When I was thirteen years old, my hometown opened a Dairy Queen. Now, whenever a chain restaurant opens in Alaska, people flock to the new establishment like moths to flame. The drive-thru line was backed up almost a mile and people waited for hours to get their fill of fast food grade cheeseburgers and Blizzard shakes. The sight was unbelievable and a potential powder keg for an angry mob.
Looking back, I now realize what made these people go mad for fast food quality cheeseburgers. Many of these people had never experienced a Dairy Queen before and so they could not have responded to it previously.Man longs to respond meaningfully with his heart to the world around him. That is to say, he desires a rich spiritual affectivity in complement to his psychic and bodily feelings. Now we are always accompanied by psychic feelings; they play a significant role in our lives as a whole but they cannot replace the fully meaningful response found in spiritual affection. They are a natural part of our everyday lives and, in a way, aid us in becoming more fully human because we would be lacking without them. While the Dairy Queen cheeseburger might make us feel good on a bodily level there is a realm of spiritual affectivity which ‘transcends the bun.’
In chapter two of The Heart, von Hildebrand discusses the differences between psychic moods and true spiritual affective responses of a person. Man’s heart is at the center of his affective sphere and his heart deeply desires to be affected by the world around him. Man by nature longs for true beauty and goodness, but more often than not, especially in the modern world, man looks for beauty in things that fade and that will not break open his cold heart. Instead man finds jolliness by some temporal passing good and believes that this is true joy.
“Indeed, feelings resemble the sea in their inexhaustible differentiation's
and fluctuations, especially in the realm of psychic, and not yet spiritual
In man’s weakness he settles for the mundane and calls it magnificent. Man settles for a mundane life in which he does not care to respond authentically to what surrounds him even though sometimes he must respond authentically to the situations around him. This settling for the mundane makes man stop short and dwell only in his psychic feelings never delving deeper into authentic responses that make him more fully human. But von Hildebrand earlier clarified“A state of jolliness clearly differs from joy, sorrow, love, or compassion insofar as it lacks, in the first instance, the character of a response, that of a meaningful conscious relation to an object.” (2)
Now I would never say that a cheeseburger can ever give rise to an actual affective response of either joy or sorrow. It would seem that you could have an overwhelmingly powerful experience of the goodness of the cheeseburger if you have not eaten in weeks, and you could mistakenly believe this experience motivated an affective response within your soul. We take that non-spiritual feelings are necessarily wavering and fluctuating in character and that temporal fleeting goods cannot render a true spiritual response. Thus this cheeseburger craze cannot be an affective response that man naturally seeks but is really a psychic mood he has found to satiate his desire for goodness and beauty even if only temporarily.
(1) Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Heart, page 39
(2) Dietrich von Hildebrand. The Heart, page 25
Dairy Queen Neon Sign