‘False Consciousness’ and Perception in Risk and Safety

by Dr Rob Long on April 5, 2014

in Psychology of Safety and Risk,Robert Long,Simplistic Safety

Very thought provoking article by Dr Rob Long from Human Dymensions. To quote from the article:

Young engineer with pensive face and security helmet The idea that setting absolutist and perfectionist goals followed by punitive measures to achieve those goals, is a bankrupt model for motivation of risk and safety ownership. The model ignores hidden pressures that drive under reporting, totally misunderstands the nature of learning and believes that only the hedonic principle (carrot and stick) drives human relationships. It is this kind of simplistic stuff that keeps the risk and safety industry bogged down in more of the same – more punishment, more systems and more vigilance in policing systems.

‘False Consciousness’ and Perception in Risk and Safety

One of the interesting things we learn in the study of cults and fundamentalism is the nature of perception ‘blindness’. ‘False consciousness’ describes the beliefs that oppress people for which they are unaware and the beliefs themselves that inhibit critical self reflection. False consciousness inhibits the oppressed from perceiving their own oppression and encourages the distortion of perception through ‘sunk cost effect’ and coercion. For example, people find it difficult to understand why a woman who has been systemically bashed by her partner should not only defend but also not report her partner’s violence. We saw this week the embarrassing performance by a populist tv commentator in discussion with Rosie Batty, whose husband killed his own son and was then killed by police (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2594845/Rosie-Batty-blasts-Joe-Hildebrand-comments-domestic-violence.html). Rosie Batty comments about the commentator:

‘I am absolutely outraged. I was living in hope that because of Luke’s tragic death it would bring a huge awareness to family violence. This is beyond my comprehension how, again, the woman who is the victim is punished, she said … And Joe, your comments are so, so misguided.’

Later the commentator apologized (http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/joe-hildebrand-apologises-to-rosie-batty-over-family-violence-comments-20140403-35zvp.html) but clearly showed he had no understanding of the issue and then proceeded to justify his ignorant view. This serves a good example of false consciousness. The naïve idea that punishment for non-reporting of violence is a good idea totally misunderstands the dynamic of family violence, the pressures not to report and the nature of punishment and its by-products. The commentators own worldview and thirst for justice, makes him blind to the plight of family violence. Punishment for under reporting (the commentator’s view) has a trajectory that punishes the victim and decreases reporting, things go underground. For example, the state that does the best with the issue of child abuse is Western Australia, where there is no mandatory reporting but a diversion program. The idea that punishment alone motivates and modifies behaviour is naïve and misguided. Rosie Batty who is the expert in this matter, is quickly ignored by this populist commentator who has only simplistic views about the issue, a good example not just of false consciousness but also demonstrates our society’s fascination with the entertaining ‘noise’ of amateurs.

Whilst there is no comparison in gravity of the Rosie Batty story to under reporting in risk and safety, the same dynamic of false consciousness is at work. The idea that setting absolutist and perfectionist goals followed by punitive measures to achieve those goals, is a bankrupt model for motivation of risk and safety ownership. The model ignores hidden pressures that drive under reporting, totally misunderstands the nature of learning and believes that only the hedonic principle (carrot and stick) drives human relationships. It is this kind of simplistic stuff that keeps the risk and safety industry bogged down in more of the same – more punishment, more systems and more vigilance in policing systems. Yet, whilst the sector complains about the excesses of all these things it proposes nothing new. False consciousness, maintained by the fortress of the hedonic principle, maintains blindness that complains about bureaucracy on one hand but does nothing about the cultural values that drive it on the other. Of course, the discourse of the hedonic principle is assisted by language that normalizes its own assumptions, binary opposition goals and naïve simplistic ignorance about trade offs in ideology. False consciousness allows the cult to flourish so that it cannot reflect on its own assumptions and perpetuates it’s own beliefs through language gymnastics like the tv commentator so that there is no shift in belief, just a false apology.

The cult generally uses the following mechanisms to maintain false consciousness, these are:

  1. The creation of binary opposition language used to identify belonging.
  2. Creation of in-group and out-group identity by conformity to a mantra.

  3. Demonise the enemy so that the ideas of non-believers are not considered valid.

  4. Identity non-conformists by their non-conforming language.

  5. Bureaucratize belief in the mantra in policy and develop ‘sunk cost’ in the mantra.

  6. Elevate the importance of the mantra goal above the value of people.

  7. Suppress critical reflection, discredit academic research and elevate the importance of social media/amateurish opinion.

