The extinguishing of a life of the mind

By Razib Khan | February 8, 2013 3:32 pm

Jonathan Eisen and Michael Eisen both have posts up about the suicide of their father, and its relation to the recent death of Aaron Swartz. Like many people I was depressed when I heard what had happened. I never met Swartz, nor had any interactions with him online. In terms of specifics our views differed on a range of issues. But, I admired his ferocity, intensity, and clear and obvious genuine commitment to the life of the mind. Whatever disagreements we may have with Swartz’s specific commitments, I suspect many people strive to throw themselves into their passions with the follow through that Swartz exhibited. Swartz’s suicide has made me reflect on the role of the institutional academy in our society, and what ends it pursues. But my thoughts are inchoate, so I leave you with the links to the Eisens’ posts, who can draw upon more relevant personal experiences.

MORE ABOUT: Aaron Swartz
  • Robert Ford

    I had never heard of him but I quickly realized he’d accomplished more by his teens than most could ever dream of. What a powerful and rare intellect. Most of the time I feel insulated from the announced deaths of people I didn’t know but not so with Aaron. He was one of the few percent of humanity that actually push us forward and I’m sad and angry that he’s gone. It’s shameful, embarrassing, disgusting and angering that a person with his elite qualities was treated in such a way. I’d like to throttle that prosecutor.

    • Sandgroper

      Robert – agreed.

      I’ve been thinking for quite a while that it is important to set aside ideology, politics, axes for the grinding thereof, and any other priors that cloud vision, and try to see how the ‘systems’ within which we live translate into reality for real people at ground level.

      I agree with Michael, but I’d like to think that Aaron Schwartz’s suicide will give people pause to stop and think very seriously and carefully about how things pan out in real terms. I’d also like to think that it gave the people pursuing him pause to think very self-critically about what they were doing, but I’m not confident.

      • Sandgroper

        (Sorry – serial commenting again). Something Michael said really hit me, though – “In the years since my father died, I have had friends, colleagues and mentors kill themselves.”

        Just eyeballing it, I’d say I’ve lived longer than Michael, I’ve known quite a few very talented, idealistic people, but I’ve only known one person who committed suicide. I’ve known a few people who drank themselves to death, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing.

  • Elemen Ope

    This is a bit axe-grindey, but it is endlessly upsetting to me how our institutions punish whistleblowers and change agents, while rewarding corrupt actors.

    Every time this happens, the corrupt actors become a little bit more ensconced in their power, while the genuinely “good” and honest people become a bit weaker.

    Repeat this generation after generation, and I wonder if you end up with a nation of Berlusconis.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


See More


RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar