While I’ve always thought that there was something particularly crass about our habits of erecting edifices of grief to strangers whom we perceive as similar to us even as we note and let pass without comment the deaths of so many more distant, more different people in our country’s wars and misadventures, and while I likewise find our habit of reacting with dismay to items like the prosecution-unto-death of Aaron Swartz even as we’re dimly aware that poorer, less connected, less important people are hounded to their lives’ ends by the dirty machinery of our penal system, which is powered by punishment wholly out of scale to any wrong, punishment which is itself quite often the only wrong ever committed, the sheer, tawdry, grotesquely ill-proportioned persecution of the young man for acts whose criminal taxonomy is something out of a Lewis Carroll poem is the sort of spectacle that really does make you wonder how long, actually, a society intent on destroying its genius in order to preserve the inbred rights of its rentier class to extract filthy lucre from the margins of genuine intellect can endure.
12 thoughts on “The Days When We Had Rest, O Soul, for They Were Long”
As someone who has worked to support people “hounded to their lives’ ends by the dirty machinery of our penal system,” it all sucks. This sucks, too.
Have you been reading Gibbon lately, brother?
All the qualifications are thoroughly in order, but every so often one of these stories gets under the much-needed defensive radar. This one certainly did, for me.
I’m afraid a good while yet.
That such a painstakingly crafted sentence, the bulk of which I seem to agree with, replete with headnods to the normals and the downtrodden, could have as its main subject-verb combo and, thus, one assumes, main point, a condemnation of the stifling of “genius” fills me with such wtf that I want to stop mid-overwrought sentence and say like, hey, does genius make life better, and, if so, for who, and how, and would a more meritocratic setup lead to more pleasure/less pain, and for who? Genius is the creation of wannabe geniuses but intelligence, well, you can make the case. So where does it lead? Atomic bombs, for example.
The issue here is dissent. Is Bradley Manning a genius? I haven’t heard the case made. The problem is that his dissent was effective, threatening. Like mine, yours isn’t. You can do all the art/science you want, and it can be great, as long as it isn’t threatening.
I disagree about genius, especially your assumption that it’s my assumption that its a quality that lies solely within a narrow population of Mozarts or Oppenheimers or whathaveyou. And I think you’ll see I was careful to use the word in a more collective sense in the post. But like I said to Cade below, I’m going to try to write a longer response today or tomorrow, because it’s still a point that deserves consideration.
And I personally find it indulgent and smug (and dare I say, *privileged*) to presume that those doing such are not so broadminded enough to conceive how someone like Swartz was treated is indicative of how these others of whom we’re suppose so dimply aware are also treated and that we would regard these others as less important or less relevant in our discussions. Especially with someone like Swartz, who ought to be admired because what he tried to do was for all those supposedly less important, less relevant people. Your attitude furthermore presumes–and this is where that privileged part comes in–that you are not among those less important, less relevant people and whatever happens to the likes of them probably won’t happen to you, and thus you are in this unique position of moral high ground to tsk tsk the rest of us for supposedly being so caught up in personality and celebrity that we do not care about those others, all the while not realizing we see ourselves as those others and see what happened to someone like Swartz as something that could very well happen to us.
I did not know Swartz and while I find what he did exceptionally admirable and impressive, I’m not the one here heralding him as a genius–I do not think I have that right (privielge?) to burden him or his legacy with that mantle. I only see the ways he impacted my own life in what he did and am humbled to have lived in this time with him and to have been a distant witness to the events that caused his death, all the while thinking about what questions this should be forcing me to ask today and what actions it should be urging me to take tomorrow. He needn’t be anything more to me than Aaron Swatrz–not a genius, not an idol, not a celebrity–for in his life and now in his death he is a catalyst that propels me towards the ideals I claim to uphold. And from the outpouring following his death, I can see I am not the only one. For that alone, his name deserves to be remembered.
Fair enough, although I think you’re uncharitable assuming that I’m not including myself in the “our” of “our habits”, and I think the idea of “burdening” someone’s “legacy” to be mostly without merit. I’m going to write a longer post today or tomorrow trying to respond to you and devin (above).