The Seduction of Slogans in Safety
One of the popular resources on this blog site is safety slogans. Whilst many of these slogans are clever and make a point, we also need to be mindful of what slogans are, their seductions and their limits. Too many people form their sense of knowledge off slogans and this is a dangerous practice. Here are a few points to consider next time you use a slogan.
· Slogans are a form of rhetoric and are not neutral or objective. All slogans hide an ideology, politic and intent by turning a complex issue and ethic into a simplistic aphorism. In this way, a slogan convinces people of an argument or state that has been simplified and is most often not true. Certainly, slogans are not true if you consider the complexities behind the slogan. For example, in 2015 the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott simplified the complex issues of refugees, borders, asylum seekers and people smuggling with a three-word slogan ‘stop the boats’. Abbott in particular was the master of the three-word slogan. In a similar way Trump used slogans like ‘build that wall’, ‘drain the swamp’ and ‘stop the steal’ to rally support and drum up chants at his rallies.
· Slogans are unique because they contain a degree of musicality. They usually include a clever use of metaphor, rhythm, rhyme or metonym that can be chanted or remembered easily. In this way the slogan gains power over normal prose or narrative just like the lyrics of a song are recalled. Slogans though simple, hide a complex history and shape belief unconsciously. This is particularly true for people who don’t read or think critically.
· Slogans are a form of reductionism and attract people to simple black and white ways of thinking that can be marketed or become a brand. In this way slogans are often part of propaganda and political ‘spin’. The slogan then becomes a slick way of ‘anchoring’ in a group, cult or club.
· Slogans have no meaning or purpose beyond themselves to garner support and build a base. The chant or slogan them becomes a shibboleth that tests membership to a group and the meaning of the slogan is never challenged. We see this with safety slogans like ‘zero harm’, ‘safety is a choice you make’ and ‘all accidents are preventable’ or ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’. In the end these types of slogans are made an unconscious shibboleth for cult membership. The jargon of the club or cult actually has no meaning other than to determine in-group or out-groupness. Such a notion of belonging makes discrimination of the enemy easy and simple. For example, any challenge to zero harm becomes the enemy of safety and the simplistic binary question is then asked: ‘how many people do you want killed today?’
· Slogans are also a semiotic and invoke a semiosis (meaning making). All semiotics play a fundamental role in cultural formation and reproduction and do so unconsciously. It is often all the powerful things that are hidden in the background in the use of a slogan that make slogans seductive. The musicality of a slogan carries a form of sound symbolism and synesthesia that is undetected to the uncritical Mind. In this way slogans shape perception and serve a filter for belonging to a group that accepts a slogan uncritically.
So, whilst it is neat and easy to use slogans to capture a following of an initiated group, we also need to be most wary of the ways in which slogans work and always sustain a critical Mind in how they are used.