Late last week Secretary Napolitano was in the Boston area. She announced a new grant for Logan airport, visited with the Boston police commissioner and Cambridge firefighters, officiated at the swearing-in of new citizens, gave a speech at Harvard, and had a round-table discussion with nine college presidents. (Do you occasionally worry our cabinet secretaries have been remade into little more than mouthpieces, kept busy doing testimony, media interviews, speeches, and announcements?)
In a read-out of the closed door session with higher education leaders DHS tells us, “During the meeting, Secretary Napolitano highlighted the Department’s strong partnerships with universities including support for training, coursework in homeland security-related fields and industries, and for research and development in science and technology, such as the DHS Centers of Excellence, which bring together multidisciplinary homeland security research and education assets of more than 200 institutions across the country.”
The Boston Globe reports, “she was in Cambridge meeting with college and university presidents to discuss new courses and majors aimed at preparing graduates to enter the field of cybersecurity.” In remarks at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government the Secretary noted, “Combating the cyber threat is going to require a partnership among government, academia, and the private sector as ambitious and sustained as any our nation has seen before. And I should say to the bright students here that DHS wants the best minds coming out of our universities to come join us in this effort.”
I have a second-hand report (good enough for a blog?) that the session with university presidents was mostly about science and technology research grants, not about homeland security education or professional development. This is not a surprise and says much more about the role of modern universities and their presidents, than about homeland security or the Secretary. (And suggests homeland security officials are not the only ones with a serious grants habit, see Dan O’Connor’s Tuesday post.)
On the same day the Secretary of Homeland Security was meeting with higher education leaders in Boston, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was in Atlanta. According to Georgia Public Broadcasting, “Duncan paid a visit telling students that America has to educate itself to a better economy by improving science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM subjects.”
The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) released in February emphasizes, “Maturing and strengthening the homeland security enterprise includes enhancing shared awareness of risks and threats, building capable communities, fostering unity of effort, and fostering innovative approaches and solutions through leading-edge science and technology.”
Am I working too hard to connect some dots (smudges?) or might there be a pattern here?
Science and technology – like mom and apple pie – attract widespread support. Investments in research and development for these hard-subjects (“hard” as in practical and difficult) are measurable and meaningful… for me too.
But read the QHSR’s paragraph again. What is the role of science and technology in shared awareness of risk and threats? We have lots of technology to gather, sort and display information on risks and threats. What we don’t have is a shared understanding of what is meaningful to gather, what is helpful to sort, and how to interpret the results. That’s a judgment call.
How about building capable communities? Science and technology certainly have a role in infrastructure development. But given the QHSR’s attention to psychological and community resilience, I perceive its definition of “capable” goes well beyond the boundaries of science and technology. How do we build a capable community? It depends on the context of the particular community, doesn’t it? It depends on the purposes we seek to advance, doesn’t it? Capable of what? It’s a judgment call.
Scan the QHSR table of contents and there are plenty of opportunities for science and technology to support good judgment. But mostly we are given complex, constantly changing contexts beyond the capacity of precise prediction.
Once upon a time, we presumed to teach good judgment. This was always a dicey business. Since the 1960s – after what many saw as a series of profoundly bad judgments – the notion of good judgment has been widely discredited as self-serving fiction.
In this we have neglected to understand how and why well-intentioned men (mostly) made tragically flawed judgments. We are increasingly inclined to ex post facto assessments of every judgment. If we like the results, the judgment is good. If the result is not satisfactory, there can now be a compulsion to uncover deceit and deception. And in any case, the culture insists that threat, vulnerability and consequence should be predictable.
In this confidence regarding predictability we are, I perceive, indulging the fatal flaw at the heart of the worst kind of judgment. In those ancient days when we earnestly endeavored to teach good judgment, we learned that hubris – trying to control what is beyond our control – is the tripwire for tragedy. Toward the end of his life Robert McNamara wrote, “…it’s beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend. Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate.” This is the beginning of wisdom. McGeorge Bundy, another of the Sixties best and brightest, tells us, “There is no safety in unlimited technological hubris.” Two of the tragedy’s main characters seemed to learned its lesson. But those of us in the audience?
How do we choose well when we cannot – when no one can – be sure of the outcome? How do we choose well when the risks of failure are real? How do we choose well when threats are unpredictable, vulnerabilities are inherent to our liberty, and the consequences could be catastrophic? It’s a judgment call.
Is it too late to retrieve – or create anew – the teaching and learning of good judgment?
For further consideration:
Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
Aristotle’s Ethics by Richard Kraut (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)