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Ask Less of Your Technology

The definition of freedom has been under dispute as long as words have been symbolic. Either freedom is defined as the existential right to do as you wish or the ability to act as you should within reasonable restraints. Hedonists, anarchists, French post-modern philosophers, and eighteen-year-olds leaving their parents’ home tend to champion the first definition. Most others hold the second—though in many cases unknowingly. This silent majority stops at red, goes at green. Yet they don’t feel oppressed by those restrictions, for they know that by them they are given freedom to drive a car without fear of collision at intersections. Further, they value restaurant chefs who submit to regulations on hand-washing and glove-wearing. They ascribe to the time honored principle that anarchists make dangerous cooks. It is a simple vetted fact that humans tend to function more efficiently when placed under certain basic restrictions. Author Os Guinness puts it this way, “Freedom is not the permission to do what you like; it’s the power to do what you ought.[1]

Yet one area of modern life ignores this definition of freedom—technology, more specifically, mobile device technology. Each year another five or six features are added to smart phones, from flashlights to fingerprint detectors, making it easier to do more with a smaller machine. This appears time-saving and efficient—very American, in fact. In the old days one had to go to the library for books, gossip with the neighbors for local news, and pound the typewriter for a story or letter. Now all that and more can be done with a few taps and a couple swipes. But has efficiency really increased? Yes, the old days were bothersome, even cumbersome, but there were benefits. Your library book never doubled as a gaming device. Your typewriter never notified you that a distant acquaintance was in a new relationship and thirteen of your friends liked it. In short, when you sat down to read, you read; when you sat down to write, you wrote, for that was the only function of the object or machine on the desk in front of you. We continue expanding the capabilities of our phones and tablets, but is it possible that those capabilities are the very things limiting our productivity? It brings to mind something Thoreau said while considering the burgeoning technology of the telegraph in the nineteenth century:

"Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end,… We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.[2]

Now, with a dash of discipline, distractions should not be a problem. A person may choose to ignore news alerts, e-mail notifications, friend requests and weather updates while they read Dante on their iPad, just like someone can choose to do their sleeping in an arcade. But neither environment seems ideal for the task at hand. Why? Because distractions cause delays. It could be said that reading on an iPad gives too much freedom to choose not to read. All those features become unwanted temptations when one simple task is the goal. In many cases, the myriad capabilities of mobile computers, tablets and phones cripple rather than empower their users, because those capabilities become diversions from real work—“They are but improved means to an unimproved end.”

Most of us have been maddened at having spent fifteen minutes on social media or mindless web browsing after solemnly resolving to get to work on some project. It is not that we wish to waste time, but those fifteen minutes seem magically outside the power of our will. The option for browsing or e-socializing was there, so we—somehow­—just did it. Every time we sit down at a computer or pull out a smart phone we are faced with a choice of how to use those machines, and not a simple choice. It may be between a game that we want to play and a project we should begin or a movie that would be amusing and a lecture that would be informative. Choosing between the good and the entertaining is no easy task.

Maybe our basic paradigm should shift from expanding technological options to limiting them, at least in certain cases. Doctor Gloria Mark, professor at the University of California, Irvine recently conducted a study on the effects of removing e-mail in a workplace as an option-limiting measure and demonstrated, “without email, people multitasked less and had a longer task focus.” The study goes on to conclude, “there are benefits to not being continually connected by email.[3]” Dr. Mark added in a personal interview on the subject, “Never before have we been able to have so many choices to access people and information faster . . . It's not just the fact that we have access to technology options but that the options lead us to serious distractions[4]” Solution oriented thinking would conclude, if extra functions are distracting from meaningful activity on our phones, tablets and laptops, the best way restore that activity would be to limit the option of accessing those features. Buy a simpler device or limit a current device. Much like turning off your work phone while on vacation or staying away from all-you-can-eat buffets while on a diet. It is giving your will a rest and ensuring you will use your time as you plan on using it.

