A new national strategy for an important aspect of homeland security is nearly complete. I expect it will emerge from the interagency process in another three to six weeks.
The subject matter is of particular interest to me. Because of prior work done on the issue and relationships of trust within the homeland security community I received an unauthorized copy for review.
[un·au·thor·ised adj not having official permission]
With the benefit of the preview I have had conversations with various parties involved in authoring the national strategy and those who are likely to be most affected by the national strategy. I have tried to use these conversations to influence how the national strategy will be finalized and initially received.
[in·flu·ence n. A power affecting a person, thing, or course of events, especially one that operates without any direct or apparent effort.]
I happen to mostly agree with the draft I have seen. It is short, truly strategic, and offers a substantive argument. Even if you disagree with its goals, it will be helpful to engaging the issue.
Because I am drawn to the principles and priorities set out by the new strategy I am inclined to portray it as being as attractive as possible to those who will be affected by it.
[a·ttrac·tive adj 1. appealing to the senses or mind through beauty, form, character, etc. 2. arousing interest an attractive opportunity 3. possessing the ability to draw or pull an attractive force.]
Especially in terms of practicing mitigation and advancing resilience, I find the new strategy appealing. (It has other goals as well.) But some will perceive a potential threat. Depending on how the new strategy is interpreted and implemented it might hurt as much as help. Threats can also attract.
I perceive human life — and especially social life — as a complex adaptive system. While certainly susceptible to over-abstraction, most humans and most societies are inclined to descend into deepening basins of attraction. The deeper the basin the greater the stability. But regardless of how deep or how shallow, once inside the basin the system tends to cycle again and again around a point (or points) of equilibrium.
[Basin of Attraction (physics) The collection of all possible initial conditions of a dynamical system for which the trajectories representing that system in phase space will converge to a particular attractor.]
We can conceive the Roman imperial system as an especially deep basin of attraction. Even after the Western empire collapsed the cultural attractor continued to exercise considerable influence through Byzantine, medieval German, and Russian political systems and perhaps most directly through the Catholic Church. Certain British and American notions of power and influence can be seen emerging from this basin. I have spent a considerable part of my life in an ancient Roman plunge pool. Two generations ago the pool was full. Not today.
Every living society or culture can be conceived as a collection of basins — a veritable lake district — where from time to time there are periods of flood and drought. One basin joins with another and another yet. A single basin is divided in parts. A once deep basin is filled by silt and debris becoming more and more shallow, finally evaporating away on one especially hot day.
As long as the basin of attraction persists it serves as a source of authority. The deeper the attraction and the more who are attracted, the stronger the authority.
[authority early 13c., autorite “book or quotation that settles an argument,”from O.Fr. auctorité (12c.; Mod.Fr. autorité), from L. auctoritatem (nom. auctoritas) “invention, advice, opinion, influence, command,” from auctor “master, leader, author”.]
The book or citation that could claim real authority did so on the basis of broad and deep attraction. We approached the Bible or Aristotle or symbols of tradition or the Congressman or the President with authentic respect, even affection. Not today.
As I have worked to encourage a positive response to the forthcoming national strategy, the recurring question is whether or not it will make any difference. Its origin in the federal interagency process, authored in the White House, and signed by the President is not sufficient and may, in some quarters, considerably heighten skepticism.
The process of framing and forming this new strategy and other official documents assume a basin of attraction that too often is nothing more than a muddy puddle. Authority is little more than a thin sheen. It is not the intent, invention, or content of the document, decision, or initiative that produces this outcome; it is the time, place, and environment into which it is introduced.
I perceive we are living in a time of shallow and very permeable basins. Rather than a lake district, our fitness landscape is more like a swamp. There may be a deep clear pond out there, but that’s not where we are today in homeland security, national security, or most of modern life.
[“Evolutionary adaptation is the process that increases the fit of a population to the fitness landscape it inhabits. As a consequence, evolutionary dynamics is shaped, constrained, and channeled, by that fitness landscape.” (Critical Properties of Complex Fitness Landscapes) My use of a basin’s depth, rather than height reverses the most common visualization of a fitness landscape.]
For some — turtle, muskrat, alligator, snake, many birds — the swamp is okay, even preferred. For me it is not preferred.
I am looking for something deeper, something less susceptible to flooding and freezing. I perceive the new national strategy may point to at least one way out of the swamp. But authority will not get us there. There must be attraction, sufficient attraction to move quite a number of stakeholders considerably upstream to higher ground and deeper basins.
It is an interesting challenge: Can government eschew the mirage of authority enough to attract meaningful collaboration?