The Strange Challenge of Unlearning in Safety

Originally posted on June 15, 2020 @ 11:32 AM

imageThe research shows that people are most gullible when:

1. What is presented to them is the first they have heard it

2. The source seems authoritative

3. The ideas seem logical, simple, binary and orderly and,

4. Ideas match popular discourse.

It is not likely that people are going to fall for a secondary idea that is complex, paradoxical and ‘difficult’ to understand.

When people commence learning in the Social Psychology of Risk the greatest challenge is unlearning many of the myths and processes taught in Safety that: don’t work, are unreal or dehumanize people. Eg. it’s very hard to throw away the idea of swiss cheese causation because it conforms to the four criteria of gullibility above. Unfortunately, the swiss cheese notion of causality simply doesn’t match the messy and ambiguous nature of reality. Incidents and events don’t happen in an orderly or linear way but once a model of safety has been anchored through a Diploma or Body of Knowledge it becomes nearly impossible to let go. Swiss cheese has more in common with the ‘clustering illusion’ than clear thinking ( ).

In an attempt to understand, predict and control the world the safety curriculum constructs a range of models and ideas that though absurd are believed with religious conviction. One such absurdity is zero. Zero requires the same kind of faith as belief in any religious miracle. The only way to believe in zero is to deny the reality of fallibility.

Several dynamics are at work in the way people hold to absurd and unhelpful ideas expounded in the safety curriculum and Body of Knowledge. These are: anchoring, attribution and metacognitive myopia. Eg. The idea that numerics demonstrates safety, paperwork keeps people safe and hazards have an ‘energy’ in themselves are just a few of the absurd ideas that have to be unlearned once one is prepared to jettison the orthodoxy of the safety curriculum. And, if the source of information is an orthodox one, it must be true. Similarly, applying language like ‘science’ to the study of safety adds to this conundrum, even though the foundations of science are: questioning, demonstrable outcomes, evidence and critical thinking.

Unlearning requires skills in: discernment, sifting, critical thinking, ethics, politics and questioning, none of this in either the BoK or safety curriculum. And it’s not just in the myths that Safety espouses but also it’s silences. How amazing that the global mantra for safety is zero and yet it receives no attention in the safety curriculum or BoK, even in a Chapter on Ethics.

Such is the fortress built up by Safety that any criticism of it is deemed non-compliant. This circularity is common to all religious faiths. Criticism is personalized and made taboo.

We now live in a time when gullibility is at a premium. Some refer to the social influence of gullibility as ‘fake news’ and others as ‘post-truth’. Such is the nature of faith-belief in these strange times that no amount of evidence to the contrary can convince followers of current crypto-fascists that they are incompetent and self-serving. Much of this has more in common with a fundamentalist cult than sensible rational thinking about politics, ethics or social meaning.

The human mind is poorly designed for ‘fact checking’ but very good at accepting and incorporating second hand information and symbolic memes. This is essential for maintaining political alliances and for survival. Mavericks, skepticism and questioning don’t last long in groupthink ( ). Challenging orthodoxies may be visionary but when the non-vision is zero and compliance is king, there seems no great reward for swimming against the tide. Most of the safety people who study SPoR have mortgages.

If you want to learn more about the challenges of unlearning then the following is enlightening: Forgas, J., and Baumeister, R., (eds.) The Social Psychology of Gullibility, Fake News, Conspiracy Theories and Irrational Beliefs. Routledge. New York.

Source link

Leave a Reply

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