Is there such a thing as safety fundamentalism?
The concept of fundamentalism was originally coined in reference to a rigid theological movement in the USA in 1905 upholding the literal interpretation of the Bible. More generally, fundamentalism refers to rigid ‘faith like’ exclusivity in thinking and actions. The fundamentalist mindset can be applied to any form of rigid and closed set of beliefs which seeks to control others and extinguish uncertainty. Fundamentalism is essentially a cultural phenomena, it operates at the level of values and beliefs with destructive consequences when these values are enacted.
My interest in this article is with fundamentalist characteristics and offers a framework for exploring if these might apply to various safety ideologies. Just as religious fundamentalism alienates people, so too does safety fundamentalism.
Some of the common characteristics of fundamentalism include:
- Extremism: the idea of being “apart” or above others.
- Idealism: holding to the fundamentals with ideological zeal. This ideological zeal is used to justify force, non-relational actions and crusading inquisitions.
- Closed to debate: any form of questioning the fundamentals is perceived as heresy.
- Dogma: belief in undisputable knowledge, believed religiously.
- Exclusive knowledge: a feeling that others don’t understand the fundamentals.
- Rigid boundaries: nothing is negotiable, choice and interpretation is unacceptable.
- Policing and control: the maintenance of absolute compliance is essential.
- In and out groupness: formation of identity and belonging is understood in opposition to non-believers.
- Cultic belief: the CULTural understanding of knowledge creates an irrational and emotional defence of “received” ideology against contrary evidence.
- A vocabulary of belief: identity is maintained through key concepts and words.
- Argument from silence: logical argument is framed to prove unchallenged assumptions.
- Cognitive dissonance: developed by Leon Festinger. Refers to the mental gymnastics required to maintain consistency in the light of contradicting evidence.
- Aspirational goals: goals set in the unreal not real, aspiring with hope like religious conviction.
- Exclusive language: identity and belonging by use of key words and beliefs.
- Totalitarian impulse: organisation and mobilisation against the enemy.
- Rationalist convictions: the world of arational and psychosocial knowledge is not understood.
- Crusading zeal: the energy and commitment to non-compliance is such that all language is framed in the negative.
- Punishment discourse: language is pitched punitive style with a focus on those who transgress the law. Further, the fundamentalist delights in punishment because it provides emotional satisfaction for being right.
- Righteous identity: the belief that “right” justifies “might”.
Safety fundamentalism is generally non-motivational, non-learning, focused on indoctrination, coercive and punitive. Rather than inspiring people to safety consciousness, safety fundamentalism drives people to its opposite. Whilst safety fundamentalism claims to promote safety it counter-intuitively makes more people less safe.
My PhD was in social policy and studied fundamentalist organisations in Australia.