Like superficial spirituality, looking on the bright side of things is a euphemism used for obscuring certain realities of life, the open consideration of which might prove threatening or dangerous to the status quo. . . . The acceptance of illusion and appearance as reality is another symptom of this same refusal to examine the realities of our lives. Let us seek “joy” rather than real food and clean air and a saner future on a liveable earth! As if happiness alone can protect us from the results of profit-madness.
Lulled by years of relative peace and prosperity we settle into micromanaging our lives with fancy technologies and custom interest rates and eleven different kinds of milk, and this leads to a certain inwardness, an unchecked narrowing of perspective, the vague expectation that even if we don’t earn them and nurture them the truly essential amenities will endure forever as they are.
– Asymmetry, Lisa Halliday
As I woke up on the first day of this warm month, strange thoughts approached me with a pint of melancholy. There was a desk full of work-to-do. There were things that we were still flowing in mind hoping to get a start. There were other worries too.
Picking the first book I reminisced on Martin Gardner quote,
‘ We all live slapsticks lives, under an inexplicable sentence of death…’
Is there something more truthful than this. Our whole life seems like an illusion. Our efforts to make something and push away the demon of death as far possible seem like negating the reality. Our worries, magnifying the little things and inflating our egos are the manifestations of folly.
Our fears that seem to hold us locked with the shackles with no door to escape — fabricated and foolish thoughts. We create walls and make ourselves prisoner in there.
We tend to admire a lot of things, think and obsess over them. A twelve-years-old who cries over her first crush. A teenager who weeps for not getting accepted in his dream school. A corrupt man trying to sweep money into his house. There is already enough, yet, there is greed. A woman desperately trying to get the attention just to make her existence valid.
Our beliefs suffocate as we become more and more homogenous; running behind the god of success and fame.
Is there only me who grieves facing this kind of dilemma?
The Great War has ended finally. After the death of around 20 million people and even a greater number wounded, a peace treaty has been signed. Italy fought alongside the Triple Entente and came out as one of the victorious nations.
But the country was devastated- inflation, heavy unemployment due to the reconstruction of industries, a high cost of living and an unprecedented wave of protests. Internal divisions led to social turmoil— workers were demanding an improvement in their work conditions, decrease in work hours and good pay. To attain the results, they occupied the factories. Nationalists and landowners were angry too as they didn’t receive the land promised to them during the war. There was a great dissatisfaction for this ‘mutilated victory’.
Yet, the government with Giovanni Giolitti as a head didn’t attempt to bring any order inside the nation. He took a liberal approach and was convinced that these strikes will halt without any kind of intervention.
Benito Mussolini took the action eventually by setting up Fasci Italiani di Combattimento in 1919. Initially, this was a political movement of a para-military character emerged as a reaction to the protests of the working class and the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Mussolini himself was a former leading exponent of the Socialist Party but was expelled when he favored the intervention of Italy in the war. Tensions escalated and the fascists started attacking the protesters on street. The bourgeois, property-owners, middle-class managers and leaders supported the fascists as Mussolini, for them, was a ‘right man’ who can bring peace and order back.
Nonetheless, they were anti-democratic and anti-socialist. Organized in squads known as Blackshirts their violence flared, methods became harsher and intimidation grew as the power expanded. The National Fascist Party was created and a mass demonstration took place in 1922 with Marcia su Roma. The king, Vittorio Emanuele III, didn’t call the troops to repress this coup. Instead, he appointed Mussolini as Prime Minister, giving him the political powers.
After ascending to power, it was a time to legitimize his rule. Thus, he changed the electoral laws (Acerbo law): a political party which would obtain over 25% of the votes will automatically have 65% of the seats. And like this, the National Fascist Party won the election of 1924. He validated the Blackshirts by making them a military organ known by the name of Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale, an all-volunteer militia of theKingdom of Italy. Then he formed the Opera Nazionale Balilla, an institution aimed at young people in order to gain consensus and convert the youth into a political weapon. Media was under the control of the regime. The education system was structured in accordance with the fascist ideologies. The focus was to evoke physical courage and patriotism. At this time, there was no space left for anti-conformism or rebel.
