Size Matters: Understanding the Size-Related Dynamics of Our Emerging American CrisisIt's as if the American people now reside in two parallel but rapidly diverging universes. In one universe, the financial crisis and everything else that ails us as a nation stands as a testament to the failure of 'big' government. To the residents of this red-tinted universe, only a return to limited government, and to 'liberty', as exercised by an allegedly virtuous and God-fearing citizenry, offers a way out of our current crisis.
When viewed from the perspective of that other universe, however, it was the election of legislators who ultimately hated government, and believed far too ardently in the imagined virtue of Americans - be they on Wall Street or Main Street, and especially Ayn Rand's virtuous businessman - that incited the world financial crisis. To a resident of this blue-tinted universe, government-imposed checks-and-balances on liberty, in historically-documented areas of human frailty, must be an integral part of any solution - with direct Government involvement in specific areas considered sometimes the very best solution.
Will the outlines of these parallel universes ever again converge? I wouldn't expect it any time soon - and given the now intertwined cosmic and political forces impelling this divergence, I absolutely expect the gap to widen over the next few years. But if and when they do again converge, it will doubtless be around this single premise: Size matters. So let me introduce you to the presenting issue of Pluto's 21st century passage through Capricorn, as least as seen from an avowed American nationalist's perspective.
Setting our frame
Astrologers describe Pluto as the planet of transformation, of evolutionary changes in cultures, ideologies, human activities and consciousness itself. Pluto's passage through a tropical zodiacal sign tends to initiate a process of deconstruction involving the areas of human activity associated with that sign. Capricorn, thought to be ruled by Saturn, can be broadly associated with the formal rules that govern societies, the formal institutions that humans adopt to either promote or enforce these rules, and the delicate balance between liberty and compulsion that must be maintained in any secure yet dynamic collective order. And do note that in dynamic collective orders, evolutions in attitudes are considered an integral part of the equation - whereas in static, authoritarian societies, like those advocated for fundamentalists of various persuasions, these same kinds of gradual shifts can be seen as a betrayal of first principles.
Capricorn can further be thought of as the sign that governs the holons of supply & demand, scarcity, and fear - inasmuch as each of these seemingly unrelated concepts can be intimately associated with notions of boundaries, ownership, control, and physical security. For instance, life becomes impossible without adequate access to food and shelter - and men have traditionally been willing to resort to violence as a means of restoring or enhancing access in these areas. Experience suggests the key to maintaining stability within a dynamic collective order is the establishment of a widely-accepted set of ruling parameters, some of which may be written, as with a formal constitution, and some of which may be assumed - as with the ethical codes that have traditionally served as the foundation for most stable societies. I submit that the archetype of Capricorn is intimately related to all of these - and to the processes of objectification and quantification themselves, and by extension, to the notion of size.
Pluto was last in Capricorn during the years 1515-1529 and 1762-1778, periods that coincide with the initial stages of both the Protestant Reformation and the American Revolution. It most recently entered tropical Capricorn in 2008, and will remain there through 2024.
Too big to fail?
So what do I mean by size - and how can our appreciation of the dynamic of size enhance our understanding the challenges America faces during this cycle? Why not just start with a phrase ripped from the financial pages of any newspaper? Who can even remember hearing the phrase "too big to fail" before the onset of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown? Before September 2008, I couldn't even imagine such a thing. Great American companies had always been allowed to fail (or at least be taken over): airlines like Pan Am, Eastern, or TWA; auto companies like American Motors, etc. Any number of banks had gone under in the aftermath of the first wave of deregulatory fervor run amok, the 1980s Savings and Loan Crisis. So how could a bank or insurance company be deemed too big to fail?
Amidst the wildly expansive zeitgeist set in motion by Pluto's 1995-2008 transit through Sagittarius (aptly described as 'irrational exuberance' by the once prescient and widely respected, now humbled and largely discredited, Alan Greenspan), some financial service companies like AIG had apparently become so large a player in the world economic system, using dangerous and ultimately unregulated financial instruments like credit default swaps and derivatives, that their failure was thought to be literally capable of bringing down the entire house of cards. Or, at least, that's what Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke concluded in the waning months of the Bush Administration. Now, in a system impelled by capitalist ideology married to an often rapacious human nature, it is prudent to expect that corporate management will always seek to act in whichever fashion enhances company profitability, regardless of the potential collateral damage done to their competitors, the market, the nation, the world economic system, and, ultimately, the de-facto liberty of everyone else. In a sense management's fiduciary responsibly to shareholders requires nothing less. While some might hope that management would at least put the long-term interests of their company ahead of purely short-term considerations, not to mention their personal opportunity to get rich quick - to act, as Madison might quip, as if men were angels - recent history demonstrates that angels are as rare today as in the Founding Era. Thus I submit that it is beyond naive to expect corporations to even passively promote the public interest. So who then should protect that interest, through either the promulgation of regulations or the process of corporate deconstruction? Well, as Teddy Roosevelt recognized at the dawn of the twentieth century, government is the best candidate we have. But to fulfill that role, government must become larger, and, yes, more intrusive. So size is at the very heart of our American crisis, in more ways than you can imagine. And how you view the idea of an expanded role for government has apparently everything to with the parallel universe you've opted to reside in.
A mythology shaped by notions of size
To understand the shape that the American experience assumed, and the rhetoric that specifically impelled the Revolutionary Era, rhetoric that each side attempts to marshal when defending their perspective, we need to further appreciate how the dynamic of size literally shaped this rhetoric.