But the benefits of option limitation are not limited to productivity. Paul Miller, a writer for The Verge recently spent a year off from the internet. One major question he had had to deal with from readers during his experiment was in regards to his pornography use while web-free: “How did do get it?” they asked. His answer is simple, and intriguing:

“The basic, circuitous answer to that loaded question is: I don't . . . Nope, I'm porn-free and I love it. After years of wanting so badly to stop, a quick rip of an ethernet plug was all it took.[5]

His solution for eliminating his pornography usage seems inanely simple, and yet has proved most effective. He found freedom by limiting his options.

Time is a limited and immeasurably precious resource, and our ability to use that time well will determine our productivity and societal usefulness. Productivity has little to do with the capability of the device, and everything to do with the discipline of the device’s user. The less disciplined the user, the more they will be distracted by multifunction devices. The more disciplined the user, the less need there will be to limit choice. As our phones, tablets and laptops shrink in size and bloat in capabilities, they demand more willpower of their users. Means have definitely improved but what about the ends? If they are to be protected, it will require a mature understanding of freedom and a willingness to limit technological options. 

In other words, buy a typewriter and a kindle.

R. Eric Tippin
In Semi-Sovereign State of Kansas
Last Spring 

[1]Guinness on the topic, "A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future," at Socrates in the City, NY, September 13, 2012.
[2] Henry David Thoreau, Walden, chapter 1, p. 67 (1966). Originally published in 1854.
[3] “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons”: An Empirical Study of Work Without Email, May, 2012
[4] Personal Interview, January 30, 2013 by R. Eric Tippin
[5] “Offline: How do You Look at Porn.” Miller, Paul. December 3, 2012


A Defense for Work

Yet at my devotion I love to use the civility of my knee, my hat, and hand, with all those outward and sensible motions, which may express, or promote my invisible devotion. -- Sir T. Browne

I here would like to give a mere post in defense of work. And I mean to defend just one type of work, that of education, for this is the type of work I do and love. But telling a soul that you read for your job on average about five hours a day generates an interesting response. Usually, people look as if you just told them you have three heads. This is nothing to the expression you receive when you tell people that you enjoy your work, that you actually ended Christmas break two weeks early so that you could get back to work, which I certainly did. But then we have not gone far enough. For not only do I read for approximately five hours a day to excel in my profession, not only do I enjoy  reading for hours on end, not only did I end Christmas break early, but I did so out of my own free will, because I wanted to.

When modernity runs towards a thing, the best thing to do is to run in the opposite direction. Thus, when more so-called developed countries tend toward shorter work weeks, one ought to institute longer work weeks. Thus, when these same countries plunge themselves over the anti-intellectual cliff of entertainment, one ought to indulge in less entertainment and develop their mind. Thus, when modernity is content and complacent with mere information, one ought to seek how to be a good thinker. Thus, when modernity tells me that the truly happy life is the one of ignorance and football, I will gladly disagree. For modernity is nearly always wrong, and if we hold this premise, it is best we do the opposite of wrong.

Samuel Johnson believed a poor education could be supplemented by reading for five hours a day for five years. Now, what can he mean by this but that by reading five hours a day we become much smaller? For all an education is is realizing how small one truly is. It ought to follow, though it often does not, that the more educated a man is, the smaller he becomes. The educated man has this advantage over the uneducated in that each time he picks up a book he realizes how little he actually knows. And when the book is finished, depending on its quality, he will feel even smaller. His tiny house will become a castle, his wife a queen, his small garden an orchard.

The uneducated man has one advantage in that he is often more likely to be small than his educated neighbor. It is far superior to live as if you are small without knowing exactly why than to know the specifics of your proportion and continue living in pride. But the uneducated man can only become small by way of feeling. He may look up at the stars each night and realize that he is quite small and feel it in his bones. He too feels as if his plot of land is a zoo, teeming with scores of mammoth-like creatures, though he merely feels this. For he cannot know that he is small as does the educated person. And it is best to use our knowledge to shape our actions for the better. The educated person meets individuals like Johnson or the Apostle Paul and feels very, very small. He reads Ecclesiastes and then attempts The City of God, and he feels smaller; he has not even made it out of the 5th century.

