And now for something completely different …
I was walking through a crowd of numbers the other day, and I noticed some of them stood out a bit. I realized why, eventually. As a society, we seem to put a lot of emphasis on a particular class of numbers we call the “primes”. It’s not really a very nice name — for example, how would you like to be called “an odd fellow”? Even being called “an even guy” can be rather patronizing. You wouldn’t do it to someone who you weren’t certain would take it the right way.
We don’t really think about it much, do we?
There’s a lot more that goes on under the surface, though. Let’s look at some of the stereotyping that goes on. Take the number 2, for example. We’re not exactly understanding in our judgement at the end of the day. I mean, we all agree 2’s crimes are slight; it’s a mere child! You wouldn’t put a child in prison for stealing paperclips from her schoolteacher. 2 is not even big enough to have factors.
And ask yourself, “Why does 2 get all the blame, when 1 gets off scot free?”. Look at it there — 1, sitting around, wasting tax-payers’ resources, having all the advantages of multiplying into every single number on the face of the planet, and none of the responsibilities of having factors. We give a thousand excuses for it — “It has no parents”, “It was brought up on the streets”. But if you look at 2’s upbringing, you can easily find a thousand better excuses. It’s just 1’s excuses suit our current society’s agenda better.
Don’t get me wrong — 1 has potential. We couldn’t do without numbers like 1. Numbers like 1 help us all realize our own identity. In a way, 1 is us. And together, we are 1.
A lot of people will certainly misunderstand my argument. They’ll assume that I’m fighting for a “tolerate everyone” world, where no crime really matters (unless, of course, it hurts me …). But I’m not. There are some serious crimes against creation. Crimes that should be punished.
Take the number 17, for instance. A Hitler among numbers. A criminal in every way. Nothing good can be said for 17. No matter how tolerant you are, the number 17 has done nothing for society. When was the last time 17 was useful to you? Never. 17 is such a bad number that, not even is it completely useless to society, but most people in society have not even seen it’s equal. It’s the sort of number you might see on the news, in one of those forever-at-war countries.
But even now, we are fighting a stereotype. Being prime is not a crime. It may be true that many primes are useless or even harmful to society — or it may not. But if we’re concerned about the harm a number does do society, then we should take care to know the harm a number actually does, instead of focusing on how it looks, or what properties it has.
Think a second about the number 69. It hasn’t broken the law. 69 divided by 3 is 23. Its factors may not be the most reputable in society, but since when was it legitimate to impute the sins of the children onto the father? Nevertheless, we must be fully aware that 69 has been an odious number in society. It would be understandable to call it “almost prime” — but that would be stereotyping. Some unfortunate young calculators have been caught up producing factorials of 69 (the best factorials to be had, they believed) but this is the sort of entanglement wise men warn against; 69’s attraction is purely sex appeal, and beneath her skin, there is nothing worthwhile.
Numbers like 19, 23, or 31 are numbers we all know about, of course. I agree with most people on those; they’re frustrating, and they have committed crimes against society. It’s not nice to wake up in the morning and find your house has been done by a 23. But at the end of the day, you make sure it won’t happen again, and you make sure they realize the harm they’ve done, and you don’t let it pull you down. It would be stupid to let them get in the way.
It’s like our society has a fixation on prime-ness. We feel it’s OK to accuse a number of all sorts of things, so long as it’s prime. We take this so far that we even go to many lengths to find complicated prime numbers. Simply so we can use (and abuse) them to suit our political or scientific agenda. Did you know that people are offering hundreds of thousands of dollars if you can find huge primes? It’s like prime discrimination has become a sport. There are no words for how horrible this is.
It’s numbers like 18 and 46 that really get me going. There they are, dressed immaculately, living in pristine houses, probably even making some show of being religious, when it’s convenient for them, but when was the last time you’ve been offered a lift by an 18? Not once, even though he has the sweetest car in town. Has 46 ever leaned over the fence to chat? Maybe to tell you turn down the music. I don’t like to generalize, but I think it’s pretty clear to all of us that these are the ones whose children turn out to be 23’s and 3’s.
But that’s all by-the-bye, of course — the real crime here is that 18 and 46 get away with all this damage under the guise of being even numbers. It’s hypocrisy, pure and simple.
I don’t like people to think I’m always complaining. I want to end on a more positive note. There are many numbers which have done endless good to society. 16, for example. That’s the sort of number you could imagine living next-door to. Some people are lucky enough to be family members of a number like 16.
Or the number 14 — it’s a number that’s often overlooked, but it does a lot, behind the scenes. It’s the sort of number you could imagine going to church twice every Sunday, faithfully week in, week out, and not caring whether or not people notice it.
Let’s leave it there — it’s tempting to go too far and idolize the “perfect” numbers like 6, 28, 496, and even 8128.
We all know that no number is perfect. But all too often, we forget this, and in our self-given grandeur, cast judgements on some for the crime of being prime.
5 November 2007 by Bryan 2 comments