What is Violated in Violence?
Safety adores the language of ‘violation’, most commonly found in the discourse of James Reason. Just have a read of this article for a few minutes and you will see a problem. First of these 12 ‘principles’ states ‘human error is not a moral issue’, really? Then the next statement confirms it is a moral issue when it states ‘errors are not intrinsically bad’. This is the kind of nonsense put forward when one doesn’t have an ethic of risk. Just read the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics, there is no discussion of personhood, it’s all about duty to systems not about how the nature of personhood is violated by the methods of safety. Unfortunately, Reason has much to answer for in the way he misdirected the safety industry from understanding an ethic of risk.
How interesting this model of Reason that favours linear swiss-cheese thinking and violation considered as deviance from operating procedures (Reason, J., (1997) Managing the Risks of Organisational Accidents Pp. 72-73). How remarkably primitive to not consider for a second that violation is NOT about the violation of systems but rather the violation of Personhood! Any discussion of violence or justice is a moral and ethical discussion. Any discussion of malevolence (p.72, p.211) is an ethical and moral discussion. How convenient this deontological ethic that understands violence as ‘incorrect actions’. What a great foundation to excuse the brutalism of Behaviour-Based Safety.
If you are seeking some understanding of the nature of violence there is nothing in the AIHS BoK to help you. Similarly, workplace violence is not just about being abused, threatened or assaulted.
At the foundation of an understanding of violence sit two critical factors that are the elephant in the room for Safety – Power and Personhood. (Neither get a mention in the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics, nor a mention in any safety policies on Violence). A violation is a violation of how one defines a person. When persons are defined as objects, behaviours, actions or ‘factors’ in a system, violation is easy. It is far more comprehensive (and challenging) to define an ethic of personhood and Power and work out who (not what) has been violated.
Girard (Violence and the Sacred) discusses the nature of violence in a comprehensive way considering personhood, safety, risk, the sacred, scapegoating, sacrifice and mimetics. However, I don’t agree with Girard when he states: ‘Only violence can put an end to violence, and that is why violence is self-propagating’ (p.27)
Girard understands scapegoating as ritual violence. He is right however to say that: ‘violence and the sacred are ultimately the same process’ (p.273). This is because the violation of another person is what defines violence. What is left for Girard however is simply a proclamation that there is good and bad violence (p.119). In other words, the ethical outcome defines violence. For Girard this desire for the sacred results in the ritual of scapegoating, an appeasement (atonement) to restore the sacred. The scapegoat symbolically restores the purity of personhood. In Girard’s economy of violence it is a reciprocal ritual violence (scapegoating) that restores order (balance) to persons in society.
There are other ethics of Personhood that stand in contrast to the deontological ethic of safety and Girard’s ethic of violence. Unfortunately, to pursue Girard’s sense of violence takes one down the pathway to Nietzsche and the Ubermensch (superhuman). Neither safety nor Girard offer any hope for an ethic of risk that deals effectively with Personhood and Power.
So once again, we come to the need to define ethical foundations. Without an ethic than includes a definition of Personhood and Power it is most likely that Safety will continue to understand violence as acts (behaviours) against systems.
If you want to think more deeply about the problem of violence, I discuss Personhood in The Social Psychology of Risk Handbook (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/the-social-psychology-of-risk-handbook/ ) Chapter 2.