Astrology

Spies in the Workplace

I just read a very scary WSJ article about all the ways in which large US companies are spying on their employees – from their first email sent from bed in the morning to the new business contact added on the way home.

Employers are using the resulting data collected in many ways including spotting problem employees and monitoring which teams are the most productive. But it goes further. One of the newest frontiers is dissecting phone calls and conference room conversations.

Apparently, these employers are under little, if any obligation, to share their tactics or gathered information with their employees and there is almost nothing that the employees can do about it.


Workplace spies?

I was forced to agree with one comment in the response thread following the article – i.e. ‘that no employee should expect any privacy at work’. The operative word here is expect –  for any employee would clearly be foolish to believe the situation to be other than it is. But I can’t help but think that employers are shooting themselves in the proverbial foot here because ‘trust’ (or lack thereof) cuts both ways. Traditionally, those companies who have profited most have tried hard to ensure employees at all levels work toward a common goal and share common values. I am pretty up to date on The Harvard Business Review and this seems to be the line that most articles there continue to take. But in light of this WSJ article, the academically inspired ‘advice’ from the creme de la creme is seemingly ignored, perhaps because more than corporate profitability is at stake.

I can only imagine that when Pluto hits Aquarius in 2023 and the proverbial ‘shit’ hits the fan in regards to technology and how it is being used, that it will be the employers who will end up with brown goo on their faces.

Pluto roots out all that is wrong in society in regards to the zodiac sign in which it traverses, concentrating on that which is dark, secretive, taboo, and purposefully hidden. With moralistic, idealistic (black and white) Aquarius, it’s all about doing the ‘right thing’ and I’m guessing that when the whole truth oozes out about the degree of spying and the uses made of it, employee loyalty of any kind will truly be a thing of the past.

If in doubt how this works, consider what happened when in 2008, when Pluto entered Capricorn, the sign associated with business, banking, and government.

Astrology

The name of the game is shame?

I don’t know about you, but I often worry about whether by taking poor decisions, I might be making myself bad karma. Mind you, I’m not even certain what karma is, much less how it might work but I’ve always been told that ‘what goes around does come around’ and for the most part, that seems to be true.

Yet, is comeuppance guaranteed? I mean, considering all that’s happening in the world of politics at the moment, I really do have to wonder. Might it be that some folks are so blessed that they can do whatever they want without consequence? 

Regardless, I opt for sensible guidelines and given that Saturn and Pluto are together dancing their jig in Capricorn, I’ll take my lead from them and so ‘shame’ will be the name of my ethical game.


Rather than thinking of shame as a punishment, as we are often wont to do, I figure shame keeps us from doing things that the person that we want to be ought not to do. In this context, shame is not a painful conclusion but a joyous opportunity.


For Buddhists, shame is the frontline defence against inappropriate actions. Such action not only produces negative karma (locking you into the painful cycle of rebirth) but also leads to difficult rebirths.

Even non-Buddhists find inappropriate actions to be trouble.  Folks tend to get annoyed when one steals, murders, and cheats.  Likewise, they shy away from those who frequently lose their temper and fail to honour their commitments.  Indeed, during the course of a single day, you are confronted with a whole host of activities that someone considers inappropriate. If you wished to comply with all of them, you might as well just stay home.


In reality, we cannot always abide by an external set of rules when deciding what we should or should not do.


Yet assuming that you do want to be ethical, then what standard might you use? I suggest using your own ‘sense of shame’.

Alchemy

Hidden Dangers of The Hero’s (mythological) Journey

This weekend, I was privileged to participate in an academic conference, The Talking Sky, hosted by the University of Wales and The Sophia Centre. The purpose of the conference was to explore the cultural aspects of diverse myths inspired by the heavens.

Whilst many important points were made, one surfaced time and time again – i.e. although we are fascinated with the sun (ever-popular Celtic fire festivals come to mind), we also fear it and for good reason. Although a source of life, the sun is also deadly dangerous. Myths such as that of Phaethon, son of the Greek solar deity, Helios, who was killed when he foolishly drove his chariot too close to the sun, illustrate this.

