I just had the chance to rewatch an episode of Boston Public (s1e20) that I hadn't seen in years. The hour-long tv drama is set in a Boston Public school, and addresses a number of contemporary issues, usually through the viewpoint of the staff. This particular episode centered largely around a feeble student, Anthony, who was a social outcast that often faced verbal and physical abuse. To cut the story short, he is forced, againist his will and the advice of the Principal, to switch high schools, as he is deemed a threat. This was based on his vague statement of "you'll regret it" uttered to a girl who declined him a date, and a notebook found in a past episode listing the names of students he would like to kill.
Of course, context is important. The phrase uttered is too vague to tell anything. It could, as he suggests, mean that some day she will wish she'd not turned him down after he is rich and successful. The implication that it is threatening and violent is overly presumptuous. The superintendent reasons that the notebook makes that a threat. She ignores the fact that the it was relevant to a story he was writing, the writing was his way of coping with the unceasing abuse he recieved, and that he and neither the means nor the intention of ever physically harming another person.
Now, why do I bring this episode up? Well, I think that the reaction witnessed in it is reflective of a rarely disucssed, but nonetheless critically important, contemporary issue in this country. They talk about Columbine, but for our purposes 9/11 is the better turning point. Based on one event, strict policies get enforced. The rights of the individual become of no consequence, and no heed is paid to discovering the truth. Instead, rash decisions with lasting negative consequences get enacted, all under the guise of security, or the protection of the others. This type of thought it alarming because it ignores liberty, understanding, and justice. And because it is becoming increasingly widespread, we just react without thinking.
I can think in my own life of numerous occasions where this has played out. The best example was also in high school, albeit in a private one. I went to a pluralistic religious school, where Orthodox Jews, were in the extreme minority. Having been part of that minority at the time, and one of the even smaller subset willing and informed enough to explain/defend it, I often found myself in religious arguments. In one case, I found myself saying something along the lines of "The Reform standards are not in keeping with Jewish law. It is another heretical sect, for which there can be no redemption. Anybody who practices it and does not become a ba'al teshuva will be denied entry into Olam Ha'baah, and shall share the same fate as the goyim." Of course as an Atheist I now realize how stupid that was. But that statement, which made no threat to an individual, instead merely taking a controversial religious position that offended others, caused me to be called before the headmaster. Apparently, that statement and others like it left "several" people feeling threatened. They actually suggested that they were considering expelling me. It was only after much protest, parental involvement, and the threat of legal recourse that I was let be. I had done nothing wrong. But because I set off some bells by saying "radical" things, engaging in "anti-social behavior" (following Jewish law), and being part of a "fringe" minority (Orthodox students), my future was almost completely ruined. Would that have been fair?
Ultimately, this sort of shift, where such paranoia, overreaction, and irrationality rule are becoming far too common. This is very alarming with respect to the future prospects of this nation, and anywhere else where this tyrannical reality catches on.