Thursday, May 12, 2016
What is Pronoia? (Short Version)
Pronoia: Our New Antidote to Social Paranoia?
The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.
Pssst... Psst.. I have a secret to reveal to you.... Its all about a new wave of thought in the Western world. ... It is a way of looking at the world that generally unsupported by traditional religion, certainly not accepted by conservative or pessimistic politicians, is looked at skeptically by traditional psychology, and since most philosophers are already suspicious, This got my attention!
Similar in intent, but not in tone to the great but largely unfulfilled paradigm shift of the 1980’s, called The Aquarian Conspiracy, this new movement is announcing itself in an irreverent but joyous way, and holds out to us the promise of a new personally and culturally transformative conspiracy. It is all held within a wider, more inclusive set of beliefs called Pronoia. But before I define that term, I want to speak to you about a very important word, so often maligned, conspiracy....
All too often, a conspiracy takes on a sinister definition; as a nefarious plot, or as a fearful reaction that sees some lurking form of evil collusion. Conspiracies and their malevolent actions are always set to strike down some treasured value system or patriotic platform, or if they are heeded and accepted, their influence will personally corrupt our morals with intrigue, while it threatens us with complex international diplomatic schemes...
No, I have not been listening to Glenn Beck too much, nor have I been overdosing on negativity by watching Fox News, or tuning in all those prognostications on the History channels about the year 2012, and all the certain disasters that are to come!
I believe that we forget that charming use of conspiracy found in the Christmas song whose lyrics talk fondly about conspiring by the fire, in a winter wonderland, or that a strong, working conspiracy is necessary for the ideals of social groups to manifest- from American Revolutionary patriots, to the Civil Rights movement, from environmental awareness to peace rallies, all of which depend, for their effectiveness, on a shared feeling of working together for the same goal1 To unite, and to rally, and then to act in concert towards change, reform, or to establish new freedoms from oppression and tyrannies large and small... Remember, That’s a conspiracy, too!
As a pastoral pneumatologist, or as a process theologian who believes deeply in the shared power and noble effect of what united hearts and minds can accomplish in their lives, the concept of a conspiracy for me is a cherished and vital one.
Conspiracy, from the Latin, con spirare which means to breathe together, and then be inspired as One... To share one breath, one essence, one life within an instant of intimacy, can have great sustaining implications for our personal transformation, and for the cause of global, human empathy- a breathing, working force that offers us release and connection, hope and healing, justice and compassion... While today I will defer from explaining some of the esoteric ways and visceral means of conspiracy held or hidden within the breathing techniques: such as Buddhist Tantra, and the healing practice of Tonglon, or recommending Holotropic exercises, Centering prayers, or Kundalini training... And so on... Simply put, I affirm that we all can learn how to breathe together...
What I will say today is that any genuine community that shares principles and a commitment to common ideals, needs to aspire to becoming a benevolent conspiracy...
The purpose of coming together is to inspire one another, to work and breath together to accomplish an important public mission and to energize crucial goals... In short, a conspiracy is as good or as bad as the intentions and motivations that inspire its actions.
One of the visions I have for this or any liberal religious community is to become a benevolent conspiracy; not just to rail against oppressive religious beliefs, or restrictive, exclusionary dogmas, not just be smug intellectuals who enjoy a good debate, but to be an energetic, positive and dynamic conspiracy where we come together to celebrate life; to offer one another hope, healing, courage, and love.... Then, once that is truly known or experienced, as a church, we can conspire to take public stands that promote greater justice and wider compassion in our world!
Now, what about this new idea for our lives called Pronoia? Pronoia is the assertion that the universe itself is a gracious conspiracy working on your behalf, that among the foundational purposes for human life is to teach us and to bless us, and provide us with tools and experiences for our happiness and well being... So Pronoia functions as the polar opposite to our socially popular and pervasive sense of psychological paranoia.
Paranoia? Since I no longer, with any assurance, call myself a clinician, I will gladly defer any definitions of paranoia to those who can define it with exactness or clinical confidence.
Instead, I will employ the linguistic approach, by looking at its Greek origins... The combination of two words, para and noia or nous...
Para refers to many prepositions- in, with, among, and beyond starts the list... And noia and it linguistic cousin, nous refers to the nature of human mind, and to the expanse of our intellect...
When linked together, these Greek words refer to how we comprehend or understand the inner workings of our thoughts and the expansive effects of our feelings. I prefer, then, to define our social and popular concept of paranoia as being... All in one’s mind, or if I am referring to the Bible, it is called being beside yourself;
Or its all within your own fantasies, mental perceptions, and it is tragically promoted by our willing and ready sharing of our irrational fears... You know, when I look around, all through our media, it seems that our culture truly enjoys contaminating the social awareness, and emphasizing all the ways and events that cause us to become afraid... And conversely, then we tell each other to quickly dismiss all that irrational thinking... when people glibly say to you- Oh, you are just being paranoid about this!
So, in this same context of root words and possible definitions, Pronoia is the affirmative- that it is for the pro or positive side of our thoughts and our feelings- being pronoid is for the sake of one’s affirmative comprehension of any ideas, issues, thoughts, and feelings we might have or entertain.
Let’s continue... with this national or cultural observation: Many of our society’s “way out” ideas seem to begin or start in the fertile imagination and soil on the West or the Left Coast... And then a few of these ideas do eventually trickle or reluctantly migrate over here, to the less fertile, and more staid and traditional East or Right Coast... Where they are more critically tested or quickly rejected. (The social legacy of TV/Film/Media? So much of our popular media is all about fantasy, or it emphasizes banal forms of reality, etc...)