** Equally dangerous, perhaps, is our cultural preoccupation with empowerment of the (solar) self? **

320px-Heroesjourney.svgConsider the work of Joseph Campbell and his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which explores the culturally recurring mythical motif of the hero’s journey. Not only was this motif popularised by films like Star Wars, but it also forms much of the basis of Jungian psychology, the centre-piece of which is ‘individuation’, or the transformational process whereby the (lunar) unconscious is melded into the (solar) consciousness to achieve an integrated personality and (alchemical) psychological growth.images

As Liz Greene acknowledges (The Luminaries), the hero’s journey is a solar process wherein the individual actively and  consciously  drives to develop his worldly goals. Having studied with Liz, I’ve never questioned the value of using this motif in my astrological work; it ticks all the boxes necessary for survival in western culture. But apparently, the well-respected psychologist, James Hillman, has questioned this and, it would seem, with good reason.

Hillman argues that not only is (1) Jungian ‘individuation’ a ‘developmental fantasy’ but also that (2) the solar focus of the hero’s journey is dangerously reductionist. In his book, The Soul’s Code, Hillman promotes what he considers to be the healthier, more holistic (pluralistic) ‘soul-making’ to be our psychological aim. Not only is this in keeping with the cosmology of the ancient Greeks, who saw numen, or the divine, in everything, but also in line with Platonic ideals (Myth of Er), which still underlie so much of western culture.

Arguably, as the speaker at the conference pointed out, contemporary natal (psychological) astrology does not look solely at solar functions. We leave that to the popular Sun Sign columns in magazines and newspapers, which, as another speaker at the conference has suggested, have become a myth in their own right.

images-2Whilst I agree that responsible astrologers do honour the entire natal chart (along with its multitude of inherent mythologies), I acknowledge that Hillman makes valid points which ought not to be ignored. As I’m about to embark on a new career as a ‘coach’ (utilizing astrology), I worry about the stated goal of contemporary coaching – i.e. empowerment of the individual. If, as a coach, what I will be empowering is solely the client’s solar self (or ego), then if Hillman is right I will be doing him or her a huge (reductionist) disservice. However, since that is what it would seem that most coaching clients want, how do I dare to offer them otherwise?

Once I’ve commenced my coaching studies at the University of Cambridge in this autumn, I hope to be in a better position to address these concerns. Watch this space, I suppose.

Astrology

Will his Russian Intrigue bring Trump Down?

Will the current ‘intrigue’ regarding Trump and Russia ‘bring him down’?

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SUMMARY

YES & NO – although clearly Mr Trump has ‘enemies’ (secret or otherwise) in regards to this ‘intrigue’ –  enemies who are far stronger than is he – it remains unclear whether they will (or even whether they will try to) damage his reputation enough to ‘bring him down’.

Having said that, Mr Trump is most definitely on a collision course of some sort vis a vis his relationship with Russia. Expect ‘conflict’ (could even be an outright war) within approximately five months and that such conflict could lead to Trump’s ‘self-undoing’ and/or resignation.

Despite not being a fan of Mr Trump, after working with this chart I believe that in regards to his dealings with Russia, Trump is probably acting from strong personal conviction that he is doing the right thing. This is the case regardless whether his behaviour in the matter is appropriate, much less moral. Trump feels that he has the ‘divine’ right to ‘reform’ or ‘correct’ certain situations.

In addition, as unsavoury as some of the reports have suggested might be this ‘intrigue’, it is difficult to argue that somehow it will not turn out for the best (albeit whether or not it all turns out well for Trump, personally, remains to be seen).

Finally, expect that when all is said and done, Trump’s Russian intrigue will have had something to do with women.images

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ANALYSIS:

