A first attempt at using WordPress for microblogging

Larry Sanger

Here is the brand spanking new Larry Sanger Microblog, which lives at a domain I had sitting around doing nothing: StartThis.org. As you’ll see, it looks a little like a social media feed. I simply downloaded a theme, then spent the day fixing it up so it looked more or less right like a microblog. I limit myself to 280 characters. That helps.

Microdog

You can comment in response, if you like. Try to keep your responses to 280 characters!

I am soon going to start working with a developer on a proper WordPress plugin for microposting. But this will probably take several weeks (so he says). Therefore, in the meantime, I thought I’d go ahead and just use WordPress like a social media site.

I am hosting the microblog on my own NAS, which means the microposts are being served right out of my office. Talk about owning your own data! And an especially cool thing, I guess, is that it works fine, it was not hard to install and configure (on Synology, anyway), and—if you can believe it—it’s not slow!

Larry Sanger
I am testing out using Quill to post to my blog…and other things maybe.

What Decentralization is Going to Require

Larry Sanger

Decentralization. It’s not just a hip happnin’ buzzword. And it’s not just for blockchain. It has been important, and it always has been—I was using it back in 2005 to describe the early Wikipedia—because it uses technology to guarantee, or at least safeguard, freedom. It removes control of public conversations from the hands of would-be overseers of the digital plantations.

Here are the principles that “decentralization” encodes:

  1. Self-ownership. Each user owns his own identity in the network.
  2. Data ownership. You own your own data; you control your own data, within the bounds of controlling law.
  3. Platform-independent following. You control your friend/follower list independently of all platforms. Hence, once a friend follows you on one platform, he should follow you forever everywhere until he unfollows you or you block him (or there is a lawful government order compelling a change).
  4. Platform-agnostic posting. Posting on one platform means posting the same thing on all platforms that are part of one big decentralized network.
  5. Decentralized moderation. Content moderation, which is ultimately an absolute requirement, cannot be performed by a single, central, controlling body or system, providing identical outcomes. So it, too, must be decentralized.
  6. Single conversation. Therefore, there is one giant integrated conversation, but parts of are not shown to people who don’t want to see it (or in places it’s literally illegal). Of course, it is still legal for people to run closed, walled gardens; but they’re not for general broadcast.
  7. Anti-monopoly. Therefore, also, no corporation has anything like a monopoly over the means of social media broadcasting, as at present.

There are several requirements that, I believe, are absolutely required of the alternative social media platforms to satisfy these principles:

  1. User exportability. Platforms should permit users to export a complete and unadulterated copy of their user data from the platform and host it elsewhere. Moreover, public user data that is edited by the user in one place must be brought current with all other copies made elsewhere as well, in a timely fashion.
  2. Data exportability. The user’s data must be easily exportable in a common, easily machine-readable format, according to a widely-used standard. This is an absolute minimum. Not many actually support this yet. This isn’t enough, though, because you need to be able to export your followers, too, and to do that:
  3. Interoperability. The social media platform must be made as interoperable as possible (at the user’s option). So I should be able to subscribe and follow someone who is posting on his own blog, or Mastodon, or Gab, or Parler. I should be able to post and read from any of these networks, and the data should appear in a timely fashion in all the rest.
  4. Data inalienability. If the user’s data is not actually served from outside of a platform—which should be possible—then it is treated by the platform as if it were. The platform is merely holding the data on behalf of the user, as a service. The platform must not treat the data as “theirs.” This is still a rather vague requirement, but it has specific consequences. One of them would be that the platform is absolutely not permitted to delete or edit a post from your data, although they can of course opt not to post it on the platform. Twitter and Facebook violate this principle when they fail to retain copies of posts that they delete.

