*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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I've kept an eye on the Occupy Wall Street protests these last few weeks. I'm lucky enough to have several people in my social networking feeds that are doing the same thing, even including one guy who's been on the ground with his camera. We'll see what happens tomorrow with the temporary eviction, which I think could be serious test of the movement's public image if they don't work amicably with the rather reasonable desire to keep the park in good condition.  Then again, it could also just be a pretext for shutting it down.  It's hard to know for sure - regardless of the the motivation, I doubt the protesters have any interest in leaving, and I also doubt the police will feel any reticence in evicting them.

There's a lot of discussion about what the point of this whole movement is supposed to be.  I've found this to be frustrating, because I don't think it's that hard to understand who and what are being protested - the problem is that the protests are coming about three years too late.  There would be absolutely no question about the purpose of these demonstrations if they had occurred in the weeks following the major bank bailouts.  Some people would use this as an example of the scourge of apathy across America, but I believe there's a few reasons it's taken so long for any serious protests to occur.

1) The mortgage-backed securities fiasco was complicated.

There was plenty of outrage, to be certain, but laying down the train of cause-and-effect meant understanding some of the basics of how the market functions.  Over the following months, some great videos and resources came out to understanding exactly what happened and why, but the average American watching cable was not being presented with anything in the vein of intelligible information.  Effective protest means directing anger at the proper source, but also requires an understanding of what is in need of changing.  Some blamed the banks.  Or Magnetar.  Others blamed the administration.  Or the people who bought houses on bad credit.  Or the Fed.  Or Paulson and Geithner.  Without a unified target to direct energy, public outrage turned into yet another liberal vs. conservative shitshow.

2) We had a new president who was supposed to perform serious reform.

The feeling of anticipation I had for the smackdown I thought Obama would bring on the banks and hedge funds was tangible.  That smackdown never came, and instead, there was even a bizarre cognitive dissonance coming from the financial sector: they felt villainized and discriminated against by the administration, despite the fact that Obama couldn't even stop the CEOs from receiving millions in bonuses.  It became, in my mind, a classic feature of Obama's tactics - good intentions, but lacking the balls to do what's truly necessary.  He's too eager to compromise.  The system was left mostly unchanged.

3) There were no examples.

Within the last decade, the closest thing America has seen in terms of nation-wide protest has been the Tea Party, and this, I feel, is but a shadow of genuine activism.  A movement that was swiftly co-opted by the right wing, the Tea Party became nothing more than a tool to lower Obama's ratings and later, to fight the heath care bill.  Legend has it that in the beginning, the Tea Party was not unlike the Occupy Wall Street protests, having a serious interest in disentangling the incestuous relationship between government and corporations.  By the time I ever saw anything of it, however, any trace of that had evaporated into mindless outrage.

Recently, however, there's been the Arab Spring, a subject of great interest and admiration all across the American media.  Many people have shown a serious interest in how these budding revolutions are turning out, and it's practically a guarantee that the courage and spirit of people in the Middle East has been a source of inspiration for the protests we're seeing today.

A little late in coming, we now have the Occupy protests sprinkled across the country, and the haters are hating hard.  CNN, at first refusing to acknowledge their existence, now rather brilliantly co-opts the movement to make the movement suit their needs (if you don't get it - consider the simple irony of a movement called Occupy Wall Street being primarily about government corruption).  Twitter continues to keep #ows and its affiliates out of the trending list.  You can tell any given news outlet's stance just based on how they're phrasing the upcoming eviction.  They're either jobless hippies dirtying up the city or valiant warriors against The Man.

I want to see this movement succeed.  I understand exactly what they're trying to express.  Frustration about a lack of change.  The absurdity of corporate personhood.  The ever-growing maw of income inequality.  The oligarchical system of relationships between the government and business.  A void of effective and trustworthy regulating authorities.  A fear for the future of America as a free nation, if we continue on this path.

The obstacles, I fear, are too great.  Misinformation is rampant, and without individual spokespeople, there is little hope for control over public image.  Demands will never be met because the protesters have zero leverage, especially without public support.  I will be surprised if any significant change occurs as a direct result of these protests.

