99.999...% Pacifist = 100% Pacifist

In light of the conversation going on (please weigh in if you'd like) concerning my last post, I'd just like to offer up the following mathematical argument to prove that, in fact, I'm a pacifist.

As the comments in my last post show, the conversations about pacifism tend to contemplate extreme scenarios that, for all practical purposes, never occur. Or, if they could occur, we can contemplate an infinity of responses to the situation.

Which means that 99.99999...% of the time I and the 100% pacifist will act identically 99.99999...% of the time. In short, we agree way more than we disagree.

In fact, I can prove, mathematically, that I--the 99.99999...% pacifist--and the 100% pacifist are the same. It has to do with showing that .9999... is equal to 1. The proof:

  1. Have x = .9999...
  2. Multiply x by 10: 10x = 9.9999...
  3. Subtract x from both sides: 10x - x = 9.9999... - .9999...
  4. This leaves you with: 9x = 9
  5. Solving for x gives you: x = 1
  6. QED: .9999... = 1
Which means that I--the 99.9999...% pacifist--am equal to the 100% pacifist!

And there was much rejoicing and merriment...

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

10 thoughts on “99.999...% Pacifist = 100% Pacifist”

  1. 10 * (.9999...) != 9.9999...

    Degrees of infinity and all.

    Nice try though, you warmonger you. :P

    -Daniel

  2. Some people see no problem sleeping with prostitutes.

    I think it's wrong in 99.99999999999 percent of situations.

    But you never know when I'm gonna have to sleep with a prostitute to, I don't know, help her make enough money so she doesn't get in trouble with the pimp.

    So I'm still a non adulterer right? ;) sure there could be other options, by my most immediate inclination was just to pay her and sleep with her. ;)

  3. Justin,
    That’s a good point. I know we are both largely joking, but it’s an interesting counterargument and I’d like to try to address it.

    Say I’m 99.9999999% likely not to sleep with a prostitute. Given this strong bias against adultery I also am keen to take prophylactic measures (no pun inten…, well, yes, it’s intended). That is, I don’t put myself in situations where I’d be vulnerable on this score. Again, I’m 99.999999% against this. And this “aganistness” saturates the entirety, except this wee wee bit, of my being.

    So, odds are, strongly so, that I never sleep with a prostitute. Of course, in a crazy situation I know I could succumb. We are all human, right?

    So does having this slight fissure in my heart make me an adulterer?

    I’m saying the same thing about pacifism. I can, like with sex, imagine a situation where I could snap. I admit both this and that it’s a sin. I know I would snap if the case got extreme enough.

    But, like with sex, given that I’m 99.999999% a pacifist and take prophylactic measures (no pun here) to avoid violence--that being non-violent defines my being--then, for all practical purposes, my whole life will be pacifistic. Unless things get really extreme. And then, who knows?

    In fact, when push comes to shove (not sure if a pun is intended here or not, but I think so), I might be a better pacifist than someone who claims to be a pacifist. Right? We are all armchair pacifists, backseat driver pacifists, for the most part. I might be able to resist to the 99.99999th degree where someone who is a staunch pacifist might only resist to the 99.99998th degree. I mean, given that we are talking about abstractions, who is the real pacifist?

    In short, I think admitting that I could see a situation where I'd become violent is not different from any other sin. But that, I don't think, makes me a non-pacifist or an adulterer. Just a human. A human trying, to the 99.999999th degree, to hold on to my humanity.

  4. Sabio,
    Yes. What I'm talking about is how the scenarios get more and more extreme, pushing us to some absurd limit that would never, in practice, come about. Meaning that if I and pacifist only differ in that extreme situation, in the final decimal point, we are, functionally, the same.

    For example, in my last post I said that if I had to hit someone to stop them from raping a child I would hit them. But the question a pacifist asks is, do you have to? Couldn't you just grapple with them? My response: Yes, you're right. I would and should try to pull them off and restrain them before hitting them with a bat. But then someone might ask: But what if they were too big to hold back? And so on. We work out toward the extremes. But if our differences are only emerging in the extreme we are, for all practical purposes, leading the exact same life, day after day.

    And, finally, I don't know if I've ever been consistent. I contradict myself all the time. I think that is a virtue, but it's bound to be frustrating for a debating partner. Apologies all around.

