Implicit in an article I’ve written for this website (The Wings of Butterflies, October 2, 2013) is the theoretical ambiguity of the venerable science tenet of cause and effect. The current prattle positing that cause and effect are interchangeable is incompatible with logic. No one is able to prove that the flow of a fire becoming an unlit matchstick is just as possible an event as the ‘conventional’ flow of a matchstick into fire. Concepts that by definition cannot be proved have become very popular since the beginning of this century. Although they jar the intellect, they are harmless abstractions albeit they now proliferate in the formerly objective discipline of science (!). However, the concept’s acceptance in the pseudo ‘sciences’ of sociology and psychology, largely subjective realms, often results in legal injustice.
That is what happened in the case I described in the article cited above. Long ago, I viewed that incident as an ominous indicator of a serious cultural decline. I still do. By that, I don’t merely mean that the student’s murder was unjust (which it was), but that the crime rewarded its perpetrators. The primary factor in that instance of injustice was not, as many people thought, that the student’s murderers ‘got off easy,’ but that they were treated exceptionally softly because they were poor. Poverty, social workers claimed, was the cause of that murder—the killers couldn’t help themselves; they killed the student because being poor was boring.
Recently, another murder was committed for the same ‘reason.’ Three men killed a stranger because they needed a thrill to break their boredom, even if just for a little while. Unlike the celebrated Leopold and Loeb case in the early part of the last century (1924), this recent killing has already faded from the public’s eye. But the classic L & L murder still simmers in discussions about crime and punishment.
[It’s interesting to note that in 1924, Chicago’s radio station did not broadcast the L & L trial on radio because it was thought inappropriate to air a murder trial as entertainment. Can you imagine voluntary abstention today from broadcasting something that is sure to harvest sensational ratings on TV! To his credit, the director of that radio station did not air the L & L trial. But, also to his credit, he did broadcast the equally celebrated Scopes ‘ Monkey Trial.‘].
According to many pseudo scientists, we are basically products of our environment. It was so, they claim, for the poor men who murdered an innocent stranger to relieve their pain from poverty. It was also so for Leopold and Loeb. Apparently, some of the very poor and the very rich suffer from the same affliction and commit murder ‘for the hell of it.’ The affliction is boredom, a result of their financial circumstances.
The latest infamous victim of boredom is the “poor little rich boy,” Ethan Couch. At his trial, his expensive lawyer had a psychologist testify that Ethan suffered from being too rich and got whatever he wanted from his parents, the consequence of which was the fatality of several innocent victims. Therefore, the psychologist argued, it was Ethan’s parents who were the cause of those deaths, not Ethan. The judge bought it.
Buying that defense reveals the judge as someone who endorses the notion that behavior is largely determined by outside forces, a.k.a. environment, not individual will. L & L, Ethan, and the other thrill seekers were all afflicted by the common denominator of the very rich and very poor: boredom. [Here, it is important to note that Ethan is most likely not on the same morally bankrupt level as the other bored men—rich or poor—who killed for pleasure. Killing for pleasure, of course, is at the very bottom of immoral behavior. But Ethan was not tried for his bankrupt morality or for being a brat.] Legally, however, the judge was unjust with her outrageously disproportionate leniency.
I know very little about formal adjudication, but I do know that Ethan’s judge reinforced the very premise that made him drive seventy miles per hour and kill four people, i.e., she deemed him too rich to be punished. Obviously, Ethan’s punishment was determined by a failed judge. Her extremely lenient sentence of probation is consonant with the notion that individual behavior is primarily motivated by external forces.
I’m sure that the outrage of millions of people online was motivated by their prejudice against the very wealthy. Those same millions are considerably less outraged by crimes committed by the poor, especially if the criminals are young. Injustice has many faces.
I don’t know if the judge had the power to sentence Ethan with a lifetime ban on driving cars, but that sounds more like justice to me. In any case, the sentence of a lifetime without driving a car is just my fantasy. Objectively, however, there can be no equivocation about the maxim that in the United States we are equal under the law. In that context, the judge’s sentence is not criminal, but it is shockingly unjust. Loud and clear, its message is that something other than an individual’s will is responsible for his behavior—a concept at least as dubious as the reversal of cause and effect.