Vice is an old-fashioned word, and it is an old-fashioned idea. Vice is certainly a moral concept (or rather an immoral one), but people don’t talk much of morals any more either. It’s not that they don’t have morals any more, but they are different ones. Racism is considered by all right thinking people to be quite abhorrent, and smoking is universally condemned, even by many smokers, but neither is ever called a vice; a vice is too understandable a failing to have any place in the vocabulary of today’s guardians of moral virtue.
The vices that intrigue me are the moral lapses of drinking and smoking. Alcohol and nicotine are drugs, and as such addictive and mind altering; they are also not good for your health. Regardless of the health angle, it is over indulgence (part of the addiction that accompanies the drug) which turns these activities into vices. There is another aspect of wine and tobacco however, which as far as I am aware do not apply to any other drugs; they have an appeal to your taste buds. Not all drinks have this quality – vodka for instance is a tasteless liquor, and although it can be flavoured, the sole reason for drinking it is to make you drunk. Cigarettes too are just a convenient way of getting your nicotine fix. But fine wines and quality cigars are a different matter; whatever you think of the harmful effects of consuming them, you have got to admit they have a place in the firmament that is the palette. Caffeine would be another drug one could say this of, but the connection between the flavour of the coffee and the action of the drug on your wakefulness is remote, if it exists at all. Drinking de-caffeinated coffee (in moderation of course) cannot be classed as a vice at all.
There are other vices that pop up all over the place; gluttony is one. There are more obese people than ever, but they are never called gluttons; they are regarded as people suffering from a health condition. To suggest that it is immoral to overeat would cause furrowed brows and pursed lips among our medical professionals; but it is a perfect example of a vice. It is wrong to eat too much, but it is a perfectly understandable thing to do. The lack of exercise is another feature of modern life, but we do not call people who take the lift rather than go up the stairs lazy. Lazy though is what they are. Laziness is another vice that has been given a bland alternative name; in this case ‘a sedentary lifestyle’.
Nowadays debt isn’t regarded as a moral matter at all, just an arrangement for the prosecution of business. This has not always been true, and debt used to be thought of as a morally bad thing. The older generation when I was a young man certainly thought so, but no longer. A credit card is merely another part of your wallet. Here I am talking of the attitudes in Western Democracies. In this respect, as in so many other ways, the views the Muslim world have totally lost touch with the modern way of thinking. In Islam it is prohibited to charge interest on debt, although I think ingenious financial wizards have ways of getting round the problem, or no Muslim would ever be able to get a mortgage.
THE BLOG FOR THOUGHTS OF VICE