Send a Tweet
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 17 Share on Twitter 1 Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
Exclusive to OpEd News:
OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/17/13

Decent Men In Indecent Times

By       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   5 comments
Message Ross Brummet

By now you have no doubt heard about the suicide of Reddit founder and political activist Aaron Swartz. In all likelihood you have probably read about the vindictive and disproportionate federal prosecution that, according to friends and family, likely led to Aaron's suicide. You may have even read about how the same prosecutor had previously harassed a young hacker into a similar fate. These details are widely available and there is little point to rehash them any further here.

Let me be clear. I didn't know Aaron Swartz. In fact, I didn't really even know of him. Sure I may have heard his name once or twice, may have seen his face, may have heard Glenn Greenwald mention him. But with Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Jeremy Hammond all facing seemingly more serious charges, his name got lost in the shuffle. This is a tragedy of the modern world: with injustice all around us, how can one keep track? Or at least that's what we tell ourselves, that's how we console ourselves, that's how continue  to live the way that we do. It's fortunate, however, that not everyone follows our example. Otherwise people like Aaron Swartz wouldn't exist.

Nor am I anyone particularly special. A little over a year younger than Bradley Manning and a few years younger than Aaron, I haven't accomplished anything of comparable merit. If I had, no doubt I would currently be facing jail time. That certainly seems to be where our government chooses to send people if they have accomplished anything particularly noteworthy. So who am I really to talk about Aaron Swartz? In short, I killed him. Or should I say, we killed him. Maybe not directly, and perhaps some of us can attempt to escape responsibility in that fashion, but this is a minor point. It's easy to suggest that the U.S. government killed Aaron Swartz. Harder to recognize that the government is merely a reflection of ourselves. Our support, our indifference has led to the creation of society in which a person can be hounded to death for seemingly nothing more than advocating an unwelcome thought. Lessig is right when he talks about shame: the government should be ashamed, the prosecutor should be ashamed, but so should we. In a democratic society, the buck ultimately stops with us citizens and we allowed this. Just like we tortured Bradley Manning and Jeremy Hammond. Aaron's work with stopping SOPA proved that if people care enough about something, then they can change policy. But oh well, it's not like Wikipedia is shut down for a day, people are just getting killed and tortured, so why should we care enough to do something? Noam Chomsky once wrote about The Responsibility of Intellectuals, but what about the responsibility of everyday people? These crimes  can only persist if we allow them to. They require, at the very least, our tacit approval. Let us not deny the obvious:  A man lies dead, we killed him.

Which comes to my next  point. Glenn Greenwald called Aaron Swartz a hero, but he wasn't a hero. Not really. Just like Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Jeremy Hammond aren't heroes. It isn't heroic to not look away when you see great crimes  being committed, it's not heroic to decide to dedicate yourself to public good instead private wealth. If Bradley Manning turned away from the information he saw, or if Swartz decided to be another Zuckerberg, then they would have been complicit members of a horrifying system based on greed and lawlessness. The question must be asked: How is not doing something horrible considered heroic? I always thought that that was just common decency. Because heroes don't actually exist outside of comic books. Reality is simply made up of people, complex people, frustrating people. Some of these people, though far too few, choose to live socially responsible lives... but they aren't Batman, they are just decent men in indecent times. We shouldn't look up to them, but look at ourselves. Because if these people aren't heroic, if these people are just decent, then what does that make us? At some point we must ask to what extent are we just calling people heroes to hide the shame of our own failures?

As long as we paint common acts of decency as something remarkable, we make our own inaction more palatable. It becomes decent to simply not do anything dreadful, but heroic to do something positive. It justifies our comfortable lives of excess and indifference in which we shrug off all social responsibility. Thankfully some of us do not. People like Aaron Swartz, Bradley Manning, Jeremy Hammond, and various others. So here is to those men and women who are brave enough to be decent, there are too few of you, and one less now.   

Well Said 1   Interesting 1   Valuable 1  
Rate It | View Ratings

Ross Brummet Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Ross Brummet is a student and writer in Los Angeles. Considering himself a utilitarian with libertarian socialist sympathies, he is fond of the views of Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Peter Singer. However he finds Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas (more...)

Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Abandoning Reason: Islamophobia and the Right Wing Atheist

The Servility of Token Dissidents: Jon Stewart and the Media

Freedomville: A Libertarian Tale

The Relative Unimportance of Gun Control

An Addendum: On White Liberal Issues

Decent Men In Indecent Times

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend