AMERICA IN TRANSITION, APRIL 2009
by Jessica Murray
In our last column we talked about the deep changes afoot in the collective unconscious of the USA; changes which are spotlighting the most taboo of all cultural taboos: money. We discussed the placement of the American Pluto in the second house, and the Pluto transit now opposing the country’s natal Venus/Jupiter. Together these are delivering a one-two punch to America’s underbelly.
The collapse of America’s financial status quo is resonating in the popular imagination as if it were Armageddon. All public discussion is devolving to the shift in the country’s bottom line; all other news is being shunted to the sidelines. Amidst the fray, some voices can be heard proposing that the crisis could be used as an opportunity to restructure the world economy in a healthy direction; but these are mostly being dismissed as either meaningless political blathering (as many of them are) or are all but drowned out by the majority reaction: all-out panic.
Money has become the impetus for popular trauma.
Fanning the Flames
Like all big events in modern culture, the economic crisis is inextricably linked to the ways and means of the mainstream media, which shovels information into the public mind. The all-encompassing nature of the mass media—the sheer inescapability of its interpretations—should make us question how much of the turmoil it reports is cause and how much is effect (Pluto [manipulation] is opposed to Mercury [the media] in the US (Sibly) chart).
Like vultures getting wind of a corpse, the babbling talking heads on the news feed on disasters. Big audience freak-outs are the bread and butter of the Murdoch empire, whether elicited by a tacky tabloid or by the august Wall Street Journal. Consciousness seekers must always keep in mind that the way the US media interprets collective dramas tends not only to distort events but to encourage the distortions already extant in the group mind.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of the financial meltdown; though, as we will see, this is part of the transit’s workings. The media’s current fear-mongering is inadvertently throwing light upon the fanaticism about money that caused the crisis in the first place. How telling it is that each time the president goes on TV, instead of intelligently critiquing his ideas the news anchors immediately report the stock market’s reaction to his speech; as if The Dow were The Tao: a living, breathing source of wisdom to which we should turn for definitive truth.
Equally telling is the fact that as hundreds more Americans every day line up outside the soup kitchen, others with disposable income line up for “Adventures of a Shopaholic,” a light-hearted frolic about the madcap world of recreational spending. (1)
The American people’s relationship to money, historically very weird at best, is getting so obsessive it seems about to implode. Which is actually the good news. This is Pluto’s intention.
Grilled Under the Spotlight
Nobody, neither individuals nor groups, likes to have their taboos put under the cold bright light of interrogation. It makes us wince and squirm. But Pluto’s style of teaching is to escort us down into the interrogation dungeon, where we are forced to answer questions about our secrets and shames. Many astrologers of a Jungian bent believe that this kind of examination leads to the most profound transformation an entity can experience, but that revelation arrives only after we’ve confronted aspects of ourselves that we would never look at unless forced by circumstances to do so. (2)
In the case of a country, this self-examination entails breaking through mass denial. It means facing those facts that are avoided or ignored by the majority of citizens and by the politicians who want those citizens’ votes. Given the dumbed-down, shut-down state of public discourse over the past eight years, Americans have been notably loath to do much fact-facing at all. But we are now on the on-ramp to our national Pluto return, and if we want rebirth, we will have to look the devil in the eye. This means looking at realities that make the group mind wince and squirm.
Particularly paired with shame in the American psyche (natal Pluto in the second house) is the idea of debt. One hears a small amount of hushed, baffled talk among the pundits of about the surreal amount of national debt being amassed, but the subject is getting nowhere near as much press as spending cuts and taxes are getting. As we discussed in last month’s column, many of us in the American middle class were taught that spending more than we earned was wrong; that falling into debt revealed a profoundly embarrassing character flaw. But these are the Cardinal Climax years, and they are calling for a massive "correction" of the gap between America’s self-image and its actual behavior. It is time to look at the facts surrounding these disturbing matters.
Since the current troubles began, every couple of months the estimated national debt is proclaimed to be double the however-many-trillions of dollars it was two months earlier. Debt held by the public is headed towards 100% of the economy’s output. In the face of these realities it is difficult to imagine that China, Russia, Japan and the Middle East oil producers will keep investing in the USA as we have grown used to them doing.
Moreover, if we judge by what gets reported, Washington has seemed somewhat oblivious to the fact that China, Japan, Europe and the Middle East all face recessions of their own. (3) These countries are scrambling to put together enormous stimulus plans too, but they certainly won’t be generating the excess cash that for the last eight years have recycled into Treasury bonds to finance US budget deficits—deficits which are expected to quadruple.
The Rest of the World
This raises a point that we would expect to be made by any conjunction of Neptune (universality) and Jupiter (internationalism): Uncle Sam is being prodded to start thinking in terms of the whole wide world.
