Scapegoating and Safety

Scapegoating and Safety

safety scapegoat
safety scapegoat

The Scapegoat has always been a part of the way the Sacred deals with harm, suffering, uncertainty and guilt. All civilizations and religions have practiced various forms of scapegoating for millennia.

The best way to understand the nature of scapegoating is through studies in: Theology, Soteriology, Religious Studies, Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Mimesis, Semiotics and Social Psychology. If you want to understand how and why Safety projects guilt and blame through scapegoating, don’t ask an engineer.

Rene Girard’s works on Violence, Anthropology, Mimesis and The Scapegoat is also helpful in understanding the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of scapegoating ( Why should this matter to Safety?

The projection of guilt and blame on others is a basic technique for how humans resolve conflict and resolve their own participation in violation, harm and cultural guilt. The locus for scapegoating is the victim, find something or someone that can be loaded up with blame.

In Jewish religious ritual, the victim was an innocent goat who served as a symbolic (semiotic) replacement for ‘sin’. I wouldn’t recommend reading Leviticus without some sense of Theology but the scapegoat idea forms the foundation for Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA). PSA is the wonderful concoction of Augustine. I discuss some of this in my free ebook Fallibility and Risk, Living With Uncertainty ( ).

Without an understanding of myth/symbol in a Phenomenological sense (Ricoeur), most of this seems a bit crazy. How can my sins be forgiven by throwing them symbolically onto a goat?

Well, so much we do as humans is symbolic that we attribute effectiveness to. How am I married by reciting rituals and putting a ring on a finger? How does a child enter heaven by splashing water on their forehead? You get the idea.

Many cultures attribute effectiveness to the enactment of change via ritual eg. initiations, school formals, first sex, first drink etc.

It is not much of a leap to understand how the safety industry attributes effectiveness to its rituals ( ) eg. risk assessments, risk matrices, SWMS, Bow-Tie, Swiss-Cheese, incantations like ‘zero harm’, ‘all accidents are preventable’, ‘safety is a choice you make’.

Rituals for saving are common in any activity that believes it ‘saves lives’.

safety saves

Safety has certainly created many activities, processes and rituals that create conditionality to ‘being saved’.

Whenever someone is harmed Safety runs an investigation into why its attributed rituals don’t work. Of course, these are not called ‘rituals’ but the investigation will no doubt consider them as such as it looks to why a process failed to work properly as a cause of being not ‘saved’. What is next needed is an act of PSA to appease the god Zero.

Of course, once a scapegoat has been found all is well, Safety can return to the ineffective rituals it attributes as effective and even add to them because the myth of volume-equals-effectiveness is another sacred incantation.

One of the great securities of safety investigations is already knowing the outcome before starting the investigation. The quicker a scapegoat is found the sooner Safety can return to its primary task of brutalism in the name of its god – Zero.

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