  1. 10th house represents the president – and because Taurus is on the cusp, its ruler, russian-intrigueVenus, represents Trump.
  2. 9th house is Trump’s 12th house of ‘undoing’, ‘secret enemies’, and ‘resignation’. It is also the chart’s house representing foreign lands and their affairs. Because Aries is on the cusp of this house, its ruler, Mars, represents not only Russia, but also all matters of serious affliction for Trump.
  3. NOTE also that because Trump’s 7th house (the 4th house of this chart) has Scorpio on its cusp, Mars also represents Trump’s ‘open’ enemies.
  4. Venus (Trump) is quite weak in detriment (Aries), cadent, and out of SECT.
  5. Mars is stronger in its sign of ruler-ship, Aries, although it too is cadent and out of SECT.
  6. Not only is Venus (Trump) already in the 12th house of ‘undoing’ (and also in Russia’s back pocket), but it is make an applying (5 degree) aspect to conjunct with Mars. This conjunction brings Trump and the path of his ‘undoing’ together in such a way that suggests complete cooperation (whether for ill or gain).
  7. Russia, Trump, and and Trump’s enemies (secret or not) are hence coming together in what promises to be an explosive and fiery ‘conflict’ – Aries (cardinal fire) is a most martial sign. However, based on the movements of the Moon (see point 11, below), it is likely this conflict will somehow all work out for the best in the end (the final aspect made by the Moon is a comfortable Trine with the Sun).
  8. Several fixed stars making close aspect to this chart’s Venus (Trump) reinforce this martial theme:
    • Facies (constellation of Sagittarius) – is the ‘eye of the archer’ and itself associated with warriors, wars, and violent death. It also suggests that Trump is so driven in regards to this situation that he is ‘blind’ to its dangers. Note that in his natal chart, Trump’s Mercury is also in opposition with Facies. A near-sighted archer is not good news.
    • Mirzam (constellation of Canis Major) – carries an important message of some sort. Note that in his natal chart, Trump’s Mercury is also conjunct Mirzam. This message is of great personal importance to Trump.
    • Alhena (constellation of Gemini) – is associated with winning at all costs (arrogance implied) – Trump feels that he has the ‘divine’ right to ‘reform’ or ‘correct’ a certain situation.
    • North & South Asellus (constellation of Cancer) – again associations with ‘blindness’ as well as piled up corpses and wars.
    • Aldebaran (constellation of Taurus) – a great royal star connected with warrior kings (MARS) greatness is a real possibility but only if certain moral challenges are met re: integrity and purity of thoughts and dealings. HONOUR that can’t last.
  9. Several Arabic Parts also make close aspects to this chart’s Venus (Trump) that reinforce this theme of conflict leading to danger & destruction.
    • Ability, Abundance, Commerce, Danger, Debt, Fate, Divorce, Destruction, Genius, Fascination, Imprisonment, Luck, Secret Enemies, and Victory.
  10. Several Arabic Parts also make close aspect to Trump’s natal planets further reinforcing this theme:
    • Mars – Bad Luck, Catastrophe, Destiny, Fortune, Unusual Events
    • Venus – Secret Enemies, Accidents, Armies, Catastrophe, Destiny, Divorce
    • Sun – Lovers, Fame, Eccentricity, Beneficial Change
    • Mercury – Benevolence, Corruptness, Damage, Fascination
    • Moon – Beneficial Change, Controversy, Eccentricity, Lovers
    • Jupiter – Action, Administrators, Bankruptcy, Success, Suicide, Victory
    • Saturn – Catastrophe, Divorce
  11. As the Moon is the overall symbol of how events play out (past, present, future), we look to the Moon (10 Libra) in this chart and the aspects that it has and will make:
    • Last aspect made – opposition to Venus – unfavourable – all women/love concerns s/b approached with caution
    • Next – Quincunx to Neptune – confusion and unrealistic dreams
    • Next – Trine to Mercury – messages and communication – good for business but NOT for signing contracts/agreements
    • Next aspect – Opposition to Mars – unfavourable for all new ventures including friendships and dealings with women.
    • Next – Square with Pluto – dirty dealings, manipulation.
    • Next – Conjunction with Jupiter – lawyers and professionals – a little bit of luck especially with foreign persons?!
    • Next – Opposition with Uranus – emotional anxiety – breaks, accidents, separations, sudden/unpredictable awakenings – possible divorce.
    • Next – Sextile with Saturn – bad for love affairs and friendships with women, obstacles, limitations, loss, and restrictions.
    • FINAL – Trine with Sun – good for new ventures, influencing important people and seeking advancement, life force, health, and last but not least, success.
Book reviews

Power and Promise – Utopian Propaganda & Orwell’s Animal Farm

imagesIn the preface to his Ukrainian Edition of Animal Farm, George Orwell says that his reason for writing the novel was to reveal what he believed to be the Soviet myth underlying Socialism – the political and economic model that he wholeheartedly embraced. According to Orwell, nothing had caused greater harm to the Socialist movement in England than that the majority of English people so blithely accepted the ‘lies of totalitarian propaganda’, apparently incapable of assessing the true nature of either the Nazi or Soviet regimes (Orwell, 112).

