Thursday, December 7, 2017

Zero Tolerance

I'm testing out, here, a new-for-me perspective. I reserve the right to walk it back if I decide it's overstated. But the more I think about it, the more gears clink into place, leaving me increasingly confident that this counterintuitive view is correct.


If you've ever advocated for a "zero tolerance" policy, you are not moderate. You are an extremist, lacking the essential human quality of restraint. And if you'd insist that there's no shame in being an extremist for What's Right, I'd remind you that every extremist who's ever lived has deemed themselves precisely that.

Restraint should not be optional. Restraint doesn't imply sympathy for bad deeds, nor for the doers. Restraint doesn't equate with weakness. Restraint is an essential faculty exercised by modern, civilized people even when (particularly when!) they're feeling scared, disgusted, or outraged. To eschew restraint is to be un-modern, uncivilized, and extreme. Staunchly unwavering conviction is not, it turns out, our best look.

Terrorists are awful. Do they deserve restraint, or shall we torture them freely? What? You oppose torture as a matter of principle? Swell! So: is that restraint an expression of weakness? Does it make you a terrorist sympathizer?

If you favor principled restraint in some realms and zero tolerance in others, you should take time to resolve this contradiction (it's a doozy; don't expect it to budge quickly). Try applying principled restraint to your pet outrages and loathings. Consider the proposition that Louis CK, for example, with his icky - but consensual - sex stuff might deserve human consideration just as you might insist on for a jihadist mass-murderer (I realize this is a dangerously bold assertion at this touchy cultural moment).


After mulling over the ramifications of mob craziness recently witnessed in several realms, I've decided I have a zero tolerance policy toward zero tolerance policies. Those who advocate them, ironically, are the same folks who preach the virtues of tolerance. We ensure a tolerant society via zero tolerance. It's the ultimate deranged endgame of The Tolerance Paradox. We have arrived.

Both feel seductively soothing to our animal brains, but nothing good comes from nationalism nor from zero tolerance. The sooner we can recognize these idealogical dead ends and move on, the better.

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