Saturday, March 18, 2006

The danger of being satisfied

  Rob Brezsny's star is in the ascendant - books being published, interviews on radio shows, CDs of his band, and his own website with a multicolour hand print.
He also writes horoscopes, which may give you pause for thought.

  Rob's answer to human problems is 'pronoia', catchily the opposite of paranoia. Apparently, we should be seeing life as a conspiracy to make us feel good. If I may quote:
 
"Act as if the universe is a prodigious miracle
created for your amusement and illumination. Assume that
secret helpers are working behind the scenes to assist you
in turning into the gorgeous masterpiece you were born to
be. Join the conspiracy to shower all of creation with blessings."


  Isn't that just lovely?! Let me also open the door for... the 15 Minute Miracle:
"The 15-Minute Miracleä is a fun-to-do, fill-in-blanks journaling process that increases your sense of well-being the moment you engage in it. As your sense of well-being rises, your vibrational frequency increases, which causes you to attract even MORE wonderful things that cause you to feel grateful, encouraged, and in the flow of Life. As you continue to do this process, you are likely to become an Irresistible Magnet for Love, Money, Miracles, and More ...sometimes at the speed of thought!"


  A template for this miracle is here. It includes writing down what you appreciate, your intentions, asking for assistance, and intoning that you are an "irresistible Magnet for Miracles". Lovely! Lovely! Lovely!


  Yes, it is admirable to be optimistic and happy. Optimism reduces stress and increases life expectancy, according to some studies. And, certainly, your effect on others is better when you are happy, and I fully endorse it - but this philosophy of self-miracles and pronoia is not happiness.
  There is much psychology behind these ideas, and I will try to outline a little bit of it. First, there is a certain confirmation bias that occurs when you look for something. When you find confirming information, it has more weight in your memory, blotting out non-confirming information. So, expecting happiness will increase your recognition of happiness. This will, of course, make you happier, which I agree is all well and good.
  Secondly, there is a pervading value of the psychology of individualism. You look for your own miracles, and when you get them, you win! Those sad people who are always miserable should shut up and think happy!
  This leads us onto the gravest psychology error of these philosophies - ignorance. Looking for your own and finding your own happiness in the little things effectively reduces your place in the world to meaningless little details. Look around. Not all people have their own website, CDs, and books to hawk. Not everyone has many little things to be thankful of.

  What would Rob make of the starving, the dispossessed, the tyrannised, the oppressed? Would he look at them and think, "I'll inform them that they should be happy, at least they have feet!"? Would he look past, thinking, "Ha! I can breathe oxygen, how lucky!"? Or would he look at them and think, "I'm glad I'm not poor!"?

  Being a pronoiac helps yourself, but not others. It leaves you ignorant of their pain, and their inability to glory in being white, middle-class, American, and well off. All in all, it is another facet of humankind’s vast ability to glory in their own riches while others bear the brunt of the resultant poverty, without consideration of the accident of birth that made this situation occur.

  I believe, Rob, that you would find more happiness in devoting your life to the big things that affect us all, not the little things that affect you. Otherwise your existence is nothing more than a small exercise in smugness.

6 Comments:

Blogger upwinger said...

The most intelligent critique I've read ... but I suggest you actually read the full text of Mr Brezsny's book before you castigate him.

The world will never change by trying to influence the masses as a whole. Its only as we become enlightened one by one, each in our own ways, that the Light will begin to spread. We have to light the candles one by one, or else we'll send the whole place up in flames.

Mr Brezsny did not create the term 'pronoia;' he is just its most recent publicist. The outlook it fosters is just as valid as any other -- not a cure-all for everyone, but a corrective for those who need it most.

Greetings

11:25 PM  
Blogger News is Good said...

Thankyou for your kind comments. I must however, reply with some criticisms of myown:

"The world will never change by trying to influence the masses as a whole."
I would say that the world will only change by trying to influence everybody and everything necessary. Of course you can't influence the masses 'as a whole' because there is no way to address the 'whole'! You can still try to influence a 'mass' of people through one medium, however. So, in summation, influence of all kinds is necessary. Your concentration on 'enlightened one by one, each in our own ways' ignores the fact that many of these separate ways will actually be very similar indeed.

"...just as valid as any other..." - I really cannot accept this. To what extent do you mean 'any other'? Perhaps you mean it in the sense that the outlook that cat sick is God is as valid an outlook, although I imagine not. Maybe you mean that any outlook that reaches the designated goal is valid. This is more possible, but it is still wrong. We are not only trying to make happy people, we are trying to reach some sort of truth, either communally or individually. And this is why all outlooks are not equally valid.

You do not explicitly deal with the problem of selfishness engendered by pronoia, as I argue it. You hide this consideration by praising the attempt to enlighten people 'one by one', in order not to cause a blaze. I do not think it is a valid or sensible way to change individuals by making them think of ourselves, social and political and personal change are not entirely individual processes, dynamics, or experiences. The importance is to think of relatedness between the self and those of others, to attempt to improve the self and those of others as much as possible, without retreating to considering only your own. This retreat is the outcome that I believe will follow on from pronoia (which is excessively centred on one's own happiness and sense of positive conspiracy), and a more positive and helpful outcome would be one that would involve the happiness of others, also.

