Before we jump into our exploration of all this, we want you to know we understand the struggle you have with the crazy possibilities we are exploring on this web site.
Because, well, our team loves this song …
And we wonder if it was written by one of our agents in Hollywood. Because it fits with our China Dream…
Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream
Everything is better when we stick together
Side by side, you and I gonna win forever, let’s party forever
We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me, we’re all working in harmony
Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream
Especially if our China Dream comes true.
But, I admit our belief that “Everything is awesome” has clouded our vision, just like it has yours as you occupy that minimalist corner and don’t take seriously the reality that, if Christianity is the story we are in, your God is the Active Protagonist in the story.
We saw that when we finally began to pay attention to what Robert McKee wrote about American culture in his White Paper Story-In-Business: Why Story Works, Overcoming Negaphobia, and Authoring the Future…
Over recent decades, negaphobia, the fear of all things negative, has infested American culture. Rather than face the trials of life, we hide behind euphemisms. A marriage doesn’t have conflicts, it has issues; life isn’t an uphill struggle, it’s a journey; a pain-in-the-ass business problem is now a challenge.
Employees who point out obvious mistakes are the worst of all things: they’re negative. In fact, more often than not, those who complain are simply realists. But in today’s world, realism is treated as defeatism.
For a story to move the listener to a positive action, it must dramatize the negative side of life. In the same way, a positive work environment cannot exist without acknowledging the negative. When “positive thinking” ignores things negative, terrible business decisions follow as night the day.
The wise leader fosters a corporate culture that allows for the open expression of observations and insights – especially when those ideas are insightful, negative criticisms.
We’re just like you. We’re tempted to push the negative possibilities away.
It’s just like everybody…
Remember that when life throws us out of kilter, it takes us a certain amount of time to even realize that we’re out of kilter. There is an initial shock about an event in our life and then shortly thereafter, a denial that the event even occurred.Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid
We just pretend that everything is as it ever was until we’re forced to face the facts.
When something is too terrible to contemplate, there’s a natural human tendency to avoid contemplating it.Waiting for the Pivot at the End of the Universe, By Jonah Goldberg, National Review, August 6, 2016
It’s no secret that millions of people live in denial rather than doing the hard work of facing life with honesty. It’s just so easy to justify and rationalize our failures rather than do the heavy lifting of facing our shortcomings and changing our lives.Phil Cooke, One Big Thing
Too many of us today see the darkness approaching in our nation and in our world but convince ourselves it’s not as bad as it truly is. We simply throw on the switch of artificial light so we will not be overtaken by the darkness. And as we do we go on in reckless and fatal abandon.Night is Coming, by Henry T. Blackaby
We know it is difficult to deal with such shocking things as the possibility the story of America could be coming to its end. And especially if you embrace our secular version of the story we are in…
But Ken Liu, author of “The Paper Menagerie, The Grace of Kings,” cautioned against the tendency to rely on history to predict the future.
Mankind’s addiction to stories and storytelling is often the reason why it fails to predict the future correctly, Liu said, describing this as a cognitive bias for the species.
“We literally cannot understand the world as it is; we understand the world [by] making a story out of it,” he said. “The universe is irreducibly random, but we cannot seem to accept that, so we have to construct a narrative about why things are happening.”
Liu, a science-fiction author, has made a study of this with a particular focus on why most sci-fi authors “have been terrible at predicting the future.”
“We have a tendency to do the following: When you are in the moment, when you are looking toward the future, the reality is — for any problem that you are trying to solve — there are multiple teams round the world trying to tackle that from multiple directions, and the possibilities for the future are endlessly open,” he said, citing the history of touch screen interfaces, a technology the world has been trying to perfect since the 1960s.
“In the moment, when you are looking forward, it is very hard to know which of these approaches will succeed and dominate the future,” Liu said. “The problem is, once you are past that point and you are looking backward — the iPhone came out, it is very tempting, almost inevitable for everybody who lived in this situation to construct a narrative for why that particular breakthrough was inevitable. This is the way history is written.
“We like to tell history as a series of stories of plots, of causes and effects, of inevitable lines of evolution,” he said.
When humans look backward, it is very easy to construct a narrative saying, “Why did everyone else miss that this was the only path that could have succeeded?” he added.
