China versus US debauchery, by Philip Greenspun.
Opium use? “The United States makes up 4.4% of the world’s population, and consumes over 80% of the world’s opioids”. Most consumption and addiction is funded by taxpayers. Drugs of abuse are available to some extent in China, but taxpayers don’t fund them and they are illegal.
Need to smoke some medical or recreational marijuana every morning? The U.S. is the place to do it, depending on the state.
Need to unwind from demanding college classes by getting drunk every weekend and hooking up with a new friend? America: Yes. China: No. “Acceptance of premarital sex is relatively recent,” said a 50-year-old who got a degree and worked in the U.S. before returning to Shanghai, “but certainly the Tinder culture would never be acceptable for a properly raised young Chinese.”
What if the casual sex results in pregnancy? Will a single mom get the standard American package of free apartment, free health care, free food, and free smartphone (funded by taxpayers if she had sex with a low-income partner; funded by child support revenue if she had sex with a high-income partner in the right state)? “No,” replied my local hosts. “That’s simply illegal. The child will not be recognized by the state and will not be entitled to attend a state-run school or use the state-run health care system. Being a single mom is possible only for the rich who can afford to pay for private school and private health care. Some women will fly to the U.S. or Hong Kong to give birth and then the child can have a legal status in China as a foreigner.”
As in the U.S., prostitution is illegal but purportedly common. (I did not see any evidence of this, but let’s call this a draw in debauchery.)
Supposedly the Chinese now drink slightly more alcohol per capita than Americans, but I did not see a drunk person during my peregrinations around Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou. Nor did I pass by a loud bar, though I was told by locals that I was walking down “the most famous bar street in Shanghai.” If the Chinese are drinking they’re doing it quietly and without having sex with a stranger right after.
How about porn, that cornerstone of the U.S. Internet? It is illegal in China.
Gambling? The U.S. has casinos in 43 states. China proper is home to 0 casinos. Chinese who want to gamble in a fancy casino need to get on a plane and fly to Macau (or the U.S.!).
Civilizations on the up and up are usually stricter about moral codes, putting off immediate pleasure for later gain — because individuals have a sense that it is worthwhile to do so. They have a stake in the success of society.
But near the top and on the way down, debauchery and short term pleasure seeking comes to the fore. Corruption has set in. The rewards for societal success are funneled to fewer and fewer people. Most people give up and do not care so much, because they don’t really have much stake in the outcome. See if I care.