The Buck Stops Here
This is true of all media messaging. Is it possible to think outside of the box when we can’t see its walls?
Or its floor. In the San Francisco subway station, huge flat advertisements for electronics carpet the platform. We found this shocking and surreal at first, but we no longer do.
No longer surreal
We’re used to it, and can negotiate our world in spite of it. But I think we have to identify fakery for what it is, in order to not be diminished by it. What happens when it’s so ubiquitous, we can’t identify it any more?
When we’re in the superstore, we tune out the ambient ads that play over the PA system in an endless loop. But on some level of our beings, we register the intrusion, and we shut down a little bit more. Although we barely see the ads on the floor of the transit station, we absorb their message: that we’re not workers or travelers or human beings, but consumers.
In the category of fakery for manipulative purposes, we must include the buying and selling of politicians. Elections in a plutocracy are an example of large-scale fraud for large-scale commercial purposes.
As with advertising, we brush off the grotesque smarminess of political speeches, understanding their falseness as an integral part of the lingua franca. We even have a phrase for its cynical codes: dog-whistle-speak.
What happens to a society when egregious insincerity becomes unremarkable?
The filmmaker Adam Curtis is our most eloquent chronicler of this phenomenon: the normalization of the hollow and the fake (his latest film is HyperNormalisation). He talks about the manipulations of modern culture, so pervasive that we don’t notice them. It’s like that country song, “How can I miss you if you don’t go away?”
There is insidious power in ubiquity. We’re used to thinking of power as “politicians telling us what to do,” Curtis says, but this age-old construct needs an update. How powerful are federal regulations, for example, compared to the power inherent in algorithms that monitor every move we make online?
We won’t see Curtis interviewed on MSNBC any time soon. He’s too radical, and not in the narrow political sense. His perspective is an example of a way to talk about the election that does not leave us in numb passivity.
Visionaries like Curtis and journalist Chris Hedges urge us to exert ourselves. They inspire us to resist the deadening of our sensibilities.
By getting us to throw off the dominant narrative, they guide us back to the center of our own chart.
Back to the chart
Astrology teaches that all roads lead back to the natal chart. No matter how much blame can justifiably be placed on externals — despicable politicians, ignorant and oppressed fellow citizens, and a system that is corrupt to the bone — the buck stops with us.
Any contemplation of how to respond to a toxic environment comes back to the fact that there are reasons – mysterious but specific karmic reasons — why we incarnated into this particular epoch and place. And the way we find out what those reasons are is by looking at ourselves.
This is not to say that self-examination cancels out caring about the outer world. From the perspective of astrology – as above, so below; as within, so without — both the personal and the collective realms are valid lines of inquiry. Both can lead us, or fail to lead us, to wisdom. (1)
Power and control
Consider the ever-fascinating themes of fatal ambition, power and control. Symbolized by the planet Pluto, they are features of the human condition in general, and of the specific age we were born into. And they take on a very individual form, too. Each natal chart suggests our own unique relationship to the domination/ submission dynamic.
The cycles of Uranus (revolution), Neptune (mass trends) and Pluto (breakdown) help us understand big cultural events as well as our attitudes towards those events.
The other planets reveal the personal resources we bring to group experiences. They suggest why we’re interested (Mercury) in certain features of our society, what skills we could contribute (Mars), what our relationship is to its dominant paradigm (Saturn), and what values (Venus, Jupiter) we develop within it.
The chart hints at what our point of entry could be to an event like this election. That is, our optimal point of entry: What it could be, if we weren’t taking our cue from the contrivances of our culture.
This point of entry is, by definition, as unique as a fingerprint.
As an observer of US politics, my own view is that the issues afoot are much larger than who wins the White House next month. As Roseanne Barr puts it, “It doesn’t matter which one of them wins, it’s the … duopolistic fundraising arm of the prison-military-industrial complex.”
As an astrologer, my question is: What cosmic lessons are represented by the various characters engaged in this morality play, set in the waning years of the American Empire?
Some analysts are taking a page from Thomas Carlyle’s “Great Man Theory” of history (a phrase that now, significantly, needs to be amended for gender). This approach sees human evolution as being shaped by certain individuals whose unique attributes prepare them – even compel them – to a place of power that changes the world.
The transpersonal take on this idea is that such a person has emerged from the necessities of their place and time, like an indigenous plant sprouting when the conditions are just right. Once such a person has risen to a certain level of leadership, they have effectively ceased to be an individual in the normal sense of the word. They’ve become an extension of the collective.
This view has something in common with the way monarchs were seen, in the age of rule by divine right. Kings and czars were believed to be mystically appointed embodiments of the collective soul. The extreme reverence shown this month by ordinary Thais for their deceased king comes to mind.
The great astrologer Dane Rudhyar believed that some people, having reached a requisite level of individuation, live out their own dharma and that of the collective simultaneously. Their path is no longer merely personal. They surrender their own egos to the world moment.
They are what we call heroes.
I think most of us would agree that, more often, public figures surrender to the mass mind without having first become individuated. They become objects of emotive collective projection: a mirror for mass fantasies, as movie stars are. Even so, they are personifications of some key teaching necessitated by group karma.
We can see this in the two candidates vying for the White House right now. Each is a singular embodiment of American society in the mid-20-teens. For good or ill, they’re here to show us ourselves.
I think everybody gets this. Many observers have called Trump a caricature of the sociopathic male entitlement of this culture in this era. Just as many have pegged Clinton as a caricature of the gimlet-eyed focus and willingness to play the corrupt game that any first-woman-president would have to cultivate.
We’ve created these two, in order to help us understand what’s going on, as the USA lumbers towards its Pluto Return (exact in 2022)(2) on the threshold of the Age of Aquarius.
From our center
The ultimate meaning of this big drama can be found only through our own point of entry. To discover this, those on a path of individuation will find themselves going back to their own chart: the script for our lifetime play.
By this I don’t mean you have to literally look at your astrological chart (although of course I think it helps, like, a lot). I mean that if we’re going to learn anything from this roiling shit storm, we need to observe it from our psycho-spiritual center.
And if we want to talk about it, we have to take back the conversation.
1 I discuss the false divide between work-on-the-self and work-in-the-world (psycho-spiritual vs. secular) in “The World Moment,” an essay in the anthology Transpersonal Astrology.
2 My essay on the US Pluto Return, “Right Use of Power,” is in The Mountain Astrologer, Feb/ March 2014.