*we put the "mmm" in communism


This is the personal blog of Tim. Here, Tim writes on anything he has enough inspiration to finish a post on. That usually ends up being matters of science, pop culture, technology, religion, and philosophy.

This blog is around nine years old, which is over a third of Tim's current age. Back in 2003, it was called "Of Tim: Tim's life - or lack thereof", and it was as bad as you might expect the blog of a freshman in high school to be. Tim hopes that his writing is a little better, these days.

Tim welcomes any input that you, the dear reader, might have. Comments are very much appreciated, especially if you have a dissenting opinion. If you'd like to learn more about Tim, you might want to see his facebook or google+.

Also: Tim is a very avid consumer of various sorts of music. You may be interested in his playlists!

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By nature, humans are born with limited awareness and a single perspective through which the world is experienced and understood. We're left with finite quantities of knowledge, and the quality of this knowledge is at times unverifiable. The basis of any disagreement is in knowledge: I believe my knowledge is superior, until my opponent can provide me with new knowledge that forces me to reconsider. It's hard to provide new knowledge, though. People with strong opinions tend to believe they already have a complete knowledge of the matter at hand, and telling them otherwise raises a lot of ire. Although 'pure knowledge' is theoretically universal, the knowledge we use and experience is worlds away from being pure: it is extremely personal. To threaten something so personal is fundamentally impolite, and it's why Americans have chosen to label the discussion of religion and politics as unfit for civil conversation. This is one of the fundamental powers behind America's religious right.

Religion exists to fill in the gaps for our immensely incomplete knowledge. It answers the questions for which there are no answers, or for which the existing answers are not satisfying. The answers to these questions - why is there evil, what is the purpose of life, where did our universe come from - are monumental, and will ultimately decide how a person lives his/her life.

Politics, on the other hand, exists to make decisions about how society will function. At its best, it is the art of compromise, seeking to craft policies that will satisfy as many people as possible without alienating the minority. At its worst, it is a tool of control, a system for amassing and maintaining power over others. Religion holds a striking parallel here. Religion can give birth to harmony unequaled - the peace and fulfillment that results from a community that earnestly seeks truth and goodness is overwhelming, and this is a reality I've experienced first-hand. Religion also offers immense opportunity for control, when a community devotes itself to dogma and doctrine, particularly when these doctrines are maligned by a leader with impure motives. When a politician refuses to vote outside party lines, he is not doing justice to the purpose of his profession. Likewise, when a believer unquestioningly follows doctrine, her faith loses focus. Instead of having faith in Christ, her faith is in her doctrine, and it becomes enslaved to technicalities and fine print.

Thus, when political policy becomes indistinguishable from doctrine, and a community of believers dare not question doctrine, a political force is created that cannot be talked down. To doubt policy is to doubt doctrine. To doubt doctrine is to doubt faith. To the ears of such a citizen, promotion of, say, abortion, gay marriage, or sex education is a direct attack on faith, an assault on God himself.

This kind of thinking was the power behind many of history's greatest dictators. Stalin, for example, crafted himself as being one with the State, the essence of the people's will, unified with the needs and desires of the nation. To question Stalin, then, was to question your friends and neighbors, and nothing less than treachery. Less extreme examples are not hard to summon. Many a pope, king, and emperor made use of similar tactics to maintain their power.

The logical fallacy here is simple: it's all non sequitur. Doubting the quality of one man does not necessitate doubt in everything that man purports to represent. Likewise, questioning the church's stance on one matter does not necessitate doubt in the entire church. A community based in love has room for disagreement. Two intellectually and morally honest persons can examine the same situation and reach different conclusions. Alienating the opposing side is not the solution, nor is ignoring it, nor dismissing it. These attitudes permeate both sides of America's socio-political landscape, so please don't think I'm only ragging on the right-wing, here - but I do believe that Falwell threw the first stone, in this matter.

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.
- GK Chesterton
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This is one of those posts that I'd probably be better off writing a thirty page paper on. Instead, I'll over-simplify and under-explain!

The Internet is leaving behind a trail of destruction as it burns through each day's newest fads and memes. Traditional mass media no longer serves as a standard of humor or a source, but as a supplement: Conan or Colbert are (technically speaking) nothing but thirty-minute Youtube sketches. Realistically, this is an exaggeration as these figures hold far more clout than your average Youtube sketch comedy. But for how long?

