Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is a tourist destination for the super-rich. It is anything but a secluded, quiet getaway.
Tonya Couch and her son Ethan running to Puerto Vallarta to hide sounds like a satire. But the laugh-a-minute script is all too real. And it isn’t funny.
In 2013, then 16-year-old Ethan Couch got drunk in Fort Worth, Texas, and he drove his Ford F-350 pickup truck into a group of people. He killed four and critically injured two more.
The prosecutor asked for 20 years in prison.
But Couch was sentenced instead to 10 years probation. He was also sent to a therapy center. The therapy was because the judge ruled that young Couch was not responsible for his actions. He was declared a victim of what a psychologist called in as an expert witness called “affluenza”: Because of his parents’ affluence, he never had to face any consequences for his actions. So he didn’t know right from wrong.
The disease known as affluenza has nothing to do with bacteria or a virus. It is communicated by a contagious atmosphere of acquisitiveness — the desire to have it all.
The authors of a book on this subject define it as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”
With the verdict in the Couch trial, the definition of affluenza was extended to a virtual disability, rendering the afflicted incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions because of financial privilege.
They used to call gout “the rich man’s disease” because the buildup of uric acid in the system was associated with a rich diet. But ailments of the affluent have moved from the toes to the head.
A psychiatrist who treated the maladies of his over-privileged and underdisciplined patients coined the term “dysgradia” — a failure to identify with role models and internalize values. The children of the rich lack any connection between what they do and what they get.
As of this writing, lawyers for Ethan Couch created yet another disconnect between his actions and any consequences. After he violated probation and ran to Puerto Vallarta, they won a delay in his deportation based on a constitutional appeal in Mexico that could take weeks.
Dr. Dale Archer, a psychiatrist writing in Forbes (a certified capitalist publication), said that there is nothing really new in the malaise of affluenza.
“Economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen introduced the term ‘conspicuous consumption’ in the 19th century to explain the behavior of the newly wealthy social class that emerged during the second industrial revolution in the late 1800s. Veblen applied this term to what he called the nouveau riche — families who spent their accumulated wealth in ostentatious ways to show off their newfound prestige and power.”
Archer pointed out that today there is something new, though. In the 19th century, conspicuous consumption was limited to what Veblen called “the leisure class,” or the upper crust of a society stratified by wealth and social class. “But the behavior, just like a virus, has spread from there to the population at large.”
Today, the media have democratized dollar-dementia and done away with haves and have-nots.
A have-not is a have-not-yet. If your friend has a smartphone, your phone cannot be any less intelligent. And if your child’s friend wears designer boots, surely your child cannot be expected to have freezing toes.
Never mind that there are already 100 pairs of shoes and boots in the closet.
And then, how will the boots look with that old coat?
If something can be had, it must be had.
The late Marshall McLuhan said, “Money is the poor man’s credit card.” With the pervasive proliferation of plastic, today everybody has the right to be poor… while living rich.
Dump that old jalopy. For only hundreds of dollar a month you can drive yourself to the poorhouse in luxury. It’s the lease you can do.
Again, it’s not a new problem. Harav Simchah Bunim of Peshischa — the Rebbe Reb Bunim, zy”a, said: “If someone wants to be saved from desire, all he needs to do is look at the face of someone who has everything. And he will definitely be repulsed by it.”
Today all we need to look at is a mirror.