Opportunities for expansion in Revolutionary Era America were extraordinary. There were relatively few inhabitants but lots of available land - some of it lightly populated by native peoples, whose claims often weren't honored - and a pervasive sense of literally unlimited possibilities. If you couldn't make it in your local hamlet or town, you were always free to move west, stake your claim, and work your land.
During this period there existed an extraordinary imbalance between the sheer amount of work required to develop this rich and fertile land and the available supply of labor. That imbalance was so huge that it led to the exploitation of two reprehensible institutions: 1) indentured servitude; and 2) slavery. Most Americans know quite a bit about the evils of slavery - but the plight of the indentured servant tends to be unappreciated. Indentured servants were largely Europeans or British citizens who agreed to surrender their liberty to an owner for a period of three-to-seven years in exchange for a passage to America. Historians report that these men and women were often worked far harder than slaves - since the value they represented to a contract-holder ended with the conclusion of their stipulated term, whereas a slave and his or her potential descendants would remain an asset in perpetuity. Conditions were so poor for these servants that a significant percentage didn't live long enough to see their freedom. Of course, assuming they physically survived their contract, they too were free to claim or purchase a plot of land, and live the American dream. When it came to the business of eating, given the sheer amount of pristine wilderness available to the average 18th century colonist, acquiring suitable foodstuffs might require nothing more than hunting and foraging.
I'd argue that if you weren't working in that era, it's safe to say that you were either a good-for-nothing slacker or an owner of slaves and indentured servants. Now, compare these core size-related dynamics of that era to those of our own time.
Today there are no more lands to be appropriated - despite the fact that America's population continues to increase with every passing year. The family farm (and its successor institution, the mom & pop grocery store) is an endangered species, thanks to the exponential growth of agribusiness and mega retail chains. Many white and blue collar services are routinely outsourced, as corporate executives seek to pay the lowest wages possible - while paying themselves and their shareholders as much as possible, and simultaneously railing about the amount of taxes they are asked to pay to support a minimalistic safety net (especially when compared to those in Europe). The U-6 unemployment rate, which economists believe gives the most realistic picture of the labor market at any given time, stands in April 2010 at approximately 18.2%. This means that 18% of adult Americans are collecting unemployment, or are discouraged workers who have given up hope of finding employment, or involuntarily part-time workers - that is, workers who can find only part-time work, typically at, or slightly above, minimum wage, but would be willing to work full time (and are almost assuredly not making ends meet). Some of these adults are over fifty, highly skilled, educated, and experienced - in many instances, former executives (like the group in Chicago that Paul Solmon, on the PBS Newshour, profiled a few months back) - and have been actively looking for work for more than 6 months. Given the age discrimination endemic to contemporary corporate culture, many of these baby boomers will never again find employment commensurate with their skills.
I ask you, given the fundamentally different economic conditions that existed in Revolutionary America as compared to our time, not to mention the ethically dubious pocketbook choices made by many in that era, why should anything they have to say about work, thrift, debt, opportunity, or economics now carry any weight with us whatsoever?
Gods or men?
I submit that the way that one evaluates the group of men who gave birth to America - some of whom later framed the Constitution - and the way that you view this original Constitution - offers another size-related window into these two parallel universes. For instance, a 35 year old Glenn Beck' '9-12 Meetup' organizer by the name Katy Abram received her fifteen minutes of fame this last summer, via this outburst at one of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector's health care Town Hall meetings:
"I don't believe this is just about health care. It's not about TARP. It's not about left and right. This is about the systematic dismantling of this country. I'm only 35 years old. I've never been interested in politics. You have awakened a sleeping giant. We are tired of this. This is why everybody in this room is so ticked off. I don't want this country turning into Russia, turning into a socialized country. My question for you is, what are you going to do to restore this country back to what our Founders created, according to the Constitution?"Now, if Spector had been willing to respond in a fashion wholly consistent with an 'originalist' interpretation of that original Constitution, the document that Abram specifically asks that we restore, Spector might have responded like this:
"Madam, where is your husband? Can't he control his wife? Politics is the business of men. Madam, please remain silent or return to your home."However harshly these words fall on contemporary ears, this response is entirely in the spirit of this vaunted 'original' Constitution - that, and the three-fifth clause that allowed slaves to be counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of representation in Congress and the election of a President, and the provisions that denied those male citizens that states even deemed worthy to vote the direct ability to elect their President or United States Senator. However, it is factually true that this 'original' document was both capitalistic and cold-blooded in orientation - refusing to even allow consideration of legislation banning the commercial importation of slaves until 1808. Is that really the Constitution that Katy wants to see restored? I hope not. It's not one that I would advocate be restored.
The different ways in which either side views the stature or infallibility of the founders and framers offers an invaluable window into our red-blue divide. From the red perspective that Katy advocates, everything that this narrow group of white men believed is akin to holy writ. Their attitudes and perspectives must forever overshadow contemporary attitudes or perspectives, much in the same fashion that a fundamentalist Christian or Muslim believes that teachings enshrined in scripture must overrule the insights and intellectual breakthroughs of spiritual avatars of more recent vintage.