One noted case is of Giacomo Matteotti, a socialist politician who openly spoke against the brutality and election irregularities in the Parliament. Later, Matteotti disappeared and his corpse was found buried outside the city. Fed up with all this, the opposition withdrew from the chamber; an event that is recalled today as ‘Aventine Secession’.
I’ve said my piece. Now you prepare my funeral speech — Giacomo Matteotti
Mussolini took the political, moral and historical responsibility of everything that happened in recent months hinting the murder of Matteotti. This was the beginning of a terrible time during which there won’t be any constitutional restrictions against his power. Nominating himself ‘Il Duce’, he set on a journey to make Italy a great European power. But future have something horrifying for the entire world that goes beyond any imagination.
Italy, o gentlemen, wants peace, wants tranquility, wants a laborious calm; we will give it to her with love, if possible, or by force if it is necessary.
There are times when humanity seems like a far away thing. The point that we all are human beings, appertaining to the same category of species looks like an illusion. And it never crosses our mind that there are other species, besides us, beyond me, sharing this planet. It is an everyday fact, still, seems like a counter-intuitive thought. Our holy network of the ecosystem is ruining day by day but we don’t care. It doesn’t matter if the insects are going extinct. We don’t care what will be the future of this planet, the future of this humanity and this green graceful nature.
It doesn’t matter as long as there is ME.
Maybe, we are too selfish. Ahimè, this growth! Why are we evolved to the point? How do we reach here? This place where anything beyond ourselves doesn’t matter. Caring for other kinds is a distant consideration but we don’t even care for our fellows. We become the prey of our feelings, irrational feelings, emotions, instincts. Killing and ruin others for power, jealousy, love, obsession, madness, and fun. We are too self-absorbed. Too damned. Such a feeling of distinction, almost irrational, extreme. It seems like that connection to the self is lost. Irretrievably lost in the midst of superficiality.
But, craving for that lost link is immense. I can smell that peace I once felt. That satisfaction, that completeness. This memory is sweet. And powerful. A source to keep me alive.
Gives me strength and hope that someday, maybe someday, I can feel that again.
Freiherr von Munchhausen was a famous story.-teller who used to entertain the guests with the tales of his adventures during the Russo-Turkish war. This fictional character recounted impossible achievements which include pulling himself out of the bog with his own hair and traveling to the moon.
This literary model bestowed his name to one of the life-threatening factitious disorder known as ‘Munchausen’s Syndrome.’ Characterized by the invention and fabrication of syndromes, it is a psychiatric disease in which a patient presents himself to seek attention or sympathy for their exaggerated or made up symptoms. The motivation is to acquire a ‘sick role’. These symptoms are faked but even induced sometimes by injecting harmful bacteria, infected materials, detergents or through tourniquets.
A patient, whose name was never disclosed in the studies, used self-harm as a child to cope with isolation and abandonment. This behavior, as she stated, was to avoid the sexual abuse as ‘when I was sick, my abusers would leave me alone.’ This self-damage mounted to Munchausen syndrome and she started to focus more and more on injuring herself. She would go to great lengths to feign illness, such as injecting herself with feces, exposing herself to bitter cold to become frostbitten, swallowing detergents or adding blood to urine samples to cause abnormal test results.
Being sick had become a way of life and I was unable to stop. The rewards were just too great.
Her self-inflicted damage brought severe consequences: she had to remove her bladder and she went to ICU due to a septic shock.
‘For the first time, I found myself really scared that I might die’.
She had been fortunate as she realized the dangerous path she has been leading and vowed, then, to start her life again. Psychotherapy helped her to recover further and she went anew for a healthy and better life.
However, there exists another mental illness in which the deception doesn’t involve themselves but someone under the person’s care. This is known as Factitious Disorder Imposed On Another or Munchausen syndrome by proxy. In this case, an individual can deliberately make a second person ill without his or her knowledge to have that special attention reserved for the ill and their families.
This is often done to someone who they are in charge of, as an elderly family member or child. In the recorded cases, the parents that frequently fake Munchausen by proxy are mothers.
