First in Best Dressed for Indoctrination

health and safety man· One of the rules for believability and gullibility is to get in first. It is much harder to disprove a foundational belief even when that belief is not true. This is one of the primary ways in which propaganda and indoctrination work.

· It’s also easy to anchor a belief if the information given is simple and sloganistic. Even better if the slogan is binary and black and white, creating loyalty to the slogan. Then anchoring to the slogan is easy through repetition.

· It is also effective in propaganda to anchor a slogan to a symbol, this creates a broader appeal and can then be anchored to similar stories and ideas that match the foundational belief/symbol.

· Once the belief is anchored, next is to create endless bureaucracy attributed to the indoctrination so that the drudgery of the paper prevents the questioning of the foundation. Compliance hides questioning.

· The final thing is to make sure that complexity is NOT mentioned so when the idea of complexity is raised it is associated or a demonized to an opposing view eg. ‘its too academic’.

All of these strategies are effective in promoting propaganda and indoctrination. Further read: Forgas and Baumeister, The Social Psychology of Gullibility or Ellul, Propaganda (

So, in Australia the complex issue of refugees was demonized with a simple slogan ‘stop the boats’, the change of language to ‘cue jumpers’ etc. also helped turn a complex problem into a simple process of hate (

Similarly, the Trump Campaign in 2016 were able to use ‘crooked Hillary’ to simplify hate and demonize opposition.

From 1938-1945 Hitler and Goebbels were able to do the same with the hatred of Jews and slogans like ‘ignorance is strength’ and ‘war is peace’. Jonathan Swift stated: ‘falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after it’. After World War 2 it was discovered that many Nazis didn’t seek the truth but were just good public servants. Nazis were not monsters but simply held to an Ethic of Duty, compliance and efficiency!

Propaganda and indoctrination are effective because they play to confirmation bias. People selectively expose themselves to information that creates belonging and reject an out group. It is easy to create belonging through simplicity and hate of an outgroup. This was discovered by Festinger in his work on cults ( ).

When attacks come in the way of critical thinking one doesn’t need to justify one’s beliefs, one just needs to hold to simplistic binary questions eg. ‘do you want ‘cue jumpers’ to take over Australia?’ – ‘How many people do you want to injure today?’

All of these dynamics are at work in this age of ‘fake news’, confusion, disinformation and misdirection of the truth. The trouble is, discernment is hard work ( )

So, is Safety any different?

Most of the foundational constructions of the safety curriculum are simply not true. Most of the safety models that are believed (like injury pyramids) are not connected to safety but are attributed by belief to safety. Most people in court cannot demonstrate how or why a coloured matrix, injury rates or Hierarchy of Control didn’t work ( )!

But because diploma indoctrination gets in first, it is nearly impossible to shift. It is much easier to believe in the swiss cheese than it is to believe that events form chaotically. It is much easier to impose a mystical structure on something creating an order that doesn’t exist, than to inform someone that events develop in a random and messy way.

But it’s not likely that anything in the safety curriculum will change soon ( ). The WHS curriculum has been invested with so much political will, in mechanics, engineering and vested interest in regulation, and all matched by a parallel Body of Knowledge that, a fortress has been created against non-compliance and questioning. Unfortunately, a safety diploma is really not much more than a study of objects. Any review is likely to just be an echo chamber. Many reviews are like this, chose a reviewer from within the club, conduct a review so that nothing changes. When I worked in government this was a common strategy of keeping questioning at bay.

However, if outside the group it is easy to see what dynamics are at work: false consensus, anchoring effect, confirmation bias, fundamental attribution error, hindsight bias, illusory correlation, in-group bias, perceptual illusion, and representative heuristic.

When people begin to study in the Social Psychology of Risk it is common that they say ‘why was I not told this before?’ Why is none of this either in the curriculum or BoK? Once people start using SPoR tools they are amazed at the insights gained about people, risk and social influences at work. If you don’t want the complex answer then you’ll never find out, it’s a Catch 22 and its complex. Probably not the answer some want to hear.

We are about to start the second free introduction to the Social Psychology of Risk and are taking enrolments for a third wave due to start in August. You can register here:

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.

3 Replies to “First in Best Dressed for Indoctrination”

  1. I’m not sure it is always so easy to have a clear view when outside the group looking in – won’t the outside observer still be influenced by their own prejudices etc? Just because you know what confirmation bias or fundamental attribution error or hindsight bias is, is no guarantee that you won’t fall into those errors.

    1. The dynamics of ingroup-outgroup are vastly different which gives a very different perspective, sometimes a much sharper perspective compared to ingroup blindness. Yes prejudice remains, but the social dynamic changes radically.

  2. I particularly enjoy the quote from LBJ regarding J. Edgar Hoover……”It’s probably better to have this guy inside of the tent pissing out than outside of the tent pissing in.”

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