As someone who admits having taking a fancy to the figure of John Adams from the moment in 1970 that he first heard William Daniels break into song on the original cast album of 1776, I completely understand the sense of reverence that patriotic Americans can bring to figures from this period. But from the blue perspective, we nonetheless tend to see them as men, not Gods, and positively not as infallible fountains of divine wisdom. Adams can be irascible, vain, pompous, sexist, and utterly unforgiving of his children's frailties. He can assume positions that occasionally place him on the wrong side of history. But he is also a man whose love of country - not merely state or some deeply narcissistic notion of personal liberty - can never be doubted, and who always put his money where his mouth is. Like so many in the founding generation, Adams can also be accused of being profoundly elitist - in the very best sense of the term, which in my mind requires a dedication to self- and ethical-development, as well as to a life of the mind - and hence deeply suspicious of direct democracy, equating it with mob rule. Again, like so many of his generation, Adams knew well the stories of fallen Greek and Roman republics. For instance, James Madison opens Federalist 9 with this reflection on Greco-Roman democracy:
"It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated, and at the rapid succession of revolutions by which they were kept in a state of perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy. If they exhibit occasional calms, these only serve as short-lived contrast to the furious storms that are to succeed."We moderns may shudder at their attitude. But in the context of wholly uninformed, propaganda-fueled, emotion-driven rants like Katy's, perhaps we can also appreciate their suspicion.
Exceptional angels or imperfect humans?
This size dynamic can also fundamentally impact how you see yourself, and your ability to positively impact country. In a democracy, the people are necessarily sovereign. But are the people necessarily right? For instance, prohibition was instituted via constitutional amendment - an arduous process, requiring ratification of the amendment by two thirds of the States. Prohibition had been pushed for by various religious groups since the early nineteenth century. 46 of the then 48 states ratified the 18th Amendment. Prohibition proved a disaster - except for the forces of organized crime, which used it to consolidate their power while serving an innate human need for 'release' that the teetotalers and puritans preferred to wish away. The 18th Amendment was eventually repealed through ratification of the 21st Amendment.
The Iraq War was launched in March 2003 with, according to a USA Today-Gallup poll, 75% of respondents describing President Bush's decision to invade as correct. A March 2003 Gallup poll indicated that 58% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein had been given more than enough time to comply with the inspection process - despite the fact that no WMDs had been found to that point, and the weapons inspectors' own contemporary acknowledgment that Hussein was now cooperating. A February 2003 Gallup poll indicated that 86% of Americans believed that Iraq had active ties to Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. An October 2004 poll indicated that 70% of likely Bush voters continue to believe in either this mythical connection, or direct Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 attack, despite the then recent debunking of this scenario in the official 9/11 Commission report. While George W. Bush made the final decision to invade Iraq, an examination of all available polling data indicates that he did so while enjoying overwhelming public support. However, by December 2008, and the end of his term, 64% of Americans (according to a Washington Post/ABC poll) were now describing the Iraq War as not worth fighting. I could cite many other such examples of dramatic reversals in public sentiment.
Alexis de Tocqueville notes in his journals that he found Americans boastful and overconfident in 1831, the year of his famous visit. He further notes in Democracy in America that their patriotism could border on religious fervor:
"Nothing inhibits ordinary social intercourse more than the irritable patriotism of the American. A foreigner may be prepared to praise a great deal in the United States, but some things he would like to criticize, and this the American absolutely refuses to allow. "With a national chart featuring Sun conjunct Jupiter and Venus in Cancer, individuals who strongly identify with our national collective tend to be extremely proud of our story - and of country in general. But this pride can sometimes lead to inaccurate assumptions about their moral standing in the eyes of posterity, or the world, or potentially even God. For instance, in the year that Tocqueville met these proud Americans, President Andrew Jackson's campaign of ethnic cleansing against the native peoples of the Southeast was just beginning, with the unforgivable 'Trail of Tears'. And civil war was a mere thirty years away. I note that in the parts of the country where old-time religion, and a spirit of rebellion against an allegedly overreaching Federal government, proved most stubborn, so did anti-intellectualism, segregation, lynching, and support for satanic groups like the Klan. I further note that when Ronald Reagan opened his General Election campaign of 1980 by heralding the theme of states' rights, he curiously chose to begin that campaign in the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town known for little else than it being the place where the bodies of three murdered civil rights workers, James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwermer, had been found 16 years earlier. If this be the work of angels, methinks they can only be, at best, fallen angels.
The contemporary red paradigm further emphasizes the idea that 'the people' are virtuous, have a right to impose their subjective, faith-based, values on non-believers, and know best what to do with their hard-earned money; whereas the better-educated Washington politicians that the people elect can be foolish, out-of-touch, and frequently corrupt. Yet despite this tendency, America remains an exceptional nation, surely selected by God to light the way for the world.
In contrast, the blue state paradigm incorporates the idea that history has an arc - and 1776 marked both the ratification of the Declaration of Independence and the publication of Adam Smith's highly influential The Wealth of Nations. It acknowledges that the laissez-faire style of economics that the latter document advocated, when pursued to its logical end, proved a double-edged sword - leading to both impressive capital appreciation and appalling social conditions that would soon spawn a global counter-movement advocating a dictatorship of the proletariat. It recognizes that when first conservative European politicians, and later American politicians, attempted to counter these revolutionary energies, through laying the foundations of the safety net, they acted out of a spirit of realism and national self-preservation.
