Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Dangerous Taboo

The Beauty and Truth Lab's ongoing exploration of pronoia is a conversation, not a dictation. It’s an inquiry, not dogma. We’re explorers in search of the ever-evolving truth, not authorities proclaiming doctrine from on high. We refuse to be salespeople intent on getting you to be like us or buy our ideas. In fact, let’s look at the downsides of the perspectives we celebrate. The first thing you should consider before leaping into a relationship with pronoia is that it is utterly at odds with conventional wisdom. The 19th-century poet John Keats said that if something is not beautiful, it is probably not true. But the vast majority of modern storytellers— journalists, filmmakers, novelists, talk-show hosts, and poets—assert the opposite: If something is not ugly, it is probably not true. In a world that equates pessimism with acumen and regards stories about things falling apart as having the highest entertainment value, pronoia is deviant. It is a taboo so taboo that it’s not even recognized as a taboo. The average American child sees 20,000 murders on TV before reaching age 18. This is considered normal. Every community has video rental stores filled with hundreds of multimillion-dollar films that depict people doing terrible things to each other. If you read newspapers, you have every right to believe that Bad Nasty Things compose 90 percent of the human experience. The authors of thousands of books published this year will hope to lure you in through the glamour of murder, addiction, self-hatred, sexual pathology, shame, betrayal, extortion, robbery, cancer, arson, and torture. But you will be hard-pressed to find more than a few novels, films, news stories, and TV shows that dare to depict life as a gift whose purpose is to enrich the human soul. If you cultivate an affinity for pronoia, people you respect may wonder if you have lost your way. You might appear to them as naive, eccentric, unrealistic, misguided, or even stupid. Your reputation could suffer and your social status could decline. But that may be relatively easy to deal with compared to your struggle to create a new relationship with yourself. For starters, you will have to acknowledge that what you previously considered a strong-willed faculty—the ability to discern the weakness in everything—might actually be a mark of cowardice and laziness. Far from being evidence of your power and uniqueness, your drive to produce hard-edged opinions stoked by hostility is likely a sign that you’ve been brainwashed by the pedestrian influences of pop nihilism. Before the onset of pronoia, you may feel fine about the fact that you generate much of your dynamic energy through anger, agitation, discomfort, and judgmental scorn. But once the pronoia kicks in, you’ll naturally want more positive feelings to be your high-octane fuel. That will require extensive retraining. The work could be arduous, delicate, and time-consuming. Are you truly ready to shed the values and self-images that keep you locked into alignment with the dying civilization? Will you have the stamina and inspiration necessary to dream up bigger, better, more original sins and wilder, wetter, more interesting problems? Do you realize how demanding it will be to turn yourself into a wildly disciplined, radically curious, fiercely tender, ironically sincere, ingeniously loving, aggressively sensitive, blasphemously reverent, lustfully compassionate master of rowdy bliss? * Try saying this aloud: "I die daily." It’s one of our favorite formulas for success. Is it right for you? Say it again, using a different tone of voice this time. "I die daily." Chant it in a fake foreign accent. Sing it to the tune of the nursery rhyme, "Frère Jacques." Play with it in the voice of the cartoon character you loved best as a child. Repeat it 10 times in a row, or try other vocal experiments. Then muse on these questions. What do you need to kill off in yourself in order to tune in to the beauty that’s hidden from you? What worn-out shticks are blinding you to the blessings that life is conspiring to give you? Which of your theories may have been useful and even brilliant in the past but are now keeping you from becoming aware of the ever-fresh creation that unfolds before you? "I die daily" means that it’s not enough to terminate your stale mental habits just once. The price of admission into pronoia is a commitment to continual dying. You’ll have to ask yourself rude questions and kick your own ass again and again. Today’s versions of beauty, truth, love, goodness, justice, and liberation will pass away. To keep abreast of the latest developments—to cultivate tomorrow’s versions of pronoia—you’ll have to immerse yourself regularly in the waters of chaos. Your relationship with pronoia will have to be a never-ending improvisation. The dream of a steady-state utopia is anathema to Beauty and Truth Laboratory researchers. We’re allergic to any paradise that resembles a spotless shopping mall within the walls of a gated community in heaven. * Pronoia is fueled by a drive to cultivate happiness and a determination to practice an aggressive form of gratitude that systematically identifies the things that are working well. But it is not a soothing diversion meant for timid Pollyannas strung out on optimistic delusions. It’s not a feel-good New Age fantasy used to deny the harsh facts about existence. Those of us who perceive the world pronoiacally refuse to be polite shills for sentimental hopefulness. On the contrary, we build our optimism not through a repression of difficulty, but rather a vigorous engagement with it. We understand that the best way to attract blessings is to grapple with the knottiest enigmas. Each fresh puzzle is a potential source of future bliss—an exciting teaching that may usher us to our next breakthrough. Do you want to be a pronoiac player? Blend anarchistic rebelliousness with open-hearted exuberance. Root your insurrectionary fervor in expansive joy instead of withering hatred. Enjoy saying "no!" but don’t make it the wellspring of your vitality. Be fueled by blood-red yeses that rip against the grain of comfortable ugliness.

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