Shirky on Suicide

Remembering Aaron by taking care of each other
[Via Clay Shirky]

My friend Will Morrell, brilliant and sardonic, was the first person I ever knew to make his living close to the machine. A few years after we got out of college, he got a job in New York designing DSP chips for pinball machines, and crashed with me for a couple of months. During his stay, he convinced me I could dump my theater career in favor of finding a way to make my living on the internet. That turned out to be one of the most important conversations of my life, but I’ll never be able to thank him properly. He killed himself a few years ago.

I teach at NYU, where a quartet of students recently decided the world needed a privacy-respecting alternative to Facebook. The result, Diaspora, was the longest of long shots, a project that shouldn’t have a chance in hell of working, but it’s turned into an interesting experiement, largely because of Ilya Zhitomirskiy, whose Wikipedia page calls him “the most idealistic and privacy-conscious member of the group.” Ilya killed himself a little over a year ago.

Then there’s Aaron Swartz.

Aaron’s suicide has stirred the kind of political anger he cared about — as Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said in her heart-wrenching and beautiful memorial, Aaron would have loved to be here — and those of us who care about the things Aaron cared about have to work harder to support open culture and the free flow of information, now that he’s not with us.

But there’s something else we need to do. We need to take care of the people in our community who are depressed.

Suicide is not hard to understand, not intellectually anyway. It is, as Jeff Atwood says, the ultimate in ragequitting. But for most of us, it is hard to understand emotionally.


Most of us will never commit suicide no matter how bad things get. But a few will.

Perhaps learning more, watching more and helping more can be of help.


3 thoughts on “Shirky on Suicide

  1. As you state—it is a hard thing to understand why anyone could take their own life. But, my observation of those “spoken of” in the post tells me these individuals seemed (to me—at least) to be alone. Or, each case was spoken in a manner as if they took on the mantle of “diaspora”—when they probably were not in all reality of the situation. A very sad state of affairs, indeeed . . .

    In what I understand about “diaspora” –it is used in cases when a group of individuals have become outcasts of society. Case in point comes from ancient Sumerian, Roman, and Hebrew history–.my understanding of the sad state of affairs is that the Hebrews (Israelites—for lack of a better term)—became outcasts of ancient history in part of their mono-theistic beliefs (and all that it entailed). They did not conform to those who may have tried to subjugate them. The trend continued (sadly so) even after Christianity had taken a foothold.

    To make a very long (history of Western Civilization) story short: the false pretenses of a personal diaspora and its “isolation” may have had alot to do with any depression related suicide.

    I seem to be going on and on and on—Sorry about that. The sense of loneliness and depression may go hand in hand.

    1. It is ironic that in a connected world, especially one as connected as Aaron’s, one could feel isolated. BUt that may not be of much comfort for some individuals if their little community seems oppressed by a much larger one. I almost wonder if, in the case of suicides, the inability to really feel those connections that do exist may contribute.

      It is interesting that while omen attempt suicide almost 3 times more often than men, men succeed at killing themselves at almost 4 times the rates of women. It is like women try to kill themselves in a way that allows the rest of their community a opportunity to help. Men just use a gun or a rope.

    2. Although I am not an expert in psychology–many times (it is said) it is an issue of not knowing how to ask for help directly. It does sadden me that as a civilized society–way too often –individuals do succeed in the gruesome act!

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