Echo Chambers and Thinking About Risk


Echo Chambers and Thinking About Risk

imageOne of the greatest challenges for the any industry is introspection, gazing into its own belly button hoping to find something new. We could call this ‘fortress mentality’, the building of boundaries too difficult to break down.

It seems that anytime the fortress wants to know something it doesn’t seek expertise outside of itself (across the disciplines) but rather seeks a source that is safe for the fortress. When the fortress seeks to explain something outside of itself it always goes to a source that accepts the validity of its own assumptions and no others. The temptation to move outside of established boundaries or questioning traditional boundaries is politicized as a threat to the fortress.

The challenge for any fortress seeking a future is Transdisciplinarity.

Transdisciplinarity represents a disposition that accepts sources and knowledge outside of one’s own discipline. I have written about Transdisciplinarity before:

The notion of ‘Transdisciplinarity’ was first coined by Nicolescu and should not be confused with multi-disciplinarity.

  • Nicolescu, B.,2002. Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity. Albany: SUNY Press.
  • Nicolescu, B. (ed.), 2008. Transdisciplinarity. Theory and Practice. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Some other good sources on Transdisciplinarity include:

  • Brown, V., Harris, J., and Waltner-Toews, D., (2019) Independent Thinking in an Uncertain World, A Mind of One’s Own. Earthscan. London.
  • Brown, V., and Harris, J., (2014) The Human Capacity for Transformational Change, harnessing the collective mind. Earthscan. London.
  • Nardi, B., and O’Day, V., (1999) Information Ecologies. MIT Press, London.
  • Sommerville, M., and Rapport, D., (eds.) (2000) Transdisciplinarity: reCreating Integrated Knowledge. EOSS, Oxford.

The idea of Transdisciplinarity emerged out of the challenge of ‘wicked problems’. Wicked problems are paradoxical problems that have no solution, are intractable and the more one tries to solve them from mono or multi-disciplines, the more the problem is amplified. You can read more about wicked problems here:

Wicked problems are exacerbated by social complexity and cannot be tackled by mono-disciplinary approaches or attempts at ‘fixing’. Wicked problems are most often exacerbated by simplistic approaches to knowledge. Wicked problems are best tackled by Transdisciplinarity, movement across all disciplines in a holistic integrated method, even methods you don’t understand. Such movement demands trust and faith.

Transdisciplinarity is about holism, seeking knowledge beyond disciplines. Transdisciplinarity seeks an integration in knowing where all disciplines are equally accepted, validated and listened to, including disciplines one might reject such as: metaphysics, theology, religion, semiotics, poetics etc. Hierarchies in disciplines and theories of knowing are antithetical to tackling wicked problems.

There is nothing less educative than fortress thinking, creating an echo chamber to circulate and confirm accepted political discourse.

Risk and safety are a wicked problem. Risk and safety are intractable, unsolvable and paradoxical. There is nothing less enlivening, envisioning, educative or invigorating than turning safety into an echo chamber.

Unfortunately, the safety industry is framed by zero ideology, zero mysticism (https://safetyrisk.net/the-spirit-of-zero/ ) and zero globalism (https://visionzero.global/videos ) thus creating a huge temptation to build a fortress and think within the circulation of an echo chamber. Transdisciplinarity demands tolerance, Zero demands intolerance.

Haidt and Lukianoff (2019) called the process of being closed and insular as ‘coddling’, stating that such a mindset leads to ‘safetyism’. Amalberti called it ‘hyper-safety’, the seeking of impossibility against the realities of fallibility. Taleb (Antifragility) demonstrates that seeking hyper-safety leads to fragility. Heightened fragility is the outcome of building a fortress or echo chamber. Safetyism leads to greater fragility and increased risk.

To develop resilience in tackling risk one needs to resist the echo chamber and maintain critical questions that don’t allow a mono-disciplinary worldview to become a politicized, insular fortress. This means stepping outside of the security of one’s comfortable discipline and seeking learning beyond the disciplinary fortress. I find it absurd that Safety thinks it can enter into disciplines it knows nothing about and feed its ignorance to the safety masses that desire an echo chamber. It seems the best learning about persons, risk, learning, decision making and helping come from safety engineers!

As much as one might like safety podcasts, safety Linkedin, safety books, safety conferences and safety perspectives one should equally step outside of such comfort and embrace ‘differance’ (Deleuze, Derrida) found in Transdisciplinary sources that are not ‘safe’.



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