Stephen Fyson The Spectator Australia 16 May 2023
We now have various psychological contexts being determined under regulation in Australia. One example is the workplace, which has changed from being a place of respect, to being a fantasy land of feel-goodism. As reported by Sky News Australia, a new national code of conduct describes mental safety in the workplace as being just as important as physical safety. Of course, we do not want anyone taking advantage of others at work, but the way this regulation is explained puts the responsibility on employers for the mental health of their workers. As often happens, ‘the devil is in the detail’, or in this case, the lack of coherent conceptual thought that makes managing the detail impossible.
Responsibility for others’ ‘mental health’? Really? Then answer me this – what is ‘mental health’, or even more basically, what is the ‘mind’? Whose responsibility is it to monitor how we think? Are emotions simply a matter of the mind? If we believe the mind is simply the outworking of our physical predispositions and capacities that are expressed through past and current social contexts, then we might assume we can plan perfect environments that will make all our people happy – for happiness is the standard of wellbeing these days. And if all factors for happiness and wellbeing can be known through personality tests and social engineering, then we can create near-perfect environments. We already have a good handle on that and we call those places ‘zoos’. Trouble is, people are not just animals.
An additional problem is that happiness and wellbeing are so utterly self-referential in our therapeutic age. What system can be used to decide whose feelings to validate? Oh wait, of course, we already have that. It is called Critical Race Theory, and all we need to do is to label people by race to determine who is oppressed, who are oppressors, and therefore, who to move on if someone or a group claim that is not being validated.
The implied assumption behind this kind of regulation is that if you have authority, because you are responsible for others, then you are the one with greater power. If your people feel offended, uncomfortable, or unhappy, it is always your fault as ‘the boss’. This is because, in our emotion-focused age, the one in authority is always the oppressor, and the worker is the oppressed. As one of my teachers said to me once when I was a school principal, ‘Your job is to keep me stress-free!’ So much for ‘no pain, no gain’, or ‘no challenge, no growth’.
This new requirement is not science-based regulation. It is a mixture of good ideas encased in Romanticists’ false notions of life, wrapped up in a therapeutised understanding of self that denies our world of wonder and pain. It is, at best, a move to help reinforce respect in the workplace. At its worst (which is my best guess), it is another way of destabilising the best of our law and mercy-based tradition while we move into a moral relativism that is impossible personally and socially. It is, put bluntly, an institutionalisation of a version of ‘the self’ that is incoherent, selfish, and clearly morally evasive.
Take this quote from Mental Health and Resilience Expert Graeme Cowan: ‘Every company has an obligation to have a psychologically safe and healthy workplace.’ This assumes companies (and the courts) will know what being psychologically safe means in the face of someone asserting: ‘But they made me uncomfortable so often!’
How will a court or commissioner make judgments about how someone reacted in their internal states to external events? Courts review evidence of fact – physical evidence of people in time and place. But his kind of regulation makes the regulator the arbiter of whose feelings are more valid. Such a situation leads to the weakening of understanding of what ‘proof’ looks like, and paves the way for an emotivist analysis of any conflict situation – one where if anyone can claim victimhood, it is expected that sympathy should automatically be with them.
Then there is this:
‘Psychological safety is where you feel you can be your authentic self, you feel that you can take risks and try new things and know that if it doesn’t work out you don’t get crucified – it’s really feeling connected with those around us, it’s having a sense of belonging.’
Note the language of ‘where you feel’. How can this be regulated? What if you are actually safe, but you feel as if you are not? Who will adjudicate that? A raft of psychologists? Psychiatrists? Lawyers? Magistrates? And who decides what ‘authentic self’ means for anyone at any point of time? The person on their testimony? How might that be checked, let alone supported? What if your ‘authentic self’ is at odds with the hope and goals of the group with which you are associating?
And what of these notions of being ‘connected’ and ‘belonging’? In matters of regulation, this is traditionally linked to checking that actions are not discriminatory according to certain individual characteristics in certain defined contexts. Traditionally, women were safe when they were connected to and belonged to a defined woman’s safe shelter. If a transgender woman was appointed to work in that woman’s shelter, whose feelings would be considered as more important? The women (female adult) workers, or the transgender person?
Or imagine a worker who declares that they are not feeling connected with those around them. Perhaps the reason is that they have low iron in their blood, causing a physical loss of focus and energy, which they interpret as ‘they are not allowing me to be me’. Can the workplace ask them to visit a physician, or would that be considered as being non-affirming of their interpretation of their emotions?
People cannot be reduced to their physical inheritances and capacity, not even in recognition of their social context, past and present. To understand each other, we need deeper, more human interaction. Legal regulation needs to stick to external evidence based on actions and responses. When law plays social-worker, justice becomes sentiment and complainants are assumed to be victims. The accused must therefore be bad, even if not proven. And worst still, the media is allowed to run commentary choosing their preferred narrative, and not chasing the facts of the matter.
But could that really happen? Oh wait, we have an investigation into something like this right now in our Capital – silly me, of course our capital will lead us in this incoherence.