Emergent Security

The last point I made in my proposals for Democratic policy was:

Sixth, we’re going to develop security mechanisms based on the theory that fine-grained systems that bring information and communications to the existing public safety community, as well as the public at large are better than huge, centralized bureaucratic solutions;

I’m going to skip ahead in my dialog with Calpundit, because this topic is actually the one I’m the most interested in. It deals with two issues that are closest to me right now: 1) national security; and 2) reimagining government policy in the terms of ‘emergence’.

There’s a lot of woo-woo today around ‘emergent’ systems; it is a little-understood concept but one with applications from biology to urban studies to e-commerce and computer games. I have been nagging at the idea that somehow I could marry my liberal goals with emergent means, and divorce modern liberalism from centralized command-and-control mechanisms. It’s a fuzzy, not-yet-thought-out set of ideas for me, but one that it working it’s way closer to the surface of my brain.
Here’s Steven Johnson’s definition, in his book ‘Emergence':

In the simplest terms, they solve problems by drawing on masses of relatively stupid elements, rather than a single, intelligent “executive branch.” They are bottom-up systems, not top-down. They get their smarts from below. In more technical terms, they are complex adaptive systems that display emergent behavior. In these systems, agents residing on one scale start producing behavior that lies one scale above them: ants create colonies; urbanites create neighborhoods; simple pattern-recognition software learns how to recommend new books. The movement from low-level rules to high-level sophistication is what we call emergence.

Security, to me, is an excellent place to start talking about the policy utility of this concept. We’re seeing the cost of highly centralized, overly-complex and intrusive security every time we fly. Does it work? Are we safer in the air today than we were on Sept. 10, 2001 because we all have to take our shoes off, or because passengers have changed their response doctrine?

I’ve said it a hundred times; no one not armed with guns is going to hijack an airplane any time soon. The passengers won’t allow it. Every time you take your shoes off as you go through security, ask yourself how well Richard Reid did, and how he got stopped.

The reality is that no centrally planned security apparatus can adapt fast enough to the variety of challenges that an imaginative opponent can present. And the efforts to do so will require the imposition of an increasingly Stalinist security apparatus.

We’re seeing this play out the back-and-forth over civil liberties versus security that is taking place in Washington.

So what’s the response then? Do we abandon security in order to maintain our freedom? Or do we abandon freedom to remain secure? Or do we compromise, as we are, to wind up half-free and half-secure?

I think there’s another way.

Conceptually, it looks like this:

Instead of centralizing and bureaucratizing the defensive part of our security apparatus – of ‘professionalizing it’ – move the responsibility outward, where it really will be anyway. The reactions to 9/11 weren’t coordinated in Washington D.C., they were done on the ground in Manhattan and in the air over Pennsylvania. We have a large network of ‘first responders.’ They are the police, fire, hazmat, EMT and emergency medicine staffs that exist in every city and county of the country. The reality is that any unanticipated terrorist action will first be met by these forces, not some super-special SWAT group coordinated out of the Pentagon.

So why not beef these forces up?

Rather than creating a national-scale bureaucracy that is guaranteed to get to the scene too late to do anything, why not move the responsibility outward?

Concretely, that might mean some policies along these lines:

* Improving the training and escalation procedures for front-line responders to enable them to recognize a terrorist act and quickly escalate the response to an appropriate level. Improve the tactical training for police in dealing with terrorist-level threats, and beef up local responses to explosive devices by better training and equipping local bomb squads.

* Improve the training of even lower-level responders like private security guards in malls and office buildings to enable them to identify and respond, where appropriate, and to effectively communicate upward to local police and fire services.

* Improve the public-health infrastructure (this would be a good thing regardless) to enable it to identify and respond to bioterror more quickly. This involves, unsurprisingly, better training local EMT and emergency room personnel in identifying and communicating potential outbreaks.

Notice that each of these points relies to a great extent on two things:

# Creating a doctrine in which the lowest level possible reacts to the threat; and

# Creating a communications network (which is a combination of communications technology and the human attention and connections necessary to make that technology effective that connects local agencies upward and laterally.

Overall, there is a current set of beliefs that each level will wait for the next level up to deal with a terrorist act. A citizen will tell a security guard, who will call the police, who will call SWAT, who will call the FBI, who will call the HRT, who will call the military.

By the time we’re done playing ‘telephone,’ it’s all going to over except burying the bodies.

At Columbine, the police response was right out of the current playbook. Secure a perimeter, evacuate all the civilians you can get out of the way, wait for SWAT and the bomb squad to show up, stage and prepare, and go in and secure the building.

