Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 18, 2010

Resilience as Karma?

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 18, 2010

Jonathon Haidt has written an interesting piece for this last weekend’s Wall Street Journal.  Now that your weekend fun is over, I encourage you to read what I will call, A Particularly American Idea of Karma.” (Haidt and the Journal’s editors gave it a different title that I am concerned will discourage you from accessing.)

Haidt’s take on Karma is directly related to several comments posted to this blog over the last couple of years (check out related comments made to my Friday post)  and to what we understand may be at the foundation of resilient communities.

My lodestar for what works and does not work in resilience is Elinor Ostrom, who shared the 2010 Nobel Prize for Economics.   She has a new book out that is worth reading (see link at close of this post). The book is a serious bit of science. She offers a breezy summary in a February interview with Fran Korten of Yes! magazine.

Fran: It’s interesting that your research is about people learning to cooperate. And your Workshop at the university is also organized on principles of cooperation.

Elinor: I have a new book coming out in May entitled Working Together, written with Amy Poteete and Marco Janssen. It is on collective actions in the commons. What we’re talking about is how people work together. We’ve used an immense array of different methods to look at this question—case studies, including my own dissertation and Amy’s work, modeling, experiments, large-scale statistical work. We show how people use multiple methods to work together.

Fran: But what about the “free-rider” problem where some people abide by the rules and some people don’t? Won’t the whole thing fall apart?

Elinor: Well if the people don’t communicate and get some shared norms and rules, that’s right, you’ll have that problem. But if they get together and say, “Hey folks, this is a project that we’re all going to have to contribute to. Now, let’s figure it out,” they can make it work. For example, if it’s a community garden, they might say, “Do we agree every Saturday morning we’re all going to go down to the community garden, and we’re going to take roll and we’re going to put the roll up on a bulletin board?” A lot of communities have figured out subtle ways of making everyone contribute, because if they don’t, those people are noticeable.

Fran: So public shaming and public honoring are one key to managing the commons?

Elinor: Shaming and honoring are very important. We don’t have as much of an understanding of that. There are scholars who understand that, but that’s not been part of our accepted way of thinking about collective action.

I have some personal concerns — spiritually and ethically — with what Haidt and Ostrom are saying.  But I want to listen very carefully.  Hope you will join me in listening and thinking through the implications for resilience and more broadly for homeland security.

For further consideration:

Working Together  by Elinor Ostrom, Marco Janssen, and Amy Poteete

Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley (check out her blog post on the Chilean mine rescue)

Fundamentals of Resilience in Brief from a 2009 HLSWatch Post

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4 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 18, 2010 @ 6:35 am

Well Phil have been interested in this subject for quite a while and the link to your post of July 9th reminded me of your long term interest. Thanks for the links and references. I agree that this “paradigm” of resilence is a good one for DHS and other governmental organizations and even NGOs and private sector.

I notice that the term has started to appear in footnotes in various government reports but not as a guiding theme yet. Too bad because I think resilience and its related paradigms of preparedness, prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery make sense of what Homeland Security and EM have been all about. Perhaps a resilience test for each community of any size could be developed and while some will look for low tax jurisdictions to inhabit more will look to move to or continue to reside in resilient communities of whatever size. I have become increasing concerned that failure to do so has made some units of local government very dangerous to occupy since they are unable to have almost any of the sinews of preparedness as a starting point for resiience but in fact are “fakes” in the sense they add almost nothing but an artificiality for certain economic sectors to exploit the commons, such as extractive industries. Well look forwards to you book. And by the way how is the 30 plus staff of John Brennan working on resilience issues progressing?

Will there be a resilience HSPD or PD?

Comment by Art Botterell

October 18, 2010 @ 10:35 am

Critical point here: people with weak senses of social obligation tend to project that weakness onto people with more developed senses of altruism. Thus people who believe that they should act exclusively in their own self-interest justify it with the assumption that everyone else does. And it’s hard to persuade such folks that a significant number of folks think and act differently.

The motivations of the communitarian community go beyond the self-centered motives of winning praise and avoiding shame. Those are just the motives that can be explained to folks who lack the sense that service to others is “the rent you pay for the space you occupy.”

So… will resilience be built more by people who believe in pooled risk, or by people who think everyone’s out for themselves? There’s a tortured line of thinking stretching from from Ayn Rand to Gordon Gekko and beyond that would claim the latter, but it’s always smelled of rationalization to me.

(Ever notice how nobody ever gets sick or disabled in an Ayn Rand novel?)

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 18, 2010 @ 11:03 am

Recent genetic research may indicate presence of an “altrusim” gene. Perhaps if present in some absent in others.

Comment by Shame to not honor our WTC responders

October 26, 2010 @ 12:13 am

How can communities work together for a common good for who? Obama promised to change America but didn’t mention change for the betterment of who? Sounded like the people would benefit from this “change” but as reality is the Government does not change for the benefit of the people but the Government changes to benefit the Government. Shaming vs honoring according to what standards, who will judge these shames vs honors basically who will know the rules in order to know how to play the game of shame or reward. They should shame rewards given to those who reward shame when who will make the final decision – all about judging others when who are we to judge or call shame to someone who is not in the chosen crowd but to honor others who cause shame to innocent, vulnerable by taking advantage of widows who will never “bounce back” resilence like the one who can’t empathize let alone sympathize but to develop a collaboration not a positive win-win negotiation for all to be winners in the end – not the negativity we need to stop with the you must win – play cut throat games – with real life reality of life or death not a game of shame vs honor – well our Government should be get the shame of all honors – dare you to put that question on a ballot? Or to keep those politicians who promise lies to be held accountable, responsible and if not shamed but how Elliot Spitzer can have a reality show after his Prostitution Ring leader to be lead prosecutor of a Federal Investigation is what this article is as ridiculous as asking how Americans feel given the free will we are told we have but under the Patriot Act become “terrorist” or “threat” to speak the truth about a Government gone bad to be rescued before it sinks like that game of Battleship?

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