Refusing to Tolerate the Intolerable

by Benjamin Kuipers

I would like to see someone write an essay contrasting the refusal to tolerate the intolerable (as we should do with pedophilia) versus the popular notion of "zero tolerance".

"Zero tolerance", as it is put into practice, means substituting formal rules for human judgment, and has led to absurd situations such as students being expelled from school for giving a friend a Tylenol, or sharing an inhaler with another student having an asthma attack, or helping a grandmother move and ending up at school with a kitchen knife in the bed of a pickup truck. Or even a kindergarten boy stealing a kiss from a kindergarten girl in the playground.

These make the news because the sensible, adult authorities in the situation have been robbed of their ability to apply adult judgment to the situation by "zero tolerance" rules.

Pedophilia is genuinely intolerable, and neither the act nor a cover-up should be tolerated. The answer is to set high standards for human judgment, not to try to replace judgment with formulas, which can only fail and lead to absurdities like the ones above, or even worse.

I hope you have among your contributors someone with the appropriate background, and familiarity with the relevant literature, to address this in more depth than I can.

First version written 5/9/2002, as a letter to an editor, responding to the Catholic priests' scandal (which is intolerable), and the call by some activists for "zero tolerance" rules.