In short: this system, which asks the individual to find things to enjoy in their own life, is ethnocentric and class-centric. If you are not as privileged as Rob, myself, or yourself, it will not seem such a boon. It is a system which asks you to close out the pain of the world outside and concentrate on what is good for you. If you want to help people, you must also consider what is bad for them.

3:22 PM  
Blogger upwinger said...

Again, I must ask: Have you read the whole book? Or just the excerpt I posted at Future Hi? Because all these issues DO get addressed in Brezsny's full text. I just posted a teaser to get people interested.

Trying to change the masses has resulted in two world wars, and the current potential for a third. In my experience, it doesnt seem likely that a popular movement will ever have a future-forward positive effect on the masses. Its my stance that everyone needs first to tap their own Divinity, and once that is done, turn to assist their neighbors in whatever way necessary that they may also bring to birth the godling within. It just seems to me that history reveals that all mass movements either begin corrupt, or end corrupt.

I apologize for not being as clear about what I meant by "as valid as any other." As many faiths, so many paths -- to an ultimate Goal. All roads have the capability of leading the wanderers and the seekers to the Temple; the quickest routes are preferable, yes, but its hard to steer those who refuse to be led. I did not mean it as flippant as it came out. Again, my apologies.

1:12 AM  
Blogger News is Good said...

"It just seems to me that history reveals that all mass movements either begin corrupt, or end corrupt."

It would depend what you mean by 'corrupt'. Corrupt as in, they change over time? This is perhaps because the pragmatic needs of humanity are very out of kilter with the needs that, ideally, they would want to be fulfilled. Obviously this could be dealt with by waiting for everyone to reach enlightenment through their own path of faith. Or we could try something less hit-and-miss. Are you aware that socialism can be traced to far-out Christian ideas? Religion as a method to change politics, I believe, is just as corrupt. Individuals as a way to change the masses is silly, just like trying to build a beach by creating each individual grain of sand.

There must be another way, and that is education leading to a universal acceptance of principles that we can work forward with.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Rob Brezsny said...

from Rob Brezsny:


It's apparent you haven't read more than an infinitesimal portion of my book. Though "PRONOIA" extols some of the few blessings that come to us through money, for instance, I also make it clear that most of the countless miracles that occur don't involve money or consumer goods -- as I learned while I myself was living below the poverty level for nineteen years. One of the great gifts of the annual Burning Man festival, which I describe in the book, is that virtually no money changes hands there. For a week, more than thirty thousand people celebrate a culture untainted by commerce.

If you ever do read my book, you'll find ample evidence that my vision of pronoia isn't a delusional orgy of Pollyanna fantasies invoked to repress the harsh facts about the world. Here's a snippet: "The earth is in the midst of the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs died off 65 million years ago. Half of all species could be exterminated by 2100. The U.S. is the biggest arms dealer in the world, selling billions of dollars of weaponry, much of it to nondemocratic regimes and armies whose soldiers commit human rights abuses. Over 80 million Americans live on incomes estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor to be below a 'comfortable adequacy.' "

I'm not suggesting that everything is always sweet and wonderful for everyone, but rather that we'd be smart to aggressively identify all the ways the world is teeming with beauty and joy and mystery as well. To do so would counterbalance the hordes of cynical storytellers in the media and entertainment industries who relentlessly assure us that life on earth is a dismal hell. Urging people to appreciate blessings they take for granted isn't tantamount to advising them to pretend there's no suffering in the world.

At the core of pronoia is the exhortation to be a wrathful insurrectionary as well as an exuberant lover of life. As I write in the book’s opening: "We can’t let the ruling fools of the dying world sustain their curses. We have to rise up and fight their insane logic; defy, resist, and prevent their tragic magic; unleash our sacred rage.”

8:16 AM  
Blogger News is Good said...

"If you ever do read my book, you'll find ample evidence that my vision of pronoia isn't a delusional orgy of Pollyanna fantasies invoked to repress the harsh facts about the world. Here's a snippet: "The earth is in the midst of the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs died off 65 million years ago. Half of all species could be exterminated by 2100. The U.S. is the biggest arms dealer in the world, selling billions of dollars of weaponry, much of it to nondemocratic regimes and armies whose soldiers commit human rights abuses. Over 80 million Americans live on incomes estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor to be below a 'comfortable adequacy.'"
"I'm not suggesting that everything is always sweet and wonderful for everyone, but rather that we'd be smart to aggressively identify all the ways the world is teeming with beauty and joy and mystery as well. To do so would counterbalance the hordes of cynical storytellers in the media and entertainment industries who relentlessly assure us that life on earth is a dismal hell. Urging people to appreciate blessings they take for granted isn't tantamount to advising them to pretend there's no suffering in the world."

I rather agree with that. We could sum it up as 'While there are some bad things happening, we can't let them consume us'. Would you agree?

Now, square up that sentiment with this one:
"Act as if the universe is a prodigious miracle created for your amusement and illumination. Assume that secret helpers are working behind the scenes to assist you in turning into the gorgeous masterpiece you were born to be. Join the conspiracy to shower all of creation with blessings."


If you see them as equivalent, then you are being more than just 'pronoid'.
Now, either you are selling your book by making false claims about the heavenly positivity of its contents; or the conclusions in the book are far less mundane than the content you have posted in this comments section. I believe that the latter position is likelier. Yes, if you ask people to act in such a way that the universe is a 'prodigious miracle created for your amusement' you are precisely going to ignore the negative events that happen to other people.

8:05 PM  

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