Many of the world’s greatest horrors have occurred because some group or visionary was aiming for perfection. No ideological side has a monopoly on this. This is not a left or right, religious or secular ideology thing. We have had the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution’s Terror, the Holodomor, the famine due to forced collectivisation in Ukraine, the cultural revolution in China, the killing fields in Cambodia, the horrors of the Taliban and Islamic State. All had their share of horror, all were aiming for a perfect society with no deviation from the ideal allowed.
There is a tendency, especially in the USA but spilling over into culturally related countries, to aim for ‘zero tolerance’ of certain evils. Sexual harassment, spousal or child abuse, bullying and offensive language for example. Guess what. It won’t work. Life happens in shades of grey, not in clear contrasts of black and white.
Now please do not mistake this for endorsement of sexual harassment, domestic violence, bullying, racial slurs or other evils. I am against them, OK? Sadly it looks like we have to spell such things out these days. Critiquing the excesses of a thing is not the same as critiquing the thing.
My objection is to policies of zero tolerance. When the slightest infraction is pounced upon by overzealous enforcers of an ideal an old tyranny is being replaced by a new one. Repeat: Scale has to be taken into account. A mild summer breeze and a devastating hurricane are both wind.
Are they the same? Careful with that continuum argument.
The area of child rearing for instance is rife with dilemmas. Poor North American parents!
Somehow they are expected to protect their children from all possible harm, emotional or physical and deal with conflicting advice from an army of experts with or without credentials. Somehow Western culture went from “spare the rod and spoil the child” and “children must be seen but not heard” to worrying the tender little psyches will shatter if they ever hear the word NO, or have to concede that competitions have both losers and winners.
In some cases child protective services get called in when children are allowed a level of freedom that was normal not long ago. There is no consensus, no proverbial village.
When a tragedy occurs, as is inevitable in the human condition, the finger pointing starts.
People don’t like to admit that life is precarious and we are not in control. They like to believe that the tragedy that befell the neighbour could not possibly happen to them, because they themselves would never ....whatever. When our firstborn died the day after birth of a congenital malformation our hippie friends were eager to blame my modest intake of coffee, a substance they avoided. Meanwhile the glowing beauty of someone’s toddler was credited to the fact he had been conceived on acid. I kid you not.
Then there is the realm of politics. Somehow we expect the Powers That Be to keep us safe from zealots and madmen, yet not infringe on our privacy. We expect a social safety net but hate to pay taxes. We expect safety standards for food, water and construction but get frustrated by red tape. In all these areas finding balance is key.
Anyway, getting it 100% right is not an option.
But here is what we can do: we can decide in which direction to make our mistakes.
I resolve to make my mistakes in the direction of openness over closeness, love over discipline, individual freedom over the obsessive search for safety, and free expression over ever shifting notions of political correctness.