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Aaron Swartz has committed suicide. That news struck me hard. I only know him from his web presence but when something came up on my radar with Aaron’s name tag on it, I expected it to be good if not great. I thought he was a wise old man until I found today that he is of my age. Shocker!

This got me thinking. First, he is orders of magnitudes accomplished than I am. second, he is not there anymore. He broke. I can’t help debating with voices in my head about suicide.

I strongly believe suicide is never the answer. What made me think so? I believe there are two reasons. My father was strongly anti suicide. He even refused to attend the funeral of a suicide victim. Now he is not that extremist about it and I don’t know how wrong he was back then but he obviously had a great influence on me. The other reason is one of many ‘religious facts’ I was exposed to in my young age. I am a Buddhist and they said that suicide is one of the greatest sins. Those ideas have apparently made a significant impact on how I look at life.

Suicide is apparently something that happens too frequently in social circles I take part in. The last one that had me concerned was the death of Ilya Zhitomirskiy who was a co founder of Diaspora social network. His death had an effect similar to what I’m currently going through. I was thinking about sucide. In my soliloquy I realized I’m kind of afraid of suicide [Not death. Mind you.] I won’t ever be able to do that to myself. I will fight the fights, veer through the struggles, drag my emotional self thorugh cold and dark caverns of life but not suicide.

One of those days I felt ‘content’, I read about a long prison sentence. I was imagining that happening to me. Spice that up with a crime I never did. I was scared shitless. I thought a long enough confinement would make my life meaningless that I’d rather die. Would I suicide? I couldn’t make up my mind.

Again I was thinking of a time I lose everything that makes me what I am. Losing these abilities to walk, to talk, to think and code. To dream, to laugh, to sing and smoke (just to make it rhyme. Seriously!). That’s scary to be stuck in the cave that is my body. I’d prefer getting euthinized at this stage. See, it’s not suicide. I’m not doing that to myself.

Whichever route I take in my wanders in my thought space, I never ended up at suicide. It’s not a rational move in my book. But taking all those journeys I realized that to one who does not have a mind hardened enough, suicide may very well look like a good option. Even the best. The one last winning move.

The truth is it is not.

“Treasure your life for all the adventures it may take you through.”

PS: I don’t pretend to be that I can walk in the same boots of those who made the wrong decision. I don’t say my thought expeditions are any close to the real shit one would go through. I don’t say I have it all figured out. I just say that I wouldn’t ever make THAT wrong decision. I would not. Check back when I die.


  1. Can’t say I knew about him for long. My first registered knowledge of Aaron was when he was being prosecuted for the JSTOR incident. I remember thinking about his intriguing history because his activism somehow struck a chord. Today after hearing about his death, reminiscing links of his speeches and work, and finally that tweet from TBL[1], it’s not hard to express that I’m very sad.

    I too have always been in the line of strongly thinking that suicide is never the answer. But not because of parental or karma related reasons. I’ve always thought the Earth (and Universe) has too many interesting things around, way too much for me to ever consider shortening my lifespan deliberately. But then again I can only guess how a person in that deep dark situation feels. I’ve never seen suicide and death in much different light. When someone I knew very well did put an end to his life, I knew the possibility of me berating a suicide was forever gone. I guess this look-down-on-suicides is more of a Sri Lankan (or an Asian) thing.

    I too do not fear death brother. I certainly dislike it, but not fear it. Death is not something I can stop. Even if I somehow could, it wouldn’t be out of fear. But death is not something I’d wish for anyone. No matter what lead them down that path, no matter how they met their end, I’d rather remember a death and the life they lived, than remembering it was a suicide. Therefore again, I did not know Aaron Swartz, only his work and his activism. And I’m immensely saddened by his death.

    [1] – Thank you for sharing this.

    “Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep.” – Tim Berners-Lee

  2. Suicide can be a rational move under certain circumstances.

    Rationality doesn’t tell you what you should want. Rationality only tells you how you could get what you want. So if what you want is to end pain and suffering, rationality can tell you how to achieve that end.

    Imagine you are immortal. You can kill yourself, but you won’t ever die of natural causes. Suppose someone buries you underground. You’re in this small space, trapped there for eternity, with no hope of ever getting out. There, suicide is definitely an option. Just kill yourself, end all the pain and suffering.

    Of course it is easier for me since I don’t believe in an afterlife. Things are little different for religious people. But then you have to be irrational to believe religion in the first place.

  3. @gaveen I fear I have come out as a ‘religious’ guy with this. Well I am not (This is not for you. This is for people who don’t know me well enough). Buddhism is a way of life for me and it’s a concious decision. I’m not a good Buddhist in Lankan standards.

    That said, what I wanted to highlight was that my childhood has shaped my thinking. “Treasure your life for all the adventures it may take you through.”. That’s a stance I take right now but my aversion to suicide has signs from mould over the place.

    @sharanga Eliezer Yudkowzky puts something along the line “Rationality leaves you in the moments you need it most” in HPMOR. That’s the problem. 99.99% of the decisions to suicide are probably not rational. So the idea is to have a framework or better yet, agreements with your self that are made while you still think clear. I don’t know how rational this is but that’s what I chose. Fuck I shouldn’t have used the word rational.

    Your hypothetical situation where suicide is the rational choice is a clear example albeit unrealistic. Maybe that suggests that suicide wouldn’t ever be the rational decision for a real situation.

    BTW read ‘Exploits of Argos’ by Ray Russell if you can find. Your example reminds me a lot about it. (The link I knew gives a 503)

  4. HPMOR fan? Great. Me too.
    You’d agree that in that hypothetical situation, even though the situation is unrealistic, if it ever came to that, it can indeed be rational kill yourself because there’s you have nothing to live for.

    It’s just a thought experiment, but the point of a thought experiment is to clarify our thoughts. I can easily imagine much more realistic situations where suicide would be rational. You said you’d prefer euthanasia under certain circumstances. I’d say that under any circumstance where euthanasia is rational, but there’s no one to euthanize you, suicide is a rational choice. There’s no difference between someone else giving you the pill, and you yourself taking it.

    So you can create a framework for yourself while you’re sane which allows for suicide when circumstances make it reasonable. Of course you need to be clear what those circumstances are. Studies suggest that our happiness levels don’t really change. You can win a lottery and your happiness level will go up. But after while, it will go back to your normal happiness level. You can lose a limb, and your happiness level will go down. But over time, you’d return to your normal level. So if I kill myself, that’d be when I’m sure that there’s no absolutely no escape from pain and suffering.

    Adam Swartz probably decided that he can never be happy after getting butt-raped in prison, and staying there for 50 years. He may or may not be wrong about that. I don’t know.
    Haven’t read Exploits of Argos, but I’ve read The Cage, so I can imagine how the story went.

  5. Thank you! :)

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