Alice von Hildebrand caffeine

A Defense of "Basic" White Girls: Dietrich Von Hildebrand and Pumpkin Spice Lattes

6:00:00 AMJeremy Schupbach

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I am very nostalgic for fall, and it makes me think of how much I enjoy Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Perhaps the reader is aware fall air conditions the taste buds to be sensitive to certain admixtures nutty, spicy, and sweet, perfectly encapsulated in that sublime seasonal libation? 

Problem though: I’m a guy. And the Pumpkin Spice Latte has become the sovereign possession of that ever-expanding phenomenon, the “basic white girl.” And there are those who think that when this indomitable creature makes such a claim, it becomes uncouth for any man to partake of it.

I once encountered just such a viewpoint. A small group of gentlemen had formed in the social center on Franciscan University’s campus and we had but recently polished off our Saturday noon meal (which means breakfast in the college student’s tongue). Being that we were in no rush, were feeling both lazy and satisfied, it was a fall day, and a lull had entered the conversation, I thought I knew the next logical step. So I inquired of the group, “So are we doing this or what?” A couple of them knew what I meant and slowly grinned, but others looked at me quizzically so I spelled it out for them, “Are we grabbing some PSL’s?” That was when the philosophical debate broke out.



“You can’t do that, you’re a guy, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes are a white girl thing.” 

If this was a pearl of wisdom then it was truly being thrown in front of swine. About half of us hastily disregarded it and indulged ourselves in the aforementioned beverage. Thereupon we disputed the principle which my friend had referenced. That principle is this: if some activity or thing has been taken up by the popular culture, or a certain group, then to partake of that activity or thing is somehow to lose one’s identity in the face of the mob, to be swept along by a current instead of resolutely standing one’s ground. In other words, he equated my purchase of a Pumpkin Spice Latte with, “giving in.” 

I can’t deny that what he described does in fact occur, sometimes people do things just to go with the flow. I’m sure this has a lot to do with the popularity of Pumpkin Spice Lattes and a great many other things. I don’t think it takes a lot of thinking to realize, that if a majority of a person's actions are done to fit in, then they don’t really have a genuine personality. However, using a similar line of thinking we can also say that if one avoids a certain activity or thing for no other reason than that it is popular, this also displays a lack of genuine personality, because it is equally reactionary. In both instances one determines one’s activity as a reaction (either for or against) what other people are doing. The motivation of “being different” is often just as disingenuous as “fitting in”. This is a test of personality that hipsters and “basic” individuals alike may fail. 

In order to appreciate what makes a true personality, one has to factor an entirely new element into the discussion, the strengths of one’s inner convictions. As Dietrich Von Hildebrand says, 

“A person is a being who ‘possesses himself,’ who does not simply exist but who actively achieves his being.” (1)  

Von Hildebrand would additionally argue that the convictions which make up a true personality cannot be self-centered. A person who is in love with himself would have a pretty wretched personality. Whereas a person whose convictions are for things greater than himself and outside of himself, and who possesses those convictions not because of societal pressures, but because of the goodness of the things he or she loves, has a genuine personality. 

“A man is rich in values, is a personality, in the highest sense of the word, to the degree that he perceives values, that he possesses a spiritual vision clear and open to the fullness of the world of values” (2)

To be a personality, then, is to be a lover,  and to be a lover of what is genuinely good: art, music, beauty, nature, adventure, vitality, and above all, other persons.

This is precisely the reality that my debate with my friend reminded me of, and why I now associate Pumpkin Spice Lattes with being a lover of values. Because if one is truly a lover, say, of nature, especially in the fall, and a Pumpkin Spice with extra nutmeg serves to facilitate their response to that value (there is nothing at all about having a center of warmth and comfort lodged in your hand, a rich and girthy flavor lingering in your mouth, and a robust vibration of caffeine in your veins that doesn't enhance the experience of the fall season) then this truly flows from a genuine personality, and participates in a genuine love.

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To be a personality is to be a lover of genuine values. And while it is quite clear that to be determined by popular culture is not at all indicative of a personality. I think that it is actually possible that in the case of pumpkin spice lattes, all the “basic white girls” actually might be onto something. 


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(1) Liturgy and Personality, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, pg. 15
(2) Liturgy and Personality, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, pg. 36


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