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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.


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