I do not mean to compare the actions of a teenager to those of a centuries old dragon who essentially committed genocide. Or do I? In a way, maybe I do.
Let’s put on our imagination caps for a moment. Imagine you’re a great dragon growing up in middle earth, doing all those dragony things that dragons do when they’re young. Burning down villages, stealing gold and jewels, eating dwarves and humans, causing a ruckus and whatnot. Now imagine that, as a dragon, there is, in all likelihood, no one in any way capable of standing up to you. There are, in effect, no negative consequences for your actions. We assume that dragons have no intrinsic sense of justice here. Indeed, there is only positive reinforcements for all your dickery. Lots of loot, people grovelling, making offerings so you won’t burn the town down and such. And then, what? Centuries go by. Eventually, you hoard all your gold in a mountain and go to sleep for a while until a murderous little halfling comes by and bests you. Oh, the indignity.
Centuries unopposed. Done in by a fat, hairy-footed burglar. At least, that’s how it might appear to Smaug.
Let’s spin this out a bit more, since that’s what we do here. I propose to you dear, readers, that, in the case of Ethan Couch the the right thing happened.
You heard me. Justice was, in fact, served. Well, I might have made some minor tweaks to his punishment, but, all in all, I do not think that punishment was too light.
I know what you’re thinking. In fact, it seems like most of the internet is eager for blood on this one. They want to see the boy strung up by his toes, flayed alive, perhaps even executed. At the very least, they want to send a 16-year-old boy to prison. This, I think, would be a fantastic miscarriage of justice. And I’ll tell you why.
He’s sixteen years old. That’s it. He’s a kid.
I don’t give two shits if he’s rich or poor. He’s a kid. I am well aware of the fact that this same judge sent a 17 year old to grown-up prison for manslaughter. It just so happens that this kid was black and poor and not rich. And that was, in fact, a miscarriage of justice. That was wrong. That kid was also just a kid. That kid should also have been sentenced to probation and sent to a cushy treatment facility on the taxpayer’s dime (since it seems unlikely that he would have been able to afford their program on his own).
You see, Couch doesn’t suffer from “affluenza”. That’s a goddamned made-up word. That’s a bunch of gold-plated bullshit. It’s very clever bullshit, but it’s just utter nonsense. He suffers from being 16 years old. I’m a substitute teacher and you know what I’ve found out about 16-year-olds? They are idiots. Most of the time, they are benign idiots just discovering what it’s like to try on different personas, just starting to have opinions about stuff, but for the most part have not actually accrued anything resembling real world knowledge. I posit that no 16-year-old truly understands the consequences of his/her actions.
I sometimes find myself wondering, while talking to some idiot 16-year-old, “How can you be such an idiot?” but I have to remind myself that every generation is a bunch of new idiots. And every generation has to learn all the lessons I learned the hard way. No generation of kids is ever going to learn just by you telling them what’s what. They don’t care what you think and won’t until well after they learn the hard way. They are going to screw up and do completely stupid, moronic, possibly downright offensive stuff. Some of them will learn. And some of them won’t. But all of them are still figuring this stuff out.
Now, to be honest, I would not have sent the kid to some posh resort with horseback riding and yoga. I would have sent him to a hippie commune with farming and yoga. That kid would spend every summer vacation until college growing his own food without a car or a credit card. He would be put in a position to learn what it is to work. And he would be a better person for it. Maybe. I also would have done the same thing with the poor black kid who ended up in prison.
But there’s a problem with this. The American justice system is not built on these principles. In fact, this sort of punishment would not serve the actual function of the American criminal justice system. What is that function you ask? It’s to maintain a hierarchical society. Couch didn’t go to prison because he’s rich. He did the same idiotic thing that the poor kid did, but because he’s rich, he didn’t go to prison. I don’t even think the judge was bribed (though I did, I admit, initially knee-jerk in that direction). I don’t think the judge needed to be bribed. Maybe he even saw a bit of himself in the boy. He saw someone of his own class (because you don’t get to be a judge without being affluent yourself).
The fact that practically the entire internet thinks this kid should be in prison like the poor black kid speaks volumes about our blood-lust society. Everyone is saying, “He should be treated as badly as me.” No one is saying, “I should be treated as well as he.” Everyone wants to drag others down. No one wants to elevate anyone.
I have a radical theory that the truly morally correct way to reduce recidivism in youth crime is to take that gang member or rich drunkard and separate them from their peer group, isolate them in a safe, comfortable place like a farm, or research station, or poor village in Africa. They will grow vegetables, help do science, or pass out food and medical aid. That is how you fix the problem. It even pads the resume rather than blemishing it.
If a person is an adult and robs a convenience store, should you put him in jail? No. You should give him an interest free loan to go to school, learn a trade, start a business, or whatever, until that person can pay back the person that he wronged. That’s how you handle crime.
But, you say, won’t that encourage crime? I don’t think it would. Poor people, by and large, commit the most crimes (excepting the mass atrocities committed by world governments or corporations). If you elevate those people, rather than send them to prison, they will stop committing crimes. Most crimes are committed out of desperation, not out of evilness. Even murders are often acts of desperate people.
The problem is that we, as a country and civilization, are more interested in punishing and degrading than we are in understanding and elevating. And it isn’t working. The statistics support this.
Couch got what was coming to him. I just want to see everyone get the same kind of punishment.
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
? Nelson Mandela