This morning, thanking all that can be, I woke up. The sky is an endless cobalt blue in San Francisco, as I peek past the awning, though it's cold enough I'll have to run the heating for a while (the room is in the Northern shade).
After I get off my bed and set up the space heater, I wander aimlessly towards my workbench. Among the gadgets on it, one of them — my cell phone — has just finished charging. I turn it on, start looking for news, look at Twitter.
I see this.
It should be a habit, by now, I think.
I could never get used to it. Every little slap draws blood, for some reason. It always hurts.
Not for this single instance by itself. Oh well good Heavens yes, for this single instance, too. I can endure any slight, but I can't find it in me to allow that a slight be done to a man (a dead man; the most coward of times to do so) whose intelligence and courage I will envy for the rest of my life. A person who was much better than most of us, who would have been counted among the great if his only merit were the fact he took action when things warranted it rather than stay his hand — and this was not his only merit. (If you want an eulogy that gives him the proper respect, read Cory Doctorow's.)
He was a person who changed the way things were; but he was first of all a person. Even if he did nothing at all, that would require him to be treated with respect, and that goes doubly for those who would take the task of talking about him to those who didn't know him.
It should be a habit by now, I keep repeating to myself. But this. This. This is deeply unjust.
(I have to stop for a while at this point. Let the heart become steady again and the mind cool off a bit.)
I want to get this written down because this is not an isolated case. It is my concern and should be the concern of every Italian like me. It's an instance that's also a symptom of a darker evil that is strangling my nation. And I want to scream and shout even though it will not change things, because if I did not — if all I did were letting this go and make dark jokes about it — I would just be making the situation all the more unjust.
OK, hold tight.
The world's rate of change today is the highest since it, well, started. It's normal to go to sleep at night and look back and discover that throughout the course of the day, many of the things we took for granted have changed in deep, significant ways. It's normal for a job to become irrelevant overnight, and to change what we do on the fly. It's normal for people to change the way they communicate and rapport to each other almost every day. It's normal for the systems we build to become so complex, so fast and so widely distributed that, once we let them go, they accelerate beyond every possible prediction we make.
Aaron Swartz was at home in this world of unbridled systems because he was an hacker, and not in the limited and stunted boogeyman sense of the world the Italian press is fond of. He was an hacker because he was able to understand, intimately, how systems work, and from this he knew how to make them work the way he wanted them to — he knew where and how long to push, under which cog the pebble should go, to change their behavior deeply. He had the talent and intelligence to keep up with the way things changed, and to build tools — even entirely new systems — to effect real and lasting change. He was a maker and a changer of things.
And if you're, like, “well, that's good but I don't see how this changes, you know, real life” — well, when I talk about systems I'm not talking just about computers. Systems are systems of written or unwritten rules wherever they happen. Programs communicating in a computer. Cogs in a machine. People in a society. Money in a market. Employees in a company. Living beings in an ecosystem. Thoughts and deeds within a body and mind. Complex systems.
Just apply the right pressure and everything changes, even where we think change impossible.
Despite its newfound applicability this is not just a modern thing. Actually, it's part of our national identity as Italians. “Fatta la legge, trovato l'inganno” (write a law, find a loophole), right? It is right there with the other things we feel make us Italian, with our vision and cleverness. Yet we betray all of this; our continued abuse of loopholes and selfish cleverness have made our nation stagnant and fragile. By forcing our nation-system to immutability, we made it more ignorant, less able to react, less fertile. Why push people to learn if this will not change their life? (It won't; the most important jobs are forever taken already.) Why let new companies flourish if they could threaten the establishment? Why have grassroots movement when generational change is impossible at the top?
And so on.
This was enough for me to high-tail out of there. You can't live besieged in your home your entire life, no matter how much of your roots are there. But that's not the only problem.
The problem is whoever's left behind and the fact that, to them, this is not a problem. Or if it is, it's not unlike a storm, an earthquake, the cycle of seasons. Any hope of changing things has died, in a frighteningly Orwellian turn of things.
This entrenchment is so systemic it's used as an implicit justification for the ridiculing of change. An example: technology? Meh! Not a part of our system! And hence it is ridiculed, or treated like a fad, or demonized, despite it being an integral part of our modern lives. At the top of the machine, this little pebble's precariously balanced and yet, despite being seen, the machine ignores it because it blindly believes nothing can put it off-kilter. But that pebble will fall down, it will get things stuck. And this is just one; there is an avalanche of pebbles — changes — every day. We hole up and strive to believe in a calm that is simply not what is happening out there. Out there, there are only revolutions.
In the meantime, this contempt for change causes occurrences like a journalist who, not understanding what the life of a person meant — a person who lived in a context that is as alien for the journalist's audience as for a mere man would be one of the mad gods of the Chthulu Mythos — doesn't even take the time to research the topic. No respect, not even for the dead. And the system, the whole system, lets him without censure.
This is thrice a tragedy. It is the tragedy of a man writing a terrible piece on a much greater person, so a single instance. It is the tragedy of a nation where this is acceptable practice, so a systemic thing. It is the tragedy of a State where any hope for this to change has been smothered. For Italy, it is a tragedy of one, a tragedy of many, a tragedy forever.
And the more to make me angry to see a journalist do this — he who would theoretically have the role of understanding and telling others. There was a past in which even Italian journalism could have been a force for progress; by explaining, it taught; by seeking, it uncovered; by telling, it brought to light.
That mantle is now on the shoulders of courageous people like Aaron Swartz, who are able to live with change every day and affect change through their intelligence. Maybe, sometimes, just throwing the right pebble underneath the right cog.
— signed, ∞