Rob's Soapbox Archives
June 23rd, 2008
THE VICES PRESIDENT
I was recently talking with a friend of mine who happens to be a psychologist. The problems and benefits of having such a friend are the constant deep conversations that often lead to self reflection.
“You need to cut back on your vices,” she said to me in a firm yet caring manner, “you drink everyday, you smoke cigars once per week, you drive a sports car that goes more than 100 MPH, you own more suits than most men will in a lifetime…” and then I gave her what I call the “traffic cop.”
“Stop,” I said while holding my right palm straight to her face as though I was directing traffic, “exactly what is it that I have been working so hard for all of my life?”
The question was rhetorical, as I was not interested in her response. Which by the way, centered on psycho-babble mumbo-jumbo clichés like giving back, empowerment and being “high on life.”
I love my friends; some more than others. In certain relationships, I am able to engage in deep, meaningful, sometimes contentious debates that occasionally turn personal and know that at the end of the chat, we can agree to disagree. This was one of those occasions, and I told her I was going to write this column. “I’m flattered,” she responded condescendingly.
Clichés and stereotypes exist because they are mostly true. One of the most honest generalizations in existence is that those who work in the mental health industry are constantly striving for the unachievable and demanding that all of us live life to the fullest on their terms. They all want us to wake up with a spring in our step, become one with nature, pursue never ending physical and mental wellness and achieve the almighty “closure” at every turn.
Sounds great doesn’t it? If so, go live it, just don’t demand that I do so, because very little of it sounds great to me. I understand that everyone thinks that everything is their business in this day and age but spare me the judgment, preaching and hypocrisy. I submit to you that everyone has and/or needs a vice. Comedian Dennis Miller, back when he was funny, used to do a great routine about the asinine effect of banning all “vices.” If we eliminated alcohol, tobacco, toad licking and everything in between, Miller would correctly argue, people would spin around in circles until they got dizzy and puked. In the end, all vices, if done to excess, ultimately lead to spinning rooms and vomit, don’t they?
Personally, I would choose none of the offered options and instead define a vice as any form of distraction available to a person who wants to remove his or herself from life temporarily. I would also defend such a thing as necessary to creating a balanced life and would also argue that everyone has a vice of some sort.
While my vices are more traditional (alcohol, tobacco, firearms, fast cars, etc), their effect on me is no more or less distracting or damaging than people addicted to exercise or food or work or charity. Any vice, if taken to an extreme, consumes a person and strips them of who they are. People like my friend aren’t really arguing about the presence of a vice in someone’s life, rather they are judging the activity that certain people choose to engage in. A vice is not dangerous, detrimental or even negative if, like everything else, it is used wisely as it relates to the individual’s life.
To whit, I present you the following scenarios;
Mother Theresa is held up as a selfless, heroic saint for dedicating her life to others. Mother Theresa was consumed by the “high” she got from performing charitable acts and helping others and was quite literally addicted to it. Chris Farley is called a comedic waste of talent for allowing himself to become consumed by his narcotic vices.
Yes, that’s correct; I just compared Mother Theresa to Chris Farley.
Sometimes, the absurd must be illustrated by being absurd.
The co-worker who spends two hours per day before and after work at the gym is heralded as being “healthy,” while the CEO who is in the office from 6am – 8pm is called, negatively, a “workaholic.” A dad who comes home from work, coaches a little league game and has two beers before bed is simply using the alcohol to “unwind,” while the guy who has a martini at lunch is an “alcoholic,” for ordering a drink before Noon. Smokers who inflict cancer on themselves are bogging down and burdening our health care system with their irresponsible behavior, but extreme athletes who fall off of mountains, bungee cords and from planes and wind up in the emergency room are described as courageous risk takers who are becoming one with Mother Nature in the most exciting of ways.
What of gambling? Someone that spends days on end in a casino has an irresponsible addiction, yet someone who stupidly allowed 100% of his pension to be invested in Enron stock is called a “victim.” Please.
Cigar smokers stink; yet sweaty, B.O. ridden bodybuilders are “musky and sexy,” because their vice (pumping iron), is deemed by the intelligentsia as being “good for them.” The guy who reads his bible for an hour each morning and before he goes to bed every single day of his life is “spiritual,” while the guy who watches porn before and after bed is “disgusting,” and engaging in self destructive behaviors which will warp his view of women. Thank God the Bible never warped anyone’s views.
I think I just realized something; hypocrisy is a vice.
If you haven’t gotten the point, you won’t. Like most annoying things in America today, the argument over vices comes down to people judging others and wanting to control them. There is almost no civil discourse in America any longer as it all comes down to one basic point of view; either you see things my way or you are wrong. This is a far cry from the days of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton who wrote the constitution together despite having vastly different views on a myriad of issues including the size of government. Today, vices are judged, demonized and then attacked with the intent of eliminating them. Look no further than cigarettes, which were attacked in the 60s, demonized in the 80s and are now bordering on extinction because a large enough group of people determined that they were offended by some peoples’ chosen vice. It really is that simple. Second hand smoke has been proven to be a canard and the asinine argument that smokers burden the health care system has been discredited by all logical people who simultaneously point to both obese individuals and athletes; two groups that “clog up our emergency rooms” at the same rates as smokers. In other words, logic dictates and demands that if you’re going to attack smokers, you must attack bicyclists.While it is true that some people abuse their vices, most do not and it is both un-American and illogical to punish the overwhelming majority of people who are not abusive. Most use vices to escape the realities of life and that is our prerogative, as is any negative affect such a choice may have on our own mind and body. So long as our vice doesn’t directly lead to the harming of another innocent person (as in the case of a drunk driver mowing down a family, for example), then all of society should stay the hell out of it.