January 21, 2013

Dreams Are Worth Fighting For

While I have never been suicidal, I've had to deal with suicidal friends more than I'd like. The hardest thing in the world is to get suicidal people to understand that, contrary to their entire life's experience, and contrary to every shred of evidence they have, things will get better. Eventually, they will have an experience they could never have imagined, they just have to hold on long enough. Sometimes it feels like our dreams are on the brink of suicide for similar reasons, and we must also convince ourselves that we just need to hold on to them for a little while longer.

The death of Aaron Swartz affected me deeply even though I honestly didn't know who he was until he died. Unlike what many people seem to be writing about on Hacker News, however, it was not because he was some kind of brilliant programmer (although he clearly was), it was because he was fighting for many of the same things I am fighting for. We were both disillusioned about the massive corruption that underlies modern society, and we can both be considered idealists. That Aaron's dreams were so oppressed that he took his own life is deeply disturbing to me.

Whenever you attempt to do something, you will encounter resistance. If you haven't had someone tell you you're an idiot for doing something yet, you just haven't been looking hard enough. It is not possible to post a blog on the internet and not have a comment telling you that everything you wrote is misinformed crap. Every time you start writing a program, you will use the wrong language. You will use the wrong library, make the wrong API choices, set the wrong default values, have terrible coding practices, and be both too high level and too low level at the same time. Every solution you come up with will be fundamentally flawed and used as a reason for why software development has gone downhill. At least one person will tell you to never write another line of code ever again for the benefit of mankind.

When the language fetishists start flinging mud over the fence, it is easy to get discouraged after they rail on about how terrible your language of choice is. Sometimes you'll wonder if some of your C++ code should really be C code, or if your event subsystem should be in Haskell. You launch products to the sounds of crickets. Repeated failures can be extremely draining to one's perseverance.

None of this matters. The visions that find us in our daydreams and play with us at night are what make life worth living. The dreams we fight for give us reason to exist, regardless of whether we achieve them or not. Just because things don't turn out the way we want to doesn't mean we can't still have a positive influence on the world.

If I could have told Aaron anything the night before he died, it would have been that no matter how hopeless things get, his dreams will always be worth fighting for. By simply being alive, we continue to uphold our ideals. Never stop trying, and you will continue to fight for what you believe in, even if you don't succeed the way you wanted to. People will tell you to give up, that its fruitless, meaningless, hopeless, misguided and useless. They are wrong.

For Aaron's sake, in memory of all his hopes and ideals, fight for your dreams, and never let go.


  1. I don't think there's any greater truth -- historically, scientifically, or personally. The only reason a someone would call you out for daring to dream is someone who doesn't have or who has never had them.

    I spoke with a friend the other night concerning feelings over my unborn son. Not many people can understand this, or how important it is to me. Yes, he is a fictional character and yes, I get that. Yes, I have personal flaws when it comes to him and yes, I'm very much afraid to put him in a situation where pain might be delivered upon him. But that's just me being protective. Then again, I also have to realize that I can't nestle him so close all the time. Yes, he makes me smile and laugh sometimes. And the dreams I have of him are equally powerful.

    I think, what's more important for me is to have one chance, just one chance to tell him how much he mattered to me before he even existed. Or maybe it's me just trying to imagine what it would be like giving him the things I never had. Still, he's a dream worth fighting for, in as much as his name means.

    1. A large number of people attack dreams because their own dreams were shattered. Others just attack dreams they don't like. It's a sad world.