A person with FDIA uses the many hospitalizations as a way to earn praise from others for their devotion to the child’s care, often using the sick child as a means for developing a relationship with the doctor or other health care provider. The adult with FDIA often will not leave the bedside and will discuss in medical detail symptoms and care provided as evidence that he or she is a good caretaker.
Most known cases of FDIA:
The story of Marybeth Tinning and her nine dead children. Between 1967 and 1985, eight of her children died under suspicious circumstances. The rumors circulated that Tinning family suffered from ‘death gene’ as each child died within months.
Finally, she was convicted and sentenced to 20 years of life. Last year she was released from the prison after serving more than 31 years of her 20-years-to-life sentence.
Another recent case is of the blogger Lacey Spears who was convicted of the murder of her 5-year-old Garett Spears. Lacey documented the health struggles of her son in the blog garnettsjourey.blogspot.com. Garnett suffered from severe ear infections, high fevers, seizures, and digestion problems induced by her mother who was blogging, at the same time, about his hospital trips. She was found guilty on account of murdering her son ‘by poisoning him with table salt, which she had administrated to him from infancy through his feeding tube.’ Social media seemed to become a place of attention and sympathy for her.
In another heartbreaking case, 40-year-old Kathy Bushy intentionally sickened her child and made her go through 40 pointless surgeries.
Marc Feldman explained another case of Mrs. A who joined an online community where she claimed to have five children and one of these children, she said, suffers from gastroesophageal reflux and celiac disease. As came out, this whole thing was a ruse and Mrs. A. was actually a 21-year old woman with no children whatsoever.
This can be defined as Munchausen by Internet as people join the support groups and make up a story to get sympathy. It is becoming more common because of easy online access. People don’t have to go from one emergency room to another to convince about their illness; they can fabricate anything behind the screens.
However, the most famous case of Munchausen by proxy is of Dee Dee Blanchard who eventually ended up brutally stabbed by her own daughter. She made everybody believe that her daughter, Gypsy Rose suffered from leukemia, asthma and muscular dystrophy. Dee Dee made her daughter pass as disabled and chronically ill with a mental capacity of 7-years-old. She made her went through unnecessary surgeries, medications, and occasionally psychological and physical abuse. Fed up with the abuse, Gypsy and her new boyfriend murdered Dee Dee.
It was not because I hated her. It was because I wanted to escape her- Gypsy Blanchard
Explaining the extreme behavior of these mothers, Marc Feldman, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Alabama said,
These mothers tend to be psychopathic. They don’t experience guilt and they lack empathy.
He, further, noted that the number of people who fake diseases in the hospitals is usually higher than estimated but the doctors often do not realize that they are being deceived or they, simply, do not confront the patient fearing the consequences or being insensitive or bad-mouthed.
However, detection and treatment for this disorder are vital. The treatment is often complex and includes long term psychological recovery. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help to change the thinking and behavior of that individual.
They believe that having an illness will make them feel special. Patients who are diagnosed with the syndrome are almost always found to be struggling with something — perhaps depression or a traumatic childhood. They need help. But for whatever reason, they cannot admit this to others and so they use illness as an excuse to reach out for emotional support- Gregor P. Yates
‘It’s deeply upsetting to be described as evil’
Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the celebrity serial killers, murdered five children around Manchester in the 1960s. They have been defined by their trial judge as ‘ two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity’. Their crimes that we are to see here are those of the sadistic psychopaths.
Myra Hindley met Brady on her first day of work as a typist and she said that she fell in “love at first sight”. His lover, fascinated with the Nazis and World War II, introduced her to Hitler’s marching songs, Mein Kampf, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Brady used to read Marquis de Sade (1740 -1814) who was a French erotic writer and prose stylist, from whose name the words “sadism” and “sadist” are derived. They, later, went on to seek “supreme pleasure” and with this started a journey to commit a ‘perfect murder’.
Their first victim was a 16-year-old Pauline Reade who was murdered on her way to dance. She was lured into a minivan by Myra and after some time she asked Pauline’s to help her look for a lost glove. Brady pounced upon Pauline and raped her, smashed her skull and slashed her throat so violently that she was almost decapitated. Their next victim was a 12-year-old John Kilbridethat have been strangled and raped before being buried in a shallow grave. The couple went on and enticed 12-year-old Keath Bennett from a street on the context of driving him home. He had been sexually assaulted before getting strangled with a piece of string. His body, unfortunately, has never been found.
