Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 17, 2015

Homeland Security and the Delusion of Reason: Part 2

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 17, 2015

I was in a room with two dozen people who think for a living. The meeting was called to discuss potential changes in a largely successful homeland security program. The person leading the meeting made it clear that we were just looking for ideas. No decisions had been made, or would be made. It was just about ideas.

No one in the room believed any of that.

I didn’t speak to everyone who attended, but I did talk to a lot of them. Every one of them thought about what impact any program change would have on their job.

But you could not tell that from the conversation. Everyone was polite, creative, and very cautious.

“If it’s brainstorming you want, then it’s brainstorming you’ll get. But we’ll put some reins on the brain part, and we’ll make sure no one gets wiped away by the storm part.”

I would like to pretend I was immune from the rationalist delusion. But – even though I knew the words and the theory – I got sucked into it as much as anyone else in the room.

As best as I could tell we were all being eminently reasonable. Making claims, providing supporting evidence, listening to counterclaims and evidence – behaving the way people who think for a living are supposed to behave.

I even had a 3 x 5 card to remind me about Haidt’s conjecture:

Our ability to reason “evolved not to help us find the truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasions, and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people…. Skilled arguers… are not after the truth, but after arguments supporting their views.”

The 3 x 5 card did not help me much.

On this blog last week, Christian Beckner countered Michael Tanner’s proposal to break up the Department of Homeland Security. Both Tanner and Beckner offered enough material to test the hypothesis that “First comes the conclusion, then the reason for reaching the conclusion.”

“Can I believe it?” when we want to believe something. “Must I believe it?” when we don’t want to believe it.

Arnold Bogis reasoned about Iranian nuclear negotiations. Can I believe his argument that what we’re really talking about is “straightforward risk management?” Must I believe him when he writes the political “climate has shifted to a never never land where… the inability to control events on the other side of the world… is a sign of weakness?”

Phil Palin is such an amazing writer, a poet, that I can’t completely trust his arguments. And I can’t really tell if he’s agreeing or disagreeing with me.

He started his March 12 post  with a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

“Men have lost their reason!” Mark Antony cries out.

I have read enough of Phil’s writing to know he is a fan of reason, a diehard optimist about reason, a “creature of reason” – as he writes.

I knew from the title of his post (Reason resurrected from reductionism) he would use the flower of his language to defend reason – even if that meant coming up with his own definition.

“Reason is how we engage the world together, more or less rigorously, more or less effectively, but together.” 

Maybe we’re not there yet, he argues. But don’t give up on it.

Must I believe him? Can I believe him?

Palin ends Mark Anthony’s quote with an explanation mark. But the citation Palin provided shows Antony’s words ending with a period.

A small, overly pedantic observation on my part. But I’m suspicious.  Is Palin using the explanation point to try to supplant reason with emotion?

When you don’t have evidence, raise your voice?

And why use Shakespeare, Plato, Aquinas and the Old Testament to support your assertions? Why not show how reason works in homeland security?

When you don’t have evidence, cite something from the Western canon?

Last week in homeland security I heard debates about StingRay cellphone tracking, read Martha Crenshaw’s argument that there is no global jihadist movement, heard the 14 to 1 results of a secret Senate intelligence committee vote on the cybersecurity information sharing act, learned about a lawsuit to get NSA to stop spying on Wikipedia users, read an essay about the almost complete absence of empirical studies on the effectiveness of antiterrorism strategies, learned that the great ice sheet of West Antarctic may have become irreversibly destabilized, and saw a study that concluded parental attitudes about vaccines are impervious to evidence.

I read, saw or heard nothing in those issues to reignite a faith that Reason is a winning strategy to advance the security of the homeland. What I did hear echoes what Brutus said, before he turned the stage over to the silver tongued Mark Antony:

Public reasons shall be rendered.

What Brutus did not say out loud is:

“We can’t revel our private reasons; as people will argue for the next 500 years, we don’t even know ourselves why we do this stuff.”

(A belated Happy Ides of March, by the way.)

My central observation last week remains the same this week: when it comes to homeland security policy, politics, or strategy, reason at best is a delusion, at worse it is a siren call to keep staring into the sun.