The blue paradigm does not elevate capitalism to a status of a religion - believing that to do so would not only be a grave pedagogical error, but likely also an affront to God. We merely see it as the most realistic model for economic relationships between often hypocritical, largely self-serving, ultimately primitive beings, and far from an infallible guide, to echo John F. Kennedy, for making God's work on earth our own. In fact, having copiously documented the historic failure of allegedly Christian societies in America (and elsewhere) to implement Jesus' actual social philosophy, the blue paradigm prefers collectively agreed-upon economic strategies that are both realistic and in harmony with the quintessential Christian teaching, "there, but for the grace of God go I".
Finally, the blue paradigm asserts that America leads best when America leads by example - as it did with ratification of both the Declaration of Independence and the first written Constitution, however flawed, in human history - rather than via demonstrations of machismo, militarism, or theologically-unsound, intellectually indefensible notions of perpetual national exceptionality.
Eternal vigilance or perpetual paranoia?
According to the astrological model, a certain percentage of human beings in every population have a greater than average tendency towards either healthy but skeptical examinations of seemingly benign phenomenon or, alternately, unhealthy paranoia. This potential can be indicated in a chart by the presence of challenging aspects between the planets Mercury and Pluto, or Pluto and what astrologers describe as the Ascendant or Midheaven. Given that, in the instance of this second broad condition, Pluto can be within effective orb of a conjunction, opposition, or square to the Ascendant or Midheaven for anywhere from 3 to 6 hours a day (depending on one's location), there are clearly lots of people being born every day with a larger-than-average tendency to look skeptically at events - or, alternatively, to project conspiracies where only autonomous actors exist.
Now, imagine the impact of such alignments on a chart describing a national collective, and the people who most passionately and uncritically identify with it - as with the chart for any July 2 or July 4, 1776 United States birth moment. This chart would feature a retrograde Mercury (indicative of a tendency for highly creative, or, alternately, highly erroneous thinking) in Cancer (the sign of family, tradition, and an emotional, security-based, approach to experience) in tight opposition to Pluto in Capricorn (the specific phase of the Pluto cycle in which the process of deconstruction of central authority and hegemonic institutions is emphasized). Imagine the impact of this configuration in times of fear and anger, or when unscrupulous individuals have elected to demonize an opponent or entire group of people, for either financial or political purposes? How's this for an example.
According to a Harris poll issued on March 22, 2010:
- 67% of Republicans believe that Barack Obama is a socialist;
- 57% of Republicans believe that Obama is a Muslim;
- 45% of Republicans believe that Obama was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president";
- 38% of Republicans believe that Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did";
- 24% of Republicans believe that Obama "may be the Antichrist."
As Richard Hosftadter, the eminent historian, notes in his famous essay 1964 essay for Harpers magazine, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, this kind of skewed, overheated, apocalyptic thinking is neither new or especially right wing (consider the 9/11 Truthers, for instance). Hosftadter begins:
"American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wind. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind."Later in the essay, Hosftadter adds:
"The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for the apocalypse."Hosftadter concludes the essay by reminding his audience:
"The paranoid style is not confined to our own country and time; it is an international phenomenon. Studying the millennial sects of Europe from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, Norman Cohn believed he found a persistent psychic complex that corresponds broadly with what I have been considering—a style made up of certain preoccupations and fantasies: “the megalomaniac view of oneself as the Elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted, yet assured of ultimate triumph; the attribution of gigantic and demonic powers to the adversary; the refusal to accept the ineluctable limitations and imperfections of human existence, such as transience, dissention, conflict, fallibility whether intellectual or moral; the obsession with inerrable prophecies…systematized misinterpretations, always gross and often grotesque."I've excerpted extensively from Hosftadter's essay (which is available in book form, from Vintage Press: ISBN-10: 0307388441, as one in a collection of his essays) because I want my readers to understand just how characteristic of the American psyche this paranoid energy is - and how very alive it remains today. I urge you to read the complete essay, to personally come to grips with this truly problematic aspect of our American character, and ideally, to undertake your own descent into the muck and mire of our collective psyche. Ours is a country literally in need of a long course of collective psychotherapy - especially with Rupert Murdock's corporate misinformation machine teaming with conservative talk radio to daily fuel the fires of exaggeration, hate and radicalism (while, of course, filling their own coffers quite nicely). There's a lot that Americans have a right to be angry about and fearful of - but this kind of wild, large-scale emotionality and irrationality can only distract us from seeing the big picture.
The Big Picture
There was a time long ago when rugged American individualism and courage counted for something. Those days are long gone. The last frontiers have been tamed. A once vast, lightly inhabited landscape has been thoroughly peopled. Cowboys now drive pickups instead of horses - and send messages via iPhone and Blackberry instead of Pony Express and Western Union. We may lament it, but America has nonetheless entered middle-age.
We tend to forget that America only became a consistent creditor nation with the start of the First World War. We had typically been a debtor nation up that point. We literally turned the corner financially when an entire continent became psychotic and elected to go to war.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, America became a superpower, one of two colossuses astride the planet –and its currency became the basis for virtually all economic activity in the free world.
In the aftermath of the Cold War, America became a post-industrial society and persistent debtor nation, increasingly estranged from the manufacturing capacity that allowed it to triumph in the Cold War, wed to an amoral Financial Services industry, with its citizens overly dependent on ephemeral 'service' jobs (the kind of jobs that can be outsourced with the flick of a Cisco switch) - while now facing intense competition not only from the First World countries who we protected in the Cold War but also from emerging low wage superpowers in China and India. That's where we are today. That's the big picture.
