*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!

a birthday manifesto
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For my twenty-second birthday, I decided it was high time I sat down and had myself a genuine existential crisis.

"What?" I hear you say, "Tim, you've been having an existential crisis since you were thirteen. Come on."

Probably, but it's my birthday and I'll have an existential crisis if I want to. Stay a while and listen, kids. My intellectual struggles over the past few weeks have revolved around one question. What is my reason for living?

I'm hunting for something that justifies my continued existence. I reject the tautology that we can just live for the sake of living. I need something more. I don't mean more in any kind of supernatural or extraordinary sense - just something more than myself. I've been attempting to explore all the options for what that can mean. These posts will be a part of that exploration.


I can't embrace the concept of hedonism as something that will drive me to get out of bed in the morning. It's a shallow way to interact with the world. It's a system that doesn't survive well under duress; the world is a harsh place, and there will be long stretches of time that will require some distinctly displeasurable actions in order to come out on top. It also clashes with my core ideals, but in the spirit of the existential crisis, I won't bring those into consideration.

That said, I am forced to recognize that at the end of the day, it's how I feel about my life that makes the difference between being happy or not. Unfortunately, I know that I do not know myself as well as would be required to pinpoint the most efficient paths to happiness. Some people seem capable of doing this. I am not one of them.


An ex once asked me how it is that I ever could have been so religious, given who I am today. I told her that my behaviors, in those days, were highly determined by the system of belief I held. Once I abandoned that system, the behaviors dependent on that system were bound to disappear. I've thought about this a lot in the past month. In my sociology classes, we discussed Durkheim on several occasions, a sociologist most known for his study of suicide. He believed that anomie - a state of normlessness - was at the root of why people kill themselves. Looking at myself, I think this makes a lot of sense. I find myself living in the gaps of society, stuck halfway between two worlds - that of the working class, and the college student.

Which leads me to wonder, do I need another system to replace the one I removed? The church equipped me with a bizarre set of tools that I have no use for in the real world. I was trained to see meaning and metaphor in everything, everywhere. I was taught to compare and contrast all of my actions and experiences on a near constant basis to ensure that I was living right by the divine. I still perform this constant analysis, but I no longer have a blueprint to compare the architecture of the world to.

The answer, for me, is clear: it's time to draw a new fucking blueprint. Anecdotal evidence suggests that other people's plans just aren't going to cut it for my life. Someone else's idea of happiness and goodness won't help me get out of bed in the morning. What I require has to come from within, and dogma of any kind will not suffice.


I once believed altruism to be morally superior to all other perspectives, but that was when I felt every action held some form of objective moral quality that could be determined. Time has softened me to see the many shades of gray that our world is painted in, but a core tenet has stayed with me for better or worse. Whatever I do, I have to be making the world a better place. My welfare cannot depend on the suffering of others. If I am only able to survive at the expense of others, then all hope is truly lost. I tried for a long time to motivate my behaviors out of a sense of duty to humanity. I wanted to find fulfillment in bringing others happiness, but I assumed that I knew what really makes other people happy - sadly, not so.

How can I attempt to help others if I cannot even help myself? I don't think I can. Selfish as it might be, I must recognize that before I can make my mark upon the world, I have to at least have some semblance of a self-derived strength and focus. The ongoing suffering of others doesn't make me want to get out of bed; rather, the inescapable prevalence of injustice and malevolence across the world is just another reason to stay under the covers.

But then, I think - it's foolishness to assume that this must be self-derived. Independence is an illusion, after all. We humans are inexorably tied together, for better or worse.


Studies[1][2] have shown time and time again that close relationships with friends, families, and lovers are the greatest determinant of mortal happiness, above all else. More than income, more than power, more than fame, more than whatever it is that people fight, deceive, steal, and kill to obtain, it's intimacy that makes us happy. The Presbyterian tradition has always been somewhat ascetic in its philosophy, so this is one of the few perspectives on the world that I haven't had to adjust much.