As these figures of cultural stability have declined in power and prominence, humor on the internet has become anonymous. Authorship for entertainment on the Internet is mostly disregarded. Nobody makes claim to having created the lolcat meme, nor does anyone seek ownership over any macros generated by this meme. It is its own entity that lives and dies regardless of the efforts of any single person or group. By contrast, a dip in popularity for Letterman's show could be fixed simply by hiring new writers. Internet fads last only as long as they are fresh.

Take, for example, the Star Wars kid, or the Numa Numa guy. Released today, they would be lost in a sea of equally ridiculous Youtube videos and what's more, no one would deem them even slightly entertaining. When they first went viral, however, they were immeasurably popular, and held universal appeal. Their landmark status and the associated nostalgia preserves some of that today, but strictly speaking they are not as amusing as they once were. Rickrolling, likewise, has lived and died in a matter of but two years. The humor of it was strangled simply by its popularization. Veterans of the internet were sick of it before it even reached the widest masses.

Nothing about the nature of humor has changed. A good joke is only good so long as no one's heard it before. Humor relies on originality, upon being fresh. The Internet is a viral entity; it does nothing but communicate information from person to person as quickly as possible. It induces, if you will, a quick high with a very extensive hangover. The aforementioned anonymity also leaves us with fewer landmarks to think back to, meaning the videos and memes we laugh at today are simply being lost in the ever-expanding network of the tubes.

The problem worsens as this cycle of consumption quickens. In the space of five years, a whole new generation of consoles has lived and died. Multiple televisions shows and cartoons have been produced and canceled. Entire genres of music blossomed and wilted. Generation gaps have always existed, but I believe these gaps are not just widening, but becoming more frequent. Twenty years ago, there was already more media available for consumption than any single person could take in - and this was before the dawn of the Internet. Despite this immense growth of media, we're also spending more time inside single pieces of entertainment, like World of Warcraft or Halo. The opportunity cost of a thousand hours in WoW is that much greater, when so much else is happening elsewhere.

Part of me sees this exponential growth of media, and despairs. The nature of consumption is such that once an item is consumed, it is no longer worth anything. If the Internet is merely a tool for consumption, the only possible outcome is quite grim: we're eventually left with a giant mass of worthless one-hit-wonder media.

It would be ignorant to see the Internet as only that, however. It's easy to look backwards and label any change from the norm as being unwelcome, especially when the Internet has created such a giant generation gap. Some have likened this void to what rock and roll did in the 70's, but on a much more far-reaching scale. I can certainly attest to this gap - if my teachers, parents, or therapist are any indication, my generation is one that is not particularly well-understood outside of itself. I've tried to breach that gap with my parents, but I know they'll never see my computer usage as anything more than just a passion or a hobby, rather than a way of life.

It sounds cliche and arrogant to call it a way of life, but what else could it be? My generation would be wholly different without the presence of this technology. It's tempting to exchange 'different' with 'better', but we don't know what things would look like otherwise. This is what we have, and despairing over change is worthless.

I recently discovered that much of PBS' library has been put online, and in particular, its Frontline series of social documentaries. One in particular, Growing Up Online was pretty brilliant, and went through a wide array of examples for how the Internet impacts the lives of adolescents. It ended with the notion that it's useless for parents to fear or fight the Internet, but that acceptance and understanding will get them much farther in their relationships with their children.

It's hard for me not to be nihilistic about where the Internet is taking culture at large, but that feeling is silenced when I realize that I get to be a part of defining this century's culture. That, ladies and gentlemen, is badass.
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Throughout time, human sexuality in western culture has gone through a multitude of phases, which modern culture tends to use as evidence for the superiority of modern sexual customs. The story starts with Grecco-Roman abandon, which at times saw an abundance of pedophilia and orgies, mixed with classic anti-female mindsets. Pompeii - the Roman city frozen in time by a volcanic eruption - touted many a penis on the threshold of each home (though it should be noted these were more concerned with fertility than sexual conquest). Some men even felt that since women were simply a necessary evil, homosexuality was the far more wholesome and manly option, though it seems to me these men were simply bitter towards their mothers in some sort of reverse Oedipal complex. In any case, this leads many neoconservatives to believe that any abandonment of homophobia, particularly the allowance of gay marriage, will see Americans forced into duct-taping dildos to their front doors.

After half a dozen sexual revolutions between now and then, American culture is at something of a half-way point, it could be said. The Internet's chief use continues to be porn, with every search engine finding that their most abundant search requests are always related to porn. yet while Brazil hosts its annual carnival involving children in costumes and women wearing nothing but glitter and thongs (NSFW, but it's not porn, trust me), Janet Jackson's career was briefly shattered by the brief and completely un-erotic glimpse of one of her breasts. There's something wrong, here.