That didn’t work so well there.

But it was the standard doctrine, established because we believed that an unplanned response or a response without the necessary overwhelming force would be an ineffective response. So the police trained to wait for the situation to be right.

The passengers on AA Flight 11 similarly followed doctrine; when hijacked sit tight, avoid confrontation, wait until the plane gets on the ground and the grownups either negotiate a settlement or effect a rescue.

That didn’t work so well either.

Similar stories in Thurston High School and on AA Flight 93 ended differently. It wasn’t because there were better plans, or necessarily because the specific people were braver or smarter (although on Flight 93 they were obviously better informed). It was because they operated on a different doctrine, which involved immediate action, and not passively waiting for someone else to solve the problem.

Now some problems can’t easily be solved by a few high school kids or airline passengers, and I don’t mean to suggest that they are.

But I do mean to suggest that we need to invert our doctrine – actually, to bring our doctrine in conformance with reality. Because we’re spending billions building capabilities that aren’t. Because the reality is that the only people who will have a chance to avert an unanticipated terrorist attack will be a couple of security guards and local cops. And the first people to react to it will be EMT’s firefighters, and the staff of the local ER.

So let’s design a security system around them.

There are some collateral benefits of doing this.

First, we spend less time and energy building a giant, centralized domestic security apparatus which will inevitably be abused by those in power. By diffusing the power, we make that inevitable abuse harder to do, easier to detect, and more limited in scope.

Second, the additional capability we build into local law enforcement and public health bears immediate fruit in better law enforcement and public health, even absent a terror attack. The communications infrastructure that will help Southern California agencies respond to an attack can also be used in the event of fires or earthquakes. Better public health infrastructure will not only limit the population’s exposure to bioterror, but to naturally occurring disease as well.

Practically, not every threat can be met at a local level. NEST will never be a county function. And offense will remain the best defense, and will never be a local function.

But if we want to build a truly robust security system, we’d do well to heed Bruce Schneier (author of the great book ‘Beyond Fear‘):

The moral, Schneier came to believe, is that security measures are characterized less by their success than by their manner of failure. All security systems eventually miscarry in one way or another. But when this happens to the good ones, they stretch and sag before breaking, each component failure leaving the whole as unaffected as possible.


“The trick to remember is that technology can’t save you,” Schneier says. “we know this in our own lives. We realize there’s no magic anti-burglary dust that we can sprinkle on our cars to prevent them from being stolen. We know that car alarms don’t provide much protection. The Club at best makes burglars steal the car next to you. For real safety we park on nice streets where people notice if somebody smashes the window. Or we park in garages, where somebody watches the car. In both cases people are the essential security element. You always build the system around people.”

The people on the front lines. Angela the baggage clerk. She’s not going to violate my civil liberties, and she might actually save me some day, rather than investigating afterwards.

30 thoughts on “Emergent Security”

  1. A.L. – You say “I could marry my liberal goals with emergent means, and divorce modern liberalism from centralized command-and-control mechanisms.”

    The distribution of decision making has been a hallmark of American military doctrine from the beginning. Distribution of legislation and law enforcement, with checks and balances, was designed in from the beginning. Empowering the individual to make decisions on their own is the essence of conservatism.

    How in the world to you expect to get modern liberalism to work with the foundation of conservatism? Classical liberalism sure. But the essence of modern liberalism is to take from those who have and give to those who feel they deserve it more. How are you ever going to get individuals to make distributed decisions to give up what they have worked for? Modern Liberalism is by its very essence redistribution, which will only occur by command.

    If you think you can appeal to altruism, forget it. Take a look at the chart someone did that showed percentage of charitable contributions broken down by the 2000 red-blue states. The states in the bottom half of charitable contributions where overwhelmingly Gore states.

  2. Dear A. L.:

    This is a very thought-provoking subject. Sticking for a moment to the air travel component of security let’s examine the means that support top-down solutions and the means that support bottom-up solutions.

    1. Placing responsibility on the federal government for security on board airplanes is a top-down solution.

    2. Placing responsibility on the airlines for security on their own airplanes is a bottom-up solution.

    3. Indemnifying airlines against losses due to failures of security supports a top-down approach.

    4. Holding airline executives corporately and personally responsible for failures of security supports a bottom-up approach.

    5. “Nanny state” policies which encourage people to think that their protection is not their own responsibility supports a top-down approach.

