Character & Calling (Part 3)

My winter reading: James Hillman’s classic The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling (Random House, New York, 1996).

Daimon often comes to us as we are children with an unexplained fascination or unusual ways of play. I was taken very early with writing short storeys about my friends in my imagined exploits we would solve mysteries like Nancy Drew and her chums. Later I went on to become a lawyer in international tax com of all things. But as retirement loomed, I started writing fiction again with all the enthusiasm I once had as a child. In this, I was lucky. Others are not.

The point Hillman makes is not to squeeze this enthusiasm out of children using the excuse that they need to be socialised in order to perform from an early age as their parents and teachers would want. Just give kids enough room to experiment and grow into that oak tree that their individual acorns had laid out for their lives and not surprisingly, to accomplish this they need to put down some very strong roots in order to support future growth into their potential. 

But as Hillman points out, allowing this is difficult for us in the West, because we cling so strongly to what calls the ascensionist model – in other words – up is good and down is bad. Yet this is not the way of Damon or soul. As the Zohar, the main Kabbalist book, makes clear, zimzum, or the self-emptying aspect of the God, known as Ain Soph, traverses downwards through the darkness in a series of ten concentric circles called Sephiroth, collectively known as The Tree of Life. 

Likewise, Plato and his Myth of Er emphasizes this downward assent. Having arrived from previous lives, all the souls mill about in a mythical world awaiting their new lot, or portion of fate. For example, the soul of a mighty warrior chooses the life of a lion whilst that of a young woman runner, choose a lot of an athlete. When each of the souls have chosen their new lives according to their lots, they are assigned a daimon and without looking back, descend to earth to enact their lot. 

It should come as no surprise that in keeping with the Myth of Er, Hellenistic astrologers devised clever ways to delineate one’s lot using his or her natal chart. Some of these techniques have come down to modern astrologers, notably, the Lot of Fortune (or the Moon) and the Lot of Spirit (or the Sun). The former pertains to the natural flow of events in our lives whilst the latter describes change that occurs because of our intention. So, for example, if the Lot of Fortune describes how much money we are likely to make, the Lot of Spirit describes how we will choose our vocation and answer our calling. 

Hillman reminds us that the decent down into earth for soul is painful and costly and riches and fame never seem to really compensate. He uses Judy Garland as a case to illustrate his point. Judy was born into a showbiz family and at age 2 1/2 years of old, she had her first successful performance singing Jingle Bells. The immediate rapport she garnered from her audience cemented her calling, which she herself said “was inherited”. As Hillman also reminds us, it was the superlatives that betrayed her. According to one and all, during the height of her success, Garland was the best of everything. Even Garland herself said “I’ve done everything to excess.”

Yet as Hillman also points out, Judy Garland may have grown up but she didn’t grow down, as is required for soul. Always, she held on to America’s most treasured drug – the myth of innocence – the psychology of denial. Hillman tells us Garland’s acorn belonged “over the rainbow” and it was little wonder that her real life of drugs and chronic loneliness ended on a toilet the night of 21-22 June, the apogee of the solar year, the brightest light and the shortest night. 

Looking briefly at Garland’s natal chart, we see that her Lot of Fortune is at 21 Capricorn 15, and is thus very strong. Not only is in angular (7th house) but its ruler, Saturn, is very strong (angular, exalted, and in rulership by triplicity and term). Saturn also benefits from the rays (by sign) of three of the four benefics (Sun, Moon, and Jupiter). It is however, out of sect (Saturn is a diurnal planet and is in the nocturnal part of this chart). This suggests that in the natural flow of events, such as making money, Garland would do very, very well – which of course, she did  – but with Saturn being out of sect, this success would also be out-of-balance tending toward harmful excess, which of course was the case. Her Lot of Spirit, at 0 Capricorn is likewise strong also being ruled by Saturn. 

Perhaps it is only when we look at her daimon, which because Cancer is rising is the Moon, that we can understand fully why her life took such a tragic course. At 29 Sagittarius, Garland’s Moon (or daimon) is in an anaretic degree. Planets in the anaretic degree are known as ‘destroying’ planets, often causing difficulties, crisis, overcompensation, and poor choices. Perhaps this is an example of what Hillman has already promised to discuss, a situation where daimon is not good but instead bad?