I think of all this as I return to pondering the nature of sin. Sin is defined as what separates one from God, quickly followed by a long list of no-no's, which for America's Christianity will revolve around sex. Every Christian camp and rally I attended as a child was intensely focused on sex. Since this all took place after the 1960's it was qualified with a "Sex itself isn't bad", but the message was definitely a little mixed - very few seemed comfortable speaking positively on the matter, but were quite prepared to launch into a sermon on the havoc it can cause.

The damage this sort of repression has caused is well-known. More than a few have fled from the faith of their youth, but find themselves eternally wounded by the thoughts and habits that were built in to them. One blog, Letters from Johns, features letters from men that are confessing to having visited a prostitute. A common theme in these letters is sexual repression in youth. For some, it simply creates the kind of curiosity that comes only when told we can't have something. For others, it sparked an insatiable desire for the forbidden, for which they could find no suitable outlet.

I guess the conclusion I'm approaching is that sex is not as important as many set it up to be, including myself. If the pursuit of this distant goal drives us to other iniquities more deadly, is it truly worth it in the first place? And, since when did nudity become erotic regardless of context? While I still hold to my decision to abstain until marriage, perhaps it wouldn't be the death of beauty were I to fail (more than I already have) in that endeavor. There are certainly those that value sex too little - but I would venture that America's Christianity has valued it too much, perhaps as a reflection of its own obsession - though that may be a matter of the chicken or the egg.

The source of these convictions is far from new. Virginity (in women, at least) has long been associated with purity and innocence. The loss of virginity then becomes a scarring of the heart, a blackening of the soul, and the physical significance of this makes it feel that much more pressing to preserve. Unfortunately, however, innocence is not a technicality. Innocence is a quality of the heart, not of the genitalia. If virgins hold any innate purity above their peers, I must have missed it.

Purity is the ideal. We do not live in the ideal, however; we live in reality.
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Years ago, I absorbed one belief about love - that love is a choice, and that true love is not a matter of planets aligning and stars colliding, but of mutual intention and desire. As such, love - real love - is less concerned with compatibility than it is with character. If the state of Western culture is any indication, this is not a common reality. Our culture's dream of finding the right person is rarely realized, leaving most of us to settle for significantly less than what we had hoped for. While comparing happiness is a dangerous foundation for argument, our many social revolutions have not created a culture of happy marriages and happy families.

This kind of focus on counter-culture was (and continues to be) a source of great interest and admiration for me, when I look upon Christianity. I find much truth in examining our culture's failures, and the basic tenet of questioning the nature of what is deemed acceptable is more than just a worthy ideal, but the only sure-fire path for fulfillment.

As I explore what a world-view without Christianity looks like, my desire to stand contrary to my society's lifestyle has not waned, yet I find myself thrown into a maelstrom of un-identity. I have these convictions, yet I have no one to share them with, no group to identify with, no cause to believe in beyond this vague notion of betterment. As I look back at every moral juggernaut in history, I can readily see that every one of them was a piece of a greater movement, a portion of a greater identity that more than just a few participated in.

My fear compounds itself as I see that my convictions cannot stand on their own. My will alone is not enough to carry me through hardship and tribulation. My wisdom is not enough to understand what needs to be understood. If I depend upon myself, I cannot be selfless. To try would be self-deception, and it's what many others do to assure themselves of their true 'goodness'. Truth, beauty, and goodness cannot be realized alone, but are the fruit of strong community and living relationships.

Where, then, can I find this community, when I have forced myself to be so strictly alone? I've said often that my phoenix remains true regardless of my faith - Christianity will forever be ingrained in to me, belief or not. Christianity engendered my ideals. Am I not fooling myself when I attempt to find others of similar conviction so far away from the source of my own identity?

I have not forgotten my many frustrations with the faith - they remain as strong as ever, and I do not think I must abandon my critical eye to revive my faith. I see, however, that I have demanded perfection in a world that is incapable of producing it. Despite what strict rationalism purports to offer, there is no undamaged truth in the world, but everything is tainted by our limited humanity. The Bible is riddled with passages that I find unconscionable and utterly repulsive, yet it is steeped in truths I cannot deny. I can only conclude that there is understanding that I lack. My craving for understanding is matched only by my desire for companionship, and the world is not about to yield these to me willingly. As one old guy with dementia said many times at L'Abri: I believe in order that I might understand. If the past few months can serve as any evidence, I am far better off serving Christ, than not.