Their youngest victim Lesley Ann Downey met the same brutal fate.
They even recorded Lesley Ann Downey begging for life. The 16-minute recording was played in a silent courtroom in which the girl pleaded “don’t undress me” and “ I want to see mummy”. This ten-year-old girl had been raped and killed and buried naked with her clothes at her feet.
Fifth and their final victim was 17 years old Edward Evans who was brought at home where their brother in law David was visiting them. They smashed Edward’s head with an ax and took him to upstairs. David fled and contacted the police.
[Brady] opened the door and he said in a very loud voice for him …”Do you want those miniatures?” I nodded my head to say yes and he led me into the kitchen … and he gave me three miniature bottles of spirits and said: “Do you want the rest?” When I first walked into the house, the door to the living room … was closed. … Ian went into the living room and I waited in the kitchen. I waited about a minute or two then suddenly I heard a hell of a scream; it sounded like a woman, really high-pitched. Then the screams carried on, one after another really loud. Then I heard Myra shout, “Dave, help him,” very loud. When I ran in I just stood inside the living room and I saw a young lad. He was lying with his head and shoulders on the couch and his legs were on the floor. He was facing upwards. Ian was standing over him, facing him, with his legs on either side of the young lad’s legs. The lad was still screaming … Ian had a hatchet in his hand … he was holding it above his head and he hit the lad on the left side of his head with the hatchet. I heard the blow, it was a terrible hard blow, it sounded horrible.
When the moors trial ended we did feel a
lack of catharsis: something violent should have happened to put an end to violence. Throughout, we were missing the shadow of the rope. The end was, in fact, unaesthetic.
After the arrest, the couple said nothing. The judge marked Brady as ‘hopelessly evil’. He, somehow, accepted his sentence and withdraw into social isolation. He wanted to starve himself to death and protested when the authorities force fed him. Still, he considered himself to be a comparatively ‘petty criminal’ alongside ‘global serial killers and thieves like Blair or Bush’.
Indeed, the pivotal evidence in her conviction
did not just revolve around David Smith‘s eye
-witness testimony concerning the death of Edward Evans and it was the discovery of a suitcase in a locker at Manchester train station that would seemingly categorically confirm
Hindley‘s complicity in the crimes:―
Among the contents of the brown suitcase were five photographs of a child in the nude. [Superintendent Robert Alexander] also found two recording tapes. On two tracks, when played, he found voices of a man, woman, and a child. The recordings on the tracks were identical. At the end of each tape was a recording of music.
His lover is often described as pure evil, a predator of children, a sex offender. ‘The archetype of a stranger danger’, and apparently the grand master of all the uncertainty and fear that this provoked, she became, as she herself recognized, ―the symbol of the nation‘s revulsion at all those who prey on innocent children (The Guardian).
Yet Myra Hindley, who died in prison in 2002, had always maintained that Brady — who died in a mental health hospital on Monday — manipulated her to murder their five child victim. Ian on the other hand sustained,
I was never conscious of having to exert myself to coerce her into accepting my belief in relativist morality. Bit by bit we were moving towards an almost telepathic relationship. She was as ruthless as I was.
Hindley established herself as an icon of evil. She was a deviant and evil personified. An example that ‘she’ can be brutal too. A cruel woman that can do the unimaginable leaving behind her role of nurturing sex. Even the trial judge suggested, ‘Tough I believe that Brady is wicked upon belief without hope of redemption, I cannot feel the same is necessarily true of Hindley once she is removed from his influence.’
Contrary to Brady who drove to madness as he approached the end, Myra remained persistent in seeking parole until her death and even plotted to escape with a prison warder.
She might be sorry, sorry for wrecking her life.
Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic — Thomas Szasz
History is full of bizarre events filled with wild beliefs and strange practices. Science hasn’t remained immune when it comes to getting influenced by the socio-cultural views of the time. But being wrong is a part of science, right?!
