Now the debate has moved uptown. Making headlines here in late 2013: the impugning by store clerks of a customer’s ability to afford grotesquely overpriced fashion accessories.
How perversely fitting it is, for a country whose dedication to consumerism borders on the religious, that the latest skirmish in the war for civil rights is being waged at Barney’s.
Its opening salvo took place in August, when Oprah Winfrey was thwarted in her attempt to take a closer look at a 38,000-dollar handbag in a Zurich boutique. Soon the action moved to Madison Avenue, where a not-quite-as-famous black customer was questioned for purchasing a $350 belt.
That shopper is now suing Barney’s. As is a young Brooklynite who’d had a similar experience at the luxury store earlier this year. Her photo ran in October next to the headline, “Barney’s busted me for buying a $2,500 bag.”
I’d like to bust her, too.
I’d also like to bust Jay Z, the rapper, whom the media is placing on the other side of the imbroglio. It seems our bad boy was in the middle of negotiating a quillion-dollar partnership with Barney’s when advocates of the insulted young shoppers called upon him to show his solidarity by quashing the deal. He demurred.
Now the buzz is about the anger with which some of Jay Z’s followers are viewing his allegiance to his own financial interests. My hunch is he figures he’s done his bit for them already. He’s allowed his fans to vicariously exult in that dubious chimera, the American Dream. Our once-transgressive hero has scaled the capitalistic heights to which plenty of his devotees doubtless aspire: he has made of himself a diamond-encrusted brand, like those sold at Barney’s.
But I have nothing personal against Mr. Z, the artist-formerly-known-as-an-angry-kid-from-the-projects. Nor against 50-Cent, with his 100-million-dollar contract from Coca Cola; nor Ice Cube with his shilling for Coors beer. Nor against those street-fightin’ men of my own generation, the Rolling Stones, who defiantly maintain the right to their scrappy self-presentation despite having entered a social echelon that casually rents whole Caribbean islands for weekend parties.
Busting these individuals for bad taste may be still in order. But what really needs to be busted is not the personalities who embody the system but the system itself, in which we are all – every one of us — participants. What needs to be called out is the vertiginous lopsidedness of this economic set-up. We are midway through the peak years of the Cardinal Cross (2012-15), with Pluto in Capricorn (monetary systems) demanding that we call a spade a spade.
The transit is working if it has made us stop to consider1 how very strange it is that an infinitesimal percentage of the population shops for 38-thousand-dollar handbags while one in eight human beings on the planet goes to bed hungry.
At first blush it seems odd that more Americans aren’t appalled by the immense income divide that obtains in what is widely believed to be the World’s Greatest Democracy. Especially from the many people who are struggling financially, we might expect wholesale condemnation, rather than glorification, of the celebs who rise through the ranks of the 99% only to crash the retail palaces of the 1%.
But according to the national myth – still being wheezed out during these last dregs of the U.S. Pluto cycle2 — there’s no reason beyond laziness or bad luck why each and every ordinary Joe can’t be as obscenely rich as Jay Z.
As Pluto and Uranus strip the facade off a collective value system in its death throes, this much has been made clear: the moral of our corrupt old national story is not that everyone should be rich, but that everyone should have a shot at being richer than everybody else.
This idea is America’s favorite escapist high, and it performs an important sociopolitical function. It makes it less likely that people will challenge the system.
There is nothing wrong with hoping for statistically-improbable success, and if it is our karma to achieve it, we will. But the working poor who slave away in vague expectation of a financial entitlement that God has reserved for Americans are plugged into a different story. They are effectively medicating themselves against the outrage they would otherwise feel about being part of a system where the average CEO-to-worker pay ratio is 350 to 1. They are also stunting their own spiritual growth, by immunizing themselves against the empathy they should feel towards those at the very bottom of the ladder.
Sheltered by a fog of disinformation from cable TV, these folks carry on as if they had not heard that the USA has the lowest rate of socioeconomic mobility in the developed world. Many of these Horatio-Algier-wannabes consider it downright unpatriotic3 to disbelieve the fantasy that greed is good for America.
Sweetening this mass delusion is the occasional act of outsized charity on the part of some billionaire. Like the kings of old who rode through the streets once a year to throw coins to the scrambling mob, Bill Gates makes contact with the 99% via his medical philanthropy, Zuckerberg tosses a few million at a random school district, and Warren Hellman makes the crowd happy for a weekend with a free festival in the park. These events are gift-wrapped and fulsomely extolled by the media, who interpret them as proof that the system works.
Those right-wing pundits who have accused Warren Buffet of breaking rank and subverting the social order are either playing dumb or too thick to see that Buffet’s feints at social consciousness not only pose no threat to the status quo but actually stabilize it. His liberal musings act as a safety valve for the masses, who can imagine they have a champion among the nobility.
