From hard to enlightened solipsism

Abstract: Contemporary individualism is a false impulse of individuation. This is only conceivable in the relationship with the collective. But the collective is erased from the contemporary impetus, which has become a harsh solipsism: “My mind is everything”. How to find its enlightened version? By separating the powers of the Self and the Non-Self, by giving back its power to the invisible.

New individualists

I have already quoted Catherine Malabou, interviewed on “to be or not to be governed”. The subject no longer matters here. Let’s listen instead to how Malabou puts forward her opinion:

The idea for the book I wrote about anarchy came from an article I had read about Donald Trump, entitled ‘Is Trump an anarchist?’ At first, I thought it was a joke. Wasn’t Trump looking to appear […] like the one who will put the country in order? But, in the background […] he belongs to libertarianism, which demands complete freedom of action from the government, which refuses to pay taxes or control the sale of arms. This corresponds to a fundamental movement of capitalism which is in the process of beginning its anarchist turn.”

Malabou starts from a belief that Trump is a representative of the order and then reads an article that convinces her otherwise. An individualist of the last century would have said in brief, “I screwed up. Since I read this article, I understand better.” This admission implies two positions, both as clear: 1) I admit that it is easy to be overwhelmed by the world, 2) My personal assurance, as an active party, is not threatened. Both strong collectivist and individualist posture.


Malabou’s discourse, very representative of contemporary individualism, stands on only one of these postures. “No real power outside of my own mind.” The world does not overwhelm her, it informs her. The rectification of information does not come from the world but from herself. She keeps ownership of everything. The collective has no place in the inner mental scene; it remains outside, as an abstract framework. A framework that you have to deal with but that is not part of yourself.

That is a concern. A terrible concern. Where, indeed, can the collective exist if not in the multitude of our minds that assemble it? How can it appear if we do not each put a part of the self into it? Would the collective be reduced to governmental, social, charitable bodies, responsible for enforcing the general interest whether it concerns us or not? But if no one cares, what power do they have left?

“Let’s change the faces on the wall”

Typically the contemporary individualist sees collectivism as a kind of unalterable social space-time. Governments pass, the collective remains, welded like the points of a line. Another analogy: it is a wall as solid as those in the house, and decision-makers peel off it as easily as wallpaper, without harming the health of the wall. It will always be possible to finance social support because fat capitalism can afford it. It is enough that it agrees to redistribution. Why bother with the health of the human collective? Paradoxically, that of the ecosystem is more worrying. But which one is the most fragile? A Nature that has already survived several ecocides over millions of years, or a protectionist society less than a century old?

The two solipsisms

To understand what is wrong with our contemporaries, we must talk about solipsism. Literally “only my mind exists”. There are two ways to understand this statement, the individualist and the collectivist. The individualist consists in saying: “My thought is the only thing I can certify to myself. Nothing else has reality”. Pure, hard solipsism: the world is a creation of my mind, its “reality” is potentially an illusion. Even hardened materialists such as neuroscientists confirm that our perception of the world is a pure mental scene, a reconstruction. A simulation? Hard solipsists are seduced by the hypothesis of the world as a simulation. They consider it plausible that a Great Programmer created the game called “Reality”, of which we would be the busy little characters. Being solipsistic does not prevent you from having broad ideas! If the world is an illusion for me, I too can be an illusion in a larger consciousness, which would have created me without really paying attention to it.

Being a pure solipsist thus oscillates between the most total fatuity of “I am everything” and the equally radical withdrawal of “I am a Sim”. Swelling and deflation of the Self. This lack of reference comes from the weakness of the collective’s models. Without ‘Everything’ well represented it is difficult to situate oneself as a part.

Independent lighting

Collectivist, or ‘enlightened’ solipsism is quite different. My mental scene is always considered as personal, but the world represented has all its independence. We must take the term ‘independence’ in the strong sense: the world has its own will. Impossible to include it in my interior scene! To claim it would be to say in truth that I am substituting, for the world itself, my theory about it. I would replace its will with mine! So no, if I consider myself an enlightened solipsist, on the one hand I trust in the value of my thoughts about my inner universe; I have confidence in myself. And I have the same confidence in the certainty that reality is unthinkable; it is the only one who can experience itself properly. All my thoughts about this are subjective and fragile.

Two powers, self and non-self, cannot swallow up each other. When they seek to do so, they reduce themselves to impotence. On the contrary, by respecting each other, they are strengthened. To admit my mistakes, to say the world unthinkable, is to strengthen my Self. I rid it of its harsh solipsistic myths. I stop seeing the world as I would like it to be. I support my identity, improve its coherence and objectivity by pruning it of its subjectivities about a world that speaks to me but remains inaccessible.

Science as a matchmaker

Perhaps you get the impression, reading this, that I am advocating for the scientific posture. It’s not exactly that. Scientific materialism can be a variant of “hard” solipsism: theories that believe themselves alone in the world. Eventually leading to denying the existence of an inner self, mental phenomena, reducing them to simple emanations of reality in themselves. No, the enlightened solipsist treats science as a language shared between reality and self. Not that of reality in itself!

Science has the side effect of materializing everything, flattening everything from reality in itself. By losing its mystery, it loses its inaccessibility. Our contemporaries have appropriated science, which is increasingly being shared. In doing so, they tend towards hard solipsism: “My mind encompasses everything, the unknown recedes, everything is visible, what is not visible is illusion.”

A deity who loses her believers

But some essential things remain inherently invisible, such as the human collective. This Whole superior to its parts does not appear in the sights of our instruments. We experience it, it is its best access to existence. But if we manage to convince ourselves that the phenomena experienced are illusions. What remains in the Whole to exist?

The specter of the collective wanders, looking for the few believers able to give it still consistency, in the midst of the solipsists who have eliminated it. She is a fragile God, powerful only from the power of prayers, songs that affirm her presence in our minds. Let’s sing a little louder, we, the enlightened!

(I hope not to be the subject of any liturgical recuperation)


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