Wisdom, Discernment and an Ethic of Safety

Originally posted on July 21, 2018 @ 12:15 PM

Wisdom, Discernment and an Ethic of Safety

I receive emails every week from safety people who thank me for being ‘provocative’ and helping them learn. However, being provocative is not something I set out to do. I don’t sit down and think, ‘now how can I present some contrary view’. Indeed, when one stands in another worldview, a transdisciplinary worldview, it is easy to see why a culture of compliance and narrow miseducation might understand some views ‘provocative’. From a transdisciplinary view, none of what I discuss is controversial. Unfortunately, when someone disagrees with Safety one must be demonsised and all debate ceases. When one comes from a worldview that finds fallibility-denial delusional and scientism-positivism dehumanizing, it’s not too hard to be provocative when what is portrayed as orthodoxy is nonsensical.

Of course the language of zero is not a target or a goal but a social-psychological ideology that privileges numerics over people. It speaks in perfectionist ways to fallible humans (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/) and so creates alienation and disjunction between reality and justice. It’s only in the quasi-religious cult of safety (https://safetyrisk.net/no-evidence-for-the-religion-of-zero/) that one finds such illogical and irrational language. In real professions such as: medicine, law, teaching, education, nursing and social work, fallibility is understood and accepted as reality. Imagine what would happen in schools, community services and hospitals if perfectionism were talked about as a goal?

Unfortunately, in an industry consumed by metrics and numerics, Safety doesn’t know what to say other than to speak zero. Endorsed by peak bodies (https://safetyrisk.net/sia-has-a-bet-each-way-on-zero/) and a world congress (https://safetyrisk.net/no-evidence-for-the-religion-of-zero/) there seems little hope that this industry will ever mature and find a professional language without the ideology of zero. In an industry that is silent about so many things, Safety doesn’t know how to silent about zero.

Indeed, Safety is more characterized by propaganda (https://safetyrisk.net/zero-vision-as-propaganda/) and delusion than a desire to speak reality to people. Take for example the world congress propaganda that ‘zero harm succeeds’. Of course, there is no evidence for such a claim or any of the claims made by the world congress (http://visionzero.global/). Proposing a truth as if there is evidence when there is none, is a strategy straight out of the Joseph Goebbels handbook. Indeed, the research evidence shows that zero discourse actually contributes to an increases in injuries (Sheratt, F., & Dainty, A. R. J. (2017). UK construction safety: A zero paradox. Policy and practice in health and safety, 15(2), 1-9.). Further read the work of Amalberti and the impossibility of Ultra-safety.

Further to the propaganda is the eugenic ideology that seeks to eliminate all risk (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-eugenics-and-the-engineering-of-risk-aversion/). The nonsense of zero risk is ideological lunacy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-risk_bias). It is not a surprise that the idea of measuring risk and eliminating risky humans has found a home in Safety (http://www.selectinternational.com/online-safetydna-assessment-and-development-program; https://zeroriskinternational.com/). The truth is, there are no objective psychometrics to measure risk and even if risk could be measured, any campaign to reduce risk has a trade off in the reduction of learning. By eugenic logic all entrepreneurs, innovators and inventors would be deemed un-safe. Yet the propaganda of zero risk and zero harm rages like a fire in the safety industry.

This propaganda is further supported by the nonsense Bradley Curve (http://www.dupont.com.au/products-and-services/consulting-services-process-technologies/brands/sustainable-solutions/sub-brands/operational-risk-management/uses-and-applications/bradley-curve.html ) that has more in common with Dutch Reformed Theology than reality. Safety is the only industry that believes that fallible people are naturally unsafe! Infused with theology of original sin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_sin ), only Safety can come in and save people from their own ‘natural instincts’ to harm. Don’t you know safety people are saviours who save lives!

If ever an industry needed some critical thinking, wisdom and discernment it is Safety. The evidence is overwhelming that the industry is captivated by zero and lacks wisdom and discernment. Indeed, trawl through safety industry conferences and try to find language about critical thinking, wisdom and discernment, there is precious little. Then compare to a search on metrics, numerics, objects and compliance. The comparison is enlightening. Similarly do a semiotic search and the fixation with objects is alarming.

Wisdom and discernment comes from critical thinking (http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/our-conception-of-critical-thinking/411 ). Critical thinking asks about trajectories and trade offs in policy. Critical thinking asks about sources of power and who and what is privileged by the dominant social politic. Critical thinking asks uncomfortable questions about the match between rhetoric and reality. Critical thinking wants to know why objects are preferred over subjects. Critical thinking explores political and social dimensions of dominant ideologies and who is being served by them. Critical thinking comes from critical theory that is one of the sources of the Social Psychology of Risk (https://safetyrisk.net/download-page/download-info/understanding-the-social-psychology-of-risk-and-safety-3-docx/ ).

If you are up for some listening on critical thinking from the school of critical theory, and seek wisdom and discernment,then perhaps one of the following may be helpful or perhaps too provocative:

Henri Giroux


Erich Fromm


Ken Robinson


Guy Claxton


Peter McClaren


Parker J Palmer


The purpose of critical thinking is not provocation but learning. The goal of critical thinking is wisdom and discernment. Wisdom and discernment enable people to sift out the nonsense from chaff. Wisdom and discernment create understanding so that people and social reality matter. Wisdom and discernment prevent being seduced by propaganda, indoctrination, fads and snake oil. None of such should be able to find a home in an ‘ethic of safety’.

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