The simple status update may as well have had butterfly wings, for all of the unexpected effects it has had, weeks later.
I wanted to know why it was that so many people were inclined to debate other people’s individual preferences when it came to arts and entertainment with the same rigor as intervening in another country’s civil war or a woman’s right to choose. So, I asked the question to Facebook. At one point in the discussion, someone brought up the word “solipsism”, and at this point, I will take this word out of the context of the original conversation, because at that point, *I* left the original conversation for some other realm altogether.
BITING YOUR TAIL
I first learned about solipsism in my first year Problems in Philosophy class at McMaster, nearly fourteen years ago. The professor taught us the term within the context of French philosopher René Descartes’ famous statement cogito, ergo sum (“I think; therefore, I am”).
It’s the idea that everything in one’s existence is subject to doubt, starting with the external world at large (which you perceive through your five senses, which tend to trick you from time to time) continuing with your body (again, something you sense physically) and ending with your own internal belief systems (which may be rooted in irrational thought and illogic). All that you’re left with at the end that you know to be true is that you’re thinking, because when you try to doubt your own thinking, you find that “doubting” is, in itself, a thought.*
What, then, to make of everyone and everything in the “outside” world?
My return to solipsism at this particular time in my personal development triggered what amounted to a minor breakdown, which usually precedes a breakthrough. Since my first exposure to the idea in 1999, I’d spent many of the years since immersed in the personal growth industry. As the three or so regular readers of this blog are aware, I’ve spent a lot of word space in the handful of entries in 2013 picking apart the whole industry.
There was just something wrong with it that ran deeper than just the overall materialistic, pseudo-scientific flakiness of the whole movement, something I couldn’t identify. In “solipsism”, I had found the word I’d been looking for to describe the problem: it all was just, as one person put it on the group, a “great big circle jerk”. It was like that mythical Nordic serpent that Vikings believed circled the world, biting its own tail.
The problems are as follows:
– Positive thought at the exclusion of all others: even when you’re authentically not feeling good, you’re supposed to transition yourself out of it like *that*. This, of course, creates more negativity in the form of guilt, the New Age version of how old Catholic nuns would make disbelievers feel, because you know you’re supposed to feel happy, and thus feel bad for not being happy. Bad coaches will advise you, in some way shape or form, to fake it until it becomes real, but that tends to create psychological damage via suppression.
– Willful ignorance of the plight of world events because, well, they’re usually negative, and we don’t want to contaminate our vibe. Bad coaches and New Age teachers who advocate practice of the Law of Attraction will tell you to ignore the news, ignore social issues, ignore political controversies, etc., because your attention to them will add to them, and detract from your own vibration.
Ignoring troubled people and situations because they’ll cramp your thoughts on wealth and positivity is bad citizenship at best, and just plain heartless its most basic. How so-called “spiritual” teachers who financially profit from their wisdom can get away with advocating apathy towards suffering is among the worse hypocrisies of the self-help movement.
– If you’re not getting the results you want, you’re in the wrong, not the system of thought. This is the issue I personally had with my most recent program. I wasn’t allowed to deviate from the school of thought I was studying, and by the time I understood it all, I saw the big picture for all of its flaws and all of its advantages.
Fact is, there are many “successful” people in the world who have broken nearly all of the “rules” of the system in question and lived pretty good lives afterwards. My guess is, there are many more “unsuccessful” people who buy into coaching programs such as these and then get nothing, but somehow, the idea isn’t to improve the methodology, but fault the student, which is unscientific to say the least.
In all three cases, the common factor was the same: there is no acknowledgement of the reality outside certain boundaries of most personal growth systems. In fact, there is no “outside”. And if we are to apply rational thought to these boundaries, the same systems of thinking that have produced all the scientific and social breakthroughs that have led to the wholesale improvement of living standards on the planet to date, we are faulted for “thinking too much”, and simply not just “being” with it.
That shit doesn’t fly with me, because all of what I’ve just said notwithstanding, I do believe in holistic evolution and growth. I support the idea of personal growth and self-help, owe my current awareness and make-up to the good mentors and coaches I’ve had. I believe in developing and evolving the whole person….but in all of those cases that “whole” also includes my intellect. To suppress the mind while advancing the body and spirit is to commit a crime against oneself just as equal as suppressing the spirit for bodily and intellectual acquisition, because they’re a three-in-one package deal.
That’s what the re-introduction of the term “solipsism” did for me in the beginning of this breakdown/breakthrough, but it didn’t stop there, because an upgrade to society’s fragmented self-improvement program was only the beginning….