The social intuitionist perspective – the circle and arrows chart Palin featured in his March 12th post – is (in my opinion) an accurate depiction of homeland security’s dominant mode of inquiry: First comes the conclusion. Then comes the reason.

Must I believe that?  Can I believe that? Or do I hold on to a delusion that any day now Reason will be resurrected and all will become clear?

Nonetheless, I remain optimistic about how to thrive amid the cacophony of delusion and intuition. I think we can do better.

And I think Palin may be on to something with this relationship business.

But this post has gone on much too long, so I’ll postpone the optimism for next week.

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 17, 2015 @ 3:37 am


So… what I am beginning to understand — please correct me — is that for you reason has been a presentation or sometimes (rarely?) a discourse where reality is analyzed (described, might be a better term) through the presentation of evidence sufficient to demonstrate what is real and what is not real.

Whether reason is practiced as presentation or discourse, reason requires persons ready to listen to the evidence, assess it honestly (objectively?), and to adopt the description of reality. Or if the description of reality is rejected, to do so on the basis of alternative evidence offered. At which point a discourse is probably underway.

You have come to question the value (even possibility?) of reason through an accumulation of direct experience where these conditions are regularly — perhaps universally — abandoned. Judgments seem to exist a priori and are thereafter nearly impervious to evidence.

Am I hearing you?

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 17, 2015 @ 8:28 am

Thanks Chris and Phil!

Perhaps this thread would be enhanced if both of you would give your take on how reason and logic relate to each other. Perhaps a discourse on how faulty logic has largely ruled HS.

When I worked for Uncle Sam and meetings contained only federal officials and employees and BRAINSTORMING it was easy to understand all in the meeting had CONFLICTS OF INTEREST because they received federal salaries and also represented their department or agency and most recognized the zero sum game of modern government.

Of course what frustrated me the most is those who wanted personal or bureaucratic power not to utilize that power for the people of the USA but just to have it.

I often believe that Presidential candidates can be quite self-revelatory when they respond to the question–WHEN DID YOU FIRST WANT TO BE PRESIDENT AND WHY?

HS is a deadly serious business IMO and most who are appointed in DHS are not really serious persons or perhaps even interested in the subject. Their prior job experience and next job is instructive.

And much of HS is not intuitive but counter-intuitive.

Probably most instructive is that DHS has so far been led by lawyers. A largely corrupt profession IMO. Lawyers used to offer information not available anywhere else and judgment.

Now the legal profession offers neither and operates on the basis WHAT CAN I GET FOR MY SIGNATURE?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 17, 2015 @ 8:53 am


I expect Chris and I will have different answers. For me, reason can be enhanced by logic but does not require logic. In my personal experience, a shared sense of absurdity is often more helpful than agreement regarding logical schema. I will (perhaps gratuitously) add that conflicts of interest, especially when fully acknowledged, can also be very helpful to what I understand to be the exercise of reason.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 17, 2015 @ 9:24 am

Wiki extract:

This article is about reasoning and its study.

Aestheticians ·
Epistemologists ·
Ethicists ·
Logicians ·
Metaphysicians ·
Social and political philosophers


Analytic ·
Continental ·
Pragmatism ·
Eastern ·
Islamic ·
Platonic ·


Ancient ·
Medieval ·
Modern ·


Aesthetics ·
Epistemology ·
Ethics ·
Logic ·
Metaphysics ·
Political philosophy


Aesthetics ·
Epistemology ·
Ethics ·
Legal philosophy ·
Logic ·
Metaphysics ·
Political philosophy ·
Social philosophy


Index ·
Outline ·
Years ·
Problems ·
Publications ·
Theories ·
Glossary ·

Logic (from the Ancient Greek: ??????, logike) is the use and study of valid reasoning. The study of logic features most prominently in the subjects of philosophy, mathematics, and computer science.

Logic was studied in several ancient civilizations, including India, China, Persia and Greece. In the West, logic was established as a formal discipline by Aristotle, who gave it a fundamental place in philosophy. The study of logic was part of the classical trivium, which also included grammar and rhetoric. Logic was further extended by Al-Farabi who categorized it into two separate groups (idea and proof). Later, Avicenna revived the study of logic and developed relationship between temporalis and the implication. In the East, logic was developed by Buddhists and Jains.

