The recent going on the lam and capture of Ethan Couch in Mexico have reignited the memories of the Affluenza defense. In 2013, Couch – who at the time was a teenager from an affluent family – stole beer from a convenience store, got drunk to the tune of three times the adult legal limit, and then joyrided his father’s F-350 pickup. The resultant crash killed four people.
His lawyers put together a defense wherein they argued that due to his wealthy upbringing he was unable to judge right and wrong or understand the consequences of his action. The lawyers argued that the kid didn’t belong in prison but rather in rehabilitation.
The lawyers were successful. The outcry was pretty extreme.
This, of course, brings to mind an issue of stereotyping. Rich kids feel entitled? I myself identify another issue, and can strip it down to a simple rule: Douchebags Come From All Segments of Society.
Psychopaths and Sociopaths Come from All Backgrounds
Research suggests that between 2 and 4 percent of all people are natural psychopaths. Couch’s lawyers argue that his parents, in a sense, made him into a sociopath. I’m no mental health professional, but I see in this kid some things that cause me some great alarm. Stealing beer. Stealing dad’s truck. Speeding drunk. All are indications boldness and lack of inhibition. And I have little doubt that he rather enjoyed this behavior, and it likely was not his first incident.
Simple: it’s not a matter of him not appreciating the consequences. It’s a matter of the consequences not entering into his mind. He wasn’t apparently a careful planner.
The issue is this: when viewing the coverage, there seems to be a great deal of emphasis on his activities being those of a spoiled brat rich kid. The narrative suggests that but for his wealth he would not have acted out this way. His wealth led to a sense of entitlement.
I hate to break it, but sense of entitlement is seen through every strata of society.
Group Identity as the Double-Edged Sword
It’s pretty much human nature, is it not? Us versus them mentality. Couch is someone who thinks he is better than others. But what do we see now? We see that he may be a member of the 1%. If we look at the current political climate, we also see that the 1% are finding themselves under attack from others.
As a people we tend to identify with groups into which we place ourselves. We find social categories. Indeed, anyone filling out a census or an employment application or a health questionnaire is asked to identify by age, sex, race, income, religion, etc. We tend to congregate into groups with which we share distinctive characteristics.
There is a theory called “Social Identity.” Central to this theory is the hypothesis that identification with one group will necessarily entail finding negative aspects of other groups with which one does not identify. The result of this negativity is that it enhances the self-esteem of members of the group.
Self esteem is generally a good thing. Who wants to identify as part of a group they see as bad? This does, however come at a cost. The cost is exaggeration and stereotyping.
Group Identities Necessarily Demean Other Groups
The first exaggerations are the negatives of the other groups. The wealthy may look at the poor and see a group of lazy, entitled do nothings who fail to take advantage of the opportunities available to them and live off of the hard earnings that are taken by taxes. The poor may look at the wealthy as lazy, entitled egotists who only made their money because the system is tilted in their favor and they broke rules to get where they are.
The second exaggeration is the difference between groups. One can look at an example of the Armed Services. The Army will compete with the Marines, for example. Differences will be pointed out. Navy fliers will call themselves “aviators” to differentiate themselves from the mere “pilots” who are in the Air Force. Army Officers demean the Air Force and Navy as being coddled. Marines think the Army is worse.
Group Identities Gloss Over Similarities with Other Groups
Back to the interservice rivalries. As much as the Army and Marines may compete, they both have fundamentally the same jobs. The wealthy and the poor are people who eat, sleep, get dressed, etc. They love their kids and want the best for them. And love their own more than they love others. This is nature.
Group Identities Exaggerate Similarities Within Groups
Police are a good example of this. Police do certainly have a stereotype of an “us versus them” mentality. One hears lore about police “code of silence” and about always having each others’ back on things. They are, after all, after the same thing. They all want to do their jobs and go home to their families. But police come from different backgrounds. From a different ethos. Differences arise in these departments that requires strong command authority to unify.
Groups would Rather Examine Failings of Other Groups than Their Own
Personal introspection is hard. Group introspection is even more difficult. The example of “black lives matter” comes to mind. Yes, the group itself had a point that police were frequently unfairly treating black men and women. This was responded to by the police groups as cop lives matter. The police themselves pointed to the failings of the black community in the sheer volume of black on black violence.
Is it easier to police to say that a bigger problem is the black community? Certainly it is, because it precludes introspection. Black lives matter has made it easier on themselves by pointing the finger elsewhere without looking within for problems.
So Why Is Crouch Different? He Isn’t.
Couch isn’t different. Psychopathy and sociopathy are found in all groups. They come in all races. In all creeds. And from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Douchebags can be found on bank boards and in ghetto streetcorners. They can be found in churches and in science labs. At universities and at unemployment lines. They identify as Democrats and Republicans.
So long as people focus their own identities as part of a group, conflicts will arise. One common thing is that introspection starts to lead to disenchantment with the group. Or, the group may kick a person out who doesn’t match it.
In any event, we must be zealous in our approach towards group identity. This rich kid is an douchebag. It does not follow that all rich kids are douchebags, as well. It does not follow that all cops are bad. All sociopaths are bad. Psychopaths are bad.
Maybe this Couch kid really had no choice. His mother took him to Mexico to flee judicial process, so I see a lot of potential validity that his entitlement was taught.
But still he is an douchebag. Look around. They are everywhere. The ones within are harder to spot than the ones without.