Like a Rhizome Cowboy

Like a Rhizome Cowboy

imageFor those who know much about the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze they will know that a central part of his philosophy is the idea of a Rhizome. A rhizome is a tangled web of knotted stems ( hidden below the surface. The rhizome is the perfect metaphor for Deleuzian philosophy but also for understanding the nature of wicked problems. The Rhizome is an ecological metaphor that takes on the biological power of the reality of life and living. Real life is messy and muddled, it is rarely linear and reductionist. Like Bateson (Mind and Nature), we can learn a great deal about the realities of risk through the study of mutation, ecology and entropy. It was Bateson who showed how relationships and the ecological ‘mind’ produce transformations, unpredictability and uncertainty.

Standing over and against the work of Deleuze and Bateson is the nonsense denial of life and randomness by Safety. Here is Safety, bogged down in its cocooned worldview, maintaining the delusion that everything is controllable, everything is measureable and one day fallible humans will attain zero harm. Good old Safety spruiking the idea of certainty in denial of all we know of evolution and entropy.

The metaphor of the cowboy draws out the action of herding, wrangling or ‘tackling’, the outcome of knowing that risk is a wicked problem. Knowing that ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’ and that all decisions invoke trade-offs and by-products is the beginning for understanding an ecological rather than a mechanical notion of systems. The Safety worldview keeps maintaining a Cartesian worldview, where Paley’s clock ticks with regularity against the post-modern world.

We see the problems with the mechanistic worldview in Amalberti’s discussion of ‘ultra safe systems’. ( ). Amalberti shows that an ‘ultra safe’ systems create their own new paradoxes and ambiguities, just as Taleb (2012, Anti-Fragility) demonstrated, that the quest to eliminate risk simply creates new fragilities. It was Ellul who demonstrated ( how the quest for absolute efficiency (eg. the technique of ‘ultra safety’) ultimately dehumanizes the world and debases the dignity of personhood.

Amalberti shows that as organisations/systems reach what he deems the safety saturation point (ultra safety) of one disastrous accident per 10 million events (10-7), new and more sinister ‘wicked problems’ are created that mitigate against ultra safety goals. Amalberti also discusses this in his book Navigating Safety, Necessary Compromises and Trade-Offs, Theory and Practice (pp. 85ff).

Of course, we have known this for years, perfection and zero harm are nonsense in the real world. The closer one gets to absolute zero, the greater and more hidden complexities become additions to the system. Risk is not something that can be eliminated, it can only be shifted to a new place where a new risk is created that will come back and revisit with a vengeance. Shut kids up in cotton wool, put them in front of screens and obesity becomes the new killer.

Unfortunately, Amalberti retreats back to the safety paradigm when looking for new thinking. Strange how Safety wants ‘safety differently’ but keeps reading Reason, Hollnagel and ‘Safety Science’ looking for an ecological understanding in engineering paradigms.

Amalberti suggests that the challenge of the ultra safety paradox ‘requires the development of new research paradigms that encourage cross-fertilisation’ in new fields of research. Yet, Alamberti has a long way to go before he exorcises his Safety archetype. It will be quite some time before Safety has the courage to engage a trans-disciplinary approach to thinking ( What does Safety do? It acts in denial and solidifies its curriculum in concrete, securing old paradigms, curves, matrices, pyramids and Cartesian myths crying for a new paradigm just as long as it doesn’t disrupt the old one.

Meanwhile, thinkers like Deleuze, Ellul and Bateson sit way outside the Safety comfort zone and remain out of touch to a mentalitie that views the world through the lens of determinist mechanics and materialist pragmatics. If the problem is always framed as a nail then the response will always be a hammer.

The second iThink Masterclass ( happens soon for those who hold more than 4 units of study in the Social Psychology of Risk. I look forward to facilitating learning (with Craig Ashhurst) in stepping outside of the Safety paradigm and embracing a new ecology of mind to better tackle risk.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

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

Latest posts by Dr Rob Long (see all)

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.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below