    6. Removal of protections from the State encourages people to think that their protection is their own responsibility and supports a bottom-up approach.

    7. As federal taxation levels (including all taxes, fees, etc. e.g. personal and corporate income taxes, payroll taxes, excise taxes, etc.) rise it either reduces the amount of money available for local (state, county, city, etc.) taxation or reduces disposable income or both supporting top-down solutions.

    8. Low federal taxation levels increase the amount of money available for local taxation or increases disposable income or both supporting bottom-up solutions.

    From the foregoing it should be apparent that neither major political party has any interest whatsoever in bottom-up solutions. Democrats tend to prefer high levels of federal taxation and centralized planning. Republicans tend to prefer “New Federalism” solutions and other phony imitations of subsidiarity.

    Imagine for a moment that the airline industry was responsible for security onboard airplanes (which was, in fact, the reality pre-9/11) and that airline executives knew that they and their companies would be held _completely_ responsible for failures of security including consequential and punitive damages as well as jail time for execs. I believe that the following would have happened:

    – marginal airlines would have folded long ago
    – new airlines (that didn’t use the antiquated hub system) would have sprung up
    – a large number of extremely varied approaches to air travel security would have been experimented with, implemented, and really enforced
    – diversity of approach _in and of itself_ would have resulted in greater security
    – 9/11 would not have happened

    Government, especially centralized government, is just not good at the kind of security needed today. Imaginative people who think outside the box do not thrive in bureaucracies and that’s what’s needed.

  3. Provocative topic and provocative ideas.

    How does El Al do it? It is simultaneously the most vulnerable and the safest international airline.

  4. The states in the bottom half of charitable contributions where overwhelmingly Gore states.

    No, the bottom half comprises 14 Gore states and 11 Bush states. However, this is a much higher percentage of Gore’s states.

    However, these numbers have to be treated with considerable suspicion because as the survey notes, charitable giving data are available only for tax returns which itemize deductions, and this percentage is not at all constant across states. As a result, we may be looking at nonsense-numbers.

    The study furthermore fails to note the obvious: that the definition of “charitable” also distorts the results. Utah’s #1 standing surely arises from LDS tithes, and whether that’s useful to Mr. Cohen’s analysis of liberalism and conservatism is not clear to me at all.

  5. Solid.

    You correctly note that what we want is emergent behavior, not just a “system.” Constructing some kind of system might be necessary, but a deliverable isn’t a result, it’s what facilitates the result. So putting some more work into defining the desired outcome is indicated. Forgive me for repeating one of my favorite questions: what risk(s) are we wanting to manage?

    Reaction to your two points:

    1. The doctrinal inversion has already occurred amongst the citizenry. You correctly note that “no one not armed with guns is going to hijack an airplane any time soon.” But no one who is armed with a gun is going to hijack an airplane any time soon, either. Unless they’ve literally got more bullets than there are passengers on the plane, and are very good shots. In this country, airline passengers might as well be Fremen — women, children, and old men will attack hijackers.

    So the doctrinal inversion needs to be promulgated within government agencies themeselves. Given that the actual constituency of, for example, the Dept of Homeland Security is public employees rather than the public, this will be a nontrivial exercise in memetic engineering. Unlike other commenters, I don’t regard it as an impossibility for liberals, but it will require a change in mindset.

    2. The communications network already exists — it’s what alerted the Flight 93 passengers. Rather than create one de novo, perhaps we should determine what it would take for the existing network to fail, and work on making it more robust. It’s fairly obvious that if the bad guys retain their preference for flashy attacks — and I hope they do, because such a preference greatly limits their options — then terrorist strikes must consist of either a single huge event or several smaller events conducted simultaneously, since we already have the ability to spontaneously organize a response within an hour or so.

    I concur that training for some kind of latter-day Civil Defense is a key element. It’s conceptually a bit frustrating without, again, specifying what risks are to be managed. There is also the question of whether the Federal role is to guarantee a certain level of preparedness, or merely require it, and avoid prescriptive regulation (and assumption of the necessary funding). I (and perhaps you) would prefer the latter. A truly federalist system allows for some powerful emergent behavior.

  6. A.L.:

    I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I tend to think of the Sante Fe Insitute’s emphasis on “emergent phenomena” as something of a sham. In other words, I don’t quite believe in the magic bullet aspect of devolving authority. Seems to me what you might get is something like the 100 Years War. Some functions are better matched to local decisions and authority, while others are better matched to decisions and authority at higher levels, and determining which is better depends upon a complex problematique that is created by people with both intimate and sweeping knowledge of the problem. What we want to do is design a system that integrates well across scale. There’s a way to do that, but there’s no “formulaic” way to do it. I don’t trust “emergence” because it’s part of that formulaic mirage.

