The Final Hack

Recently a young man, by all accounts a brilliant hacker, took his own life. One of the young man’s friends wrote a beautiful eulogy. He addressed what I would call the ethics of the suicide:

Because whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn’t solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever. If he was lonely, he will never again be embraced by his friends. If he was despairing of the fight, he will never again rally his comrades with brilliant strategies and leadership. If he was sorrowing, he will never again be lifted from it. 

I’ve written before of my general thoughts about suicide:

I respect suicide as the ultimate act of self-determination. We should be able to decide, without being second-guessed, when the pain and horror of existence are too great to endure. But suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness too, an abnegation of selflessness. What friends and loved ones mourn him deeply tonight, blaming themselves and wishing they had done something—anything—to stop him? Parents? Siblings? A wife and kids? A faithful hound? In escaping his own pain, how much pain did he bequeath to people who deserved it no more than he did?

And I have known a hacker or two. A hacker is

A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. RFC1392, the Internet Users’ Glossary, usefully amplifies this as: A person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.

For the hacker this aesthetic—a delight in exploring and exploiting the workings of systems to make them do the unexpected or do the expected better—applies not only to computers and computer networks, but also to social systems and physical systems, including his body and his life.

8 responses to “The Final Hack”

  1. I cannot imagine in the course of pretrial & trial that the many many people who would have interacted with Aaron could not have seen him spiraling downward. Separately, I wonder if the brilliant mind that led to Reddit, and other sites, like Hipmunk, and yes, hacking, is of necessity, or at least highly correlated to, a mind that would allow itself to destroy itself.

    • I suspect that some of Aaron’s close friends are kicking themselves today, seeing in retrospect the signs that he was spiraling downward. But there’s a great spectrum of affect between happy and dangerously depressed, and short of talk of suicide, few signs of depression are actionable in foresight rather than hindsight.

      Yes, the brightest flames often burn themselves out. This world can be difficult for outliers.

  2. The one main goal to our NuOAR program, to remedy the recidivism problem, is the notion to “hack your own brain”. Sometimes the old computer has way too many orphaned files, bad sectors and incorrectly installed drivers. Sometimes the only recourse is to completely re-install fresh AFTER carefully studying and identifying that which is to be kept, for backup and restore, and then your proceed to wipe the harddrive and re-install.

    The human brain is no different, the way I see it, being somewhat of a hacker and later finding myself making a bad decision from bad data. Same same. I just had to admit it. THAT happened as I went into therapy and someone had a sign above the door that read “Your best thinking got you here.” Talk about a take down, for someone with an above-average IQ. Imagine your self standing there.

    So, we DO arrive in this world as a fresh install with a very basic OS. Then we are programmed by other imperfect parents and imperfect role models and an imperfect society. We are then imperfect and virus riddled. just like some old computer still running Win 95 would be. When I first arrived in prison, at the tender age of 50, after I was done crying my eyes out, I visited the in-house shrink. Scared shitless, I asked, waving all around me, “What IS this place FOR and what is it supposed to DO?” He just smiled and said “We’ll we’re supposed to take you and strip you down to your core being and rebuild you from there. But, that doesn’t happen.” At least the man was honest. Welcome to DOC.

    I took everything they had and was lucky to get into the most effective program that any DOC has to offer. THEY tore me down and I still wince when I know that an intervention just kicked in, ala Clockwork Orange. While I am grateful and am aware that the conditioning kicks in, I am still in awe that someone “loved” me enough to push my nose into it as I wasn’t smart enough to do it on my own. Even after that “ordeal” was over, it took awhile for the reboot to happen. But yes, we are very much like our creation, the computer. And, maybe we hack them, in avoidance of hacking our own brain. Once my project goes public you all might be very interested in it. Being Open Source’d, all input will be welcome. The fun part is that it isn’t only your clients that will want/need to attend. 🙂 Ric

  3. Your definition of suicide is right on the money, but your definition of hacker seems pretty benign and sanitized. They don’t just “explore details” and “stretch capabilities.” They also commit cyber-trespass by exploring the details of systems that they are not supposed to access. Some of them steal intellectual property and copyrighted material, and others invade privacy by snooping for personal information and, in some instances, maliciously publishing it.

    Many hackers are geniuses and your definition is correct in that many of them have an insatiable curiosity and drive to challenge limits that is admirable and embodies some of the finest qualities of the human spirit. But don’t leave the dark side out of the definition — or the eulogy.

  4. Mike Trent, amongst hackers there is the notion of “hackers vs crackers”. And while similar, a cracker not only does the black hat stuff, as a hacker does, he or she will also steal things. Basically, Mark’s definition of a “hacker” is correct. Unforch, the TV news never makes the distinction between the hacker and the cracker. It’s always the “Hacker” mastermind arch-criminal that you hear about.

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