Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 1, 2012

Homeland security as an unfolding catastrophic consequence

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on June 1, 2012

There have been at least five mass extinctions on this planet. Some argue we are in the midst of another.

Without the Cretaceous extinction — 65 million years ago — mammals would have been kept in their place, mostly at the low-end of the  large reptile food chain.  The elimination of predators gave our  ancestors an opportunity to move up.

Less than a mass extinction, the eruption of the Toba supervolcano was plenty bad.  Only about 10,000 homo sapiens survived.  In the subsequent 73,000 years  we’ve made up the loss.   A similar eruption will eventually recur.

Very low frequency, very high consequence: This is one aspect of catastrophe.

There are also events that occur with more frequency and less consequence that many still perceive as catastrophic:  the Babylonian Captivity (6th Century BCE), Sack of Rome (410 CE), Siege of Baghdad (1258 CE) are three examples.  In each of these cases the catastrophe extends beyond the immediate event to the long-term cultural consequences of the event.

The complete destruction of Baghdad produced a very different Islamic worldview.  The Visigoth entry through the Salarian gate was mild compared to what the Mongols did to Baghdad, yet the desecration of Rome  was widely seen as closing the door to one era and opening a door to something very different.  The Judaism emerging from the exile of elites to Babylon was not the Judaism of the First Temple.

A catastrophe is not only a matter of numbers killed or property destroyed, it involves a fundamental shift in direction or perception, well outside pre-event expectations.

As the Baghdad, Rome, and Babylon examples also suggest, catastrophe is often a culminating event.  The catastrophic shift is the outcome of long-time trends — perhaps hidden, denied, or resisted — coming together in a moment of critical clarity.

Over the centuries Black Death has decimated many cities and regions.  But the pandemic of the mid-14th Century — killing 30 to 60 percent of Europeans — had an especially significant scope, scale and influence, transforming cultural, economic, and political foundations.  The Renaissance can be seen as a consequence of this catastrophic event.

The conquest of the Americas by Europeans was massively assisted by the pandemic wave that killed tens-of-thousands and disrupted indigenous structures well in advance of face-to-face first contact.  William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation wrote that the victims, “fell down so generally of this disease as they were in the end not able to help one another, no not to make a fire nor fetch a little water to drink, nor any to bury the dead.”  The pilgrims inherited cleared fields and their village site from those killed by Old World germs.

New England was the new normal emerging from this catastrophic event.

Comparatively low-consequence events can also lead to the emergence of a new normal.  The death toll from 9/11 was just shy of 3000, considerably less than any of the previous examples.  But decisions undertaken in the aftermath of 9/11 — political, legal, military, and more — have arguably initiated a fundamental shift, the shape of which is still taking form.

The choices we make in response to an event can determine whether or not it is catastrophic.

In its classical Greek meaning,  catastrophe is a decisive turn in a dramatic plot, typically sudden, sharp, and surprising.  The outcome is usually unhappy for the play’s hero, overturning prior expectations held by both hero and audience.

In the real-world examples above prior expectations are overturned. But unlike the ancient dramas, most actual catastrophes play out over time.  To those experiencing the shift, it might be barely noticed (slowly boiling frogs?) or vaguely understood.   In some cases the critical event is less the cause of catastrophe than an explicit confirmation of an implicit transformation long-underway.

Results of a catastrophe can be mixed.  Death, injury and destruction are regular features, but the new normal unfolding from the catastrophe is not always worse than what preceded it.  Results may bifurcate.  Aztec v Spaniard or mammal v reptile.  One creature’s catastrophe may be another’s opportunity.

Bad can also unfold into much worse. The collapse of reactionary European monarchies created a new normal exploited by Fascism, spawning the Holocaust, and unleashing a global war of unprecedented destructiveness.  Inevitable?  No.  Related? Certainly.

Proposition: What we call homeland security is a catastrophic consequence of the 9/11 attack.

In this usage catastrophic is not a pejorative, it is a description of an atypically radical shift in perception and behavior from one condition to another very different condition.