Modern conservatives complain bitterly about levels of taxation - but even when personal taxes are lowered, as they were during the Bush Administration, when Republicans controlled all three branches of government (and used the reconciliation process to push through individuals tax cuts at a time of unfunded war, instead of authorizing the sale of war bonds), American jobs still disappeared the moment the economy began to falter. Some of these conservatives apparently dream of getting rid of the safety net altogether, and making the Federal Government small enough that they can drown it in a bath tub. Good luck on that one. Methinks if they even attempted this, given the history of the last two hundred years and the explosive zeitgeist of our time, they'd be more likely to take their last breaths while underwater, with an angry workers' hands around their necks, than see their grand vision come to pass.
Rarely does management expect to share the pain - or take the hit when their decisions lead to economic tragedy. Their lavish golden parachutes and connections in the 'new boy network' guarantee that they will never have to face the implications of their actions. For instance, many of the architects of the sub-prime debacle got terrific new jobs in Investment Banking or at Hedge Funds. As one industry executive phrased it, these individuals weren't seen as criminals or even incompetents, but as merely 'unlucky'. And why should they have been seen as criminals, given that Congress made virtually every form of large scale speculation with the nation's wealth perfectly legal. And lest we forget, the allegedly sensible John McCain wanted Phil Gramm, the evangelist of deregulation, to be his Secretary of the Treasury!
Despite of all this, the same Republicans that empowered the Financial Services industry to essentially gamble with the nation's economic assets, by refusing to enforce the enfeebled regulations that Bill Clinton signed on to during the previous decade, are working night and day to get back into power. And they do this despite the fact that their ideology didn't work the first time, during the Reagan Administration, when supply-side tax cuts didn't come close to paying for themselves; or during the G.W. Bush Administration, when a GOP-controlled Congress and Executive cut taxes but nonetheless spent, and spent, and spent. They say that they'll be different this time. But can a majority party ever truly remain a limited government party? Does history not indicate that the retention of majority status requires lubrication of the gears of government, via patronage and spending? Or is this fantasy the only form of snake oil they can still sell to their base - that, and the systematic de-legitimization of a duly-elected and constituted Federal Government?
When the Obama Administration nominates Al Simpson, a former Wyoming Republican Senator, to co-chair a panel recommending ways to reduce the same budget deficits that have the Tea Party radicals so up in arms, these same Republicans in Congress refuse to support the idea - apparently out of fear that Simpson is too much of a realist for their tastes! Maybe they would prefer James Dobson to co-chair this commission, and encourage him to attempt Jesus' 'loaves and fishes' miracle? Because, at least based on the evidence proffered by recent history, their preferred supply side strategy is just as likely to be successful - at this point, in this specific cycle - as Dobson attempting the 'loaves and fishes' miracle.
If you think things are crazy today, I have bad news for you. They are like to get crazier still. For instance, the likely chart for the next Presidential Inauguration - be it for an Obama 2nd term or a Republican or third-party President-elect - features a 'hard aspect' between the Moon and Mars, a type of configuration that has appeared in approximately 17 other Inaugural charts. In 6 of these instances, Presidents died in office (Harrison, Taylor, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding), although not all at the hand of an assassin. In other instances, fierce ideological battles were waged within the administration itself (as in the Jefferson-Hamilton clash over implied versus enumerated powers in the 1st Washington Administration) or among branches of government (as with FDR's attempt to pack the Supreme Court in his 2nd term; or the Republican Congress's various attempts to investigate Bill Clinton during his 1st term) or in our national life (the Panic of 1837, and subsequent economic depression, in Van Buren's single term; the slow, inexorable build to calamity, via first the infamous Dred Scott decision, and then John Brown's attack on Harper's Ferry, and eventual trial and execution, in Buchanan's single term as President; the outbreak of Civil War, in Lincoln's 1st term; the eruption of the suffragette movement, and War in Europe, in Wilson's 1st term; the 1929 stock market crash and subsequent depression, in Hoover's only term; the outbreak of War in Europe, also in FDR's 2nd term; and the Oklahoma City and 1st World Trade Center bombings, also in Clinton's 1st term). These periods tend to be ones in which people become aroused and angry, with the tighter the aspect, the greater the level of agitation. The aspect is within 30 minutes of orb in this 2013 chart, and hence nearly exact (and the 4th tightest in our history) - suggesting extremely strong agitation, regardless of which man or woman is ultimately elected in November 2012.