Even still, I don't think all hope is lost.  If it can be done once, it can be done again - and better.  These protests reveal a hunger for highly organized and effective activism.  Maybe the Occupy movement will find that in time to prevent its own fizzling out - but my instincts say that if it were going to happen, it would have happened already.  Only time will tell.
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Of late, I've had a certain experiment on my mind. It's a well-known study that involves placing an electrode into a specific area of a rat's brain, and putting the rat into a box with a lever that activates the electrode.
Rats will perform lever-pressing at rates of several thousand responses per hour for days in order to obtain direct electrical stimulation of the lateral hypothalamus. Multiple studies have demonstrated that rats will perform reinforced behaviors at the exclusion of all other behaviors. Experiments have shown rats to forgo food to the point of starvation in order to work for brain stimulation or intravenous cocaine when both food and stimulation are offered concurrently for a limited time each day. Rats will even cross electrified grids to press a lever, and they are willing to withstand higher levels of shock to obtain electrical stimulation than they are to accept for food (thanks Wikipedia)
Reading this, I immediately see myself pressing the levers that make the pretty pictures appear on my screen and sounds burst from my speakers. My relationship with technology has been highly isolating. For as long as I can remember, my pattern of behavior has often resembled strong addiction and compulsion. I've spent a great deal of time wondering what my life would be like in an age without computers, the internet, and the many video games I've devoted tens of thousands of hours to. These entities have also enriched my life in myriad ways, enabling me to acquire knowledge and hone skills that have become the foundation of my identity. If I have any claim to mastery over rhetoric or vocabulary, I owe that to technology (and my grandmother, for all those games of Boggle). But the internet is a poor teacher of self-mastery, and my lack of this has been my continued downfall.

I don't subscribe to the idea that taking command of one's life is a matter of willpower. Given what we know about developmental psychology, it seems clear to me that very few aspects of our life are the result of choices we make. We have an immensely powerful subconscious that guides a great deal of our behavior, which forms the foundation upon which conscious thought occurs. The moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt has a metaphor that I rather like from his book, The Happiness Hypothesis:
The mind is divided in many ways, but the division that really matters is between conscious/reasoned processes and automatic/implicit processes. These two parts are like a rider on the back of an elephant. The rider’s inability to control the elephant by force explains many puzzles about our mental life, particularly why we have such trouble with weakness of will. Learning how to train the elephant is the secret of self-improvement.
I'm not going to spend too much time waxing depressive about the havoc weakness of will has wreaked on my life since puberty began, but I've reached a point of maximum frustration with myself. I've dropped out four times. I've burned through three relationships in one year. I'm 22, and I'm back to living in my parent's basement. I'm not ungrateful - I'm glad that my parents are willing to let me stay while I recover my debts and try to save up for school - but as my friends disperse out across the globe, I am unsatisfied with what I've accomplished in the time given to me. I'm tired of hearing about how much potential I have and how I have the ability to do anything. I want more from life - or more accurately, I want more from myself.

I've spent too long fucking around with this depression. The older I get, the more clearly I see how it's permeated my life since puberty. I recently found and re-read one of my journals from when I was thirteen or fourteen, and I was stunned by how clear and painfully obvious my depression was. Entry after entry, I express utter hopelessness and despair. Until reading it, I reflected on my teenage angst as just that - the unfortunate curse of adolescent frustration. Yet now, I suspect that my agony was more than just the curse of hormones and high school. I mean, fuck, I missed 53 days of school my senior year, 30 in my junior year. Even as an adult, I don't think I've truly admitted to myself how serious of a problem it's been. My time in the psych ward is an excellent example. I was able to turn the event into a personal victory through story-telling, but even as I wrote it, I denied the very foundation of that event, brushing off my overwhelming apathy and despair as being trivial, characterizing the doctors in the story as overreacting to my suicidal ideation. I've always recognized my delusions of grandeur, but only within the last year have I seen that they're intimately connected with the intense mood swings that have been the hallmark of my daily life for ten years.

Then, of course, there's my unassailable fortress, my intense criticism of society at large. I declined any suggestion of medication because I was convinced that these were social problems, and there is no pill to fix society. What I really needed was to get away, to be with people that understood and appreciated me, to be in a place where things were done properly. Coming home from Europe, I brought with me a fantasy that life was truly, objectively better in another part of the world, that if I could find a way to stay there, I would know fulfillment and finally integrate into society. I conveniently forgot that, while there, I was shielded from the myriad responsibilities that go into maintaining an independent life. I ignored the fact that I was only there for four months, that many people have acted on the same impulse, discovering that a year later, routine has wormed their way into their life once more. Don't get me wrong - cursed be the day that I abandon my hopes of living abroad and integrating into other cultures - but I've been foolish to believe that the essentials for fulfillment are there, and not here also. Fulfillment, it seems, is a personal responsibility.

To this end, I sought out my doctor and have begun taking bupropion. Hopefully that will get the elephant on track. We'll see how it goes.