Zero Vision as Propaganda

Zero Vision as Propaganda

imagePropaganda is the ideological manipulation of ideas to support and defend political interests. Ellul (1973, p. 61. ) states:

‘Propaganda is a set of methods employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through the psychological manipulations and incorporated in an organization.’

A critical aspect of propaganda is the process of indoctrination. Indoctrination is the inculcation of ideas without critical analysis and the promotion of non-reflective discourse. Indoctrination is the opposite of education and is associated with parrot training rather than reflective and discovery learning. One of the key dynamics behind indoctrination is ‘blind faith’. Blind faith requires non-critical thinking, absorption and non-questioning. The enemy of blind faith is doubt, questioning and critical thinking. Blind faith is a way of thinking most associated with religious discourse.

In the recent promotion of zero vision at the World Safety Congress, we observed the religious signs and symbols of ‘We believe’ and other faith-based statements (



The larger than life iconography and symbolism used at the Congress was targeted at absorption rather than contestation. Zero was accepted as non-contestable and unquestionable. This is achieved through social psychological forces such as ‘groupthink’, ‘affect heuristic’ and ‘conformity bias’ (

The evidence for religious discourse is evident throughout including: language of possible perfection, fear of harm, fundamentalist (black and white) ideology and sematic conformance. The ideology is supported by a range of ‘testimonies’ (itself a fundamentalist strategy) Here is a sample of the language in the testimonials:

· ‘A workplace without accidents, diseases and harm is only possible if both the safety, health and wellbeing of people is properly looked after.’


· ‘However, nothing can substitute good leadership and commitment to ‘safety first.’ For this reason, safety concerns were at the core of every decision I made both in orbit and on the ground.’


· ‘Vision Zero starts with those who hold responsibility, but it can only become a living culture if everyone contributes.’


· ‘Our mind-set needs to aim at a Vision Zero: zero accidents, zero harm…Some people think Vision Zero is unrealistic. We beg to differ; the power of our mind-set is strong.’

As with all propaganda, there must be a comprehensive ‘campaign’ ( ).



The campaign includes:

· Regional launches.

· A global outreach

· Products and promotion materials (

· Guides (

· Powerpoint templates (

· Seven Golden Rules, complete with assessment checklist and survey tool, web app etc ( )

· A guide to ‘zero accidents’ ( )

· Promotion into targeted audiences (

· A training program ( )

· A prevention strategy

· Case studies ( )

· Video resources

· And ‘success’ manuals.

Of course the talk of ‘success’ is ‘spin’ and the seven golden rules are nothing new. The truth is none of this is needed and all it does is mask the simple things that need to be done in tackling risk (

All that is presented in this zero vision campaign is marketing propaganda to give the impression that the zero ideology ‘works’. It has more in common with a MacDonalds advertisement on ‘nutrition’ than helping people face up to the realities of fallibility in tackling risk. For the undiscerning ( the zero vision is nectar of ‘promise’ accompanied by all the bells and whistles (, trinkets and familiar tools of propaganda. Because it apparently ‘succeeds’.



An of course there is a guide to help you reach perfection:


and, an evangelical guide to your ‘first steps to prevention’ (


and mind maps to stake out all the machinations of the zero vision journey:


As with all ideological propaganda the zero vision ‘machine’ is typically religious and political. The politics of zero creates an ‘us and them’ culture, a binary in and out group. Those who don’t adopt the ideology and language must be deemed ‘unbelievers’ because, ‘we believe’.

If one runs even the slightest piece of critical thought across all this propaganda one will see:

· A confusion in language that contradicts itself (that zero doesn’t actually mean zero), blurring boundaries in the sense of words is critical to all propaganda

· A lack of definition about what zero means (concept, philosophy, mindset, aspiration, belief, transformational approach, vision, goal and process). All propaganda relies on a lack of definition and this enables acceptance without criticism, ‘blind faith’.