Hypothesis: The velocity of a catastrophic shift is correlated with  two factors: 1) preexisting systemic resilience and 2) the intentionality of post-catastrophe response.   The more resilience and intentionality depend on control mechanisms, the greater velocity of change.  The more resilience and intentionality are predisposed to creative adaptation, the velocity of change is reduced.

–+–

This is the first in a series of posts considering the relationship of catastrophe to homeland security.  The series is conceived as an open and conversational exploration.  Proving the null hypothesis or refining the hypothesis is as helpful as presuming to prove the hypothesis.  I don’t pretend to know where this may end up.  I am sure the exploring will be more interesting and fruitful with the benefit of your comments and critiques.  Please join in.

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18 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 1, 2012 @ 7:04 am

Great post PHIL so many thanks! I would argue of course that the 20th Century involved three different catastrophes all man made. Specifically the occurrence of WWI, WWII, and the Cold War. All involved continued efforts by the WEST to commit suicide. Pretty successfully.

I would also argue that 9/11 changed nothing fundamentally except politics in the USA. Whether permanent or not remains to be seen. The change was from a politics of hope and understanding to one of fear and greed. Perhaps these existed before. I read the history of the nuclear nightmare to be one in which essentially the American people rejected the leadership of its elites on nuclear posture largely triggered by deep understanding pervading Americans after the nuclear crisis of October 1963. Now revealed of course is the JFK vowed to close associates to neither able or willing to start a nuclear exchange. This revelation of course is one reason I argue that despite its risks–NFU–No First Use– of nuclear weapons as announced policy of the USA would make US a safer nation and perhaps the world.
The worst of all nightmares has occurred to me with MAD still USA strategic doctrine and the nuclear priesthood and political elites slipping into the shadows and pretending nuclear warfare is no longer an issue for the USA. The casualness of President Clinton in losing the nuclear black bag for up to six weeks [an impeachable offense IMO] is indicative of the lack of care and knowledge of those who always throw out “what about the 3 AM phone call”!

I am reading Edward Jean Smith’s 2001 biography “GRANT” and find it is fascinating not about Grant’s Civil War leadership but his Presidency. Not quite revisionist but substantial new insights into GRANT. Oddly of course given my interest in civil military relationships that is what is of great interest and GRANT as military leader did fear a military coup by Andrew Johnson to prevent the election of 1868!

I look forwards to the new biography of Professor Smith of “Eisenhower” who clearly like Grant understood the civil military relationship completely and worried about the “Power Elites” a famous study of America published in 1955.

Perhaps a decade has given US some perspective on 9/11/01 and perhaps not. IMO HS largely due to ineffective leadership has given the USA costs far in excess of its benefits. But perhaps this just documents the catastrophe of the impact of deep deep corruption in the political, economic,business, and military elites of the USA. Please tell me it ain’t so!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 1, 2012 @ 8:05 am

Bill, You write, “9/11 changed nothing fundamentally except politics in the USA. Whether permanent or not remains to be seen.” In a turn-about of our typical stances, in this case I perceive the glass is at least half-empty. I agree that whether the shift is permanent cannot yet be determined. But if, in fact, the United States has moved from a “politics of hope and understanding to one of fear and greed,” then I would argue this constitutes a catastrophic transition.

Comment by Michael Brady

June 1, 2012 @ 11:06 am

Philip, Excellent start to what promises to be a fascinating series.

The 9/11 attack cost AQ $500,000 USD and has resulted in two trillion dollars (and climbing) in unplanned and unfunded spending in the decade since. Bankrupting a superpower that now spies on its citizens, gropes grandmothers, and tortures its enemies, all for a mere half million bucks and the lives of 19 martyrs, is a payoff like no terror attack has ever accomplished.