“That is not true,” Liu argued. “Actually, history is all of these random reasons why one particular approach succeeded over others, and it’s very, very tempting to say, ‘We should be able to predict the future because if you look at the past there is a clear narrative about why we ended up here.’ “General: Army Needs More Futurists to Better Predict Conflict, By Matthew Cox, Military.com, December 6, 2017
But, if Christianity is the story we are in, then the Communist Party in China is faced with the same question Pharaoh had to grapple with in his conflict with Moses…
Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.”Exodus 5:2
That’s the pivotal issue, isn’t it? Consider what Sun Tzu wrote…
Sun Tzu put it best in his ancient treatise, The Art of War: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”China’s Long View, STEPHEN S. ROACH, Project Syndicate, July 26, 2019
If your God does exist, the Party certainly doesn’t know him.
And we’re not about to do anything at all to try to please him.
But, if he does exist, our very stance towards him… puts us at potential risk.
It’s clear to our team, then, that, if Christianity is the story we are in, we need to pay more attention to the possibility your God is the Great Storyteller who flies Black Swans into the unfolding drama of humanity.
But, the reality is, as our lives go forward each day, we don’t seem to give these Black Swan possibilities enough thought.
Why is that?
Is something more than negaphobia going on?
We think so.
There are a variety of reasons, of course, but perhaps one we all share in common is the natural human default position…
We hope that tomorrow will be like today — only maybe even better!
And it appears that our natural human default position may flow out of our deep desire for order …
The passion for … replacing surprise with order, is a persistent part of human nature.George Gilder, Knowledge and Power
And you can relate to this, because both sides of the divide in America have that deep desire.
You can see how it flows from the secular version of the story we are in, in the following interview …
McKee: The desire in human beings for order, for meaning, to understand causal connections, the desire to control your existence is genetic, all right? Because the underlying imperative of life is to survive, and chaos is the enemy. Therefore you must bring order. You must be able to predict, you must be able to take an action with a sense of what will probably happen when you take the action, and have some confidence that you’ll get the results you intended, or you’re out of control and therefore death is right around the corner.THE RUMPUS INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT MCKEE, BY SHEILA HETI, The Rumpus, November 17th, 2009
Our team suspects you Christians would say there is something else even more foundational which moves us to desire order…
The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit. By his reason, he is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator.Catechism of the Catholic Church – Man: the image of God
And whichever version of the story people embrace, it appears that as human beings we all have a deep desire for order.
Unfortunately, because we want stability and order so much, we’re tempted to hope and often believe, that even in the midst of our dramas — which are filled with uncertainty — tomorrow will be like today (only maybe better!)
But look at this…
One hundred years ago, in 1918, a strain of H1N1 flu swept the world. It might have originated in Haskell County, Kansas, or in France or China—but soon it was everywhere. In two years, it killed as many as 100 million people—5 percent of the world’s population, and far more than the number who died in World War I. It killed not just the very young, old, and sick, but also the strong and fit, bringing them down through their own violent immune responses. It killed so quickly that hospitals ran out of beds, cities ran out of coffins, and coroners could not meet the demand for death certificates. It lowered Americans’ life expectancy by more than a decade. “The flu resculpted human populations more radically than anything since the Black Death,” Laura Spinney wrote in Pale Rider, her 2017 book about the pandemic. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in history—a potent reminder of the threat posed by disease.
Humanity seems to need such reminders often.The Next Plague Is Coming. Is America Ready?, By ED YONG, The Atlantic, JULY/AUGUST 2018 ISSUE
So, if Christianity is the story we are in, it appears human beings do suffer from what our team has begun calling ‘the dangerous default position’.
Strangely enough, there is actually a passage from your Old Testament which connects to this…
“Come,” each one cries, “let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.”Isaiah 56:12
We default to that desire. Unfortunately, that default position can be very dangerous for us as human beings because it blinds us to reality.
As your American military strategist Andrew Krepinevich points out, this can be a dangerous way of thinking…
Some argue that the best course of action is simply to await events and adjust to threats as they confront us. But this approach essentially avoids thinking about the future. It represents a strong vote for “business as usual” and a mindless stay-the-course mentality that assumes that tomorrow will be only slightly different from today. This approach fails just when it is needed most, when a new type of threat emerges.Andrew F. Krepinevich, 7 Deadly Scenarios
Krepinevich is right. Tomorrow may not be like today — and it may be different in very damaging ways.