I wonder why it happens to some and not others – definitely worth investigating further, don’t you think?

(to be continued)

Character & Calling (Part 2)

My winter reading: James Hillman’s classic The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling (Random House, New York, 1996). 

Hillman reminds us that according to Plato and his Myth of Er, the soul of each of us is allocated a daimon, or soul guide, before we are born. This this comes part and parcel with extras: our physical bodies, our parents, and the place and circumstances into which we are born. Although this was our soul’s choice, upon birth we have forgotten it. And so during our lifetimes, we are driven by daimon to reconnect with our choices and reawaken to our calling. This can come to us in any number of ways. Although it may be possible to temporarily defer our calling, or even to only partially live it out, it’s never possible to completely avoid it for if there is one of which we can be certain, daimon can never successfully be ignored.

That’s just the point.

In modern western medical circles, soul – or destiny – or daimon – is ignored.  It doesn’t fit nicely into existing personality and psychological theories. Although Hillman doesn’t say explicitly why this might be the case, he seems to suggest fear plays a large part. Is it not frightening to a civilisation such as our own, a civilisation that has lost touch with its own divinity, to suggest there is something driving us that is beyond our intellectual, physical, and/or scientific grasp? 

Hillman is quick to remind us this doesn’t mean we’ll find the fix to this conundrum by going to church. Instead, we need to go back to Aristotle, Plato, and Plotinus. Least you think that our western civilisation has grown beyond these ancient Hellenistic foundations, take a philosophy course or two and think again. For the reality as presented by these ancients is that we each are here on earth for a reason and until that reason is fulfilled, here on earth is where we will remain. Have you ever had a close call with death – maybe inattentively ready to step off the kerb and be hit by a passing taxi-cab – only to have a complete stranger pop out from nowhere and pull you back from the brink? I have and I now know why. 

This does not mean that demon is always ‘good’. As Hillman points out, there can be an ‘evil’ or less fortunate aspect to daimon. More on this later, but for the time being consider how other societies and cultures have viewed the concept of daimon –  i.e. Guardian Angel (Christian), Lady Luck or Fortuna (ancient Roman), genie or jinn (Middle Eastern), ka or ba (Egypt) and animal and totem spirits (American Indian).

But for the most part, daimon is here to look out for us, to ensure that we are OK. Imagine how much more satisfying would be our lives if we could think of ourselves as fundamentally being cared for like this rather than standing alone up against the cold, harsh world? If we were to accept this point of view, we would necessarily need to jettison one  of our of our most treasured western motifs – that of the self-made hero. What a trade-off, right? Well, according to Hillman, we can still be heroes – albeit of a different type – at least we can be if we listen to daimon. This will be a lot easier if we are both curious about ourselves in our world and unwilling to succumb to being wedged into the statistically convenient psychological slot.

One by one, Hillman debunks a variety of well-known psychological theories demonstrating how much more beneficially daimon would operate instead. He uses a variety of fascinating case studies including that of Eleanor Roosevelt. Well-worth reading but sadly, I’ve got neither time nor space to relate them all to you here and now.

 (to be continued)

Character & Calling (Part 1)

My winter reading: James Hillman’s classic The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling (Random House, New York, 1996). 

Hillman reminds us that theories don’t do our lives justice. Statistics don’t either. Each of us has a unique calling – something that calls us – a call which we will or will not take.

Do you believe in fate?

Wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time kind of thing?

Is this accident, synchronicity, or something else altogether? That’s what this book is about and yet when you try to use its wisdom going forward in time, it seems to stall. So can we only use it in reverse to make sense of our lives in retrospect? I think maybe – but Hillman says not. This is because he believes our entire lives are about our character and had we not ought to be able to suss that out in advance? Not sure, are you?

Nonetheless Hillman reminds us that we are more than our memories – more than people have told us that we are (or aren’t). So how is it that we can take our own measure and profit by it? Stay tuned and maybe together, we’ll find out!

