Clear delineation between vice and virtue has been an intellectual and spiritual undertaking since antiquity. In the West, Stoicism as well as Greco-Roman philosophy as a whole can be credited for emphasizing a clear delineation between vice and virtue. Later on, the delineation between vice and virtue came under the purview of Judeo-Christian religions and Islam. In some Islamic societies, particularly in Saudi Arabia, there are still government organs tasked with “promotion of virtue and prohibition of vice.” Morality and ethics have not vanished even in a postmodern environment, and their pertinence to social norms remain evident in all societies despite aberrations from the norm on the part of certain sociopaths. Yet today’s morality and ethics equate to hypocrisy, according to Nietzsche.
Through cynicism, however, an intellectual strand that has made its mark as perhaps a general outlook on human affairs is the philosophy of “moral relativism.” Due to moral relativism in Western societies, the once clear line between vice and virtue is now blurred, and as a result vices that were once shunned in a number of societies such as alcohol, drugs, lewdness, and violence have been normalized by Western societies. Whether moral relativism is a top-down project stemming from states or whether it is a bottom-up phenomenon is a hypothesis that is worth examining. Nevertheless, moral relativism is a philosophical outlook that is indeed pertinent to the behavior of states in the international system. “Realism” in international relations is a manifestation of a philosophical outlook that stems from “moral relativism.”
For one, when one examines even the hegemonic project of the United States over the past twenty years, one can see the malevolent effects of the morally relative outlook towards the world. What has manifested from this outlook is the proliferation of mafia syndicates and terrorist groups throughout the Middle East and Africa as a result of regime change policies that defy international norms and laws. The complex foreign policy labyrinth found in Washington is a distraction from a very basic preoccupation of the government, which is the spread of Afghan drugs as well as the proliferation of mafia and terror groups through the overthrow of states and the destabilization of the international system.
Collective energy and resources are then sapped out of the public by governments and put into a hegemonic project that benefits a small circle of global elites. Government policies based on an outlook shaped by moral relativism that benefitted a small group of elites and abandoned the public and the youth requires a cultural change to alter the status quo. As the late Howard Zinn wrote:
“The gap between national policy and the feelings of the American public suggested that another scenario was possible, one that envisioned, in the new millennium, citizens organizing to demand what the Declaration of Independence promised: a government that protected the equal right of everyone to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This meant economic arrangements that distributed the national wealth rationally and humanely. This meant a culture where the young no longer were taught to strive for ‘success’ as a mask for greed.”
For one, economic arrangements that created balance between the elites and masses would require a reexamination of a number of puritanical laws that criminalize and prohibit vice as well as relief from a situation where the top 1 percent of the world control more than half of the world’s wealth, while 99 percent of the world fights for the remaining crumbs. As the “Prohibition” on alcohol of the 1920’s showed, criminalization and prohibition of a vice simply led to exorbitant profits of a few well-connected people at the expense of regular people. Morality and ethics cannot be enforced. Legalization and regulation of vice would not only reduce crime and violence, but it would reduce the allure of vice in the long run based on the theory of diminishing marginal utility, thus stabilizing societies. As the case of Holland has shown, the legalization and regulation of vice has led to virtually a total eradication of crime and violence in Dutch society. Holland recently converted empty prisons into refugee shelters, thus demonstrating even further that the legalization and regulation of vice enables a society to use its energy and resources for constructive purposes.
As mentioned before, the legalization and regulation of vices like alcohol, recreational drugs, gambling, and prostitution will reduce crime and violence and in turn will mitigate the allure of these vices in the long run. But the prohibition of vice is a deliberate design of the elites in America not only aimed at the extraction of exorbitant profits, but it is also a means of legitimizing the military and police crackdown on the masses by the elite. One should also ask why American society enables the spread of pornography, which demoralizes and hurts people mentally, while prohibiting relief and self-gratification through the criminalization of prostitution, which happens to be the world’s oldest business? One can argue that the American elite prohibits prostitution in order to perpetuate the Freudian “death instinct” by confining the American public to infantile sexuality and the aggression that stems from this state, which in turn will continue the supply of soldiers for the military machine. It is thus no mystery as to why increased violence in video games is synchronistic with the criminalization and prohibition of sexual gratification in American society.
While violence stands at one end of the cognitive behavioral spectrum, the other end of the spectrum consists of the most lucrative form of public conquest, which is the proliferation and use of drugs. People will pay for any sort of ecstasy and euphoria in a meaningless world defined by the postmodern era, which explains why the Afghan drug trade is the most lucrative business in the world.
Instead of balancing elite and popular interests by legalizing and regulating vice, which is the ethical, moral, and legal thing to do, social relations between the elites and masses in America are instead defined by schadenfreude in the sense that the elites seek to take down the masses, and in turn the masses seek to take down the elite, which fosters an unfortunate situation particularly in the United States. Even American global hegemony is characterized by schadenfreude in the sense that America feels compelled to keep others down in order to stay on top.
American strategy in preserving its hegemonic status in the 21st century has been the perpetuation of conflicts around the world through morally questionable military interventions as well as the spread of financial capital that belongs to the American people in order to subjugate foreign governments. Thus, the use of bribery and violence to keep others down has created massive debt for the American government and has come at an immense cost to America’s domestic stability.
