There’s a man goin’ around taking names
Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?
Most global corporate behemoths, especially American transnationals with militaristic command and control organisational structures are advocates of behaviourism. These include Esso, Bechtel, Alcoa, ConocoPhillips and many others. Most of these brutal predators uphold the fallacy that behaviour can be measured objectively and managed accordingly. This misconception has been embraced by the wider community, especially throughout the resources sector via the maxim……….What gets measured gets managed. It has permeated industrial safety and entire departments have been established with an inordinate emphasis on measurable behaviour. Much of this effort is yet another displacement activity because most of our unique attributes such as empathy, compassion, salvation, integrity, wisdom and love are immeasurable. Moreover, any attempt at measuring these incalculable traits renders their intrinsic value as meaningless as that asinine and pestilential shibboleth of zero harm.
Behaviourism involves a systematic denial of meaning and is a renunciation that violates evidence and the commonplace experience of humanity. Behaviourists have inveigled many acolytes to believe behaviour is a simple stimulus and response relationship. This leads to aversion or reinforcement via punishment. Moreover, subjective experience and the power of the collective unconscious, which underpins the multibillion dollar advertising industry, is considered irrelevant and summarily disregarded. The theory quite spectacularly fails to explain how Beethoven’s late quartets were a conditioned response to his prevailing circumstances, especially during the final decade of a somewhat illustrious and distinguished career in classical music.
Behavioural safety is often furtively disguised as human factors by many purveyors of snake oil amidst extraordinary claims of proficiency. This charlatanism merely recognises individuals as components in a system and inevitably reverts to behaviourism. Humans are not the sum of inputs and outputs and behaviour cannot be simply verified by an assets and liabilities statement or an account ledger detailing deposits and withdrawals. Understanding risk, human judgement and decision making is far more complex. A myopic human behaviour focus is an extremely capricious trajectory that generates many disagreeable outcomes, which includes eugenics. It disregards the concept of embodiment and malevolently destroys learning and ownership.
Behaviour is extremely subjective and cannot be observed neutrally. It is always subject to interpretation via an extensive range of human prejudices or biases. Social psychology is littered with countless experiments that demonstrate how attractive features and sartorial elegance are foundational to misjudgement and inaccuracy. Any notion that behaviours are objective and measurable is complete nonsense. Behaviourists place an inordinate reliance on the benefit and bias of hindsight and different does not equal wrong.
There are many arbitrary factors or unpredictable anomalies that make behaviours extremely difficult to explain and it is critical to establish relationships before exercising judgement. Even after many years of marriage most couples remain reticent or are extremely prudent about jumping to conclusions regarding each other’s behaviour. Corporate sociopaths are quite economical with the truth, especially when the cameras are rolling and their lips are moving. A Swiss finishing school deportment often masquerades a brutal intent, which reflects and aligns with shareholder theory and renders the measurement of behaviour extremely unreliable….Four legs good, two legs bad.
Behavioural safety is a mythical preoccupation that imagines behaviour can be controlled and undermines the importance of moral responsibility, ownership and learning. It is a delusional anthropology, which treats humans as extensions of machines. This ignores the concept of human motivation and disregards the diversity of human perception. Behavioural safety observations without establishing relationships and responsive communication are a recipe for maladaptive anxiety. It is subjective speculation and depicts more about the superiority and pomposity of its observers rather than the performance of scrutinised servants or peons.
Suprasurveillance via closed circuit television cameras, binoculars, smartphones and checklists merely regards hypothetical interpretations as the truth and it is hardly a suitable foundation for establishing cordial relationships, trust and a learning culture. Most organisations embracing accident theory are avowed acolytes of behavioural safety and predictably target unsafe acts at the coalface, which cultivates blame and impedes organisational development. The focus is predominantly on the absence of safety and noncompliance with documented procedures or defiance of warning signs. Assessment tools are littered with pejorative and vague descriptors such as line of fire, eyes on path or eyes on task and it produces a predetermined outcome. This implies human error and is inconsistent with the philosophy of multifactorial causation and significantly increases psychosocial risk.
Behavioural safety is a bureaucratic administrative control and extremely popular in American companies or organisations with adversarial structures. It does not measure safety performance and is merely counting, which generates descriptive, subjective, qualitative and categorical data. This is of limited use or value and statisticians frequently reiterate that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Albeit much less scientific, it is analogous with Taylorism time and motion studies, which alienate employees from their work and creates a dystopian environment.……….Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past.
Despite statutory requirements, many safety evangelists persist with attempts to change the person via behaviour based safety. This is accomplished by monitoring and correcting behaviour using operant conditioning and the techniques of positive and negative reinforcement for controlling the associated risks.
Fleming and Lardner recommend caution with behaviour based safety approaches and reinforce how it can divert attention to address symptoms and disregard the cause. This focus on the receiver and changing individual behaviour is inconsistent with common law duty of care requirements.
B. F. Skinner was a pioneer of radical behaviourism and also the author of Walden 2, a utopian novel that espoused a rationally designed society. Its authenticity reflects and aligns with the socialist nirvana that emerged throughout Paraguay during the late nineteenth century. Many of Skinner’s experiments were conducted on rodents and pigeons although most of his books were written about people. Kohn claims operant conditioning has many misleading assumptions and limitations and its effectiveness is only ephemeral. It also generates intrinsically objectionable and persistent counterproductive consequences. However the achievements of B. F. Skinner’s were not all forlorn. It initiated a response to behaviorism from Anthony Burgess via the dystopian and satirical novel entitled A Clockwork Orange. It features a social delinquent who is conditioned out of his love for classical music by means of electric shocks administered while he hears Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Recent comments from prominent American behavioural safety consultants indicate a conceptual transition. Many of the claims and snake oil hyperbole extolling phenomenal accomplishments have since been moderated and there is now some acceptance that most workplace injuries are not the sole consequence of unsafe acts, which are not the same as negligence.
