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Happy New Year, Affluenza Sufferers

U.S. Marshals Offering Bounty On Ethan Couch, Missing ‘Affluenza’ Teen

As the old year crawled to an end, we all received a respite from boring campaign news by a reprise of the "affluenza" story.

To review: lawyers for Ethan Couch maintain that his parents spoiled him so thoroughly that he cannot tell right from wrong, that is, he is insane. They lost on that point, and he was convicted of drunk driving that resulted in the death of four people. BUT the sentencing judge seems to have concluded that there was a mitigating factor there, because he suspended the sentence of imprisonment. Maybe the judge simply wanted to reward the creation of a clever portmanteau.

Anyway, Couch never spent a day in lock up over those four deaths, although as a convicted felon he was required to check in regularly with his probation officer, and to give up alcohol.

Apparently, upon the surfacing of a video suggesting that he was violating the latter condition, he violated the former. He has disappeared.

So, in two sentences:

1) Couch was thought to have been a victim of moral spoilage because he had been coddled through his life so,
2) the legal system became complicit in the continued coddling.

The remarkable thing about the Couch case is that everybody seems to be on the same side. I haven' yet encountered anyone who defends the "affluenza" legal argument. BUT....

People still see it through their own ideological glasses:

if you are of the left, you'll see Couch as the beneficiary of white man/upper class privilege;
If you are of the right, you'll see the case as one of moral decay brought on by relativism, a permissive culture, etc.

And of course if you're an anarchist, you might make the observation that punishing the Couch's of the world, and deterring future Couch's, is one of the few core functions of the State  that almost every non-anarchist agrees on, that is, that this is a dramatic failure at the core of the myth of sovereignty.



  1. Christopher,

    I don't understand the anarchist position. Couch was punished, if minimally, and we do not know whether the punishment was sufficient to have deterred him or others from driving while drunk. But let's assume for the sake of argument that the punishment was a dramatic failure as a deterrent. How was it, however, a dramatic failure at the core of the myth of sovereignty? What does it have to do with whether sovereignty is a myth?

    You don't mention that, in the United States, the problem for most people who are convicted of a crime is the opposite of what happened to Couch; for most people, punishments are far too harsh. Does that too show a dramatic failure at the core of the myth of sovereignty? If so, how so?

    Happy New Year!

  2. The "core" language I used refers to the regular "minimalist" argument. People often say, "I'm against government, except as a small nightwatchman. We need the state for that." So the Couch case sheds dramatic light on the core role of the state, the role that people who have become mostly discontented with leading ideas about legitimacy are least willing to shed.

    Yes, I agree that an excess of punishment is a more common failing that a paucity. I'm reminded of Aristotle's idea of a "golden mean." Every activity requiring virtue can go wrong in either of two ways.

    The less common of those two ways, the glaring error through leniency in situations requiring justice, is the more dramatic challenge though. If we're going to keep a state around specifically because we think we need a nightwatchman, we may just respond to a nightwatchman who dozes away on his watch with a shrug of the shoulders and a final abandonment of the idea.


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