That said, the sort of catastrophic transition Philip contemplates may be the result of the delineation, reinforcement, and concretization of the boundaries of the culture wars. Right/Left. Conservative/Progressive. Republican/Democrat. Drive time reactionary radio personalities/NPR. Rich/Poor. Fear and greed/Hope and understanding. In group/Out group. The differences between Heirarchical-Individualists and Communitarian-Egalitarians have never been drawn more starkly. The political, economic, and cultural issues we use to define ourselves have never been more distractingly and dangerously polarized. What if our republic were burning and the Tea Party, the Occupy Movement, and everyone between were unable to do more than play fiddles?

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 1, 2012 @ 11:51 am

The answer Michael is all are fiddling–some lazily and some like mad.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 1, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

Michael, The polarization to which you point: might it be understood as parallel feedback loops (as in a Lorenz Butterfly) where a non-linear system is cycling at extremes, even as it attempts to self-organize? It sometimes seems to me that the extraordinary, unprecedented wealth, power and influence of the United States from about 1945-1973 quickly followed by a rapid comparative decline (to overly simplify) swept away the boundaries and bearings within which our system was accustomed to operate. We are still in the midst of our “strange attractor” taking form. To shift entirely to metaphor: Where are the boundaries of freedom and where are the boundaries of responsibility within which most of us, most of the time will choose to operate? The lack of an answer suggests the lack of an attractor… and without an attractor what happens to a complex adaptive system?

Comment by Michael Brady

June 1, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

Philip,

I admit the maths are over my head but your metaphor is powerful:

“Where are the boundaries of freedom and where are the boundaries of responsibility within which most of us, most of the time will choose to operate?”

And if those of us who came of age with knowledge of these boundaries can no longer find them, what hope have those we have raised without them?

PS I’ve invited others to join us here http://eclecticbreakfast.blogspot.com/2012/06/catastrophe-as-transition.html but who knows if they’ll come. This is rich ground upon which very few choose to toil. Be well, gentlemen.

Comment by Django

June 1, 2012 @ 9:47 pm

Long ago a dog barked. And then another. And then one more. The last I heard just this afternoon. I traced it all the way back and I made sure that that they all were related. Someone asked me how I knew…

Is homeland security about reducing the velocity of change (allowing for self organizing systems) or managing the uncertainty that is the inevitable result of change? Can the velocity of change be managed? Can the uncertainty that is the inevitable result of change be managed? Either way, I really don’t know.

For me, your question still remains in the world of duality. Is your argument that control = faster change and resilience and intentionality = slower change? Is the idea that slower change is somehow a better outcome because it is more manageable?

What really is the difference?

Comment by The Doomsayer: Syria, Iran and Egypt and more....

June 2, 2012 @ 5:12 am

It was January 1989 when East German Prime MinisterHans Modrow and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met at the World Economic Forum which had evolved annually originally initiated by German economist Klaus Schwab and Modrow and Kohl had only one thing in mind, German reunification which would eventually lead to great calamity and much bloodshed. History tells us ten months later that the Berlin Wall fell and much changed in the relationship, even if for a short while, between the US and Russia….

In fact, the EUobserver said it was clear that Chancellor Merkel would become “the de facto supremo of Europe” and it was pointed out that she had stated, “We will only be able to strengthen our common currency if we coordinate our policies more closely and are prepared to gradually give up more powers to the EU. If we make loads of promises about debt reductionand sound budgeting, those need to be things that can be enforced or brought to court in the future. The point of the fiscal compact, after all, is to make it possible to check on those commitments. This means giving our European institutionsmore monitoring rights – and more bite. German is the representative of all European countries” and Mertkel went on to say that her solutuon to Eruope’s crisis was “more integration” and she believed that it was essential that transfers in powers from a national level to EU institutions and the European Court of Justice and this is all intentionally planned to enable Europe to transfer much of everything to the German way of things much like some seventy years when German boots and brutality scorched the earth and human remains in savage brutality now once again to resurface, resulting in the inevitable launching of nuclear holocaust.

