Requiem for a Dream — (New Yorker Magazine)

SSRI Ed note: Doctor concocts eloborate, unnecessary theory to explain why people on antidepressants die by suicide. Blames ulerative colitis.

Aaron Swartz was brilliant and beloved. But the people who knew him best saw a darker side.

“This, I suppose, is the actual problem,” Swartz wrote, long before his suicide. “I feel my existence is an imposition on the planet.”Illustration by Michael Gillette

he could not deal with people talking about him. It’s taken me some time since he died to get used to talking about him because I was under such strict instructions not to. But he fucked up something really major. He made a really dumb, bad decision. And it’s my right now to ignore all the other things that I thought were dumb, too. Maybe if I hadn’t felt I couldn’t talk about him to other people this wouldn’t have happened. I’m not going to let those preferences that led, in one way or another, to him killing himself guide my life anymore. I reject them.

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Aaron Swartz’s girlfriend

there is suicide as a philosophical question: does suicide make sense as an answer to suffering? No, he didn’t think it did.

Alec Resnick, a friend

a doctor relative last night told me that he’d had some very painful experiences with patients with ulcerative colitis committing suicide. Apparently co-morbidity with depression is common. I’ve been thinking about it a lot for the last twelve hours. I know during the scare in 2007 he had gotten very, very sick from his U.C. He definitely didn’t seem depressed right before his death, nor for a long time previously. He wasn’t doing normal depressed-people things (like withdrawing from friends and family), let alone suicidal-people things (like giving away his stuff). However, he did commit suicide, which weighs pretty heavily on the other side of the scale. My doctor relative told me that some of his ulcerative-colitis patients seemed to be doing much better until the moment when they suddenly committed suicide, and that there’s some speculation that U.C. can alter liver functioning, which in turn can cause other medicine to cause impulsive behavior like suicide.

Ben Wikler, a friend

i looked back at my e-mails and I was almost always the one who didn’t continue the conversation. He would always say something nice. And most of the time I didn’t respond. It made me feel like a dick.

Matt Stoller, a friend

i told alec that Aaron was a bit too calm before Christmas. I told Alec that I thought he might try to kill himself. It was like he had one too many options. It was on the table.

Quinn Norton, an ex-girlfriend

i’ll tell the following story, which is perhaps the best way I can describe what may have happened. Last Wednesday, I went to say Kaddish for Aaron and I got a call from a friend of mine who wanted to come see me, so I didn’t get lunch. He came and he stayed until about three-thirty, four o’clock. By that time, I didn’t want anything to eat, it was too late to go out for lunch. I had to work for a while. The last few weeks have been the hardest weeks of my life, and I think I’ve managed poorly but O.K. But because I was so hungry I was feeling increasingly bad, and I went home and thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown, which for me never happens. I will get depressed, as we all do, and I’m certainly very depressed right now, but I can sort of manage and see my way through. I said to Susan, “I’m really not feeling well and I sort of think I’m losing it.” I got something to eat and I still was feeling very crummy, and then I had dinner and I still didn’t feel well at all, and then I went to sleep and woke up in the morning and started feeling better again. I seemed to have righted the ship. So part of me thinks that maybe something happened, with all the other things that were going on, that just put him in some dissociated frame of mind. There were times when Aaron would—where he would, all of a sudden, not be himself, for a short period of time. That’s the best explanation I have. Whether it’s correct or not I have no idea and I never will.

Aaron Swartz hanged himself in his apartment in Brooklyn on January 11th. He was twenty-six, but he had been well known as a computer programmer for many years. At the age of fourteen, he helped to develop the RSS software that enables the syndication of information over the Internet. At fifteen, he e-mailed one of the leading theorists of Internet law, Lawrence Lessig, and helped to write the code for Lessig’s Creative Commons, which, by writing alternatives to standard copyright licenses, allows people to share their work more freely. At nineteen, he was a developer of Reddit, one of the world’s most widely used social-networking news sites.

After Reddit was sold, to Condé Nast, he turned away from money-making start-ups and became a political activist. He spoke often at technology conferences and activist gatherings, and was admired in both those worlds. Since his death, he has become a hero to programmers who have not turned away from money but wish they had, and to those who believe that governments are crushing what was once the freedom of the Internet. When Anonymous hacked the State Department Web site on February 17th, they declared, “Aaron Swartz this is for you.”

Two years ago, he was indicted on multiple felony counts for downloading several million articles from the academic database jstor. It is not clear why he did this. He may have wanted to analyze the articles, or he may have intended to upload them onto the Web, so they could be accessed by anyone. It is clear that he did not anticipate the astonishing severity of the legal response. He did not consider his jstor action an act of civil disobedience for which he was prepared to sacrifice a portion of his life in prison. It was not a project that was particularly important to him. There had been a time when he cared deeply about copyright issues, but he had moved on.

Since his death, his family and closest friends have tried to hone his story into a message, in order to direct the public sadness and anger aroused by his suicide to political purposes. They have done this because it is what he would have wanted, and because it is a way to extract some good from the event. They tell people that the experience of being prosecuted is annihilatingly brutal, and that prosecutors can pursue with terrible weapons defendants who have caused little harm. One of the corollaries of this message is that Swartz did not kill himself; he was murdered by the government. But this claim is for public consumption, and the people closest to him do not really believe it. They believe that he would not have killed himself without the prosecutors, but they feel that there is something missing from this account—some further fact, a key, that will make sense of what he did.