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Darkness Ascending

The 2004 Presidential campaign ended a month ago today. For many Americans, including a majority of the corporate controlled media, all the questions that needed to be answered at that moment were splendidly resolved. However, for this observer, the questions about the future of this nation only became more pregnant as a result of this vote.

For instance, there are serious questions now being raised about the integrity of this election, particularly in two battleground states that went President Bush's way, Florida and Ohio. Beverly Harris, of Blackboxvoting.org, continues to unearth ever more disquieting tidbits that point to a possibility, if not a probability, that the vote in Florida was hacked. Three weeks ago, Professor Michael Hout, and his University of California at Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Team, released a statistical study reporting that irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have delivered anywhere from 130,000-260,000 or more votes to President George W. Bush in the state. To put this estimate in context, George Bush won Florida by 377,000 votes. If Professor Hout is correct, and approximately 189,000 votes are taken away from President Bush, and given to John Kerry, Florida becomes a Blue State, and Kerry becomes President.

In Ohio, there is clear and unmistakable evidence that Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican Secretary of State and Co-Chairman of the President's state campaign, participated in a deliberate attempt to suppress Democratic turnout in minority neighborhoods, and once again deprive Americans of their constitutional rights. While election fraud and voter suppression are nothing new in American politics, their impact was never so potentially injurious as it is at this pivotal juncture in our development as a nation. If a people can no longer trust their leaders to honestly represent the evidence on why the nation must go to war, and have begun to lose faith in the actual mechanics of their elections, then the path to national disunity and constitutional crisis is already half traveled. We dare not go any farther along that road, not with Pluto in Capricorn just around the proverbial bend. And, as far as I'm concerned, there is no credible rationale that anyone can offer as to why Americans should ever have cause to doubt the validity of the electoral process. Everything that can be done to guarantee complete electoral transparency, and maximum voter participation, must be done. Anything less should be considered un-American activities in the truest sense of word.

My working assumption with regard to the 2004 Presidential Election is that George W. Bush won the popular vote. This assumption is based both in a simple acceptance of the national voting data as well as my grudging reliance on a new technical indicator that I began to work more closely with during the last month before the election. This astrological indicator describes the likely response of the “American collective” to a candidate – as opposed to the response of any observer operating either partly or completely outside of that “collective”, and hence basing their decision on a more objective evaluation of the relevant issues and strengths of the candidates.

The Collective Experience
What exactly is a collective? The word collective has many meanings. When I use the word, I am specifically describing a type of psycho-spiritual groupthink – where individuals who have been conditioned to accept the ideology and ethical assumptions of some larger faction, begin to respond to events and challenges in an instinctual, largely reactive fashion.

The citizens of a nation-state inevitably constitute a “collective”. For instance, consider how close most of us felt after 9/11. At that moment of great fear and psychic violation, all the scars left by the 2000 election, and indeed any number of other vexing, unresolved conflicts in American life, were spontaneously papered over for the vast majority of us – at least for a few short months. We felt much closer to each other than at any recent point in our national life. But this new American intimacy was short-lived, precisely because it was an illusion. When John Edwards spoke on the theme of the “two Americas” during his primary campaign, he was underscoring the growing economic disparity in American life. Yet, to my way of thinking, Edwards was only describing one of several dualities within this nation. As we experienced during this election, there is an equally wide cultural divide in America at present.

While the people of a nation, or a region, who share a language, an often-manipulated sense of history, and familiarity with numerous communal institutions, constitute a natural collective, can other types of collectives also form within a pluralistic society? Absolutely. For instance, people ascribing to a religion, and especially an intense, deeply emotional sect that attempts to rigorously dictate the parameters of ethical behavior, like the Christian Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who came out in record numbers to support President Bush, also constitute a natural collective. If you recall the aftermath of 9/11, and the words of Reverend Jerry Falwell on September 14th, 2001, the harsh outlines of this decidedly peculiar worldview came into view:

"The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen."

Rather than turn a critical eye on the obvious failures of an Administration legally entrusted with the job of keeping America safe, Falwell preferred to ascribe a doubtful spiritual cause to 9/11 – not to mention, use this tragedy as an opportunity to again tar and feather his philosophical opponents. In similar fashion, even after videotape appeared in November 2001 in which Osama Bin Laden took credit for the events of 9/11, many Muslims outside of the United States and Europe preferred to believe an Internet rumor claiming that Israel was behind the attacks, rather than confront the evidence that a malignant strain of Islam had somehow been responsible for inspiring the murder of 3,000 civilians in New York. Obviously, participants in ultimately unhealthy collectives – that is, groups that do not emphasize a respect for critical thinking as part of their governing paradigm, traffic in various forms of psychological fear and intimidation, and encourage submission to the will of an alleged higher authority – are apt to perform all kinds of mental gymnastics in order to avoid facing uncomfortable truths once they emerge.

Powerful collectives can also form when individuals choose to strongly identify with any larger idea – be it a political philosophy (like liberalism, conservatism, or Marxism) or even allegiance to something as inconsequential as a regional sports franchise. The key dynamic in this process appears to be the willingness of the individual to allow their idea of themselves to be at least partly subsumed within the psycho-spiritual identity of the larger group. Like a family, a collective can be either functional or dysfunctional, depending on the emotional, intellectual and spiritual health of the various individuals who come to constitute it. My rule of thumb would be this: the more emotionally and spiritual healthy the individuals within a group, the more likely is it for that group to function in an ultimately defensible way. And make no mistake about it: collectives can go very wrong at times – as any examination of human history will demonstrate.

Returning to the notion of a national collective, and its impact on the outcome of the 2004 Presidential Election, there is clearly a huge segment of our population that uncritically identifies with the idea of being either “American” or “Christian”, and often confuse the one with the other. To employ a figure of speech from the Vietnam era, this is the “love it or leave it” crowd. Yet, if individually queried, these Americans' ideas of what actually constitutes American or Christian values might prove vague, different from region-to-region, and completely contrary to the conclusions that might reasonably be drawn from any study of either history or scripture. The impact of outright propaganda also fits in here. Many Americans' perception of reality is becoming increasing dependent on the carefully filtered messages delivered by the news and entertainment industries – as opposed to a more autonomous, intellectually rigorous exploration of current events, popular culture, our history, or their own psyches. The more one is able to utilize independent, yet credible, sources of public information, the less likely is it that this person will blindly share the perspectives of their countrymen. Consequently, our inclusion beneath the awning of the “national collective” is not uniform, with some Americans residing only partly below this collective canopy – and others standing largely outside it.

Framing the Election Returns
The 2004 Election result represented a problematic outcome for many astrologers, myself included. One the one hand, the cosmic indicators that we use to gauge the likelihood of popularity, recognition and triumph were pointing one way, while the collective indicators were, in retrospect, pointing in the opposite direction. I attempted to address this electoral dissonance in my last pre-election essay, “Fate, Free Will and America's Destiny”, where I wrote:

“Now, my technical opinion as an astrologer remains that John Kerry has what I'd describe as a mighty cosmic wind at his back. This opinion is not based on some vague intuition on my part, but rather my evaluation of the cumulative impact of several very specific astrological factors. And we've all had the opportunity to watch this cosmic wind at work. Kerry has just concluded a series of debates with President Bush, and in the eyes of most of objective observers, triumphed in all three. Kerry is receiving the lion's share of endorsements by major metropolitan newspapers – including quite a number of newspapers that endorsed Mr. Bush in 2000. Conversely, with regard to the President, the news from Iraq, and about the economy, continues to be grim. And at long last, serious questions are being posed about Dubya's mental health – and not a moment too soon, if you ask me. Yet, the pollsters continue to describe a race that is, astonishingly, within the margin of error.”

In my opinion, the 2004 Election could be thought of as yet another example of a Pluto in Sagittarius impelled “faith-based” activism at work in the affairs of humanity. Many Bush voters queried afterwards told pollsters that so-called “moral issues” were the deciding factors behind their vote, as was their continuing faith in the President's confident leadership. To return to my analogy from the previous paragraph, these voters were clearly standing completely under the post-9/11 version of the national collective awning – but with their backs to the world (and, for many, to the notion of modernity itself). Obvious and indisputable facts about the President's past performance did not appear to factor at all into their thinking; neither did the opinion of citizens from other nations who consider the United States a friend and important ally, and care deeply about developments here in America. What mattered most to these Americans was their subjective impression of the President, and his Administration's alleged achievement in keeping them safe from physical and imagined moral threats.