First step is to forget everything you’ve been told about psychological theories. After all they’re only made up from man-made observations rather than any kind of cosmic road map. We’re looking for a unique personal narrative here – not a standardised genre or traditional 3-Act story plot. Okay, sure – an oak tree does come from an acorn – I mean, how else could it be? But the acorn doesn’t tell how that oak will or will not actually develop or even where it takes root.

Try to think of this less prosaically – more poetically.

Because they have so little, children must rely on imagination rather than experience.   

Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living

If I hadn’t made a left hand turn – if you hadn’t made a right – if I’d waited just a moment more – if you missed the light…

Dory Previn, Children of Coincidence 

But OK, back to that acorn carrying the genetic code of that oak – in each of our individual acorns, we will find own genetic code in the form of our character which, according to the old stories, was given to us as gift from the gods at our birth.

This is good stuff, Plato, The Myth of Er – daimons and soul guides and no, Hillman wasn’t some kind of new age nutter – he was a Jungian analyst and a scholar and he taught at Yale, Syracuse University, as well as the University of Chicago and the University of Dallas.

 (to be continued)

The Year Ahead

It’s the first day of the brand new year and many are turning their thoughts to what it might bring. Basically, two planetary players set the stage – Uranus and Saturn with a couple of guest appearances from Jupiter, which may provide a much-needed ‘get out of jail’ card as well as fanning the flames of authoritarian anarchy.

The star lore relating to the zodiac signs of Aquarius and Taurus put together pretty much tells the story:

Aquarius

According to the Greek astronomer, Aratus (270 BC), Fomalhaut is at the Pourer’s (Aquarius) feet where it forms part of the fixed cross of the four Royal Stars of Persia – the ‘watchers’ or guardians of the sky (angelic powers). Bernadette Brady (Brady’s Book of Fixed Stars) considers Fomalhaut to be rather like the legendary Persian warrior, Zal, who although seriously out of step with society (a white-haired man who’d been raised in a bird’s nest), managed (through his usually considerate behaviour) to win the heart of the beautiful princess, Redabeh. Even though the odds were against the couple, Zal persisted and, eventually, they were allowed to marry. A lovely story complete with high ideals and lofty visions. None-the-less, a serious clash with mainstream thought and authority (tradition) was needed to achieve their ideals (progress). Let’s not forget that Aquarius is ruled by two very opposing energies – (1) Saturn (authority) and (2) Uranus (rebellion) and both are in play together this year.

Taurus

The brightest star in Taurus, is Aldebaran, which ancient astrologers considered to be of the nature of Mars, the warrior. As such it is especially poignant in respect to military men who achieve great things whilst at the same time, making dangerous enemies. Brady gives the example of Niccolò Machiavelli, the 15th century statesman who wrote The Prince, the classic treatise on gaining and holding political power. Brady points out that Machiavelli’s initial rise to power and prestige was followed by a stark reversal of fortune marked by accusations of conspiracy and treason. History tells us that these accusations were false and that Machiavelli was an upright and honest citizen of highest integrity. Brady suggests this implies that sometime in his life, he had succumbed to temptation to behave with less that utmost integrity. Equally, however, I suggest that it could be that a more classic scenario was at the base – when one rises to power, he/she will make enemies if for no other reason than hubris, pride and jealousy.

Summary

It’s time to break down the barriers – do things radically different – and like it or not, that’s what will happen – expect militant clashes with authority, rebellion against the establishment, the absolute refusal to toe the party line and/or maintain the status quo. The ideals driving all this may sound lofty and at some level that may be the case. But don’t forget that not far behind will be a clash of egos – acts of hubris – and good old fashioned lust and greed – of a degree that could well make your head spin. And oh, by the way, if you find yourself presented with the perfect ‘get rich quick scheme’, do yourself a favour and turn away. Maintaining integrity is the key to getting through 2021 in one piece.

Somewhere, I have the biography of Niccolò Machiavelli. Sounds like it may be time to read it!

Flying too High

In January 2021, it’s all about Mars triggering some intense dynamics which will front-end some of the most potent astrological energy for the entire year. Pay attention here – these same themes repeat again and again – learn your lessons early and spare yourself some pain.

