Aaron Swartz and Open Source Idealism (With Jewish Concepts)

“From the youngest age… his work was dedicated solely to making the world a better place for the ideas that he had… He was dedicating his life to building a world… that was as idealistic as he was. And he was impatient with us, and he was disappointed with us, with all of us.” -Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig and a close friend of Aaron Swartz

These words spoken about Aaron Swartz shortly after the tragedy suggest something far greater than one incredible person’s idealism. They speak to the idealist potential in each of us that motivates us to find answers to questions that perplex us daily. As we hope to explain, Aaron’s questions closely resemble those of the wise son in the Passover Haggadah.

The Wise Son

The Wise Son asks “What are these testimonies, law and regulations which Hashem, our God, has commanded you”? It doesn’t seem like he’s asking about Pesach at all, but rather a general question about the entire Torah. The answer given the wise son is the longest of all the answers. It begins with “You shall tell him that we were slaves in Egypt… ” and it ends with, “and it shall be considered a tzedakah (charity) for us for keeping all of these commandments before Hashem our God, as we have been commanded.”

Why does the wise son say “You?” which sounds a lot like how the wicked son distances and removes himself from the entire story of the Exodus from Egypt? As much as the wise son is part of the Jewish people, he wants to reach the point of inception. While there are an infinite number of laws, the wise son wants to know where they all come from. If he can grasp that first point from where everything emanates, he feels good.

It’s like a child who keeps asking their parent “why,” going further back until there is a certain place where there is no longer any answer. If we go back far enough, the wise son too senses that there is no real reason that can be given. The reason will only be revealed sometime in the future.

Actualizing Ideals

In some ways, the wise son is the furthest away from the Passover Seder. His focus is on ideals, on the point of inception as mentioned. For him there is one concept, one idea that encapsulates all the laws, etc… mentioned in the entire Torah. For the wise son, it’s all about the Exodus from Egypt.

The quote from Prof. Lessig that Aaron “was dedicated solely to making the world a better place for the ideas that he had” can be understand as similar to the question the wise son asks at the Seder. The question is not of particulars, but of how to make those particulars more closely match the ideal.

The wise son knows that the only way to move the world forward is by focusing on ideals. Eventually the particulars come into play (much like the wise son is eventually instructed about the commandments), but this comes only after some time. The initial motivation of the wise son is simply to identify ideals, then work to actualize them in present-day reality.

Open Source Ideas

In our previous article about Aaron, we suggested that it was never the intention that ideas be copyrighted to begin with. Now we are adding that the greatest reward for an idealist is a world that understands and appreciates their ideas. What is the motivation behind the open source movement? On the surface it seems to be about collaboration. Like with Wikipedia, Linux and so forth, everyone should be able to have an equal say into the development of the platform.