In this, I argue that a strict schedule of education should be sought by most individuals. For if used correctly, a man can quickly move from the center of the world to outside of it completely. We make a lot of much-a-do about children being "the center of their own universe" as if each child should see himself as the best and the brightest. We do not realize that the last place anyone would want to be is the center of the world. Better to be outside of it completely. Better to see the world as a universe than a mere globe, to see each tree as God's skyscrapers and elephants as his holy Trumpeters. It is best that the last thing we think about is ourselves. The soul finds more pleasure and excitement, wonder even, if a scarecrow is actually scary than if he is nothing but cotton and hay.

Modernity naturally has this all backwards as it does most everything else. Whereas the educated person should be the most humble, we cannot help but recognize that the intellectuals are often the ones sniffing the skies while the "average Joes" possess the ability to see outside themselves. It is true that "Average Joe" has always retained the ability to be humble; it has not always been true that the educated were such snobs. In fact, there was a time in which education was a means for worship, for wonder, for joy.

But today, an education -- and I speak of one in the humanities for example -- is not a means to see how big the universe is but to see how pointless and problematic the universe is. A man used to study Greek and wonder at the fact that people actually spoke Greek; now a man studies Greek and complains that the rain forests are being destroyed and that he's nothing but dust. We have not yet done away with the insatiable need for purpose or direction; we have certainly done away with any sense of meaning behind that purpose and direction, so that a man can plunge headlong into fighting for a cause he has no rational reason for believing, let alone caring for. It should matter, of course, that a task is pointless or that there are problems. It may be that studying Greek seems pointless when considering life and death; it may also be true that, despite the inevitability of death, Greek is still a language. One man lets the problem of mortality decide the meaning of his daily task, the other sees how his daily task gives his mortality meaning.

It is the very sense of lost wonder and fatalism that drives me to work. If we are left merely to ourselves, we will naturally tend toward the hellish vice of pride. We will live for ourselves because it is the self that is to be lauded above all else. "I am not the emperor of my house or my neighborhood; I am the emperor of the world, all must bow to me." An education does not solve this problem; it destroys it. If used correctly, an education can defeat pride in ways nothing else can outside of the Grace of our Lord. After my five hours or so of reading is done each day, there is a sense of pride that is felt for sure, but then I reflect on tomorrow. For tomorrow I will go back and read something new. I will not merely learn something new; I will learn something I have never even dreamed existed before. It is not enough to obtain facts and statistics; one should enter into life each morning longing to discover a new planet or finish another quest.

So tomorrow I will head off to work knowing full well that I will discover how little I know now.


Sam Snow (
Written in an apartment in shambles,
Manhattan, KS
8 January 2014

"Bearded Man Reading a Book"
Oil on Canvas, N.D.
Unknown Artist  


A Killjoy Christmas

A Carol for the Ironic Age

Captain Karl Killjoy gives a toast at the first annual Killjoy Christmas Convention:

I thank you all kindly for coming to the first annual Killjoy Christmas Convention. Now, you may ask me why we are meeting today, for we do not celebrate Christmas. Nor do we celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Krampus or Bodhi Day or Eid al-Adha or Winter Solstice or Festivus or, for that matter, anything. However, paradoxically, we do this day gather around and celebrate a life of non-celebration. In short, you are here today to praise a life devoted to nothing. Now, there are few of us gathered here today, and this puts us in the minority. We must counteract the overwhelmingly pious individuals around us who are so filled with joy during the Yuletide by deconstructing their joy, and what better piece of literature to do this to than the famous carol “Joy to the World”?   

I will now proceed through this piece verse by verse and explain what it truly means in a fashion only capable by the Killjoy Critic. To preface this interpretation, as it is now, the song functions primarily as a satirical work on colonization.  

