Two flavors of zero tolerance

My posts on Ahmed Mohamed and on filk con harassment policies are about two aspects of the same issue. I’m sure, though, that most people who favor zero tolerance for electronics projects wouldn’t support Con2bil8’s policy if they knew about it, and most people who want zero tolerance for making anyone uncomfortable are unhappy with how MacArthur High School and the Irving Police Department treated the student.Stop sign with 'zero tolerance'

There’s a big difference in degree between the two, certainly. Much as I’d hate being kicked out of a filk con because somebody didn’t like what I said, it wouldn’t be as bad as being arrested, handcuffed, and questioned while being denied my legal rights. But I’m talking about the idea of designing policies so anything that deviates from the norm can be punished.

The Dallas Morning News discusses Irving’s zero-tolerance policies. A spokeswoman for the Association of Texas Professional Educators says that “a lot of times teachers would rather be safe than sorry.” Words like “safety” and “abundance of caution” are tossed around a lot to justify draconian discipline for minor or imagined offenses. The assumption is that being safe requires punishing a lot of innocent people to make sure of getting all the guilty ones, and that the constant threat of arrest doesn’t constitute a diminution of safety.

Similarly, terms like “safe space” offer justification for the draconian speech policies which many progressives favor. It’s necessary at all cost to avoid “triggering” fits of panic. If that stifles open discussion, it’s just the price of safety. Con2bil8 decrees: “If anyone makes you feel uncomfortable … we will not find it acceptable.” Yet having to watch one’s every word doesn’t count as a reduction in safety.

In both cases we see the pretense of neutrality. “Zero tolerance” implies that everyone will be punished equally. If the Irving Independent School District really did that, they’d be running a regular shuttle bus to the police station for students bringing in unusual objects. While I think technophobia played at least as big a role as Islamophobia, it’s hard to believe that Ahmed’s brown skin and religion weren’t factors. Similarly, it’s impossible to believe that any concom would punish every claimed incident of discomfort and offense; if they did, they’d let any disgruntled individual ruin the con. At a filk con, people with unpopular social or political views would be the targets of zero tolerance.

When you support a principle, you support all its implications, whether you like them or not.

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