Some thoughts about truth, solipsism, and evil, in response to Brett Stevens (Amerika.org).
My post from last month, Unconditional Atonement, Limited Election (18 October 2019), examined some Calvinistic beliefs and reflections on Good vs. Evil, and it attracted a hefty response from two noteworthy individuals.
- Radix Fidem (feat. Ed Hurst): Riding Herd on Sinners (18 October 2019)
- Amerika (feat. Brett Stevens): How Religions View Solipsism (18 October 2019)
Ed’s post cleared up our understanding of the differences between “goats” and “cattle”, parabolic archetypes that he and I had used in describing different types of people and their contributions to society.
Brett’s response has continued to act as a goad to my contemplations. This post contains some of the proceedings.
On Objective Truth and Intelligence
First of all, I cannot claim to be a wizard of Truth, nor am I an expert of theology. In my writings, I am merely reporting what I have learned, perceived, or experienced. But I have the confidence to write such things because, (1) I believe God is working in and through my life, and (2) I am the primary authority of my own testimony (unless you count God himself as the author). I postulate that one’s testimony of faith must be based on one’s own perceptions of, and experiences with God. I believe that Calvin, Wesley, et al. attained their own recognitions of Christ and the Gospel through a similar approach.
I believe this is what Stevens was getting at when he wrote,
“[Nihilism] does not deny external reality, only the term “objective truth,” because truth requires a perceiver; a truth is a statement about reality, not part of the world beyond our heads. Reality is consistent and “objective,” but no truths can be.”
I’m not sure how Nihilism fits into this argument, but I agree with the next clause, in that a testimony of faith is a statement of one’s subjective experience of Truth. But I disagree with his claim that there cannot be any Truth that might exist outside of the observance of man. What evidence do we have that mankind is fully aware of all Truth? There is strong evidence to the contrary though, namely in the fact that different people have different perceptions of truth.
Stevens explains this difference by the variance in intelligence and awareness.
“…nihilism recognizes that we humans are antennas, and some are able to catch more signal than others. Some are pointed in the wrong direction; some are broken. This model explains why people can have radically different perceptions, including insanity, of the same object. […]
Unlike almost all modern theories, nihilism takes into account the variation between human beings. A dumb person will not perceive as much as a smart person, nor will an insane person observe as much as a sane person. There are varying degrees of intelligence and sanity affecting level of accuracy.”
It could be possible that I am one of those lacking sufficient intelligence to apprehend truth, so maybe I’m short of understanding in my reading. But it seems like Stevens is saying that the intelligentsia have cornered the market on truth. If the definition of truth is confined to a philosophical exercise in logic (e.g. a truth statement: A= B, true or false?), then I might agree that there is a moderate correlation. Intelligent individuals will naturally be more aware of certain logical truths, or else, able to determine their existence and value, and therefore be able to utilize them more effectively.
However, if you believe that Truth is a living, sentient entity which interacts with reality and affects perception, then there are a multitude of states which exclude one from the knowledge of truth, chief among them are foolhardiness and a lack of discernment. I believe that prescient discernment takes precedence over one’s intelligence, in the ability to discern Truth. Furthermore, morality is determined through discernment, not by religious doctrines nor philosophy.
On Solipsism and Foolish Ignorance
Stevens defines basic human solipsism as the condition in which
“…we find our thoughts to be more real and easily mentally digestible than that world out there, so we tend to defer to our own judgments, sensations, emotions, memories, and instincts instead of trying to puzzle out the world.”
From a spiritual perspective, such is one’s experience when one is lacking discernment and understanding – hallmarks of foolhardiness.
“A fool has no delight in understanding, But in expressing his own heart.” ~ Proverbs 18:2 (NKJV)
So foolishness is not caused by a lack of intellect, but rather a focus on the subjective which precludes prescient foresight.
“Folly is joy to him who is destitute of discernment, But a man of understanding walks uprightly.” ~ Proverbs 15:21 (NKJV)
In other words, foolishness is a type of moral solipsism and spiritual blindness that excludes discernment and morality.
Stevens goes on,
“Again, solipsism applies in different degrees, probably creating a standard distribution in any population. The Dunning-Kruger effect applies; anything more complex than the mind of the person perceiving will not be understood.”
So we are all fools to some degree.
Although there may exist some correlation, certainly, intelligence cannot (always) be taken as a (true) measure of sanctification (i.e. one’s ability to discern truth). Likewise, it is a mistake to assume that foolishness, or solipsism, is the opposite of intelligence, or awareness, respectively.
Going back to the earlier section on Truth, if one is foolish and without discernment, there is then such Truth beyond one’s awareness. In this case, one’s ignorance of the matter would render it objective by definition (not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudices). This could be rephrased in a Descartes-like truth statement.
“Ego stultum, ergo verum rectus existit.”
Which is translated as,
“I am foolish, therefore, objective truth exists.”
The Dunning-Kruger effect may apply here as well.