I started this post four days ago, and not with the intention of taking my faith up again. But as I dwelt on the nature of love, this is what came out. I'm interested to see where these next few days will take me.
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In describing the fundamental differences between Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism, one lecturer at L'Abri pointed to the core cultural roots that each tradition sprang from. The Greeks brought their tradition of philosophy to Christianity - a philosophy which greatly differed from what is practiced in modern times, focused much more on broad pictures rather than methodologies for precise understanding. When mixed with Christianity, a mystical framework for interpretation resulted, focusing on humanity's relationship to the supernatural (God). Eastern Orthodoxy interpreted Scripture in such a way as to understand how humanity connects and ascends to God, emphasizing unity and relationship. By contrast, the Romans brought their tradition of law in their interpretation of basic tenets, and thus focused on the ideas of status, guilt, and forgiveness, the basis of any lawful society. They saw a need for justification in the face of divine wrath, and understood Scripture as they might a book of law.

I thought of this today, as my supervisor presented me with a few papers to sign as a part of his efforts to improve our quality of work. There were spaces for all of my co-worker's names. It was a summary of our entire job in two pages, and my signature was to indicate that I understood this.

"So, you're asking me to do my job."
"And you need my signature to know that I'm going to do my job."
"How does my signature ensure that I'm going to do my job, if I'm not currently doing my job?"
"It creates accountability. Your signature indicates you understand what your responsibilities are."
"Am I not currently held accountable based simply on the fact that I'm being paid for my time here?"
"Yes, but this paper provides proof that you know what your job entails."
"How does a signature prove that I actually understand that? My performance should be a far better indicator of that."
"It doesn't prove anything, but it means that when you break procedure in the future we have evidence that you actually know what you're supposed to be doing."
"This isn't going to decrease the number of problems we're having - it's just a tool for punishment. Why don't you just work with where each person is at, rather than trying to catch people on technicalities?"
"Because that isn't working. We just took an $800 hit because someone forgot write some fucking notes, and we didn't have enough evidence to stand up against the customer."
"This won't fix that."
"Maybe not, but [our manager] wants something done."

I'd love to live in a society where people are held accountable based on their actions, rather than what papers they've signed. On the other hand, maybe I wouldn't - I'm sure that lack of false security would become terrifying.
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My grandparents like to spam their address books with terror-filled articles about gay marriage and such things. Here's a choice quote from my grandfather:

"Is "liberal" your escape from reason, or just a license to create your own morality? We have seen it all before and it is a well trodden path that allows a person to run; but not to hide from Truth. Don't be too hasty with your judgment of biblical morality.

When the liberals discovered smoking causes cancer they virtually outlawed smoking. When they discovered homosexuality caused aids they tried to outlaw what? Truth! More good sense from the liberals!"

One of my cousins lashed out, and was promptly trounced by generic blather about how godless liberals are. To teach them all a lesson, I wrote a goddamn essay.

This whole debacle was just forwarded to me last night, so I apologize for being oh-so fashionably late to this party. But if I might be heard for a moment or two, I'd be much obliged.

Arguing the roots of this nation is fruitless. We don't regard other nations based on what they were two hundred years ago - we judge them on what they are now. Norse mythology is no longer relevant to Scandinavia, Druidism is no longer relevant to England and France, and likewise, America's religious roots should have little say in the here-and-now. Even if America ever was a "Christian nation" (a debatable matter, at best), we are looking at nation that has been long divided, and we must deal with this reality. Thomas Jefferson said it best: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God."

What does do injury, however, is the suggestion that somehow my vote for Obama is both Godless and amoral. I not only believe Obama to be a man of incredible moral quality, but but that he's also a man of outstanding character seen only once in a lifetime. I see in him a true love for others and for his country, I see a strong desire to do the right thing, and I see the policies and the planning to back it up. I see those around me for the first time ever truly excited to be an American, hopeful that this country can for the first time in history be lead by someone else outside an arbitrarily chosen set of rich white men. I don't expect you to be excited like me. I don't expect you to agree with me. I respect your views and I see the validity in them.

That said, there are more important issues than gay marriage to handle. Why is the issue of two men getting married more important than reforming our utterly broken education system? Why does it even compare to the fact that over half of Americans can't afford health insurance? Why does it even hold a candle to the fact that America has within its borders 24% of all of the world's prisoners, with only 5% of the world's population? There are so many things wrong and broken within our society. So many of these problems don't even exist outside of America, too - a semester in Europe taught me that much and a half. There are solutions to these problems, and other countries have already found them. America is way behind.

