No prosecution of war criminals, torturers and mass murderers; no prosecution of those that declare a war on false pretense; no prosecution of those that indulge in grand larceny and financial fraud, immiserating the lives of many; no prosecuting of the rich and the powerful; but over-zealous hounding of a young, idealistic, brilliant man whose only crime seemed to be the desire to make available accumulated knowledge to all; and as always, the continuing incarceration and punishment of the nation’s dispossessed and underprivileged. This is not the justice system we would like to have, it is the one we actually have.
What could have motivated the prosecutor run amuck, Carmen Ortiz, to seek the horrendously disproportionate jail sentences and fines she sought for Aaron Swartz? Political ambition, perhaps. But focusing on her actions alone would be a mistake. Ortiz took the line she did because she was well aware that she was acting in a very particular context, a time and place in which the penalties she sought stood some chance of being viewed as the appropriate punishment for a baleful malefactor.
Ortiz, you see, was well aware that she lives in a world densely populated by confused, ignorant people, incapable of understanding the legal, economic and utilitarian roots of private property, or the differences between physical property and intangible property, who are too lazy to bother disentangling the idiotic term ‘intellectual property’, who faithfully parrot the lying press releases of media corporations, who cannot be bothered to understand how the creation and propagation of ideas works. These people can be relied upon to childishly shriek and scream at every instance of an action that threatens to upend the neat little black and white world they have constructed of absolute property rights and romantic notions of creativity. They can be relied upon to deploy, with little prompting, an emotionally charged, morally inflected language of ‘theft’, ‘piracy’, ‘robbery’, and ‘stealing’ to describe actions whose descriptions call for considerably more nuance. They are firm and upstanding and self-righteous, full of rectitude and judgment; they imagine themselves defenders of the starving artist and the inventor in the basement, not realizing they are, as usual, corporate shills and defenders of the antitheses of their proclaimed stances. They clog our bulletin boards and blog comments spaces, whining about how ‘artists deserve to be paid’, about how books and poems will never get written, how movies will never be made, music will never be composed, songs will never be performed in a world that does not offer as much copyright protection as possible, from the cradle to the grave and beyond.
These howling fools–who include those who work at supposedly elite institutions of learning–had set up a chorus, an applause track that Ortiz craved. Her cruel, over-the-top, inquisitorial sentence of thirty-five years and a million dollars, one would that terminate the career of a man who packed more creativity into his little pinkie than all the hordes who claim to be the faithful defenders of creativity, would ensure her hosannahs from this gallery. She would be enshrined as the Grand Protector of Property. Could there be a higher honor in our society?
So she acted. And pushed Aaron Swartz into his grave.