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February 2008

Jessica Murray: Saturn, The Reality Show, Part 2

by Jessica Murray

In our last column we discussed Saturn’s association with the concept of “reality.” We proposed that it seemed pretty arrogant for one single planet to claim to be the last word on a concept as all-encompassing as “reality.” How does Saturn get away with it?

Sort of Saturn

It gets away with it because It is the definer. It establishes rules and sets boundaries. Saturn’s considerable clout has nothing to do with logic; it has to do with authority and control. Saturn is the Because-I-say-so planet.

We spoke last time about the concept of reality being, well, a concept; not an absolute. Mystics and magi have been aware of this distinction since time immemorial, of course, and the New Physicists have recently corroborated it in terms that the modern mind could theoretically accept. But the man-on-the-street has yet to receive the memo.

Saturn decides what’s true and normal

Anachronistic though it may be, in the modern world Saturn still means what it meant before the string theorists and Carlos Castaneda started messing with our minds about the nature of reality. In a given culture, Saturn governs those consensual viewpoints that are felt to be so unarguably real that they don’t register as relative. They register as self-evident.

An example is the idea that American-style democracy is the most superior form of government the world has ever seen (1). It is not considered a mere opinion; it is a defining cultural premise. So is its corollary: that the desire to introduce democracy to less-enlightened nation states is a proper and, indeed, an idealistic position for a politician to take. The only argument between the two major political parties on this issue concerns the means by which an American-style government should be foisted upon, and thereafter managed within, the benighted countries involved. The question of whether it should happen elicits no argument; only how it should happen. It’s considered too obviously true to subject to argument. One doesn’t argue about gravity, either.

We proposed in our last column that the Saturnine concept of normalcy is similarly relative: that what a culture considers to be base-line normal changes from decade to decade, if not from year to year or month to month; even varying widely from one socioeconomic group to another—all the while seeming, to the person holding the assumption, to be as immutable as Mt. Everest. Saturn represents all viewpoints which take for granted that Everybody sees things this way except for a few wingnuts.

To the extent that we stay stuck in this collective application of the Saturn principle it becomes impossible to assess, or respond to, what’s going on in the world today. Our job as symbol-readers must be to rediscover the elasticity of the archetypes we find in the astrology books, thereby to use them, in all their fullness and complexity of meaning, as tools of consciousness.

Saturn decides what is important

The operating principle behind a group chart, no less than an individual chart, is that all the planets should operate together into a smoothly functioning whole. If a planet is estranged from the overall life purpose of the entity (especially if it is at cross-purposes with the Sun, as we will see next month when we look at the US chart), problems arise. An un-integrated planet is often taken over by its shadow side. It is prone to projection (i.e. cast out upon the external world). It may stay stuck in arrested development.

One of Saturn’s key principles is the word/concept important. Saturn presides over the people and subject matter deemed importantby a given group at a given point in its history. A well-functioning Saturn will bestow importance upon public figures and issues that stabilize the group by bringing forth worthy values from its past which benefit the commonweal.

An unhealthy use of Saturn will drive a group to confer importance according to artificial and capricious criteria, as a bouncer at a nightclub does whose boss has instructed him to allow inside the velvet rope only the attractive and rich-looking among those waiting in line.

The election extravaganza

A timely example of distorted Saturn can be seen in the current showcasing by the American telecommunications industry of the biggest money-making scam in media history: the presidential campaign season. This massive election-prep period, with its preternaturally early whistle stops, its up-for-grabs scheduling of primaries and its rule manipulating run amok (2), is proving itself as elastic as Mike Huckabee’s old trousers.

Even if we set aside the content of the speechifying and its attendant punditry, the sheer girth of this media phenom—its extravaganza-like presence across the media landscape—tends to seduce even the most skeptical American into believing that there is nothing more newsworthy in the whole wide world than that day’s tiny poll shift or the tear that appeared in Hillary’s eye or the number of times Rudy said “9/11” in a speech. Low-level Saturn logic concludes that if the official voices of a society—in this case, the talking heads on TV—are giving this subject so much attention, it cannot be nonsense. It must be reality.

