I received a post this week from Worksafe Victoria arguing why strategies for wellness in the workplace make for: improved productivity, improved reputation, reduced absenteeism and reduced turnover. Of course these outcomes are supported by extensive research but what a shame that the promotion of wellness requires an argument about outcomes. Wellness for employees ought to be a natural outcome of an ethic of care, helping and empathy.
Unfortunately by making wellness a commodity one doesn’t address deep underlying cultural causes that demonstrate a lack of an ethic of care. An ethic of care understands wellness as a normalized mode of relational enactment, it doesn’t need some productivity outcome to justify a focus on the care of employees.
An ethic of care ought to be a part of a much broader Ethic of Risk. An Ethic of Risk that acknowledges the vulnerability and fallibility of persons ought to be foundational in any organizational policy on Health and Safety. Such a policy needs to start with a declaration and ownership of employees-as-persons not objects in a system. The language of such a policy that acknowledges the nature of human being as fallible, vulnerable and mortal, sets the way for organizing that is humanizing and upbuilding. Does your organisation’s Health and Safety policy contain such an ethic?
There can be no Ethic of Risk unless humans-as-persons are acknowledged as the foundation for being. Any effort to make wellness a commodity detracts from the quality of personhood.
So what is personhood? How do we define the human person?
The following help to define the nature of personhood.
- A person is first and foremost a social subject. Personhood can only be understood in relation to others socially and psychologically. There is no such thing as an individual, there is only i-thou (Buber). From the moment of birth we are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, babies and relatives. We participate in socialitie (social life) and can only be defined intercorporeally (incorporated in each other – Fuchs).
- As embodied persons we are affected by all that happens in, to, around and for us. Interaffectivity,(Fuchs) determines all our actions and limits any sense of autonomy. Whilst human persons have a degree of autonomy this is incomplete and relative to identity, context and the collective unconscious. Individuality is only confirmed dialectically in relation to socialitie.
- As embodied persons we act as agents in decision making. Most human decisions affect others and involve a degree of self-consciousness, however, this is not complete either. Humans are conscious, subconscious (deficit), non-conscious (Damasio) and unconscious (positive – Jung).
- As self conscious knowers we don’t know all things, humans are fallible and limited as agents. In this sense, persons are unable to anticipate all things (mortal) and so cannot anticipate many consequences of their limited ability to choose (finite). Yet despite this, as embodied persons, humans possess an essential unity. Human persons are identified with their body and their soul/spirit/personality.
- Humans are not just rational beings but also moral, emotional and unconscious beings. They are not objects nor machines in a system, they are participants in their own ecology.
- As self-conscious limited agents humans discover, imagine and create not just physically but semiotically, in language, discourse, sign systems, metaphor, poetics, aesthetics and creation of meaning and purpose (semiosis).
- As choosers human persons are valuers, for to chose is to value. Most importantly, human persons dream and enter into knowing unconsciously including, the creation of music, art, dance, religion and poetics.
- A critical capability of personhood is the making of meaning and purpose through language and semiotics (sign and symbols systems).
- Personhood is strongly anchored to feelings and these are expressed through language, semiotics, reasoning, metaphor and moral action. Persons are able to create and initiate language and behaviours with and without determination/necessity.
- All of these qualities and capabilities mean that a human person lives and acts in dialectic with their environment, culture, embodiment and fallibility.
- Persons cannot sit at anytime in absolutes neither can they know perfection. Everything persons do is contingent on their sociliatie and humanity. A critical aspect of human personhood is coming to grips with fallibility, vulnerability and uncertainty and the nature of learning, development and risk.
- Persons are also teleological, that is, they are shaped and formed by their ends. Humans know that when they bury their dead they are viewing their own death and so this facilitates the creation of meaning in living.
Benner (2016) uses the metaphor of the Russian nested dolls in an effort to explain how all these qualities define personhood. All of these sit within another and one cannot dissect human personhood like a machine/object and find the seat of personhood in just sentience, brain or intelligence. Personhood is very much embodied.
Why does personhood need defining and defending?
