As in math, sometimes in morality, multiplying two negatives can produce some positive results. There is at times some hope to be taken at the all too frequent observation that many stupid things happen in the world. Specifically, there is hope to be drawn from evil actions accompanied by incompetence. In this case, incompetence is an ally of the good, truncating evil, preventing it from manifesting its complete intent. If you are an optimist such as I, you might even dare call this a blessing.
I like this short poem mostly because it illuminates perhaps the most fundamental division in human reality — physics and metaphysics, the mundane and the transcendent. Physics is basically the realm of modern science, the sometimes uber-successful reductionistic approach characteristic of Western civilization. Great advances have been made in understanding how the physical world works, the means of controlling the “outer” world, the so-called objectively real. Modern science breaks things down to understand each of its constituent parts behaves (cause and effect) and how they interact with one another. Unfortunately, this is only the crudest form of how things work, and only “half” of the picture (in the sense of balance, not quantitatively). At its worst scientific reductionism kills the whole to study the dead parts. Dissecting a frog may produce a lot of knowledge but it does kill the frog. Similarly, our quest for knowledge can kill life to study its lesser constituent parts. Metaphysics is the opposite, the complement to reductionism, which studies life from the perspective of the relationship of the whole to the part, not the relationship of parts to each other. Most people recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — due to humans’ metaphysical faculties. Sadly, an overfocus on scientific reductionism has allowed our higher faculties to atrophy (use it or lose it!), and we literally cannot tell apart life from death. My favorite example of the manifestation of this is our apparent inability to distinguish between human persons and corporate persons (which are famously said to be made up of human persons — well they got the “made up” part correct!). When we can’t differentiate a human worker from a brick — reducing them both to “expenses” — we are in deep trouble as a human race! We seem to be able to produce a lot of things, and cool stuff, but the art of human happiness seems resistant to such machinations — perhaps because we are not machines. We need to strike a healthier, life-affirming balance between physics and metaphysics. As often happens, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has said much of this much more succinctly:
“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”