Let me give you two fascinating illustrations of this.
The first comes from what some people consider to be the best book ever written about America. But oddly enough, it was written by a Frenchman – and way back in the 1830’s!
The first of the two volumes was published in 1835, and you may be interested first to know that what this Frenchman foresaw concerning Texas, indeed came about…
But the case of Texas is still more striking: the State of Texas is a part of Mexico, and lies upon the frontier between that country and the United States. In the course of the last few years the Anglo-Americans have penetrated into this province, which is still thinly peopled; they purchase land, they produce the commodities of the country, and supplant the original population. It may easily be foreseen that if Mexico takes no steps to check this change, the province of Texas will very shortly cease to belong to that government.
The book is titled Democracy in America and its author was a man named Alexis de Tocqueville.
And maybe if he was around today he’d be making another prediction about the direction Texas – or California — is heading!
Towards the end of the first volume he devotes considerable space to what he calls “The Present And Probable Future Condition Of The Three Races Which Inhabit The Territory Of The United States.”
And de Tocqueville tells of what we now can see in hindsight was a disastrous case – for the American Indians – of the dangerous human default position …
At the first settlement of the colonies they might have found it possible, by uniting their forces, to deliver themselves from the small bodies of strangers who landed on their continent. They several times attempted to do it, and were on the point of succeeding; but the disproportion of their resources, at the present day, when compared with those of the whites, is too great to allow such an enterprise to be thought of. Nevertheless, there do arise from time to time among the Indians men of penetration, who foresee the final destiny which awaits the native population, and who exert themselves to unite all the tribes in common hostility to the Europeans; but their efforts are unavailing. Those tribes which are in the neighborhood of the whites, are too much weakened to offer an effectual resistance; whilst the others, giving way to that childish carelessness of the morrow which characterizes savage life, wait for the near approach of danger before they prepare to meet it; some are unable, the others are unwilling, to exert themselves.
If they could have only seen what was coming their way.
But now it’s the turn of their conquerors to face the same challenge.
Wouldn’t it be fascinating if the United States succumbed to the same problem?
The second illustration comes from a biography of Chairman Mao, written by the Wild Swans author and her husband.
She relates the story of an officer in the Nationalist army as the end for them was drawing nigh and Mao’s day of triumph was closing in…
Nationalist captain Hau Chen had seen some terrors, which had made him strongly anti-Communist. In early 1948, when he came home to Ningbo, near Shanghai, he found that people did not want to listen to what he had to say, and saw him as a pain:
[M]any relatives and friends came to see me…I talked to every visitor, till my tongue dried up and my lips cracked…I told them about the heartless and bestial deeds of the Communist bandits… But I was unable to wake them up from their dreams, but rather aroused their aversion… I realized that most of them thought as follows:
“These words are Nationalist propaganda. How can you believe them all?”
“In a violent war like this, these are only transitional means…”
“We’ve been through Japanese occupation, and survived. You can’t say the Communists are worse than the Japanese.”
These views could be said to represent the way of thinking in the middle and lower echelons of society…People always have to learn from their own experience…
People were in denial – and helpless against Mao’s juggernaut.Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story
The dangerous human default position was certainly at work! But… what if… something else is in play…
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.Proverbs 27:1
In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.Ecclesiastes 7:14
For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.Ecclesiastes 8:7-8
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.James 4:13-16
As you can see, if Christianity is the story we are in, then by our very nature we are limited in our understanding of both the present and the future.
Therefore, the future, aside from what your God has revealed, tends toward mystery.
Now of course, people often agree with the prognosis that you just can’t know the future. They believe that the best way to deal with the future is to shape it and determine it by our own actions.
But even that approach doesn’t always seem to work out the way we think it will. Painful gaps in our story keep appearing.
But Paula Wong reminded us that although the future is a mystery, the mystery cuts both ways.
It’s just as dangerous — and perhaps even more so — to dismiss the possible negative consequences of a direction you are headed.
So why do we do it so often?
Why do we close our eyes to the possible negative consequences?
Because we have a natural, but defective, default position related to the future.
We desire for life to be “normal.”
We deeply hope and often believe tomorrow will be just like today — only maybe better!