Domineered by Germany once again, he EU soon to downsize to only a ten (10) nation state and while Gibralter will be given up to the Spanish, the Greeks wanting nothing to do with the Germans and so on and so forth, when we talk about Homeland Security and the catastrophic consequence, I can only talk about the fact that the US and its 108 nuclear weapons on European soil, asked repeatedly by the Europeans to get them out of Europe must bring them back to American soil and place them in strategic points on American soil and this to be done with the newly elected President for this Chicago city organizer who is so intent on promoting devisive ways and so narow in perspective so intent on shredding the Constitution and even dismantling our WMD whispering to the “KGB Putinites” what at least I consider to be comments and other coupled with his direct attack on the US Constitution as nothing less than treason… for this WH riddled w/Goldman Sachs associated staffers and the Europeans who seek to accelerate the process of tax coordination especially as a common corporate tax rate and soon to be imposed new energy taxes based on carbon emissions is an intentional world order of elitists and this lust for power again led by the Assayrians and the arrogance in greed as we saw the Germans deliberately breaking apart Yugoslavia to simply gain power over the Balkans w/Croatia now joining the German fast deployment army soon to march once again with the ever powerful vatican shoulder to shoulder as history repeats itself and Homeland Security discussions can only grip the unfolding catastrophic events of the German revival in its masterplan to dominate and will do so hoodwinking many including the USA!

We are so unprepared and inept in leadership and foresight. Barry Obama and his wife prefer to discuss slavery as the race issue of the day when in fact in their narrow perspective for America voted a Black man as its leader whose narrow perspective with cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other so enlightened by the Rev Wtight and his prejudiced views as well that when we talk of homeland security, let us look closely from within for like our nation of children with weakened wills so addicted to drugs and only interested in themselves and nothing more, adult pornography stats as well pinting to a weakened will to resist leaving us with families in turmoil and having lost homes in droves to a banking system so corrupt and led by the likes of someone like Mr. Barney who knows nothing of family values, only his own requirements so dishelved in his ways…

We, the good ‘ol USA where my front porch flag flys upside down depicting the distress we face and lack of any real leadership drifting more and more away from the principles of this Judeo-Christian nation where We fled King George III and others for there was no representatation and while I ask whether we truly have representation in washington today, the theme with which I believe Homeland Security must have as its basis and should be so imprinted on every Homeland Security document, “Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but loive as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16; RSV) and I remind all that the sins of man so evident today cut us off from God’s blessings and protection and in this 2012, the intentional attack of American family and families everywhere, the foundation of every greeat nation…well, Homeland Securoty and the enslavement of our people to drugs and pornography and elitist greed and control as we see suggestions that a beer on the WH lawn will somehow cover up the real context of this WH…look to Ezekiel 33:11 where it asks ‘Why will ye die, O house of Israel?” and it is very clear that the only change we have thus far seen is any loose penies in our pockets stripped from us and an ever budensome government (everywhere) intent on dictating what sugar and how many ounces of beverage you shall drink and what foods you eat and if time permitted, every possible aspect of your Life controlled by the power elitists who sit in their lofty ways in Chicago and among the “good ‘ol beltway thieves” on both sides of the aisle who could give a care about anything else other than self-agenda much like the resurgence of another episode of “SS Germany” and the human suffering already taking place with so many here on “Main Street USA” suffering, families tossed on the streets, no one going to jail and few are willing to stand much like seventy years ago when all types of people were rounded up and given sholvels in hand, told to di a hole and then shot in the back and falling forward into the hole on top of another w/one day alone, 33,000 people lined up one by one and shot in the back falling forward into a dep pit and bodies later burned….women mutilated..this is what Homeland Security and the unfolding consequences of a humanity must understand as the “Desperately wicked heart run free, it will do great damage” and yYou truly believe that the political appointees to Homeland Security really care for human nature in its wicked hearts in 2012 will never repent and replace such devious ways with the Righteousness of God (Hebrews 8:8-10) for “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked:who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

We see brutality on the strest of Tehran where a young woman’s rich Persian blood is allwoed to spill on the street..everyone’s cheeks turn and look the other way, the savages of a Syrian regime of another bunch of thugs allwoed by the world community and an ever so corrupt United Nations, an organization which the US has no business supporting and a world not intrigued with such dysfunctional self that children in 2012 are allowed to be killed outright by a government and the “KGB Putinites” – yes, the same strong men Barry Obama whispers to – object to interferring and so despicable in their ways….