    I think the classic case is Hayek’s assertion that the rule of law was an emergent phenomenon. You could only say that if you simply remained ignorant of the decisions that created it, which were quite deliberate, and strategic. Awareness of the problem (or the pattern of the problem) may have been “emergent” in some sense, but even if that’s the case it may not be best to simply wait around for such awareness to emerge. There was little choice in the 12th century, of course.

    But now people can get together, discuss, create common terms and definitions, and through some sort of rational process create a comprehensive problematique of a situation, assign responsibilities at the right level, link parts of the problem rationallly to other parts, and finally resolve complex problems not by simplifying them, but by understanding them in their complexity.

    Besides Warfield, the work of Stephen Klein comes to mind. It’s an approach that’s no nonsense, and one that has been employed with great success in the military for some time. Frankly, I think all this talk of “emergent phenomena” verges on superstition.

    There’s a lot of woo-woo today around ‘emergent’ systems; it is a little-understood concept but one with applications from biology to urban studies to e-commerce and computer games.

    I submit that emergence is an important phenomenon where intelligent design is not an option. It makes sense, obviously, in biological systems and it also makes sense with regard to accomodating unforseen circumstances. So, there is a place for it in an overall design, because there is always a component of terrorism that is unpredictable. But I remain skeptical about making the concept of emergence central to the design of a security system, because complexity and unpredictability are not the same. And there are some aspects of the problem of dealing with terrorism that are simply complex, not unpredictable.

  7. I love it!

    Well before Sept. 11, I thought of what I called the “neighborhood militia.” I can get to my neighbors house far faster than any “first responders”; what if I had EMT training and some gear? What if my neighbors had a way to contact me and the other guys on the street when a violent ex smashed a window? Could the whole neighborhood pitch in and buy a few critical medical supplies and a bunch of little tactical radios?

    I haven’t had the time or money to persue this idea in the way I’d like–still no EMT training, not enought martial arts, and I moved 6 months ago anyway–but I haven’t given up on the idea.

    I didn’t like our society’s dependance on the “authorities” 5 years ago, and I like it a lot less now. But it seems to me this is something that we as citizens must do in our own communities in our own way. Hoping for the Feds to figure it out is fantasy.

  8. I guess I didn’t get it, with all the jargon about “emergent” properties. I have a pretty good idea of what this means in biology, but now Bob Lyman has clarified it for me at the societal level.

    We’re talking about vigilante justice, aren’t we?
    Amateurs with guns. Yahoos with more firepower than brains. Been there, done that. This way is madness.

    No, thank you. I’ll take my justice from professionals.

  9. Jeff –

    You may have ‘a pretty good idea,’ but you’re wrong about what I’m talking about.

    There’s an interesting discussion to have about how we deal with crime, but I’m not even close to talking about ‘vigilantes.’

    Unlesss that’s how you’d characterize the Flight 93 passengers…


  10. A bit about first aid and EMT courses

    I’m a Red Cross Instructor who taught courses in first aid, AED, CPR and prevention of disease transmission. Most chapters offer this combination in a one-day course that takes about 10 hours to complete.

    There are two levels of instruction in EMT in the United States. The EMT-B (basic) course takes about 14 weeks to complete and costs about $410.00. Participants must be able to lift half their weight and take a course in CPR for the Professional Rescuer (CPR/PR) as well. The advanced course produces qualified paramedics and tends to require a 2-3 year course of study at the college level.

    The differences between an EMT-B and a lay rescuer in the United States are not many, but they are crucial. EMTs know how to administer oxygen, transport patients from incident site to ambulance and have training in several areas of CPR. I don’t know if their training involves the use of non-automatic external defibrillation (where the rescuer determines the degree and timing of shock).

    That said, I doubt that widespread diffusion of EMT training would be particularly helpful. The EMT advantage in transportation requires that buildings have the stretchers, boards, inflatable casts and other devices at hand. The EMT advantage in oxygen administration requires that oxygen be available on site — this may be regretted in case of fire. The breathing bulbs and masks would be handy, but the time spent getting them out of storage would probably be better spent starting traditional CPR. And, to maintain EMT certification, one must do a certain amount of EMT work every year and undergo continuing education, which involves time and expense. EMTs are wonderful, but training 5% of the population as EMTs might not be cost-effective.

