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OCTOBER 2007, PART 2 of 2

Jessica Murray: Mercury, Dispassionate Curiosity

by Jessica Murray

Uninformed and faux-informed

Astrological Glyph for the Planet MercuryOur last column focused on Mercury, the planet of intelligence. We looked at how tricky it is to truly honor Mercury in America today, given that the current societal climate does not encourage it. What would it look like to be driven by genuine curiosity, undeterred by cultural constraints?

I have said that intelligence is comprised of the instincts with which we were born, combined with the knowledge at our disposal. If Mercury is our instinct to inform ourselves (stronger in some people than in others, but present at birth in every one of us: every chart has Mercury somewhere), then from a Mercurial point of view, our choice is clear: we take advantage of our innate curiosity, or we do not. In previous “America in Transition” columns I argued against dualism as an overused ploy; but at this point I am proposing that if there is a dualism that makes any Mercurial sense, it is this: one can either be informed or uninformed.

This particular either/or should be an obvious place to begin if our goal is to enhance our intelligence. But it is not at all obvious to most Americans. The point that one can either know what one is talking about, or not, is obscured by great honking claims about "an opinion being just an opinion" and its blithely righteous corollary that all opinions are equal.  Unfortunately, this worthy-sounding argument ignores the reality of propaganda, a nasty phenomenon Americans are taught to believe exists in other countries but “not in a democracy like ours.”

Yet if we can achieve, if only momentarily, sufficient distance from these subjective nationalistic assumptions, most of us will concede that throughout history governments have used propaganda and censorship to greater or lesser degrees. This is because people in power have a stake in establishing conventional opinion (in astrology, consensus thinking is governed by Saturn, the planet associated with the concept of normality. This is a point to which we will return.) 

Political leaders want the public to believe certain things, and they do not want them to believe certain other things. A government will use its media arm to carefully render a certain point of view “normal”, while other points of view will get marginalized, penalized or worse. In this country, those who refute the official story line are no longer burned at the stake (8); they are merely denied air time and made fun of by Bill O’Reilly. But this is a difference of degree, not of substance. The more tyrannized a people are, the more Mercurial discourse will be suppressed.

A workaday example of the media’s faux-informing is the “both sides presented”  gambit that we get from Fox News, a network whose political links to the current administration are common knowledge and involve immense financial stakes.  Such “news” programs, with their much-touted adversarial guest debaters whose virulent opposition is supposed to offer proof of the station’s fairness and balance, have been dishearteningly successful in distracting viewers from the fact that a critical third thing—the truth—is nowhere in evidence. (9)

It is an ingenious trope. By setting up the discussion in a way that excludes the truly pertinent information, ideas are pre-empted before they can even coalesce into questions in the viewer’s mind. Framing a debate in terms of “whether the Iraqi government is stepping up to the plate or not”, for example, utterly precludes questions about whether Iraq hasa government right now—that is, a governing body other than the United States (the current group nominally in charge of Iraq can’t even choose their own military leaders without Washington’s approval). Framing the debate in such a way pre-empts any discussion about whether an occupied country is obliged to meet the criteria spelled out by its occupiers.

Most absurd of all is the absence, in all this talk of “winning” this (undeclared) war, of the question "what would 'winning' mean"? (10) The unacknowledged spin of the mainstream news effectively shuts out the only questions that would render any of the other questions meaningful. When we step outside of the bubble of reality created and maintained by the corporate media, its take on the “news” is so loopy as to fly in the face of Mercurial logic.

The goal of a person who wishes to use her Mercury fully must be to identify propaganda when we see it and to step out of its shadow.

Thinking unclouded by ideology

To use Mercury with integrity is to attend to self-informing with as much clear-mindedness as we can muster. The planet’s job is to accumulate facts and figures, and connect the dots between them. Mercury is not about platforms and passions. As planets go, this one is altogether dry and neutral (11): Mercury does not concern itself with conviction, faith, or even belief (these belong to Jupiter). It just wants to find out what’s going on.

This essential meaning of Mercury diverges more and more from the way its energies are tossed around in today’s culture wars. (12) It is not that impassioned dramatizing has no role to play in successful public discourse. It is just that where Mercury is concerned, the question is not whether or not one is capable of crowd-stirring rhetoric, but whether or not one is informed. Most of the arguments now identified as clashes between “Blue State” vs. “Red State” beliefs are not differing interpretations of facts, as they purport to be, but riffs between competing ideologies; where the speaker is judged not so much by whether they’ve done their homework but by what “side” they appear to be on. The emphasis is on choosing one’s colors, like a gang member buying a red or a blue handkerchief and then wearing it with panache or not.