  8. Create attachment to promoters of the mantra.

  9. Keep messages simple and promote opposition as confusing and unnecessarily complex.

  10. Normalise the mantra and punishment for non-conformity.

One of the best ways to assist people from the oppression of the cult is to articulate the dissonance of their position. Whilst it may not be often successful, one never knows when another is ‘ready’ to shift from false consciousness to critical reflection.


Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.
  • Sheree, thanks for sharing your terrible story. I have no idea of your pain and anguish but use to manage services for homeless women and your story resonates so strongly with the plight of many women who used these services. So much of this evil is hidden in our society because we get flooded with rubbish from populist nobodies like this commentator who know nothing except binary simplistic nonsense. I trust you can find some anonymity and peace in your plight. Keep off social media at all costs, don’t get a phone on a plan, I hope you have changed your name and take advice from women’s services near you. All the best.

  • sheree

    Yeah, the commentator was a “cool dude”, a motivator,right? Maybe he should do some time for instigating this type of behavior, for letting men think it’s ok, that she was the one at fault? I know what Rosie lived through – my abuser never hit me; until he started hitting me, and choking me, and cutting me. I told – NO ONE would believe this pillar of society, the grandson of a wealthy founding father, this gentleman, a man who still dressed for dinner, and used all the right utensils, stood when a woman walked into a room, was a monster behind closed doors. I had restraining orders, I talked to the police, his boss, his friends – had my locks changed, welded bars on my windows, {if there was a fire, my boys and I would not have escaped}, I carried a gun on me at all times, slept with it under my pillow at night. I taught my children to roll under a bed, be quiet as a mouse, and not to come out until I came to get them; we PRACTICED escape scenarios! He was still able to kick my kitchen door in, shoot out all my windows, break every dish in the house, pistol whip me, and when the police finally got there after the neighbors called about shots fired, he was strangling me – it took six cops and two sheriff duties to get him off of me. We made the 10:00 news. He told the judge “he loved me”. While he was in the prison, {not for what he did to me, mind you 10 years for controlled substances} – he would call to tell me he still loved me. After he got out he would sit across the street from my house, follow me to and from work. I’ve moved 750 miles away, I do not use any social media, and I’m finally rebuilding my life – I still carry a gun with me everywhere, and sleep with it under my pillow. That is the real life that women like us live with every day so that commentators can make a good show. One day he will find me and show up – and the talk show will be about me – you can imagine how it will end, not well for either of us…

  • The same false consciousness is blinding regardless where binary opposition exists, ‘how many people do you want harmed today?’ is the mantra of binary opposition no different than the commentator who would want to punish Rosie. There is nothing so fearful as a fundamentalist crusader willing to advocate punishment as motivation for everyone except self.

  • Rob Sams

    This guy is lesson 101 in False Consciousness.

  • Rob, the strange thing is that the commentator probably reckons he’s some kind of open minded thinker yet he demonstrates so clearly his own oppression tied to his false consciousness, this inhibits his ability to listen and be liberated by the conversation of Rosie Battie. Populist stuff like this commentator just revels in the simplistic carrot and stick stuff so common in radio and tv and in the risk and safety sector.

    • He has an afternoon radio show syndicated in Brisbane, and I guess other cities, called “the 1%ers” – just 2 hours of dumb, smutty, drivel with talk back topics like the worst genital injury you ever had, crimes you got away with and dating a much younger chick! Like you say – populist stuff

  • Rob Sams

    I listened to this interview during the week. The TV commentator seemed interested only in sharing his view. He did not listen and discuss, rather just share his view. I’m not even sure that he believed his view, his comments are often (see for example his interview with Graham Long a few weeks ago on the same show) seem to be controversial for the sake of ratings. Rosie Battie was crying in the interview and was clearly distressed, it was terrible to watch. If the ignorant (and very arrogant!) commentator had listened to her story (why else was she on there?) he would have understood the incredibly complex, messy and frightening situation she was in. I struggle to understand how such laws could even be thought of. How, in the year 2014, with all of the things we have learnt about ourselves (humans) do we still think that carrot and/or stick are our only motivators. This is just another example of knee jerk, ‘gotta get tough to show em we’re serious’ approach to legislation. Sad really. My heart goes out to anyone in a relationship where they feel frightened and threatened. Imagine sitting at home at night so scared of your partner and now being fearful that the, law and hence society, considers you a criminal. Great article Rob, thanks for sharing.

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