Homeland security is a phrase widely used as a linguistic signal for a wide array of perceptions and problems… and programs emerging from those perceptions and problems.
Most of these problems pre-date September 11, 2001. Our perception of the problems, however, tends to be heavily influenced by experiences since 9/11… and since Katrina… and since our most recent significant personal experience that we label as related to homeland security. Perhaps Sandy for you. Haiyan for me. Et cetera.
Human linguistics is, among other things, an expression of our cognitive tendency to categorize. Using notional buckets we draw water from the roaring stream of experience, set aside various buckets, and give them labels. This can often be helpful. A similar problem previously encountered becomes a possible short-cut to understanding and potentially solving a new problem. Or a heuristic trap.
Some of us are inclined to closely observe and interact with selected buckets. We may even be motivated to separate each bucket into individual vials for more detailed consideration. We specialize. Well, I don’t. Not really. But maybe you do.
While the full stream of experience — including its rapids and cataracts — is very difficult to comprehend, it is often possible to observe interesting patterns within individual vials or buckets. Patterns exposed outside the stream, may be more easily recognized within the stream. In some cases we can explain and predict the emergence of such patterns. This can be very helpful.
There are, however, also instances where findings for one bucket or vial seem to be quite different from those for other buckets or vials. Choosing which evidence to apply from one to another bucket or some aspect of the stream can require considerable time-and-effort, even trial-and-error.
It can be difficult to find the time to explore these possible patterns. It can be challenging to invest the energy, especially when some of the findings — no matter how strong the evidence — seem speculative or even counter-intuitive. Patterns that threaten a preexisting understanding of ourselves are particularly troublesome.
I am more likely to make the investment in such exploration if, in addition to the evidence presented, there is a complementary social context. Perhaps there is a preexisting friendship. Perhaps others involved are interesting to me for reasons that have little to do with the issue or evidence. It makes sense to me that several studies have found peer-approval is often more important to what is learned than the teacher’s approval. (Also see Vygotsky.)
My personal readiness to be open to a novel finding is clearly related to the nature of my pre-existing relationship with the source of the report. If my pre-existing relationship is fraught, I will be more skeptical. If my relationship is positive, my attitude toward the novelty will also be more positive. This is not reasonable. It is an impediment to reasoning together. But it may be rational: prior direct experience has demonstrated the comparative utility of various sources of indirect experience. It is important to be careful regarding indirect experience.
Reason has a complicated ancestry. It has emerged in many forms. If I have accurately understood Chris Bellavita and Jonathan Haidt they have, for much of their lives, understood reason to be a matter of disciplined objectivity and careful weighing of evidence.
With sufficient objectivity and evidence there is (once was?) considerable confidence in finding the correct answer, correct as in how a mathematical formula might be correct (or incorrect). As Chris recently sighed… mumbled… prayed, perhaps “Reason will be resurrected and all will become clear…”
I am all in favor of objectivity and evidence. More of each is usually helpful. There is nothing inescapably delusional in either of these inputs. But the supposed outcome? That’s where the delusion begins to emerge… it seems to me.
Better and worse I will accept. More or less likely, okay. Correct and incorrect are, however, beyond my expectation, especially for most aspects of homeland security.
If — instead of evidence — reason begins with the relational (human and conceptual) and then becomes conversational, I have found there is much more receptivity to whatever evidence is presented and less defensive posturing regarding any questions aimed at the evidence.
But if a stranger arrives on a mission to persuade me, I am predisposed to ignore, dismiss, or worse. On a good day, I may self-correct this predisposition. But most days I am not nearly that good.
A step back or shuffle aside: I have spent my life as an entrepreneur. Initially by accident and then increasingly from habit, I have lived on the edge of what is known and operated mostly in the opacity of the not-yet-known.
My expectations of reason emerge from this context.
Entrepreneurship is usually collaborative. Clients, colleagues, investors, suppliers and others are needed if the unknown is to be explored, even more if the unknown is to be made known.
There is absolutely a need to reason together about risks and opportunities, options and prospects, past experience and personal insights. And at the heart of this process is the probability of failure.
I have failed much more than succeeded. So has every innovator I know. Most of us are eccentric, some are certifiably crazy, but I have never met an unreasonable entrepreneur who has been outfitted for more than one ride down the rapids.
Entrepreneurs depend on others — typically much more dependable sorts — to go along, even better: to share our enthusiasm.
Evidence is important to involving the less adventuresome. Credible data — encouraging or not — is golden. Self-deluding behavior is deadly.
In my experience the most dangerous participants in exploring the unknown are those who insist on living inside a bubble of their own unexamined beliefs. The leader or flank support I crave combines courage, self-criticism, communication of where we are trying to go and reminding me why… without any temptation to certainty.
Certainty is not a friend of reason.