From the middle of April through last Saturday, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with close to 300 “homeland security professionals.” I put that phrase in quotes because the title is as ambiguous as the discipline.
I’ve taken to asserting that homeland security is a potential discipline. It’s a way to stimulate a conversation. I use the phrase “homeland security professional” in the same way.
Almost everyone I spoke with about this agreed they are homeland security professionals, but they are other things also, and often foremost — like police officers, emergency managers, fire fighters, immigration officials, scientists, transportation security officers, public health professionals and so on.
This is a familiar argument: for many people in the business, homeland security is an ancillary activity.
My conversations with homeland security professionals over the past months reminded me — as those conversations have done once or twice before — of the lines from a William Butler Yeats poem
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,… The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
As a generalization, that’s approximately what I saw over the past 7 months: the best in homeland security lack conviction; the worst are full of passionate intensity.
There are exceptions, of course, particularly for those who remain intensely committed to the collaboration and communication promise of homeland security. But the exceptions were few, and frequently parochial.
Less than a month away from the 2012 presidential election, and I can’t recall very much talk about homeland security. If one is in a gracious mood, one can tie political yelling about events in the middle east, and Afghanistan, and drones, and Guantanamo, and bin Laden to homeland security. But from a disciplinary perspective, it’s a stretch. Even immigration and border security seem to have lost their homeland security luster: regionally intense, but nationally diffuse.
You’d think cyber security would get some play.
Is that even a homeland security issue? Yes, say a few voices. It’s national security, say others. No more regulation, hum the private sector mouths.
But I think modestly polite indifference remains the national response. At least until the oft-foreshadowed cyber pearl harbor arrives and outrage returns.
I have a friend working on a book about homeland security education. This friend never met a number he did not devour. He read his children to sleep by reciting the times tables. So I was surprised to receive the following homeland security parable from him.
A Paradox, a Quantum Mechanics Principle, and a Greek Myth walked into a bar. The Bartender, seeking precision in a sometimes querulous manner, asked each of the trio to articulate their positions.
The Paradox, Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, suggested that progression toward a target is an infinite series of half-steps, meaning the object never reaches its target, only the half-steps along the way.
The Uncertainty Principle applauded Zeno but proclaimed it is not possible to measure position and trajectory simultaneously so Zeno should be content with each half-step and not concern himself with the objective.
The Greek Myth – Sisyphus – wiped his brow and said he tired of endless toiling and repeated actions to push the boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back.
The Bartender served them, then noted in his journal that taken together, the positions of the three represented a metaphor for the pre-paradigmatic homeland security “discipline” struggling to move forward, able to measure only position, uncertain of its trajectory, impossible to reach its obscure objective and frequently seeing advances disappear.
The last entry in his journal that night was a paragraph (with a citation, of course) from Albert Camus:
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. …. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
Camus, Albert. (1942). The Myth of Sisyphus (Translated by Justin O’Brien, 1955). London: Hamish Hamilton Publishers. Chapter 4.