A different dysfunction may befall those clear-eyed Americans who see through the Ayn Randian folklore. They may be stricken with cynicism, an outgrowth of the illusion of powerlessness. This is the most deadly dysfunction of them all.
But it is utterly understandable. Americans have looked on as the white-collar criminals who misled investors in 2008 got
rewarded with multimillion-dollar bonuses, and the insiders who crashed the economy got hired for cabinet jobs. They have watched the corporation that caused the biggest oil spill in US history now taking credit for rebuilding the Gulf. Many see these things and retreat in disgust, withdrawing their energies from the commonweal.4
Decency and Common Sense
This holiday season, as American shoppers dive into their annual retail rites, a maximally strong Jupiter (moral perspective) in Cancer (caring for those in need) is hovering between the Sun and Mercury in the chart of the USA.5 At the same time, Pluto in Capricorn (financial conventions) and Uranus (iconoclasm) are T-squaring the midpoint of the country’s Sun/ Jupiter conjunction. The moment is right to give a thought to our economic system, and how inhospitable it is to our ideals.
This simple act, of seeing our society for what it is — busting it — constitutes a radical gesture. It opens up the possibility of our innate sense of decency and common sense serving as a corrective to the distortions in the mass mind.
Responding from sanity and decency is a revolutionary thing to do when the group perspective is so skewed that near-unthinkable scenarios have become normal. Such as the corruption of American government by the donor/ lobbyist/ representative axis, which on our watch has become tacitly acceptable.6
The corporate media is itself a part of this axis, and with its support, the reactionary worldview has moved from the fringes to the center of the public conversation. Thus an arch-conservative like Chris Christie appears moderate; an insurance-industry wet dream like Obamacare is deemed progressive policy.
But since Pluto (power, corruption) hit the Ascendant of the US chart in 2001, the truth of the situation has been steadily dawning on Americans:7 that it’s nothing personal. In fact, it’s trans-personal.
At work upon us are the cycles of the outer planets, which represent the cold impeccability of Cosmic Law. These transits have no bone to pick with our precious ideals and time-honored systems. Their message is simply that if something has degenerated so badly that it no longer supports life and health, it has to go. In these times it’s a good idea to be truer to Cosmic Law than to national and ideological attachments. This means conceding how much in our society has grown toxic, a realization corroborated by our goddess-given instinct. This first step, the simple recognition of the obvious, gets us reconnected with the center of our charts, which is where we need to be in order to negotiate the chaos afoot.
Once reconnected, we begin to glimpse our own unique role. Clues appear, externally and internally, which suggest why we’re part of this particular group at this particular time.
The challenge this winter for Americans is especially striking. It’s about broadening the scope (Jupiter) of our empathy (Cancer), and repudiating (Pluto) national myths that have lost their integrity (U.S. Sun/ Jupiter).
1 Giving something our consideration has power in it. The word means “to align oneself with the stars” (con = with; sider = stars.)
2 In 2022 the USA will experience a Pluto Return in the 2nd house (money), the first in its 250-year history. I talk about America’s money karma in this lecture, and about the Pluto Return in the February 2014 issue of The Mountain Astrologer.
3 That is, one gets called a “socialist” or “communist”. These terms, deployed
pretty much interchangeably in vernacular American English, have become code for “traitor.”
4 Political polarization, which in the last three decades has trended upward in exact parallel to economic inequality, has resulted in fewer and fewer Americans going to the polls (see “Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches”). In the election a few weeks ago, for instance, in which DeBlasio became mayor of New York, a bare twenty-four per cent of eligible NY voters voted. In depressed regions like Detroit and Pittsburgh, the percentage was lower still.
This is not to say that not-voting is always a sign of apathy. In the case of the passionately engaged Russell Brand – whose cultural moment this clearly is — it is the opposite. Not-voting is part of his Pluto-Uranian crusade. See the editorial he wrote for the New Statesman.
5 On November 6th 2013 , just after the solar eclipse, Jupiter stationed at 20˚30 Cancer.
6 The exact square between Uranus (explosive change) and Pluto (breakdown) will form a grand cross with the US chart during 2014-15. In April 2014 transiting Mars and Jupiter will factor into the configuration, seen by many astrologers as the peak within the peak of the Cardinal Cross years.
7 The change has been immense, over the course of baby boomers’ lifetimes. Just after WW II, the USA had strong unions and the working class had clout. Education was affordable, the rich were taxed a far higher percentage of their incomes than they are now, and the middle class was sittin’ pretty. That was before globalization.
Since 2001, two other behemoths have arisen to distort the US economy. One is the monster Wall Street has become since it was deregulated. The other is the humongous network of inscrutable “intelligence” agencies (Homeland Security, NSA, TSA) that operate devoid of accountability to the taxpayers who fund them. We can expect these Plutonian institutions to collectively play a key role in the upcoming US Pluto Return.