It is the nature of human beings to assume that the current trend will work itself out, that things can’t really be that bad. The trend is your friend … until it ends. Look at the bond markets only a year and then just a few months before World War I. There was no sign of an impending war. Everyone “knew” that cooler heads would prevail.
We can look back now and see where we have made mistakes in the current crisis. We actually believed that this time was different, that we had better financial instruments, smarter regulators, and were so, well, modern. Times were different. We knew how to deal with leverage. Borrowing against your home was a good thing. Housing values would always go up. Etc.
Until they didn’t, and then it was too late. What were we thinking? Of course, we were thinking in accordance with our oh-so-human natures. It is all so predictable, except for the exact moment when the crisis hits.Changing the Rules in the Middle of the Game, by John Mauldin, November 25, 2011
It’s a very deep human desire.
But, in the times we live in — or any time for that matter — we simply shouldn’t assume tomorrow will be like today.
Consider this fascinating insight…
Changes that used to take generations—economic cycles, cultural shifts, mass migrations, changes in the structures of families and institutions—now unfurl in a span of years. Since 2000, we have experienced three economic bubbles (dot-com, real estate, and credit), three market crashes, a devastating terrorist attack, two wars and a global influenza pandemic.
Game-changing consumer products and services (iPod, smart phones, YouTube, Twitter, blogs) that historically might have appeared once every five or more years roll out within months. In what seems like the blink of an eye one giant industry (recorded music) has been utterly transformed, another (the 250-year-old newspaper business) is facing oblivion, and a half-dozen more (magazines, network television, book publishing) are apparently headed to meet one of those two fates.
Call it the advent of “the 10-year century”: a fast shuffle that stacks events which once took place in the course of a lifetime compressed into the duration of a childhood.The Ten-Year Century As the pace of change accelerates, trust becomes vital currency. by Tom Hayes and Michael S. Malone, The Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2009
Our wealth of knowledge doesn’t necessarily make it easier for us to assess our risks properly.
In this information-saturated era, we expect no surprises. Yet we are constantly surprised. We have huge amounts of data, so we assume that risks can be calculated and avoided. But we also have exceedingly complex systems. Just as weather is too hard to predict more than a few days out because of how many variables interact, it’s hard to predict other complex systems. Consider credit instruments during the financial crisis, the global warming debate, or global epidemics. Thus an earthquake and tsunami, even in technologically advanced Japan, can kill tens of thousands, wipe out entire villages, and re-open questions about nuclear power.
We no longer believe in social engineering because we accept that human foibles make it hard to predict manmade outcomes. Physical science was supposed to be different. In 1974, when the social sciences aspired to the apparent certainties of the hard sciences, Friedrich Hayek gave a lecture called “The Pretence of Knowledge,” on the occasion of receiving the Nobel Prize in Economics. Hayek, the Austrian-born University of Chicago economist, made points that in retrospect help explain why tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes are more common than people expect.Tsunamis of Information, by L. Gordon Crovitz, WSJ.com, March 21, 2011
So, no matter how much data we have, it’s no easy thing to make consistently accurate predictions. (Or maybe we should admit it’s impossible!)
But in spite of all this we consistently end up defaulting to our hopes tomorrow will be like today; that everything will work out just fine.
This can be illustrated by an article we found in your Wall Street Journal about The Man Who Predicted the Tsunami.
A 41-year-old geologist named Masanobu Shishikura had begun to sound warnings.
Unfortunately for the Japanese, he was largely ignored.
And the reason? Consider the following…
At Dr. Shishikura’s eighth-floor office, bookshelves and televisions crashed to the floor during the quake on March 11. He has found temporary office quarters one story below, where he discussed his unheeded warning. “It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t in time,” he said. But he also felt vindicated after past slights, remembering the local official who didn’t want to help him dig holes in the earth for research and who called the endeavor a “nuisance.”
His work is part of a young field called paleoseismology. Kerry Sieh, a pioneer in the specialty, says that the few dozen people who do this kind of work are usually doomed to be ignored. Humans are made to trust what they have seen themselves, or what someone they know has seen. They aren’t designed “to deal with these once-in-500-year events,” says Dr. Sieh, formerly of the California Institute of Technology and now head of the Earth Observatory of Singapore.The Man Who Predicted the Tsunami, by Peter Landers, Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2011
Of course, we disagree with Dr. Sieh — humans can sometimes break away from the default position — just witness the work of Nassim Taleb.