We have seen that Saturn gets its heft from the notion that this is what everybody thinks. The scale of the stagecraft involved in America’s election-year machinery is cultivated to convey the idea that everybody thinks these goings-on are über-important. Although, as we have seen, Saturn resists defining who this “everybody” is,media consumers are cajoled into assuming that what they are watching represents something of overweening concern to some vast, universal majority.

Saturn decides what the majority is thinking, even when it isn’t

But the more closely we look at it, the idea of The Majority starts to shift and fluctuate, much like the idea of reality. Like other Saturn-governed concepts, it is less sacrosanct than we are led to believe.

For example, pollsters tell us that only a dinky little third of the American electorate is behind the Bush-Cheney cabal at this point, but one would never know it given the great honking sound and fury emanating from the candidates vying for the GOP torch. This contingent is given a huge amount of airtime, because, of course, the game is rigged; they represent agencies with oodles of money and connections to the seat of power. (3)

What does this scenario have to do with the workings of Saturn?

Skewed media positioning provides its beneficiaries with a patina of gravitas, Saturn’s ultimate prize. The lack of a level playing field of visibility has fed into a fictive construct that not only do most people find these individuals and their scripted sound bites eminently significant, but that most people see these views as normal. The intention is to make the most foolish, off-the-wall public figures achieve an aura of being the voice of majority opinion without it being literally true. (This phenomenon has a counterpart in the financial world. Stock analysts call it the “salience bias:” investors give high-profile information—even when it is obviously flawed—more weight than they give sound, lower-profile information.)

In our last column we described the tendency of individuals in the grip of a Saturn picture to disdain subjecting their story to statistical analysis (for example, the idea that “most marriages last until-death-do-us-part”). The irony here is that the presumption of factuality is exactly what makes their view feel so solid.

But even when such stories are backed up by empirical data, Saturn persuades us to believe that its truisms are not just true; they are more than true. They are common knowledge. There is a sense of psychological weight surrounding Saturnine institutions and viewpoints that would not exist if they were thought to be the beliefs of the minority.

Saturn decides who The Fringe is

Most Americans—whether right- or left-leaning—know that endorsing torture is not a value that the US citizenry as a whole identifies with. If we’re talking about actual majority opinion, it is very improbable that Mitt Romney’s call to double the size of Guantanamo represents mainstream thinking. Moreover, it seems likely that most Americans in their heart of hearts detected the whiff of the nutcase about Sen. McCain changing the lyrics of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” to “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran;” as well as about Mr. Huckabee’s announcement that if all the nation’s aborted fetuses had gone to term, the US wouldn’t need low-cost immigrant labor.

Nonetheless there exists a stubborn collective resistance to seeing these stances for what they are: the unwholesome, bizarre opinions of a fringe wing of an unpopular party. The stagecraft shoring up these gentlemen—the fact that they are given the imprimatur of the headlines day after day, and that big-name reporters analyze, with grave solemnity and dead seriousness, their every word and gesture—is designed to prevent them from being seen as fringe thinkers.

Even were an idea to pop out of one of these speakers’ mouths that was fringe-like in a positive sense—i.e. refreshingly unique—Saturn would have none of it. Saturn does not acquire authority by being original or idiosyncratic. It gets its avoirdupois from the idea that certain things are generally known and accepted. These candidates do not aspire to be seen as brilliant or innovative. They want to be thought of as predictable exponents of What Most People Think. They are running on the Saturn platform.

With perverse irony, the faux-majority thinking trope works its magic all along the political spectrum. Many leftwing Americans buy into this fallacy every bit as much as the cheerleaders of the candidates we are describing. Consider that American progressives—the type of voter who might see Dennis Kucinich as a harbinger of integrity and common sense, for example—even this kind of American, if she watched enough TV, would tend to get snookered by Saturn’s Reality Show. The rules of this show declare that if Kucinich is denied a place in the big debate, he must not be a real candidate. Thus if a voter identifies with him and believes in his authenticity, she must be the fringe thinker.

By this skewed logic, the anti-war contingent, despite being identified by pollsters as the overwhelming majority of the US populace, tend to see themselves as the odd-men-out, as voices in the wilderness, as the weirdos.