· The ‘branding’ of things as ‘factual’ that are without evidence and emotive, iconic and religious. The attachment of belonging to a ‘feeling’ rather than evidence is a central characteristic of all propaganda.

· The promise of Nirvana. The time when all accidents and mistakes will be eliminated. When utopia in the workplace will come and fallibility and mortality will be made perfect. The promise of a ‘new kingdom’ and ‘rule’ is essential for all propaganda.

· No evidence of questioning or doubt. This is all global and one needs to get on board. This creates the political and moral imperative that isolates criticism and turns critics into ‘agnostics’. It’s better to say ‘I don’t know’ than to commit in contestation to the juggernaut.

· That all of this zero vision is apparently ‘flexible’ and ‘adjustable’ even though the absolute language and symbology of zero denotes intolerance and the discourse of perfection ( p.3)

· The hidden and unstated binary ideology ( p. 3) that: ‘Accidents at work and occupational diseases are neither determined by fate nor unavoidable – they always have causes. By building a strong prevention culture, these causes can be eliminated and work related accidents, harm and occupational diseases be prevented. ‘

· The first casualty of any propaganda campaign is the desire for truth telling ( Propaganda serves to build ‘sunk cost’ and essential to conversion and political commitment. In this way it makes it nearly impossible to deny because it implies a break in belonging and relationship. Cognitive dissonance is also strongly evidences in this campaign ( Once a belief system is in and accompanied by a costly campaign, the chance of questioning or moving anything is extremely costly emotionally and psychologically. Even if one has accepted the propaganda as a passive observer, it makes it twice as difficult later to question the nature of the propaganda.

· Many of the strategies invested in propaganda campaigns were first used effectively by that famous Social Psychologist Dr Josef Goebbels (Ellul). You can read much more about this here:



Have you seen enough?

Of course the response will be: ‘Do you want people harmed’ or ‘how many do you want killed today’. The same binary questions common to all propagandist rhetoric. This is where propaganda shifts the ideology from complexity to simplistic thinking. For example, the kneeling protests in the USA were shifted from a mature approach to debate about prejudice to an either or choice about loyalty to the flag and patriotism ( Fake news is also a critical tool of propaganda.

Thus the real issues and ideology is ‘hidden’ by the propagandist in binary simplistic logic.

The truth is you don’t need the language and discourse of zero absolutes to care about people or prioritize safety. Indeed, the trajectory of zero language is ultimately the dehumanizing of others and offers no hope for real humans in work.

There is no evidence that any of this propaganda is either meaningful or connected to effectively tackling and managing risk. Declaring that you are ‘loyal’ to zero or a ‘zero visionist’ or a ‘believer’ doesn’t change anything. Indeed, it creates a more dangerous culture (Dekker (2017, Zero Vision: enlightenment and new religion. Policy and Practice in Health and Safety,

Zero vision has now become a socio-psychological ‘coordinate’ that locks and ‘anchors’ language into a social contract of absolutes and sets up the denial of fallibility. The discourse of zero creates a meconnaissance (a misrecognition, further read Lacan and a culture of misrepresentation built on the false anthropology of the perfect human.

What is the reality?

The reality is: in this life you will be harmed, you will get sick, you will suffer and one day will die. The world is not a safe place. This need not be fatalistic, but its denial is delusional. How we speak in denial of fallibility creates nonsensical language, nonsensical symbols and absurd ideology that needs a transdisciplinary code to break it, a social psychological knowledge that has the mental equipment to critique social psychological problems. And, propaganda is a social psychological problem. Unfortunately, training focused on compliance, obedience, regulation, policing and golden rules simply doesn’t have the equipment to ‘discern’ the indicators of propaganda nor its religious worldview.

The reality is that every day we affirm our fallibility and fundamental necessities that cannot be denied. Humans need everyday: sleep, water, food, shelter and belonging. Without these humans will very quickly get sick and die. Every time you need to eat, you affirm the necessity of your own fallibility and mortality. The denial of necessity is the propaganda of zero.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
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.

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