I bring it up because whatever ends up in these blueprints has to make a hell of a lot of room for the development of true relationships. Although I can go for long stretches by my lonesome, I depend on and thrive under as much genuine social interaction as I can obtain. Genuine is the key word there; I have always been terrible with small talk and idle chatting. I've improved somewhat, but I would say I'm never doing better than treading water when it comes to surface-level conversation. I'm excellent in interviews, but bad at day-to-day office talk. I'm lost in big parties, unless there's a open space where I can dance. I'm terrible at first dates, but I'm not intimidated when shit gets real. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that I crave seriousness. I thrive there.

(to be continued - if I make this any longer nobody will read it!)
posted by MC Froehlich at with 0 Comments
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The most recent issue of National Geographic featured an article on animal domestication - in particular, that of foxes. I highly recommend reading it (there's also a great Radiolab episode that discusses this topic), but for the purpose of this post I'm going to quickly summarize some of the most important details so that I can dive into making my point, which I'm hoping will blow your mind. Fingers crossed.

In the 1950's, this guy in Soviet Russia started breeding foxes for domestication by selecting the friendliest ones to breed. Just nine generations of breeding later, he had foxes that were completely in love with humans from birth, without any conditioning. They weren't just friendlier foxes, though; they adopted a whole suite of behaviors and many of their physical characteristics transformed as they became more domestic. Here's a short list of changes that appeared:
- Multicolored/spotted coats
- Floppy ears and raised tails
- Tail-wagging, face-licking, barking, and whining
- Higher intelligence, more able/willing to learn human social cues and commands
- Can breed twice as often

Some of these qualities are present in wild juvenile foxes, but are quickly lost as they reach maturity. In domesticating the fox, researchers essentially ended up making foxes that are, in many ways, permanent adolescents. There's two quotes in the article which I think will help illustrate where I'm going with this:

"'...they remind me a lot of golden retrievers, who are basically not aware that there are good people, bad people, people that they have met before, and those they haven't.' These foxes treat any human as a potential companion..."

"'They didn't select for a smarter fox but for a nice fox,' says Hare. 'But they ended up getting a smart fox.'"

My religious upbringing is with me always, and when I heard about these foxes I remembered a common exhortation from church - that we should be like children. Innocent, trusting, and unassuming. Yes, I'm taking the idea out of its original context (it was usually mentioned in reference to holding faith and trust in God), but it hints at something that I think may be very core to what makes modern society work. If we compare human society to what it was in centuries past, there's a strong argument to be made that we're becoming less wild. To live longer, happier lives in the company of other humans, we've had to tame ourselves out of antisocial behaviors. The process of doing that has resulted in a more childish kind of society - in a wonderful and beautiful way. I see this in a few, specific ways.

#1: Curiosity

Kids love to ask why. They want to know how things work, how they got to be the way they are, where they came from, and where they're going. The answers they get for those questions will determine much about how they perceive and understand the world. Kids ask because they know they don't know, but that someone else might. As we get older, we start to believe we have all the answers that we need, or that the answers can't be found, or perhaps that the answers aren't worth knowing.

I used the word "unassuming" earlier, and I believe it's extremely apt. Age and experience show us lots of shortcuts that we can take to make daily life easier, but these shortcuts mean we have to make a number of assumptions about the nature of the world, the people around us, and the things that make us happy. It's defying this process that leads to innovation and discovery. Science is fundamentally about asking questions and finding enough reliable information to base conclusions off of, rather than operating solely from assumption and anecdotal evidence.

#2: Creativity

Children are the most creative people on the planet. Most of them don't have the capability to express their full creativity (imagine if they did!), but it's amazing the ridiculous and wonky stuff they think up. It's a fact of life that we get less creative as we get older, whether due to biology or to the limiting nature of knowing more about what is possible and impossible. Frighteningly, it appears our education system is literally making kids less creative, less capable of devising multiple solutions to a given problem. Against all this, however, we still manage to be creative as adults, and it's an important and necessary component to modern human society.

The benefits of creativity are countless. Creativity means innovation and invention, new ideas and new ways of thinking. Creativity encourages communication and expression, supporting the dissemination of information and ideas in fun and interesting ways. It gives us an outlet for our emotions that doesn't bring society down. We used to solve our problems through murder, theft, and rape. Now we make documentaries, graffiti, and protest marches. By finding alternate forms of expression, we've found ways to disagree with each other, but still live with each other.