  5. My father fought in the Pacific Theater in WWII. Had the war dragged on, had the H-bomb not been dropped, there is a fairly good chance that I and millions of other Japanese and Americans would not be. We are not infinitesimals.

    Here's a thought experiment. Pretend that you could rewind history to see whether the world would be a better place, had the H-bomb not been dropped. If it could be clearly determined that the world is better because it was dropped, and you were given the choice, would you choose the greater evil--ex hypothesi--of pacifism?

    I am truly sorry for the obscene thought, but a distinction to draw from it is important: pacifism is always right as an ideal, but not as a moral absolute.

    I can't express my opinion here without regret, since our world is so much in need of people who stand against violence.

  6. Tracy,

    Its fairly well established that the Japanese were about to surrender anyway. Dropping the bomb, and then ANOTHER one, was disgusting. My grandfather fought at Pelalu in the pacific as well... and something noteworthy to me to this day (he passed away 11 years ago) was that as much as he talked about that war, and the history and everything, he NEVER discussed anything that he did while over there. I didn't really understand why until, post becoming a pacifist I might add, I watched Clint Eastwood's ww2 movie (was it band of brothers? I don't remember)

    After that I understood why he, and SO many other soldiers, don't tell stories.

    Cause war is the most effed up thing in existance. Its become much easier now that we can blow up all sorts of people and don't have to get down in the trenches to do so. Kinda like playing a video game. Wasn't like that for the ground troops back then, who charged up hills with people jumping out of holes in the ground and tunnels, hand to hand combat, stabbing someone with the sword on the end of your gun.

    Yet both sides think they are in the right (always... no one would fight if they didn't) and the senseless murder continues.

    I would certainly go back and not drop the bomb, or at the very least after seeing the devastation wrought by the first one, wouldn't have dropped the second.

    And for us to think there was no other option is myopic at best, and revisionist history for the sake of patriotism at least.

    I still respect my grandfather because I know he was a good person, he was barely 18 and doing what he thought to be the right thing. That doesn't change the fact that it wasn't, but I can still respect him for uniting behind something bigger than himself.

    Of course, I could probably say the same thing about many japanese and nazi soldiers. Many of those thought they were doing the right thing as well.

  7. Hi Justin,

    Perhaps you're right about the decision to drop the H-bombs. I'm pretty sure that there are experts who would line up on both sides, and I'm not one of them. I'm certain that there are no lines of moral clarity in my example, and in all sincerity I want to think you're right.

    Two things hold me back--and neither of them is the fact that you declined to take on my hypothetical. First, a consistent and committed pacifist has to advocate for the total elimination of violence as a response to evil. Not only would that imply the police should not have guns; neither should they have billy clubs; nor should they use their hands as weapons, etc. But that requires a pacifist to either think that bullies don't intentionally push violent, zero-sum choices on others--which they do, and that's why I pushed back against Richard's reduction of the "difference" to an infinitesimal--or be willing to cede power to evil. It's a monstrous choice, but I believe reality is on the side of the person who admits reality can be monstrous.

    Second, I believe that--for lack of a better term--there is an ontological inconsistency in pacifism. By that I mean it strikes me as completely incredible that the long chain of successful choices that led to each and every human being's life, here and now, does not contain a zero sum choice that denied another person's or culture's chain of being's viability. Human beings are ontological beneficiaries of bullies.

    Of course the point of faith is that Christ has overcome the world. So your point of view challenges me at the core of my faith and the core of my being. I do not quibble to dismiss; I quibble to try to get to the heart of the question.

    I guess my point is that if humanity needs to be saved, can we be expected to act as if we don't? But then we have a tragic moral choice: step into the fray to fight evil we have good evidence to believe is in a violent, zero-sum fight with good, or maintain the witness the Church is called to--Richard's "eschatological" witness of pacifism.

    I do not say that you are wrong. I do say that you do not take a full measure of the tragic choice involved and the extent to which it defines human existence. Our faith requires us to admit the reality of our sinful nature and to have faith in the hope to which we are called. I'm stuck with both horns of a tragic dilemma, and I believe you are too.

  8. Reminds me of the issues brought out in the old series M.A.S.H., through the character of 'Hawkeye'Pierce.

Leave a Reply