Personhood and Risk
I have received several emails about my newsletter (https://safetyrisk.net/happy-new-year-for-2021-and-theme/) and the theme of gaslighting. It seems I struck a chord with many in risk and safety who have at some stage, realized that have been gaslighted and had their personhood taken from them.
The realization that one’s personhood has been robbed by someone else is a devastating realization. The realization that one has been gaslighted can sometimes take 30-40 years of submission, manipulation, domination until one day something snaps. Then one looks back over many years and realizes that someone else has been using, controlling and binding you into a mould of being that suits them. The kind of you the gaslighter wants, is aided and abetted by the psychology of: submission, compliance, fear, binary opposition and absolutes. The zero cult is the perfect ideology for a hotbed of gaslighting. What better gaslighting strategy than the fear of risk and the anxiety for safety. Often, it’s not until the victim steps out into the big world of risk that they realize a predator has been controlling them for 30 years. Children in particular are easy prey for gaslighters because their innocence is exploited to teach them the fear of risk. This is why any attempt by the zero cult to indoctrinate schools and education institutions in zero should be rejected (https://safetyrisk.net/poisoning-the-professional-waterhole/ ).
Of course, the starting point in understanding gaslighting, is understanding personhood. You can’t understand dehumanising and gaslighting without a clear understanding of personhood. The beginning of tackling risk is summed up in this question: what does it mean to be a person? I don’t care what the rhetoric of safety is, if its method gaslights and dehumanises then it is unethical and not safe.
Unfortunately, the notion of personhood gets no mention in the AIHS BoK or safety curriculum, because zero is the raison d’etre for safety identity. It’s always a number for safety (https://safetyrisk.net/its-always-a-number/). This is why the AIHS BOK Chapter on ethics (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/) makes no mention of personhood, the foundation of ethics. Similarly just as troubling, this supposed chapter on ethics makes no mention of the cult mantra of zero, nor how the denial of fallibility (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/) invokes brutalism.
The foundation of gaslighting and dehumanizing is to take from another their being in personhood. Gaslighters use objects, they don’t have relationships with persons of mutuality and respect. This is why the cult of zero is unethical. It is a mechanism for making persons numerical objects. So the following extract from my book The Social Psychology of Risk Handbook is attached to this blog to assist in a definition of personhood.
Gaslighting is manifest in the dehumanizing of persons, the most common output of the cult of zero.
Extract from The Social Psychology of Risk Handbook (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/the-social-psychology-of-risk-handbook/) Chapter 2 (pp. 30-32) sets out a clear definition of personhood. For the purposes of this blog the following is summative:
Defining personhood is perhaps the most important concept in the Social Psychology of Risk.
Testing Theories of Personhood
‘One of the first assignments my daughter had in her nursing degree in 2017 was an ethics essay involving a moral conflict. The topic of the essay put her as a paramedic in a home event involving a dead person and various decisions involving moral compromise of the body. Here is the essay question:
‘Sam and Natalie, both senior paramedics, attempted to resuscitate a 78 year old man who had suffered a cardiac arrest at home. After 45 minutes, resuscitative efforts were discontinued due to lack of clinical response. Immediately afterwards, a student paramedic, Jim, who had accompanied Sam and Natalie on the call-out, asked if he could re-intubate the patient for practice purposes. Jim argued that, as the man’s wife would not really understand what he was doing, no-one would be harmed. However, Sam and Natalie thought it inappropriate, but were unable to explain to Jim why they objected to his proposal. Jim reluctantly agreed not to re-intubate the man but asked, instead, if he could take a photograph of the deceased man to upload on to his clinical experience portfolio’. Discuss.
The essay confronted the challenge of rights involving dead persons. If a person is dead, what right do they have to conscious decision making? Does it matter what we do to a cadaver/corpse? If they are not conscious of what is done to their body, in what sense must we maintain dignity, integrity and compassion?
The detail of the essay is not important for this discussion other than to make clear that even in the first year the nursing profession an ethic of risk and personhood were considered foundational to the profession of ‘helping’. It was also helpful to step beyond the simplistic binary notions of ‘the easy fix’. It didn’t matter what decision the paramedic made, some extended interests/people that were not present at the time had to be considered in decision making. Furthermore, the issue of trajectory and principles had to considered even though those people of interest were neither present nor informed.
I remember when training in theology I did field placements at a cemetery/crematorium and a funeral clinic. In such circumstances even though family and people of interest were not present, the same principles of dignity, respect, integrity and beneficence must be present because of the principles of personhood. Of course, some come at the notion of care through fear, just imagine if someone found out that their loved one’s body was abused? What if the ashes got mixed up? etc. This is the mythology of fear and punishment that dominates the risk and safety industry and cannot ever be a foundation for an ‘ethic of risk’.
So what is personhood? How do we define the human person?
The following defines the nature of personhood. (Concepts highlighted in bold indicate essential capacities of personhood).
- A person is first and foremost a social subject. Personhood can only be understood in relation to others socially and psychologically. We participate in Socialitie (the holistic resonance of all humans with other humans ) and can only be defined intercorporeally (Fuchs).
- As embodied persons we are affected by all that happens in, to, around and for us. Interaffectivity, (Fuchs) determines all our actions and limits any sense of autonomy. Whilst human persons have a degree of autonomy this is incomplete and relative to identity, context and the collective unconscious. Individuality is only confirmed in relation to Socialitie.
- As embodied persons we act as agents in decision making. Most human decisions affect others and involve a degree of self-consciousness, however, this is not complete either.
- Humans are conscious, subconscious (deficit – Freud), non-conscious (Damasio) and unconscious (positive – Jung).