Those are things I feel confident of, as a bare minimum. There are other things that really also need to be part of it, I suspect:

  1. Moderation. Individual users, or whole platforms (if users should wish to use them), should be able to select their own moderators. Moderation data, or metadata—such as that a certain user should be blocked, or that a certain post should be hidden or flagged in some way—should be shared in a way similar to how the user data and content itself is served (so, across the network in a decentralized way), and independently of the user’s canonical copy of the data.
  2. Text representation. The user’s public data must be syndicated in a lo-tech text-based (more human-friendly) format such as JSON or XML, even if they have an API (maybe I don’t want to be forced to use their API, maybe because it’s too restrictive). The purpose of this is to enable the user to more easily exert control over the source or original version of his own tweets. This text stream, if it still exists and the author’s control can be proven, becomes the user’s personal assertion or attestation as to how the state of his personal feed should be represented; this human-friendly data representation of the content becomes the controlling, “canonical” version of the data. No other representation, in no other data medium (blockchain, IPFS, bittorrent, or otherwise), is to be regarded legally or operationally as “the canonical version.”
  3. Permanence (or uncensorability). By network policy, the user’s public data must also be able to be made available forever (so a particular platform couldn’t delete it on behalf of everyone else, even if they wanted to) via bittorrent or IPFS or the like. Maybe the blockchain is OK, but frankly due to the financial complexities involved in blockchain, I don’t trust blockchains as bittorrent-type “decentralized public cloud” storage.

Something like that. This is not a complete set of “decentralization requirements.” It is merely an attempt to articulate some of the basic requirements, including many that current attempts at decentralization have failed to deliver on.

If you put all such things together, then you’ve operationalized the vague principles of decentralization for social media. The more that existing social media platforms actually implement these features, the more social media will actually be decentralized.

We Want to Pay for a Good, Functioning WordPress Microposting Plugin

Larry Sanger

Skip down to the plugin requirements section

We are deeply upset at Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and all the rest. Blocking President Trump from these giant corporate networks was just the last straw. Most of us already loathed these corporations for their violations of our basic digital rights (laid out here: Declaration of Digital Independence), but this?

This crosses the line.

For many of us, banning Trump (and many of his defenders) means we refuse to participate on their networks anymore. We’re running for the exits. We have to replace them now.

It’s urgent.

Background

There’s a problem with the alternatives. The problem of course, is that there are a lot of them, and more arriving all the time. You might think, “Sure, and one will eventually win out. So let’s just move out and may the best platform win.” This is a mistake. Look, think about what gave the Facebooks of the world their power. It was precisely the fact that people went to the biggest platform…because that’s where the biggest group of friends, or the biggest audience, or whatever, would be. They seemed OK because they talked a lot about how they stood for free speech. They didn’t mean it. And here we are.

Genuinely decentralized networks can’t by censored. Here’s how the Internet used to work until 2005-ish: you wanted to connect to a network like email, or the WWW (Web sites), Usenet, or FTP, or whatever. So, first, you downloaded a client, a piece of software that connects you to that network. The client speaks to the network through a special technical protocols. Nobody is in charge of the whole network. There is an organization that defines the protocol, sure, but they don’t rule the network. The network has no leader, no center.

The Internet still works that way in parts. We still use browsers to connect to the web; we can still use email clients to connect to email. But today, instead of a client using technical protocols to connect people together for microposting, everyone uses Twitter. Instead of a client running social media protocols, people use Facebook. And so forth. Websites that run their own proprietary networks are “platforms.” And you can be shut out of these platforms. This gives Twitter and Facebook massive power. They run what always should have been a neutral network. Absolutely nobody deserves that much power!

Questions and answers

So why replace censorious platforms with…new platforms? Why not replace them with good old-fashioned neutral, decentralized networks? There should be a microposting network, and a video network, and an image network, and a social media (Facebook-style) network. I would also add: an encyclopedia network.

Decentralization”…I’ve heard of that. This is just blockchain, right? Not necessarily. That’s what the blockchain crowd wants you to think, but blockchains are just one kind of decentralization. The problem with blockchains is that they mostly incorporate coins, which means whether content gets into them can usually be determined, in one way or another, by who owns some coins. That means that “whales,” or people with a lot of coins, can control the network. That’s not decentralized. That centralizes power in the hands of a few individuals. The whole idea of decentralization is to eliminate any control of the network.

What’s wrong with just using Parler and Rumble, again? If you’re still asking that, then you missed the point earlier. This is important: we should never trust proprietary platforms again. If Parler and Rumble become the new Twitter and YouTube, it doesn’t matter what they say about how open they are, or how committed they are to freedom of speech. You simply have to trust them. That is what got us into this mess in the first place, back in 2005. Let’s not repeat the mistake.

