There is a serious affliction sweeping through our country. It's called affluenza.
Perhaps you heard of it last month, when it was used to defend Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old with rich parents who got drunk and plowed his dad's F-350 into a group of people, killing four and injuring nine. His attorneys and psychologist described his affluenza as a mental disability caused by growing up with wealthy parents and never having to suffer real consequences in life, which made him prone to very poor decision making. The judge seemed to agree with his diagnosis and let him off with probation and no jail time... for killing four people. He was sent to a rehab center that will use massage and horseback-riding therapy and yoga meditation to make him see the errors of his ways.
Now, before you dismiss affluenza as just some made-up buzzword, consider real-life examples of privileged people who are oblivious to the consequences of their actions, and therefore make terrible decisions. Our lawmakers in Raleigh, for example, seem to have a malignant case of the disease.
How else do you explain cutting SNAP benefits and Medicaid when almost 25 percent of children under 18 in North Carolina are living in poverty and desperately need access to food and healthcare? How do you explain ending extended unemployment relief when our state has one of the highest jobless rates in the country? How do you explain passing laws that are detrimental to our immediate environment, allowing things like fracking, relaxing restrictions on toxic coal ash dumping and outlawing the measurement of sea-level rise? What about cutting funding to struggling public schools and cutting teacher pay and tenure so that no decent educator in their right mind would actively seek a job in North Carolina? Or overhauling our entire state tax to give more breaks to wealthy people and big businesses who don't need them, while eliminating deductions the middle class, poor and small businesses count on?
Before I heard of affluenza, the most logical explanation I could muster was that our legislators were some of the most horrible people on Earth and took some sort of sadistic pleasure out of lowering the quality of life for North Carolinians. Now I realize that, bless their hearts, they may have a real disorder in which they are simply blind to reality outside of their consequence-free, rich-person bubble and it causes them to make terrible decisions.
Unafflicted people can look at the laws passed last year in Raleigh and see the disasters lying ahead on this road they're traveling: the cyclical poverty that will engulf our state, the poor education and lack of opportunities for our young people, the natural disasters and mass sickness caused by pollution that we can't get treated for because we can't afford health insurance.
But just like that 16-year-old boy in Texas, our governor and General Assembly won't see the consequences of their actions until they crash right into them and the damage is irreversible.
Affluenza explains why Gov. McCrory dismissed Moral Monday protestors as "outsiders" (sounds like outside agitators, doesn't it?) who had some sort of political agenda against him, instead of recognizing them for what they are — his constituents, trying desperately to let him know he's hurting them, trying to warn him of the consequences to come. It explains why House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius called all who oppose his destructive agenda "whining losers" in a recent interview with a national publication.
Because affluenza is often accompanied by a superiority complex and an extreme case of selective listening, you have to do more to cure this mental illness than simply protest its symptoms.
Some have suggested prison is the cure. In 18th century France, the cure was the guillotine. In the case of the Texas teen, it's apparently thought to be horseback riding. But alas, there really is no cure. The only way to defeat affluenza is prevention. You must kill it at its onset through education. You have to gain knowledge about ways of life other than your own. You have to walk a mile in the shoes of those who are less fortunate than yourself and learn important lessons about empathy. You have to understand we are all interconnected as a human race and our existence depends on the health of our species and the health of our planet, and you have to lose the mentality that money is more important than all of this.
Sadly, as the economic gap widens in our country, affluenza prevention is dropping in frequency.
While there may not be a cure for our current legislators, there is a way to stop the affluenza epidemic from wreaking any more havoc on our state. It's called the November election. It's finally 2014. Let's get all who suffer from affluenza the hell out of Raleigh.