“Joy to the World”

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;  
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,  
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

It is completely fair for us to read this first verse as a satire on colonization and empires. The speaker sarcastically compares a tyrant to a celestial being, something he does not truly believe in. That the “heart” has to prepare room for him is the obvious struggle between class warfare as the poor peasants must “make way for the king.” Thus, “heaven” (clearly not a real place) represents the mindless followers that the tyrant brings in with him as he conquers his new country, and “nature” obviously resembles the natives who are forced to sing his praises of conquest against their will. Repeating this three times is symbolic of the gradual transition the natives go through during the conquest. At first they are resistant, but they eventually give in as the the final line represents, for there is now more “heaven” than “nature” as “heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.”

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

This verse laments the tyrant’s impact on nature. Sarcastically depicted as a “Savior,” the speaker fully gathers all men, natives included, on his side and their songs are employed to further tyranize and oppress the natural world around them. The diction used here is that of land, conquered land: “fields,” “rocks”, hills,” “plains.” “Floods” is the beautiful imagery of what has happened to the lands. The floods come in and disrupt the rest of the land, bringing them along in their conquest, “repeating the sounding joy” as they further tyranize nature. This verse depicts how the conquest spreads to every nook and cranny of the conquered land.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Now this verse beautifully renders the satirical mode of the song, for ironically the tyrant brings nothing but sins and sorrows to the land he has conquered and everything he touches sprouts thorns, an indication that now nature itself has fully assimilated into his kingdom. In fact, his entire reign is a curse on everybody he comes into contact with, for while the speaker says “no more,” he actually means “forevermore.” Furthermore, the use of “flow” is also used wittily as “his blessings” naturally flow into curses, as everything he blesses turns into a curse. And the curse of his blessing is found everywhere.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Here we get the epic conclusion. While the tyrant does rule the world, he does so only with propaganda and judgment. In making the nations “prove,” he is necessarily imposing his own moral standard on them (“his righteousness”) for his own glory. The “wonders of his love” are the last satirical move in the song. The conquered people are so utterly confused at the tyrant’s persuasive speech and caring tone when he addresses the masses, that they truly “wonder” at this “love” that only leaves them burdened and broken.

Now that we have properly interpreted this song, we can appreciate that it is not actually bringing joy to the world but gloom to the inhabitants of conquered lands. Nothing is more depressing than knowing that your freedoms will be taken away, and this song catches that spirit.

I now give my rendition of this song.

“Gloom to the Lands.” A Killjoy Carol

Gloom to the Lands, tyrants are come!
Let earth despair and sigh
Let every heart prepare for gloom
And mothers and children cry
and mothers and children cry
and mothers, and mothers, and children cry

Gloom to the lands, the tyrants do reign.
As men the trees suppress
While limbs and trunks, leaves, fruits and veins
Repeat that men oppress
Repeat that men oppress
Repeat, repeat, that men oppress

Forever let sins and sorrows grow
And thorns infest the ground
He comes to cage and maim the crow
Far as the plants are bound
Far as the plants are  bound
Far as, far as, the plants are bound

He rules the world with ruth and fear
And makes the masses sad
With his moral standard’s dear
And judgment of what’s bad,
And judgment of what’s bad,
And judgment, and judgment, of what’s bad. 

Sam Snow (
Written in "The Catacombs"
Manhattan, KS
6 December 2013 

"Christmas Carol"
Oil on Panel, 1904
Robert W. Wright 


Whose Body (A Blurb)

A good book is worth reading posthaste, and a terrible book is hardly worth mentioning. Therefore, why all the hem-hawing over lengthy reviews? For the purpose of keeping them short and to the point, we submit our blurbs:






"The only thing this book lacked was first-person...and Jonathan Cecil...and clothing...and not much else." -P. Tippin






 Whose Body by Dorothy Sayers


Notes from Clear Creek Monastery

I have put off publishing these notes for a year, because I thought they might serve as the basis for some larger more formal work. That larger, more formal work has been summarily rejected by those who could potentially publish it, so I offer you my notes (in the raw, only slightly edited from the handwritten originals) from my visit to Clear Creek Monastery on November 3-4, 2012. The picture attached is the notebook that originally contained them. The other pictures attached are of the monastery, my room, and the path between the monastery and my room. These sketches are unpolished; my brain is unpolished. They read like a stream of loosely related thoughts; I live in a stream of unrelated thoughts. You want realist writing? Here it is. You want smooth prose? Beat it.

