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.