Continuing our series on Safety Myths – see them all here
Ideology is one of those tricky words that can be defined 100 ways. So, it’s always good to define meaning before assuming others know the application of language. In language context, philosophy and culture are critical determinant of meaning and on most occasions dictionary definitions are unhelpful. When I was doing my PhD, it took me 3 months to find an adequate definition for ideology. For my thesis I used the following definition from Talcott Parsons:
‘An ideology is to be understood as that synthesis of beliefs within a culture which (not withstanding its degree of inner consistency, its degree of command of social allegiance, the degree of sophisticated social understanding of its social ramifications, nor its rational adequacy as an interpretation of reality), defines answers for a society to problems of the meaning of reality, and tends to commit such society to action consonant with these.’
Such a definition is critical to distinguish from Marxist, Postmodernist and political definition. In most cases ideology is understood as a political systemising of ideas.
So, in SPoR an ideology describes a synthesis of beliefs ‘within a culture’.
Ideology and philosophy share much in common and are largely ignored by the risk and safety industry. For example, the issue of ideology receives no mention in any safety book I know or the . Indeed, I read a so called ‘safety culture’ book recently that stated that the best thing to do with culture was not to discuss it and proposed that the best solution to the challenges of culture was to do more of the same, quoting Hopkins. So when culture is put in the ‘too hard’ basket, no wonder there is no discussion in safety on ideology.
Safety books like this and similar, demonstrate clearly just how bankrupt Safety is when it comes to tackling complex and wicked problems (https://safetyrisk.net/risk-and-safety-as-a-wicked-problem/) from a narrow mono-disciplinary mindset. A great example of ‘head in the sand safety’. If you want to know about culture in safety apparently you ask a mechanical engineer. It is amusing to watch Safety write papers and books on whatever topic, always anchored to authors in safety. Framing research in this way is foundational to the problem of safety ideology and safety myth.
In the face of wicked problems like culture and risk, a Transdisciplinary approach is best positioned to move forward and offer a professional/mature approach.
The acceptance of ideology is like the acceptance myth, both are a shibboleth of demarcation in an industry that worships ‘head in the sand safety’.
An ideology is the foundation of a myth and when endorsed by a semiotic blends to become a self-fulfilling proposition. No evidence is required, bow-tie works! (https://safetyrisk.net/the-bogus-bow-tie-myth/ )
In this way Safety asserts that a model is a method, when it is not. In this way a graphic is presented as a symbolic reality (myth) when all meaning is attributed from a hidden ideology. Then without any skills in Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) or Critical Thinking Safety is unable to backtrack to assumptions to discover the driving ideology.
This is how the myth of objectivity in safety is maintained.
In SPoR, CDA and Critical Thinking are foundational to tackling risk.
When ideologies are invested with political power, people can be swept aside and dehumanized because they are perceived as a threat to that society (and its myths). This is the nature of xenophobia. This is the ideology of zero. This is the myth of the absolute and perfectionism.
When ideology/myth and symbol are political tools, demonization and brutalism of others is easy, fuelled by binary opposition.
Ideologies throughout history have been used to justify all forms of dehumanising practice, even sacking someone for debating that idea. This is how one gets excommunicated from a religious organisation, such is the fundamentalism of safety/zero.
Of course, Safety never owns its ideology or myths nor discusses its foundational beliefs, worldviews or philosophy. Any discussion of philosophy in Safety is usually deemed ‘academic’ and irrelevant.
This approach enables an insidious ideology to run underground in safety, privileging ignorance as a virtue, enabling brutalism and dehumanising persons in the name of ‘good’.
For example, just explore any of the incident investigation methods on the market and search for a discussion of worldview/philosophy. You won’t find it. The silly assumption from safety engineering is that investigation methods are objective. The reductionism, materialism, positivism and behaviourism are embedded in the method, it’s just that Safety never names or articulates it.
Most of the safety myths discussed so far in this series (https://safetyrisk.net/category/safety-myths/) are driven by these philosophies and ideologies mentioned above.
In SPoR, it is considered foundational to articulate one’s philosophy/worldview. This is not only ethical but maintains transparency in the face of so many silences in safety. And it is from these many silences that Safety then broadcasts the noise of being ‘professional’, when it is not. The AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics is a classic example of unprofessional discourse, hidden agenda, silences and a lack of transparency, which is unethical.
So, whenever we see a symbol/myth paraded in safety we should ask these questions:
- What is the driving ideology and philosophy of the myth/symbol?
- What is this symbol designed to do?
- Who is the designer? What is the agenda?
- Who and what is privileged by this symbol/myth?
- What is the ethic of the myth/symbol?
- Where is its power?
- What are the outcomes of the myth?
- What does it do to persons?
- How is it used?
- What trade-offs and by-products are created by the myth?
Brent Charlton says
Just find a picture or video on Linked In of someone getting blown up and ask “what’s your goal in posting this video of someone dying?” All you get is “it’s about learning” or, more directly “shut the hell up, you must be terrible at safety”
yes, I must “want to kill people” apparently……
Rob Long says
That’s the kind of dumb assumption I expect from an industry consumed by compliance and dumb down thinking. Was that delivered by a BBS professor by chance?
BRENT R CHARLTON says
No, delivered most often by your average day to day “professional.”
Matthew Thorne says
What does it say about safety when so few questions are asked?
Rob Long says
Matt, the only contact I get usually wants to lecture me about what they know or why I am wrong. It’s amazing what safety engineering knows.