Editorial Note: This is the eighth in a series of posts on resilience as a proposed focus for a homeland security strategy. This strategizing is organized around the approach taken by George Kennan in a seminal 1946 document. Links to prior posts are provided below.
An especially fruitful discussion took place related to Monday’s post (Please scroll immediately below today’s). There is a chance the discussion will continue today and is worth your reading… and participation.
In the fourth of his five part Long Telegram, George Kennan addresses how Soviet neuroses play out in unofficial behavior. In the four prior posts I have set out how the US could reduce its neurotic stance on homeland security through official policy and strategy.
But the effectiveness of the proposed measures depend on a range of unofficial attitudes and actions. Or — if not precisely unofficial — effectiveness depends on serious engagement with messy, subjective, very human attributes that “official” policy and strategy often seek to exclude.
I hope some readers have questioned or critiqued Monday’s post for failing to establish sufficiently rigorous standards for awarding the proposed federal grants. It would be even more satisfying to be challenged on the competence of the 500 electors to assess the grant requests. (The number is based on the jury that convicted Socrates to death, a rhetorical gift to skeptics.)
Each of these concerns would reflect our current official norms. These norms emerged from a salutory process, now more than a century-old, to reduce the corrupt influence of personal preference and increase the role of expertise in making official decisions. I perceive these norms and their related processes have reached a stage of rococo decrepitude.
The official norms now discourage community-based participation, collaboration, and deliberation. Our official norms now stand in the way of the kind of communication and other behaviors that create resiliency.
In my last two posts (October 30 and November 2) I referenced a number of key attributes of resilient communities. I did not deal with the potentially most important — and admittedly mysterious — attribute: Trust.
In studying the commons, and in distinguishing between common resources that are over-harvested and those sustainably harvested, trust has been identified as an essential attribute of successful self-organization. In the literature trust is sometimes characterized as requiring two elements: a shared set of preferences and expectations of future interactions.
This notion of trust makes enormous sense to a small town boy. I work best with those who broadly share similar goals and with whom I expect to continue working. I work best with my friends. (Consider Aristotle’s three different kinds of friends, with particular attention to the role of utility.)
But our official norms — well beyond homeland security — have become so neurotic that friendship is actively discouraged. No wonder so many feel dissociated from our political culture, the process of governance, and — at worst — from reality itself.
In a paper written last year (and I understand in a recent book that I have not yet read) Elinor Ostrom explores the foundations of trust. In the monograph, Building Trust to Solve Common Dilemmas: Taking Small Steps to Test an Evolving Theory of Collective Action, the Nobel winning Political Economist sets out that the following variables seem to be highly correlated with trust and cooperation:
Dr. Ostrom also reports that three variables seem to be highly correlated with lack of cooperation and the absence of trust:
Full anonymity—current actions taken by an individual cannot be attributed to that individual by anyone else; and
No information is available to one participant about the others involved.
Which set of variables more accurately represents your typical interaction with the Department of Homeland Security or other expressions of government? Perhaps we have the first clues for diagnosing the sources of our political discontent.
Have our current norms and processes succeeded in excluding official corruption and cronyism? No, they have not. But in a tragedy-inviting effort to control the bad, we have undermined the good. We have discouraged broad-based participation, collaboration, and deliberation. We have discouraged effective communication. We have become suspicious of friendship.
Our neurosis erupts in surprising ways and places. But we can resolve the neurosis with self-awareness, embracing the tragic, and self-consciously adopting the attitudes and behaviors most condusive to resilience.
Previous posts in this series:
The Long Blog: A strategy of resilience (October 19)
The Long Blog: Practical policy continued (November 2)
Depending on responses, challenges, suggestions and such from readers, this may be the penultimate post in this swan-song series. I may be able to finish on Friday, November 6. If so, I will offer some final reflections regarding the last nine months on Monday, November 9 and exit stage right.