Pascal’s Wager and Sacred Safety
Pascal’s Wager in the 1640s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal’s_Wager) sets out the fundamental idea of the Precautionary Principle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle ). The Precautionary Principle errs on the side of least loss, regardless of belief. So, in any situation of risk (any gamble) eg. Climate Change, one looses least by not taking the risk that Climate Change is not real. So, climate change denial is a high risk activity because if they are wrong, the loss is catastrophic.
The Precautionary Principle is also known as ‘Pascal’s wager’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager ). As with most thought in the 17th and 18th centuries, life was understood theologically (https://safetyrisk.net/to-err-is-human-to-forgive-divine/ ). Pascal, the mathematician and philosopher, simply made apologetics (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apologetics ) a probability wager. His wager was based on the probability of catastrophic consequence and so the activation of belief becomes a kind of insurance policy against catastrophic risk.
There is very little separation between the notion of risk and the idea of gambling. We tackle risk ‘as-if’ there will be no loss, taking our chance that any uncertainty will not prove catastrophic. Gambling on a risk outcome is essentially an act of faith, one ‘hopes’ that the gamble pays off. One doesn’t ‘know’ and cannot guarantee an outcome, I’m sure there is a bookie somewhere who will give you odds on not being injured at work today.
Modern safety has become the great human hope for infallibility, endorse by the ideology of zero. Through safety, Safety will free humans from harm and the necessity of learning.
Safety has now become a social, cultural, philosophical and theological force. It is the adjective that describes every noun.
Safety leadership, safety culture, safety thinking, safety methods, safety cars, safety tools, safety ideology and safety clothes. Many in the safety industry even describe themselves by the adjective ‘safety john’, ‘safety nerd’, ‘safety work’ or ‘safety chick’. How remarkable, this is done in no other activity. We even call safety a ‘profession’ when it clearly isn’t.
The worldview of safety cannot divorce itself from safety discourse (the power in the language) and so it proceeds to understand all of life through its own lens and so makes safety ‘sacred’. Any criticism of Safety is pessimism and negativity. Any questioning of Safety is the desire for harm. The flip side of zero is the binary logic of reverse gambling.
Once safety has been made sacred it takes on the ideology of the absolute, zero becomes the new god and measurement its sub-mythology. So, to question counting is to question the sacred, to question the symbols of safety (curves, pyramids and matrices) is the new evil. To question measurement as attribution is new ‘sin’. All of life must now be framed by the adjective ‘safety’, sentences cannot be spoken without it and all action must be anchored to it. All orientation must be reframed to the object (hazards) and any talk of metaphysics must be made nonsense, even though Safety has made itself an alternative metaphysics. Standing at the opposite end of the certainty scale is the idea that one’s insurance against bad luck is in the lap of the gods or superhuman forces. We see such belief everywhere.
I recently visited the Chinese Museum in Bendigo, where the largest imperial dragon Sun Loong is kept (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Loong ).
The dragon is a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy of it (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_dragon). Right near the Dragon museum is a statue of Fortuna with a miner panning for gold (http://www.bendigo.ws/Bendigo-History/Bendigo-Statues-and-Fountains/Bendigo-Gold-Fountain.html ). So here in both Chinese culture and Western culture within 100 metres of each other we see the need to invoke fortune as insurance against risk.
It is in each of these cultural artefacts that we see the outworking of Pascal’s Wager. The likelihood of consequence is minimized by invoking metaphysics and sacralizing risk and certainty with an idol (the dragon or fortune). The symbology of zero is no different, it simply involves the invocation and promise of infallibility in a world of randomness and fallibility. It’s becomes a matter of precautionary substitution, the symbol of zero now substitutes for the dragon and fortune and thus nullifies the threat of Pascal’s Wager.