At one major coal seam gas project near Roma, in Queensland a visit from the executive leadership team included behavioural safety observations to fulfil their allocated performance indicators. The activity selected involved working at height and installation of cladding on a compressor housing using subcontractors. The observation checklists were designed to generate a predetermined outcome via subjective and pejorative terminology with an inordinate focus on unsafe acts. However, the observers failed to notice that elevating work platform log books did not correspond with the equipment serial numbers.
Daily preoperational checks were documented but failed to identify that quarterly and annual mechanical inspections for the equipment and fire extinguisher checks were overdue. The subcontractor inadvertently circumvented the plant premobilisation process and brought the hired equipment directly onto site. The activity also required a working at height permit, which failed to identify the critical anomalies. This provided additional substantive evidence that a systemic malaise of form over substance supplemented by an inordinate focus on behaviour not actions, is evident across many resources projects.
Behaviour management requires an understanding of many interdependent factors, which include motivation, ownership, culture, relationships, personality, curriculum development, learning styles, teaching strategies and many other interrelated issues. Most industrial safety teaching and training providers usually offer myopic behaviourist solutions. This often involves operant conditioning via black box psychology and disregards basic fundamentals of behaviour management. The subject is indeed extraordinarily complex with many formidable challenges that requires specialist and professional guidance.
Behaviourist theory assumes people are the sum of inputs and outputs and behaviour can be modified and controlled by operant conditioning. Its founder John B Watson, adopted an unusual stance, which began as methodology and became ontology. It proposed behaviour of man and animals must be considered on the same plane and as being equally essential to a general understanding of behaviour. This ignored any notion of consciousness and it was effectively black box psychology that followed an argument to an absurd conclusion and believed the outcome, which merely classified humans as glorified Pavlov’s dogs.
Cognitivist theory recognised difficult behaviour emerged from poor judgement and the parameter of thought was added to the recipe. An advanced and more progressive approach integrated the disciplines to create cognitive behavioural theory. This acknowledges the challenges emerge from substandard inputs, mediocre thinking and ineffective incentives or deterrents. Alternative theories focus on emotional development or social psychological issues.
The work of Floyd Allport generated a wave of experiments which examined how social arrangements influenced judgements and decision making and a new dawn emerged in the form of social psychology. This placed an emphasis on relationships and evaluated how people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours were affected by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others. Further research by Cialdini identified six weapons of persuasion that affect judgement and decision making. These include reciprocation, commitment to consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity.
In reality, when managing risk individuals are significantly influenced by the situation and their environment. Social psychology recognises that conformity, obedience and social perception are bounded by the situational context rather than character. Kurt Lewin, a pioneer of social psychology described the reactions of individuals and groups to changing circumstances and launched the concept of group dynamics. It recognised established groups form a unified system with unique synergistic attributes that could not be understood by the analysis of its individual members. Indeed, humans invariably overestimate the importance and power of individual responsibility and are underwhelmed by the influence of social situations. This is often termed fundamental attribution error and it places an inordinate emphasis on personality, intelligence or consistently, common sense.
The social psychological approach argues that behaviour is best managed via a learning environment rather than a counterintuitive emphasis on individual responsibility and traditional behaviourist focus. Influencing behaviour in a social context is critical and the importance of semiotics cannot be underestimated. It requires an understanding of power and the nature of influence on individuals or groups. The language of absolutes such as zero harm, intolerance, infallibility and compliance and enforcement is more suited to behaviourist methodology and is excluded from the discourse in social psychology.
Black box psychology is almost as bizarre a cultural product as phrenology or sorcery and it disregards the existence and significance of human self-consciousness and embodiment. Nonetheless, there has been extraordinary growth in the research of human behaviour, which includes psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, behaviourism, cognitive behaviour therapy, cybernetics, sociobiology, ecopsychology, neuropsychology, neurolinguistic programming and neuroscientific imaging plus several shards or crystals of neurochemistry.
Dalrymple critically evaluates how psychology undermines morality and provides further interesting observations and extensive comments on this vast, arcane and dynamic discipline. Notwithstanding these remarkable developments and despite the logorrhea, it would be a bold scientist or engineer who claims that our self-understanding, with the forlorn hope of an existence free of inner and outer conflict, is now greater than that of Montaigne or Shakespeare.
The truth and human motives are rarely pure and never simple and we owe incomparably more to improved sewerage than to psychology. The human brain for something supposedly so brilliant and evolutionary advanced is a pretty messy, extremely fallible and complicated organ. Alternative aesthetic nostrums include scientology, neurolinguistic programming and wallowing in the swamp of snake oil or obscurantist psychobabble. Challenging and breaking oppressive power and control is not a daunting task and many triumphant examples are provided by Nader, who has devoted a lifetime to advocating democracy and promoting social reform.
In the 1970s dozens of think tanks throughout the western world were allocated billions of dollars to promote an economic model of deregulation, diminution and privatisation. This corporate call to arms was instigated by Lewis Powell, Bryce Harlow and John D Harper in the United States to reform the egalitarian moderations of the 1960s. It involved the merger of corporate and state interests and an enormous redistribution of power. Its impact has destroyed many of the social reforms of democratic governments such as labour standards and working conditions. Indeed, the measure of a man is what he does with power and the foreboding spiritual lyrics from Lead Belly resonate…..There’s a man goin’ around taking names.