  • 4-6 January – Mars is in the final degrees of Aries – wrapping up his last hurrah in the sign that he rules – expect some finality to things that will have commenced in June 2020. Take this as a warning – if you’re spoiling to pick a fight, don’t do it – if you’re tempted to thrown caution to the wind and take a chance, don’t, again – the chances are it won’t go well and you’re more likely than not to be sorry.
  • 6 – 7 January  – Mars is making a difficult transition into Taurus – think about the bull in the china shop – if you can harness this energy in a practical and pleasant way for both yourself and others, then go ahead and give it a try. But be honest here! If you’re still spoiling for a fight – or your ambition is running at an all-time high, sit this one out until the energy is more settled. 
  • 8 January – Venus (planetary host for Mars in Taurus) moves into Capricorn and at least for Mars, this is good news. On its own, Mars is still far from settled (forming a square to Saturn and Jupiter and a conjunction with Uranus) – but Venus is now in a position to help Mars out. If you need to push a bit in order to get things done, then OK – do it now – but do it with diplomacy and style – remember that old proverb that you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar – never has this been more true than now. 
  • 13 January – Mars squares Saturn in Aquarius – this is the moment that the pressure cooker could explode – tension that has been building from about the 6th of January will peak – if you really need to get things done – then do it with patience, hard work, and discipline. But if you’re frustrated and tempted to push too hard, don’t forget it can still all go wrong – turn down the heat rather than turning it up.
  • 17 January – Mars gets into aspect with Jupiter and Uranus – this is bright, expansive energy – but also rebellious. Think inspirational, enthusiastic revolution – the sky is the limit – break through old boundaries – do new and wonderful things – BUT BEWARE – unbridled enthusiasm here could quickly turn into hubris – the warning is don’t fly too high or you’ll be certain to be shot down – think the Icarus Syndrome! This is a potential problem for the entire year – you may not like the idea of a glass ceiling – but there is one – and if you crash through it, there will be fallout – probably coming sooner than later.
  • 20 January – First quarter Moon (a tense moment in every lunar cycle) that highlights the Mars/Uranus aspect – this could be the blood-bath that accompanies every revolution.  Defiance – rebellion – explosive militance are the bywords – Oh, dear, this could all go all terribly wrong and all too easily.
  • 23 January – Mars bridges both Jupiter/Uranus (through ‘translation of the light’) –  so now all three planetary energies are involved – OK, let’s take this one step at a time – usually Mars/Jupiter brings excellence to athletes and military people as well as to judges and lawyers –  but add Uranus to the mix and expect the unexpected – nothing will go to plan – the more defiant you are in the face of this, the greater the potential for serious damage. But if you can remain balanced and diplomatic in handling this energy (remember Venus), you stand to win – and because Venus (diplomacy) is in Capricorn, you could win big.
  • 28 January – the full moon in Leo reminds us that the more egoistic we are in playing the game, the more potential there is for longer-term damage. Again, think the Icarus Syndrome – you may figure you deserve success and recognition and quite possibility you’re right – but with energy like this a little humility goes a long way. You know you’re in trouble when you’re tempted ignore good counsel and go it alone – placing excessive confidence in your own prowess and judgement. 
  • 31 January –  the same themes continue to play out – it’s a dynamic month that will go out with a BIG BANG! Remember progress can be good and progress can be bad and if you fail to note the difference, you could be in trouble. Don’t try to fix it if it’s not broken and if it could use some work, don’t throw out the baby with the bath water! This could even suggest some natural ‘disasters’ – there’s a lot of different energies grinding away here and they are not terribly comfortable together. 

Beliefs and Propositions

Last night on my weekly Master Your Mindset ZOOM call with Jo Naughton and her excellent Tribe, I articulated the following belief that I felt served me well – ‘I am a clever and ambitious writer’.

But then something prompted me to add – ‘but no one notices or cares’. 

There are many reasons why I might have added that negative qualifier and although I believe that negative qualifier must also serve me well, the reason why must be less than obvious. On the surface, it would seem that such limiting belief can only hold me back from achieving my writerly goals. 

Jo suggested that such qualifying beliefs unconsciously protect us from something which we fear – and that something we fear is more powerful than that which we desire. If that isn’t insidious enough, get this!  The more evidence we gather to bolster such qualifying beliefs, the more they increase their stranglehold. 

This brings us solidly to the interesting question of differentiating a ‘belief’ from a ‘fact’ because if we are being honest with ourselves, only ‘facts’ can produce that evidence. Yet as Jo rightly points out, both ‘facts’ and ‘beliefs’ are mental constructs and so when we say this is a ‘fact’, we are only saying ‘this is what I believe’. 

Jo didn’t go into details, but I ‘believe’ that I get what she means, having recently taken a philosophy course called ‘What is Truth’ at the University of Oxford.

The takeaway point here is that ‘truth values’ (i.e. something either is true – yes or no – there is no in-between) naturally attach to beliefs and propositions; a sentence expresses a belief that XYZ is ‘true or not’ – such as when someone says, ‘it will rain this afternoon’. The only truth involved here is  ‘that’ someone believes the proposition ‘that’ it will rain. Interestingly, whatever comes after ‘that’ doesn’t matter – i.e. rain or not. If you are tempted to argue this isn’t true (or doesn’t make sense) consider further that ‘rain’ is also a belief – I may believe  that the word ‘rain’ includes an icy drizzle but someone else may believe that ‘rain’ requires more, like a heavy downpour. 

The plot thickens when we consider negative statements such as there are no eggs in the refrigerator. How can something be true if it has no truth value (yes or no)? In other words, there are no eggs here to talk about. To make matters worse, a ‘truth’ or ‘fact’ can change over time. For example, when my mother went to high school in the 1930’s, it was a ‘fact’ or ‘truth’ that the atom could not be split, end point. However by the middle of the next decade, that ‘fact’ had not only been negated, but its negation had created nearly a quarter of a million casualties when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

I could go on but I won’t – the takeaway point is that if something is objectively true, it must be mind-independent – and unable to change over time – and oh, by the way, that ‘truth’ or ‘fact’ must also be 100% independent of societal views and norms – the suggestion being that as Jo rightly points out, very (very) little of what we choose to believe is ‘fact’ is actually nothing other than a ‘belief’.

If I wish to get rid of my qualifying belief (i.e.  although I am a clever and ambitious writer, no one notices or cares), I need to re-programme my mind to allow for change in my thoughts and belief. Unfortunately, given that I’m not yet certain what that qualifying belief is protecting me from, I’ll need to do this in stages, and I’m guessing that I could use some help with that. 

I’ll report back when I figure this out.

A Study in Existentialist Philosophy (Part 12)

My summer ( morphed into winter)  reading: Willem Barrett’s 1959 classic, Irrational Man, A Study in Existential Philosophy.

In his final chapter, The Place of the Furies, Barrett suggests that before we start talking politics we ought to have first undertaken some serious philosophical contemplation about the true nature of man. 

Although Barrett was writing in the middle of the 20th century, the concerns he’s expressing are still valid today. Barrett points out that as children of the Enlightenment, we in the Western world are accustomed to looking at man ‘almost exclusively as an epistemological subject’, an ‘intellect that registers sense data, makes propositions, reasons, and seeks certainty’. 

As children of the Enlightenment, we are also more or less programmed to look to the past and the future to discern what went wrong and plot and plan how we can make it all ‘better’. With such focus, we skip over the realities of today – not the warm, fuzzy ‘today’ for which we are told we ought to express gratitude, but the cold, hard ‘today’, which we are encouraged to at best overlook or at worst fix and fast. But as the Existentialists have tried to point out, both sides of this equation are the necessary lot of the embodied man.

Naturally it does no more good to focus solely on what’s wrong than it does to focus solely on what’s right. Likewise it does little good to put in Herculean effort to fix that which can’t be fixed. But it would do us a world of good to accept that the ‘idol of progress’ (see both Marx an Nietzsche) is just that – a utopian ideal that we may worship but never achieve.

