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Feature 08.18.2021 5 minutes

The Quantum Pill

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Guidance for an uncertain future.

Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. Before the Afghanistan debacle, American life felt eerily calm under the circumstances. To many, the warnings of catastrophe—from the Delta Variant to the border crisis to skyrocketing inflation—seemed oddly distant. We felt the effects of these things, but gradually and as if at a million miles’ distance. The actual cataclysm never seemed to hit in the dramatic, sudden way we expected it to.

Then the Taliban took Kabul, and things got very real very fast. Now we are all watching as horrific images cascade across our screens. But still, there is an odd sense of suspended animation, of forced inaction and sensory overload. We can’t exactly do anything about 20 years’ worth of consequences as they come crashing down around our ears. Our leaders can’t seem to do anything either, except blame us and make us suffer more for their failures. And all the while this sense that some event, something epochal and consequential, is still to come.

Maybe. Big, sudden things do happen from time to time. But maybe our expectation that something big will happen now, soon—our feeling of living with upturned faces and held breath, waiting—maybe that feeling has more to do with the stakes of the present moment than with the truth of how things will or won’t play out in the future. Perhaps that feeling in our gut is just a feeling of freefall—one which leads us to expect, but does not necessarily imply, a sudden shock of impact to come.

Crisis—a Greek word meaning simply “judgment” or “decision”—does not have to happen all at once. At every level of American life, in a thousand ways large and small, we are making daily choices which will profoundly affect the course of the future. Will we raise up new national leaders who learn from the mistakes of Afghanistan? Will your state, your city, your school board permit the teaching of Critical Race Theory? Will you, personally, put on a mask before you enter that store, or not? If not, will others see your example and follow suit?

It is easy to see how any of these issues could play out in ways good and bad, how each of them could go differently and have contrary implications to the others. You can feel it in your own soul, the imperceptible chance or providence that makes the hair’s-breadth difference between possible outcomes—will I work out today or sleep in? Fight or acquiesce? Grow or die? Through every human heart at every moment there runs a line as thin as razor wire between this and that decision, between action and inaction, good and evil. Eventually the accumulated weight of tiny choices adds up to the future of a nation and the world. But in the moment before each decision, it is easy to see every possibility as equally likely, all futures as equally real at once.

Call it “taking the Quantum Pill.” When you take the Quantum Pill, you can see the future in both a black-pilled and a white-pilled, both an optimistic and a pessimistic way at once—like a quantum computer hovering at 1 and 0 simultaneously, or like Schrodinger’s Cat, both alive and dead until observed. This state of total suspension in between possibilities is perhaps the most accurate frame of mind with respect to the future, which nobody knows—not the angels, not even the son, but only the Father in heaven.

Because in truth the Quantum Pill does not put you in some unusual position with regard to what will come. It simply reveals to you the position in which all humans at all times stand: a position of unknowing. “The war creates no absolutely new situation,” said C.S. Lewis as World War II swept Europe. “It simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.”

Your predictions, your apprehensions, your certainty about what is coming: they are illusions. What is real is the crisis, the need for decision. And whether the future is to be evil or happy or some strange mixture of both, your task is the same: build, and build for good. To that end, over the coming days we will present you with a series of pieces about how to live with what is in your control. It is a feature on “Surviving the Culture War”: on how you personally can structure your life so that you, your family, and your children are on stable footing to weather whatever comes.

The world may go mad, but you can stay sane, and gather with others who will help you. The pieces in this series will offer a little guidance to that end—a little guidance on how to eat, learn, pray, teach, and live well. We hope this will help snap you out of doomscrolling into action, out of forecasting and fortune telling into activity for the here and now.

For when your personal quantum state resolves itself and outcomes are made manifest, it will not be in some imagined future but in some new present, when the daily grinding work of self-mastery and self-government has accumulated into something looking like the history of a whole life. And if enough of us live the kinds of lives whose histories are worth telling, then perhaps our children’s children will look back to say that when the moment of decision came, we faced the crisis and survived.

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