Homeland Security and the catastrophic consequences of We being so unprepared and while I have encouraged every community to begin stocking food with long shelf life supported by federal funds and establishing street by street plans on catastrophic preparedness as the clock ticks, humanity and the German way are knocking on the door, the WH intent on discussing diversity rather than having any idea what the real issues of 2012 are all about here on “Main Street USA” and most assuredly a weaker and weaker economy with little hope other than the present recession becoming a depression for so, so many and globally, War and once again, the unfolding catastrophic consequences of the narrowness in perspective, having little depth and insight into the leadership which is demanded by ‘ol Glory and our beloved Republic which once stood so proud with shining Hope for all when in fact, We, now the elders, the babyboomers, are becoming desperate and know well that a beer on the WH lawn portrays the emptiness which abounds among those We “entrusted” by precious vote only to see self-agenda become so evident with no term limits and other ways to thwart the global landscape so intent on self versus humanity!

Some 1 billion fellow human beings have little or no access to a clean glass of water in 2012! Addressing waste water and water purification project development globally, I am appalled by the corruption and the indifference of people towards one another….

Prepare for far worse unemployment and little quality of Life for the remaining few and while I have shouted, not whispered, few hear the necessity for us to prepare for the worse as our actions warrant what shall befall us and all globally, detruction and calamity even far worse if one can so imagine than the bodies piled high, each a human being, twisted in such way bvy the like sof the corrupt, the evil doers initiated by from their – temporary – lofty pulpits!

We are so unprepared and yes, Winston Churchill is no longer among us and there is no one to fill the leadership void, only those willing to whisper to the evil ones and those willing to carry on this charade and fail to conform to God’s law, not that established by the corrupt!

In this Judeo-Christian nation founded by men who warned us of those from within, while this WH and Rev Wright and the “Chicago-Hollywood Express” only so powerful temporarily as folks are seeing day by day the clarity in deceit far from what was hailed from the pulpit and understandimg that no man can give freedom – as only God can do that and his words from ages ago are spoken clearly, “This people honourth me and with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” (Mark 7;6) –

We are in much peril!

Christopher Tingus
PO Box 1612
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645
chris.tingus@gmail.com

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 2, 2012 @ 5:13 am

Django, I’m not sure (yet) how tightly my proposition may be related to my hypothesis. As your questions suggest, even if the hypothesis is proven and the proposition is accepted, what then?

Your third paragraph helps alot. Yes, I am predisposed to perceive that slower change is better. But more important than the pace of change is how sources of resilience and intentionality engage the change. In some of my catastrophe examples, I perceive that as control… management… power… is applied (or attempted) to stop, contain, suppress the change this seems mostly to accelerate the permutations. The more resistance, the more impact. (This is an aspect of catastrophe that distinguishes it from disasters or emergencies.)

In other examples, I perceive that instead of trying to contain change, there has been a readiness to move with the change, adapting instead of managing, absorbing instead of resisting. Admittedly in some examples this “readiness” reflects the absence of other options rather than acceptance, much less enthusiasm for the change.

Where this adaptation — moving with, rather than against, the change — occurs, the results are still catastrophic, but — at least in my mind and reflecting my values — a more positive outcome can emerge. An example that is probably going to cause me grief: Both China and Japan attempted to control the catastrophic threat of European colonialism. If anything, Japan was much tighter in its intention to resist… until it decided threat exclusion was no longer possible and, with amazing agility, Japan determined to adapt and move with the catastrophe. China and Japan each experienced a catastrophe. The Japanese willingness and ability to embrace-the-catastrophe, gave Japan many more options and contributed to more positive outcomes than China. (Bark, bark, bark?)

To do more than bark requires more time and evidence than I have this morning. But I hope my intended distinction between a control-orientation and an adaptation-orientation is clearer than before.