      Arrived at the monastery. The silence is incredible. No trains; no sirens; no cars roaring by; not even an animal sound. Maybe they respect the monks too. But even in the silence, my mind is running with endless changing and ridiculous images, words and songs with which I’ve filled it. That true silence, inner silence would take time. But the quiet is lovely. I slept like a workman. God has made all things good in their time and place. Praise be to Him.

            At 7:20 we walked the two miles to the monastery itself (later we found out about a shortcut). The sun was just coming up and the trees were every shade of orange and yellow. Death is never more beautiful than in the Fall. The Sun through bare branches made them look like the most substantive objects on earth—perfectly black. There were deer jumping across the road and a little breeze rustling the leaves. The air was cool and delightfully sharp as it should be on an autumn morning. I wish I knew the names of all the trees.

            The monastery is a work in progress, but complete enough to be grand and beautiful. It is all stone with round spiraling stairwells, pillars, courtyards, arches, stained glass and cupola windows letting in the morning light. I’m glad the monastery is still under construction. It gives a fresh, living feeling and even smell. Inside all his hushed. They talk quietly; they sing their Gregorian chants quietly; they move quietly; they open and close doors quietly but the quiet makes all other sounds ever so much more piquant. I hear every footfall, sniff, cough and rustle of clothes. The sounds of life are not drowned out here. Even as I write, back at my cell, the only sound is my pen scratching this page and my hand squeaking on the desk. I am noticeably calmer here, out of subconscious deference to my surroundings, no doubt.

            We ate a wonderful breakfast in silence with the monks: homemade bread and peanut butter, coffee, cold cereal, milk only a day or two out of the cow, jellies and apple butter. I remembered to thank the LORD for the meal; the silence made me enjoy it all the more. Again, the sounds of pouring coffee, peanut butter being spread and scraped onto bread, clinking plates, steps down the corridor and even chewing were noticeable and made the meal seem more real and nourishing. The monks were younger than I expected. Their heads were shaved and they looked, for the most part, pensive and grave. They ate standing. I hope the joy of the LORD tempers their obvious respect, reverence and fear for Him. They intimidated me at first—mostly their black robes that flowed and rustled terribly as they moved.

 In all this quiet, a sneeze is a significant event!


            The service (High Mass) was beautiful: incense, Gregorian singing in Latin, sunlight streaming through the windows revealed by the smoke of the incense and suspended dust particles—little planets in a sunbeam. The Kyrie was unearthly—or hyper-earthly (the earth as it should be, that is). Some might scoff and call it pageantry, but done with a heart of worship, all the ceremony is fitting, proper and worshipful. Protestants don’t always reverence God like this. Fear of pageantry and “show” has killed much of the beauty in worship.

            The monks, with their shaved heads, look extremely healthy, pale, but ruddy; not too skinny—never fat. They are models of balance and discipline—at least outwardly. Our little group seems unsettled, even frenzied in contrast. When it gets too quiet, we get restive and fidgety. Of course Luther could not find inner rest, even as a monk. Brother Lawrence did. These monks work eight hours, pray eight hours and rest eight hours—most likely the key to their health (spiritual too).

            I could write a whole page on the incense. What a shame the sense of smell is not exploited in most protestant worship! (I don’t use that exclamation point lightly) We use two senses (sight, hearing) but what about the others? (An exclamation point and a rhetorical question in one paragraph! What would Stuart Busenitz think? -ET) During mass I was surrounded, even overwhelmed with the worship. Had I understood the significance of all the gestures and smells and words, the effect would have been stunning.


            I’m sitting now in a courtyard of the monastery, wood fenced with clean-cut, thick grass, and one lonely small tree (someday to be a great oak). Past the fence, all that can be seen are deciduous trees crowning a little hill and looking more like a painting than any painting I have come across. I’m sitting in an archway at the edge of the courtyard—one of ten brick archways. Between it and the grass is a border of white pebbles and rocks, presumably a drainage buffer. The whole scene is presided over by a stolid, grave saint standing on his pedestal, unmoved by his surroundings. I can’t help but think he would be happier if he were in the sunlight with a bird perching on his head rather than supervising a brick causeway from a corner. But I probably shouldn’t move the statues . . .


            One wonderful thing about monasteries, and castles for that matter, is all the windows, line upon line of them. For where there are windows there are rooms, seemingly hundreds of them bustling with monastic activity—filled with relics or precious documents, translation work, barrels of monk made beer, crates piled cheese curds or prostrated, praying men—the bigger the monastery, the more mysterious and wonderful the thought of its rooms. They become less like rooms and more like caves to be searched and discovered. In a place this colossal, the chance of secret tunnels and rooms goes up exponentially!

Silence isn’t really silence after all;

It only hushes bigger voices so we can hear the small.

            The sacred and the secular are touching here. No calling church spiritual and a meal worldly. God is revered and thanked equally at both. There is only one thing lacking—mirth! Joy! Do the brothers ever laugh with happiness? I sure hope so (Not if they are taking their cues from this ever-serious statue). You might say he is serious as a statue.


            Lunch: Fish, local vegitables (green and yellow) a light bisque, homemade bread, bottled lemonade, creamed spinach sauce over cuscus, a green apple, a creamy spread over wheat or white bread slices, coffee and water. We ate in silence and chanted a Latin prayer (bowing at intervals) before and after the repast. The food was filling and satisfying.

            I saw joy on a monk’s face this afternoon. We were working in the woods around the abbey, and the monk assigned to us was all kind smiles and cheerful words. He seemed genuinely happy. What a relief! The number one enemy of contentment in a monastery would be curiosity . . . though that may be the number one enemy of contentment. (Period) Or at least number two.

            These monks really do have a splendid life here, but I’m worried they have no way of knowing that, having nothing to which they can compare their lives. Curiosity could kill the monk.

            The trouble with being fashionable in a monastery is finding someone to notice.

            Eating in silence makes the fare something for which you want to give thanks. It focuses your gratefulness on the fruits of the earth and the stunning variety of the produce to be had by the industrious. A good or bad meal can encapsulate the character of a country, city or even house. The meals here—with all their home-grown goodness—silently sing God’s praises and embody the work of the men eating them.


I sure do like my little cell here. No clutter!


A modest simple room with little in it’s all I need.

A desk, a chair, a bed, a lamp, a sink will do indeed.

But now I see I’ve left out something vital to the place,

My wife, my love must be there—with a smile upon her face.


            (Sunday) Breakfast was the same as it was yesterday: bread (wheat and white) with jams and homemade peanut butter, cold cereal, coffee poured from large tin pots and unpasteurized milk in sweating tin jugs. Supper last night was much like lunch—silence, but with  a monk reading from “spiritual” literature, all in chant. There was lemonade, a bisque, pasta covered in monk-made gouda cheese, fresh bread, water in glazed clay jugs, and a bread pudding served with applesauce.

       The monks have a brewer. Sadly, I have neither seen nor tasted the fruits of his noble labor. I’ll have to look into that.

            This monastery is much like an empire—large, multifaceted, full of produce and varied labor, mostly self-sustaining and fiercely proud of itself (in a good way). They make gouda cheese, wine, beer, peanut butter, raise cattle and sheep; have large gardens for fresh vegetables. There are monks who paint, write, forge metal sculpt, garden, serve guests and dig ditches. It is like being in a one thousand acre city-state of seventeenth century Germany. They care little for Washington politics (as far as I can tell) because they have no need for most of what Washington has to offer, outside of defense and liberty to function as they wish. This empire in the mini, committed to prayer, is the foundation of every local church whether they acknowledge these monks as Christian brothers or not. What a comfort and solace to know these men are constantly praying for believers throughout Christendom.

            One more high mass, another service, lunch and off to Kansas and all the noise.


R. Eric Tippin
November 3-4, 2012
Clear Creek Monastery, Oklahoma