So…what do we do? Here’s the deal. A lot of people are now working on this problem. Massive amounts of money are going to be thrown at it. I’ve spoken to at least three billionaires in the last 24 hours about this stuff, and they’re all motivated to open their pocketbooks. And that’s all in addition to the existing networks, some of which are growing very fast. So if you ask, “What should we do?” my response is: “You mean, in addition to all these other things, that other people are doing?”

What do you want to do? Quite a few people have been asking me this, and generally, I point them to things I’ve written before, such as this, this, and this. Those document lay out some of the requirements and principles behind a properly decentralized social media network, one that preserves freedom in the way the rest of the Internet does (well—I fear we’ll soon be seeing just how well it stands up to concerted attack).

Naturally, most people with money look at censorship on the march as a big money-making opportunity. I look at it as an existential threat to my country and a brutal attack on my principles. I have never been involved in Internet projects for money alone; I always just wanted to do the right thing in the right way, money be damned.

Wait, so what is “the wrong thing” that people are doing? There are several things:

  • Blockchain: Some startups aren’t even seriously trying to be a good decentralized, free speech social network. A lot of blockchain “social media” projects are sold as “decentralized” (because they’re on a blockchain! That makes them decentralized, man!), but they aren’t really decentralized, because a few people are in control of the chain, there’s one client (a website and/or app), and basically it works like a regular website…built on a blockchain. Who cares? Minds.com is probably the closest we have to a fairly successful and growing site that is committed to free speech and open source, which does use blockchain; but I don’t think it’s quite fully decentralized yet.
  • Conservative social media: Some startups are devoted to free speech, but not decentralization. This is true of Parler and Rumble. They’re OK. But they’re platforms. They can and probably will eventually be compromised. We want to solve the problem, not just kick the can down the road. See “What’s wrong with just using Parler and Rumble, again?” above.
  • Federated networks: Some projects are pretty good at decentralization, but they are hard to use, or aren’t so keen on free speech. This is true of the Fediverse, meaning the projects built using the ActivityPub protocol, such as Mastodon, and also true of Diaspora. When Gab switched to ActivityPub, Mastodon and many others blocked them. This goes to show you that what we really need is not a federated network, but a genuine P2P network, so I can connect to the network to my own little client (which might be a website only I use, or a client app). There is also a big problem on some of these sorts of projects with child pornography and Nazis (or people impersonating them, which I personally think is just as likely). The latter has actually been Gab’s big problem.
  • Totally peer-to-peer networks: There is one small, hard-to-use app, Scuttlebutt, that is totally decentralized. There are others, and I’d like to know about them, but they seem to be small in adoption and in a very early stage of development (so, hard to use and not very good yet).

Can you just summarize what you want? Sure. I explained it before, but let me explain it again in another way. It isn’t that complicated:

  1. Client: I want an easy-to-use, well-designed, fast, modern client. Not an account on a website. No. A client. Not a website on which I make an account. The client could take the form of a browser plugin, a WordPress plugin, a stand-alone website, a hosted solution (where you save your own space, like on WordPress.com), a mobile client app, or even a desktop app.
  2. Similar UX to Twitter: The client allows me to publish to the network and view posts from the network. In other words, my experience as I use the client will be similar to my experience on Twitter: I can follow people, view my feed, like and share posts, etc.
  3. Direct or transparent connections to people: The client basically connects me to…other people. Or to their clients. Possibly with an aggregator intermediary, which stays out of the way. There is nobody who owns the whole network or has any special financial interest in the network. I am connected to people, not accounts on a website. It’s like email: I have a bunch of family, friends, and colleagues, and I have their email addresses, and I see the stuff they send me. Similarly, an unbranded social media network would let me specify the people I follow, and it goes and grabs their posts for me (somehow; see next point) and shows them to me all in a feed. Great.
  4. Aggregator: There are various different aggregators that prepare our feeds for us. If you’re following a thousand people, or if you have a million people following you, your client cannot by itself easily fetch, or send, all the necessary updates regularly for that many people. This is purely technical work that needs to be done as a service for you. So maybe you subscribe to a service. Maybe your university or corporation or ISP runs one. Maybe you just connect to one. It might cost a few dollars a month. It would be money well spent.

