Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 21, 2009

Do I see what you see? Probably not.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 21, 2009


Over the last four days Homeland Security Watch has considered:

  • The origins of domestic terrorism,
  • A proposal to activate military reserves to respond to disasters,
  • Technological challenges facing homeland security,
  • Leadership changes in Pakistan’s tribal areas,
  • Recommendations for wildfire readiness, communication, and response,
  • Vaccine production for H1N1, and
  • State and regional fusion centers.

In each posting observations were shared to inform your decisions and actions.

In some of these posts, a specific orientation was pushed.  For example, I suggested that social isolation should be considered an important factor in recruiting a wide range of potential terrorists.

The proposal to activate military reserves for disaster response elicited very strong reactions on a number of blogs, but not so much at HLSWatch.  The divergence of reaction may suggest that while readers are observing the same proposal, decision and action differ because of the orientation many of you bring to your reading. 

Yesterday Chris Bellavita offered at least four (maybe more) different orientations on the current reality of  fusion centers.  Each of the orientations are — in part — a reflection of how other orientations are observed.  Not surprisingly, the (obvious?) decisions and actions unfolding from these different orientations are… well, different.

One of those with whom Chris was talking mentioned OODA loops.  This is the Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action framework set out by the late John Boyd.  A former Air Force fighter pilot and wide-reader in phenomenology, Colonel Boyd offered, “Orientation is an interactive process of many-sided implicit cross-referencing projections, empathies, correlations, and rejections that is shaped by and shapes the interplay of genetic heritage, cultural tradition, previous experiences, and unfolding circumstances.”  (Organic Design for Command and Control, slide 15)

Reality-as-experienced is variable and dependent on one’s orientation to what is observed.  As Dr. Bellavita seems to have been reminded, there is not much value in arguing over what is observed until the orientations involved are identified and, as much as possible, mutually understood. 

My reality is not your reality.  But we can increase what we share, with effort.

This does not require adopting the other’s orientation.  In many cases, this is impossible in any authentic way.  But we can cultivate sympathy for how other realities persist within their own logical systems.  This is possible in regard to our political adversary’s  orientation, the terrorist’s  orientation, and even the bureaucrat’s orientation.

Instead of only talking to myself  (or similar selves),  I can communicate —  both receiving and sending — with the truly other.  In this communication there is a potential to break free of the limitations imposed by a singular orientation. 

Colonel Boyd is best-known for describing how the orientation function can be exploited to confound adversaries.  But he also addressed struggling with orientation as the foundation for forging greater unity in a team or society.  He wrote,

We must find some common qualities, attributes, or operations to link isolated facts, perceptions, ideas, impressions, interactions, observations, etc., together as possible concepts to represent the real world. Finally,we must repeat this unstructuring and restructuring until we develop a concept that begins to match-up with reality. By doing this—in accordance with Godel, Heisenberg and the Second Law of Thermodynamics—we find that the uncertainty and disorder generated by an inward-oriented system talking to itself can be offset by going outside and creating a new system. Simply stated, uncertainty and related disorder can be diminished by the direct artifice of creating a higher and broader more general concept to represent reality. (Destruction and Creation, page 6)

We each tend toward being an “inward-oriented system talking to itself,” never moreso than in the blogosphere.  But that is a dead-end.  Closed systems collapse.


Yesterday I made another visit to the Renwick Gallery.  The piece above, called The Listening Point (1993), is part of an exhibition that opened earlier this month and continues through January 3, 2010.  The artist is Mary Van Cline.   I see a visual metaphor for opposite realities encountering one another across cultural chasms.  What do you see?

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 21, 2009 @ 8:18 am

Is reality just what the most people believe? My problem is that closed [belief] systems can do a lot of damage in both short and long run! Looking like preview of Tom Ridge’s new book out next month as revealed by NYTimes indicates his reality and Bush were not the same but the system was closed.
Is terrorism an existential threat to the U.S.? I say know but many say yes.
Interesting post and Renwick is a treasure trove in all of its exhibits.

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