SPoR Newsletter Theme – Frailty, Fragility/Anti-Fragility
Welcome to all of those who are new to this newsletter that comes out every quarter.
THis will be the last newsletter before Christmas so it comes with best wishes and greeting for Happy New Year.
Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile (http://en.kgt.bme.hu/files//BMEGT30M400/Taleb_Antifragile__2012.pdf) ought to be mandated reading in any risk and safety curriculum. Just like Rene Amalberti’s thesis (https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-94-007-6549-8); https://www.researchgate.net/publication/314598759_Approaches_to_Safety_One_Size_Does_Not_Fit_All; 2016), Taleb demonstrates the absurdity of the quest for total safety and the elimination of risk.
Taleb shows how the quest for total safety leads to an absurd contradiction ie. the reduction of risk and the quest for ‘super safety’ makes oneself and groups more fragile. That is, the more one is avoidant of risk and reduces risk, the more one becomes less resilient, less perceptive and more open to catastrophic risk. There is no learning without risk.
Taleb’s arguments are not based on Social Science but on his intense knowledge of Mathematics and probability. Both Taleb and Amalberti describe three approaches to risk:
· Taleb: Fragile, Robust, Antifragile
· Amalberti: Embrace, Manage, Avoid (ultra-adaptive, high reliability and ultra-safe)
Here are some comments from Taleb:
· The road to robustness starts with a modicum of harm (p.37)
· Redundancy is ambiguous because it seems like a waste if nothing unusual happens. Except that something unusual happens – usually (p.45)
· This is the central illusion in life: that randomness is risky, that it is a bad thing – and that eliminating randomness is done by eliminating randomness. (p.84)
· Indeed, as in medicine, we tend to over-intervene in areas with minimal benefits (and large risks) while under-intervening in areas in which intervention or necessary, like emergencies. (p. 119)
· But the media only report the most anecdotal and sensational cases (hurricanes, freak accidents, small plane crashes, giving us a more and more distorted map of real risk (p. 128)
· Interventionists don’t accept that things can improve without their intervention (p. 201)
· When you are fragile you need to know a lot more than when you are antifragile. Conversely, when you think you know more than you do, you are fragile. (p.215)
· The Procrustean bed in life consists precisely in simplifying the non-linear and making it linear – the simplification that distorts (p.264)
Here are some quotes from Amalberti (2016) worth noting:
· Errors will inevitably occur, patients will sometimes be harmed and the best we can hope for is to respond quickly and minimize damage. (p.27)
· In these professions, accepting risk, and even seeking out risk, forms the essence of their work (.p28)
· The problem is that the constantly changing environment in which they work does not lend itself to managing risks by using rules and procedures (p.28)
· Ultra-safe approach: With this approach, we turn radically from reliance on human skills and ingenuity towards reliance on standardization, automation and avoidance of risk where possible (p.31)
· We commonly assume that safety is achieved by imposing rules and restricting the autonomy of management and workers (p.32)
· The idea of a single ideal model of safety that applies to everything and aims to have zero accidents is too simple. (p. 35)
The work of Taleb and Amalberti tackle the reality of humans in fallible ecological contexts endeavoring to tackle risk the best they can. Both arguments of Taleb and Amalberti tear to pieces the silly global safety industry ideology of zero.
In any ecology, risk is balanced with acknowledgement of fallibility, vulnerability and frailty. The best way to tackle frailty is not in its denial but in its beauty, its joy and awesomeness. With frailty, fallibility and fragility comes learning, not the nonsense about learning currently circulated in safety circles but learning that is embodied and tackles the reality of persons and the collective unconscious.
Isn’t it strange in the safety industry that when it seeks knowledge in some discipline (eg. learning, risk, decision making) it goes to Safety for expertise? Apparently, Safety needs no Transdisciplinarity, the font of all wisdom is Safety. How fascinating how this industry seeks out unqualified people in their own discipline rather than consult qualified expertise in other disciplines. This approach to knowledges makes the industry fragile. Seeeking comfort in compliance and agrement creates greater fragility. Echo chambers are a dangerous way of seeking education and learning.
As a grandparent and older person, I know the delight of seeing grandchildren. It’s something difficult to explain because its heart-felt not brain-centric. Recent research (unfortunately brain-centric research) shows that even seeing a picture of a grandchild resonates mirror neurons particularly with empathy, delight and pleasure (https://neurosciencenews.com/grandmother-emotional-empathy-19668/).
