Monday, April 2, 2012
Zero Tolerance Equals Intolerance
As usual, I'm really pissed off about an issue concerning our nation's hysterical descent into its new zero intolerance policies. Last night, on Dateline NBC (a program for which I have mostly no admiration), I watched dumbfoundedly as the story of a teenage girl in Massachusetts who had committed suicide was dissected.
The girl was in high school and had made a bunch of enemies of her fellow students, and they mercilessly tormented her with verbal abuses, and then she hanged herself with a scarf her little sister had given her. Sad. Not sarcastic sad, but truly fucking sad.
But then it turned from being a sad story to a story about prosecutorial vengeance. The school administration, allegedly being fully aware of the bullying, did little or nothing to stop it. But as outrageous as the behavior of the students and the school's administration was, somehow the tragic situation got shoved into the court system. Because America doesn't just have to try to deter bullying in schools; it now, mystifyingly, has to try to imprison kids for not liking each other.
I, like any normal person (although I totally admit I am not normal by most definitions of the word), object to bullying. It's stupid. If you don't care for someone, either ignore them and go about your own business or start a vicious, mutually unprofitable conflagration. But when stupid people verbally insult other people, it is definitely not a matter for the courts -- civil or otherwise. Physical insults or injuries are another story. But the bullies in the story weren't really guilty of physically assaulting the girl (one girl had thrown an empty soda can at her, allegedly, which doesn't quite fall into the category of physical assault unless one considers shooting a spitball at the back of someone's head to be attempted murder).
America likes to take things way too far. "Zero Tolerance" is the popular name for overreacting to every fucking thing under the sun to make ourselves feel superior. It's a terrible and destructive policy -- one that doesn't take into account the complexities involved in human interactions.
People are not perfect. Zero Tolerance tries to tell people that they are required, by law, to be perfect. That's why Zero Tolerance is an intolerant policy. It is intolerant of the human condition, just as much a bully as those kids were. Probably more so.
Hopefully the day will come when America decides every issue is not black or white. There are shades of gray in most things, and stories in the press that have apparent certainties are chimeras, illusions. We are neither ghosts nor angels nor devils. Our flesh and minds are not made from geometrically perfect starting material, and our flesh and minds will never be made into perfect material. We are not programmable machines, where society can turn an individual's screw and correct them. Zero Tolerance is a fad that will hopefully be short-lived. If not, we're all gonna have a hell of a lot of fucking explaining to do whenever we're caught farting sideways.