Matthew Yglesias in “Against ‘Guilty Pleasures'”:
I think the whole conceptual framework of “guilty pleasures” speaks to some weird underlying puritanical elements in American life. Despite the whole “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” thing in the Declaration of Independence, our public culture is very resistant to the idea that people should try to spend more time doing things they enjoy or that producing enjoyment for others is a good thing to do in life.
Alyssa Rosenberg dissents, comparing the guilt of liking pop music to the guilt of enjoying cheesecake. She writes:
It’s about social positioning through cultural positioning, with a fluctuating definition of what’s guilty and what’s not. Sometimes it’s the opera, or the ballet, or the symphony that’s non-guilty, and sometimes it’s TV On the Radio.
As I see it, the concept of “guilty pleasure” isn’t necessarily weird at all, though there do seem to be different usages when it is applied towards food and when it is applied to the fear of having other discover one’s lowbrow or embarrassing tastes. In Integral Theory, the different usages can be mapped to quadrants: the former usage pertains to intersection of individual subjective feelings (UL) and individual objective behavior (UR); the latter relates to individual subjective feelings (UL) and collective subjective culture (LL).
When the conversation between Matthew and Alyssa is mapped out in quadrants, you can notice that “guilty pleasures” are only being discussed in two of the four quadrants … and can now ask, what is missing? what is being left out of the discussion? Taking an integral perspective can point the way.
There are the collective objective systems, the lower-right quadrant (LR), which would include the phenomenon of taking pleasure in doing something harmful to the environment or social system (e.g., enjoying the way that Styrofoam cups keep your coffee hotter than paper cups, enjoying riding around in a Hummer, etc.)
And there’s also the “guilty pleasure” of the individual subjective perspective taking a perspective on itself (UR to UR). This would include taking guilty pleasure in having guilty pleasures!
I’m not going to weigh in just now on Matthew’s dislike of “guilty pleasure,” because it isn’t in my character to have strong likes and dislikes about things that I haven’t considered with deliberation. Instead of pronouncing on the goodness or badness of something, I’m more interested in understanding why it is our culture and language has given us this phrase, “guilty pleasure,” and see how people are using it, what it gets for them, and what it blinds them to.
Looking at the phenomenon in four quadrants helps me to make sure I’m not leaving anything out. Was Matthew Yglesias considering the collective subjective or collective objective quadrants when he proclaimed “guilty pleasure” a Puritanic holdover? Was Alyssa Rosenberg considering the collective objective or individual subjective quadrants when suggesting that they may not be such a bad thing?
I don’t know, but if an integral perspective teaches me one thing it is to not leave anything important out of the equation when making a decision. If we rely only on our unconsidered opinion, our biases and cultural conditioning and settled structure of consciousness take over, and leave precious little room for innovation and growth.