When Did We Become So Gutless?

Quiz:  Which is the wiser, more reasonable, and, ultimately, more effective decision-maker?  Manager A, who does his or her best to consider all the relevant facts—including any mitigating circumstances, messy as they may be?  Or Manager B, who adheres to a rigid “zero tolerance” policy?

I think most of us would say it’s the nimble-minded Manager A.  Not only is Manager A’s style best suited to the subtleties and ambiguities of a complicated world, but, in truth, we wouldn’t even need a live human being to do Manager B’s job, because a well-written computer program could do it equally well.  Just type in the relevant data, press “Enter,” and the machine would spit out the proper decision.

Yet, despite the obvious virtues of Manager A, we’ve somehow allowed ourselves to become a nation dominated by bosses who emulate the inflexible decision-making style of Manager B.  Consider the following.

  • A 73-year old man is told to leave the children’s book section of his local bookstore, after a customer apparently complained that he looked like a potential child molester.  So a store employee ordered him to leave.  As it turned out the man (a medical doctor) was in the store by himself, harmlessly shopping for books for his grandchildren.
    Sorry, sir, but we have a strict “zero-tolerance” policy against sex deviants lurking in the kids section.  What’s that?  You’re not a pervert?  Well,  we’re going to ask you leave anyway.  Better safe than sorry.
  • When an employee of a grocery store chain saw a male customer viciously beating a woman, he heroically came to the woman’s rescue, grabbing the man and wrestling him to the ground.  The employee was subsequently fired for his actions.  The reason he was fired was because the store had a strict “zero tolerance” policy against fighting.  Fortunately, the employee had a labor union to represent him, and it was the union, principally, who got his job back for him.
  • A woman track coach was removed from her position after accompanying a male student to the school prom.  The boy was 17 years old, the coach was 41.  Apparently, after someone at the dance complained, school officials sprang into action.  The facts:  This woman was the boy’s English teacher, and part of the deal was that he promised to study harder if she agreed to accompany him (he was depressed he couldn’t find a date, which was why she offered to go in the first place).  The woman had asked the boy’s dad for permission in advance, and he had no objections.  And while at the dance, the boy and his teacher mainly played foosball and ping-pong.  Still, “zero tolerance” dictated that she step down as volunteer coach.
  • A 6-year old boy, a first-grader, told a girl classmate at recess that he was “sexy.” A school yard monitor overheard the comment and reported it to a teacher, who reported it to an administrator, who took it upon himself to suspend the boy.  Reason?  The school had a strict “zero tolerance” policy against sexual harassment.
  • A fifth-grade boy brought his grandfather’s World War II knife to school for a show-and-tell.  The knife was sheathed, and the sheath was wrapped in a towel.  But when his teacher saw it, she told the principal, and the principal called the police because, when it came to “weapons on campus,” they had a strict “zero tolerance” policy.  Instead of the teacher confiscating the knife, contacting the parents and having them come to school to retrieve it (and being advised of its inappropriateness), they treated this case like another potential Virginia Tech.  Better safe than sorry, I guess.

A labor lawyer once told me there was a wide array of penalties for auto theft, depending on “how” the car was stolen.   For example, you got a stiffer penalty for breaking into a car and hot wiring it, than for seeing a car parked outside a convenience store with its engine running, jumping inside, and driving off with it.  That’s the wisdom of our legal system.  The law is applied in gradations.  Apparently, it’s only in the world of bureaucrats and petty tyrants that “zero tolerance” is king.

DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.   He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita