Affluenza Indeed

The macro-level logic of the affluenza defense claims that if something outside of the defendant stunted their moral development, something they didn’t choose, something beyond their control, then they are not longer responsible for the poor moral choices they make.  Heck, they’re practically a victim.

While many of us roll our eyes in disgust at this argument, when it was employed for a rich teen, the fact of the matter is it worked.

Yet, take a poor person, like a teen raised by a single, always-working, mom because dad was caught in the cross hairs of gang violence.  For lack of money, lack of opportunity, and lack of hope, they follow the path that every adult around them is also on.  Their circumstances (and I mean that in the most complex sense of the word) stunt their moral development.  Our culture would never, not ever, accept that they might be a victim.

But really, since none of us choose to be born into our situation, to at least a small degree, isn’t there such a thing as a victim of poverty?

Somebody please tell me why we think a child or teen in a materially impoverished environment should (and can) learn to navigate their way out by using ‘personal responsibility’, bootstrapping, and rugged individualism but a child or teen in a materially wealthy environment is basically told that they are allowed to be morally impoverished.

Tell me why we accept that the rich don’t have to be good if they don’t want to and the poor have to be extra good just to merit our compassion.

Tell me why we only want to help the materially poor that we believe are morally worthy.

3 thoughts on “Affluenza Indeed

  1. Meredith, the ideology you wrote about and the questions you posed are evading the ingrained ideology we practice. And while I cringe at the obvious ideas you write about, I think we as Christians do this in spite of what we are taught to do as followers of Christ…Further questions: How do we act when someone “outside our comfort place” (race, creed, etc.) enters OUR place of worship? (After all it IS our place, you know.) It is not only a social issue for all humanity, but especially an issue for those of us who call ourselves Christ followers. I am surprised daily by the silence of “us” and ask myself frequently, “What would Jesus Do?” Lately, my question leads me to “What does God want ME to do?” Tough questions. Affluenza is the new “beat the system” taking over Hollywood’s and government’s known.

  2. Great question that needs to be asked every single day. My answer, laced with some sarcasm:

    Because we value people by their material possessions. (Not my original idea, check out the Story of Stuff.) If you are wealthy, you have somehow contributed to our consumerist system and are therefore valuable. Poor people have likely only drained the system of resources, without contributing much to it. If someone fails in that way, by being in poverty, we have to find another measurement scale since we dare not admit that we value people for what they possess. We must find another way to measure their worthiness since we claim to value all humans. Thus, we jump to morality. If they’re poor AND immoral? Well what good are they? That’s the mentality.

    Think about how we talk about kids in the ghetto, “They have so much potential. They need to go to college and get good jobs to get out of here.” Those are good things but do we teach them that they’re valuable if they never do those things? No, because they’re not giving into the American value system we measure everyone by.

    Don’t get me started on if a poor person is black or Latino and doesn’t act the way that “proper” folks expect.

    For context, is the rich white teen Justin Bieber or someone else?

    • What a great point, especially the way we talk about the ‘way out’. It’s often about reaching a status in a material based system, for sure.

      In this case, I was thinking of the Ethan Couch trial, and Beiber was not on my mind. Bu he is an interesting case study on all this as well.

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