- As self conscious knowers we don’t know all things, humans are fallible and limited as agents. In this sense, persons are unable to anticipate all things (mortal) and so cannot anticipate many consequences of their limited ability to choose (finite). Yet despite this, as embodied persons, humans possess an essential unity. Human persons are identified with their body and their soul/spirit/personality.
- Humans are not just rational beings but also moral, emotional and unconscious beings. They are not objects nor machines in a system, they are participants in their own ecology.
- As self-conscious limited agents humans discover, imagine and create not just physically but semiotically, in language, discourse, sign systems, metaphor, poetics, aesthetics and creation of meaning and purpose (semiosis).
- As choosers human persons are valuers, for to chose is to value. Most importantly, human persons dream and enter into knowing unconsciously including: the creation of music, art, dance, religion and Poetics.
- A critical capability of personhood is the making of meaning and purpose through language and semiotics (sign and symbols systems).
- Personhood is strongly anchored to feelings and e-motions and these are expressed through language, semiotics, reasoning, metaphor and moral action. Persons are able to discover, initiate, create and initiate language and behaviours with and without determination/necessity.
- All of these qualities and capabilities mean that a human person lives and acts in dialectic with their environment, culture, embodiment and fallibility.
- Persons cannot sit at anytime in absolutes neither can they know perfection. Everything persons do is contingent on their Socialitie and humanity. A critical aspect of human personhood is coming to grips with fallibility, vulnerability and uncertainty and the nature of learning, development and risk.
- Persons are also teleological, that is, they are shaped and formed by their ends. Humans know that when they bury their dead they are viewing their own death and so this facilitates the creation of meaning, even religious meaning in living.
Benner (2016) uses the metaphor of the Russian nested dolls in an effort to explain how all these qualities integrate and define personhood. All of these sit within another and one cannot dissect human personhood like a machine/object and find the seat of personhood in just: sentience, brain or intelligence. Personhood is very much embodied.
One of the best approaches to an integrated sense of personhood comes from the apostle Paul who was the first to integrate all of the following into his understanding of personhood: head, heart, gut, conscience, soul, spirit, body and flesh (see further: Jewett). In many ways Pauline anthropology was both original and radical for its day. Even though Paul used expressions like the ‘inner and outer person’ he very much saw humans as unified and embodied which was far removed from the anthropology of either Plato or Aristotle. He used the language of heart, mind, flesh, conscience, soul and mind to give purpose to social relationships and meaning in the face of political tyranny.
Why does personhood need defining and defending?
The following helps define the processes involved in dehumanising and de-personalising in risk. (Concepts highlighted in bold indicate essential aspects that destroy personhood)
- A range of ideologies and unethical tendencies have been established in the risk and safety industry that serve to work against personhood and human ‘being’. These ideologies include: Reductionism, Scientism, Behaviourism, Cognitvism, Rationalism and Positivism. All these ideologies emerge in the risk industry from a mathematico-engineering view of the world and result in the definition of humans as ‘objects’. Indeed, the scientism (science as ideology) view (not a science view) understands humans as just creatures of the natural world, as biological objects in the sense of ‘just another animal’.
- Recent developments highlight problems associated with ethics, morality and mis-definition of personhood. One such event has been the development of sex with robots The ethical dilemmas associated with this development highlight all the problems associated with a mis-definition of personhood.
- We only need to listen to the language of the Technique (the quest for efficiency) and the Technology industry to understand how it views persons. It speaks of: ‘Artificial’ intelligence, ‘Non-human’ Intelligence, ‘Synthetic’, ‘Simulation’, ‘Machine’ learning, ‘programmed’ and ‘algorithms’. Of course machines cannot ‘learn’ because they cannot feel, and so machines cannot be persons. The adjustment of an algorithm in response to another algorithm is not learning. In what ways do machines learn, dream, create and feel?
- It is clear from any perspective that machines don’t have a ‘lived experience’. Anything machines do can only ever be a secondary representation of human experience. In other words it is not ’real’ but simulated and augmented.
- Machines cannot have a ‘Mind’ in the sense of: personhood, soul, spirit and Mind. They cannot ‘feel’ emotions interactively (Fuchs) as an embodied person, just as machines cannot dream or learn through the unconscious as machines have no unconscious.
- Similarly, machines cannot know suffering, pain, risk or learning and so cannot be persons nor be a Mind. The repetition of algorithms is at best ‘parrot learning’ but cannot result in a change in personhood because machines are not persons.
Some Important Texts on Personhood
· Arendt, H., (1958) The Human Condition.
· Bauer, J., and Harteis, C., (2012) Human Fallibility, The Ambiguity of Errors for Work and Learning.
· Benner, D., (2016) Human Being and Becoming, Living the Adventure of Life and Love.
· Fuchs,T., (2018) Ecology of the Brain.
· Harding, S., (2015) Paul’s Eschatological Anthropology: The Dynamics of Human Transformation
· Jewett, R., (1971) Paul’s Anthropological Terms, A Study of Their Use in Conflict Settings.
· Kirkwood, C., (2012) The Persons in Relation Perspective, In Counselling, Psychotherapy and Community Adult Learning.
· Lotman, Y., (1990) Universe of the Mind, A Semiotic Theory of Culture.
· Madsbjerg, C., (2017) Sensemaking, What Makes Human Intelligence Essential in the Age of the Algorithm.
· Martin, J., Sugarman, J., and Hickinbottom, S., (2010) Persons: Understanding Psychological Selfhood and Agency
· Schwarz, H., (2013) The Human Being, A Theological Anthropology. Semler, L., Hodge, B., and Kelly, P., (2012) What is the Human? Australian Voices from the Humanities.
· Splitter, L., (2015) Identity and Personhood, Confusions and Clarifications across Disciplines