Evidence Versus Emotion
In a previous column, “A Wind Is Rising, and the Rivers Flow” I offered another forecast that proved both eerily prescient and ultimately irrelevant.

“At the same time, events will likely conspire to expose the utter nakedness and foul odor of this President's leadership and policies.”

And conspire they did. In the two weeks prior to the election, even more damning evidence of the Bush Administration's fundamental incompetence came into public view. For instance, on October 28, 2004, The Lancet, the prodigious medical journal, published a study indicating that as many as 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians may have perished as a direct result of President Bush's decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power. While much is made in the American media of the approximately 1,100 deaths of American Servicemen in Iraq, this nearly 100 times greater total of Iraqi civilian deaths at American and British hands was given dramatically less exposure in the run-up to November 2nd. Nor does this 100,000 casualties total include those innocent Iraqis killed by insurgents, in car bombings, beheadings, and other terrorist acts, as a direct result of Bush Administration efforts to secure and occupy Iraq on the cheap (and without appropriate support from allies).

Additionally, in a story only published the day before the election, but completed on Friday, October 29 (and hence, could have been made available for public discussion during the crucial final weekend preceding the vote), Newsweek, explored the extent to which the coalition is in danger of losing the war in Iraq:

“But the truth is, neither party is fully reckoning with the reality of Iraq-which is that the insurgents, by most accounts, are winning. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former general who stays in touch with the Joint Chiefs, has acknowledged this privately to friends in recent weeks, Newsweek has learned. The insurgents have effectively created a reign of terror throughout the country, killing thousands, driving Iraqi elites and technocrats into exile and scaring foreigners out. "Things are getting really bad," a senior Iraqi official in interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government told Newsweek last week. "The initiative is in [the insurgents'] hands right now. This approach of being lenient and accommodating has really backfired. They see this as weakness."

Let me reiterate that this harrowing story was apparently completed on the 29th, and should have been the talk of the Sunday morning shows on October 31st – but was deliberately not made available to the public until November 1, and then overshadowed by the pre- and post-election analysis.

A story that did make headlines in the week before the election, and further demonstrated the breakdown of Donald Rumsfeld's plan to secure the peace in the aftermath of our military “victory” in Iraq, was that of the 377 missing tons of explosives. These explosives apparently disappeared after being left unguarded when American troops were needed elsewhere in Iraq. While the Bush Administration made various attempts to explain away this obvious error in judgment and policy, none was particularly convincing. That said, in this faith-based atmosphere, I doubt that any evidence produced would have any significant impact on the decision of the vast majority of Bush voters in this election. They were voting for the candidate who they somehow perceived had brought “God” to the White House and kept America safe after 9/11 (while curiously not holding him responsible for ignoring either core tenets of Jesus' teachings or Richard Clarke's warnings about the dire threat that al Qaeda represented).

This collective myopia mirrors the dynamics surrounding the film “Stolen Honor”. Sinclair Broadcasting initially required its stations to air this film during the weeks leading up to November 2nd, in a blatant attempt to exploit the public airwaves to steer a Presidential Election. “Stolen Honor” represented a continuation of the Swift Boat Veterans' efforts to sabotage John Kerry's Presidential campaign, this time by chronicling the hurt feelings of a number of former American POWs and servicemen. Thirty years later, the argument of this documentary was that John Kerry's Senate testimony in 1971 made life worse for a number of POWs then in captivity, and afterwards – while making no reference to the fates of the approximately three million Vietnamese who died as a result of United States efforts to save a village by destroying it. Neither did the filmmaker, a discredited former Washington Times staffer, offer testimony from the hundreds of thousands of American men who were spared the ordeal of having to go to Vietnam because of the courageous efforts of groups like Vietnam Veterans Against the War to more swiftly bring this colossal national mistake to a conclusion. Nor did it attempt to shine a light on any of the official U.S. Military documents that Nicholas Turse has unearthed, documenting incidents every bit as heinous as those that participants at the Winter Soldier Conference spoke of, and John Kerry reported to the United States Senate about.