Personhood needs defending because of the dynamic of dehumanising is alive and well in the risk and safety industry. This is evident in the commodification of wellness. This is why the industry needs an Ethic of Risk. Without an Ethic of Risk this industry thrives on de-personalised, commodified and dehumanised actions in the name of risk aversion and objectifying safety. The delusions of measurement stand in contrast with the non-measureables of poetics that are essential to organizational wellness: trust, care, helping, understanding, empathy etc.
The following help define the processes involved in dehumanising and de-personalising risk.
- A range of ideologies and unethical tendencies have been established in the risk and safety industry that serve to work against personhood and human ‘being’. These ideologies include: reductionism, scientism, behaviourism, cognitvism, rationalism and positivism. All these ideologies emerge in the risk and safety industry from a mathematico-engineering view of the world and result in the definition of humans as ‘objects’. Indeed, the scientist (science as ideology) view (not science view) understands humans as just creatures of the natural world, as biological objects in the sense of ‘just another animal’.
- Recent developments highlight problems associated with ethics, morality and mis-defintion of personhood. One such event has been the development of sex with robots (https://www.forbes.com/sites/andreamorris/2018/09/25/prediction-sex-robots-are-the-most-disruptive-technology-wedidnt-see-coming/#7641193b6a56). The ethical dilemmas associated with this development highlight all the problems associated with a mis-definition of personhood.
- We only need to listen to the language of the Technology industry to understand how it views persons. It speaks of: ‘Artificial’ intelligence, ‘Non-human’ Intelligence, ‘Synthetic’, ‘Simulation’, ‘Machine’ learning, ‘programmed’ and ‘algorithms’. Of course machines cannot ‘learn’ and so machines cannot be persons. In what ways do machines learn, dream, create and feel? Emotions are central to personhood.
- It is clear from any perspective that machines don’t have a ‘lived experience’. Anything machines do can only ever be a secondary representation of human experience. In other words it is not ’real’ but only simulated.
- Machines cannot have a ‘mind’ in the sense of personhood, soul, spirit and mind. They cannot ‘feel’ emotions interactively (Fuchs) as an embodied person does, just as machines cannot dream or learn through the unconscious because they don’t have one.
- Similarly, machines cannot know suffering, pain, risk or learning. The repetition of algorithms is at best ‘parrot learning’ but cannot result in a change in personhood because machines are not persons.
Some Important Texts on Personhood.
· Arendt, H., (1958) The Human Condition.
· Bauer, J., and Harteis, C., (2012) Human Fallibility, The Ambiguity of Errors for Work and Learning.
· Benner, D., (2016) Human being and Becoming, Living the adventure of life and love.
· Fuchs, T., (2018) ecology of the brain.
· Kirkwood, C., (2012) The Persons in Relation Perspective, In Counselling, Psychotherapy and Community Adult Learning.
· Lotman, Y., (1990) Universe of the Mind, A Semiotic Theory of Culture.
· Madsbjerg, C., (2017) Sensemaking, What makes Human Intelligence Essential in the Age of the Algorithm.
· Martin, J., Sugarman, J., and Hickinbottom, S., (2010) Persons: Understanding Psychological Selfhood and Agency.
· Semler, L., Hodge, B., and Kelly, P., (2012) What is the Human? Australian Voices from the Humanities.
· Splitter, L., (2015) Identity and Personhood, Confusions and Clarifications across Disciplines.
If we look at what defines personhood in elements previously discussed then, anything that detracts from those qualities must result in dehumanising and de-personizing trajectories. For example, the more a human is understood as an object in a system or as a ‘hazard’ that needs control (behaviourism), then the more humans will organise in ways that punish, harm and injure humans psychologically and socially. Such is the state of the zero-as-safety industry.
One of the most destructive dynamics in dehumanising in the risk and safety industry emerges from the ideology of zero harm and the quest for perfectionism. The denial of fallibility is the beginning of the objectivisation and dehumanisation of the human as person. The ideology of zero and associated intolerance is the foundation for unethical practice and the denial of personhood. This is why the best the AIHS can do on Ethics is advocate for duty and check your gut! (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/) an apt recipe for brutalism – the opposite of wellness.