Black Swans (capitalized) are large- scale unpredictable and irregular events of massive consequence — unpredicted by a certain observer, and such unpredictor is generally called the “turkey” when he is both surprised and harmed by these events. I have made the claim that most of history comes from Black Swan events, while we worry about ﬁne-tuning our understanding of the ordinary, and hence develop models, theories, or representations that cannot possibly track them or measure the possibility of these shocks. Black Swans hijack our brains, making us feel we “sort of” or “almost” predicted them, because they are retrospectively explainable. We don’t realize the role of these Swans in life because of this illusion of predictability. Life is more, a lot more, labyrinthine than shown in our memory— our minds are in the business of turning history into something smooth and linear, which makes us underestimate randomness.Nassim Taleb, Antifragile
Oh, and just in case you are not yet familiar with what is meant by a Black Swan, here is another explanation from Nassim Taleb, the famous originator of this concept…
A Black Swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was.Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan
So, if most of history comes from Black Swan events, then this began to make sense to our team about the story of China…
In this fiftieth anniversary year of Chairman Mao Zedong’s launch of the Cultural Revolution, it is worth recalling that every major zigzag in the tumultuous 67-year history of the P.R.C. has not been predicted by most Chinese cognoscenti or by outside analysts.
This includes the Great Leap Forward and its aftermath, which resulted in more than 30 million deaths in the late 1950s and early 1960s; the Sino–Soviet split; the decade-long Cultural Revolution that left in its brutal wake a “lost generation” in the 1960s and 1970s; and Deng Xiaoping’s dramatically successful “open and reform” initiative launched in the late 1970s, the most durable of all post-1949 phases of Chinese domestic and foreign policy.
David M. LamptonIs the Growing Pessimism About China Warranted?, A ChinaFile Conversation, China File, October 6, 2016
And that is why our anxiety is growing. If Christianity is the story we are in, the Party does not have ultimate control over how the story unfolds.
But neither do you Americans.
And in America, it looks like you are having trouble even facing the crises which are predictable. Witness the insight of the American economist Robert Samuelson, who lays out part of your difficulty…
We in America have created suicidal government; the threatened federal shutdown and stubborn budget deficits are but symptoms. By suicidal, I mean that government has promised more than it can realistically deliver and, as a result, repeatedly disappoints by providing less than people expect or jeopardizing what they already have. But government can’t easily correct its excesses, because Americans depend on it for so much that any effort to change the status arouses a firestorm of opposition that virtually ensures defeat. Government’s very expansion has brought it into disrepute, paralyzed politics and impeded it from acting in the national interest.
The consequence is political overload: The system can no longer make choices, especially unpleasant choices, for the good of the nation as a whole.Big Government on the Brink, By Robert Samuelson, Real Clear Politics, April 11, 2011
So, you might want to consider this…
The idea that democracy could falter, or be overturned in places where it had previously flourished, may seem outlandish.
But other great civilizations have risen—and then fallen. It is hubris to think we will inevitably be different.Address by Minister Freeland when receiving Foreign Policy’s Diplomat of the Year Award, Global Affairs Canada, June 13, 2018
And if you don’t want to think about your future, well, maybe at least read this, from your prophet Jeremiah…
Jerusalem sinned grievously;
therefore she became filthy;
all who honored her despise her,
for they have seen her nakedness;
she herself groans
and turns her face away.
Her uncleanness was in her skirts;Lamentations 1:8-9
she took no thought of her future;
therefore her fall is terrible;
she has no comforter.
And you might want to listen to this song, which Paula showed me…
Because, well, what if this guy was right?…
American Democracy will not drift toward higher things. It is not a pretty canoe floating on the river Success to the Sea of Glory. This is a world of peril; those who treat it otherwise, whether for their own souls or that of the Nation, are not wise. Perhaps the greatest danger of all to our people is that they may ridicule the idea that there is any danger for them. When a nation reaches that point of faith in itself it is on the brink.Perils Of American Democracy, By John Edward Bushnell, Bibliotheca Sacra, April 1916
And so, given all these crazy possibilities, we understand your denial.