Here is the idea that inspires me, that I want to shout out to the world:

If you already have a standardized place—your blog or web space—then isn’t that where you should be able to do your microposting? After all, you should own your own data; so why not there? There’s no better place.

And then it is just a matter of figuring out how to syndicate it and display it in feeds of followers. Just using RSS to begin with would be absolutely fine. Then gradually add support for the other features such as sharing, upvoting, and threading, which Twitter offers, perhaps via a more strictly P2P extension of ActivityPub.

Requirements for a microblogging plugin

I’ve been in discussions with one particular investor and philanthropist, Futo.org, who wants to fund one or more OSS projects that will do 1-4 from the latter list. Basically, he’s willing to put up money for an open source client and also behind an open source aggregator service.

Something like $5,000 for the following is proposed. We’d like to hear from you first, about whether this is fair or not. Let’s talk before you start work. We want it to be very, very solid, beautifully designed, well-documented, easily maintainable, and 100% bug-free.

Let’s begin very simple, with a bare-bones microblogging plugin. And while it will be very simple, it will be 100% modern and awesome, with all the UX features users would expect.

Basic requirements:

  1. We want to build a (to begin with) simple WordPress plugin. It would be acceptable to fork the existing “Simple Microblogging” plugin, although that needs a lot of work. Have a look at startthis.org/ to get a noti…. This would help blog readers to know which RSS feeds to represent as micropost feeds, which would require special handling.
  2. Create RSS output on a subpage. If the human-readable micropost feed appears at mydomain.com/micro/ then the RSS for the feed should appear at mydomain.com/micro/rss . Maybe even better, because shorter: mydomain.com/m/rss .
  3. Nice-to-have, not required yet (requirements available on request):
    • Editing (in place; not in a modal, unless you think that’s actually more modern…? I wouldn’t think so). If this is particularly easy, please do it.
    • Basic search. Results page paginated as necessary. As I think this is built into WordPress, please do this if it isn’t too much trouble.
    • Add a sidebar (for wide screens)/hamburger menu (for narrow ones) containing monthly-sorted archive. Archive pagination = 30 per page. Is going to be high priority soon.
    • Twitter importer. Input: a Twitter archive file. Output: all your old tweets, available on your blog in this format. This would make the plugin into truly a killer app and would guarantee explosive growth. Might already exist.
    • Page reader. Another page…or maybe the same page…which allows you to subscribe to feeds. Ultimately the posts themselves should probably have @username functionality (see ActivityPub).
    • User profile page, linked from the microblog home page as well as each user post. Data drawn from the WordPress blog.

General design/presentation layer requirements:

  1. There are a lot of design-related requirements above, so have a look.
  2. A minimalistic sort of project branding exercise. It needs a name. I don’t care what it’s called or about colors (nothing surprising or garish) or fonts (default = sans serif of course). I leave that hard part up to real designers, but we do need to do a name and branding elements. We want to convey a feeling of fun, ease-of-use, and independence.
  3. Both light and dark themes/skins available, as on Twitter.
  4. Generally, the main landing page will have a look and feel like Twitter. It should not be identical, for the simple reason that we don’t want to run into legal issues.
  5. Header requirements:
    • When a user is not logged in, the front page of the website should have a banner image and circular icon, as on both Twitter and Facebook.
    • When logged in, do not display the banner image. Basically, I see little need for a header at all when you’re logged in.
    • Menu items go above Archive on the right side of the sidebar.

What else, folks? Comments, please.

Realistically, why think this will solve anything?

There is an interesting answer to this.

First of all, if we’re serious about people owning their own identity and data, we can do a lot worse than building on top of the personalized web presence they already own—either their own domain, or at least a blog or website, the data of which they own in a portable format. A lot of people have WordPress sites; for those who don’t, it is very easy to install a hosted blog that includes the ability to add plugins. Something like 35% of websites online are WordPress sites. Like 400 million websites. The “killer” feature of WordPress is its decent (if bewhiskered) server, the power of which is increased by a zillion plugins. Also, it’s free and open source. And you can easily move your data around. And lots of people know how to work with WordPress sites (whether they want to is another matter).

