Zero as Morally Wicked


zero harmRavetz in the foreword to Independent Thinking in an Uncertain World, A Mind of One’s Own  talks about ‘post-normal science’, ‘box-ticking culture’ and the ‘poverty of normal science’. He sets the scene for a conversation about the limits of the myth of objectivity and tackling some of the worlds most ‘wicked problems’. Of course we now know that all the promises of Enlightenment science have turned in on itself eg. the catastrophe of superbugs and superweeds. It seems that Science cannot tame Nature after all. Indeed, Nature has its own way of ecological thinking.

In the first chapter of the book Brown discusses the problem of the ‘one right answer ‘ approach to problems and how such approaches have historically led to authoritarian regimes. We see this in the ideology of zero. Brown talks about ‘knowledge cultures’ and how each insulates itself in its discipline and protects itself from change. This was explained may years ago by Weber who talked about ‘the institutionalization of the charisma’. Ideologies build fortresses against: change, vision, creativity, imagination and learning. Again we see this in the ideology of zero (

The purpose in mapping schools of thought in safety ( was to demonstrate that there is no ‘one true way’ in tackling risk. Indeed, the map indicates the terrain in regards to the challenges of transdisciplinarity. Unfortunately, there can be no transdisciplinarity in zero. I often find it comical when people ask me to engage in a conversation about risk, just as long as I don’t challenge the immovable absolute of zero! So strange to be asked to present on risk just as long as I accept the immovability of zero. It seems one can only speak to Safety now by being silent about zero! Why won’t you present or converse with us, it’s only a word, idea and target! And so there is only one expected movement on my behalf because there will never be movement in zero.

Zero is the ideology of stasis and no movement and there is only learning in movement. Brown states:

‘While a wicked problem may not be morally wicked, failure to take account of complexity and its social implications IS morally wicked (p.13).’

This is the case with zero. There can only be one trajectory from an ideology of zero and that is brutalism. Any denial of fallibility ( ), mortality and human vulnerability can only be morally wicked. Any ethic of risk ( must acknowledge the fallibility of humans. There can be no humanization of the safety space until the rejection of zero.

In some of my presentations I show a comparison between the dynamics of Humanizing and Dehumanizing dynamics as follows:

Human De-Human
Fallible Infallible
Mortal Immortal
Vulnerable Invulnerable
Social Individual/Behavioural
Imperfect Zero-absolute
Subjects Objects
Learning Omnipotent
Persons De-personed

I also show what an ethic looks like when such dynamics are compared as follows:

Humanizing De-Humanizing
Integrity Masking
Transparency Gaslighting
Ethical knowing De-valuing
Subjectivizing Objectivizing
Psychology of goals Metricizing/Mechanizing
Listening, Discovering, Dialogue Telling
Sharing Dominating
Care/By-products/Trade-offs Indifferencing

These kinds of dynamics are put into play through the ideology, discourse and language of zero ably enable by the brutalism of BBS.

How strange that this industry that should be caring and helping in nature is brutal and victimizing in what it does? Hiding behind the myth of objective regulation and legislation how strange that this industry is yet to talk about an ethic of risk? How odd to parade the rhetoric of ‘well being’ whilst brutalizing people through zero!

If Safety is ever to engage in a vision for ‘transcoherence’ (Ashhurst) it will never be able to do so if it continues to hang on to zero.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

4 Replies to “Zero as Morally Wicked”

  1. We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all

    Ludwig Wittgenstein (Tractatus)

  2. As the host for the World Congress in Sydney the AIHS has a fabulous opportunity to establish some much needed integrity and speak the truth to power with a new song amidst the cacophony of safety noise and pettifogging.

    However, I cannot envisage anything radical given the formulaic tripe and turgid sludge served up at its micturating conferences. It will be constrained by the shackles of mechanistic ideology and zero harm and just the same horse with a different jockey.

    The brain does not issue commands, it hosts conversations – Guy Claxton

    1. Bernard, the seduction of zero is so pervasive and noone knows how to get out of it. Framed in a binary trap that requires critical thinking, Safety doesn’t know how to extract itself from zero abuse even though such an extraction would be very straight forward.

      I suspect the next world conference it will move to ‘zero plus 1’ or some other absurdity and everyone will sing in Hillsong praise whilst they shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic.

      Without an understanding of semiotics or communication to the unconscious all will praise the discourse for another year and pretend that the ideology is just semantics or targets.

      As for the AIHS or NSCA who are totally immersed in the ideology there can only be more compliance to tier 1 sponsors who also don’t know how to escape resets and zero delusion. One thing is for sure, any contestation of zero must be controlled and squashed, demonsized and submission maintained. Zero vision indeed –

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