    I’d like to see more disaster drills in crowded public areas and workplaces. A law demanding semiannual drills in all buildings over ten stories would be useful, as would a law forbidding the automatic locking of stairwells. Maybe civil defense people simply trained to aid in evacuations would be helpful.

    Finally, every Red Cross chapter in the US offers disaster relief courses for free. The first course is a two-hour feel-good intro. From there students can take the courses that they are most interested in. (My own certs are in Mass Care and Damage Assessment.)

  11. Folks,

    “Emergent properties” have a very long tradition. The fundamental arguments for democracy are based on it. The whole Adam Smith explanation of the invisible hand, etc. is about emergent properties.

    New jargon is nice, but some realities never change. Top-down coordination is sometimes a good thing – but even the emergence of hierarchical structures takes place among independent agents. And the orders received from on high are executed by a crowd of independent people, who have their own emergent properties. This is part of why policy implementation (actual execution, by 10K’s of independent agents) is usually so different from policy formulation (planning of execution, by hundreds of agents) – and why The Law of Unintended Consequences applies.

  12. I’m all for teaching everyone first-responder skills, oxygen, automatic defibrillators, etc.

    But neighborhood militias? We have those in my neighborhood here in Pittsburgh, only we call them “gangs.”

    Once you sift through the buzzwords, though, I think you’ll find that the DHS approach is remarkably similar to what A.L. is proposing. Except we have the bizarre interplay of Democratic mayors going broke in part because they’re constantly paying overtime to their fat unionized first-responders, and a Republican administration and Congress loath to bail them out.

    Most of this stuff, however–as it was during the cold war–is psychological reassurance. Bombarded by car accidents and murders on the nightly news, people want to know that something is being done to make them feel safe.

  13. I’m not sure it’s any more fair to characterize an armed “neighborhood watch” as a “gang” than to characterize an individual gun-owning resident of that neighborhood as a “thug”.

    Let’s begin with the premise that it takes a village to raise a child … the ideal neighborhood watch would watch over the children at play in the neighborhood, watch out for stranger-danger, gossip about bullying — with hopes that the bully’s parents would teach lessons as necessary but with the understanding that if the parents did not the neighbors would –and, in general, the village/neighborhood would develop norms, and enforce them.

    The difficulty is that in our society the “children” may be adult-sized humans in their absolute prime of physical fitness –even while their emotional judgement and self-discipline is at nadir. At the same time, most of the “adult villagers” typically have left their domiciles to hunt or gather far afield — while those who remain tend to be elderly, or, (the few hale prime-of-life stay-at-home parents) vastly outnumbered by the “youths”.

    A force equalizer of some sort seems appropriate and necessary. If not firearms, per se, what?

    So, let’s stipulate for the nonce, granny in a rocker on the porch with a 12-gauge … while the kids play play in the yard, shoot nothing more than “hoops” in the street, and come in for dinner when called.

    If granny at one end of the block is gossiping with Uncle Joe (who favors a .22 pistol) at the other end via CB radio and both have police band scanners tuned to the emergency channels just to keep up with the outside world — is that now a “Gang” or a vigilante mob in any meaningful sense of the term?

  14. Sorry, my ‘Jeff’ comment was aimed at Joel.

    Warren’s comments about EMT training echo those of John Holschen, of Insights Training, who put together a ‘field trauma for motorcyclists’ for my riding group. His direct comment was that a EMT certificate was very useful if you travelled with a fully-equipped ambulance.

    And Pouncer, I haven’t even made it to the ‘citizen response’ level; I’m still trying to figure out how to organize the pros and semi-pros.


  15. Guys, what you’re talking about is a “Civil Defense” program, and I agree completely with you that it’s what’s needed.

    Back when the US had a CD program, I qualified as a fallout shelter medic, and the point that it’s not the same as an EMT-B is exactly right (which I also did eventually.) Fallout shelter medic is “what to do until the doctor comes, if the doctor isn’t coming for a couple weeks”, while EMT is “how to get them to the doctor still breathing.” But I think what we’re really looking for here is a Red Cross Advanced First Aid course.

    This is a really good idea that deserves more thought… the first thing to think about is that we dopn’t need the government to establish a program like this.

  16. I think that emergent properties already exist and are significant. I have participated in several disasters and some scheduled mass participation events as a ham radio operator. It always emerged that the hams acted as communications “glue” between organizations that did not have adequate pre-planned interagency communications (our repeater-based networks naturally facilitate this). In other words, we knew what all the agencies were doing, because many of their communications were carried on our common frequencies, leaving our operators with a good cross-agency picture. Hams are often formally built into DR functions through RACES or ARES organizations.

