The Ideology of Zero Harm

Originally posted on March 30, 2013 @ 8:22 AM

Since writing my book For the Love of Zero, Human Fallibility and Risk I have received on average, two emails a week from people who have been threatened with or been sacked for challenging this mantra. Some of these people are overseas with mining and construction companies and some in Australia.

I received one long email this week from a person in Perth who was distressed and threatened with the sack for daring to question the mantra of zero harm. This person was told that he was not qualified to even raise criticism of the idea. Strange, one requires no qualification to blindly follow an ideology one doesn’t understand and yet, needs all the qualifications in the world to question it? This is the nature of dogma and ideology.

There is no difference between the behaviour of a fundamentalist defending religious dogma and the behaviour of organisations seeking to defend zero harm ideology when their behaviour dehumanizes people. When an ideology cannot withstand debate or question, it takes on a religious-like fervour. Such an approach drives fear and negativity, it seeks to isolate dissenters and discriminates against those who don’t fit.

An ideology is generally accepted as a system and set of unconscious ideas that govern thought and behaviour. Ideologies in particular, are invested with power and form the basis of differentiation between people. The ideology then becomes as tool for moderating who fits and doesn’t fit with any given society. This is certainly how the idea of zero harm has grown in its short history.

When ideologies are invested with political power, people can be swept aside and dehumanized because they are perceived as a threat to that society. This has been the case with eugenics throughout history. This is the nature of xenophobia. Ideologies throughout history have been used to justify all forms of dehumanising practice, even sacking someone for debating that idea. This is how one gets excommunicated from a religious organisation.

At the foundation of the zero harm ideology is the delusion of binary thinking. Binary thinking is black and white thinking that proposes that one can only be one of two things. I have discussed this before in this blog.

Binary thinking has no sense of competing goals and doesn’t understand that by setting absolutes and speaking in absolute perfectionist language, a range of equally important goals are shut out. For example. Binary thinking assumes that if one is not in favour of ‘the war on terror’, one is a terrorist. Binary thinking assumes that if one doesn’t support marriage equality, one is homophobic. Binary thinking is fundamentalist thinking, one is either a follower of God or Satan, there is no grey, no in-between.

The binary of zero harm, usually commences with the nonsense question, ‘how many people do you want to be injured or killed at work today?’ This is no different than the old non sequitur, ‘when did you stop beating your children?’ Such questions are simply framed to prove one’s own assumption. The odd thing about binary thinking is that it assumes opposition on the basis of silence. If I don’t speak about zero harm as a good goal, this doesn’t mean I am an advocate of harm. Strategic silence in language is not a reason to assume opposition in ideas. There are many ways to speak about the nature of risk and safety, unless one must have total agreement with your ideology. So much so, that you will be sacked.

I work with many companies that decide not to use the language of zero harm. They know of its existence but have decided that such language is not helpful. This doesn’t mean such companies desire to hurt people. Silence about necrophilia doesn’t mean I approve of it. I know such an idea exists but I don’t have to talk about it. This is because I know that language ‘primes’ behaviour.

I was challenged a few weeks ago by an advocate of zero harm who stated I was just getting excited about semantics. I asked him what zero harm meant to him and he stated, ‘zero harm’ doesn’t actually mean zero, it just means ‘try your best’. I said to him, ‘why don’t you just say, ‘try your best?’ He stated that, definition and semantics were not that important. So I asked him if I could call his wife ‘slut’ because I defined slut to mean ‘nice woman’ and he said I was being ridiculous. This is the nature of blind ideology; words become meaningless as we ‘prime’ populations of people to absolutes and perfectionism, whilst most of them don’t believe it. Sound like a religion to you?


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.