So here’s the deal. All those WordPress sites, every one of them, could become a social media account in which the user owns, controls, and syndicates his own data. How freaking cool is that? Speaking of syndication, that’s a feature of WordPress sites that’s a killer: RSS and Atom are built in. So you could build a social media protocol on top of those protocols. Why not? And there’s another killer relevant feature: that protocol is already massively in use, already supported by many feed and news readers, and already decentralized. All we have to do is build on top of it.

So…why not just use blogging, even as it is right now, in a new “short message, social media” sort of way? Because, of course, the medium drives how people use the tool. We need to make it more like social media:

  • Adding a new micropost needs to be dead simple. Even simpler than writing a new WordPress post. As simple as posting on Twitter.
  • Text has to be artificially limited. You can’t let them go on and on, or they’re not microblogging anymore.
  • The look-and-feel has to be just like “social media” (Twitter and its imitators), not like a blog.

And those are just what the above starts to work on.

Here’s the dream—because we don’t have an interesting dream, what’s the point? It goes like this.

People learn that there’s a new Twitter-like plugin for WordPress. They tell each other, “Did you know that you can just tweet from your blog…and then you own and control your own tweets? Why didn’t anybody ever think of this before?” (Never mind that they did, a long time ago, but it didn’t really catch on or develop because some people didn’t care enough about decentralization and owning your own data, while other people didn’t care enough about writing easy-to-use software for non-geeks.) So people start installing the plugin. They share the location of each other’s feeds, use feed readers, and have an experience that is actually a bit like Twitter…but one that is totally their own and totally decentralized.

At first, people just use Feedly to follow the micropost feeds of friends. But, because of the brisk adoption rate of the plugin, new features are rapidly added. The all-important “dedicated microfeed reader” feature is added, so now you can see not just your tweets, but the tweets of your friends. Someone creates a registry of all known WordPress Microblogs. So you can search through those and find old friends and new. You can also add your friends’ feeds directly. Someone else creates a chat feature, so that, while you can’t tweet in response, you can treat somebody else’s top-level thread as the first. The original poster is given the right to delete and instaban (from the tweet) anyone who is difficult. Another feature quickly added is the “quote retweet.”

Then someone decides to hook up WordPress microblogs with the Fediverse, and various blockchain networks, etc. Suddenly, this becomes the standard: when you offload your content from some other content into your microblog…that, being totally, 100% owned and controlled by you, becomes the “true home” of your social media content. And the RSS is the “true format” of your social media feed. People write exporters for Twitter…and all their tweets are added to their WordPress microblogs. There’s a mass movement to say get off Twitter now, follow me instead via WordPress!

Of course, that’s when we start “posting at” people via their Fediverse account addresses, or perhaps some contextualized shortened version thereof (the present blog happens to be located at @[email protected] in the Fediverse; you can confirm this for yourself on mastodon.social because this blog runs the ActivityPub plugin, which enables a few Fediverse sites like Mastodon to pick up my blog posts as feeds).

Many more developments come fast and furious as the world discovers the power of this concept, and starts rebuilding and connecting everything to simple RSS feeds of microposts. The new day, of a truly decentralized microposting world, has dawned.

Well, I think it’s a nice dream.

UPDATE (Feb. 2): development is underway. Since I was eager to start using word press to make a microblog, I went ahead and made one without any of the advanced functionality described above. Here it is: StartThis.org.

Five-Year Humanities Plan

Larry Sanger

By request, here is the “five-year plan” that my older son is following.

Introduction and educational strategy

What this document is. This is a roadmap for the next five years of your course of study in humanities. It does not cover science, the parts of social science outside of humanities, or math. It does cover (or should) everything else, but at a very high level. Art and music are not listed beyond generalities, and many minor works that you might read are also not covered.

Use the maximum number of years before college: five. Since you’re just now finishing up seventh grade, you have five more years of official school before you’re college age. Now, it might be possible for you to complete all the requirements for a high school diploma before that, but the way I see it, the more advanced you are when you are ready to apply to college, the wider the range of colleges you’ll be able to be accepted at. If you do advanced high school and college-level work until you’re 18, in 2024, then you’ll be much better able to get into (and to be able to handle) the best sort of university you might want to get into.