Logic is often divided into three parts: inductive reasoning, abductive reasoning, and deductive reasoning.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

March 17, 2015 @ 10:09 am

While many see far too little logic in crucial American global policy decision-making today which certainly adversely affects a great many of the global population for without a more committed Americana leadership, as proven in history, America can have far reaching and substantial positive contributions on the global populace despite the tyrants of other nations, per the discussion herein, kindly let us not forget that fellow Hellene, Socrates was the real Father of logic!

In fact, all Aristotle’s logic revolves around one notion: the deduction (sullogismos). Aristotle says:

“A deduction is speech (logos) in which, certain things having been supposed, something different from those supposed results of necessity because of their being so. (Prior Analytics I.2, 24b18-20) Each of the “things supposed” is a premise (protasis) of the argument, and what “results of necessity” is the conclusion (sumperasma)” –

*”Aristotelian logic has been the logic of schools and men in general; this has been certainly assisted by its application in the Euclidean geometry and in the scholastic philosophy. Induction lends itself to no such analysis as deduction, and it has been often neglected. This is the process by which general propositions are established: it involves the passing from the particular to the general. Its application in the world rests on the assumption that there are invariable effects produced by natural causes; and a general induction is made by discovering apparent uniformities which afford the basis of generalizations. It can achieve only probability, never mathematical certainty” –

*From The Columbia Encyclopedia (1946 Edition)

“Logic. The systematic study and discipline dealing with the principles of valid inference. Its distinction from psychology is in its matter, i.e., logic concerns itself solely with the validity of thought, psychology with the nature of thought and its relationship with other vital processes” –

Comment by Donald Quixote

March 17, 2015 @ 10:50 am

I am just really happy that I am reading this post from a pub with a fine pint today. I think it is enhancing my reasoning abilities.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 17, 2015 @ 3:56 pm

How do Irish pubs relate to the logic of cause and effect?

Comment by Jeff Kaliner

March 17, 2015 @ 5:51 pm

I think it would be instructive to take a few more minutes with the Breton quote that Chris references in his first essay. Specifically the next few sentences after the original:

“The absolute rationalism which remains in fashion allows for the consideration of only those facts narrowly relevant to our experience. Logical conclusions, on the other hand, escape us.”

In Haidt language (not to be confused with Haidt speech), the way I read this is that the rider uses facts (logic/reasoning?) to support his experience (elephant/intuitions). In this respect, Haidt and Breton seem to be in agreement. Regarding logic (and reason), Breton seems to suggest that it is wishful thinking.

In other words, in a world where some have deified reason as a god, there aren’t many true practitioners. Maybe not unlike a similar argument made about some religious folks who seem to come up empty when bumped up against their moral beliefs/foundations.

Like the meeting that Chris was in, I have witnessed a similar phenomenon in After Action Review meetings and reports.

As a reminder, a facilitator usually requests honest feedback and disclosure in this meetings. My experience is that it rarely happens. Fear of looking bad, power dynamics, egos, etc. dampen the generation of any real knowledge development or capture. However, a session usually will produce loads of organizational hubris. Often times the phrases “lessons learned” and “best practice” get bandied about. Grip, grin and do it all again at the next exercise that the federal grant requires.

Or, let me boil it down even more. After a 12 year career with in the HS enterprise one of the most telling quotes by a supervisor was “My job is to keep you in your job.”

Before we start throwing daggers, we must, as Haidt cautions, remember that context is everything. But being that many of us were wired to be WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic), that will be a problem. Inter-dependencies seem to escape us.

So, using social identity theory as a contextual backdrop, what my former supervisor said makes sense (arguably logical) within his need for reputation maintenance and team identity and survivial. Was what he said reasonable within a larger moral or ethical framework regarding how taxpayer dollars should be spent as they pertains to HS…no.