Let’s dig into some examples narrowing down to the lane of the medical field. One of the commonly known ones is classifying homosexuality as a mental illness. Then, people were pathologized because they failed to comply with the authority. Let’s not forget that political disobedience would have been enough to send someone to an asylum. Women had been diagnosed as hysterical for having sexual urges.
Lobotomy, a wise method invented by professionals to treat schizophrenia, depression, and backaches. Sadly, this procedure created memory loss, more mood problems and once even lead to death due to the brain hemorrhage.
Now I guess I’ll have to tell ‘em
That I got no cerebellum
— The Ramones, “Teenage Lobotomy”
Dysaesthesia aethiopica, an example of scientific racism that explained the laziness among slaves. This is how it’s founder explains it- “much more prevalent among free negroes living in clusters by themselves, than among slaves on our plantations, and attacks only such slaves as live like free negroes in regard to diet, drinks, exercise, etc.” — indeed, according to Samuel A. Cartwright, “nearly all [free negroes] are more or less afflicted with it, that have not got some white person to direct and to take care of them.”
Let’s listen to his cure: The best means to stimulate the skin is, first, to have the patient well washed with warm water and soap; then, to anoint it all over in oil, and to slap the oil in with a broad leather strap; then to put the patient to some hard kind of work in the sunshine.
Alas, he didn’t think that sickness might exist in the way that the structure of society than in the head of poor slaves.
Fortunately, most of these ridiculous practices have been recognized as pseudoscience. This happened not necessarily due to any scientific evidence. Biology played little to no role whatsoever. Like in the case of homosexuality, it was declassified in 1973 due to the pressure from activists.
Still, we are becoming ‘sicker’ and there are few and few people left who aren’t having any disorder. Those thoughts and feelings that were considered normal previously are deserving a diagnosis now. Normal behavior is being diagnosed as a mental disorder.
DSM, the bible of psychiatry has listed over 300 disorders and some of these can be very misleading. Oppositional defiant disorder, as it is the one who argues with the authoritative figures and denies or refuses to comply. Bingeing, eating a large quantity of food in a short time is also considered an illness now. Disruptive mood dysregulation, a disorder that turns temper tantrums into mental illness. The periods of sadness, or worry, grief, drinking too much caffeine or having caffeine withdrawal are pathologized today. These normal trials of life have been accepted as illnesses and are being propagated by ‘experts’.
The writing is on the wall. ‘Normal’ badly needs saving; sick people desperately require treatment. But DSM-5 seems to be moving in just the wrong direction, adding new diagnoses that would turn everyday anxiety, eccentricity, forgetting, and bad eating habits into mental disorders. Meanwhile, the truly ill would be even more ignored as psychiatry expanded its boundaries to include many who are better considered normal- Allen
When it comes to diagnosing mental illnesses, there are no medical tests, no scans, no bloodwork, no physiological tissue damage that can diagnose anybody with a mental disorder. Summing up, there is no laboratory measure. So, DSM plays a huge role as the most commonly used manual by clinicians to diagnose any illness. Recently there have been many protests against psychiatry and against its bible. Many of the diagnoses included can label normal people and encourage inappropriate medication use. This brings a rise in the prescription of stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin.
Millions of Americans are being labeled as mentally ill. Prescriptions for antidepressants have tripled in America in the last decade while prescriptions for scientific drugs used to treat anxiety, bi-polar, ADHD, and a myriad of other psychiatric illnesses in infants, children, and adults are increasing exponentially across America. (Blummer and Marcus, 2009). To combat these diseases, daily doses of dangerous and addictive psychiatric drugs are being prescribed. Follow up study on people who take stimulants show the shrinkage in their brain, addiction to the tranquilizers and shortening of the lifespan in case of sedatives. People who have prescribed the sedatives for the life-long period are predicted to have their life cut short up to 20 years.
‘ The scientific literature shows that many patients treated for a milder problem will worsen in response to a drug- say have a manic episode after taking an antidepressant — and that can lead to a new and more severe diagnosis like bipolar disorder.’ Robert Whitaker
Labeling people or stigmatizing the human experience as mentally ill can’t bring some hope. Having problems in life is normal but one shouldn’t label it or try to earn from it. But the reports are indicating the opposite. The pharmaceutical industry is profiting from mental healthcare and even distorting psychiatry practice. One of the pitfalls of science that shows the desperate need to fill in.