Math constrains when you are considered “done.” Besides, if you were ready to “graduate early,” it would be because you had finished math early; you don’t get a STEM degree today if you didn’t go through at least one year of calculus in high school. Since you will finish algebra in eighth grade, it’s unlikely you’ll finish calculus until you’re a junior or senior (although you might finish before the end of your senior year).

The nature of the program I’ve got you started on. I have you started on a “classical humanities” program, which means there’s an emphasis on classical literature, but that we intend to go through all of history (especially Western civilization) by comparing history and literature, and to a lesser extent art, religion, and philosophy. “History” includes not just thick summaries of history like Susan Wise Bauer’s History of the Ancient World, which you will read all of over the first few years, but also source books like Herodotus, speeches, myths, etc. The “source” materials ends up overlapping with religion, especially in ancient history, and with archaeology, as you’ve already seen. “Literature” includes mostly novels when you get to the 18th century or so, but before that includes mostly poetry, many plays, and some stories (modern short stories as well as fairy tales, etc.). “Art” includes not just the study of paintings but also sculpture and architecture and even archaeology again. “Religion” includes not just holy books like the Bible but also what might better be considered mythology, as well as some ancillary but important writings like Luther’s 95 Theses. “Philosophy” includes stuff like Plato and Descartes but also some influential thought-provoking essays like Machiavelli’s The Prince and Montaigne’s Essays.

You can’t do it all. Even though you have five whole years (and more, since there’s the summer before your eighth grade and the summer after your 12th grade) before you are 18 in the fall (that’ll be 2024), when many young adults apply for college, there is no possible way you can read “all the classics” in that time. This isn’t because you’re going slowly (since you started going through Hesiod and Homer, it’s been easier to see what pace you can get through this material), it’s because there is so much in the way of classics. There are extra readings, like the stories from ancient Sumeria and the Egyptian Book of the Dead, that maybe we should have skipped if we’re going to focus on the most important stuff, but I’m not going to sweat that. Reading all that alongside the Bible was actually a great introduction to ancient texts, so that now you can go through more important classics like Homer more confidently and appreciating them more.

The general strategy: the essential highlights. But if you can’t do it all, how can we decide what you should do? Well, having studied all of the humanities myself (though I certainly have not read “all the classics”), I have a rough idea of how much there is to read, that is totally essential, in the different eras of Western history. So I propose that you study as follows:

  • ancient subjects: 1.5 years
  • medieval and Renaissance topics: 0.5 years
  • early modern and Enlightenment (including early American) topics: one year
  • nineteenth and 20th century topics: two years

What I don’t want to happen is that you get finished with a certain part of history and there remains several essential (not just “important,” but absolutely crucial) classics you haven’t read, and so you end up skipping them. What are examples of “absolutely crucial” classics? You’re reading one now: the Odyssey. Some others include Herodotus, Plato’s Republic, the New Testament (at least parts of it), Dante’s Inferno, the most important Shakespeare plays, etc. When you get into more modern times, it becomes more controversial or hard to decide what is “absolutely crucial,” but ones I think you must have read would include Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre in British literature, at least one great Russian novel such as Anna Karenina (but probably both that and Crime and Punishment), in American literature Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn, and in American history both the Constitution and at least a selection from the Federalist Papers. These are the books that are embarrassing not to have read if you want to call yourself educated, although plenty of badly educated people skipped many of these. I’ve read 95% of them.

A good idea of what the “great books” are can be found by looking at Britannica’s list, compiled by philosopher Mortimer Adler.

The rest of this document will be an outline of what you’ll study, with the “crucial” books listed. I’m not 100% sure of this list. The ones I have in bold are my best guesses about what the most important books are. Some of the other books are probably just as crucial; maybe some don’t belong on the list, and maybe there are some books that aren’t on the list, that I have forgotten about. So we will revisit this list before starting each period.