Propaganda, defined for this essay as ‘opinion management’ (Welch, 3), is oft associated with falsehood and lies, even though in reality, propaganda is ethically neutral (Welch, 17). Much of the ‘bad’ propaganda, like we have come to associate with the likes of Hitler and Stalin, is down to marketing of the utopian dream (Roemer, 103). Perhaps the reason that this type of propaganda gets such bad press is that, etymologically, utopia is both a ‘good place’ that is ‘no place’ (Vieira, 4)? After all, if the utopian dream carries with it both the affirmation of possibility as well as the negation of its fulfilment, then it ought to come as no surprise that attempts to put utopian ideals into practice will fail. But, as Orwell laments, such failure often does come as a surprise, not the least because people did not wish to see coming (Orwell, 111). So if ‘bad’ propaganda aims to sell us the impossible dream then what might we do to get a better grip on it? David Welch (17) suggests that to make more informed decisions about propaganda, we must gain a better understanding of its nature and process. I suggest that in achieving this worthy goal, Orwell’s novel may offer us valuable assistance.

Animal Farm recounts the rise of Soviet communism in the form of an animal fable wherein a democratic coalition of animals urged by Old Major, a prize-winning boar, over-throw their human oppressor, Mr Jones. Old Major kicks off the revolution by singing a catchy song entitled Beasts of England – bringing ‘joyful tidings’ of a ‘golden future time’ when the ‘fruitful fields of England’ shall be ‘trod by beasts alone’. Propaganda works best by reducing shared cultural ideologies and cosmologies – especially in regards to a lost Golden Age – to its lowest common denominator, that which is marketable for mass consumption (Welch, 10). Old Major knew this; he markets his vision of an English Arcadia, a lost utopian pastoral dream, to a mass of animals all too willing to consume this ‘new outlook on life’ (Orwell, 9).

The takeaway point is that propaganda works best when it sharpens and focuses existing trends and beliefs (Welch, 11). It is no accident that Old Major chooses a night when Mr Jones is too drunk to feed the animals to suggest his glorious alternative. By appealing to the animal’s dissatisfaction with their ‘miserable, laborious, and short’ lives when their stomachs are empty (Orwell,3- 5), Old Major not only focuses their generalised complaints on a specific cause but also encourages them to embrace an apparent solution. Old Major also knows that propaganda works best when it focuses on simple, strong, easily identifiable (black and white) emotions such as love/hate (Welch, 8). He directs the animal’s now heightened sense of injustice to its ‘single’ root cause – ‘Man’ – ‘the only really enemy we have’ (Orwell, 4). After this, Old Major has little more to say except to warn the animals that they must never become like Man (Orwell, 6).

The takeaway point here that there must be a meaningful correlation between the inspirational hopes generated by utopian propaganda and the citizens’ everyday reality; get the mix wrong and reader/listener disconnects (Vieira, 8 and Welch, 17). But get the mix right – pitch to a hungry animal that his life is one of ‘misery’ and ‘slavery’, then he will not only connect but connect strongly; the ‘soil of England is fertile’ and the ‘climate is good’, right? Then it only makes sense that such a place is ‘capable of affording food in abundance’, if only the animals put their backs into it. The principal energy of utopia is hope – a reaction to an undesirable present combined with an ardent desire to tackle all impediments to achieve that imagined alternative (Vieira, 6). Yet when, as is inevitable, the alternative itself carries impediments – i.e. there would be no sugar after the Rebellion (Orwell, 10) – then it is imperative to let no one (not even the pigs, who are undeniably ‘brilliant talkers’) brush aside these concerns. Elsewise, a dangerous precedent is set, one that will be difficult if not impossible to reverse, as the animals discover to their dismay. The question of whether or not they would continue to have sugar may not have been key to the future success of Animal Farm but when they later raise more important concerns – i.e. why the pigs should be the only ones to enjoy the best food, apples and milk – they are ever more easily brushed aside. Even though it may not be justifiable the pigs get all the good food – especially when this violates a basic tenet of Animalism – i.e. all animals are equal – these hapless animals quickly find that they have ‘no more to say’ (Orwell, 23).

With any utopia comes issues of power (Pohl, 51). Hence it should come as no surprise that propaganda is often used as an instrument by those wishing to secure or retain power in times of stress and turmoil (Welch, 4). This is most certainly the case in Animal Farm. After Old Major dies, the initial democratic coalition quickly gives way to consolidation of power in the pigs. After all, not only are they more clever than the other animals (they are ‘brilliant talkers’), but they also know how to read. Later, rivalry between Trotsky and Stalin after the death of Lenin is symbolised by the struggle for pre-eminence between two pigs, Snowball (Trotsky) and Napoleon (Stalin). In both cases, historical and fictional, utopian idealism falls by the wayside when the thirst for power rears its ugly head. Yet even though the animals were ‘silent’ and ‘terrified’ when Snowball is viciously expelled from the farm by Napoleon’s dogs (Orwell, 35) for no good reason, they were not yet finished with power plays.

