Wednesday, October 14, 2009

zero tolerance = zero thought

In the last generation, in the United States, there has developed a concept of draconian enforcement in law and managerial authority, now called, 'zero tolerance'. At the end of the 7th century before Christ, there appeared in Athens a law giver, Draco. Now, draco is greek for dragon.

Now, under Draco, the laws were written down and publicly displayed. One could be certain of what an offense was and its penalty. Uncertainty and ignorance were ended. Equality of enforcement was also achieved. So there was success, but not equity or justice, for monetary indebtedness to a social superior would become slavery, and many minor offenses were capital offenses. Degree and circumstance of offense and guilt were not to be considered. So, to-day, draconian is an adjective for ridiculously severe punishment; it is not tough but fair, it is stupid and cruel.

Now, at work, I have seen zero tolerance policies on not wearing hardhats. This is convenient for management. They create the situation where debate and justification for action is totally eliminated, and they posit it as just and fair on the lone premise—that it was made known to all. Yes, zero tolerance is zero thought. It is a tautology. And for a triviality, your job is gone; and you have no recourse. This gives management great power, and great intimidation.

Now, recently, it has come to the public awareness that a six year old boy, a very sweet looking child, Zachary Christie of Newark, Delaware, has become the subject of such a policy. He brought to school a swiss army combination knife, spoon, and fork to eat his meal. Children, especially boys, are fond of items, proud of their possession and proud of their use and display. The school system has labelled him an offender, for he brought a 'weapon' to school. There is a strict punishment for such willful behavior. Well, beyond a dickensian pathos, this story seems to be resolving with 'some' tolerance, because, and only because, the child's mother has brought the matter to the televised media, and authority looks really—petty and stupid; and management and authority never want this revealed to the world. If this story did not gain the public's eye, the boy might have gone the way of an unknown Oliver Twist.

Now, this does not occur in a vacuum. The police love to enforce zero tolerance for drunken driving and drug offenses and whatever they can get away with. They have been applauded, in some circles, for this. Schools and the workplace have done this. Where did this start? Though the term is only a few years old, we have had this building for more than a generation.

The 'moderate' Republican, Richard Nixon, ran on "law and order" against the bearded hippies and war protesters, and we got from him—crimes and misdemeanors, but I digress. Then under Reagan (the anti-Franklin Roosevelt) and his idolisers we get this, hardliner, no tolerance as a virtue. The authoritarians get to wield extreme vengeance unchecked, because draconian tyranny is 'good'.

So what defense do we have? The same the poor and the weak have always had—SOLIDARITYand the ability to mock with derision the idiocy and cruelty of power, because the devil does not tolerate being mocked. If we are not divided and silenced, then we have a chance for justice.
I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: "O Lord make my enemies ridiculous." And God granted it.Voltaire

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