    During the Mexico City earthquake disaster of 1985, a communications system rapidly arose in the ham radio world. In Mexico City itself, many disparate organizations, from mission pilots and the Southern Baptist relief organizations (one pre-stocked disaster-relief semi-trailer truck per state) to Red Cross and Salvation Army to ham radio operators to specialized S&R teams to a phone company from Sweden to the U.S. Army all descended on the disaster area and rendered assistance. I flew to Mexico City on nothing more than the request of a Mexican ham (who I didn’t know at all) for help.

    On the more organized, top down side of things, I’m in Civil Air Patrol. It is tasked by Homeland Security, Air Force, and local governments for disaster relief, search and rescue and utility missions. Last night about 5 PM I received my Orange Alert notification and gave my availability. CAP, btw, flew the first reconnaissance mission over the World Trade center on 9-11.

    There are many more volunteer systems. Here in Maricopa County, Arizona we have a large number of specialized Sheriff’s posses, with both armed and unarmed members. This represents a trained volunteer force of about 3,000 available directly to law enforcement, with pre-existing communications and command/control systems. You can bet that if ManPAD missiles start being fired at aircraft, those posses will be out in force protecting the airport outlying areas (as will half the populace with their personal weapons).

    Red Cross and Salvation Army are skilled at providing disaster assessment and relief in addition to their other activities.

    Add to this the unaffiliated many Red Cross trained paramedical personnel (i.e. from CPR/Basic First Aid on up) in our society, the natural urge to help by citizens, the large number of well armed citizens in some states (like here in AZ), and you can see that there is lots of informal but ready-to-go material for emergent systems. Flight 93 was certianly an example of effective emergent behavior.

    The biggest challenge is to have strongly command oriented organizations, basically FEMA, military and police, ready to deal with volunteers, both organized and not. They tend to be loath to go outside procedures, and are suspicious of citizen volunteers who are not already integrated into their systems.

    I do agree with a previous poster that we need a new civil defense system. It would provide neighborhood or better granularity to the formalized system, help people contribute, reduce the “unknown volunteer” issue with the formal agencies, and cause more people to realize the real danger this country faces. It would give scared people a local person to call if they were just worried – someone not as forbidding (or as busy) as the police. And such a system would be useful in natural as well as man-made disasters.

  17. The biggest challenge is to have strongly command oriented organizations, basically FEMA, military and police, ready to deal with volunteers, both organized and not. They tend to be loath to go outside procedures, and are suspicious of citizen volunteers who are not already integrated into their systems.

    And that extends beyond agency-citizen interaction to agency-lower level agency interaction as well.

    And sorting out those communications/ training/ trust issues are exactly what I’m proposing as my policy suggestion.


  18. Warren–

    Thanks for the info. I don’t know much about this stuff, but my point isn’t that I want to run an ambulance, but rather that I want some basic level of traning and a managable amount of gear to staunch the bleeding and get someone breathing before the ambulance gets there.


    I have no idea what you’re talking about. There is a huge difference between “vigilante justice,” that is, hunting down and murdering suspected criminals, and what Pouncer aptly calls an “armed neighborhood watch.” What could possibly be wrong with me preventing a rape or murder in my neighbors house? What, for that matter, is wrong with my neighbors doing it themselves, with the training I arrange for them? The cops don’t always arrive on time.


    You know better than to compare me or A.L. to gang-bangers.

    The militia tradition in the US is an honorable one, even if it has been distorted lately by some real weirdos. I like the word “militia” because it ties us to the tradition of the citizen-soldier, who wanted nothing more than to stay home and tend his radishes, but knew that sometimes violence and sacrifice were the price of freedom.

    I think Americans (especially urbanites) have become too accustomed to the idea that they can buy anything, including safety, at no cost to them other than tax dollars. The government encourages this belief. I want to put a stop to it. I want the militia to make a comeback in our cities. Not for war-fighting, or even primarily for law-enforcement, but as a way for people to make sacrifices for their neigbors’ benefit. Doing this in a vaguly martial way (preping people to both fight and treat the wounded) has significant benefits in that it prepares them to handle both life’s accidents and the threat of terrorism better than working at the soup kitchen (not that there’s anything wrong with soup kitchens, just that I’m aiming for something different here).

    Of course, as John correctly points out, if I ever try this, the “authorities” won’t like it and I’ll probably go to prison or something.