Add to this the arrival of the transiting Uranus-Pluto square in cardinal signs, which will form its first exact aspect in June 2012, and make 6 more additional exact aspects through April 2015 - several of which will be in close proximity to any July 4, 1776 United States natal Sun. To give some sense of the generic impact of Uranus in hard aspect to Pluto, without involvement of the US Sun (which itself is typically associated in mundane studies with either the President / Ruler of a country, or alternatively, a nation's 'direction', particularly in a democracy), consider this brief chronology (dates given are for the period from the first exact aspect in a series to the last, an orb of at least several months on either end is advised):
September 1792 - July 1794 (opposition): National unity lost, Republican & Federalist parties formed; Citizen Genet arrives in America and foments unrest against Washington's policy of neutrality; Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette executed; Jefferson resigns from Washington's cabinet; 'The Terror' in France, worst days of French Revolution; Robespierre executed; Whiskey Rebellion
January 1820 - September 1821 (waning square): Tensions over slavery rise, leading to Missouri Compromise; 'Relief Party' formed in response to 'Panic of 1819' and subsequent economic depression; Relief Act passed; George III dies; revolutions in Spain & Piedmont; Bolivar defeats Spanish army in Venezuela, guaranteeing independence; property qualifications for voting removed in New York
June 1850 - March 1951 (conjunction): President Taylor dies; Millard Fillmore takes over; sectional tensions in US escalate; Compromise of 1850; new Fugitive Slave Law passes; Louis Philippe dies; Louis Napoleon coup d'état in France
October 1876 - September 1877 (waxing square): Custer massacred at Little Big Horn; contested election of 1876, Hays becomes President via deal to end Reconstruction; great railroad strike of 1877, accompanied by substantial violence and casualties
January 1901 - November 1902 (opposition): McKinley assassinated; Teddy Roosevelt takes over as President and announces centrist 'trust busting' plan; Queen Victoria dies
April 1932 - January 1934 (waning square): Hitler & Nazis win majority of seats in Weimar Republic election; FDR elected; Hitler named Chancellor; Reichstag fire; Hitler granted dictatorial powers; first concentration camps erected; boycott of Jews begins in Germany; US goes off gold standard
October 1965 - June 1966 (conjunction): Voting Rights Act signed into law; race riots in Watts and other major American cities; escalation of American involvement in Vietnam War
Given this explosive cosmic weather (and I have merely highlighted two leading cosmic players, not the entire cast of characters), must we assume that the worst potentials for this period will manifest? Will we once again, for instance, see our national life punctuated by violence, including violence potentially directed at the highest levels of the American government? I don't know. I'd like to think that we Americans have a say in this. But given how utterly invested some in the Republican Party have become in the de-legitimization of both an American president and the Federal Government, I'm hardly optimistic. Timothy McVeigh's attack on the Oklahoma City Federal Building did not originate in a vacuum. When either party invests its credibility in an effort to de-legitimize national institutions, it sends an unmistakable message to the collectively insane that these institutions are legitimate targets. And I'd argue that the cosmic weather ahead is far worse than it was during the first two years of Bill Clinton's Administration.
Now, amidst this likely climate of intense collective insanity, America nonetheless needs to adopt an economic recovery strategy that addresses the authentic challenge of globalism. There's no way around this. Given our humongous budget deficits and dire employment situation, and there's no way to credibly 'cut' our way of this crisis - as most Tea Party attendees are clamoring for. Unless private sector job creation were to suddenly accelerate, the moment these draconian spending cuts begin and unemployment extensions end will be the moment this fragile economy implodes, and we downshift from Great Recession to Great Depression. That means much BIGGER deficits (due to lower tax revenues) - but now accompanied by an exponential growth in both human suffering and, most likely, civil unrest.
While red paradigm adherents clearly prefer another round of supply side personal tax cuts in any effort to further jump-start the economy, there's no credible evidence to be offered that demonstrates these work as advertised. Conservatives love to mention John Kennedy in this argument - without adding that the marginal tax rate that JFK was talking about was the 91% of the Eisenhower Administration, not the 39.6% of the Clinton Administration. Context matters - a lot. The American people deserve straight talk and critical thinking, not non-stop, faith-based, ideological spin.
For instance, venture capital outflows were significantly higher during the Clinton Administration than during G.W Bush's Administration - despite the fact that personal income, capital gains, and dividend taxes were lower during the latter Administration. How does their theory account for this discrepancy? It can't. But I can account for it. The more-or-less balanced budgets of that earlier period, coupled to the collective perception of extraordinary investment opportunities (via exploitation of Internet commerce, etc.), led investors to feel better about their prospects, and made them more willing to take risks - some of which proved unwarranted. But it was primarily perception, not levels of taxation, which shaped their decision. Having been burned by their excessively rosy perceptions during this earlier era, investors naturally became considerably more cautious during the Bush Administration - despite the FED's lower interest rates and the Bush Administration's lower tax environment. Hence, the tax cuts did not come close to paying for themselves. Now, given our currently dismal level of consumer confidence, dire employment situation, and oppressive budget deficits, what rational basis for expansive future investment can be offered - except in specific areas where legitimate new opportunities exist to be mined (green energy, etc.)? If investors simply wish to gamble in America, with relatively little expectation of success (given our truly desperate macro-economic position), why wouldn't they simply head to Las Vegas or Atlantic City?
From the perspective of the blue paradigm, one of the great lessons of our financial meltdown must be this: nationhood is an inherently big-tent, collectivist experience. It takes a village to make or break a market. That's the reality. When prosperity is broad, it nurtures economic activity throughout the system. But this requires jobs, and jobs that pay a living wage - even if that means management and shareholders taking less. For instance, in the 1950s, a CEO's salary and compensation was typically no more than 20 times that of the average hourly worker. Today, a CEO's pay can be as much as 400 times that of that of the average hourly worker. Given contemporary culture's lionization of elite management, and the gospel of degenerate selfishness that drives so many in this country, this ratio is not likely to be restored any time soon, at least if left to individual conscience. But there are ways to use to the tax code to remedy this sort of thing.
There are also ways to rethink our tax code entirely, in an effort to make American products cheaper, both domestically and internationally, and thus much more competitive in a global marketplace (especially in an era of a declining dollar). For instance, I suggested one such approach in my Towards a Declaration of Economic Independence (see http://hpleft.com/020109.html). This admittedly 'strong medicine' approach would involve slashing corporate rates to as low as zero for any company that achieves and maintains certain benchmarks for hiring American workers (expressed as a percentage of total employment) while boosting marginal rates for individuals across the board, and well as on dividends and capital gains on stock appreciation, in order to pay for the corporate cuts. It would further re-emphasize the value of physical work as opposed to passive investment. Maybe it would work or maybe it wouldn't. But it's certainly an outside the box idea - and given the vast wage differential between American and emerging market laborers, coupled to the demonstrated indifference of corporate management to the plight of the people with whom they physically share this country, I argue that it's outside-the-box, non-protectionist solutions that we need most today.