Don't get me wrong: social issues are important. But if you're going to argue that the godlessness of the blue states is going to finalize America's demise, I would beg you to examine the current situation in our country. Red states currently sport higher teen pregnancy rates, higher high school drop out rates, higher crime rates, and higher divorce rates (I can provide sources, if necessary). Every red states reports significantly higher numbers of Christians. If the Bible belt is to be any example, America's problems cannot be solved by fundamentalism or neoconservatism. Our problems can't be solved by broad platitudes, or by gross generalizations, or by a simple belief in doing the right thing. Problems don't get solved with harsh criticism and stern disapproval, they get solved by doing something. As Benjamin Disraeli said, "It is much easier to be critical than to be correct."

I believe Obama went and did something - and in doing so, he revamped the American political system as we know it. His campaign registered millions of unreached voters. He opted of out of the public financing system - 80% of his donations were under 100 dollars. He'll be the first president in 150 years to owe nothing to any corporate sponsor. He single-handedly renewed my hope in the American government, and I can safely say he did the same for others around the country. He renewed the world's hope in America, too - for even as a waning superpower, our fate is tied to those of nearly every other nation on earth. Just look at Iceland.

All that's to say: don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Obama's stance on gay marriage should not be the deciding factor for any person's vote. I happen to agree that I have no right to interfere with how my neighbor chooses his or her lovers - does this invalidate everything I've written thus far? Does it just further attest to the liberal taint within my soul, or my complete godlessness? Please think rationally about this. See beyond red and blue. Not everything is black and white.

Respect the validity in disagreement. Honor the fact that others can think rationally and critically about important issues, but come to different conclusions. Avoid these over-simplified anecdotes and sweeping generalizations. Not all liberals are the same. Not all Christians are the same. Just look at our family: we're not the same.

I apologize for the essay-length, but throwing one-liners back and forth does little to accomplish much in the way of reaching agreement or understanding between one another. I hope I've contributed positively.




I thought I should add: please don't insinuate that AIDS is somehow divine justice over gay people. It's repugnant simply given the fact that AIDS is currently ravaging Africa sideways and a half, and is also universally common among America's impoverished, particularly African-Americans - unless you have a sin you might wish to label across all of those demographics, as well.

EDIT: The responses have been amusing.

A distant relative that I don't actually know:
"I know that at the end of this election my faith is not in government, but in Jesus Christ. He has a bigger plan for all of us and he will use anything to His glory. So we wake up another day just happy to be alive and well. I know the end of the story and I am on the winning team. We still love the world through His eyes and live for King Jesus until He takes us home."

My 80-something year old grandfather:
"I appreciate Tim's effort to marginalize what has been said but the wordy and inane comparisons fail miserably to explain why going down a road already proven to be a failed system could possibly prove to be "positive". Throwing more money at education than everyone else on the globe has produced a deficient product in comparison. More will do even less. Judging history has proven to be the necessary and exact measure for current appraisals. "He who doesn't learn from the past is doomed to repeat" is a paraphrase of several political philosophers - probably a bit wiser than our contemporary young people. Seeing Obama as a man of noble character means someone has ignored his judgment. It sees him also as NOT guilty of shitting on anyone and everyone he has looked to as mentors or helpers, in his political quest, whenever they became a hindrance to his search for power. It looks past his deceitfulness when his past record, by rhetoric or votes, is brought to bear on his judgment. A look at his oration to far left assemblies and how different it was stated in a broader spectrum audience is more than a little alarming. He lied about his intentions to accept public financial support for his campaign. His sources of support have been hidden for questionable reasons. And this represents character?

The argument about red states/blue states is not proven. Those statements are inaccurate and illegitimate .

The fact that Obama wishes to support gay marriage, and abortion, represents departure from a moral code of thousands of years existence. A wise person could not possibly see that CHANGE as absolutely positive.

Sorry Tim but your argument fails to reach the level of responsible debate."

My uncle's father:
"'There are so many things wrong and broken within our society. So many of these problems don't even exist outside of America, too - a semester in Europe taught me that much and a half. There are solutions to these problems, and other countries have already found them. America is way behind.'

Tim - - you don’t know me but I know your mom and dad - - the above is your quote - - and I don’t want to sound ugly - - or start any MORE controversy - - but if this is REALLY how you feel - - why don’t you move to Europe or some third world country and enjoy your life instead of being miserable in this backward country - - just an idea - -"