There’s nothing quite like a hug from a grandchild that fills an old frail body with love. Paradoxically, at the same time grandchildren also makes us more conscious of our vulnerability and frailty, particularly during COVID when hugs and touching were not possible.
In January 2022, my wife and I celebrate 48 years of marriage but also 50 years being together. There are no words to explain the intuitive nature of resonance with another person that develops over such time. Again, this is heart-felt not brain-centered, despite the fact that this research paper is trying to put a measure on such resonance. The funny think about scientism and its fixation on measurement is that it kills the mysteries of relationship, love and faith by its quest for total control through measurement. When one believes in the mythology of measurement, so much effort is made trying to prove false assumptions of measurement ideology. One thing that I do enjoy in this article is that it is not brain-centric.
The moment we discuss the aging process, fallibility and frailty in relationship, we move away from thinking about measurement and focus much more on the qualities we can’t measure: trust, care, helping and love. When one is made aware of frailty and fragility by a doctor or the by tablets you take each day, the nonsense ideology of zero harm is made ludicrous. When people know things intuitively by resonance, the delusions of measurement, the quest for control and the seductions of prediction fade into the background.
The idea of coddling is not new and means overprotecting. Haidt and Lukianoff wrote about this in their book The Coddling of the American Mind (https://www.thecoddling.com/). The thesis of the book is that seeking to protect people from harm makes them weaker, more fragile. Haidt and Lukianoff use the word ‘Safetyism’ to capture this phenomenon. In other spheres this approach is called ‘helicopter parenting’.
We already know that the overuse of antibiotics has led to a crisis in health care and less resilience in the human condition (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4378521/). With this a new problem has been created of greater fragility.
Haidt and Lukianoff tell the story of protecting children from peanuts in schools demonstrating the trade-offs in Safetyism. They discuss the nature of the human immune system and how it is meant to adapt and requires exposure to risks. My grandkids go to pre-school and surprise surprise, can’t use candles on cakes anymore, might blow germs on others. And this was happening well before COVID 19.
Of course, Safetyism is driven by the ideology of Zero, the darling of global safety (https://visionzero.global/).
Dr Long also delivers another free module every three months and this was recently the Ethics module. The alterate free module is only available for people already educated in SPoR. (These modules would normally cost $4000 each at any University).
The next alternate free module (proposed for March) will be the Introduction to Semiotics module, but again only available for previous students.
Please register you interest in the free Semiotics module by writing to Dr Long here: email@example.com he will then look at the demand from feedback and in January communicate with those interested.
For those who have studied SPoR there are two lapel pins you may like to wear to create a talking point and identity in SPoR. You can buy these pins here: https://www.humandymensions.com/product/lapel-pins/ Orders outside of Australia will have to be negotiated via email
Images of the pins are shown above and form a unique way of creating discussion.
When you do a search on fragility the iconography that surfaces are like this:
When we think of fragility we are fed iconography of objects that break. These images are often accompanied with the words ‘handle with care’. How fascinating that fragility is not associated with persons!
My second son works in the Building and Construction industry and as it is known it a tough macho industry where phrases like ‘harden up princess’, or ‘get back to work snowflake’ are common. Whilst such language is often situated in a context of bullying, there is some truth to the fact that Safetyism doesn’t work either. The wisdom is in the balance, in the dialectic between safety-resilience.
Wells and Sida (eds) show that a zero harm approach to the elderly, vulnerable and fragile need to consider a much broader context – physical (Workspace), psychological (Headspace) and cultural (Groupspace) harm need to be all held in balance and dialectic. When we say ‘do no harm’ what do we mean? The report has three central recommendations:
• We do not recommend the creation of specialist new NGOs or UN institutions to respond to this growing demographic challenge
• We do not see the need for the establishment of additional Clusters to respond better to the needs of this (or any other) vulnerable group
• We do not consider ‘old folks homes’ or other forms of institutionalisation as a sustainable solution to the growing number of destitute older people likely to be left in need of assistance as a consequence of disasters
It is interesting the frail and elderly consider one of their problems ‘invisibility’. Safetyism at work again, hiving off the elderly to care homes in overprotection where they can be unseen and forgotten. Yes, there are places for institutions for care but the key again is balance, dialectic and wisdom not Safetyism.
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.