Someone asked me the other day what was the opposite of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). An interesting question because it begs a binary answer.
One might think the opposite of STEM is the Arts and Humanities but I don’t think that really captures the difference enough. When ones worldview is shaped by yearning for control, mechanics, measurement and numerics, even the Arts and Humanities can easily fall into that worldview. I’ve seen plenty of Sociology, Psychology and Arts squeezed into the worldview of STEM.
So, my response to the question was Poetics. Maybe Poetics is most antithetical to the worldview of STEM. The idea of Poetics comes from Aristotle (de poetica 335bc) and denotes those aesthetical things that defy measurement and stir the unconscious. Aristotle also coupled Rhetoric with Poetics.
One can’t understand Poetics from a STEM worldview. The quest to control struggles to understand things that are beyond control. This is why the risk and safety industry regardless of labels, spin and marketing about difference always returns to the ideology of controls, systems and measurement.
The interests of Poetics are in all things that cannot be measured: love, faith, trust, dance, care, art, expression, poetry, metaphysics, death, suffering, religion, mystery, semiotics, aesthetics, drama, music, wonder and emotions. Whilst some of these are part of Arts and Humanities, Poetics is not the same. Even in the Arts and Humanities are schools of thought that endeavour to justify identity through measurement.
The quest to measure is the quest to control. Nothing is more threatening to dreams of infallibility than something that can’t be measured. In many cases the Rhetoric of difference is superficial, the worldview is the same.
Just because something can’t be measured doesn’t mean it is not significant. However in Poetics everything is felt not measured. You can’t measure love and trust but you sure know when they are not present. You can feel love and wonder in an experience but you can’t measure such mysteries. Whilst a song and music can provoke tears we often don’t know why. Poetics doesn’t need to know why, it simply needs to know what is. Whilst STEM is often about doing, Poetics is about being.
Poetics is interested in: mimesis, intuition, the unconscious, mystery, catharsis, metaphor and dialectics. Poetics is observed and felt not controlled and measured. This is why the STEM worldview can’t understand it and tries to understand Poetics through a STEM lens. It can’t!
Poetics is part of an Existentialist Phenomenological philosophy. Poetics has a focus on experience and being and has no interest in measurement. Often when people don’t understand an experience like: love, suffering, despair, death and grief they turn to Poetics because STEM has no clue or connection with the mysteries of fallible living. Why does this matter for risk and safety?
I was chatting to a safety person recently whose organisation has experienced an accidental death. Of course, the safety person has had no education in pastoral care yet was required to become deeply involved in the matter. Some aspects of counselling were outsourced to psychologists but once care is professionalised it loses effectiveness. This is why EAP is rarely taken up in organisations.
When someone dies – STEM is about as useful as a glass hammer. In the face of mystery, uncertainty, darkness and despair only Poetics knows how to connect with fallibility. Zero looks pretty stupid at a funeral service.
It is amusing to watch Safety struggle with the experiences of life that cannot be measured. In the face of the mysteries of death and harm Safety must cling to a delusional faith in Zero and then deny that it is an expression of faith. It is amusing to observe Safety become more deeply religious, ritualistic and sacralistic under Zero and then use religious discourse to deny its own ideology. Such is the blindness of the STEM-only worldview. Most often the empiricism of STEM shuts itself out of experiencing the realities of Poetics.
So, how does one get in touch with Poetics? By seeking things of wonder and mystery we learn about Poetics. By accepting a lack of control in fallibility one experiences Poetics. By falling in love and singing a song one becomes Poetic. And in Poetics one connects with oneself. In Poetics it’s all risk and no safety.