  19. Rob, I didn’t intend to compare either you or A.L. to gangbangers, so I apologize if that’s the impression I gave.

    But not everyone is as responsible as I presume the two of you to be.

    Moreover, people pay taxes precisely so that they don’t have to police their own neighborhood. If I did that, when would I have time to blog?

    But seriously, I’m all for increased participation in the national guard, which is a militia system.

    I’m not sure what problem you’re trying to solve, though. Despite what you might think from hanging around the blogosphere, we’re a very hawkish society in general.

    And think of the economic cost: is it better for a bunch of urbanites to spend time creating wealth, or learning how to smoke out a sniper?

    Seems to me that contributing to the Pentagon budget is the more propitious route for national security.

    Even Milton Friedman would agree with me, I think.

  20. “What could possibly be wrong with me preventing a rape or murder in my neighbors house? What, for that matter, is wrong with my neighbors doing it themselves, with the training I arrange for them? The cops don’t always arrive on time.”

    Indeed they don’t. I wasn’t arguing against self-defense. And meaningful self-defense means lots more than buying a gun BTW.

    I grew up in the South in the ’60s. I recall very well what some peoples’ idea of rape and murder prevention meant. Terrorism was alive and well in the American South long before al Qaida.

    My concern is that the “emergent” neighborhood security can evolve into vigilates and militias. I know enough history to see the danger. I’m asking you–what safeguards do you envision to promote the healthy civic-minded (sorry about the anachronistic wording) security arrangements while avoiding the pernicious manisfestations?

  21. During the NYC blackout, “emergent” systems kept the city sane. People driving cars home from work turned their cars into free taxis, and helped others get home. Some random people stepped out into the middle of intersections and directed traffic.

    In contrast, established authorities in the city closed the largest bus station in town, stranding thousands. They didn’t get enough police into the streets in time.

    When we rely on a centralized authority to solve our problems for us, we stop relying on our own good sense. Most people want to help during an emergency, they’re just not sure what to do. AL’s suggestions would help. It would be such an improvement over the Tom Ridge duct tape routine.

    Stephen Jay Gould said: “every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the “ordinary” efforts of a vast majority” The impulse to help, and to work together is something we should take advantage of. It’s a very ordinary thing.

  22. Commenter above says, “2. Placing responsibility on the airlines for security on their own airplanes is a bottom-up solution.”

    Not quite.

    Placing responsibility on the passengers for their own security aboard the aircraft is the bottom-up solution.

    John Moore also comments above that local organized volunteers, such as HAM operators, naturally arise to assist in many of the recovery activities that now fall under the heading of Homeland Security. What if HS suddenly starts to refuse the volunteer help as commenter mary observers, or worse start investigating it, acting on concerns like those of commenter Joel?

  23. “Over time people loose their inner drive to be Actors rather than Re-Actors.”

    Such people are called reactionaries. Liberalism has no monopoly on them.

  24. This is a small piece I wrote. I was surprised to see that we fundamentally agree:


    “On the Question of How to Stop Islamic Fundamentalism”

    Stopping Islamic fundamentalism is misguided. The only way to do that is to kill every person practicing Islam. And since Islam exists in the mental sphere, so as long the Koran exists and there is a person to transfer that knowledge, it, like any idea fighting for survivial within natural selection, will re-emerge. An interesting property of ideas is that ideas only disappear if they are irrelevant, due to neutrality. That is, if an idea, religion, or any mental concept, is revered or hated, it spreads. Attention of any kind is life sustaining, so to speak.

    So if you wanted to stop Islamic Fundamentalism you would have to somehow make it irrelevant. Remove its’ emotional charge.

    You remember when you were a kid and you wanted attention from your parents, so you’d stomp and cry? What if your parents ignored you. Sure, ventually they’d pay attention to you and feed you. But what if they didn’t? What if every adult ignored you. As a child you would eventually starve and die. Hence, much like a child requiring nourishment, attention and care supports Al Quadea.

    But we can’t ignore 9/11. We can’t ignore the quagmire in Iraq. This is because we can not ignore our terminated loved ones. Or, at least, I can’t. But can we make extremist violence, somehow, irrelevant? And can we defend against such tactics?

