“What is true for you is true for you”

It happens that New Agers and other “spiritual” leaders will make a statement like:

“Take with you what you want and leave the rest” –Sylvia Browne
“What is true for you is true for you.” “What is true for you is what you have observed yourself.” –L. Ron Hubbard

I think this line of propaganda seems particularly benign. It seems generous, insofar as it leaves it up to you to decide what to believe and what not to believe. It also seems to promote critical thinking, insofar as it invites you not to accept everything at face value.

Of course, what happens in practice is that, in these schools of thought, doubt is absolutely anathema. The “rest” you’re supposed to leave out is the peripheral stuff which makes you doubt the core stuff. You are never allowed to find the basic premises “false for you” after careful observation.

The real role of these lines is to keep you focused on what you are predisposed to believe, and to make you ignore more questionable things. The fact that you are already engaged in the ideology means that you’ve already emotionally connected with its core principles. Once you are a “true believer,” what is “true for you” includes the infallibility of Sylvia Browne, L. Ron Hubbard, or whoever else who told you that “what is true for you is true for you.” So you will be predisposed at that point to declare the ideology as “true for you” and whatever contradicts it as “false for you.”

The simple fact of the matter is that evaluation cannot be divorced from belief. Our worldview provides the ruler by which specific events and observations are analyzed. Therefore, to say to believers (or really, to anyone) to evaluate things for themselves is nothing more than a parlor trick. No one evaluates anything in isolation. Faith, reason, even science, are constructions of inter-subjective agreements: we just happen to agree with one set of such agreements and call them “truth.”

When this generally comes up is when some behavior of the leader or the organization contradicts the doctrines. Those observations must be discarded in order to prevent doubt from settling in. Once you become a Scientologist, what is “true for you” is that Scientology is the only force for good, and observations of Scientology’s organized crimes become “false for you.” If what is “true for you” is that Sylvia Browne is a psychic, then the natural conclusions normal people draw from her false predictions and fumbles become “false for you.”

Pythagoras, arguing for relativism, is said to have declared that “[w]hat is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me.” This is pretty much an equivalent statement, although Pythagoras’ statement is far more honest. The analogy with relativism is apt, as relativism is always the vanguard of totalitarian thought (just look at how relativist Christians need to be in order to argue for God as the totalizing explanation). You need to break down objective standards and plunge the individual in uncertainty before imposing your own (irrational) beliefs, or appeal to people who are already in a state of uncertainty (such as believers in the paranormal or the supernatural, which are by definition unknowable).

Relativism at a basic level is trivially true, insofar as every thought is an individual thought and every evaluation is an individual evaluation. That much is beyond doubt or argument. But that’s not what the New Agers and the relativists are implying. They want you to radically disconnect the evaluations of one person from the evaluations of another. They want you to believe that the shared context of knowledge has nothing at all to do with what we should think is true or false.

There are established facts, things that we can say are true or false in a greater sense than just “I believe it’s true for myself.” My position is not relativist in the mainstream sense because I believe that we have reason to be more or less confident in our beliefs; it makes sense to say e.g. that people who believe in evolution are more right than people who believe in Christian Creationism. From my standpoint, and that of many people who share my kind of reasoning, a statement which explains the data better than another, and with which we can make predictions, is more true.

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3 thoughts on ““What is true for you is true for you”

  1. David Gendron May 2 2013 at 12:54 Reply

    I’m a Creationist: Humans create God.

    • David Gendron May 2 2013 at 13:26 Reply

      created

      • Francois Tremblay May 2 2013 at 13:29 Reply

        No, I think your first comment was correct… :)
        Every single individual creates eir own God.
        After all, there is no God to observe, only a fictional book, and everyone interprets what they read differently…

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