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Learning at its Best

I Am (not) Adam Swartz

Being primarily raised in the US of A by Americans, I learned about property ownership at an early age. The lessons taught me about ownership were frequently buried within the concept of “sharing”, which seems contrary to the purpose of owning anything since claiming ownership is to assert dominion and control over a thing, and to keep it from others.

Aaron Swartz’ suicide occurred on the tail of what I perceive to be clear over-charging by the prosecutors (thirteen felony charges). Over-charging is a state-sanctioned application of force used to push a defendant into entering a guilty plea to the lesser of evils they are presented with. The “choice” to plead guilty is leveraged by overwhelming the defendant’s financial ability to mount a defense against all the charges faced, and it does not matter whether or not s/he “did it”.

Authoritarians would say Mr. Swartz “stole” information “owned” by others, that he “broke the law” regarding the manner he accessed that information, that the charges Mr. Swartz faced were appropriate and, perhaps, that his suicide represents the price he had to pay. The academicians who authored the articles and works Mr. Swartz made available to the public certainly put in a great deal of effort in generating those things. I wonder if they are so authoritarian as to hold similar beliefs…

I have frequently been called upon to play the legal “property ownership” game on behalf of clients. I do not specialize in “intellectual property law”, but know enough to either set up legal constructions that protect my clients or to refer them to others better able to do so. While fully immersed in the game of law, a game that has far more to do with property than with human beings, at a personal level I have never quite been able to accept the “ownership” theory. This is particularly true in relation to the ownership of information and what we call knowledge.

Adam Swartz lived as a unique human being. He did what he did for his own reasons, and in and on his own time. Some believe him a generous genius; others believe him a thief. No matter one’s perspective, he did break down a part the dam that holds a sea of information and knowledge away from the public. Personally, I have grave doubts about both the uniqueness and value of what has been dammed-up for the sake of profits, and offer a short, personal two-pronged story about how I arrived at my doubts.

The first prong of my story involves advice given to me, not so long ago, while in a furious MA thesis paper chase. I used my word processor’s grammar and spell checking tools a great deal, and there were many instances of sentences being flagged as overly complex. My first reader also noted this, and advised me to simplify things – not dumb it down, but simplify the sentence structures. Seeking to make the grade, I took the reader’s advice.

The second prong of my story is tied to the first, as follows:

While editing, checking, re-checking and doing further research and writing, I came across materials written by three authorities in separate disciplines. I had never directly studied those disciplines. I had never before come across those authorities. I was, nonetheless, struck by this fact – three of my earlier-written complex sentences, theoretic and conclusory in nature were, word-for-word and punctuation-mark-for-punctuation-mark identical to sentences previously written by those authorities.

…so much for my adding to the body of “knowledge”…

I am (not) Adam Swartz – I am an “infinite monkey”,

Monkey-typing

a monkey left to wonder about all who are engaged in the distribution of information and knowledge…

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About Brent Snavely

A construct of upbringing and society, holder of a BS and JD and most recently an MA, I have practiced law for about 20 years. It has been said "The Truth shall set you free" -- I believe it will, but only if it is Your Personal Truth. Parrhesia may be humankind's only hope.

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