I do not hold this against my former supervisor. I see this type of “job justification” all over government. This seems to occur especially in programs like Preparedness, that are still young and trying to truly identify a mission and purpose. Regardless, when the elephant wants to protect its group (SIT), coming up with reasons as to why programs should exist (when they shouldn’t) will be easy and within the context of SIT, reasonable.

I believe, if a pure HS reason ruled the day (let’s say based on ROI inputs and outputs), Peter Drucker’s quote about organized abandonment would have led to the dampening and dissembling of many projects and programs within the HS enterprise.

Admitting any of this is heresy and antithetical to a bureaucracy. However my experience is that the inability to do so makes for a schizophrenic Homeland Security workplace.

Can you believe this?

Must you believe this?

Comment by Christopher Tingus

March 17, 2015 @ 9:40 pm

Ethics, reasoning and so forth while reading the headline: “No record of Clinton signing key ‘separation’ document” – we have lost our sense of morality and indifference to leadership and w/this arrogance will come the global conflagration which can only be derived by such intentional obstruction of justice and the outright ignorance of the populace.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

March 17, 2015 @ 9:56 pm

Delusion of reason and history — Today, we hear little from even the Pope in the Vatican while thousands of Christians are killed!

Reasoning, conclusion and then inaction while thousands of innocents are tortured, raped and killed simply because they choose Christianity….


Encyclical of His Holiness Pope Pius XII On the Unity of Human Society October 20, 1939

“Who among ‘the Soldiers of Christ’ — ecclesiastic or layman — does not feel himself incited and spurred on to a greater vigilance, to a more determined resistance, by the sight of the ever-increasing host of Christ’s enemies; as he perceives the spokesmen of these tendencies deny or in practice neglect the vivifying truths and the values inherent in belief in God and in Christ; as he perceives them wantonly break the Tables of God’s Commandments to substitute other tables and other standards stripped of the ethical content of the Revelation on Sinai, standards in which the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and of the Cross has no place?”

Comment by Arnold Bogis

March 17, 2015 @ 10:49 pm


Yes you can.

Yes you must.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 18, 2015 @ 6:44 am


Regarding my use of classic literature rather than homeland security examples: It is a good question/challenge. It has taken me awhile to discern the reasons. The choice being made was not entirely self-aware.

First, my mind is predisposed to literary analogies. I like doing it.I’m pretty sure doing so releases endorphins.

But I know such examples are not as helpful as something closer-to-home. In my own definition, the use of such can actually be unreasonable.

So — admittedly post-hoc — there seems to be another reason. My best examples of the exercise and non-exercise of reason in homeland security relate to processes still underway. Given the role of social relationships in my approach to reason, to be entirely transparent — to indulge in a sort of meta-reasoning — would, I think, undermine the ongoing exercise of reason.

So… I don’t. Which, I agree, undermines the credibility of my reasoning with you… at least here.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 18, 2015 @ 7:11 am

From The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper:

According to our view, however, we not only owe our reason to others, but we can never excel others in our reasonableness in a way that would establish a claim to authority; authoritarianism and rationalism in our sense cannot be reconciled, since argument, which includes criticism, and the art of listening to criticism, is the basis of reasonableness. Thus rationalism in our sense is diametrically opposed to all those modern Platonic dreams of brave new worlds in which the growth of reason would be controlled or ‘planned’ by some superior reason. Reason, like science, grows by way of mutual criticism; the only possible way of ‘planning’ its growth is to develop those institutions that safeguard the freedom of this criticism, that is to say, the freedom of thought. It may be remarked that Plato, even though his theory is authoritarian, and demands the strict control of the growth of human reason in his guardians (as has been shown especially in chapter 8), pays tribute, by his manner of writing, to our interpersonal theory of reason (Palin’s emphasis); for most of his earlier dialogues describe arguments conducted in a very reasonable spirit.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 18, 2015 @ 8:21 am

To hit the e-mail issue first disclosure NO E-MAIL EXISTED WHEN I RETIRED OCTOBER 1ST, 1999. There are in fact several different legal schema applicable.





Talk to NARA and the NSC.

It is absolutely ridiculous to believe no classified or classifiable information was transmitted to or from Hillary during her tenure as Secretary of State.

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