No amount of tweaking along the edges will take America back to the boom years of the 1990s and mid-2000s. Seen from an astrologer's perspective, they were almost certainly an aberration, the bubble-hoisted rope that we used to hang ourselves with. This recession is the knot at the back of the noose around our national neck, urging our collective attention - and a truly 'exceptional' response. If we're half as good as we say we are, we'll be able to save our necks - but only if we choose, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, to hang together in an attempt to bring down the gallows, rather than hang separately.
The ugly truth is that commerce requires the veneer of civilization, and hungry, homeless people tend to act in rude fashion - especially given the explosive zeitgeist of our times. We may lament this, but this behavior is ultimately nothing more than the animal instinct in each of us demanding that we survive. If an unemployed, hungry man can't farm a plot of land or hunt animals in order to eat (as most could in the Revolutionary Era, and most can't today), it's logical to assume that he'll eventually elect to hunt someone who can. If we seriously expect men to think and act as might angels, then perhaps we had better start treating them as if they were at least distant members of our extended families.
Common sense tells me that patriotism in our time must be redefined so that it includes a sense of loyalty to the people with whom you share a country - not because they're better than anyone else, or because God allegedly loves them more, but simply because this is the extended family that we were all born into, and are best able to contribute to. Ancestor worship may float your boat but ancestor worship will not put bread on anyone's table, nor better equip America to meet the challenges of a global marketplace and workforce. Either we put our heads together, and begin thinking nationally - as every other advanced industrial society already does - or we consider our options in the aftermath of what is likely to be a painful, traumatic divorce.
E Pluribus Unum?
At the heart of the crisis now unfolding across America is a size-related dynamic, and related question, that most of us (except some in Texas, and a group of Alaskans that Sarah Palin's husband has been associated with) have apparently been afraid to publicly address. That question is this: do we even want to remain one country for much longer? Does it still make sense? I know that the Civil War was supposed to have settled this thing - but the Civil War ended 145 years ago. While it's true that slavery, segregation, and racial discrimination are now largely things of the past, the racial epithets hurled at John Lewis and other African-American Congressmen last month, not to mention caricatures and obvious attempts to de-legitimize, if not de-humanize, the first African-American President of the United States, leads me to wonder if racism and a profoundly counter-intuitive no-nothing elitism isn't still at the very heart of this thing, especially among individuals attracted to the Tea Party movement. But racism aside, the question nonetheless remains: have these blue and red paradigms moved too far in their respective directions to ever again consistently align (except at moments of authentic military peril, such as during the relatively brief period after 9/11)? Should we be pondering alternative arrangements?
As a country with four planets in the tropical sign of Cancer, including the Sun, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter, it's safe to say that any American divorce will only come with great reluctance, and after much heartache. Cancer is the sign of mystic chords of memory, of staying together for the sake of the family - and Lincoln's primary cause for waging the Civil War wasn't to end slavery, but, rather, to preserve the Union. And it was the Pluto in Cancer generation (1913-1937) that fought so bravely together after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and carried America to final victory. In December 1941 size mattered. Given the tremendous economic challenges we face today from emerging economic superpowers in the European Union, India, China, Brazil, and Russia, I'd argue that in 2010 size still matters. But if we sincerely want to stay together, we're going to need to do a better job of forging common ground - and telling those devils who wake up every day seeking new ways to divide us to shut the hell up. And it's to this purpose that I'll conclude this essay by briefly sketching a few size-related ideas on how we might go about doing just this.
Supersize PBS. Democracies rise and fall on the flow of accurate, reliable information. Conservatives have tried to starve PBS for years. But shows like the PBS NewsHour remain the best source we have for objective, dispassionate, in-depth information about our world. I love the passion of MSNBC while others clearly prefer FOX - but there comes a time when you need the truth, as best as it can be humanly determined, and as best as we can understand it, presented in a non-partisan and emotionally neutral frame. Commercial networks must always chase ratings - and thus passions - but a non-partisan public news network wouldn't have to do this. If I still harbor any hopes that conservatives and liberals will ever be able to again get along, and ideally learn from each other, they typically only appear during the 8-to-10 minute segment that David Brooks and Mark Shields share every Friday Night. That's 'must see TV' for me. Given the waves of irrationality and rank emotionality currently sweeping America, I'd argue that we desperately need more PBS public affairs programming, like the old Fred Friendly series, The Constitution: That Delicate Balance, and a well-funded, non-commercial, 24-hour News and Public Information cable network would be able provide that. To fiscal conservatives worried about the costs of paying for what would amount to an American version of the BBC, I say this: let's not be penny-wise and pound foolish. What would the costs be of containing a new secession movement or fighting a 2nd Civil War? Instead of seeking to de-legitimize national institutions, why not join with liberals to build new institutions in which Americans can legitimately trust, and which will authentically bring us together?
