For a long time, I have been wondering about my guilty pleasures, trying to figure out which pleasure, in particular, I feel guilty about. I think about other people’s answers, looking for things one does not need much practice to enjoy—‘satisfactions of pigs’, as John Stuart Mill would have put it. He famously wrote:
It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.
He argued that the quality of pleasures is much more important than their quantity. Listening to Bach, even if it brings little joy to someone, would always trump the manic joy of attending a Britney Spears concert.
However, as it happens, I am not a Millian. I find that argument bogus. I don’t feel any shame about listening to the cheesiest ’80s music and then complimenting that with Mozart’s Requiem.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a strong sense of guilt. I am a vegan. I help others when I can. And I regularly make life-changing decisions that may not favor my well-being but end up benefiting others. I just have not found many places in my life where guilt and pleasure co-exist.
I figured that my sense of guilt probably sucks every ounce of pleasure from different activities. That theory seemed shaky, at best.
Then, just an hour ago, it hit me. I have been looking in the wrong place. My two guilty pleasures? Fine coffee and fine audio equipment. It might sound quite strange to feel guilty about these. But consider this: My ethical stance in life is firmly rooted in Hedonistic Utilitarianism, which basically means to do whatever it takes to bring the most amount of pleasure and the least amount of suffering to the world. For example, the pleasure I take in eating meat does not surpass the suffering it brings to the animals from which the meat came.
If I have some amount of money, I should spend it in such a way that it creates the most joy in the world. That surely includes myself, but probably a hungry kid on the street could derive much more pleasure from the same amount of money I am spending on headphones and coffee. For sure, these lavish purchases mostly fall under the mid-range products of a European household. But I live in a third-world country, and even with the salary of a developer, they are still more than most people are willing to pay, here. I am ashamed to admit that I enjoy fine coffees and fine headphones.
It turns out, I am a proud pig and an ashamed Socrates.
Published at by Perma.