Aaron Swartz Was Right is a good read. It sheds light on a context in which Aaron Swartz was operating. He was trying to reclaim something of the commons (knowledge – a fruit of academic research) that was taken over by corporations (academic publishers) – a typical behavior in our times. Therefore, his reasons were right but his actions, I feel, were wrong.There’s a part of me that supports, is even proud of Aaron’s actions but there’s a larger part of me that subscribes to Robert Pirsig‘s advice:
“If you don’t like our present social system or intellectual system the best thing you can do … is stay out of their way.”
I don’t think (though I don’t know) that the JSTOR archive is now freely available to the public. I do know that a precious human intellect – Aaron’s – has been lost. It is possible to impose value on his loss by claiming that, if nothing else, he, through his personal sacrifice raised awareness … but I don’t really buy into that … I believe that to be a false social notion that makes the loss of something precious a little more comfortable.
I have come to believe that when a mentality of “us good guys and them bad guys” is present, that there is also misperception. Academia itself is lush with its own inherent shortcoming, false motivations and corruptions. Knowledge isn’t the only academic motivator. Many times it is overrun by social and political motivations which hinder knowledge. It is with such faults that social forces (such as academic publishers) form alliances.
If Peter Ludlow, the author of the above mentioned artice, would surrender to a perspective of shared responsibility he may witness a curious morphing of the situation. On the one hand the “problem” becomes much larger than he makes it out to be. Why stop at making knowledge as expressed in research papers freely available, why not make education itself freely available? Which brings me to the other hand – the solutions are already present (education is already on its way to becoming freely available to all) – all Peter has to do is get a WordPress website and publish his next paper there instead of in the channels that are familiar and comfortable for him. Then he may be faced with a question of how to get his peers to know about his published work … and so his self-publishing initiative will expand and grow and evolve … and the old will be helpless and will lose relevance and will put up a useless fight and will die … which is a better outcome than Aaron dying.