You see, reminds Barrett, the human condition is one of (1) birth, (2) life (a period punctuated by both intense joy and sorrow), and (3) death. The glue holding that all together is anxiety, guilt, and fear. But as Barrett also reminds us, we in the West have become accustomed to label realists like the Existentialists as naysayers and psychotics, for whom a daily dose of the latest happiness drug is a necessary fix. But it won’t fix anything.

That’s just the point.

The ‘whole man’ or ‘well-rounded individual’ is, according to Barrett and the Existentialists, not one who takes endless courses for self-improvement but one who comes to accept that the power of man is nothing in comparison to that of the gods. This is a lesson that both the ancient Greeks (i.e. the great Oresteia  trilogy of Aeschylus) and modern psychologists have gone to great effort to point out.

The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room.

Carl Jung

To find the gods in psychology we ought to look first at the genres of our case-history writing. Our reflection needs to turn to psychoanalytic literature as literature. I am suggesting that literary reflection is a primary mode of grasping where one is ignorant, unconscious, blind in regard to the case because one has not differentiated the subjective factor, the gods in one’s work.

James Hillman

Take away:

We ignore the gods (an integral part of our embodied reality) at our peril and not everything can be fixed.

The 2nd American Civil War

For some years, astrologers including me have been predicting a very rough time for America, a rough time that might well result in the 2nd American Civil War.

At least I was met with disbelief at best and derision by many – well, sad to say it seems the writing is on the wall…

Check out a very, very recent article in the Washington Post, The Republican Party Now Has More in Common with the Southern Minority of 1860 – it makes for as much a scary read as one of my original posts on the subject.

There’s still time to change this.

Gateway to the Stars & the Winter Solstice

After dark this Winter Solstice (21 December 2020 at 10:03 GMT) take a walk outside and look up at the stars and think about how our whole solar system is on the move. In the time it takes you to read this post, the Sun, Earth, and all the other planets with which you are familiar (plus their moons) will have travelled 3600 km, or 2200 miles, through the Milky Way ever closer toward the Solar Apex.

The Solar Apex is a position sightly southwest of the bright, beautiful bright star, Vega, which once upon a time, around 12,000-10,000 BCE, was the pole star. Because Vega is found in the constellation of Lyra, the Harp of Orpheus, it cloaks everything associated with enchanting, other-worldly, charisma. Vega is linked with magic and divine spells and that Mozart, considered by many to be the greatest composer in history, was born with Vega rising is a fascinating testament to the spellbinding power of his beautiful music.

But perhaps the most fascinating of all is that like geographers use latitude and longitude to map out locations on earth, astronomers use similar measurements called Right Ascension and Declination to map locations in the skies. Although longitudes and latitudes are determined from the Earth’s equator and the 0 meridian at Greenwich, Right Ascension ‘begins’ at the crossing point of the Sun’s apparent path through the sky (the ecliptic) with the celestial equator, the point otherwise known as the Vernal Equinox (the first day of spring). 

It is beginning with this point that the 360 degrees of the Sun’s annual path are measured in terms of hours and minutes. The Solar Apex holds the position of about 18 hours of Right Ascension, which is the moment of the Winter Solstice, when the Sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn. 

This is this an important moment each and every year. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the time when the sun turns back toward us becoming increasingly stronger as the days grow increasingly longer. This year, this moment is even more monumental because Jupiter and Saturn come together by conjunction to start their historical shift into Aquarius. 

Least you think that this does not affect our everyday lives on earth, think again. When one of the slower moving planets such as Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto crosses this point, even the stock or share markets react as Christeen Skinner reminds us in her excellent book, The Beginners Guide to the Financial Universe: An Introduction to the Role of the Sun, Moon, and Planets in Financial Markets. Both Saturn and Neptune crossed this point in 1987 and 1988 respectively, with Uranus following in 1989. As Skinner notes, you may wish to refresh yourself on the volatility demonstrated by the Dow Jones Index during those last years of the 1980’s. Least you are not yet convinced, when Pluto (slowest moving of all) crossed this point in 2008, we suffered a global financial crash. Skinner also predicts that when both Saturn and Neptune will be at the apparent right angle to the Solar Apex in 2026 (a highly unusual moment) , we might well expect a sharp decline in index values again over a period of a few months.

