Safety Eugenics and the Engineering of Risk Aversion

Originally posted on December 24, 2012 @ 7:12 AM

The idea that one can diagnose who is an unsafe person via a psychometric test is the latest in the mindless quest for risk aversion. The fact that organisations would want to undertake such a diagnostic is in itself problematic, never mind the lack of rigorous research that could validate such a claim. Apparently one can take a 15 minute untimed test and determine who is a safe and unsafe person. There is your HR and safety silver bullet, don’t hire such people. The promotion for this psychometric tool actually states that it desires to select individuals for the client company who are risk averse. Why is this a problem?

Making an organisation and population risk averse is a bad idea. The very attributes one needs to learn, innovate, create, think independently, have imagination and think critically are the same attributes for risk taking. The reality is that risk is not the enemy, risk makes sense.

The more one engineers a population or organisation that is risk averse, the more the organisation cannot learn, the more the population will need to be spoon fed and the less innovation will exist in the company. It is a recipe for organisational disaster. There are many successful people who would not pass any such psychometric tool. Just imagine how someone like Richard Branson or Dick Smith would go on a test that advocates risk aversion. What a crazy idea but its also an insidious idea.

The idea that one could engineer risk aversion is a eugenic idea. Eugenics is a social movement for the orchestration or engineering for a desired population. At various times in history eugenics has been advocated as a way of weeding out ‘undesirable’ people in populations. This was most pronounced during World War 2. In the case of this psychometric test the ‘undesirables’ are risk takers and ‘unsafe’ people.

Social engineering of a population throughout history has always backfired. Someone comes up with bright idea like ‘zero harm’ and before you know it an ideology develops that sanctions the engineering of a population to get it. Most reasons for eugenics start with innocent assumptions, there is a positive intention to improve social life. When this positive intention takes on an ideological trajectory it is then used to justify any range of dehumanising tactics to achieve its goal. The idea that words and language like ‘zero harm’ are not important is a nonsense. Words and language ‘prime’ belief and in the end drive the acceptance of strategies that dehumanize others captured in the logic of eugenics. It was Ghandi who said:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

The idea that a risk taking person is an ‘undesirable’ in an organisation is ludicrous. There is no way an organisation itself can remain or develop if its population does not contain risk takers. Risk takers learn, risk takers innovate, risk takers create, risk takers think critically and independently, risk takers develop insight and know how to imagine. Imagination is one of the most critical attributes in making an organisation safe. Those who can imagine see possibilities and can better approach uncertainty, they know how to think about the unexpected. Take such people out of an organisation and the organisation will die.

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