We live in a society that at times seems to take great pains to produce the most idiotic and inane policies possible. In this era of nonsensical political correctness, where up is told it’s really down, and the word “is” has infinite meanings, one of the most confounding practices to be injected into our society (almost like some kind of illicit drug) is that of Zero Tolerance.

On the face of it, Zero Tolerance policies seem to make sense, especially in a society that is portrayed as increasingly dangerous and hostile. It is, in a sense, a natural backlash from a society that feels battered by crime and hatred. Kids going into schools and shooting up the place; little league coaches molesting children; gang bangers causing all kinds of havoc; we see these things and hear about them every day on the TV or in the papers and we want to protect ourselves. Zero Tolerance policies provide tough consequences for those who go beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior, hoping to reduce or eliminate those who would do so. Whether our communities are actually dangerous places or we want to prevent them from becoming so, Zero Tolerance policies look great on paper but actually provide a false sense of security while destroying the freedoms of ordinary people. The truth of the matter is not so much that Zero Tolerance policies can’t be effectively used, but rather we are using them against the wrong people.

Zero Tolerance policies are as much a part of our education system now as pencils and paper. But are they really making our schools safer for our children? Does expelling a kindergarten student for throwing a temper tantrum and throwing a crayon at the teacher make the rest of the kids safer? Was the child really a monster or just having a bad day? With Zero Tolerance we may not have a chance to find out since the first infraction results in expulsion. What about expelling a junior high school girl who brought a butter knife to school for the Home Economics class she was in, but instead of taking it right to the classroom like she was instructed, got sidetracked with some friends and discovered her mistake during the lunch break. Someone sees the knife in her backpack and next thing she knows, she’s being sent home indefinitely for carrying a concealed weapon. No matter the reason for the knife’s presence. With Zero Tolerance, no excuse is good enough. What about the high school sophomore who chooses to wear his “I Love Jesus” t-shirt to school? Do the children of atheist parents faint in his presence or go into convulsions? Does sending him home to change or face suspension really make the rest of the school safer? The problem with Zero Tolerance in our schools is that they lack any effort to use Common Sense and employ every effort to maintain a façade of impartiality and fairness, all the while destroying the academic careers of otherwise trouble-free kids for expressing an opinion that isn’t hate filled or inciting violence or for making an innocent mistake, which, by the way, is what growing up is all about. Rather than promoting a safe learning environment, these policies have only succeeded in making our schools more like the prisons we hope our children never visit as adults. Is this how we foster freedom and democracy in our children today?

Kids may be the most affected by the Zero Tolerance society, but adults encounter their fair share too. A classic example is our new and improved airport security policies. Aimed at giving the appearance of safety in aviation, the actual practices and enforcement of security policies are widely viewed as nonsensical, in large part because they seem to take every chance to avoid actually increasing security. At the security checkpoint, people are prohibited from carrying nail clippers, cigarette lighters, small letter openers, or other ordinary items beyond the metal detectors and x-ray machines. You can, however, have matchbooks or pilfer a butter knife from the lounge near your gate. Your shoes must be examined thoroughly, to ensure that they aren’t really bombs. But what if someone just started hitting someone else with his or her shoe really hard? Zero Tolerance would soon prohibit all shoes on flights. More extensive searches are made of old ladies walkers or infant carriers, especially those of Caucasian women despite the fact that the last people to hijack and use planes as weapons fit an entirely different profile.

And that is where the government applies it’s own version of Zero Tolerance. From a political perspective, Zero Tolerance policies are aimed not at reducing harmful behaviors, but at getting and keeping votes and power. Such policies include a ban on racial profiling in the case of suspected terrorism, a policy that completely disregards everything we know about the Islamic militant radicals who wish for an end of western civilization. This is not to say that all Middle Easterners are terrorists or that all terrorists are Middle Easterners, but at this point the preponderance of the evidence shows that focusing on these kinds of folks will likely yield higher safety quotients than harassing Granny at the subway station will. Politicians have also created an all-encompassing Zero Tolerance attitude with respect to opposing political parties and ideologies, following the example set for them by their religious or special interest or corporate benefactors. In this case, there can be little or no dissent within the ranks. Any disconnect between the party line results in censorship at best, marginalization or expulsion at worst. That’s hardly an inspiring atmosphere for national political discourse that affects all our lives. Nothing says freedom like stifling opposition opinions.

Strangely enough, that segment of society truly deserving of a Zero Tolerance policy is the one we seem to give Unlimited Tolerance to, namely the heinous criminals who murder our friends, rape our children, destroy our financial lives, and erode the public trust. To these people, society (through the politicians and PC idiots) has a seemingly unending supply of tolerance. It shows in the way we release them from prison early (or at all) despite their horrific crimes. It shows in the way juries defy all Common Sense and free obviously guilty people. It shows in the way that the courts toss out evidence that proves guilt or innocence because of insignificant technicalities. If ever a portion of society earned a reputation for needing a Zero Tolerance policy, it is the people who commit the worst acts on other people. Yet somehow, their behavior gets excused.

Zero Tolerance fails because it assumes that all people think the same, act the same, and are equally dangerous. It focuses only on the perceived infraction, establishing that an infraction actually occurred, and then proceeds directly to the harsh punishment attached to that act. It cares nothing for rational explanations or opportunities for learning and growth; it cares only about punishing and setting an example. It slowly drives away individuality and replaces it with a wariness of each other and an expectation of privacy invasion. Zero Tolerance is a forced trade off between the public and the government. We give up some autonomy and you give us security. Instead, we give up our ability to teach our kids and identify real problems for the mere appearance of security.

Perhaps most troubling of all though, is the fact that Zero Tolerance naturally embraces conformity and punishes individuality. This is a great benefit to the power brokers in the capitols across the country, but it spells doom for the average person. As we continue to indoctrinate our children and ourselves with the notion that Zero Tolerance is the only sure way to security, and as we perpetuate an environment of distrust, we will eventually become a parody of ourselves, screaming for freedom as we build walls around ourselves.