Understanding Cults and Safety/Zero

I always find it amusing when an engineer claims SPoR is a cult. These are the same who lecture the safety industry on cult-ure and who know nothing about both.

The truth is, those most susceptible to cults are those most ignorant of cults.

Of course, there is no greater cult than the cult of Zero (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/zero-the-great-safety-delusion/ ).

The power of a cult is in capturing the ignorant and uncritical, the compliant and those most attracted to The Authoritarian Personality disorder. Those with studies in Anthropology, Critical Theory and Religious Studies are best place to understand and resist the power of cults. Of course, for those engineers maybe a little study on cults might help sharpen that ignorance (https://www.academia.edu/987663/Understanding_Cults_and_New_Religions).

So, let’s have a look at the nature of cults and how things match up.

1. The first characteristic and indictor of a cult is money. Rule one in assessing a cult is to chase the money. SPoR gives away all of its work for free, the only discipline in risk and safety to do so. On the other hand, if you want to make a fortune in safety just spruik the language of zero and promise the impossible (DuPont https://www.consultdss.com/content-hub/belief-in-the-impossible/ ).

2. The second characteristic of a cult is false promises of salvation. This was discussed academically in a paper by myself and Dekker (https://sidneydekker.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/ZeroVision.pdf). The false promise of salvation in Zero is its most popular narrative. This is most evident in the religious video In the Spirit of Zero (https://safetyrisk.net/the-spirit-of-zero/). Just watch this video and tell me Zero is not a cult.

3. The third characteristic of a cult is evangelical zeal. We see this in the Hillsong-like images from the Safety Congress of 2017 (https://safetyrisk.net/no-evidence-for-the-religion-of-zero/). Just look at the huge banner of ‘We Believe’ and tell me this is not a cult. Understanding the nature of belief is not something engineers know much about (https://safetyrisk.net/the-safety-belief-system/) indeed, their fear of subjectivity and belief in the myth of objectivity is one of their cultic beliefs.

4. The fourth characteristic of a cult is NOT understanding the nature of belief/faith. We see the outcome of ignorance about belief/faith in zero ideology (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-as-faith-healing/). Those to consult least about the nature of cultic belief are engineers, behaviourists and ‘scientists. Similarly, re the nature of culture. One of the things we study in SPoR is the nature of belief, cults, mythology, faith, conversion, culture. This is the best way to arm against cultic practice and create consciousness of cultic process.

5. The fifth characteristic of a cult is the way leadership is presented. In SPoR there is no cultic sense of leadership rather, the model of following-leading dominates (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/following-leading-risk/). In SPoR nothing is anchored to personality (eg. names of websites and podcasts) nor is any mythology like ‘Indiana Jones of Safety’, gurus

or heroics maintained. And these are just a few examples. You can’t get much more religious cultic language than this. However, in SPoR it is the opposite.

However, in safety/zero it’s all about the hero myth  (The myth of the birth of the hero : a psychological interpretation of mythology  , The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Commemorative Edition ) . In SPoR, everything is about Socialitie, Community, Relationships and Mutualitie. A good article to read on a priesthood in safety (written by Dekker) is here: https://safetydifferently.com/the-safety-profession-can-be-like-a-priesthood/

6. The sixth characteristic of a cult is a lack of ethics. In SPoR, one will find the greatest focus on ethics in the world of risk and safety. Indeed, this industry is still yet to focus on the importance of morality and ethics. When you get rubbish like the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics, you know that a foundation is created for unethical conduct. Indeed, the ignorance of this chapter on ethics is breathtaking. BTW, you will find nowhere across the globe in Zero any discussion of the outcomes of zero ideology nor its harmful dangerous by-products. More so, you know you are in a cult when the dominant ideology is challenged. I receive many emails each month from people who have been sacked for challenging zero! This is what cults do – coercion, bullying, compliance, lordship

7. The seventh characteristic of a cult is a lack of critical thinking. We see this in the way SPoR is challenges as a cult. What Safety/Zero hates most is critical thinking. Compliance must rule, this is the ethic of the engineer. Dissent is despised, the ideology of power must not be exposed nor who is empowered by the ideology. The AIHS BoK chapter on ethics doesn’t even discuss the nature of power yet, this is foundational to any study of ethics. One of the reasons SPoR is disliked by engineers is because it exposes the truth of experience in safety. In 20 years I have never had one person write and challenge anything presented as untrue or lacking evidence. The cult of Zero is not interested in evidence, ‘Just Believe’.

8. The eighth characteristic of a cult is dictating conduct, listing taboos, normalising rituals and polarising dissent. This is what the zero cult does best. In Zero, there is no other way. Speaking of fallibility is taboo, maintaining myths of golden rules is demanded (https://safetyrisk.net/auditing-the-7-golden-rules-of-zero-a-miserable-fail/; https://safetyrisk.net/7-golden-rules-that-are-not-golden/; https://safetyrisk.net/the-non-golden-rules-for-leadership-in-zero/ ; https://safetyrisk.net/seven-golden-rules-for-zero-and-yet-no-ethic/ ). Interestingly, these are often described religiously as ‘life saving rules’, ‘cardinal rules’, ‘commandments’ and ‘deadly sins’ (https://safetyrisk.net/commandments-cardinal-and-life-saving-rules/). We see this founded in the Bradley Curve as a ‘natural instinct’ to harm.

9. The ninth characteristic of a cult is an emphasis on control, solutions and fixes. In SPoR this is the opposite. SPoR offers no fixes or solutions to risk as a wicked problem but rather, provides practical, positive and constructive methods that are open ended in a person-centric approach to risk. SPoR criticises the brutalism of persons in the name of safety/zero and offers a practical, meaningful alternative. SPoR is not just critical but offers a better way to tackle risk and all of this is offered for free. In Safety/Zero, the favourite language is about control, hazards, policing, compliance, regulation and bullying.

10. The tenth characteristic of a cult is the closed nature of the group or as we know in SPoR in-groupness and out-groupness (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0049089X21000466). Can you just imaging at the approaching Zero Congress in November in Sydney daring to challenge zero? Can you imagine how quickly the ushers would help you out the door? But don’t take my word for it, the Congress have decided to describe it as a ‘Zero Event’ (https://safetyrisk.net/the-global-zero-event-this-is-safety/). So, if you disagree with zero don’t come but if you are a lover or zero, (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/for-the-love-of-zero-free-download/) you are welcome with open arms and BTW, don’t forget your wallet. In SPoR, people are free to come and go as they like. There is no coercion but rather the attraction of humanising risk.

These are just 10 characteristics of cults and Safety/Zero clearly fits the bill. And for the engineers, perhaps do some research in Anthropology or Religious Studies and see if you are up to some de-mythologizing of the cult of objectivity, the ideology of zero or the ritualising of audits, checklists and paperwork.

If you are, then the methodology and methods of SPoR can help unlearn the myths of safety and lead towards a free and open approach to tackling risk where the word ‘professional’ is actually given meaning.


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