Inherent in most utopias is the need for strict state/government regulation of every aspect of life (Pohl, 51). If each cloud has a silver lining, then each bright, shiny utopia has a ‘dark side’ – flying too high must, eventually, lead to a fall (Vieira, 14). Not only that, but if the citizens themselves are to fly high – maintain those impossible utopian standards, then a rigid set of laws are a must to keep them in line. How else will their ‘unreliable and unstable’ natures be repressed – the most pernicious not which is pride (Pohl, 57). Although forewarned that they might need to sacrifice some of their eggs for the common good, when the hens learn this will mean all of their eggs, they cry ‘murder’ (Orwell, 49); luckily only nine hens die as the result their ‘determined effort to thwart Napoleon’s wishes’. But still, this is not the end. The cruel methods by which Stalin eliminates the rest of his‘enemies’, is parodied by the fallacious confessions and cruel executions of all those whom Napoleon has come to distrust.

Years pass.

Life for everyone but the pigs, deteriorates.

Disillusionment sets in.

Finally, Napoleon invites a human farmer named Mr Pilkington to dinner and declares his intention to ally himself with his human neighbours against the working classes in both the human and animal communities. Worse, Animal Farm must revert back to its original name, Manor Farm. Watching this meeting through the farmhouse window, the common animals are no longer able to tell which are the pigs and which are the human beings – the only warning given to the animals by Old Major having been (sadly) ignored.

The End.

Undoubtedly, the promise of a Paradise on Earth is appealing; all the more because the masses to whom it is being marketed are generally ‘politically apathetic’ yet prone to ‘ideological fanaticism’ (Welch, 10). Undoubtedly, this is the case in Animal Farm. Even after all that has happened, at the end of the day the animals never give up hope – not for ‘even an instant’ do they lose their ‘sense of honour and privilege’ in being members of Animal Farm (Orwell, 85). Yet if they had realised that ideology is only a system of ideas and ideals (OED, n, 1), that ideals exist only in the imagination (OED, adj. 2), and that ideas are only thoughts and suggestions of possible courses of action (OED, n, 1), the animals story might have turned out markedly different. Instead of allowing their opinions to be managed such that they blithely accept utopian propaganda as their blueprint to bliss, they should instead have viewed it as a strategy for evaluating the reality of the present as well as one possible programme for gradual (responsible) change (Vieira, 21).

 

 

Bibliography

Orwell, George. Animal Farm. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1993.

Pohl, Nicole. ‘Utopianism After More: The Renaissance and Enlightenment’, (51-78). The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, ed. Gregory Claeys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Roemer, Kenneth M. ‘Paradise transformed: varieties of nineteenth-century utopias’, (79-106). The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, ed. Gregory Claeys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Vieira, Fatima. ‘The concept of utopia’, (3-27). The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, ed. Gregory Claeys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Welch, David. ‘Opening Pandora’s Box: Propaganda, Power and Persuasion (3-18). Propaganda, Power and Persuasion: From World War I to WikiLeaks, ed. David Welch. London: I.B. Tauris, 2014.

Ethics

21st Century Slavery – Now you see it – Now you don’t

Abby on hols2_001“In my view, the Enlightenment, which inspired the birth of your America, reduced complex moral issues to such a superficial level that you and your countrymen are helpless to critically assess your lot.”

“Clearly you’re trying to tell me something but I must admit I’m having a hard time figuring out what it is.”

“Your lot, Abby, I’m talking about your lot.”

“Must be the wine.”  Her fingers slipped through his hair.  “I’m not usually so dense.”

“One of the primary assumptions of the Enlightenment was that man is infinitely malleable – able to be moulded to another man’s ideal.”

“Am I being moulded?”

“So I should think.”

“By whom?”

“Take your pick.”

“Are you in the game?”

He stroked the dog.  This might be harder than he’d thought.

“What’s your take on the connection between Thomas Jefferson and Jane Austen?” She pointed to the roughhewn bookcase in the shape of a boat.   “For if there’s to be any rhyme or reason to your universe, there must be a connection between them. Why else would those trying to mould me stock my bookcase thus?”