True Mercurial creativity cannot exist in this skewed set-up. An uninformed citizenry is a profound problem, but confusing every issue as a “rightwing” vs. “leftwing” matter muddles the issue still further.

Naiveté posing as innocence

To call the tragic young Americans being killed in Iraq “heroes” for “protecting their country” in a war that has nothing to do with wreaking vengeance upon the WTC hijackers, for instance, is a case of naiveté posing as innocence. The idea that only “liberals” believe the war in Iraq to have been based on lies is no longer worth the energy it would take to discuss it. Many such views, seen for years as the exclusive province of “Bush-haters”, in truth represent simple access to information. What we have here is not really a political problem. It is a Mercurial problem.

There is a difference between facts and opinions, a difference that those who honor Mercury must not be shy about asserting. As our educators grow increasingly alarmed and international observers look on incredulously, America’s ignorance about world history, even very recent history, is becoming not just a cultural embarrassment but a fatal flaw, as the geopolitical stakes grow higher and higher.

Ignorance and fear

The nuclear-threat story the news agencies are now spinning about Iran would be a much harder sell were the American public aware of some very simple facts: such as which countries in the world have nukes already, how they got them and why they have been allowed to keep them. None of this is classified information. It is accessible to every American, and it is common knowledge among the educated classes across the globe. But for lack of this knowledge many among the US public are seriously considering Washington’s insane talk about an Iraq Redux in Iran. If knowledge is power, here is a case where the lack of it could mean unthinkable global catastrophe.

How ready would the man-on-the-street be to support Bush’s latest saber-rattling if he knew that Iran, Washington’s latest bogeyman, is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; whereas Israel, with its 200 nuclear warheads, is not? It is doubtful that very many Americans, obediently quaking in their boots right now about Iran, have given a moment’s thought to the fact that India, too, has refused to sign the treaty, has conducted tests with its nukes and used them to threaten its neighbors—all with Washington’s tacit permission, extended this summer in a round of nuclear deal-making backed up by ever-more-tortured White House explanations. The fact that Pakistan, also well-stocked with nukes but still the great good friend of Uncle Sam, is the main proliferator of these weapons to “rogue regimes” is so ironic, given all the hoopla about Iran, as to read as dark comedy.

The elephant-in-the-room in this whole scenario—the one fact that we never hear in media discussions of the matter, yet the one that fairly screams in the silence—is that the USA itself is, of course, the only power that has used the A-bomb (13); the one country whose nuclear arsenal dwarfs the combined arsenals of every other country in the world; and the one government whose leadership in nuclear disarmament—were it to choose that course—could actually make a difference in ending the arms race. Instead, American tax dollars are at the moment being spent on designs for a whole new generation of these lethal monsters, a program which the Democrats—who differ with the Bush regime only in strategy, not in geopolitical goals—have just signed off on this past August. It is a fact that lends credence to the idea that the only force that could stop this and the other ecocidal follies cooked up by our demented leaders would be an informed American public.

Which brings us back to the task at hand: reclaiming our Mercuries.

Were America a nation with a well-functioning collective Mercury, facts such as the examples in this essay—the news is filled with them every day—would inspire a virtual avalanche of dispassionate curiosity in each independent thinker. And where there was skepticism about any of this information—skepticism being the surest sign of a healthy Mercury—further self-informing would be avidly undertaken.

Putting our Mercuries to use

There is a world of information out there—many of the young blogsters are in on it; readers of the international press are likely to be in touch with it; listeners to Al-Jazeera will have heard much of it—that could give Americans the resources they need to respond appropriately to what is going on in the globe today. It is a travesty of our collective dysfunctional Mercury that so much of this data is all but unknown to the majority of the American public.

We have said that this ignorance is due not to any innate failure of Mercury but to the obscuring climate of today’s culture wars, stoked by a power cartel with a vested interest in keeping the public in the dark. We have argued that the under-use of Mercury in America’s collective intelligence, far from being a problem of lack of information (14), is primarily a function of the way information is framed in a culture obsessed with the dualism of winning vs. losing. Rather than treating facts as neutral mental energies with which to engage in order to enlarge one’s understanding of the world, we have been trained to view facts (all except those sanctioned by “official sources”) almost as we would personal feelings: suspect by definition and fueled by partisan agendas.

Mercury governs knowledgeability, which, when raised to an art form, expresses as erudition—a value treasured in many societies whose literatures and scientific creativity enrich our lives. But Mercury has a deeply practical side as well. The full use of our mental faculties allows us to exercise the free inquiry that would lead us to resolve the many immense problems we are now experiencing as a society.