#3: Trust

The world is a huge place, filled with all sorts of dangerous nooks and crannies that a child just can't understand yet. If kids didn't trust adults, I suspect it would be much harder for them to reach adulthood alive. Just imagine what it would be like trying to teach a class of children that didn't believe a word the teacher said. Trust is what allows us to communicate, to cooperate, and to thrive together as a society. Without trust, nothing would work at all.

Money is an easy example. What if we couldn't trust that the money in our wallets was still going to be worth something tomorrow? That's what's happened in Zimbabwe, which is why their inflation rate is so high. What if we couldn't trust that other countries with nuclear capabilities wouldn't just nuke us tomorrow? That's what the Cold War was, and that gave us the Red Scare and Vietnam. What if we couldn't trust that we'd have constant electricity? The Internet wouldn't exist, were it not for stable power sources.

On a more personal level, all of our relationships are predicated on trust. Because of trust, we don't have to set ground rules every time we meet someone just to make sure the other person isn't going to stab us. It might seem ridiculous, but that wasn't always the case. We take a great number of benefits of modern society for granted because we've never had to experience the way life once was.

It seems that as we get older, we trust less. Part of that is just wisdom, learning that we can't assume other people are being straightforward or genuine. That's just a sad fact of life. Idealistic as I am, I've been forced to recognize that most people, given the choice between admitting their failures or insecurities and lying, will choose the latter. That said, I feel determined to continue placing trust before suspicion, also known as the ideological basis of our system of law: innocent until proven guilty. While this might not be true in practice, it nevertheless points to an important pillar of support for our society.

Children, I believe, aren't just the future - they're a model for the future. They have a lot to teach us, if we're willing to learn. If we want to learn, though, we have to get down to their level. Personally, I'm cool with that. They're more fun anyways.
posted by MC Froehlich at with 1 Comments
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On a regular basis, the subject of whether or not I'm still smoking comes up among practically all of my friends (because they're the kind of friends that care). I've legitimately quit twice since I started nearly three years ago, and made dozens of half-hearted attempts here and there (usually at the behest of a lady). I feel like it's time I discussed how I even started, what's kept the habit going, and how I perceive it as an individual and at a societal level.

I could try and say that it began because of the setting, and that might hold merit. I was in England, surrounded by people far beyond my age and wisdom who were introducing me to ways of thinking and living that I'd never before considered legitimate. I was an immensely curious teenager, impressionable and overwhelmed with new experiences, thoughts, ideas, and alcohol. Nights out to the pub were inevitably peppered with smoke breaks, and my curiosity demanded to know. But that wasn't where the habit started.

There's a specific line that I believe every regular smoker passes between infrequent use (only when drinking, for example), to that gradual introduction of smoking as a part of the daily routine. I'd only had perhaps half a dozen cigarettes during my entire stay in England, but I decided it would be fun to bring back a 400-pack from the duty-free at the airport. After getting home, I didn't open the pack for at least a month. I was wary of the addictive aspect and figured I'd just save them for a special time, pulling them out once every week or two. Which is what I did, for a while.

What pushed the process forward was that most devious cocktail of stress and boredom. At the time, I wasn't sure things were going to work out with my girlfriend, and I was supremely unprepared for the level of anxiety that can result when considering the end of something as good as first love. I am by nature an over-thinker, and hyper-analyzing matters of pure emotion is perhaps the worst possible approach. One night, finding that even after a long run I couldn't get my mind off the problem, I figured I'd see if a cigarette would help. And it did. It helped a lot. Days of constant, relentless stress instantly disappeared. For fifteen minutes. The uncertainty of the relationship continued on, however, and I eventually found myself smoking one or two every night to put myself at ease. Even at this point, however, I'd say that the addiction hadn't set in yet. Smoking hadn't become a necessity or a part of my daily routine.

That didn't start until I discovered smoke breaks at work. My co-workers - whom I was just getting to know and like - were mostly smokers, and they didn't even mind sharing. Eventually I started bringing my own, which led, most critically, to having cigarettes on me all of the time. That's when it started. Having them in my pocket, I found myself with 10 minutes of spare time all over the place. Before and after classes. Closing time at work. Watching a download finish. Waiting for someone to come over. Talking on the phone. It's amazing how much time we spend waiting on any given day. At my new rate of consumption, I went from smoking a pack every 2 weeks to a pack every 3 days.