“Slavery.”

Mansfield Park’s and Sir Thomas’s difficulties in Antigua have never been academically linked to Jefferson and besides, I don’t like Fanny Price.”

“Your research is sound and Price isn’t my favourite of Austen’s heroines either.”  He laughed.  “But what you fail to remember is that as Socrates tells us, at its most basic, slavery is that which (1) reduces a man to a usable object and (2) deprives him, however subtly, of his free will.  If you think that you or the citizens of New York or Rhode Island or California or whatever…are any less commodities being bought and sold than Fanny Price or the men and women whose labours improved Jefferson’s plantations, then you’re mistaken.”

Excerpt from my new novel, The Curve of Capricorn, in progress, 2013.

So goes the conversation between Abby, my 21st century heroine, and her love interest, Alex.

Of course, Alex and Abby have their reasons for being interested in slavery.  That’s part of their story.

It’s part of your story too.

As Alex reminds us, the bottom line of slavery is loss of ‘free will’. Yet contrary to popular belief, “free will” means a good deal more than simply doing whatever one wants when one wants.  From the beginning, ‘free will’ has been intimately connected with (1) a rational and deliberate ‘choice’ and (2)  the assumption of the ‘moral responsibility’ for the choices made. Fanny Price

For the characters of Jane Austen like Fanny Price, ‘moral responsibility’ came easily – perhaps too easily.  In Abby’s view, it’s not without reason that critic Kingsely Amis called Fanny “morally detestable” and a ‘monster of complacency and pride”.

It was her (Fanny’s) intention, as she felt it to be her duty, to try to overcome all that was excessive, all that bordered on selfishness, in her affection for Edmund. To call or to fancy it a loss, a disappointment, would be a presumption for which she had not words strong enough to satisfy her own humility. Chapter 27, Mansfield Park.

For others like Thomas Jefferson, ‘moral responsibility’ is a bit harder to pin down:

thomasjeffersonGod has formed us moral agents… that we may promote the happiness of those with whom He has placed us in society, by acting honestly towards all, benevolently to those who fall within our way, respecting sacredly their rights, bodily and mental, and cherishing especially their freedom of conscience, as we value our own.” Thomas Jefferson to Miles King, 1814.

This is a bit rich coming a man who continued to own about 130 slaves until his death – but there you have it.

What constitutes morality isn’t easy to define much less pin down.

But what constitutes slavery most certainly is… right?

Free will.

UnknownWho’s got yours?10268987-bocadillo-de-dialogo-con-los-medios-de-comunicacion-de-palabras-sobre-fondo-blanco

Ethics

Feminism and Jane Austen

Was Jane Austen a Feminist?

becoming-janeThis has not been the traditional view.  Indeed it was not until the 1960’s that Austen’s name was associated with feminism in any widespread way.

Although there are as many faces of feminism as one cares to discover, if the works of Austen are to be fairly evaluated, it should be in terms of feminism as it was understood in her time.  To do otherwise (however tempting), would be anachronistic.

This essay evaluates Austen’s portrayal of three of her heroines in regards to the goals of ‘Enlightenment feminism’ which asserted that men and women should share the same moral code in regards to conduct, feelings, and responsibility.

In Emma, despite being ‘handsome, clever, and rich’, we find a heroine flawed.    In economic terms, Emma Woodhouse passes with flying colors; an heiress of £30,000 is not easily dismissed.  But the citizens of Highbury do not value money nearly as much as they do character and in this regard the imperious Miss Woodhouse must learn that she has ‘been used to despise (Highbury) rather too much’.   In other words, Emma’s moral code is lacking and requires remedial work.

But instead of undertaking to improve herself of her own violation, Emma is instructed by Mr Knightly who appears to believe himself the more morally capable of the two (‘I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.  Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them.’)

Not surprisingly, it is only when Emma becomes all that Mr Knightly would have her be, that he realizes he is in love with her for we all know the story of Pygmalion, the ancient Greek sculptor who fell in love with (and married) the statue he carved.  We have only to look at how Mr Knightly’s view of Harriet changes (the former ‘fair lady’ become ‘the foolish girl’ and ‘a greater simpleton’) when by refusing Robert Martin’s marriage proposal, she fails to conform to Knightly’s norm.  Luckily for Emma, she had learned her lessons well and so ‘what did she say’ when Knightly declares himself?  ‘Just what she ought, of course’ for ‘a lady always does.’