As consciousness seekers in a world in crisis, we cannot afford to let this part of ourselves atrophy. Human intelligence, as astrology defines it, is not just something to use to get a good grade on a test. In the macrocosmic view, there is indeed a test here: a karmic one, on a collective as well as an individual level. The transits we will be discussing in future columns indicate that there is no better time than right now to prepare for it. To do so we must cultivate our innate dispassionate curiosity, one of the arrows pointing us towards sanity.


8 That is, rarely within the borders of the USA does the suppression of dissent take the form of outright murder. But all over the world there are thousands of deaths attributable to the careful control our state-linked media holds over the American public’s worldview. For example, not much ink was devoted in the US press last summer to explain that the armaments Israel was using to bomb hospitals and fleeing refugees in Lebanon came from our very own Pentagon. The media presented the massacre as an unfathomable, if unfortunate, mess in a faraway land, having little to do with us. The number of Americans outraged by this genocidal episode, paid for by their own tax dollars, was thus minimized.

9 The notion that all issues boil down to two polarized sides is itself so ingrained that it seems not even to cross the public’s radar enough to be questioned. See June’s Daykeeper Journal “America in Transition”.

10 Meanwhile, several administrations’ worth of US Middle East policymakers have made no bones about what they mean by “winning.” And it has nothing to do with the people of Iraq, nor about styles of government. To these men, “winning” means securing military and economic control of the region. These goals are part of the public record; they are spelled out in no uncertain terms in neo-con policy statements such as the official National Security Council Strategy ( that anyone with access to a computer can read with their own eyes.  Even without resorting to the Internet, Americans could inform themselves of why their tax money is being poured into Iraq simply by reading in their very own newspapers (granted, it would probably require persevering into the back pages) and using their Mercuries to discern patterns of meaning. For instance, no secret was made of the fact that Paul Bremer’s primary post-Shock-and-Awe project was to privatize Iraq’s oil. He simply took control of it away from the people who lived there. But though the story was printed, its implications were not (nor did our intrepid “investigative reporters” deign to mention that by international law, an invading force does not have the right to pass legislation).

It is very unlikely that viewers of TV news shows think of any of this when they listen to discussions of “winning” in Iraq. The Karl Rove bunch has figured out that the most efficient way to keep the public’s ignorance intact is for media commentators to simply leave the word “winning” undefined. This keeps things nice and vague, encouraging the public to think of it in terms of coming home with the trophy at a golf tournament or soccer match.

11 When placed in Water and Fire signs, Mercury has an emotional coloration that it does not possess in Air and Earth. But relative to the other planets, unalloyed Mercurial logic is undistracted by the prejudicial vicissitudes of feeling.

12 Much of this over-ideologizing of simple information can be chalked up the to the transit of Pluto in Sagittarius (see “America in Transition” in February’s DayKeeperJournal), which tends to recast even the most clear-cut issues as elaborate moral crusades.

13 The recent anniversary of the dropping of “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” on Hiroshima and Nagasaki offers us a timely symbol of the contrast between what Washington says and what Washington does. The strikes incinerated 370,000 human beings, 85% of them civilians. Formerly secret documents now prove that Truman’s White House knew full well at the time that Japan was on the verge of collapse and ready to surrender. The bombs were dropped not to “end the war,” as the White House insisted at the time, but to warn the newly ascendant Soviets of the American military’s indominability—basically the same motive behind the threats against Iran today.

14 If anything, our craving for immediate access to huge quantities of information, aided and abetted by a plethora of electronic gadgets whose ever-briefer shelf-life is designed to add to their trendy allure, leaches the intelligence out of our Mercuries rather than strengthening it. Researchers of ADD and other peculiarly modern mental disorders have found that after a certain quantity is reached, the amount of data flooding into the brain exists in inverse relation to the ability to apply it. A British study from 2005 concluded that information overload actually reduces IQ levels twice as much as smoking lots of pot. As James Tulip puts it, “The greatest threat to our democracy is not from evil or incompetent leaders but from an electorate with the attention span of a gerbil on crack.”

Alex Miller-Mignone, photo
Jessica Murray trained as a fine artist before graduating in 1973 from Brown University, where she studied psychology and linguistics. After a stint in political theatre in the heady early '70s, Jessica moved to San Francisco and began studying metaphysics, where she has had a full-time private practice in astrology for more than 30 years.

Her new book, Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer's View of America, has recently been published by AuthorHouse. In addition to her column in Daykeeper Journal and the monthly Skywatch on her website,, Jessica's essays appear in The Mountain Astrologer, P.S. Magazine, Considerations and other publications. Jessica can be reached at

Jessica's writings appear every even-numbered month in Daykeeper. You'll find a complete list of them here.