Pronoia

"There is no stronger army in all the world than an idea whose time has come."
- Victor Hugo, 1870



 
 

The first modern use* of the word pronoia I can trace occurred during the psychedelic 1960s and 1970s - following a charismatic smile from John Perry Barlow. The EFF co-founder, Grateful Dead lyricist, and grizzled veteran of both Millbrook and Haight-Ashbury defined pronoia as:

the suspicion the Universe is a conspiracy
on your behalf.

The word was revived in the public mediasphere in early Spring 1994, when several members of a British and European bohemian subculture loosely known as zippies empathized with the pronoia concept and took it as a banner. It was agreed among these veteran ravers and festival-crusties that the American cyberhippy Barlow's interpretation of a "universal origin" of pronoia was definitely an element of the vibe they were experiencing there in the early 1990s.

As an exercise in memetics, the zippies declared with joy that on the terrestrial level, pronoia should be defined as the opposite of paranoia:


the sneaking suspicion others are conspiring to help you
(and you them!)


The pronoia meme was kick-started by the American magazine Wired when the influential 90's cyberculture journal featured UK zippy culture as it's May 1994 cover feature, plastering the zippies' definition of pronoia across several pages of its opening theme. Pronoia was also the perfect conceptual theme for a group of zippies preparing for a summer as ambassadors on a Zippy Pronoia Tour. The troupe caravaned across the ocean to North America, sharing the pronoia idea, celebrating genuine organic culture with Americans in a festival tour of communities from New York to California.

Time passed. Then, at the turn of the millennium, astrologer and poet Rob Brezsny wrote a wonderful, topical pronoia poem entitled Painful Blessings, which deserves reading all the way through!

A final thought on Pronoia: while symptoms of Pronoia include sudden attacks of optimism and outbreaks of goodwill, the revived meme also included a caution. Pronoia, like paranoia, can cause dangerous irrationality if taken in massive doses... grounding and skill at surfing are key to making the most of an onslought of pronoia.

 
 

* FOOTNOTE

It was brought to our attention several years ago, via e-mail by Mr. Fred H. Golder, that he believes HE in fact deserves credit for the revival of the word Pronoia in 1982. To his point, Pronoia.net offers a taste of his serious academic paper here. Writing at Queens College in October 1982 (in SOCIAL PROBLEMS,V.30,N.1:82-91), Mr. Golder summarizes:

"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."

Our response: Well, maybe feelings of pronoia are always just a "delusion"... or maybe Mr. Golder just hasn't gotten the vibe? :-) Seriously, it seems to us as if this pop-psych definition of the word Pronoia holds up a dysfunctional and delusional minority to a scientific zoom lense, and reports the view as if it were an accurate representation of the larger youth phenomenon. Pronoia.net disagrees with this basic premise.

 
 
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