It has nothing to do with biology. It has to do with power and control and what we think is appropriate or not appropriate behavior- Toby Watson
As the phrase that I had coined goes: If I cannot join them, I will rise above them; and if I cannot rise above them, I will destroy them- Elliot Rodger, the perpetrator of the 2014 Isla Vista Massacre.
There is loneliness. A yearning to find someone. Fulfilling the basic need for love. But when the desires never actualize in reality. When the immense craving stays within and suffocates one to the core. The frustration and doubt ensue. Hatred and a contempt for the society arise. And when they further get a platform to connect and express anger things can really take an ugly turn.
In 1997, Alana wanted to create a supportive forum for lonely people. People who struggle to find love. A friendly place for people like her. So she created a simple website to post some articles and ran a mailing list. This site came to be known as ‘Incel’, an abbreviation for ‘involuntary celibate’. After setting up the forum, she eventually moved away from it, satisfied and thinking that it can continue without her.
Things changed and so did the meaning of the term and the content of this innocuous website. Discussions were characterized by hatred, violence, racism, and misogyny. Incels believe that social norms are destroying them. This online community of celibate men convinces themselves to be ugly and socially awkward. And they believe that this is the reason they are unable to find any potential partner. Misogynists blame the women and conclude that they are the victims. There were discussions about raping and torturing women and this kind of content was accepted, to say the least. Evidently, a toxic place to frequent.
A lot of these guys are pretty young, and I think some of it stems from standard adolescent insecurities and sexual frustration and anger at being rejected by girls- David Futrelle
Incel received a momentum in 2014 when Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old man killed six people and then himself in California. He had a narcissistic personality and even wrote a 137-page manifesto filled with his grandiose fantasies and delusions. As Berit Brogaard, a professor of philosophy noticed, Roger was preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love. He was obsessed with finding ‘love’.
In his last video, Elliot expressed,
You will finally see that I’m in truth the superior one- the true alpha male…
From now, I’ll be the god compared to you. You are animals and I’ll slaughter you. I’ll be a god exacting my retribution for all those who deserve it. And you do deserve it, just for the crime of living a better life than me.
Then on April 23 of this year, Alek Minassian posted on Facebook — the Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the supreme gentleman Elliot Rodger.
Alek then got a rented van and targeted pedestrians on the North York City Centre – killing 10 and injuring 16. Another similar case is of Chris Harper-Mercer who killed nine people in a community college in 2015. He stated, ‘Here I am, 26, with no friends, no job, no girlfriend’.
There is a new crisis in masculinity, or that we need to take a special focus on redeeming our Millenial ‘lost boys’- the losers of a changing social hierarchy who posted once on 4chan as teenagers and turned into a neo-Nazis as adults. It is more worthwhile to think about this as a problem of nihilism (Drew Brown)
Incels brood hate for society and for themselves too. They blame others for their defeat and the feeling of unworthiness. As the relationships expert Hunt Ethridge notice, “The fox couldn’t reach the grapes, so he convinced himself the grapes were sour and he didn’t want them anyway.” Their despair and belief that women have some functions on a superficial level only dehumanize the perspective of the opposite gender. And when they find these online corners to connect and share their ideologies with no external perspective, ‘the validation can fuel aggression’.
When they allow all these isolated and alienated people to unite and for once feel a sense of connectivity, acceptance, and understanding to share their sense of shame and self-condemnation. But it also allows for a perfect storm of not only self-hatred but vitriol, rage, and a desire to inflict harm on others whereby victims can also experience first-hand the grief and suffering which Incels feel they’ve had to endure for a lifetime.”-Sam Louie, Psychology Today
Alana was sad and angry when she learned what her innocent creation ended up being. She, then, created a project named Love not Anger to research how these lonely people might find respectful love and leave behind their state of anger and hopelessness. This is an important step towards awareness and recognition of the problem. The alienation from society and a subsequent loss of reality can pose a real threat. There is a need to stand in, challenge and dismantle the toxic ideologies through the practical actions. Gathering support and extending a helping hand to get out of the toxic environment before the things take an ugly turn. Change in mentality can change the lives.
