Tuesday, September 06, 2005
The Destruction of BOTH Professionalism and Resilience
As we near a symbolic anniversary, I must say that I have long viewed the events of September 11, 2001 in a unique way - as a moment when the Age of Amateurs briefly came to the fore, showing some of its potential for the 21st Century.
As I have described elsewhere: The Value and Empowerment of Common Citizens in an Age of Danger, The one truly significant and revealing thing that happened that day was not the attack itself, the damage done, or the nation’s official response.
Only the Boston Globe’s Elaine Scarry joined me in pointing out that the attacks triggered a truly staggering display of citizen competence, courage and autonomy, on a day when all of our paid professional protector castes failed.
Since then, these castes have united around a single goal - to distract the people from what really happened on 9/11. Have you noticed that pundits and high muckities of both left and right constantly speak in terms of public “fear and panic” when - in fact - there was very little of either trait in evidence that day... or, indeed, the months that followed? Instead of going with what worked on 9/11 by investing in ground level citizen responsiveness, both the administration and its critics have tended to parse the problem relentlessly in terms that bicker over which branch of the protective caste should be given more power over our lives.
An example: Debates over the PATRIOT Act swirl around a devil's dichotomy, choosing *between* security and freedom. In this debate, the civil libertarians have my loyalty... but ONLY to the extent that I am forced to accept this dismal, narrow, zero-sum game. Being asked to choose between my childrens’ safety and their freedom. (Bah!) While I send them checks I am also resentful that they want to "protect" me... instead of helping me protect myself.
Now we have Katrina, another example of the Protector Caste failing utterly to prepare or prevent or palliate harm... only on a vastly worse scale than 9/11.
After all, on 9/11, their failure came about as an unfortunate confluence of many factors, some of which weren’t anybody’s fault, all uniting to create a sudden and very brief Perfect Storm. Isolated acts of incompetence combined with sheer bad luck - plus enemy innovativeness - to make Professional Anticipation fail at all levels.
This did not mean that our paid protectors were systematically incompetent... they had doubtless been saving us from many other threats all along, quietly and professionally, and have continued doing so, even hampered recently by the Neocons' all out war on neutral professionalism.
What 9/11 did prove was an age-old adage, that even the best anticipators only succeed some of the time. Inevitably, no matter how skilled, anticipation will fail. And when that happens - when surprise comes at us like a ton of bricks - we must fall back on the other thing. Anticipation’s partner, in helping human beings to deal with the shocks of an onrushing future.
Resiliency. The thing our fellow citizens - (mostly Bostonians and New Yorkers) - demonstrated prodigiously on that day. And the one thing that the Protector Caste has been downplaying - (instinctively and surely NOT consciously) - ever since.
Define irony. The Protector caste has been doing this - by reflex - defending their turf from amateurs, at the very same time that skilled professionalism has been under relentless attack by our political leadership. By the appointment of political hacks into management positions for which they were totally unqualified. By stacking the upper echelons of agencies like the CIA with partisan attack dogs. By dismantling independent advisory panels and waging ideological war on science. And - above all - by commencing an unprecedented purge of the United States Officer Corps.
Somehow, we must make it clear to these skilled and dedicated men and women, ranging from FEMA and the CIA to generals and admirals, all the way to local fire marshals, that the uppity citizens who are lifting their heads, increasingly empowered by education and new technologies, are not the enemy. That our rising competence and ability to self-organize in a split second does not threaten their jobs.
We will still need their depth of knowledge and skill for decades to come.
Oh I could go on... only now there is Katrina.
Here, unlike 9/11, there was plenty of warning. Years in the case of the levees (see my 1990 novel EARTH) and many days in the case of the storm. Failure of anticipation now becomes culpable. Failure to enhance citizen autonomous resiliency can only be seen as criminal.
Online, the mystical-libertarians are going ape, claiming that this all shows the INHERENT incompetence of government. An insipid response that is wholly insupportable. Other emergencies have been handled well, within recent memory. Especially when skilled and vigorous officials swiftly cut red tape and engaged all resources, including private, corporate and individual effort.
Government's failure in this case arose from the War Against Professionalism waged by this administration. (Was this in order to spread a failure of confidence in government? No, too early to get quite so paranoid.)
What is less clear has been the parallel war against citizen empowerment. PEOPLE could have stepped in, taking the place of the missing National Guard, for example. And countless other ways. Instead, every barrier was put in place to prevent individual effort.
Since 9/11, the professionals have been undermined and the people hampered. BOTH anticipation and resiliency have fallen into dark times, exactly when we need both traits to become super-enhanced, to face of a world transforming before our eyes.
And this despite a hundred billion dollars spent on readiness?
When do coincidences add up to deliberate harm?
==See more articles on Disaster Preparedness: Citizen Involvement in Emergency Planning
A preview of a posting I’ll make next week on http://www.davidbrin.com/
"Will the first decade of the 21st Century be known as the time when our Scientific Age came to a whimpering end? The one trait shared by anti-modernists of both left and right appears to be disdain for our ability to learn and do bold new things. My published review of Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, explores how partisanship can explain much of this collapse of confidence... and why partisan interpretations don't cover everything. http://www.davidbrin.com/gopwar
Two recommended books that tout assertive problem solving are The Past and Future of America's Economy: Long Waves of Innovation that Power Cycles of Growth By Robert D. Atkinson and Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near.
The first explores assertive measures that would allow us to play our roles better in the world economy. The latter pursue’s Kurzweil’s argument that our scientific competence and technologically empowered creativity will soon skyrocket, propelling humanity into an entirely new age. I don’t entirely agree. But boy, what a ride.