America should either find a constructive role to play in the world market, or it should withdraw from the Afro-Eurasian market and develop its own hemispheric market. As Janet Abu Lughod wrote, the global market, or “world market,” preexists the American-led global order. The world will continue without America’s interference in global affairs. Either America should play a role in preserving the equilibrium of the global market within Afro-Eurasia, involve itself in a transactional manner with this market, or it should withdraw. Due to the sprawling nature of global commerce and trade, there is undoubtedly an element of chaos in the international system which no single power can mitigate. But given the nature of the international system as defined by the global market, chaos is organized by market forces such as equilibrium, preferences, values, as well as supply and demand.
As Mark Twain said, history rhymes rather than repeating itself. Janet Abu Lughod unintentionally drew a parallel between today’s situation and the past when citing that a pandemic or plague stemming from China occurred in the 14th century, which lasted for three years, spreading all the way to Europe and in turn causing a downturn in global commerce and trade, social upheaval, and the disintegration of the international system that was renewed by European hegemony, which stemmed from Europe’s amassing of resources and wealth from the Americas. Perhaps today’s coronavirus will determine a new international system led by a totally different set of people.
Nevertheless, America stands to remain as an independent power in the international system, and there will most likely be a balance of power between the world’s three major power centers, namely, America, Europe, and Asia. America’s rise can be attributed to two things: geography and its isolation from the turmoil of Afro-Eurasia, as well as its immense capital and natural resources. For one, America possesses more freshwater than any other region of the world, thus making America more amenable and hospitable to life than any other region of the world. Peter Zeihan has written that America possesses approximately 17,000 miles of freshwater channels, versus the one or two-thousand miles of channels between France and Germany and an abysmal 120 miles of freshwater channels in the Levant and the Middle East. In due time, the “freshwater industry” will become the world’s most lucrative business, which will amass approximately 600 billion dollars of revenue annually, according to Forbes.
Due to the basic nature of interpersonal relations as well as the ubiquity of the internet and technology, everyone is now a diplomat or a politician in the sense that we all live in a global market defined by global commerce and trade, share information globally, and are searching for the meaning of existence in a nihilistic postmodern environment. Interdependence and interconnection are the basic elements of interpersonal relations, and it is evident that this interdependence and interconnectedness has existed even in medieval times when reading the work of Janet Abu Lughod. When one thing happens in China, the entire international economy either gets a boost or goes into a massive downturn. Also, the inability of China’s northern region to merge with its southern regions such as Hong Kong and Taiwan will also affect the international market in an adverse manner, which in turn will destabilize the global market.
Thus, America will seek to isolate itself from the global market while preventing China from fully integrating internally, which in turn will lead to the destabilization of the international system, a reality that America seems to be willing to live with given its isolation from Afro-Eurasia. To guarantee a safe decoupling and isolation from Afro-Eurasia, all the United States has to do is revamp its manufacturing sector while legalizing and regulating lucrative vices. Profits from these vices may go down in the long run due to market entry, but so will the costs to society given that the legalization and regulation of vice will sap power out of cartels, mafias, and terror groups who engage in drug and human trafficking.
Bringing Venezuela into America’s orbit will mean an end to dependence on Saudi oil, given that Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves. If the United States enters into a quid pro quo with Russia and China by transferring Ukraine and Taiwan to Russia and China respectively while ensuring Venezuela is relinquished to the United States by Russia and China, America in turn will enable the creation of a market and sphere of influence that is safely isolated from the Afro-Eurasian market.
Nevertheless, America’s sole foreign policy objective at the moment is to prevent the integration of the Afro-Eurasian market by any means necessary, including through the proliferation of drug mafias stemming from Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as terrorist groups like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS. To interconnect all of Eurasia, the only thing that needs to be done is to connect Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf, where two-thirds of the world’s oil and natural gas reserves are situated. This will be done by China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) as well as China’s “String of Pearls” project. Can America peacefully coexist with the two other power centers of the world, namely, Europe and Asia?
As the recent terrorist attacks in Gwadar, a port city in Pakistan which links Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf, as well as the Easter terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka demonstrates, the United States will go at any length to prevent Asian integration, which in turn destabilizes the entire world. America’s sole objective in Afghanistan is to prevent the interconnection of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Indian Ocean with the Persian Gulf, which means the destabilization of Afghanistan and thus all of Asia through the creation of drug mafias and terrorist groups like the “Mujahideen,” Taliban, and ISIS, which in turn prevents Asian integration. America has a “special relationship” with Britain, which is the pioneer of the Afghan drug trade. Britain essentially guides U.S. foreign policy through its “special relationship” with the United States. It is believed that Switzerland was created by European powers as a safe haven for depositing profits made from the Eurasian drug trade.
Since America’s involvement in Afghanistan, the production of Afghan opium has gone up by 700 percent. America believes the only way it can preserve its hegemonic status in the world is by crushing and fragmenting Asia by any means necessary, which means blurring the line between vice and virtue and in turn fomenting a world that unfortunately departs from a state of economic cooperation and peace and traverses into a dangerous world of conflict and schadenfreude.