spin cycle: affluenza

Blah blah, Spin Cycle, blah blah, people in the news say a lot crazy stuff and we’re here to help you cope, etc.

By now you’ve all heard about the teenager who killed four people while driving drunk and will not go to jail because he suffered from a severe case of “affluenza.” “Affluenza” is the term an expert witness used to describe being a teenager in a rich family who doesn’t believe his actions will have consequences.

The word (we use the word “word” loosely, just this once) sounds like a disgusting, sometimes deadly condition, so in that sense, it might be a good metaphor for drunk driving. But the psychologist who coined it was a witness for the defense. His defense of the teenager was, essentially, “This kid shouldn’t go to jail for killing four people because he thinks he can do anything he wants because he’s rich.”

The psychologist later said he hated to see any kid — rich or poor — go to kid jail. But the fact that his defense kept this particular kid out of jail tells us something important about courts and bias and the persuasive power of certain ideas.