Relativism vs. Solipsism
Stevens offered this about Relativism.
“…relativism… holds that whatever you perceive is absolutely true, as if each person lived in a universal and absolute universe of their own where what they perceive is fully accurate.”
Relativism is valuable if it makes one sensitive to the context of a situation, but Steven’s description of relativism sounds like the subjective experience of a solipsistic individual. The problem with using perception as a source of truth is that perception is highly subjective. If one is unintelligent (as Stevens emphasizes), or under a curse, or angry, or bitter, or distrustful, or strongly biased because of any reason, then perception will be skewed accordingly.
Collectivism, Self-Reliance, and Solipsism
In the afore cited post, I wrote,
“God has no intentions of either enhancing the world, nor destroying it, but only to use it to break mankind’s bent towards spiritual self-reliance, and bring them into His fold. Power, money, and control are just the means by which people often seek to avert a self-death, and that is what makes the desire for these things evil.”
Since then, the term “spiritual self-reliance” has introduced some confusion. Brett Stevens responded,
“…in my view, spiritual self-reliance is the only way to find God; the question is not self or God, but how disciplined the self is, because a mentally disciplined self (i.e. clear, realistic thinking; we are not speaking of cleaning your closet or eating your vegetables here) will naturally find God, since God is a part of reality, and therefore, will become evident the more is understood. […]”
I struggled to come up with the term “spiritual self-reliance”, because I’m reaching for an abstract concept that is difficult to put into words. The word “sin” might be the traditionally correct term, but it’s too clichéd to carry any meaningfulness. But Stevens makes the association that spiritual self-reliance (my expression) is more or less equivalent to solipsism (his expression). We might be getting lost in the woods and definitions here, but if I understand him correctly, I agree with him. But I wish to emphasize that solipsism can take on a spiritual or existential dimension, as opposed to merely the intellectual or emotional concepts of solipsism.
Solipsism is defined as,
- In philosophy, the theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist.
- Extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one’s feelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption.
I realize that this is an esoteric concept, so I’ll offer a few arguments (labeled as “examples”), that are more readily comprehendible to the reader, and open to discussion.
Example 1: If solipsism is the belief that only the self exists, then on a higher plane, spiritual solipsism might be defined as the belief that only humanity and the material world exists, and it is implied that god, metaphysics, and the paranormal does not exist. Thus, spiritual solipsism is essentially atheism in its simplest form. This view highlights the fact that atheists generally refuse to take a mystical approach, to look beyond whatever information they can readily apprehend through their various senses and faculties of reason.
“The fool hath said in his heart, “There is no God.” ~ Psalm 14:1 (NKJV)
Example 2: In the comments at Amerika, The Crow left this description of “thinking”, which Stevens identified as solipsism.
“Useful idiots think. Thinking is the epitome of evil. Thinking describes a state of evil, without addressing or rectifying it.
Evil is the result of abstraction: removing oneself from Reality, and finding fault with it.”
The Crow is describing what I called spiritual self-reliance in my earlier post. So it does seem that Stevens and I got hung up on the definitions of terms. The descriptions bear this out.
It is interesting to see that The Crow identifies “thinking” as the basis for the problem of evil, but thinking is merely the human faculty that locks one into a state of solipsism, or spiritual self-reliance (or “sin”). This view conforms to the superficially mystical adage, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” The falsehood of this adage lies in the fact that there exists good and evil outside of one’s conscious contemplations and faculties of cognitive judgment. That is to say, if one is unaware that something is evil, or misidentifies it as something good, this ignorance/misnomer does not make it any less evil, it only means that one is naïve/deceived. Those who call good evil, and evil good are described as “perverted”. This speaks to the problem of how the solipsistic mind seeks to avert a confrontation with the unpleasant or difficult aspects of evil (or holiness) either through denial or rebranding evil as good (or vice versa). The thinking of a matter has nothing to do with whether the issue is good or bad. It has everything to do with how one confronts and adapts to the realities of good and evil.
Moreover, thinking is not entirely evil, as it can also be used to help the soul navigate through the confusion that arises from convoluted definitions of abstract concepts (such as solipsism or spiritual self-reliance), and form comprehensive and prescriptive models of abstract realities.
The Bible speaks to this issue as well.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” ~ Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
Note that the Bible does NOT say, “…be transformed by the rejection of your mind…”, as if though our thoughts and reason are anathema to a healthy spiritual life.
Example 3: A new reader (Julia) left the following comment under an older post.
“Some “red pilled” [authors] say women are collectivists, [while] others say women are solipsists. Is this not contradictory?”
On the face of it, collectivism and solipsism do seem to be incompatible, but there’s more to it. Solipsism was defined earlier, while collectivism is defined as…
- The political principle of centralized social and economic control, especially of all means of production.
- A value that is characterized by emphasis on cohesiveness among individuals and prioritization of the group over the self.
I believe Julia is referring to how women adhere to the social values delineated in the second definition, although women are also known to prefer the social values prescribed by the first.