Like nearly every appeal made either directly, or indirectly through surrogates like the Swift Boat Veterans, on behalf of Dubya in this campaign, the argument of “Stolen Honor” was one of emotion – not policy, utility, or reason. John Kerry made these former POWs feel bad, and was, thus, unfit to command. Better that Kerry had returned to America, and passed out alongside Bush on the floor of a Harvard Square watering hole – and allowed the next generation of American men to be led to the slaughter. Rather than trying to emulate Jesus' example of spiritual leadership, and daring to speak truth to power at a time of great madness, better that Kerry had instead said and done nothing – so that more Americans and Vietnamese could sooner join Jesus in heaven – and no one's feelings, except those of the mothers, fathers, wives and children of those would later fall in battle, or themselves die in yet another pointless bombing raid, would have been hurt. For in the America that honors the Swift Boat Veterans, flag burning and truth telling is a far greater offense than obliterating the village that you were sent to save. And it is the sacred duty of every American to be silent, and grateful, when asked to be the last person to die in the name of a mistake.

The Saturn Cycle – Once More, With Feeling
Readers of Human Potential Left will, by now, be thoroughly familiar with the concepts underlying the Saturn cycle of Presidential leadership and national direction. But the impact of the cosmic principle that this planet represents extends far beyond the observable turning points of its 29 year transiting cycle. In a very real sense, its impact can be thought of as thoroughly permeating the psycho-spiritual DNA of our American experiment. As I wrote in the final section of "Why John Kerry Matters":

"Whether one uses a birth moment for the nation of July 2, 1776 (when John Adams tells us that the die was cast) or July 4, 1776 (when the Continental Congress began doing business as the United States of America), the resulting chart describes a great power, but one always challenged by the cosmos to live within itself, and to avoid the mistakes of imperial excess that the powers that preceded it were guilty of. Expressed in purely astrological terms, these resulting charts describe a nation conceived with Saturn in challenging aspect to the Sun. The Sun represents the spirit, dynamism and ideals of the nation, as well as its leaders. Saturn represents the perpetual challenge by the cosmos to become better than we have been, and ultimately, to make manifest in space and time every ideal that this nation was founded on. It is as if the United States, embodying the then revolutionary idea of “government for the people, by people”, was meant to serve as a demonstration project of what could be accomplished on this planet if human beings chose to act as if inspired by, to echo Lincoln's phrase, “the better angels of our nature”. Consequently, it may well be that cosmos intended our greatest impact to be through the force of intellectual and spiritual inspiration."

Now, consider the remarks of Gary Wills, Adjunct Professor of American Studies at Northwestern (and author of books on Jefferson, Washington, Madison and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address) in his November 4th Op-Ed for The New York Times, “The Day the Enlightenment Went Out":

"America, the first real democracy in history, was a product of Enlightenment values – critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences. Though the founders differed on many things, they shared these values of what was then modernity. They addressed "a candid world," as they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, out of "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind." Respect for evidence seems not to pertain any more, when a poll taken just before the elections showed that 75 percent of Mr. Bush's supporters believe Iraq either worked closely with Al Qaeda or was directly involved in the attacks of 9/11."

As far as I'm concerned, virtually every Enlightenment-era virtue that Professor Willis cites can be associated with the archetype of Saturn in Libra:

- Critical intelligence;
- A respect for evidence;
- A regard for science;
- A decent respect for the opinions of mankind.

But the influence of Saturn can be observed at an even deeper level of our DNA, in the methodology of "healthy separation": separation of powers, the intricate set of checks and balances that the Framers enshrined in the United States Constitution, not to mention the specific guarantees of individual rights, like freedom of religion, freedom from illegal search and seizure, and so forth. The Founding Fathers were careful, healthily skeptical, men who actually feared too much direct democracy, and clearly understood the dangers of “faith-based” activism – either by the electorate or an executive thought to have been somehow installed by God (like the Kings of 18th Century Europe), and hence gifted with superior knowledge of good and evil. Regardless of their respective political persuasions, I wonder how comfortable any of the Founders and Framers would be with the results of an election in which, as Professor Wills notes, 75% of Bush's supporters express belief in a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda for which there was never any credible evidence available to support?

So, to reiterate, reason, healthy skepticism, empirically based conclusions, and the foundational principles of separation of powers and constitutional checks and balances, are inescapably associated with the symbolism of Saturn (and very specifically, Saturn in Libra square the United States Sun) – as are many other mechanisms of constitutional democracy, and indeed, the social contract itself. And it is towards constitutional democracy, not enlightened dictatorship by those who imagine themselves as God's elite, that we should hope that the evolutionary tide is inescapably headed around the world – even if in America, some of our countrymen would prefer the other course.

