How To Fix Our Culture in Forty Years

American culture is broken, and badly. It’s broken to the point where there’s a civil war going on – thankfully, still at the “civil” part, mostly – and that civil war is going to break the national identity and bring chaos into America, first, and spread to the rest of the world, to humanity’s detriment.

The war is not between blue and red, between Democrats and Republicans. Those poor souls arguing back and forth are victims of the war, not combatants.

The war is between reason and irrationality.

The Democrats and Republicans are both largely on the side of irrationality. “Why do they fight, then?,” you ask. It’s because that’s what irrationality dictates, of course. There is no reason, there’s only the pursuit of power; there is no consistency, there’s only perspective guided by the moment.

It’s how the Democrats can howl at a Donald Trump for being a sexist pig, ignoring that they championed Bill Clinton. Why not sacrifice a few of our uglier sisters, after all, if it helps elect Bill Clinton instead of someone from the other team?

It’s how the Republicans can screech at a faithless Joe Biden, ignoring that they held up Donald Trump as the “champion of Christendom” while he proudly claimed that he’d never repented, never asked for forgiveness, because he’d… you know, never done anything to repent of. It’s not an understatement to suggest that Trump should have been the exact opposite of what Republicans should have been supporting.

To be fair, pragmatism sets in: you endure the warts of “your guy,” whether those warts are physical flaws (which are easy to look past but less easy in the television age than it should be), or flaws in presentation (like being a poor speaker, like Nixon or Bush or Biden or, for that matter, Trump), or more serious issues… like philosophy (Obama’s, or Harris’, willful ignorance of the Constitution) and actual moral failings (aaaaand we cycle back to Trump).

You endure those warts because you’d rather your ideas have proponents in power, as opposed to the “other side’s” ideas. If the other side is wrong, and all you have to do is suffer a blow to your conscience to do “right,” well, there you are: you’re an evangelical supporting Trump, for example, or a true and genuine feminist deciding that twelve women being abused by Clinton was an acceptable cost.

For example.

The Actual Combatants

The real war, as stated, isn’t between those poor sad sacks using incredibly flawed beings as the avatars for their political parties.

The war is between postmodernism and pretty much any other philosophy.

Postmodernism is a relatively recent branch of philosophy in human history; it started in the late 1800s but really took off in the 1960s… in America. In Europe it underpinned a lot of subversive political approaches, like Marxism.

Some of the questions of postmodernism are actually pretty understandable, even from a rational perspective: Is there a way to understand truly objectively? Is there an axiom or set of axioms that can be derived purely from reason? Can we actually know something that doesn’t rely on prior knowledge?

It’s a little like a problem dictionaries have: can you define a word without using the word itself in the definition? That kind of self-reference is a “tautology,” like saying “a pizza is pizza-shaped,” and if your dictionary uses those, it’s not a good dictionary.

What postmodernism does, then, is ask – seriously – what knowledge we actually know, if we take our ability to observe out of the picture. What knowledge is axiomatic? Is there anything?

Let’s be clear, too: these questions are absolutely worth asking. I have no issue with exploring to the edge of the envelope.

The problem is that these questions are barbed. Asking questions like this is fine as long as you can ask without having to be fully committed: you have to be able to accept negative responses.

And that’s really the problem: postmodernism asked questions about the boundaries of human knowledge, and since humans are the ones asking about removing humans from the questions… the questions end up being unable to be answered by humans.

This is important: given that humans are asking the questions, there is no human knowledge that exists without humans.

Thus, postmodernism manages to destroy the concept of the “knowable,” in an attempt to find the boundaries of knowledge. Just like the opposite of an atom’s existence is its nonexistence, postmodernism destroys the idea of anything being concrete.

Postmodernism’s god is irrationality. It has no other choice. To assert reason is to assert the knowable, and the knowable is exactly what postmodernism destroys in its own definition.

When reason flees, mayhem rules. Dogs lie down with cats. Frogs fall from the sky. I watch “The Bachelor.” Republicans support Donald Trump, a lifelong Democrat, and Democrats support Kamala Harris for the position one heartbeat from the Presidency, when she couldn’t even get her campaign to survive to the first Democratic caucuses… and Biden accuses the Ukraine of corruption.

Remember, Donald Trump got impeached for talking to the Ukraine about corruption. It’s not quite the same circumstance – Trump implied that there was a quid pro quo that benefited his campaign, and I’m not sure Biden’s cognitive facilities would even allow him to think about that even if he wanted to – but it’s still rather ironic.

The Solution

I’m (hopefully) rather clearly on the side of reason. I don’t care what actual philosophy dominates the lives of others, really, with one exception: I reject postmodernism.

I have no problem with what you, or with what anyone else, believes – as long as it’s something, which is something postmodernism wouldn’t allow.

As soon as you say two and five is seven, you’ve made an assertion incompatible with postmodernism.

My thought is that we could fix American culture relatively easily, but it’d take time, because of the hold that postmodernism already has.

But it can be done.

My Plan

My plan would be to vet every teacher at every educational level. College, high school, primary, kindergarten, every person given the authority to teach our young people.

The vetting would be a litmus test. You’d first ask about postmodern philosophy and its implications: “how does one know that two and four are six?” and “how do you define ‘green?'”, progressing through the basics until a simple question of whether the teacher agrees with postmodernism or not.

If the questions indicate that the real answer to that final question should be “yes” – after all, they might believe postmodernism lock, stock, and barrel without calling it postmodernism – then we gently remove them from their role and put them somewhere where they can cause no harm.

Perhaps we put all of them together on a farm, where they can learn a useful skill other than wrecking our youth. They can even feed themselves on that farm, which would have the secondary benefit of instructing them rather definitively on the errors of asserting that knowledge doesn’t exist: they’d either learn that it does (and thrive) or die from starvation because all their wishes and hopes and dreams won’t help them grow anything.

Every teacher would be vetted like this, and they should be! After all, their job and function is to impart knowledge to future generations, and if they believe that knowledge does not exist, how can they possibly fulfill their role?

It would take a while to really have an effect; after all, we have had sixty years of postmodernism in America, and the last fifteen years have shown us a cruel philosophy taking root at every societal level. We’d have to endure the momentum we’ve already ceded, and fight it daily.

But if we want to survive as a country, and as a species, we’d better get to it.

And fast.

Fiction: Unmoored

I liked watching the planes fly.

They just seemed so magical, like they were suspended by wires nobody could see, even though I knew the magic was called “physics.” At first I imagined them held up by the wires, then held down by the wires, like their natural expression was to be set free, to fly away somewhere unknown.

They weren’t magic. They were machines, fueled by chemistry and economics.

I fixed it. I figured out a way to correct quantum entanglement and superposition. Apply a magnetic field at the right position and the right frequency, and you could reliably determine the position of an electron at any given moment.

It was an accident. But it opened up quantum computing, as a first outcome, and then a mere two and a half years later, we created a balance of a milligram of lead. One moment it was in our offices at 306 Apple, and thirty minutes later room 201 was staring, unbelieving, at a block of grey metal that had been three city blocks away.

A year later, we’d sent an amoeba, and stared with wonder and not a small amount of fear as it swam uncaring, under a microscope. My team and I had created not only a reliable way to know the universe in a way Heisenberg had dreamed of and denied, but we’d created a workable transportation device. Alan, the youngest member of the team, was always making whining noises that he imagined invoked the old Star Trek TV shows, even though we shushed him to try to respect the moment.

At first it was prohibitively expensive, because nobody trusted the technology – it was like magic, you know? First something is here, then it’s there, and all it took was synchronized quanta. They didn’t understand that the quanta defined everything, that the synchronization was the key that unlocked the door.

The question was asked: What was the door? Oh, it was nearly everything, as it turned out. If you could predict the quantum reaction, you could manipulate it. A cardinal was shocked as we sent a pound of lead into the system, and out came a pound of gold. For us it was almost a joke, because at the quantum level we merely adjusted and filtered, tweaked and nudged.

With the quantum computers unlocked, we could fix DNA. A child with a genetic defect came to us; we knew it was the AC4E receptors that would kill her before she saw her first birthday. But we’d sent nemotodes through, and even a kitten, and I will remember the kitten’s stare for the rest of my life as it tasted sweetness for its species for the first time in a thousand generations.

The child was a risk, but the child was dead without extreme measures. We programmed the computers, and sent the child through a replica of the first transporter, from 306 Apple to 201. Alexa drank water without vomiting for the first time that day… and would never suffer from her genetic anomaly again.

The key to human health had been found, and all it took was the desire to communicate over distances.

It unlocked planetary travel: we sent an unmanned lander with synchronized quanta to Titan, and four days later heavily suited humans walked on the surface of a moon nobody would have imagined traveling to in their lifetimes: one hour they were on Earth, the next, walking on a crust of methane on an impossibly hostile world. And seven days later, they were back home, stunned at the import of what they’d done, but safe and sound.

And the planes disappeared from the sky.

The wires that held them up still existed, but were unused, unneeded. And I found that they were more than mass transit, more than here to there, more than noise, more than movement: they were what had kept me alive.

Everything exists.

One of the things I’ve had to learn over time – and that I’ve learned poorly, I should add – is that everything, everything, exists.

It might not exist in the sense of being real, I suppose; it might exist only in the imagination. It might not even exist in the “real world” in the sense that you think of it – I might think of the ball being red, but it’s actually blue when it’s on the floor. Yet the red ball exists, along with the blue ball; one is my concept, the other is the reality.

It’s not that everything that exists is also real, if you define real as being concretely realized.

What got me thinking about this was my introversion and my learned responses to it.

I’m in a number of small communities, loosely associated by interest. This one’s about programming, that one’s about politics, this one’s psychology, that one’s science, this one’s religion, that one’s writing.

I’m in a lot of communities, for someone as introverted as I am, I think.

But what I’ve noticed is that as I’ve become more… normalized in these communities, based on their acceptance of me and my quirks and how much I decide to trust them, I actually end up trying to “show up,” manifested as what I think is an overreaction to my own introversion.

I try to respond to whatever there is to respond to, to show that someone’s listening, someone’s caring, someone’s there.

It creates a massive burden on me, because I end up feeling responsible for a response even when someone else listens, or cares, or whatever. I feel like if I don’t respond like I would if no-one else was around, then I’m sending a signal that I don’t care when I certainly still do.

(I pay attention to the maxim to be who you are as if no-one else was looking.)

But… the thing is, people exist in a continuum without me. If they never knew I existed, their lives would be just as full; I am not arrogant enough to think that their lives are somehow more complete because I am there. I try to contribute, sure; I try to leave their lives littered with whatever benefits I can grant, but to say that their lives were less before I entered… no.

It’s very much a struggle for me, to let go, even though I desperately want to. This impulse is who I am, certainly, but it’s from the Sitra Achra, the other side, and does no-one any good; I may not be God’s gift to humanity, but everyone is God’s gift to each other, and I have a responsibility to try to bring good into the world.

And at some point I need to find a balance where I am able to acknowledge that existence exists, and I am part of it, and it’s okay.

Migrating WordPress to a New Server

I recently set up a new VPS, because there was a sale on an instance large enough to serve my needs (and then some) at a price point that I couldn’t ignore.

My old host was RamNode, and make no mistake, I’ve never ever had any qualms with RamNode – the customer service has always been above and beyond. If I was running a business on a VPS, I’d be quite comfortable using RamNode.

But I’m… not running a business. I host a few blogs, connect to IRC remotely, do some programming tests and things like that. I want a lot of reliability, to be sure, but my needs are really pretty light; I could probably get by with a small Linux box (maybe even a Raspberry Pi) on my home network, if I didn’t live in the boonies on a trunk that’s already saturated with my neighbors’ traffic.

So I’m migrating to SSDNodes. They were running a sale, like I said in the first paragraph, and how could I resist that?

That left actually migrating a few sites. The first site I migrated was AutumnCode, which is my actual primary domain. But that’s effectively a static site, and served mostly to confirm that I had nginx set up properly.

That left migration of the WordPress sites.

I’m a simple man; I actually set up each site to run on its own database, even though I could get by with a multisite configuration, so I needed to migrate each one separately (which served my purposes anyway; I could migrate the less important sites and validate that the migration worked, and work my way up to the “more important” sites, like the one you’re reading right now).

So first I backed up my NGinx configuration and my LetsEncrypt directory, as a whole. I then pushed all of those configurations to the new server.

I could have used the WordPress backup mechanism to move sites, I suppose, but I have some sites with a lot of media (images, etc.), plus that felt like a lot of work. What I ended up finding was a WordPress plugin, called Duplicator Pro. There’s a free version (Duplicator!) and it … works, but there are constraints for it.

Duplicator Pro was worth it, though. I got the cheapest version, because you can enable it and disable it per site.

It’s really easy to use. After installation and registration with a key, you create a “package” for a given site. A package consists of an archive (either a zip or a daf file) and an installer.php file.

You download those two files and store them. Then you create a database and a user for the site on the target system.

Next, you set up resolution so that you can refer to the new server by name – for me, that meant going to my desktop computer’s /etc/hosts file and adding an IP and a name. This means that the old server still works for anyone else on the Internet, but that I can work on the new server to install everything I need on it.

Now there’s some relatively easy work to do – copy the NGinx configuration file for the site into place (normally /etc/nginx/available-sites) and create a softlink in /etc/nginx/enabled-sites, along with making sure the directories for the sites exist. Then copy the package files into the HTML directory for the site.

After the directories are set up, restart NGinx.

You now actually have a “working site” although there’s nothing there that should be publicly available; installer.php might be (if you named it that, and I didn’t) but nobody else knows about it yet because the DNS records are still pointing to your old server. The only way someone else would reasonably hijack the process at this point is if they, too, had a custom name resolution set up with your server name and IP.

At this point, it’s all downhill. Open up the installer file’s name, whatever it is, and fill in the database credentials, and sit back and wait; Duplicator Pro replicates all of the old data and the entire filesystem of the WordPress installation from which you created the package.

It then asks you to log in as an administrator, and gives you an easy one-click process to delete the package’s files (which leaves you with a handy clean installation of your original WordPress installation).

At this point, all you have left to do – after clicking around in the new instance just to make sure things look right, and they should – is change the actual DNS records to point to the new host IP.

Don’t forget to change the A record (the IPv4 address) and the AAAA record (the IPv6 address).

After that, it’s a waiting game; normally DNS lookups are cached for an hour, so even if someone’s using your site actively, after an hour they’ll be using your new WordPress installation. They may have to log back in (if they’re logged in, of course) but that’d be the extent of the migration from their perspective (unless, of course, they added content while you were doing the migration; that content would be lost unless you do another backup and import.)

Really, a marvelously painless process.