[Excerpted from the revised and expanded edition of Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia, by Rob Brezsny]
You’re an immortal freedom fighter who has adopted the mission to liberate all sentient creatures. You’re a fun-loving messiah who devoutly wants to help all of your fellow messiahs claim the ecstatic awareness that is their birthright.
Try to remember. You’re a vortex of fluid light that has temporarily taken assumed the form of a human being, suffering amnesia about your true origins. And why did you do forget? Because it was the best way to forge the identity that would make you an elemental force in our 14-billion-year campaign to bring heaven down to earth.
You are a mutant deity in disguise — of the same lineage as a Buddha or Christ, and conjured from the same fire. You have been around since the beginning of time and will be here after the end. You’re learning. You’re getting better at playing the preposterously amusing master game we all dreamed up together before the Big Bang bloomed.
Lately, I must admit, our work has seemed almost comically impossible. Many of us have given in to the temptation to believe that everything is wrong wrong wrong. Ignorance and inertia, partially camouflaged as time-honored morality, seem to surround us. Pessimism is enshrined as a hallmark of worldliness. Compulsive skepticism masquerades as perceptiveness. Mean-spirited irony is chic. Stories about treachery and degradation provoke a visceral thrill in millions of people who think of themselves as reasonable and smart. Beautiful truths are suspect and ugly half-truths are readily believed.
So, at this peculiar turning point in the evolution of our 14-billion-year-old master game, it’s not easy to carry out our mission. We’ve got to be both wrathful insurrectionaries and exuberant lovers of life. We’ve got to cultivate cheerful buoyancy even as we resist the temptation to swallow thousands of delusions that have been carefully crafted and seductively packaged by those messiahs among us who bravely volunteered to play the role of know-it-all deceivers.
We have to learn how to stay in a good yet unruly mood as we overthrow the sour, puckered mass hallucination that is mistakenly referred to as “reality.”
Most importantly, we have to keep our imaginations wild and hungry and free, even as we are ferociously and single-mindedly dedicated to the cause of beauty and truth. We have to be both disciplined and rowdy.
What can we do to help each other in this work?
First, we can create safe houses to shelter everyone who’s devoted to the slow-motion awakening of humanity. These sanctuaries might take the form of temporary autonomous zones like festivals and parties and workshops, where we can ritually explore and potentiate the evolving mysteries of pronoia (the antidote to paranoia). Or they might be more enduring autonomous zones like homes and cafes and businesses where we can get regular practice in freeing ourselves from the slavery of hatred in all of its many guises.
We can conspire together to carry out the agenda that futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard names: to hospice what’s dying and midwife what’s being born. We need the trigger of each other’s rebel glee as we kill off every reflex within us that resonates in harmony with the putrefaction. We need each other’s dauntless cunning as we goad and foment the blooming life forces within us.
Here’s a third way we can collaborate: We can inspire each other to perpetrate healing mischief, friendly shocks, compassionate tricks, irreverent devotion, holy pranks, playful experiments, and crazy wisdom.
What do tricks and mischief and jokes have to do with our quest? Isn’t America in a permanent state of war? Isn’t the global biosphere in freefall collapse? Hasn’t the paranoia about terrorism decimated our civil liberties? Isn’t it our duty to grow more serious and weighty than ever before?
On the contrary: I say this is the perfect moment to take everything less seriously and less personally and less literally.
Permanent war and the loss of civil liberties are immediate dangers. But they are only symptoms of an even larger, long-term threat to the fate of the earth: the genocide of imagination.
Elsewhere, on pages 184-186 of my book, I have identified pop-nihilist storytellers as the vanguard perpetrators of this genocide of the imagination. But there is another culprit as well: fundamentalism.
The fundamentalist takes everything way too seriously and way too personally and way too literally. He divides the world into two camps, those who agree with him and those who don’t. There is only one right way to interpret the world, and a million wrong ways. Correct belief is the only virtue.