Perhaps the easiest way to address this question is in terms of agency, and varying degrees of solipsism. Women are not prone to exercise agency, and less so if they happen to be extremely solipsistic. As a result of this diffuse locus of self-control, they tend to follow a “herd mentality”, which means that they rely on their social group to guide them, encourage them, and keep them in line.
Individuals or groups that subscribe to a collectivist worldview demonstrate greater orientation toward in-group than toward out-group, and they tend to find common values and goals as particularly salient. The in-group chosen will naturally conform to each woman’s relative value system and goals in life. One qualification that is particularly important to women these days for choosing the in-group is that the in-group should not challenge her solipsistic ego nor upset her Feeelz.
One well known way to vet a woman is to review what kind of company she keeps.
What is “spiritual self-reliance”?
The answer to Julia’s question can be coopted to address the same issue of confusion highlighted in Steven’s post (namely, what is meant by the term “spiritual self-reliance”), albeit within a different context. To make the associations clearer to the reader, I’ll offer these trite equivalencies to be used in the following discussion.
- Solipsism describes the isolation of the heart and mind.
- Collectivism describes the need for mutual support, cooperation, and guidance, among other things. It is assumed that collectivists are not entirely self-sufficient.
When Stevens asserted that “spiritual self-reliance is the only way to find God”, I am sure he was referring to the abandonment of human collectivism (and solipsism) as a path to find personal fulfillment and purpose in life, and then looking within and above to discover one’s connection to God. My original concept of spiritual self-reliance carried somewhat of the opposite meaning, in that one relies upon one’s self (and not God) in establishing and defending a solipsistic mindset in one’s approach to find a human collectivist meaning in life. The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel spells out the folly of this approach, and how God has decreed that such endeavors will never come to fruition. (See Genesis 11:1-9.)
In conclusion, “spiritual self-reliance” is a poor term that needs to be further defined and qualified by context to carry a unique meaning in discourse. So I believe it’s better to stick to the term “sin”, and to be aware that our minds naturally want to jump around that fact.
Solipsism and the Dunning-Kruger effect
Stevens cited the Dunning-Kruger effect to explain how solipsism comes in varying degrees. He elaborates further on this point.
“In your average population, ten percent of the people may be close to self-actualized, ten percent will never approach any degree of self-actualization, and most are in the middle, which means that they have small glimpses of accurate statements about themselves and reality in the midst of a mental muddle of impulses, reactions, fears, and hopes.”
This 10% figure seems to agree with what I’ve heard from a couple pastors who ascertained that only 10% of their congregation are “real Christians”. Yet, the overwhelming majority of church-goers will claim that they are Christians, thereby proving the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Maybe these populations are not equivalent, but could it be that many people perceive (and so subconsciously believe) that being a Christian is in some regards equivalent to achieving self-actualization? If so, how much of this association is true? If it’s true, then wouldn’t Christian growth devolve into a Maslow’s pyramid of need satisfaction? Based on the Seeds and Plant analogy, I tend to believe there is some degree of truth in this.
Stevens emphasizes the need for intelligence to overcome solipsism, and I’ll agree that it certainly makes it easier, but how much of self-actualization is dependent on intelligence? I think it is not so simple to presume intelligence as the key element of spiritual enlightenment. Discernment and wisdom are likely to be more significant vectors than merely intelligence. Life conditions and social support networks also play an important part.
“While this will seem shocking to those raised in contemporary dualistic and anthropocentric Christianity, it in fact brings us closer to the pagan roots of Christianity, more the Greeks than the Nordic and Hindu/Buddhist roots. It sees the divine as a force of order, not a personal connection. Those who do right by the order rise, those who do not fall, and those who never engage with it just kind of struggle along at an unexceptional level.”
Accepting the nature of the divine as a force of order is one of the most rudimentary steps towards knowing God, even one that many self-avowed atheists will accept in practice (although they stop short of labeling it “divine”). Yet many cultures and individuals neglect this order entirely in favor of other structures of beliefs about reality, usually to their own detriment. It is another step closer to God to recognize the overwhelming power and purposes of God, and a step further still to develop a personal connection. Much farther down the road is the embrace of spiritual maturity, in which one comes to understand the will of God, and develops the discipline to follow along in cooperation.
Just as solipsism appears in varying degrees among different individuals, so too does the opposite, which we might describe as sanctification and the heart-felt knowledge of God. It is interesting to observe that the Dunning-Kruger effect applies here too, as true, seasoned believers are prone to doubt their faith, while atheists, converged Churchians, etc. remain stubbornly cocksure of their folly.
“However, the bigger point that Sigma Frame makes is the identification of the disease of solipsism. “Good” applies to those who self-actualize and overcome their self-referentiality; evil applies to an absence of enough good to make someone mostly sane and mostly able to adapt to their world.”
To recap, solipsism is foolishness and the stronghold of sin in preventing one from apprehending Truth.