    Here’s where the notion of “generations” exist within warfare. From the October 1989 Marine Corps Gazette, by William S. Lind, Col. Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Col. Joseph W. Sutton (USA), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR):

    “First generation warfare focused tactically and operationally (when operational art was practiced) on the enemy’s front, his combat forces. Second generation warfare remained frontal tactically, but at least in Prussian practice it focused operationally on the enemy’s rear through the
    emphasis on encirclement The third generation shifted the tactical as well as the operational focus to the enemy’s rear. Terrorism takes this a major step further. It attempts to bypass the enemy’s military entirely and strike directly at his homeland at civilian targets. Ideally, the enemy’s military is simply irrelevant to the terrorist.”

    Notice how each generation of warfare is more cerebral than the last? How do we fight on a battle field that is our own soil? How do we defend against improvised weaponry, something benign at one moment and fatal in the next? Improvised weaponry creates a combinatorial offensive that is impossible to completely guard against. When I can kill you with my fingernail, laced with a nerve agent, how can you stop me?

    I’m afraid, directly, you don’t. As in each generation of warfare, you have to somehow out-maneuver and strike at the enemy. What weakness is the enemy exploiting? The increasing centralization of society.
    The defense, which becomes offensive by reducing terrorist ability to harm, is found in efforts to de-centralize. Crucial infrastructure and access
    needs to be distributed. Decision making, too, must become distributed. The more we mimic the decentralized aspects of terrorists, the harder it is to hit us.

    The Bush administration half heatedly realizes this in giving guns to Air Marshals. On plane guarding is a form of decentralized access and decision making. Several other efforts by the Bush administration are characterized by decentralization. But a literal war on Iraq, or in the Middle East, is not appropriate. You can’t fight 4G with 3G. To reiterate, the solution is: The more we, as a society, mimic the decentralized aspects of terrorists, the harder it is to hit us.

  25. No idea if anyone is still reading this…


    I’m all for the national guard too. I even tried to join it. Know what I found out? Basic takes 8 weeks. Advanced infantry (where I was thinking of going) takes another 6. For more specialized jobs, advanced traning takes longer. Then there’s the one-weekend-a-month-and-two-weeks-a-year commitment, which isn’t so onerous, except that many people only get two weeks of vacation a year.

    And, of course, deploying the national guard requires the government to 1) decide to deploy it 2) get a unit together, and 3) get them into the area to be deployed (which can be tricky in a place like Seattle, where I used to live, with an abundance of old bridges and a nasty subduction fault underneath it).

    Finally, the national guard continues to train principally for war-fighting, which is fine, but different skills are called for in the terrorist/earthquake scenario I have in mind.

    Fundamentally, I don’t think the NG’s required time commitments, or its fundamental doctrine as I understand it (and I may misunderstand it, Guardsman please correct me), or its statuts as a top-down, and therefore somewhat slow and bureaucratic organization, are adequate to the challenges posed by modern terrorism.

    In the meantime, I’m already a crack pistol shot, a solid rifle shot, I have a nice collection of sturdy combat-capable weapons, Gore-Tex camo, sturdy boots, etc. A week of training and I’m ready to help set up a perimeter around a disaster/terrorist attack site to prevent looting or keep and eye on my neighborhood for the same purpose. And I have the advantage of, you know, living there, obviating the need to trasport me to Fort Lewis, equip me, and then trasport me back.

    If I had some medical training (which I am trying to get), I could both assist in the even of big natural disasters (when ambulances would be rather busy) or little ones (like the car-bike hit-and-run that occurred outside my house earlier this year).

    I don’t want people to really be policing their own neighborhoods, I know they don’t have the time (although I think a neighborhood which did police itself would be safer and a better environment to raise children). Full-on policing/firefighting/emergency medical care are huge responsibilities, and there are many occasions when it is both economically efficient and safer to leave it to the professionals. Smoking out a sniper may be a good example. But what if the professionals are overwhelmed by circumstances? What if there just aren’t enough ambulances and paramedics? Wouldn’t it be nice if some large number of people both had medical traning and a bag of supplies in their SUV, to serve as a makeshift ambulance?

    I want people to be ready to act in the event of an emergency. As Mary points out, most people want to help, they just don’t know what to do. What if they did?

    Joel raises a good point about the domestic terrorism practiced in the past by such groups as the KKK. I don’t think there’s any way you can prevent people from being assholes if they want to be. But I don’t think giving people emergency training, even weapons training, will turn them into assholes. The KKK is armed and dangerous already; my proposal won’t make it any worse. But it might make it better–would you want to be a Klansman in a black neighborhood with a functioning militia?

    Finally, I would point out that some of our “professionals” are racists/violent criminals/irresponsible. That some militia members might be also is hardly an adequate objection.

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