One other response: I am, as you discerned, personally biased toward slower change. Despite this bias, in the collection of catastrophes I have been examining I perceive a tendency for slow change to maximize denial, resistance, and a control-orientation. Rapid change in a very new direction seems to sweep away denial, resistance, and control and in several cases produces a more positive (per my view) result. There are also examples of rapid change obliterating the culture, population, place involved. This is where a pre-existing structural bias toward control or adaptation is, I think, a crucial factor.

I want to keep going, but out of time… today. Thanks.

Comment by Michael Brady

June 3, 2012 @ 7:09 pm

Philip,

I am predisposed to perceive that slower change is better. But more important than the pace of change is how sources of resilience and intentionality engage the change.

Where this adaptation — moving with, rather than against, the change — occurs, the results are still catastrophic, but — at least in my mind and reflecting my values — a more positive outcome can emerge.

One of the issues for leaders is knowing when change is going to (or must) happen, whether it is wanted or not, and then to stage resources all along the path through it. Some early adopters will rush in and find ways to thrive in the new environment. Most will follow the herd and be alright, or at least no worse off than the others. Some will need to be helped along, coached, and escorted. Some will be lost. Slow change on principle is not better, change that is slow enough for most to make it may be necessary.

Please tell us more about distinguishing catastrophe from disasters or emergencies. Fascinating stuff. Thanks!

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Homeland security as a national monomyth

June 8, 2012 @ 12:11 am

[...] is the second in a series of posts on the relationship of homeland security to catastrophe (here’s a link to the first).  About ten posts on catastrophe are expected to be followed by another ten on resilience and [...]

Comment by Pat Sullivan

June 8, 2012 @ 8:04 am

Wow. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. A little perspective in in order.

Years ago, there was another attack on a US ship in foreign waters. It sparked a war on two oceans, two separate invasions to ‘liberate’ and establish two US protectorates or supported governments. While one was settled rather quickly the other anti-insurgency campaign stretched well over a decade. Newspapers at the time fanned public opinion both in support and against the administration policies. It was ‘the’ event of the era.

I’m talking about the Spanish American War and the subsequent Philippine Insurrection. To read the newspapers of the time you’d think it was the most important event in our history. Yet that time is not remembered now as a turning point in US History. Rather, it’s an afterthought between the other conflicts that dwarfed it (Civil War, WW I).

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 8, 2012 @ 8:16 am

Mr. Sullivan, While I certainly agree the Spanish-American War does not loom large in our national memory, I disagree regarding its place in our history. I perceive, as did many contemporaries, that the war marked a transition from republican restraint to imperial ambition. But more to your main point, I would be very happy if a century from now our current troubles seem much-ado-about-nothing. That would suggest the catastrophic potential I perceive is either over-wrought (as you perceive) or has been suppressed, as may still be possible.

Pingback by The Catastrophic Consequences of 9/11

June 9, 2012 @ 4:15 am

[...] is an interesting essay — it claims to be the first in a series — that looks at the rise of “homeland [...]

Comment by P Curran

June 9, 2012 @ 7:32 am

Mr. Sullivan – Odd. When I started reading your comment, I thought you were talking about the War of 1812 (currently in the news due to the 200th anniversary).

I would certainly say that that American imperial ambition was well in place by the time of that war.

Comment by Christopher Hawkins

June 14, 2012 @ 10:17 pm

“Proving the null hypothesis or refining the hypothesis is as helpful as presuming to prove the hypothesis.” You’ve made an importance and fundamental flaw in the entire premise of your article. You can’t prove a null hypothesis. You can only reject it. This isn’t a matter of nitpicking semantics. It matters a great deal.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 15, 2012 @ 5:22 am

Mr. Hawkins: Tell me more. I have long thought that Popper’s falsification was a way of proving the null hypothesis. Why not? If not proven, what is the accepted basis for rejecting the hypothesis?

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Everyday homeland security heroes

June 15, 2012 @ 5:58 am

[...] least one commentator doubts 9/11 has marked a true national catastrophe, a fundamental shift in the nation’s narrative. (See Pat Sullivan 357340.)  S/he suggests [...]

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