that he didn’t want to do, he couldn’t do it.”
Yang concludes :
In the end, he didn’t want to be the martyr he has become. The suicide that eventually thrust him into that role was also an attempt to evade it, by evading trial. A weekend side project on an issue he didn’t even care that much about anymore was keeping him firmly ensnared in the past, and might even blot out the new life he was entering.
Change doesn’t come without a cost, and Swartz and his followers wanted change. The dilemma here is that if the people who want change know that there will be a cost to change before they set out to enact change, do they have room to complain when change’s cost is called due? The resistance, usually in the form of court proceedings, is a requirement of the entire process of enacting change. Because those seeking change will only be slowed in their desire for change when they meet some sort of resistance. But change-seekers also seek that resistance. They gravitate to where they will be resisted.