Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 5, 2015

Homeland security: reason versus truth

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on March 5, 2015

I don’t know anyone who was shocked when DHS funding was further delayed by contention between the House and Senate. This blog anticipated as much on January 29, and might have done so much earlier.

There was some surprise in the Department, at the White House, and on the Hill when last Friday’s first vote failed.  There had been an assumption our recently re-elected Speaker (or at least his Chief Whip) would be able to accurately discern the disposition of his conference.  Apparently not.

The most surprise I have heard has been reserved for Tuesday’s bipartisan comparatively low-drama resolution of funding for the remaining seven months of this fiscal year.  And for anyone who was once nerdy enough to have their own dog-eared copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, our surprise is enhanced by a certain delight in hearing how Rule XXII played such an important part (see page 36).

As I try to think this through on Wednesday morning, there has not yet been time for most of the consequences to play out.  But — so often an optimist — I am ready to declare Tuesday to be a triumph of reason.

In offering this observation I am also attempting a broader claim regarding the nature and role of reason in homeland security.

On my Grandpa Palin’s back porch just above his favorite chair there was a needlepoint reading: “Come now, and let us reason together.”  This is a partial verse from the first chapter of the prophecy according to Isaiah.

As with any literature worth the name this chapter can be read in many different ways. But one rather literal reading is as an invitation by God to a profoundly sinful and therefore broken people to enter into relationship… into conversation… into shared consideration.

The original Hebrew translated as reason is transliterated as yakach.  Depending on context this can be translated as argue, convince, judge, decide, and more.  It is derived from an ancient root meaning to be in front, in a clearing, in the sunshine, face-to-face.  Whatever else, there is a suggestion of achieving perceptive clarity.

In the first chapter of Isaiah this clarity is achieved by community and involves seeking justice, relieving  the oppressed, considering the fatherless,  and caring for the widow (verse 17). Evidently such activities undertaken together are clarifying.

Before this becomes even more a homily, for your consideration: Clarity is different than certainty.  Community consensus is different than individual insight.  These distinctions are crucial to the effective exercise of pre-Cartesian reason.

And, I suggest, we suffer from an excess of post-Cartesian reason.  Several weeks ago I happened to read: “In November 1628 Descartes was in Paris, where he made himself famous in a confrontation with Chandoux. Chandoux claimed that science could only be based on probabilities…. Descartes attacked this view, claiming that  only certainty could serve as a basis for knowledge, and that he himself had a method for attaining such certainty.”

I perceive this over-simplifies Descartes, but well-summarizes his cultural impact.  It is — back to homiletic — the modern era’s most profound and treacherous sin: The belief that certainty is possible — in some cases, necessary — engenders fruitless delay, pernicious pride, over-confidence, unnecessary conflict, manifest complications, perpetual frustrations.

This is especially the case whenever the problem involved is innately uncertain: as is the case with much of homeland security.

What pre-Cartesian reason encourages is clarity of decision and action that does not — because it cannot — depend on certainty.  This is reason that arises from shared humility, ongoing conversation, vigorous argument, careful listening and a commitment to advancing a vision of the Good that is as tentative as it is tangible.

On Tuesday those most certain of right and wrong lost the vote in the House.  It was, I hope, a clarifying experience… potentially for all of us.

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3 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 5, 2015 @ 8:26 am

WOW! A 17th Century debate made it into a 21 Century blog. Both debaters right and both wrong IMO!

Odd how DHS and FEMA despite over 1500 FTE with policy or policy analyst in their POSITION DESCRIPTION still has no STATISTICAL UNIT!

Did you know STATISTICAL ANALYSIS is a highly technical profession?

Did you know that OMB runs and provides policy guidance for STATISTICS in the Executive Branch?

And what really is MATHEMATICS? IMO a way to map and describe the UNIVERSE!

Wondering how many MATHEMATICIANS employed in DHS and their levels of education? How many certified STATISTICANS?

What is your favorite DHS and/or FEMA statistic?

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Homeland Security and the Delusion of Reason: Part 1

March 10, 2015 @ 4:09 am

[…] Thursday Phil Palin argued optimistically that the resolution of the DHS budget problem was a “triumph of reason.”  As usual, he gave […]

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March 11, 2015 @ 10:58 pm

[…] has recently been a topic of discussion here at HLSWatch.  I lack the philosophical chops to get involved, so instead will […]

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