The Language of Priorities
I spoke to a Safety Manager in a construction company recently who comes from one of these ‘safety is our number one priority’ organisations. He told me the reality was that: ‘concrete is our number one priority’.
All semiotics have a profound affect on the human unconscious. Words, images, signs, gestures, icons, colours and models all have significance which has been known by propagandists since 1939. The language of propaganda doesn’t need to reflect reality, it just has to have its psychological effect, this is its technique. Normally language is meant to reflect reality, this is the real purpose of language, to communicate meaning. In propaganda, this is not the intention. Propaganda serves the needs of Indoctrination and is the opposite of Education.
Language is not objective but rather carries the subjective discourse (embedded power) of the speaker. Karl Weick defines organizing as: ‘consensually validated grammar, for reducing equivocality by means of sensibly interlocking behaviours’ (The Social Psychology of Organizing 1979). So, humans organize through language in agreed meaning, otherwise it’s the Tower of Babel (a wonderful myth/symbol of confusion). Propaganda uses simplistic aphorisms, slogans and mantras to create agreement about false consciousness (https://safetyrisk.net/zero-vision-as-propaganda/ ). Propaganda conceals truth from the undiscerning (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/real-risk/) and opposes wisdom through the grammar of absolutes (https://safetyrisk.net/heinrichs-propaganda/ ).
The language of priorities disguises the social reality or fluctuating, movement (learning) and adaptable human living. The messiness of human living shifts priorities in context constantly and this is the maturity of wisdom. There is no one priority but rather all values compete (Cameron and Quinn) over time in complexity. Stating anything as an absolute priority creates a mythology (symbol) of propaganda and is usually used to serve a hegemony of some group over another. This is how the symbol of zero serves the powers of brutalism (https://safetyrisk.net/zero-vision-as-propaganda/ ).
So, when someone speaks a certain discourse in absolutes we need to ask questions like:
- ‘Whose power does this language serve?’
- ‘Whose power is hidden by this discourse?’
- ‘What political and ethical end is served by this language?’
- ‘Who is harmed and overpowered by this language?’
The language of ‘safety is our number one priority’ is propaganda used by an industry to dominate the will of others masked in the name of ‘good’. We see this in how suicide is demonized as irrational and evil by a society that creates despair through its political agenda (eg. dumb ways to die campaign by Metro Trains).
What is hidden in propaganda is the political power in the discourse and a disguise of the one who wields that power over a person as an object. The acceptance of propagandistic simplistic gestures, mantras and aphorisms serve the simplistic indoctrination of groups through binary oppositionalism. Binary oppositions offer security through black and white fundamentalism to people who would rather not acknowledge the paradox of risk and learning.
If one accepts the reality that all values compete then the language of priorities and absolutes in risk is non-sense.
If we acknowledge that values compete then we need to understand the dynamics of organizing in order to work through the malaise of competing values in social context. When one is educated about competing values then one doesn’t need to resort to the propaganda and indoctrination of absolute priorities. Rather, one evaluates the competing values and acknowledges how risks are managed in social reality. This is the meaning of ALARP (https://vimeo.com/162637292).