The Rage for Safety Utopia
Another guest post by Dr Robert Long – If you loved this article then you should read the whole series: CLICK HERE
This is the title of the stirring book by Ronal Conway published in 1992 but I have added the word safety to the title. Conway argues that obsession and compulsion for Utopia is a problem. The idea of Utopia was proposed by the Plato and the word means “no place”. The idea of utopia was later popularised by Sir Thomas More in 1516 in his book Utopia. More’s Utopia is a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. Utopia is the aspiration for the ideal society.
Many writers and artists have since aspired to Utopia in their works. One of the most famous and earliest proposals for the ideal society and paradise was by the artist Hieronymus Bosch. His Garden of Earthy Delights was painted in 1500 and is housed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The idea of a Garden of Eden has been a continuing theme for those who are disappointed with the finite, imperfect and corrupt nature of humanity. One of the most famous presentations for the ideal society was put forward by William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. Booth, the son of an alcoholic who experienced first hand the squalor and poverty of industrial England, proposed the solution in his book: In Darkest England and the Way Out published in 1890. In the inside cover Booth draws a map of how the colonies are the opportunity to escape the despair and darkness of England and establish heaven on Earth.
In the Rage for Utopia Conway notes: “the constant drive for order, security and certainty in accomplishment which so torments the neurotic sufferer serves our prevailing world view in empirical science, dogmatic religion and bureaucratic structures. Fromm describes the “Fear of Freedom” as a sickness. The aspiration to a fantasy Utopia and resultant need for efficiency Conway proposes: “disintegrates into meticulous nitpicking, prudence becomes a chronic hesitancy, dogmatic rigidity slides into a desperate obstinacy”. Conway further states: “ Nothing is more dangerous than a good idea, when it is the only idea we have.” Conway describes the key words and concepts associated with the obsessive-compulsive style in the following dichotomy.
What is the trajectory of the obsession with utopian language?
Conway tells the following joke:
“Satan was walking through the world one day in the company of a senior demon. The demon nudged the Lord Lucifer and noted anxiously: ‘Sire, look over there, someone has picked up an important piece of truth. We had better look after our safety’. Satan smiled nonchalantly. ‘Never mind my dear fellow. We are in no danger. He will try now to systemetise it.’ Indeed, the world needs ordered systems – never more than today, with large populations burdening a crowded planet. But the obsessional mentality wants a perfect system which can lead in practice only to tyranny or its natural antithesis, which is revolution or anarchy. In all political and social systems, a craving for perfect government leads to a dangerous worship of ideological abstractions.”
How is this at all relevant to the psychology of risk and safety culture?
My concern is not with programs or safety management systems in this discussion but with the way we frame safety messages and prime workers to receive and understand those messages. The language and discourse of utopia in safety has a philosophical trajectory which despite wonderful aspirations and intentions, primes workers to fail and is therefore non-motivational. Safety language is not neutral, it manufactures mindsets.
I saw a safety program recently advertised on the internet proposed as Accident Free Future. I will leave you to make the connections.