It didn't take long for me to realize that it'd become a real habit. Oddly, it wasn't when I'd finished the carton of 400 I brought back from England, perhaps because I never had to think about whether or not I had any left. No, the moment that it became evident was when I found myself panicking because I only had two cigs left in my pack for the remaining 8 hours of my day. I started trying to estimate how long I could last before I smoked the first of the two, and I found myself more interested in driving to the gas station to get more, than in daring to smoke less. Worth noting: this was before taxes had gone up, so they were only $6 a pack (compared to $10-11 now), and I was living at home and working a lot, so money wasn't a concern. Regardless, at this point I'd become aware that it was a bad habit and that I needed to stop. It would be a year before I even made it past a week of quitting.

Here, I'd like to expound more on why it's so challenging to quit. Sure, there's a chemical aspect, but the physical dependency ends within 3 days (usually 2 for me). It's the psychological aspect that holds such fierce power. Cigarettes are like furniture. You don't really notice furniture when it's there, but the second it goes missing you know something's gone awry. The difference is that with furniture, eventually we adjust what we expect to see in the room and the void where the chair once was becomes normal. As far as I can tell, that never happens with cigarettes, even when accompanied with a complete change in habits and behaviors. I've had conversations with multiple people that quit cold turkey for years, but were never able to completely put it out of their mind. Reminders exist everywhere; a huddle of people smoking outside a bar, a villain in a movie always with stogy in hand, smashed butts filling up gaps in the sidewalk. Mirror neurons are a bitch like that - just the image of a cigarette brings back memories of relief and relaxation, accompanied instantly by a longing that can only be satisfied by nicotine.

Then comes life, with its inevitable onslaught of unknowable twists and turns. Never able to forget about them in the first place, cigarettes are the first resort when combating situations of great uncertainty and drama. When shit really hits the fan, it barely feels like a choice. Knowing that for a mere ten dollars, I can have one less thing to fight, which might even make things easier? That's a great deal - until the next day, when I don't need them, but I still have them. Hey, I paid ten bucks for these, I can't just throw them away. And so the cycle perpetuates.

The last component to the addiction is the role of smoking in culture and peer groups. It's hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger - but not if you're both smokers. Smoking provides an in-road with all sorts of people in all kinds of places. Smoke breaks are an incredibly easy opportunity to get to know people. I've had great, lengthy conversations with gas station attendants late at night that wanted to step out for a break. When I moved into this house, I met my neighbors while out back for a smoke break, and a saga of events echoed as a result for months afterward. There's even something about the motions of lighting it up, taking a drag, the exhale, the flick of ash - the whole process seems to make conversation far more casual. By having a reason other than just the presence of others for being somewhere, and with a literal timer on how long the conversation has to last, an immense amount of social pressure is eliminated. If the conversation's not that great, the cig provides a reasonable and graceful escape from the engagement. That's hard to replicate.

A friend once suggested to me that in prehistoric days, carrying the fire was a position of responsibility that held power and respect, perhaps explaining part of the affinity for smoking beyond the chemicals. Smoking certainly holds a social power, even as it is frowned upon in the public sphere. Rebellious characters throughout movies, music, literature, video games, and art are often smokers. Depending on the context, it can represent a rejection of authority, a hedonistic perspective on life, a resignation to impulsiveness, or just indicate a hard-boiled quality of character. The destructive, addictive, and iconic nature of the act lends itself toward value associations, whether we're aware of it or not.

All in all, I don't regret my decision to start. Sure, it's been a colossal money sink, a bottomless well of anxiety and frustration, and an assault to my health - but I'm wiser for it all. Before, I didn't get what drove others to smoke and to keep smoking, but now I can say with certainty that I truly understand. This understanding came at a price, but with renewed conviction and clarity of focus, I'm confident it's a chapter in my life that I can bring to a close. It might haunt me for eternity, but so do a lot of other things about life. I'll learn to deal.
posted by MC Froehlich at with 2 Comments