To the fundamentalist, the liberated imagination is a sinful taboo. He not only enslaves his own imagination to his ideology, but wants to enslave our imaginations, too.
And who are the fundamentalists? Let’s not remain under the delusion that they are only the usual suspects — the religious fanatics of Islam and Christianity and Judaism and Hinduism.
There are many other kinds of fundamentalists, and some of them have gotten away with practicing their tragic magic in a stealth mode. Among the most successful are those who believe in what Robert Anton Wilson calls fundamentalist materialism. This is the faith-based dogma that swears physical matter is the only reality and that nothing exists unless it can be detected by our five senses or by technologies that humans have made.
Life has no transcendent meaning or purpose, the fundamentalist materialists proclaim. There is no such thing as a divine intelligence. The universe is a dumb accidental machine that grinds on endlessly out of blind necessity.
I see spread out before me in every direction a staggeringly sublime miracle lovingly crafted by a supernal consciousness that oversees the evolution of 500 billion galaxies, yet is also available as an intimate companion and daily advisor to every one of us. But to the fundamentalist materialists, my perceptions are indisputably wrong and idiotic.
Many other varieties of fundamentalism thrive and propagate. Every ideology, even some of the ones I like, has its share of true believers — fanatics who judge all other ideologies as inferior, flawed, and foolish.
I know astrologers who insist there’s only one way to do astrology right. I know Buddhists who adamantly decree that the inherent nature of life on Earth is suffering. I know progressive activists who sincerely believe that every single Republican is either stupid or evil or both. I know college administrators who would excommunicate any psychology professor who dared to discuss the teachings of Carl Jung, who was in my opinion one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. I know pagans who refuse to consider any other version of Jesus Christ beyond the sick parody the Christian right has fabricated.
None of the true believers like to hear that there are at least three sides to every story. They don’t want to consider the hypothesis that everyone has a piece of the truth.
And here’s the really bad news: We all have our own share of the fundamentalist virus. Each of us is fanatical, rigid, and intolerant about products of the imagination that we don’t like. We wish that certain people would not imagine the things they do, and we allow ourselves to beam hateful, war-like thoughts in their direction.
We even wage war against our own imaginations, commanding ourselves, sometimes half-consciously, to ignore possibilities that don’t fit into our neatly constructed theories. Each of us sets aside certain precious beliefs and symbols that we give ourselves permission to take very seriously and personally and literally.
Our fundamentalism, yours and mine, may not be as dangerous to the collective welfare as, say, the fundamentalism of Islamic terrorists and right-wing Christian politicians. It may not be as destructive as that of the CEOs who worship financial profit as the supreme measure of value, and the scientists who ignore and deny every mystery that can’t be measured, and the journalists, filmmakers, novelists, musicians, and pundits who relentlessly generate rotten visions of the human condition.
But still: We are all infected, you and I. We are fueling the war against the imagination. What’s your version of the virus?
Try to remember. We are reverent insurgents … convulsive beautifiers … rowdy avatars. We have more mojo at our disposal than we realize. But if we hope to navigate our way through this peculiar turning point in the evolution of our 14-billion-year-old master game, we will have to summon previously untapped reserves of that mojo. We will have to keep our imaginations wild and hungry and free, and make sure that all of our fellow messiahs, even those who volunteered to play the roles of ignorant deceivers, have the chance to keep their imaginations wild and hungry and free.
How might we start curing ourselves of the fundamentalist virus and move in the direction of becoming more festive and relentless champions of the liberated imagination?
For starters, we can take everything less seriously and less personally and less literally.
We can laugh at ourselves at least as much as we laugh at other people. We can blaspheme our own gods and burn our own flags and mock our own hypocrisy and satirize our own fads and fixations.
And we can enjoy and share the tonic pleasures of healing mischief, friendly shocks, compassionate tricks, irreverent devotion, holy pranks, playful experiments, and crazy wisdom.
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