An argument for vice vacations
A flame thrower puts on a show for Full Moon partygoers in Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand. (Paula Bronstein/Getty)
It seems fitting that resolutions are made on New Year’s Day, post a long night of debauchery and several weeks of voracious eating, drinking and overall merriment. After a period of self-indulgence, we often take a step back and vow to be better. But is giving into our vices – particularly when it comes to visiting such temptation-heavy destinations as Munich for Oktoberfest, Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval or Las Vegas for a stag party -- really all that bad?
Most religions would probably say yes, but not all modern day philosophers agree.
The origins of vice
In the 4th Century, Christian monk Evagrius Ponticus wrote that the capital vices -- designated as greed, pride, envy, wrath, gluttony, lust and sloth -- were the root of all sinful behaviour. In Hinduism, lust, greed and anger are referred to in the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita as the three “gates to hell”; and in Buddhism, the kleshas -- desire, anger, pride, ignorance, doubt and opinion – are considered emotional states that can lead to suffering.
So it’s safe to say, the teachings of the major religions would likely not approve of travellers indulging in lusty trysts in Amsterdam or unrestrained gambling in Macau.
The concept of vice is particularly interesting in Amish culture. This group of American Protestant Christians is known for their 19th-century way of life, but when Amish children reach the age of 16, many enter into a period of experimentation with modern vices called Rumspringa, where they may engage in activities ranging from watching television and driving to drinking and partying. The hope is that during Rumspringa, Amish teenagers will realise the strength of their faith and join the Church for life.
The modern study of vice
While most religions teach that vices are sinful temptations, today some philosophers and medical professionals question that belief, giving us hope for guilt-free trips to Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand, known for its bacchanalian Full Moon parties.
Philosopher David Brax of Lund University in Scania, Sweden makes a case for hedonism, arguing that our values -- things like friendship, health, prosperity and knowledge -- would not be worth anything if they did not bring us pleasure. This can be extended to such religious virtues as loyalty, justice, generosity and compassion. In fact, psychology studies have shown that altruistic acts often have the result of self-gratification, or pleasure for pleasure’s sake.
Pleasure can, of course, also be derived from giving into not-so-positive tendencies. In his book The Virtue of Our Vices, philosophy professor Emrys Westacott argues for giving into our temptations when it comes to habits such as gossip, rudeness or snobbery. For example, he believes that gossip -- long thought of as a sin in Judaism – can sometimes be both a cathartic exercise and a way to broaden our understanding of other people and our own relationships.
This list from Health.com of 10 vices that are actually good for you encourages indulging in sex, chocolate, wine and even laziness to boost the immune system, reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, burn calories, improve cardiac health and improve mental health. Perhaps then, it isn’t so bad to order the Chocolate Variation, one of the most expensive desserts in the world, at Mezzaluna in Bangkok.
Specialized medical research has even found prescriptive applications for vices. Recent studies have found pleasure to be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s patients. And the Beatitudes nursing home in Phoenix, Arizona, has found success in cutting back on the traditional treatment method of heavily medicating Alzheimer’s patients in favour of giving them things they actually want -- like chocolate or bacon.
When on holiday, we tend to forgo our inhibitions during temporary bursts of hedonism, breaking down our barriers as we blow off some steam. For future holiday ideas, check out this BBC Travel list of the world’s greatest guilty pleasures, which range from embracing slothful bliss in Jaipur to imbibing Mongolian airag, a type of moonshine made from fermented horse milk.