The majority…except for the rest of the world

While it might have been true right after 9/11 that the hawkish viewpoint constituted a numerical majority in the USA, a couple of years later the opposition to a preëmptive strike against Iraq rose to the millions in the USA and to the hundreds of millions throughout the rest of the world. In every major city across the globe, masses of humanity arose to protest Washington’s plan. The war promoters were so hugely outnumbered that the New York Times declared there to be “two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion" (Feb. 16, 2003).

This scenario brings to light yet another layer of un-integrated Saturn. To what extent do international viewpoints factor into America’s Reality Show?

We have seen that rigorous accuracy is not the driving force behind America’s sense of majority opinion, even its own national majority opinion. Much has been written about the tendency of the US government to minimize the numbers of domestic dissidents (by refusing them access to media; by contesting their reports or resorting to character assassination [e.g. global warming scientists, Joseph Wilson]; by undercounting mass demonstrations), thus manipulating the country’s sense of what constitutes received wisdom in the USA. But the faux-majority gambit becomes qualitatively more outrageous when we consider how it allows Americans to summarily dismiss the perspectives of the other countries of the world. (4)

A distorted Saturn is nothing if not provincial. Following the lead of their government, Americans by and large give global opinion very little attention. They accept quite readily their leaders’ cataloguing of other nations into two groups: “allies” or potential objects of conquest (or, as it is demurely being framed, the lucky recipients of new, improved regimes).

True majority opinion

The truth is that aside from the apparently infinite credulity of certain groups within the American public, basically no one across the whole face of the globe sees things the way Washington does. To see the Iraq war as having to do with "democracy," for instance, may be either the normal or the faux-normal position here in the USA, depending on your point of view; but it is considered flat-out preposterous just about everywhere else in the world.

If we applied Saturn’s own presumed standard—that of preponderant viewpoints—we would find that at most a few million Americans take seriously the “We bombed Iraq to free them” and the “Attacking Iran would make the world safer” rationales. By contrast with the billions of other Earth denizens this is not a very impressive number. 

Saturn mutates with perspective

At this point in our study of Saturn, we may conclude that the longer a view one takes, the more Saturn’s reality-pictures change. We have seen that were we to keep Saturn’s frame of reference limited to the impression conveyed by the American media, we’d get a certain very emphatic, if unfounded, sense of What Everybody Thinks. And were we to expand this frame of reference to the whole American populace—one that included those who did not watch television—we’d get a very different one.

Finally, were we to expand to the world at large America’s notion of what constitutes consensus thinking, we would see its Saturnine sureties not only melt away but reverse themselves.

The chart of the USA

How did America’s premier Saturn agency, its government, come to misuse the authority of this noble archetype? What factors account for a planet-gone-bad?

In next month’s column we will discuss the placement of Saturn in the US chart, using the natal map of the entity born July 4th 1776 in Philadelphia as our primary source. From the aspects formed by this planet much can be derived about how it became so susceptible to distortion, as well as about the ways we might coax it back into working order.



1 Similarly, the assumption that the USA actually has this form of government right now—that is, the form identified with the Founding Fathers of 1776—was almost never questioned until the current administration’s conduct started provoking questions about it from some quarters (and questioning it still brushes up against cultural taboo). Until very recently it was just another assumption, upon which the ours-is-the-best-government assumption depended.

2 An example of blatant gerrymandering that made surprisingly few waves was the attempt in mid-January by Hillary Clinton’s people to exclude the Las Vegas Strip from voting. They knew the Culinary Union was big there, and that the Latino and black workers who dominate its membership would likely go for Obama.

3 The FCC’s recent approval of even more media consolidation flies in the face of almost unanimous public opposition. The tightening of the control the White House exerts over the telecommunications industry over the past few years has assured that Washington-favored interests get the choicest coverage, feeding into their perceived status as more real than those whom Washington makes sure the public rarely gets a chance to see or hear.

4 This point will be driven home during the Pluto-in-Capricorn years upcoming, when the whole idea of national boundaries will come up for redefinition.