To better communicate the sense of profound pessimism and spiritual gloom I feel at this moment in our national life, I need to take you back to the events of 30 years earlier, and the culmination of the previous Saturn cycle. In 1974, America was confronted with evidence of a President who played fast and loose with the truth – expanding a war that he promised to end if elected; refusing to admit his Administration's culpability in the Watergate break-in, or their direct involvement in the cover-up; and routinely violating the constitutional rights of his political opponents. In 1974, however, when evidence of Nixon's guilt reached critical mass, the men and women of the United States Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, came together as Americans and insisted on holding Richard Nixon accountable. And Nixon, to his credit, acted in the best interests of the country, and resigned as President. In 1975, the United States' decade long effort to intervene in a far-off civil war, on behalf of a regime that ultimately lacked the support of its citizens, reached its inevitable end – as South Vietnamese resistance collapsed, and the North triumphed. Recent history has demonstrated that Vietnam was not the central front in the Cold War, but rather an overextension of American military influence, and ultimately an error in judgment.

In 2003-04, during the climax of this most recent Saturn cycle, we observed unmistakable evidence of yet another President playing fast and loose with the truth. This President deliberately attempted to mislead a nation into believing that there was any meaningful connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein's regime. Egged on by a new “best and the brightest”, he dragged the nation into yet another unnecessary war, and another tragic diversion from a larger, more essential battle, in this case, against Islamic Fundamentalism and Osama Bin Laden. He further mislead Congress about the true cost of the Medicare prescription drug bill that he hoped would help him win reelection. In that reelection campaign, he continually misrepresented both his and his opponent's respective records. And, most shamefully, he continually exploited the nation's enduring trauma over 9/11 for purely partisan, selfish purposes.

But this time Democrats and Republicans did not come together. Even though a number of Republicans in the Senate and the House privately expressed disgust at the Bush Administration's mismanagement of both the period leading to war, and the occupation of Iraq – not to mention the thrust of many Bush Administration economic and social policies – no serving Republican save Lincoln Chafee dared stand up to this President, and insist that he be held accountable (and even Chafee refused to endorse the other candidate). Politics and ideological extremism, not patriotism, ruled the day. In 1974, the system still worked. In 2004, the center did not hold, and the system failed.

And what are we to conclude about that segment of the electorate that cannot even get the facts straight about the causes of why their sons and daughters must go to war, these voters who can be so easily misled precisely because they live within a bubble of their own creation? And what is the world to make of our America, abundant beyond measure, but where so many pray for the end of time, and "The Rapture"? Is Washington, DC in danger of becoming Jonestown on the Potomac?

Hence, while the neo-conservative and evangelical supporters of this President now envision the dawn of some glorious Christian American era, I see a nation that on November 2nd assumed a trajectory of economic, political, intellectual, and yes, spiritual decline. I see a nation that continues to abandon first principles, the very principles that made America truly exceptional on the world stage. And as we continue to lose our way, I fear a descent into darkness, disunity, and likely soul-wrenching crisis in the decade or so to come – until, through an heroic, bi-partisan effort, we can restore the primacy of reason, of healthy skepticism, and of an abiding faith in both Providence and the improvability of humanity itself, to the core of our national life. Finally, to the advocates of this new Christian Totalitarianism, I say that God gave us minds so that we would use them. And I say that intellect is not the enemy of authentic spiritual experience, but rather the rainbow bridge between one man's experience of God and another's. In our era of sacred madness and nuclear proliferation, this is a bridge that humanity must traverse together or eventually be destroyed.

Matthew Carnicelli © 2004. All rights reserved.

Originally published December 2, 2004; revised December 17, 2004.

For more on Saturn's conjunction of the United States Sun see:

Documenting the Impact of Cosmic Gravity, Part II
Getting to Know You
Documenting the Impact of Cosmic Gravity, Part I
The Reagan Legacy
Laying Naked Neo-Conservative Incompetence
Take Responsibility
Why John Kerry Matters
The Turning Point
Saturn and the Rush to War
Mission Accomplished?
Rumsfeld Awakens from the Dream
A Viewer's Guide to a Gathering Storm
It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn