The Fractal Pillar: Website as Philosophical Argument

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A couple of weeks ago I announced my plan to launch a new nonprofit organization and website, Pacifism21 and, in order to promote pacifism as a viable political philosophy for the 21st century. A beta version of this website will go live in the next few days, and I’d like to explain several things that will make this project unique. will be many things — a social activity center, a news and information resource — but at its core will stand a pillar. This pillar is a structured argument: a set of premises and conclusions, and an explanation of how the conclusions follow from the premises.

As this is naturally a complex argument, the pillar will be no simple construction, but rather a fractal sort of a thing, as each of the premises may itself require its own argument, of which each of the premises may again require an argument, and so on.

This is, of course, not a unique format. Every complex philosophical argument contains the same fractal structure, more or less, and so do many other forms of persuasive speech, from a well-written essay to a courtroom litigation.

What I hope will make Pacifism21 unique is not its rhetorical format (which goes back at least as far as Plato’s dialogues) but rather the attempt to dovetail this old format with a newer and more currently popular one: an attractive mobile-first web and social media presence, built upon the best open source tools and frameworks (Linux, Git, Drupal, jQuery, LESS, Bootstrap, Angular, Node) and designed to be connective, responsive, visually appealing, intellectually entertaining.

What, you may wonder, is the philosophical conclusion this entire construction will lead to? This pillar will not be an argument of necessity — you must believe this — but rather an argument of possibility. In other words: Pacifism21 will not prove that every person must be a pacifist, because many people don’t care or want to be one. But it will prove pacifism to be a viable, reasonable and highly possible belief.

If this sounds like an underwhelming goal — all this trouble, just to prove that a belief system is possible! — please understand that I have spent the past few years talking to friends, relatives and co-workers about the meaning of the word pacifism. I have discovered to my dismay that the 20th century has left the word "pacifism" and the essential ideas the word represents dead in the dirt.

What I mean is, if I were to walk into a room with nine people chosen at random from my own friends, co-workers and relatives and ask each person in the room whether or not they consider it remotely possible that a reasonable approximation of world peace will arrive on planet Earth in, say, the next five or ten years, the results will be extremely disappointing. Nine of the ten people in this room will say no, world peace is not even possible in the near future.

One of the ten will say yes, but sadly this is only the case because I have walked into a room with nine people, and the one who says yes will be me. If they let me stay in the room and talk long enough, maybe I’ll manage to bring the optimist percentage up to 20% to 30%. If I’m really lucky and on top of my game, maybe I'll get to 40% or even 50% (this may also require ordering food).

The reason all nine of my nine invitees will initially declare that world peace is not even possible in the near future is not that they don’t want to see world peace. It’s that they truly don’t believe it to be possible. If they believed it to be possible, the pros and cons would speak for themselves, and every one of these people would declare themselves to be pacifists.

In other words, the gigantic barrier faced by the pacifist argument is not desirability. It’s easy to persuade a group of people that world peace would be nice. The gigantic barrier faced by the pacifist argument is viability. People truly consider pacifism to be a dead belief system, a flawed argument, a cold case.

This is why I like to describe Pacifism21 as a pillar. The goal is to lay down the empirical evidence and logical analogies necessary to demonstrate that a reasonable hope for world peace on planet Earth is not crazy or delusional or dangerously naive. Once the scaly crust of negativity and fatalistic pessimism ceases to surround the word “pacifism”, I believe the appeal of the word will be evident to all.

Like a pillar, this is a construction designed to be built only once, and in the sturdiest fashion possible. Like a pillar, once it is built it will have only one job: to stand proudly as evidence of itself.

This is the dream I'm working towards with Pacifism21. Can I pull this off and make it work? Well, as your humble webmaster — I think I’m a pretty good philosopher and a pretty good writer, but I know I’m a damn good web developer — I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling daunted by the ambition of the task I am setting forth for myself here. It helps for me to stand upon the work of others; my UX design for will be thoroughly original, but the philosophical framework I will be constructing is happily something better than original. I am proud to be building upon the work of several greats.

These include the well-known pacifist activists and writers of the modern era, each of whom will get plenty of direct attention on the site: Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau. On a more abstract plane, I’ll be building upon the work of Carl Jung, William James and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Swinging towards pop culture (which, admittedly, is where everything really begins with me), I’ll also proudly bask in the past or present creative inspiration of folks like John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, W. S. Merwin, Abbie Hoffman, Nicholson Baker.

Finally, on a more ancient and openly spiritual plane, of course I’ll be building upon the pillars laid down by the two most famous pacifists of all time: Jesus of Nazareth and Siddhartha Guatama. Can’t do much in the pacifist field without these two, and why would anyone want to?

I've been describing this project in first person because it has been my own private dream for many years. (Indeed, this builds upon many previous projects I've presented here on Litkicks, from the old Poetry and Politics message board to October Earth to Philosophy Weekend). But I'll never be able to make this work as a solo act, and it's good news that an informal team of excellent advisors and helpers and writers and video artists and participants has formed around this project. I hope I'll soon be saying "we" instead of "me" when I talk about Pacifism21.

This is the first Literary Kicks blog post of November 2015, and I think November is going to be a very, very busy month around here. Some of my friends will be doing NaNoWriMo this November; Litkicks will be doing NaArgWriMo. I’ll be using Literary Kicks as a sounding board and workspace for Pacifism21, and will be more active here than usual for this reason. I eagerly welcome your participation in this intellectual experiment, and more crucially, I welcome your donation.

I've been in the habit of writing one blog post a week, but the pace will have to increase this month. I’m hoping to follow today’s update with another one in just a day or two in which I will present the actual structure of the fractal pillar I am trying to build, and lay out the sections and features of the site that’s about to launch. Your feedback is always welcome, and your original ideas and suggestions are too.

(Image of an imaginary fractal pillar by Oxnot, found at DeviantArt)

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