… because “perfection” is a myth. It’s just like the number infinity. Do you remember when you were younger and you’d say “no” to what someone else had said, they’d say “yes” and you’d say “no”, they’d say “yes”, you’d say “no times two”, they’d say “yes times ten”, you’d say “no times a hundred”, they’d say “yes times infinity”, you’d say “no times infinity plus one”, and they (because they were an annoyingly smart kid) would say “you can’t have that, infinity is the biggest number ever”, and you’d be stuck and you’d go off an have a tantrum?
Okay, maybe that never happened to you. (If it did, I apologise if the smart kid was me.)
Anyway, infinity is one of those things that we just can’t reach. I believe the formal definition of it is “the sum of all numbers above 0”, or something along those lines — so it’s defined as something greater than anything we can describe any other way. It’s imaginary. Perfection is just like that.
Perfection can never be reality, because life is compromise. To get anything done, we must evalute and choose what to do, how to deal with people and things. Without compromise, nothing would ever get done; nothing would ever change, nothing would ever advance. If perfection were reality, we wouldn’t be human.
What does this mean to us? It means that you should probably stop worrying about making things “perfect” and accept imperfection itself as beautiful. It doesn’t mean, though, that we should give up trying to make our world or our lives better because they can never match up to the glorious vision we have for such things. I quote something I once read on an online forum once: “We must strive for perfection but settle for progress”. There is a careful balance between going further, and trying to achieve that imaginary point of perfection, being happy with what is happening now, and deciding life is “good enough”.
Richard Dawkins recently had a two-part documentary on Channel 4 recently, called “Religion: The Root Of All Evil?”. Note the question mark. In the documentary (and perhaps predictably), he gives a whole bunch of reasons why religion is bad, but he never quite decides it’s the root of all evil.
At some point, he quoted Steve Weinberg (a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics), who said:
“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion”.
I feel that this is unfair on religion. Take, for example, the Milgram experiment, where ordinary people were asked to apply lethal electric shocks to someone because they were told to. Religion had no part in that; similarly, many of those who “just took orders” during the Nazi reign in Germany had no strong sense of religion.
As a result, religion is too narrow a term. It’s also too wide a term — you would have a hard time convincing me that Buddhists would do evil things because of their religion. So religion is clearly not the right word.
I propose “fear” is the right word. The Nazis used fear. The Milgram experiment seems to show authority inspires some kind of fear — a fear stronger than that the fear that you’re slowly killing someone. A common theme in the monotheistic religious tradition is fear of going to hell (if you don’t have faith in Jesus Christ, in the Christian tradition, you’re doomed to eternal torment in hell. Lucky you).
As a result of this, I’d like to steal Mr. Dawkins’ title, and claim “Fear: The Root Of All Evil”.
What does this mean for us? If we’re evil, then pretty much nothing. If, on the other hand, we’re good, then we should probably look at what we’re afraid of and work out if it’s something we should actually be afraid of. Fear is the only thing that can manipulate a good person. Don’t let the good person be your good self.