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January 26, 2015

Affluenza nation


January 26, 2015


Out of my head
Ours is a country where injustice and inequality abound. A different justice system prevails for the rich and a different one for the poor. Not telling you anything new here. But don’t blame the privileged and the powers-that-be – the people that the system is geared to favour and who in turn perpetuate the system. It’s not their fault. They are but the victims of the dreaded disease known as affluenza.
On June 15, 2013 sixteen-year-old American Ethan Couch, son of wealthy parents, stole two cases of beer from a Walmart store and drove off at more than 70 miles per hour in a 40MPH zone in his father’s Ford F-350 pick-up truck. He had seven of his friends with him. About an hour later, Couch lost control of his vehicle and ploughed the truck into a group of people off a rural road near Fort Worth, Texas. Breanna Mitchell’s car had stalled and she was being helped by nearby residents Hollie Boyles and her daughter Shelby and passing motorist Brian Jennings.
Couch’s truck first rammed into Mitchell’s car and then into Brian Jennings’ car, sending it into the path of an oncoming Volkswagen Beetle. Couch’s truck then flipped over before hitting a tree. Breanna Mitchell, Hollie Boyles, Shelby Boyles and Brian Jennings were all killed. Couch and seven fellow teens survived. However, two of Couch’s passengers were badly injured. One was paralysed, losing the ability to speak and the other suffered broken bones and internal injuries. Couch was found to have a blood-alcohol content three times the legal limit for adult drivers and also tested positive for Valium.
Ethan Couch received no jail time for his crime, despite admitting to four counts of intoxication manslaughter. Instead of imprisonment, Ethan Couch was ‘sentenced’ to a long-term, in-patient facility for therapy and rehabilitation. His expensive team of lawyers, with the help of a psychologist called in as an expert witness, had managed to successfully mount a

defence around the concept of ‘affluenza’ – the inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of financial privilege.
We are also a nation and society afflicted with affluenza. Take the Shahrukh Jatoi case as just one example. We all know what happened there. Jatoi and his three fellow murderers – Nawab Siraj Talpur, Nawab Sajjad Talpur and Ghulam Murtaza Lashari – all ultimately were allowed to go scot-free, able to buy their way to liberty, despite being found guilty of the killing of Shahzeb Khan. And it wasn’t just the vagaries of the legal system but the sight of Shahrukh Jatoi’s permanent grin and two-fingered V sign which reflected his lack of remorse that galled us. But we had it all wrong.
The Victory sign clearly exposed him as a ‘victim’ of affluenza – his privileged position in society had made it unable for him to recognise the consequences of his actions or to distinguish between right and wrong. Poor Shahrukh. Just like Ethan Couch, it wasn’t his fault.
So we’ve had it all wrong. It isn’t the fault of our feudal lords. It is not the fault of Nawaz Sharif. It is not the fault of Asif Zardari. It is not the fault of Imran Khan. It is not the fault of our khaki masters. It is not the fault of our senior bureaucrats. It is not the fault of our rich. None of them are to blame. They are the victims and not the perpetrators. They deserve our sympathy and not our condemnation.
Blame it all on affluenza.
There is another virulent strain of affluenza and from which we all – not just the rich and the powerful – suffer from to one degree or another. This is the “painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” British psychologist Oliver James defines affluenza as “placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame.” We are obsessed with wealth and materialism but this has not made us any happier.
A few years ago, I was at a dinner with a group of friends and colleagues and the subject of wealth and the net worth of a few people we knew came up. Envy was the most prominent emotion on display. I asked whether there was any point to this endless pursuit of more to keep up with the Jones or the Jamsheds. Unless we were Warren Buffet or Bill Gates there would always be somebody who would have more money than us.
We had all done reasonably well in our lives and, practically speaking, that there wasn’t that much better we could live in terms of clothes, food, travel, housing and so on. Yes, we could have more but where was the point where we said enough. The people present either looked at me as if I was some sort of alien or with pity in their eyes for my naiveté.
But this never-ending quest for more and more without regard for consequences or for others and the future and future generations will ultimately destroy us all. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
Affluenza has swept the nation and robbed us of our souls.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @KhusroMumtaz




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