Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The "Affluenza" Defense

Does anyone remember the 1978 shootings of SF Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk?  In a controversial verdict, Dan White was convicted of manslaughter (not murder) due to what became known as the “Twinkie” defense. His lawyer convinced a jury that he suffered diminished capacity by depression that was worsened by eating too much sugar, including Twinkies.

Last month, a 16-year-old boy from Texas who killed a family of four in a drunken car crash, was convicted of manslaughter, but got no jail time—probation only—due to the expert witness of a psychologist who persuaded a jury that the boy, from a wealthy family, had a feeling of privilege, called “affluenza,” which diminished his capacity for judgment, and was deserving of a lighter sentence.

Perhaps the precursor to this “I-can't-be-blamed; I-have-a-disorder” cop out was the 1970's expression made famous by Flip Wilson, “The devil made me do it.” As a psychologist, I know there are legitimate disorders, but this “blame-it-on-someone-else” excuse is as old as Adam’s “she-gave-it-to-me” defense in the Garden. Might this be one way the spirit of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:6-7) is manifesting itself today?


  1. Good morning Greg,
    Thoughtful post. Thank you. I think you draw a good connection between the victim mentality (I am not responsible) and lawlessness (I am not accountable). Though victims do not get to choose how they are victimized, they do get to choose what the resulatant mentality and actions will be. If the choice is to assume the identity of a victim, then that identity will continue in its own power to debilitate and limit. The victim mentality will kill (limit the life) the victim. I would assert that this second vicitmization is the greater damage due to the ongoing effects. What needs to happen with both the victim and the interpretation of the victimization is redemption.
    An example of that redemption is what Jesus did with the woman at the well in John 4. After contact with Jesus at the well, she was able to take her greatest shame (and why she was going to the well at noon rather than early in the morning with the rest of the villagers) as a platform to bring a village to Christ. She demonstrated redemption of herself and of her victimization. Would that we could in likewise manner.

  2. Good distinction, Larry. And yes, redemption is exactly the right word for the victimized.