Coming up for air

If you’ve followed mainstream media since the advent of Covid, you may have noticed an uptick in stories of selfless heroism, along with frequent appeals to your social conscience. All of which you might think would inspire collective sympathy. Yet social distancing, lockdowns, masks, home isolation, mass vaccination and sanitising rituals have instead had the general effect of turning people inwards. Whether by means of carrots or sticks, the powers that be have swayed the public to put personal safety first. Society has never been more atomised.

Meanwhile, the system promotes tunnel vision. Queue here for the booster merry-go-round… Blame Putin, the new Hitler. Albo or Scomo? Coal or coal seam gas? McDonald’s or KFC? The system doesn’t offer choices that signify. It pushes Big Pharma and crushes small farms; enables Big Tech and disrupts small businesses; it wants to oversee everything and hide our real options from sight – so forget decentralised living. And you can kiss unmodified, unmediated nature bye-bye…

Yet history reveals thinkers who never lost sight of the big picture. Take CG Jung, whose study of the shifting psychic dominant or God-image through the Age of Pisces, Aion (1951), was recently rescued from obscurity. ‘That damn book is just absolutely terrifying,’ pop psychologist Jordan Peterson said in 2017, ‘because Jung is one of these visionaries who can see way underneath the social structures and look at patterns that are developing across … thousands of years…’ Here’s a random example from Aion:

Shepherd, ram, and lamb symbolism coincides with the expiring aeon of Aries. In the first century of our era the two aeons overlap, and the two most important mystery gods of this period, Attis and Christ, are both characterized as shepherds, rams, and fishes (p. 103).

Why rely on Jung’s research, though, when we can consult the Bible? Dating from the Age of Aries, the Old Testament features a wrathful, jealous, vengeful God of blood sacrifice and burnt offerings, who speaks to Moses from a burning bush expressive of Aries fire. In contrast, the New Testament, written as the Piscean age dawned, depicts a God of mercy and forgiveness sacrificing His only son to cleanse us of sin, His love as deep as the submarine realm of Christ’s trademark fish. While Christians insist their God is unchanging, ‘eternal’ might be a better word, because historical evidence charts a transition. Archetypes shape-shift. Which begs the question of what will mark the incoming Age of Aquarius. If each astrological age is presaged by an avatar, will the next assume human form, or should we prepare to worship AI?

I knew of Aion before I’d heard of Peterson; it’s long been cited as proof of Jung’s involvement in astrology. But why might it terrify? In an unpsychological, ahistorical culture, the idea that evolution of consciousness maps onto cycles spanning millennia may be a stretch to comprehend. But no, people lap up theories about the beginning and end of the universe. So it’s not about scale or scope, but credibility. Science rules.

In The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (2009), psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist contends that humanity went astray in the last few centuries with its bias towards left-brain thought. McGilchrist presumes to tell us what we must do to get back on course. But what if this admittedly soul-numbing aberration were just a cyclic manifestation of the vast wheel of the ages passing through one of its phases? Other critics of our world, such as vegans, believe the rise of farming ten millennia ago amounted to a major wrong turn. Epochal shifts appear more distinct with hindsight, however; we may be too close for perspective, let alone moral certainty.

And yet already we can see the emergence of textbook Aquarian themes. Take equality. How rapidly the establishment is adopting inclusive policies, with gender, generational and racial boundaries breaking down – the fact that lust for profit prompts such political correctness is incidental. Likewise, diversity is celebrated, even as its normalisation looks more like homogeneity. An air sign, Aquarius thinks (fire, water and earth intuit, feel and sense, respectively) – and so, from its rational, abstract viewpoint, no obvious difference exists between, say, poems composed by a human and those generated by an AI.

Unlike mutable Pisces, Aquarius is fixed: pixelated digital imagery vs. fluid paint; the clarity of numbers vs. ambiguous words; quotas vs. nebulous notions of merit or nepotism; compartmentalising, blind to its own contradictions. So, with medical help you can redefine your gender identity and rate new opportunities for inclusion, but you can’t always decline a Covid jab and retain your job. It’s a one-size-fits-all ethos, entitling everyone to the same treatment whether or not they want or need it; the matrix, the network, the grid, the field, the hum of high-speed computation, the logic of the algorithm, the genome sequence, the metaverse, the infinite scope for sameness via cloning and digital simulation, the lens of science that can’t find the soul with precision instrumentation; the paradox of singularity, a word for uniqueness that also means the birth of conscious machines. Since ancient times, Aquarius has worn the guise of water bearer: a man manipulating one of the elements, evocative of the reductive mindset that takes things apart to learn how they work but can’t put them back together again because left-brain thinking isn’t holistic. And so, as the blind faith of watery Pisces dissipates, we meet the blind logic of soulless AI.

Which brings us to colour-by-numbers identity politics, a phenomenon that gives the individual visibility to the extent that they’re aligned with a group, typically comprising a legion of social media friends whose support might not go beyond emoticons. True individuality – symbolised by the opposite sign of Leo, the principle of self-expression shining from a singular centre – is today an overlooked presence. Most evident in a debased form, such as the narcissistic cult of celebrity, or the sense of entitlement that pervades the affluent West, which the world’s richest tech tycoons epitomise, it serves as background to the main Aquarian themes – not unlike the Virgo archetype during the Age of Pisces, initially discernible as the Virgin, mother of Christ.

Each sign has its polarity, and each contains its shadow. And so as the Piscean aeon of humility wears thin, we can see the dark side of Virgo showing through. At worst, this perfectionist earth sign can’t see the wood for the trees, succumbing to terminal OCD – and, bearing this in mind, it’s no wonder that at this transitional juncture we find ourselves living in a mechanistic culture fixated on endless busyness, hygiene, sterility and efficiency, our medicine a travesty of healing and maintenance as we defer to process, the primacy of the machine, in place of content and meaning.

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2 Responses to Coming up for air

  1. Interesting. The ascendency of cyber-0/1-technology…we are too cluttered with interruption and information that it is all we can do to live one moment to the next in my experience. May-as-well be robots programmed to do and react. Will there be time/space to reflect and be in this next cycle? I guess it depends on where the global political and environmental trajectory ends up.

  2. Thanks as always for your thoughts, Annette. I think we are being programmed like robots to the extent that we don’t pay attention; the technological treadmill we’re on cuts us off from the subtler rhythms of changing light, weather etc. – natural forces conducive to reflection. The phases in the cycle I was thinking about take 2000+ years to play out, but re the short-term ‘global political & environmental trajectory’, it’ll be interesting to see what vision guides Australian voting tomorrow!

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