It’s the moment for which we have all been waiting! Without the aid of a safety net (ooh, aah), I will now introduce a real (and rather jarring) juxtaposition which just occurred to me.
Anyone who has been bored at an airport (which I presume is close to 100% of the airport-using population of the planet) will have wandered into an airport bookshop. These usually offer a large display of books aimed at the businessman (or woman, but I suspect mostly man) with attention-grabbing titles. All seem to promise rapid advancement in your chosen career (or to help you attain another one and then advance in that) by taking control of your own destiny. This control is seized by taking the lessons extracted from previously successful business-folk and, if at all possible, linking these to some ancient oriental wisdom or military leader (or, ideally, both). I always feel that the purchasers of such books are doomed to disappointment on two fairly obvious grounds. Firstly, if anyone can learn these tricks for a mere £19.99 (or similar), then they are going to be pretty widely known and there is only so much room at the top of the greasy pole we are all supposed to be so assiduously ascending. Secondly, the successful are often seduced by the idea that they are the author’s of their own success – rather than that they have risen (mostly) due to the operation of blind chance. It is never wise to disrespect Fate – even at second hand – as she is known for her fondness for retribution. As a result, I own no books purporting to tell me how to succeed in business – which may explain my lack of success or merely be an entirely unrelated fact (you, as they say, decide). I may also have been somewhat inoculated against such works having once been employed by a much lauded company which subsequently went quite spectacularly bankrupt. However, today the poverty of business thinking was brought rather forcibly to my attention.
This week, it would appear, “the man” has decided is Safety Week! Luckily, I have made it unscathed through the last 51 danger weeks – and so could participate (via phone and screen) with the knuckle-biting launch event. For this, some poor sap from HR felt it necessary to explain safety – something covered much better by my very first employer way back in 1987. Apparently (and you will never have guessed this), but having zero accidents is a “good thing”. It is also achievable: something which the Kent Constabulary gave the lie to while I was still at school. When trying to teach we kids (yes, even I was once one) about road safety, they informed us that there had been one, real accident on the roads of Kent that year – in which a deer leapt out of a wood and directly into a car, sadly immolating both itself and the unfortunate driver. It is hard to see any safety “culture” preventing this, without either exterminating all deer, raising all woods to the ground or banning the use of motor vehicles (or all three) – none of which are probably all that practical or desirable. It is appalling hubris for any human endeavour to claim that it can eliminate all chance from existence (and I refer you to my previous thoughts on the dangers of tempting Fate).
Anyway, having established what safety is, the poor, benighted HR soul then tried to explain why we should value safety. This seemed to include a muddled call on human rights, a nod to utilitarianism and quite a lot of vague waffle about economics. In a normal day, this would only have been mildly irritating – but it came directly after reading Michel Sandel’s excellent book Justice. Having covered the work of Aristotle, Bentham, Mill et al I had just finished a long chapter on the work of Immanuel Kant. He put in a lot of the groundwork (which is a brilliant pun, but almost no-one will know why) to our ideas about universal human rights. His work (at least as I have understood it) provides a very serious underpinning to how safety in the workplace is part of a moral life, but also why the approach taken by “the man” destroys this moral dimension by the introduction of heteronomy and the mandating of hypothetical imperatives. The juxtaposition of the intellectual rigour of Kant and Sandel, and the neo-liberal hippyness from HR was particularly jarring and made the whole presentation unusually hard to bear (or take seriously).
I’m quite taken with Kant at the moment, but I’m about to move on to Rawls and all that could change. This book is causing my opinions to shift on an almost page-by-page basis and is exposing the dreadfully muddled thinking (if any) that underlies most of my opinions. Coupled with Melvin Bragg’s Theory of Ideas and the positive and negative freedoms of Isaiah Berlin (of which I had previously read), the philosophical parts of my mind are getting quite the work-out at the moment. My opinions and views on almost all topics are thus in a state of terrible ferment or flux at present. Hopefully, in another 120 pages or so they should start to settle down again, but I have no idea in what configuration this might be – which is rather exciting, but probably makes me ill-suited to a career in politics as it is currently practised. Then again, we do seem to live in a society where certainty is significantly over-valued, so perhaps now is the time for me to make my move!