Understanding Humans and How They Tackle Risk
Without a proper understanding of humans, fallibility and an holistic understanding culture, Safety will never develop a humanising approach to risk. These can never be developed from an engineering-behaviourist worldview.
One of the major errors of a safety worldview regarding culture is its complete rejection of the discipline of Religion in its definition of culture. When your nonsense definition of culture is ‘what we do around here’ you are doomed to a behaviourist lens that ignores the reality that all humans live symbolically and metaphorically. Behavioural outcomes are the manifestation of faith/belief and in themselves are a measure of nothing.
What we learn from including Religion in our Transdisciplinary understanding of culture is that all humans understand the world symbolically. Symbolism is the language of making meaning and finding purpose, the two foundational essentials of motivation. The behaviourist idea that reward drives behaviour is simply nonsense mythology.
When we come to safety we quickly realise that it has no cognisance of symbolism or its own religiousity. Most of the stuff paraded under the symbolism of zero is more religious than you would find in any orthodox theology. The echoed mantra of ‘just believe’ requires more faith than belief in the virgin birth or faith in the Easter bunny.
Myths and symbols are of course the same thing, the flip side of the same coin, and together are constructed as truth even though they are not real.
If you are seeking to understand humans, society, civilisations and human being you ought to start with a religious study. Nothing goes back further into human history, anthropology and ethnology than the human construction of religious meaning. The language of religious semiotics precedes text by tens of thousands of years. For example, to understand the culture of Australian First Nations People without understanding religious symbolism is foolish. There is no text in the history of Australian First Nations People, their culture is a verbal-visual culture anchored to religious symbolism held in the land. To suggest than one can understand Indigenous culture from behaviours (what they do around here) is just nonsense.
So, when we look at the mono-disciplinary safety industry we never see a mature understanding of culture, we only see an engineering-behaviourist construct of culture. This is why all these supposed approaches to ‘safety culture’ don’t work. Because culture is defined so poorly.
A good place to start understanding humans and society is with Mercia Eliade, (1961) Images and Symbols, Studies in Religious Symbolism. It is only through an understanding of fallible human religiosity that one properly understands how humans tackle risk. Against The Gods, the Remarkable Story of Risk by Bernstein is a wonderful account of what humans do with risk, the reality of fallibility in the face of uncertainty. When faced with risk humans seek certainty, the absolute and zero. When faced with the risk of death humans seek the eternal and construct meaning in things eternal, when there is none. There is no greater construct of the eternal than zero, the symbol of infinity. And if were able to transport back a thousand years when there was no such concept of zero, the explanation for the eternal and infinite were known as gods.
Whilst we might like to think we in the West are more sophisticated than ‘primitives’ who construct religious answers for uncertainties, we are no different. Zero in safety is exactly the same. When you fear injury and harm thrust upon you by Fortuna and fallibility, when the dice roll against you and you hate uncertainty, just speak the symbol of zero to the gods as if there is some sense of control upon the uncontrollable. The language of zero is the language of faith. The symbol of zero is a religious language that supposes that the gods of risk have been appeased.