Lessons from Sin City

lasvegas Las Vegas (Nevada) prides itself on its nickname of “Sin City.” I’d never been there for more than an hour or two until I visited recently and decided it definitely deserves its reputation. While I didn’t sample any illegal activities as far as I know, I did spot people dressed—or undressed—in close to nothing, lots of alcohol flowing, gambling and flashing lights, gyrating dancers, obscenities, people under the influence of whatever. Most of these fall under the classification of “sins” by American standards, especially if they’re extreme.

I also spotted the homeless begging for a handout. People talented or otherwise trying to make a buck through some sort of skill—twisting straw into decorations, contorting themselves into strange shapes, stuffing themselves into a box, exposing pseudo-breasts or real ones, dressed in costumes for photo opps. The dissonance between the amount of money being wasted on useless activities, most of which seemed designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of human indulgence, and the apparent LACK of support for the poor, disabled, or uneducated, disturbed me.

Or was I disturbed by the overt flaunting of what are labeled “sins?” Over the years, I’ve liked to think of myself as open-minded, nonjudgmental, and accepting of others. But my immediate visceral reaction was repugnance. I’m not religious. I don’t think people who “sin” are destined for hell. I think what is defined as acceptable behavior in one age or location easily can be unacceptable in another. However it doesn’t appear that many types of behavior are unacceptable nowadays, whether in Las Vegas or elsewhere, since we appear to be intent on pandering to whatever self-indulgence we favor, whether that’s gluttony or gambling.

Still, what’s the difference between gambling away every spare penny or pampering ourselves with a day in a spa? Stripping to the buff in a public area or writing rude comments on Face Book and blogs? In each case, the first example may be a “sin,” while the second might be simply excessive. Passing laws doesn’t stop activities. Still, permitting them doesn’t seem to eliminate very bad practices such as violence and theft.

I wondered why I had such a major negative reaction to the Sin part of Sin City. Are there lingering remnants of my Christian, middle class upbringing? Am I jealous because there’s no way this body and face could turn a dime in this fashion? Am I evincing regret because I didn’t indulge in this type of behavior while I the time, money and opportunity?

Or are my objections valid? Are we fiddling while Rome burns? Are these behaviors indicators that our society is going to extremes, and people lack good judgment, pride, and standards?

Unlike many, I left Las Vegas with my bank account and dignity intact. But I won the jackpot because the questions my trip raised in my mind, even without answers, are forcing me to learn more about myself.