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Zero Tolerance


You might sometimes hear authority figures talk in very grave terms of ZERO TOLERANCE. Usually it is that they, or the authority which they represent, have a POLICY OF ZERO TOLERANCE about a particular issue. This is very scary and may fool a lot of gullible people into thinking it actually means something to be thought well of. Well it's NOT! It's not big, or clever, or sensible, or in some cases not even effective at tackling whatever matter is in question. This fact is often glossed-over and you are expected to just believe whatever the authoritarian is dictating at you, rather than thinking about the issues for yourself. So let's carefully examine what ZERO TOLERANCE actually is, then think about it, and then decide for yourself whether it's as clever as it's made out to be.

Zero Tolerance is a characteristic of a policy where it is enforced absolutely rigidly with no consideration for any reasonableness. In the case of a rule or law, it is applied to anyone who infringes it in any way whatsoever even to the slightest degree. It also infers that severe cases are dealt with to only the same extent as minor cases.

Just for the sake of an example, let's take under-age drinking. Well, obviously you don't want your five year olds boozing all night and getting in a drunken brawl at the local bear-baiting club, but that's not what zero tolerance is about. In fact zero tolerance is in relative terms "soft" on that sort of thing. It is the other end of the market that zero tolerance is about.

So, if it's someone's (critical age) birthday and they are having a glass of wine to celebrate, then if it's before the appointed hour where they are under-age/of-age, the zero tolerance police may lurk outside and then RAID the place and arrest all concerned. Or, if it's just after that time, the police may ask each other the time and then walk away in that characteristic style on the beat and tackle some actual crime instead!

And, in the world of zero-tolerance, survivors of a shipwreck marooned on a desert island with only a barrel of beer to sustain them while they wait for rescue, are expected by the commandment to allow children among their number to die of thirst rather than drink beer.

Yes, well, ok it's stupid. But that's what zero tolerance IS! It's inflexible and pedantic, unrealistic and uncaring. So, next time you hear some important-looking person pontificating about ZERO TOLERANCE, remember that it's not good, and points to a fundamentalist or extremist way of thinking.

What I'm advocating instead of Zero Tolerance is REASONABLENESS, which is a matter of making sensible well-balanced judgements appropriate to the circumstances. This has the advantage of flexibility, and as well as being able to excuse minor misdemeanour and save time and resources, also allows for the possibility of being tougher on severe problems where it really matters. Reasonableness also allows for evolution of a system so as to become more appropriate. It also takes account of the actual world and the ways things happen, rather than just sticking to rules that are inappropriate.


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