This is the dawning of the Age of Scorpio, or as our Sanskrit texts have it, the Age of Vrishchika.
The symbol of Vrishchika is the umbrella and its planet is Mars. If the latter is the godhead of War, then the former might stand in for the umbrella National Missile Defense so coveted by the US who are obediently followed by the Hindu Right-led coalition in India.
And under the sign of Mars and Vrishchika, the bombardment of the Afghans.
The captains of contemporary imperialism, like their forbearers, twist words around so that war is called defense and greed is called freedom, as the hand that throttles the poor is painted invisible and as unreasonable hopes get sanctified as science.
As hard science is needed to devise missiles and launch smart bombs, the mass of humanity is asked to indulge in a fog of unreason – in such arts as astrology.
The Hindu Right-led government’s Human Resource Development ministry has asked the University Grants Council to adopt “Vedic Astrology” as a subject for the university. Some Brahmanical conservatives savour the fantasy of an all-knowing Sanskrit corpus: the ancients knew everything (including the nuclear bomb, viz. Pashupatra), so that time is a myth and what we call progress is actually a dilution of the eternal truths.
More cynical followers of Hindutva want the adoption of non-verifiable ideas as science to undermine the construction of a critical consciousness among the youth.
And this latter point is well known in the United States. Historians of the 1940s and 1950s now tell us that the US government’s various cultural ministries funded and promoted cultural projects that tended toward abstraction and away from social realism.
Therefore, the cultural Tsars promoted the paintings of Jackson Pollock and a generation of abstract expressionists, almost to wash away the sin of a 1930s socialist realism. Writing, too, suffered this fate, as the Committee for Cultural Freedom promoted spare and non-political prose or else blatantly anti-Communist harangues.
And now, into the 21st Century, the United States is not behind in the promotion of unreason. In Scottsdale, Arizona, base of the right-wing giant Barry Goldwater, the United States Department of Education gave accreditation to the Astrological Institute (AI).
Joyce Jensen, the school’s founder and a Scorpio, told the media that “this was a good time” because the school’s stars were favorably aligned. Students will learn to write horoscopes and offer their clients a glimpse of the future: they will take courses in astrology and psychology, and earn a diploma that allows them to work at such places as holistic healing centers, cruise ships and spas.
Psychology is a must, one can only surmise, because the astrologer will need to study the personality of their clients to find the best method for delusion.
But there is a great distance between Delhi University, say, and AI. AI is a private institution that gets some government funds and fills a niche; it does not claim to offer a comprehensive education.
The Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa and the Maharishi School for the Age of Enlightenment in Vedic City, Iowa, do try to offer a full education, from mathematics to Yogic Flying, from meditation (Vitamin M, in the school’s parlance) to the study of time. The complexity of Hinduism is reduced to a few slogans that sooth the overtaxed ego of venture capitalists and that earn a fabulous profit for Maharishi Enterprises and other sly babas.
Astrology, mediation, and yoga – these seem to refer to the Age of Aquarius, to the 1960s when many middle-class people from the overdeveloped world took refuge in a stereotype of Asia to rid themselves of guilt and consumer exhaustion. But even as some of the forms are similar, astrology means something else now than it did even three decades ago.
Then it was a salve against consumerism; now it is consumerism itself, and it is a way to discredit those who want to fight against capitalism. Be at peace with the system, don’t hate your enemy, learn to love them as your friend, and finally, your fate is not in your hands, but in the stars.
And our fate is increasingly in the stars: in rocket ships that fly the stars and stripes and plan to control the global political economy with “Full Spectrum Domination,” as the US Space Command puts it.
The Swedish critic Sven Lindqvist has a new book out called “A History of Bombing” (New Press, 2001) which reminds us that the fantasy of the sky has a racist history that is over a hundred years ago.
In 1896, novelist Joseph Conrad described the British naval bombardment of the African coastline: the “invisible whites,” he wrote, “dealt death from afar.” Italian airman Giulio Cavotti was the first to drop a bomb from a plane, outside Tripoli on 1 November 1911, and an Italian commentator said that it had “a wonderful effect on the morale of the Arabs.”
Eight years later, the British bombed Iraq from the air, and Arthur (Bomber) Harris noted that “within forty-five minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured by four or five machines which offer them no real target.”
This is all before the Atomic Bomb, and indeed, before the cruise missile. Iraq continues to face the wrath of a thousand guns, which, of course, offer no real target either (or when the Iraqi defenses are warmed up, the US uses that as an excuse for “retaliation”). The bombardment of the Afghans, now slowly eased up, is the latest in this present history of racist warfare.
Lindqvist’s book contains summaries from a series of chilling apocalyptic science fiction European novels of the 19th Century that foretell the defeat of the darker peoples by colonial bombs.
In William Hay’s “Three Hundred Years Hence” (1881), for example, the white nations save themselves from the blight of a Malthusian nightmare (massive populations, no food) by defeating two recalcitrant zones (Africa and China) through bombardment, “a rain of awful death to every breathing thing, a rain that exterminates the hopeless race.”
These visions, Lindqvist intimates, have now become a reality, and our students are enjoined to turn away from the real star wars and take refuge in the warring star signs – we are in a postmodern nightmare now, where the sign of the star is more hearty than the star itself, where the signifier is all and the signified is beyond reach.
Vijay Prashad Associate Professor and Director, International Studies Program 214 McCook, Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 06106.