The greatest generation of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind- William James
“Think deeply about things. Don’t just go along because that’s the way things are or that’s what your friends say. Consider the effects, consider the alternatives, but most importantly, just think.”
Aaron Swartz, an internet legend, it’s own boy — a tech genius. Dropped out of school at the age of 14, he earned an early success as a programmer. He developed Reddit at the age of nineteen and took a turn toward political activism devoting his short life to the idea of free internet.
He was against the corporate influence. He believed that ideas should be freely available on the Internet favoring the free access of all sources. Academic publications are bound within the notions of copyright. Information published in the scientific and cultural field are digitized and monopolized by few private corporations. These large corporations, he wrote, are ‘blinded by the greed’ and the restricted access is a ‘private theft of public culture’.
Scholarly researched literature which is funded by taxpayers is available to only some well-known universities in the developed world. The general public would have to pay a subscription fee to go through an article. In 2013, Aaron was a research fellow at the Harvard University which provided him an access to the JSTOR account. JSTOR is a digital library that contains full-text research of almost 2,000 journals on various disciplines. He downloaded a close to two-thirds of the JSTORE archive through the MIT computer network (which can be equivalent to the subscription fee of fifty thousand dollars). This lead to his capture and an eventual trial. Federal prosecutors charged him with a ridiculous 35 years sentence in prison and a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fine. However, the plea bargain was offered which Swartz and his attorney denied in the end.
Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar and whether you take documents, data or dollars- Carmen M. Ortez, U.S. Attorney & Prosecutor of Aaron Swartz
On 11th January, two days later, Swartz hanged himself with his belt in a New-York apartment leaving no suicide note behind. Contrary to the idea that he was depressed, his family members and near ones claimed that he has been indirectly killed by the government. His girlfriend Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman wrote,
“I believe that Aaron’s death was not caused by depression…I say this because, since his suicide, as I’ve tried to grapple with what happened, I’ve been learning. I’ve researched clinical depression and associated disorders. I’ve read their symptoms, and at least until the last 24 hours of his life, Aaron didn’t fit them.
…I believe Aaron’s death was caused by exhaustion, by fear, and by uncertainty. I believe that Aaron’s death was caused by a persecution and a prosecution that had already wound on for 2 years (what happened to our right to a speedy trial?) and had already drained all of his financial resources. I believe that Aaron’s death was caused by a criminal justice system that prioritizes power over mercy, vengeance over justice; a system that punishes innocent people for trying to prove their innocence instead of accepting plea deals that mark them as criminals in perpetuity; a system where incentives and power structures align for prosecutors to destroy the life of an innovator like Aaron in the pursuit of their own ambitions.”
Aaron Swartz was a significant part of the free culture movement. He was fighting furiously to make the information accessible to everyone. Restriction over valuable research in developing countries seemed intolerable to him, “Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.”
This meant that researchers and doctors treating patients with cancer or other diseases in remote regions of Africa could not access complete articles that describe the latest results in the treatments even if the research is done locally.
And if you decide to pay, you won’t know the article is relevant as the abstracts don’t always make it clear enough what is contained there. And restricted access journals are also prone to spurious results. You might cover the costs to read a peer-reviewed journal but receive some junk crafted by long technical phrases. Predatory and ‘unacademic’ articles are, overall, building a real obstacle in scientific development. For instance, an analysis done by Gopalkrishan Seethapathy and colleagues from the University of Oslo judged 350 journals (published in the year 2015–2016 alone) as predatory. In brief, prestigious and restricted sites aren’t completely flaw-free.
Coming back to Free-culture movement, it doesn’t concern academic publication exclusively but targets the restriction over music, art, and software industry also. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation shared his opinion by stating,
Works of practical use should be free. Works regarding points of view should be shareable but not changeable and works of art or entertainment should be copyrighted.
Maybe we do need a free access to research done by our predecessors in order to appease our curiosity and as an initial point for our own discovery. Just like they used the knowledge and discoveries of others to build themselves up. Openness helps in the discovery.
Standing on the shoulders of the giants.