Affluenza is sweeping the nation

The case of the Texas teen who killed four pedestrians while drunk driving and got off with what amounts to a slap on the wrist has been making its way around the internet. The teen, whose blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit, received only 10 years probation and a mandatory stint at an expensive rehabilitation clinic after his defense successfully argued that he had ‘affluenza,’ a disease caused by, basically, being rich.

The term affluenza was coined in 2001 in the book “Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic.” It is defined as a disconnect from reality caused by being wealthy, and specifically a disconnect from the consequences of ones actions. It was argued that the defendant had been shielded by his parents wealth his whole life, and therefore was not able to accurately judge the consequences of his actions.

While growing up surrounded by the cushion of wealth undoubtedly significantly alters your perspective, extending it to a legitimate condition, and even worse a legitimate legal defense, is laughable, if not despicable. It is telling that while there was an outpouring of anger and disbelief after the conclusion of the trial, an argument for affluenza as a legitimate legal defense was nowhere to be found.

Accepting affluenza as more than social phenomenon and a real disease assumes a complete disregard for basic tenets of right and wrong. I find it extremely hard to believe that the Texas teen in this case thought that stealing two cases of beer from a store, drinking and then driving was perfectly acceptable, even if he was completely disconnected from the real world. He understood what he was doing, it was the consequences that he could not comprehend. Why not drink and drive if there are no consequences associated with it? It may be wrong, but hey, it’s not like it matters to me.

As has been stated many times before, legitimizing affluenza only perpetuates its symptoms. The defendant is now even more secure in his privilege, because the worst case scenario came to pass and he was able to rise easily above the legal system and receive a punishment less than that of an inner-city kid caught selling weed.

Further reading: Jessica Ann Mitchell portrays excellently the the inequality which the affluenza decision perpetuates.

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Mandela

After the passing of Nelson Mandela last week there was a rush, a competition even, to commemorate him in the most superlative way possible. Everyone from Barack Obama to Rush Limbaugh released a statement marking his passing. Mandela was ‘a great liberator,’ the ‘hero of the apartheid struggle,’ even ‘the first politician to be missed,’ according to The Onion.

Statements such as these are natural in the wake of death-its never correct to speak ill of the recently deceased. They also function as a kind of balm for our own sorrow. In remembering someone’s accomplishments we are able to celebrate all they accomplished. In the case of Mandela there was certainly much to celebrate.

But along with the praise and hyperbole there was a smaller yet necessary call to remember Mandela as the man he really was. Mandela did not always conform to U.S., and certainly to right-wing, views, as would be easy to believe from the tributes following his death. He embraced Fidel Castro and Muammar Gaddafi, denounced the U.S.’ labeling of bin Laden as a terrorist without due process and criticized the Iraq war.

Mandela was a freedom fighter and a passionate supporter of human rights his whole life. The United States has not always been so magnanimous. Racism and inequality still run rampant. Mandela was never shy of calling America on its failings-whether claiming brotherhood with Detroit auto workers or addressing the “cancer of racism” during a speech in New York City.

The push to remember Nelson Mandela as a constant and sometimes controversial revolutionary was much larger than for some other leaders, making its way into the headline sin some cases. Musa Okwonga wrote a particularly poignant essay on the need to brand Mandela as a virtuous hero stepping straight from a fairy tale to save humanity.

In the end, Mandela was a hero, but one of an altogether human variety. His views may have clashed with America’s, but the failing was ours and not his. He was guided by an unfailing sense of outrage at the inequalities which still exist and are even perpetuated by our unwillingness to acknowledge them. Mandela’s legacy should be that of a tireless activist and leader who was unafraid of condemnation and punishment; not an angel hovering above us, but a human working with us.