Hungry and Hungover
How Our Emptiness Tells the Truth
Everyone knows what a hangover feels like.
Jim Carrey certainly does. At the Golden Globe Awards last year, the two-time award winner took the stage to introduce the nominees for Best Motion Picture Comedy, and it marked the first spectacle of a change happening in the veteran actor.
He started with a personal introduction that quickly turned into a painfully honest critique on the search for meaning. After he cracked a couple jokes about what it’s like to be a two-time award winner, Carrey remarked,
And when I dream, I don’t just dream any old dream. No sir. I dream about being three-time Golden Globe winning actor Jim Carrey — because then I would be enough. It would finally be true, and I could stop this terrible search for what I know ultimately won’t fulfill me.
Everyone laughed at what Carrey said, and people are still laughing at it — with nearly five million views on YouTube. But what’s hidden in the laughs is that we all know he’s right. Our laughing at his words is really a laughing at ourselves, and it’s a nervous kind of laugh. It’s laughing at the absurdity of trying to find ultimate fulfillment in fleeting things. Carrey and the rest of us are tiptoeing around what has been called the “argument from desire,” and it’s making a comeback.
You Know What I Mean
Perhaps you’ve run into the argument from desire before when reading C.S. Lewis. Lewis puts the argument’s conclusion about as straightforward as it gets in Mere Christianity when he writes, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
That sentence alone is worth kicking around in your mind for a while. When it comes to longing and satisfaction, nothing is more ubiquitous to our species and yet so rarely investigated.
Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, explains more about how the argument from desire works. He shows that two vital premises support Lewis’s conclusion.
The first premise is that every natural desire corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire. This is the point Lewis makes when he says, a few sentences before his memorable conclusion,
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex.
This first premise sets up the second premise that, as Lewis says, we find in ourselves a desire which “nothing in this world can satisfy.” Lewis is referring to our common discontentment — that we all know something is missing. There has to be more.
Kreeft says that we establish this second premise mainly by appeal. Although there are countless examples out there, such as Carrey’s Golden Globe bit, or Tom Brady’s memorable “there’s gotta be more than this,” at the end of the day, the argument from desire means that we’re asking people to do some “honest introspection,” as Kreeft puts it. We’re asking them to grapple with the question of whether they’re happy — really happy.
Get Woke, and Deep
The average American today doesn’t appear to do introspection with the same gusto that characterized earlier generations. Most of the media we thumb through in our newsfeed is more about decrying the turmoil of our society than delving into the pondering of a man or woman who feels unfulfilled. The greatest need right now, it seems, is to get woke, not deep. And understandably so.
But our desires still exist, and they’re still unfulfilled.
I can’t help but wonder if sometimes our activism doesn’t just double as another form of self-imposed diversion — anything to keep us from asking the questions beneath the questions. What’s the point anyway? Why can’t we find what we’re looking for?
These questions still demand answers, even amid the hurling winds of chaos and destruction in our country. The dust will never settle enough for us to peek into them without distraction. We don’t all get to take “self-discovery” trips to Italy. Instead, most of us must do our searching in the chaos.
That’s part of what makes the recent essay “The Metaphysics of the Hangover” so insanely relevant.
Writing in The Hedgehog Review, Mark Edmundson, professor of English at the University of Virginia, marches through terrain many in his ilk rarely trod. He approaches the experience of a hangover with seriousness and imagination, simultaneously embarrassing the drunkard and claiming that the headaches of regret point to something deeper in the human condition. He writes, “The hangover is not only an aftermath of booze and drugs” — an experience that presumably many of his readers know something about. But also, “The hangover may pertain to failed idealizations of many sorts.” That is, everyone has experienced some kind of hangover.
“Failed idealizations,” he explains, include religion, romance, and all kinds of things. Edmundson says that life is full of those moments when we wake up to the bitter emptiness that we have not received what we bargained for.
We all know the feeling. We expect to find what we’re looking for down one of these roads, and then another, and then another — and so we keep running. We trick ourselves into believing that our payday is just around the corner until one day we realize it’s not — it has already passed. It has come and gone, and we’re left here again, hollow, jaded, burned.
“I can’t be satisfied,” Edmundson quotes the bluesman. “I can’t be satisfied.”
That is, there’s not enough liquor in the world for me and not enough love — surely there isn’t enough sex. Whatever there might be that stokes my spirit is in too short supply, and if there were more and much more, that wouldn’t be enough, because I am hungry all the time.
“Hungry all the time.”
The thing with hunger is that it never goes away until it’s satisfied. “Hungry all the time” means we’re hungry whether we feel it or not, whether we want to be or not. We just need reminders, like roaring stomachs or Edmundson’s essay.
The End of the Road
The argument from desire, to be sure, is not a formal presentation of the gospel — it may barely get you down the street of theism. But it absolutely points you there. And even better, it shows you that everything in you, and around you, has already been pointing you there.
And once you start down that way, once you really start investigating, the most probable explanation is that you were made for another world — a world won for you by a God who came down from heaven and became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, who suffered and was buried, who rose again in accordance with the Scriptures, who ascended to heaven and is coming again to judge the living and the dead, and whose kingdom will never end.