Trump, Complex Systems, and A Biblical Perspective

It's been an emotionally challenging time for me given recent events that are happening around me: equity changes at my parent company and a Trump upset. I'm devastated and have been scrambling for the past two weeks to process them. Perhaps I should seek comfort in the old adage, "Change is the only constant in business." But that's neither comforting nor prescriptively useful. In search of an effective mental framework while wallowing in sadness, I've come across a beautifully written Quartz article by Parag Khanna on how quantum physics can perhaps explain the unexplainable developments in geopolitics (or life for that matter). In short, unpredictable - and even shocking - events, such as a Trump victory, that happen are a result of a confluence of changing factors that act in convoluted, uncertain ways to produce a single outcome. Traditional intellectual frameworks - ones that Professor Peter Katzenstein taught us at Cornell - are no longer sufficiently effective in analyzing the state of political matter when used independently; in fact, we've arrived at a world where no single mental framework/theory is dominant (and where no single state is the ultimate hegemon). This is very scary for us because we're horrible beings at managing complexity. Our brains shut down in the face of complexity and worst of all, uncertainty. We crave for simplicity (because it saves brain power, and it's predictable) but in real life, there's no simple explanation for a Clinton defeat, Brexit, rise of Duterte, and other seemingly unacceptable events. One could resort to the relatively simple argument that attributes such events to the rise of populism due to the unequal and often unfair distribution of benefits brought about by globalization. But is that it? I would argue that there exists multiple frameworks (and even some undiscovered ones) that are all true at the same time even when they're at odds with each other. Imagine each intellectual model (e.g., economic, political, societal, financial, etc.) exists on its own dimension, and we live in a multi-dimensional world; existence refers to the state where current time cuts across all the dimensions within which known and unknown factors are in different states; events happen as a result of the combined effect of the changing flow of these different factors, which can exist in contradictory states simultaneously (as in quantum mechanics). It's like playing multi-dimensional chess except some chess pieces are unknown while others can be "dead" and "alive" on the board at the same time. To make matters worse, you can either measure how fast the pieces are moving or their position but not both simultaneously (Uncertainty Principle). Now I bet your brain is shutting down even if you've tolerated reading my puzzling blog this far. In short, if quantum mechanics is our life writ large, then the latter is strange, complex, and uncertain.   

So here's the simple biblical answer: there's a lower story and an upper story. The lower story is complex, disappointing, and evanescent. We won't ever understand the physical world 100%. I don't mean to be cynical but even Solomon said, "I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes 1:14). There's no one  formula in the lower, human story. Even if you succeed in finding THE formula or in leading a secular, successful life, you're "chasing after the wind." Obama's legacy - Obamacare, immigration reform, LGBT rights, etc - can be undone overnight by a Trump presidency. But that is not to say that we should just sit back, do nothing, and be cynical about life. The upper story is God's story, and just like Pastor Randy Frazee preaches, it's only through this upper story lens can we make sense of the lower story. God's story of salvation is the only story that matters in the long run. As Sarah Keung shared in our WhatsApp group, "Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:1-3 NIV). The core message of salvation through Jesus Christ in the upper story gives me strength to do the right and godly thing in the lower story. This is why Peter says "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness (2 Peter 2:11)". Don't get discouraged and derailed by lower story developments. Having the upper story in mind, may we keep doing the right thing even when we don't want to. Even when it hurts.