What might this all mean for our solar system to be sucked, as if by an enormous magnet, toward Vega, the former pole star, located in the constellation of Lyra the Harp of Orpheus? I don’t know about you, but I’m tempted to guess it might have something to do with ‘Judgement Day’ or a massive reevaluation and realignment. Certainly this is what happened with the financial markets. This is also because in 12,000-10,000 BCE, Vega was also known as Maat, the great Egyptian goddess who, after weighing souls on her scales of justice, moved them from one life to another and by the way, Vega will also be the pole star again in about 11,500 CE. Other-worldly charisma and engagement indeed. 

Happy Solstice!

What About My Rights?

One reason for studying politics is to understand the processes surrounding ‘who gets what, when, and how’(Peters, 23). These processes are inextricably bound to the relationship that states forge with their citizens and are primarily accomplished through formalised organisational state structures (Peters, 25).[1] 

I suggest the concept of ‘rights’ is central to the study of politics because the role of that concept has played in the actual practice of Western politics has often not turned out as expected.[2]

From the 17th century, many Western states have focused on ensuring they do not unjustifiably infringe upon certain ‘indefeasible’ and ‘hereditary’ rights of their citizens (Paine, 472).[3] Hobbes held that even when infringement is justifiable, rulers ought first to obtain consent (legitimate authority) from their citizens (Tuck, 78). Rousseau ups the ante;  he says the goal of all state legislation should be to ensure ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ for all citizens (Wokler, 17).

No longer must states simply refrain from infringing on the rights of their citizens, but they now must take positive steps to ensure them. For example, Hobbes, keen to avoid the ‘nasty’ and ‘brutish’ life of man living in a political vacuum (i.e. anarchy), declared rulers had a duty to ‘ensure a safe space’ for everyday life (Miller, 22). Bentham (Course materials 3.3) said the states should secure the greatest happiness of the greatest number of citizens which included removing obstacles to education. In 1960’s America, military force was used by the state to guarantee the constitutional ‘rights’ of Negroes to have  equal access to higher education (Kennedy, “Civil Rights Message”). 

It is arguable that instead of making citizens safer, freer, and/or happier the concept of ‘rights’ has often achieved the opposite. McKelvey (2020) reports that during the current Covid-19 pandemic, many Americans cite constitutionally enshrined liberties to deny laws requiring facial coverings to protect not only their own health but also that of fellow citizens. Delton (2017) suggests the alt-right, dedicated to destroying ‘liberal cultural hegemony’, have been deliberately weaponizing the right of free speech at universities by promoting unsavoury spectacles and instigating violence. However authorities choose to react, their ‘legitimacy’ is undermined. 

Have we in the 21st century come full circle back to Hobbes’s initial 17th century concerns? 

If so, I suggest that is because we have put more effort ensuring those ‘indefeasible’ and ‘hereditary’ are enforced rather than understanding the real role they play in the actual practice of Western politics. 

  


Bibliography

Black, Henry Campbell. (1979). Black’s Law Dictionary. St. Paul: West Publishing. 

Butler, Christopher (2002). Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Callinicos, Alex. (2004). ‘Marxism and Politics’, in Leftwich, A. (ed). What is Politics? Malden: Polity Press, pp. 53-66.

“Communism”. (2020). Martin Luther King, Jr. – Political and Social Views;  Stanford. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/communism. Accessed 25 October 2020. 

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[1] Squires (119-121) suggests politics should be defined broader to include the discourse of power whenever and wherever social relations are ordered. This essay adopts the more restricted definition of politics suggested by Squires (132) although I agree that especially regarding feminism, such a narrow definition is not only unhelpful but harmful. 

[2] I define ‘rights’ as (1) ‘natural’, in the sense that they ‘grow from the nature of men and depend upon his personality’ and (2) created by ‘positive laws unacted by a duly constitutional government’ to create ‘an orderly civilized society’ (Black, 925).

[3] I define ‘state’ as a ‘structure’ that exercises territorial ‘sovereignty’ through laws regulating the relationship of individuals within that territory (Grosby, 22).