Liking and Not Liking in Safety, A Tale of In-Group and Out-Groupness

imageOne of the foundations in the development of Social Psychology was the study of the Nazis and in-group and out-groupness.

Most Histories of Social Psychology trace its roots back to Kurt Lewin. Lewin (a Jew) like many of the founders of Social Psychology like Milgram, Zimbardo etc. simply explored the question: why do people do what they do? In the case of Adorno, Levinson (The Authoritarian Personality), ‘How and why could the Nazis do as they did?’

This led early researchers in Social Psychology to articulate the dynamics of in-group and out-groupness. You can read about the foundations of Social Psychology here:

It is important not to confuse Social Psychology with anything Psychosocial.

Understanding In-Groupness and Out-Groupness ( ) is critical to understanding culture, judgment and decision making, abuse of power and a host of unethical behaviours. Prejudice and discrimination are solidified and enacted on the foundation of In-Group and Out-Groupness (see further Plous (2003) Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination). Many of the foundational concepts in Social Psychology are explained well by Plous in The Psychology of Judgement and Decision Making (1993).

None of this is discussed by Safety. In SPoR, we consider all of the above as foundational to learning and understanding risk, culture and enactment.

When one is in an in-group one distinguishes oneself from outsiders by ‘anchoring’ to a shibboleth, language or idea (eg. zero) that builds unquestioned acceptance, belonging and differentiation from outsiders, the out-group.

If you want to belong in the in-group you need to speak, use the same language, not question and comply with the cultural norms of the group.

Liking in the Safety in-group comes through affirming the myths, gestures and rituals accepted by the group. Then one needs a language of demonising those outside of the group so as to not engage or take seriously any out-group criticism. This is done usually by projection – constructive criticism is called ‘safety bashing’, criticising zero is called ‘anti-safety’ and out-group people are projected as being ‘angry’, ‘aggressive’ or ‘problematic’. This is best directed to people one has never met and to disciplines one has never studied.

In this way, the in-group doesn’t need to take seriously anything outside of its own bubble. This is the culture of mono-disciplinary Safety. ( )

You can read some good examples of in-group and out-groupness here:

In-groupness identity is strengthened by demonising ‘the other’. In the case of the Nazis an entire language was developed about Jews as ‘the enemy’ ( ). The Nazis even had a codified system for all of its enemies (

The acceptance of codes and symbols is essential for in-groupness and out-groupness differentiation. In the case of Safety, accepting pyramids, curves, swiss-cheese and matrices is essential. It is also essential to in-group-ness in Safety to accept that words don’t mean what they say: zero doesn’t mean zero, different doesn’t mean different, communication means telling, monitoring means surveillance etc. (

Once a person or group has been dehumanised, one can do whatever you want to them, as they have been deemed non-persons. Mostly, coded language is developed that is highly emotional (like ‘safety bashing’) and focused on mis-information so that the in-group will not question any accepted codes. Indeed, questioning and critical thinking puts one instantly on the fringes of any in-group. And Safety, just like the church, uses religious language such as ‘heresy’, ‘agnostic’, ‘salvation’ ( and religious symbolism to differentiate from the out-group.

Blind obedience and compliance are essential for in-group identity.

In Safety we see this differentiation often between those who ‘save lives’ and workers who ‘don’t care about safety’. This is captured in language about ‘safety heroes’ and ‘complacent workers’. And once zero is made a shibboleth, any mistake, injury or error is made anti-zero.

All of this fosters ignorance, a lack of questioning, codes of acceptance, rituals for in-groupness and taboos attributed to the out-group (eg. anger, aggression and associated language of pollution). The in-group then creates an identity of purity and the out-group are understood as dangerous (Douglas –

Safety doesn’t have to burn books and censor publications like the Nazis ( ), it just uses silences ( ) to other disciplines and ideas to ensure a uniformity to in-groupness. Just go to any safety curriculum across the globe and look at the reading list. Look at what is not on the curriculum for reading (of course nothing on Ethics, Politics, Helping, Personhood etc). Look at what is enforced and reinforced, the darling of Safety – behaviourism and engineering. This is now mono-disciplinarity is assured.

Then if one questions anything about Safety, even if it is an obvious abuse of power, it is quickly deemed ‘safety bashing’ and not to be listened to, read or countenanced, even when other options and alternatives are offered for free.

All of this is transferred and attributed as ‘liking’ and ‘not-liking’ something and is quickly politicised, even though Politics is not studied or discussed in safety. This is how associations create ‘purple circles’ and ‘fans clubs’ and consolidate identity against the impure and the un-baptised.

Unfortunately, not much can be done except wait and in time those who are marginalised, who ask questions, who are over-powered, eventually look over the fence and begin to wonder if something of value is on offer outside the in-group. In the case of Safety, when one discovers that behaviourism doesn’t work and Zero is brutal, the process begins.

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