‘False Consciousness’ and Perception in Risk and 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.

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