America’s notorious insularity, exaggerated to a stupefying degree during the Bush years, played a role in this global catastrophe and must be broken through as part of the solution. Not unlike global warming, this Depression (let’s call a spade a spade) is forcing Americans to understand how their governmental, informational and financial institutions interact with the rest of the world. In a society where only a tiny minority of people follow international news, this is presenting a steep learning curve. Every nation in the world is operating under the same skies, the same transits, that we are operating under. The Cardinal Cross is on the on-ramp for them, too. The Saturn-Uranus opposition is forcing the invention and implementation of new models everywhere, and fast.
The European Union, America’s closet global alter ego, is grappling with the same meltdown we are grappling with. Its institutions similarly lack a framework for dealing with the debacle; its financial ministers are floundering wildly. Beyond the USA and Western Europe the situation is more dire still.
In the developing world the need for public and private debt relief is estimated to careen into the $700 billion range, as the downturn that started in the West manifests in poorer countries as a pullback in investment, trade and credit. The World Bank has called on all multilateral lenders, Western governments and the private sector to pitch in more, hinting darkly that social and political unrest (i.e. the Uranus-Saturn opposition, now T-squaring the USA’s Neptune-Mars square) could arise if they do not. (4) It is this last vision that is making the established governments of the world quake at the knees.
At this writing, while the talking heads of the American media busy themselves with the question of whether a rotund, ugly-spirited radio personality wields too much power in the disgraced but ever-vocal Republican party, all over the world except in the USA observers are focusing their attention on Eastern Europe, whose fragile economies are five times more exposed to this latest bust than American or Japanese banks, and which are now on the brink of collapse. (5) It has been noted that a new Iron Curtain is forming, invisible but financially distinct, between the still-functional Western European countries and those of the devastated former Soviet bloc, as the former balk at lending a hand to the latter in the face of their spiraling need.
Such retrenchment is reactive, not productive. The Neptune-Jupiter conjunction above us is spelling out what in our hearts we have always known: that the peoples of the world are inextricably interrelated. The presence of Chiron (woundedness) in the line-up tells us why it would take a crisis like this to bring the point home.
Right now sentient beings all over the globe are realizing this connection through shared wounds.
Opening to the Gods
On the 4th of April, Pluto reaches exactitude in its opposition to the US Venus (values and money). For those who have their eyes open, there is a lot to see here. We have suggested that the times we are living through are by definition destabilizing; that the financial gyrations the world is experiencing are threatening and unsavory by cosmic design.
Humanistic astrology teaches that these realities must be confronted with an active, heart-engaged curiosity if we are to receive the transformation that awaits us on the other side of the threshold. In our last column we likened these world-altering transits to gods, whose terrible majesty is too often ill-met by human fear. In a fairy tale, when a magical figure comes to the cottage door, any child can tell you that if serious harm is to be avoided the proper response is to welcome the visitor in and give them a bowl of porridge.
As a dis-ensouled society the USA has lost touch with the kind of ritual logic that pre-industrial Earth dwellers possessed, and that very young children still possess. But it would be a good idea right now to call upon that part of our psyche that remembers—on a cellular level—how to deal with archetypes of power, so that we may know, without value judgment and with a healthy dose of awe and respect, how to answer that knock when it comes.
1 How interesting it is, in this context, that Hollywood is having a banner year. Ticket sales are way up, as they were during the Great Depression.
2 Not that we must necessarily wait until the external world forces our hand. In theory, with spiritual discipline, individuals and groups can enter into this arena through deliberate self-examination. If this is rarely done, it is because daring to consider material this nasty takes a special kind of courage. See Chapter 13, “Pluto Work,” in my book Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer's View of America.
3 As the economist Robert Aliber has pointed out, China and others believed if they had low values on their currencies and large trade surpluses, they’d get rich; and they did. But now demand for Japanese autos, Singaporean electronics and Chinese manufactured goods is plummeting. Likewise, commodity exporters such as Russia, Venezuela, Canada, Brazil and Iran have seen prices plunge for their oil and grains. These countries had the world by the short hairs a year ago but are now finding commodity prices one third as high as they were.
4 See the Skywatch for March, on MotherSky.com.
5 If mishandled by the world policy establishment, the unfolding debt drama in Russia, Ukraine, and the EU states of Eastern Europe is big enough to shatter Western Europe’s fragile banking systems, according to the London Telegraph (2/15/09). Almost all Eastern bloc debts are owed to Austrian, Swedish, Greek, Italian, and Belgian banks, which made euro loans for houses and cars to Hungarians, Latvians, and others whose incomes are paid in currencies that have now crashed.