Art and Archaeology books. Books to consult include:

  • The Art Museum
  • The Story of Art
  • A World History of Art
  • The Great Book of Archaeology

Why not use a lot of anthologies? In some cases, anthologies will be our friends. For example, rather than buy each Greek play individually, we’ll probably just buy one or two anthologies. But my bias will be to have you read entire works, or at least very substantial extracts, rather than a little bit from everything. “A little bit from everything” ends up being both boring and confusing, and a great deal is lost from many great writings if you don’t view it as a whole. That is especially true of literature and much of philosophy. It is less true when selecting from things like essays, speeches, and aphorisms. As to history, the more of a work, the better; just a little of any history is pretty useless, but cutting a bit here and there can be fine.

That said, selections were made from most of the following. Reading all of the whole list would probably be impossible for the vast majority of students; there’s just too much to do.

Lectures. You will continue to watch lectures to go with the readings from The Great Courses Plus, The Great Courses (audiobook versions, cheaper), and YouTube when nothing is available from those sources.

Ancient Times

March 2019 through December 2020 (ages 12 through 14)

Earliest Civilizations

Unit 1: Earliest History, Especially Mesopotamia (finished)

  • Myths from Mesopotamia; particularly, Gilgamesh
  • The Old Testament, selections from the Pentateuch
  • The Code of Hammurabi

Unit 2: Egypt and Other Pre-Greek Civilizations (finished)

  • Green, Tales of Ancient Egypt
  • The Tale of Sinuhe, trans. R.B. Parkinson
  • The Book of the Dead

Ancient Greece

June 2019 – May 2020

Unit 3: Early Greece (mostly finished; through June 15)

  • Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days
  • Homer, The Iliad
  • Homer, The Odyssey

Unit 4: Foundational Texts of Eastern Religion

  • Confucius, Analects
  • Selections from Buddhist texts; see Anthology of World Scriptures and Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions
  • Selections from earliest Hindu texts
  • Tao Te Ching

Unit 5: Herodotus and the Persian Wars

  • Herodotus, Histories
  • More of the Old Testament (prophesy, exile, and post-exile)

Unit 6: Greek Poetry and Theater

  • A bit of the presocratics, from Hakim, Historical Introduction to Philosophy
  • Greek Lyrics, trans. Lattimore
  • Aeschylus: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, Eumenides
  • Sophocles: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus (summary), Antigone
  • Euripides: Medea
  • Aristotle, Poetics

Unit 7: Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War

  • Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
  • The Trial and Death of Socrates (already read; re-read on your own)
  • Aristophanes, The Clouds
  • Plato, Symposium

Unit 8: Greek Philosophy

  • Plato, The Republic, Bk. 1-2, 6-9 (selections)
  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (selections)

Unit 9: The Hellenistic Period

  • Plutarch, Life of Alexander
  • Old Testament, post-exilic selections
  • Bhagavad-Gita selections
  • Epicurus selections
  • Throughout, look at, read about, and react to major works of art

Ancient Rome

Unit 10: Early Rome (753-292 B.C.)

  • Re-read your own Daily Writings and lecture notes
  • Livy, Books 1-10 and Moses Hadad, Ed., A history of ROME

Unit 11: Punic Wars (292-134 B.C.)

  • Livy, Books 21-45 and Hadad
  • Plautus, The Braggart Soldier, The Brothers Menaechmus
  • Terence, The Girl from Andros, The Mother-in-Law, and The Eunuch
  • Cato the Elder, On Agriculture

Unit 12: The Late Republic and the Civil War (133-44 B.C.)

  • Cicero selections
  • Sallust and Hadad
  • Lucretius (maybe)
  • Caesar, one or both of On the War in Gaul and On the Civil War
  • Catullus short selections
  • Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Unit 13-nn: The Early Roman Empire (44 B.C. – 284 A.D.) NEEDS BREAKING UP; NOT ALL NEEDS TO BE DONE

  • Virgil, Aeneid
  • Virgil, Georgics
  • The New Testament, selections
  • Seneca
  • Epictetus
  • Marcus Aurelius
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses
  • Lucan, The Civil War
  • Petronius, The Satyricon
  • Tacitus, Annals
  • Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars
  • Juvenal, Satires
  • Longus, Daphnis and Chloe

Unit nn: The Later Roman Empire (284-476 A.D.)