Downsize the role of money in Politics. When the Federalist Society crowd on the Roberts Court decided in favor of Citizens United, I wondered in which alternative universe they studied American history. In the universe in which I studied American history, I learned that the framers were Enlightenment thinkers - and as Enlightenment thinkers they typically believed that the cultivation of personal virtue and intellectual independence was essential. Locke goes so far as to argue that if you work for someone, and live on their property, you're too likely to be swayed by their interests, and hence not independent enough to trust with the vote. The framers didn't even believe that candidates should campaign for office - much less spend the lion's share of their down-time chasing campaign contributions. Money may be the mother's milk of politics, but when it flows in the direction of legislators, rather than to their constituencies, it also tends to corrupt independence. Honestly, given the way that many Senators and Congressmen in both parties appear to have become mere extensions of the interests that control them, and hence anything but virtuous, independent thinkers who put either local or national needs first, the most realistic solution is also the most extreme - complete public financing of all elections, with free airtime given to candidates via the public airwaves. Capricorn may have everything to do with money and economics, but our elected officials should not be for sale - and whether they want to hear it, that's exactly how many members of both political parties are perceived today.
Enlarge our shared values. Secular religion gets a bad name nowadays. But in rejecting it as a legitimate part of American life, I'm afraid that we've tossed the baby out with the bathwater. The First Amendment was specifically directed at Congress, not the States. Some states retained their official religions well into the early-mid 19th century. The process that legal scholars describe as 'Incorporation of the Bill Rights' - which in the aftermath of passage of the 14th Amendment, led to the Supreme Court imposing selected provisions of the Bill of Rights on the States - may have fundamentally altered this equation. But this process must not obscure from our view the reality that America was never envisioned as a valueless society. Certain values were always considered implicit. If you read the framers, you quickly discover that all of them believed in the necessity of an ethical code, and some notion of virtue (essentially, secular republican virtue), to underpin society - even Deists like Jefferson and Franklin. Christopher Hitchens argues that Jefferson would be an atheist today - and perhaps he would be. But Jefferson nonetheless created his own version of the four Gospels, minus the miracles, after leaving the White House - which he suggested be used in training Native Americans. So even Jefferson was thinking about the importance of promulgating values. Now, atheists may not believe in a Creator God but most believe in ethics - and some are as ethical as any believer. And Capricorn has everything to do with ethical codes - and ideally codes imbued with the lessons that can be legitimately derived from an honest study of recorded history, and then married to the best wisdom offered by contemporary science and psychology, as opposed to those merely enshrined in a majority's scripture or preferred mythology. Americans of secular conscience, faith, and spirit assuredly have more that unites them than divides them. The challenge we face is to discover what those things are - and to make them again influential, if non-binding, in our national life. If we fail to do this, not only will the gulf between these two universes perpetually widen, but we also allow worship of the almighty dollar to remain the dominant secular religion in American life. And make no mistake: that's what it's become.
The impact of Pluto's contemporary passage through Capricorn will be unquestionably global. Events in America might amount to little more than a sideshow. As I suggested in my 2003 and 2007 studies A Bubble in Time (http://hpleft.com/040303.html) and A Brief Look Forward (http://hpleft.com/120307.html), Pluto's transit of tropical Capricorn is likely to have profound implications for authoritarian governments, or countries or institutions (like organized religions) that have attempted to dominate regions or areas of human life. For instance, the Vatican has again become the focus of intense scrutiny, and potentially the forces of deconstruction, just as it was two cycles ago, when Martin Luther first posted his 95 Thesis. My strong suspicion remains that the autocrats of Iran and China are living on borrowed time. But these are subjects best addressed in a future essay.
Here in America, my bias is that the ultimate challenges of this cycle will come down to this: first) the decision of an ethnically and philosophically diverse people to either go their separate ways or recommit to a second cycle of theme and variations on an archaic Latin phrase that our forefathers once thought quite highly of: E Pluribus Unum - out of many, one; and second) the initial phase in the deconstruction of an out-of-control, multi-national form of capitalism that displays no loyalty to any nation while seeking to corrupt politicians in every nation; this form of capitalism would surely, if not checked, enrich the few but impoverish many. Only governments, first empowered and then duly constituted by an educated, informed, critically-thinking electorate, can stand toe-to-toe with these bullies and compel them to behave. Yes, only government can compel private interests to behave, and in the process, preserve the liberty of all. Ronald Reagan may have truly believed that government was the problem; but on the key domestic issues, I'd argue that Reagan has been proved wrong a lot more than he has been proved right - and that Reagan was damn lucky to have a terrific astrologer, Joan Quigley, helping to forge his Presidential Teflon.
Make no mistake: we have entered 'interesting', dangerous times. How will they end? I guess that's up to us. I do know this. When my end-of-days comes, and I find myself face-to-face with Nature's God, and am asked to speak of the accomplishments in life of which I'm most proud, my tiny role in helping to perpetuate the spirit behind that old Latin phrase will surely lie somewhere near the top of my list. Because for as long as it lasted, on a planet perpetually racked by ethnic strife, religious hatred, and economic division, we did what we could to take in the many, give them a home, and make them one. We created a global village right here in North America. In my book, that's making God's work on earth our own. So, sure, liberty's great, yada, yada, yada. But give me Union, a free and enlightened Union.
Matthew Carnicelli, © 2010. All rights reserved.
Originally published April 8, 2010. Slightly revised on April 15, 2010. Correction added January 5, 2012.
For more on Pluto's passage through Sagittarius and Capricorn, see:
America at a Crossroads
The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?
A Brief Look Forward
A Bubble in Time
Winning the War for Hearts and Minds