People everywhere were shocked and outraged that the son of a Texas factory owner, Ethan Couch, was given probation after crashing his father’s truck into a group of people who had gathered off the highway to help a motorist. Couch, who was drunk, killed four and severely injured two others, one of whom is now paralyzed.
Outrage over the slap-on-the-wrist sentence is altogether proper, since thousands of poor youth, particularly African-American and Latino/a youth, must endure years of harsh jail time for minor property or drug crimes. Many face long periods in solitary confinement, which many national and international organizations have deemed to be torture.
But what made the Couch case even more outrageous is that the judge agreed with the contention of the defense lawyer’s psychologist that Couch suffered from “affluenza” — a supposed mental illness that stems from his family’s wealth. Couch, Dr. G. Dick Miller asserted, “was a product of too much privilege and had never been reprimanded for his actions and therefore was not responsible for his actions.” (abcnews.go.com)
Of course, “affluenza” has never been deemed a valid mental illness diagnosis. But it is an apt description of the mentality of the billionaire class that stands at the pinnacle of the capitalist system. Arising from a social system based on the global oppression and exploitation of millions of workers around the world, these arrogant masters of wealth and finance abide by no legal or moral boundaries in their mad quest for more profits.
“Affluenza” is a peculiar “illness” — those who are infected are not its victims.
Its victims are the thousands of Detroit retirees and workers who are finding their futures shattered to pay even more to wealthy bankers who had already robbed their whole community.
Its victims are the millions who have lost their jobs and their homes over the last six years and have yet to find new ones.
Its victims are the millions who are paid starvation wages while creating huge profits for the likes of McDonald’s and Walmart.
Its victims are the thousands of oppressed youth gunned down by racist cops and vigilantes, and the millions more locked up in prisons because those at the top see them only as a threat to their vast wealth.
“Affluenza” may be a new word, but its meaning was explained long ago. In their 1848 pamphlet, “The Communist Manifesto,” Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote:
“Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man’s ideas, views and conceptions, in one word, man’s consciousness, changes with every change in the condition of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life?
“What else does the history of ideas prove, than that intellectual production changes its character in proportion as material production is changed? The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.”
Yes, the workers and oppressed are the victims of this “affluenza” mentality, as well as victims of the economic and social system that sustains it: capitalism and imperialism. But they are not helpless victims. New ideas of organization, resistance and struggle are constantly springing up, ready to be sustained by a new socialist system that will put “affluenza” and capitalism in the trash bin, where they belong.