While I watched in horror as she was acquitted of murder by a jury of her peers (and, yes, they were her wretched equals), it occurred to me that Casey Anthony is not an anomaly. While the depth of her depravity is stunning even in this decadent age, she's just a particularly extreme example of a virulent social mutation: the unrepentant egoist.
For many of us who grew up after World War II, sacrifice and responsibility have been relegated to second place in the canon of national values behind that of "personal fulfillment."
Women were especially eager to embrace this Theology of Me and learned to view any restraint on their personal liberty as a violation of constitutional proportions. Hence, the blossoming of the reproductive-rights movement, which defined freedom, in part, as an unfettered uterus. We also exulted in our right to be bad parents, emulating the worst characteristics of absentee fathers and calling it "equality." And in this brave new world, the worst thing you could be regarding someone else's lifestyle was "intolerant."
In this month's issue of Psychology Today, there's an interesting cover story about narcissism called "The Peacock Paradox." Author Scott Barry Kaufman provides a definition: "Male and female narcissists both share a marked need for attention, the propensity to manipulate and a keen interest in charming the other sex."
Sounds a lot like Casey Anthony, who might have used her charm to create reasonable doubt in the minds of some unsophisticated jurors. After all, it's hard to imagine a black, inner-city mother charged with the same crime as Anthony, on the same evidence, getting off with a slap on the wrist.
But this definition transcends the Anthony trial, and goes a long way toward describing our Facebook-obsessed, memoir-writing and reality-TV prostituting society.
Maybe the jurors in Orlando were able to acquit Anthony of child abuse, the most defensible and best-documented charge that the prosecution had, because they didn't see anything strange in a mother who partied like a cheap trick during the month that her baby was "missing." Maybe they were so steeped in the culture of individuality and "tolerance" that they found it hard to be judgmental toward a randy mom who reminded them of their own children, or even their younger selves.
Or maybe they'd just forgotten what neglect and abuse look like because, after all, criticizing a woman for expressing her sexuality is so . . . Victorian.
But, more than an inability to understand complex legal theories, I think the reason the jury was unable to convict Anthony was that it just didn't buy the prosecution premise that a woman who enters a hot-body contest while her child is lost has both the motive and propensity to kill her. In a society where people have the fundamental right to enjoy themselves - others be damned - an immature and self-obsessed mother is no more likely to murder an innocent baby than your run-of-the-mill reality-show hausfrau. And anyone who criticizes her for those acts of carefree self-expression is a judgmental prude.
That's where individualism of the libertarian model has taken us. The idea that no one has the right to tell us how to live our lives (Legalize drugs! Ban motorcycle helmets! Don't ban violent videos! Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!) has led us to a place where caring about No. 1 has become a secular religion, and turned all of those who preach restraint into heretics.
So it's not surprising at all that Casey Anthony got off, even in the face of strong evidence and the absolute implausibility of alternatives.
The only thing surprising in all of this is that she was put on trial in the first place. Because, after all, it's not a crime these days if girls just wanna have fun.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. E-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org. She blogs at philly.com/philly/blogs/flowersshow.