positive illusions by vesna bukovec

Pronoia [proh-noi-uh] is a neologism that is defined as the opposite state of mind as paranoia: having the sense that there is a conspiracy that exists to help the person. It is also used to describe a philosophy that the world is set up to secretly benefit people. The writer and Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow defined pronoia as ‘the suspicion the Universe is a conspiracy on your behalf.’ The academic journal ‘Social Problems’ published an article entitled ‘Pronoia’ by Fred H. Goldner in 1982.

According to Goldner: ‘Pronoia is the positive counterpart of paranoia. It is the delusion that others think well of one. Actions and the products of one’s efforts are thought to be well received and praised by others. Mere acquaintances are thought to be close friends; politeness and the exchange of pleasantries are taken as expressions of deep attachment and the promise of future support. Pronoia appears rooted in the social complexity and cultural ambiguity of our lives: we have become increasingly dependent on the opinions of others based on uncertain criteria.’

‘Wired Magazine’ published an article in 1994 titled ‘Zippie!’ The cover of the magazine featured a psychedelic image of a smiling young man with wild hair, a funny hat, and crazy eyeglasses. The article announced an organized cultural response to Thatcherism in the UK. The opening paragraphs of the article describe ‘a new and contagious cultural virus’ and refer to pronoia as ‘the sneaking feeling one has that others are conspiring behind your back to help you.’ The article announces a cultural, musical, invasion of the United States to rival the British Invasion of 1964-1966, culminating with a ‘Woodstock Revival’ to be staged at the Grand Canyon. The spokesperson for the Zippies, Fraser Clark, dubs this movement the ‘Zippy Pronoia Tour.’

The ‘Wired’ article explains a close association between Zippie, rave culture, and the use of designer drugs which are noted for producing feelings of euphoria and positive fellow-being among users. Rave culture involves large social gatherings to participate in trance-like dancing in an environment of techno music and intense light shows. The message of the Zippies appears to be a design to bring the intense positive social feeling and enthusiasm of the Rave to a quasi-religious cultural movement for the improvement of mankind. The ‘Outsourced Zippy’ and ‘Pronoia Page’ claims that the Zippie/Pronoia phenomenon is simply a hoax and the ‘Zippy Pronoia Tour’ was nothing more than a publicity stunt for ‘Wired.’

Pronoia was also a prevalent theme in the 1988 novel ‘The Alchemist,’ by Paulo Coelho. In it, the protagonist, a young boy is told by an older man to pursue his dreams. He tells the boy, ‘When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.’ The book also deals with omens, signs that the universe wants the boy to follow a specific path, which will lead to his goal of fulfilling a dream. The principal proponent of pronoia in the 21st century has been the astrologer, writer, poet, singer, and songwriter Rob Brezsny. Brezsny’s book ‘Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings,’ published in 2005, explores the philosophy of pronoia.

Long before the term was coined, J.D. Salinger referred to the concept in the novella, ‘Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters’: ‘I’m a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.’


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