  • Augustine, Confessions
  • Look at, read about, and react to major works of art

Medieval period

Spring 2021 through Fall 2021 (age 15)

  • Re-read your own Daily Writings and lecture notes
  • Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy
  • The Koran (also spelled Qur’an; selections; I’ve read only bits)
  • Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People
  • The Song of Roland
  • Chretien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances
  • The Lais of Marie de France
  • Beowulf
  • Aquinas (selections)
  • Dante, The Divine Comedy
  • One Thousand and One Nights
  • Boccaccio, The Decameron
  • Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
  • Look at, read about, and react to major works of art

Renaissance, Early Modern, & Enlightenment periods

Winter 2021-22 through Summer 2022 (ages 15 through 16)

  • Re-read your own Daily Writings and lecture notes
  • Machiavelli, The Prince
  • Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel
  • Erasmus, The Praise of Folly
  • More, Utopia
  • Montaigne, Essays (selections)
  • Shakespeare, plays you haven’t read and selected sonnets
  • Galileo, Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences
  • Cervantes, Don Quixote
  • Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy
  • Milton, Paradise Lost
  • Milton, Areopagitica
  • Pascal, Pensees
  • Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
  • Locke, Second Essay Concerning Civil Government
  • Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
  • Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and The Social Contract
  • Rousseau, Confessions
  • Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (done, but re-read alone)
  • The Federalist
  • An anthology of shorter poetry and drama (Moliere, Racine, Voltaire) from this period
  • Listen to/look at, read about, and react to major works of classical music and art

19th and 20th centuries (not finalized)

Summer 2022 through summer 2024 (ages 16-18)

  • Re-read your own Daily Writings
  • Goethe, Faust
  • Shelly, Frankenstein
  • Pushkin, Yevgeny Onegin
  • Austen, Pride and Prejudice
  • Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
  • Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
  • Declaration of Sentiments (The Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention of 1848)
  • Douglass, Narrative of the Life
  • Melville, Moby-Dick
  • Dickens, Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities (or some other famous novel of his you haven’t read yet)
  • Twain, Huckleberry Finn (done, but maybe re-read)
  • Darwin, Origin of the Species and Descent of Man (selections)
  • Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party
  • Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter or House of Seven Gables
  • Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
  • Tolstoy, War and Peace
  • Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
  • Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground
  • Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
  • Arnold, Culture and Anarchy
  • Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil and/or Genealogy of Morals
  • Conrad, Heart of Darkness
  • Re-read your own Daily Writings
  • Freud, at least one of The Interpretation of Dreams, General Introduction to Psycho-Analysis, or Civilization and its Discontents
  • Russell, The Problems of Philosophy
  • Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Woolf, To the Lighthouse or A Room of One’s Own
  • Faulkner, one of his novels; I read Light in August so maybe that
  • Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  • Kafka, Metamorphosis and The Trial
  • Camus, The Stranger
  • Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
  • Orwell, Animal Farm and 1984 (done; might want to re-read when you’re 17 or 18)
  • Sartre, Existentialism Is a Humanism
  • Rand, The Fountainhead and/or Atlas Shrugged
  • Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
  • Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • An anthology of shorter poetry and drama (Wilde, Shaw, Ibsen, Chekhov, O’Neill, Sartre) from this period
  • Re-read your own Daily Writings
  • Listen to/look at, read about, and react to major works of classical music and art

An ActivityPub WordPress plugin

Larry Sanger

Matthias Pfefferle has made a WordPress plugin that converts your blog into a very, very stripped-down Fediverse server. What this means, basically, is that if you install this plugin on your WordPress blog, then your blog posts will appear as posts in ActivityPub Fediverse servers, such as (most famously) mastodon.social. You just install and activate it and then go to …wp-admin/profile.php, and you’ll find you have a handy-dandy Fediverse profile ID made for you. Mine is @[email protected]

This represents a practical step toward fixing social media, as I described, by making the Fediverse more robustly peer-to-peer (as in individual-to-individual, not just server-to-server federation), but it really doesn’t do much yet. Matthias is to be congratulated for getting this far. I hope he will make this into another whole front end for the broader Fediverse. That might be a bit much to ask, but…wouldn’t that be cool?