Monday, March 10, 2003

Zero Tolerance

A grade school student is suspended for bringing a brightly colored squirt gun to school. A high school student is threatened with expulsion because she brings some Tylenol to school and takes some for a headache. An employee is reprimanded or fired for telling a joke to a coworker or (heaven forbid) asking a one out on a date. An airline passenger has her eyelash curler… yes, EYELASH CURLER… confiscated before being allowed to board a domestic flight.

How have we come to this?

Well… if there are no valid, traditional standards for right and wrong, as the postmodernists claim, then there must be a method to protect the populace, without insulting or disproportionably impacting groups with any sort of aggrieved status. Combine that with an almost cult-like worship of safety at any cost, and what you get are… Zero Tolerance Policies.

We’ve all had direct or second hand experience with ZT policies. We live in a world in which the people that we place in positions of authority are no longer allowed to exercise judgment or make decisions based on the case at hand and through the application of common sense. The real world implementation of the policies often seems bizarre, unjust and other worldly, but the ZT craze continues.

School boards and administrators are so cowed by fidgety parents to ensure that children are completely “safe” and simultaneously afraid of offending a gender, ethnic, social, or low income group that they cannot allow teachers and principals to discern key differences in a real world situation versus a policy and its intent. That is how a nail clipper becomes a knife and leads to the suspension of a child with no previous disciplinary issues.

Human Resource officers, fearing litigation and draconian governmental regulations, write all encompassing, draconian sexual harassment policies. That is how an experience and well-respected manager, with a spotless employment record is fired for telling an off color joke. Not for telling the joke to “aggrieved” party. But, rather for having the joke overheard by a sensitive coworker.

And here is one I personally experienced. An Iowa senior citizen (pushing 80 if not older) is pat searched and forced to remove his shoes by one of the newly-commissioned Federal security guards at the Des Moines airport. The man was traveling with his wife. He was somewhat bewildered and the guard was impatient and, to put it kindly, curt. It was physically difficult for the man to take off his shoes, without benefit of a chair let alone do some mischief on the plane. If you wanted to select an individual for “least likely to be an al Qaeda terrorist”, this guy was it. But better this indignity and inefficiency than the politically incorrect (but reasonable) practice of paying close attention to swarthy men in their teens and twenties.

ZT policies have two primary overt goals: First, zero tolerance sounds like strong policy. The strength of the term shows a high-level of commitment to combat a perceived problem. Second, it promises safety (especially to baby boomer parents) in what is perceived to be an increasingly unsure and dangerous world.

What is the real agenda of ZT’s proponents?

ZT is social engineering in the guise of a popular “get tough” policy. It is a byproduct of victimization politics which, in turn in a byproduct of our old friend… postmodernism. Hey, nobody has a real take on right or wrong. Judgment calls, because of the dominant cultural prejudices held and expressed by the individuals who are typically in positions of authority, are inherently skewed against those in traditionally marginalized groups. So we have to craft binary (on/off, yes/no) rules intended to create an outcome that appears to be “judgment neutral”. We have to do everything in our power to redress the wrongs inflicted upon identified disadvantaged groups. We must create policies like ZT that render results that are distributed across class and race, regardless of the absurdity of the individual cases that populate those results.

This is the logic that considers a squirt gun (or a pointed finger miming a gun) in school worthy of the same action as a real gun.

This is the rationale that can equate a student bringing a decongestant nasal spray to school to a student bringing cocaine.

This is the agenda that calls for the neutering of men in the workplace, especially traditionally male workplaces.

This is the world view that sees self defense and standing up for your rights and dignity as reactionary and pro-violence.

One of the most insidious examples of school-based ZT is aimed an inflexible “conflict resolution”-based program for ending school violence. This particular policy is particularly postmodern in its slavish adherence to consensus and process as well as its refusal to identify an aggressor. All parties in the conflict are compelled to find “common ground”. Conflict is to be avoided at all costs. Every point of view is valuable. Under these ZT policies, a teacher breaking up a fight should not even ask “who threw the first punch”. Both parties are equally responsible. Even the child acting in self defense should have defused the confrontation and reached consensus or walked away before or even after he was hit. It doesn’t matter if the aggressor has a history of picking a fight and the kid has a spotless disciplinary record. Don’t fight back. Cover up and go down. Submit to a higher authority.

Now… is it just me, or does this sound familiar at all in light of the postmodern dog and pony show currently playing at the UN Security council…?


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