In Emma, although women may have been portrayed as capable of moral equality, they were also portrayed as incapable of forging a moral code of their own.

Likewise, Fanny Price in Mansfield Park with ‘all her faults of ignorance and timidity’ must be carefully tutored to the standards of her cousin Edmund.

Although Miss Price is oft portrayed as a plucky feminist who finally has the courage to speak her own mind (by refusing to marry Henry Crawford as Sir Thomas Bertramwould have her do), we who have followed her long, steady progress with Edmund know she did not reach that pinnacle on her own.

The scene in the East room provides the perfect example.  One morning Fanny escapes to her ‘nest of comforts’ in order ‘to see if by looking at Edmund’s profile she could catch any of his counsel’.  When in the flesh Edmund arrives to obtain ‘her opinion’ on ‘an evil of such magnitude as must , if possible, be prevented’, he begins by voicing his own.  When finished with his soliloquy, he asks Fanny whether she sees ‘it in the same light’.  When she has the temerity to say ‘no’, he recommends that she ‘think it a little over’ for ‘perhaps you are not so much aware as I am, of the mischief that may’ arise.

When Edmund’s love interest, Mary Crawford, speaks her own mind by refusing to agree with him regarding her brother, Henry’s, adultrous behavior, Mary is out and Fanny is in.  ‘Loving, guiding, protecting her (Fanny), as he (Edmund) had been doing ever since her being ten years old, her mind so great a degree formed by his care’, it should be little surprise that by end of the story he’s fallen in love with her  and ‘acknowledged’ her mental superiority.

However, in Northanger Abby, Catherine Morland, arguably the most feminist of Austen’s heroines, receives a very different moral education – that of first-hand experience (as we might expect with a man).

As a child, Catherine is left largely to her own devices allowing her to early on rely on her own judgment.   Later she navigates Bath with little or no outside guidance and moves on to her next adventure afflicted only by her love of Gothic novels and vivid imagination.   Convinced that General Tilney has murdered his wife, like Pandora she finally commits the unpardonable sin and opens that ‘forbidden door’.

But even then when she receives a dressing down from her love interest,  Henry Tilney (‘consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained’ and ‘remember that we are English’ and ‘Christians’), she is asked by him to not to do or think as he would ,but instead to ‘consult your own understanding’ (which she does to her shame).

Once her ‘visions of romance were over’,  she ‘was completely awakened.’  Catherine goes on to win the heart of the man she loves and to ‘begin perfect happiness at’ the age of eighteen, which as Austen reminds us is ‘to do pretty well.’

If the only goal of Enlightenment feminism was that men and women should share the same moral code, then Austen can be said to have wholeheartedly supported this through her fictional characterizations.

However if we look to the basic premise underlying Enlightenment feminism – that women, not having been denied powers of reason, must have the moral status appropriate to ‘rational beings’, formed in the image of a rational God – we must reach a different conclusion.  At least two of the three of Austen’s heroines examined were apparently presumed by the men in their lives as capable not of forging their own moral code, but only of regurgitating that of their lovers.

Astrology

The Moral Maze of Self Interest

Last evening I was listening to BBC 4’s ‘Moral Maze’.   Inspired by the badminton cheats at London’s Olympic Games, the guest speakers worked their way through the Moral Value of Sport.

A noble cause.

But although they hammered on for 30 minutes (many interesting points were made), no one even bothered to query what was meant by the word ‘moral’.

This is not a problem isolated to the BBC.

With Pluto in Capricorn, it’s little wonder ‘morality’ is on everyone’s lips.   It all sounds rather high and mighty – but in reality it’s all superficial and – let’s be honest – glib.

For although ‘morality’ has meant many things to many people [1]  – the bottom line has always been – ouch – morality = self-interest and how moral is that?

  1. To the ancient Greeks, morality meant ‘fit for purpose’ – a man who performed his socially alloted function was virtuous or moral.  If a man wanted to get on in the world, it was in his self interest to be as moral as possible.
  2. With Christianity, morality meant doing what God said to do.  Clearly it was in one’s self-interest to do this because  Heaven was much preferable to Hell.
  3. By the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries), morality meant doing what was best for society.  A man was obliged to do so because of his contractual obligations (either to his government or his fellow men). Given all the bloody revolutions at the time…well, I suppose you get my drift.
  4. With Kierkegaard (early 19th century), morality meant fulfilling your obligations – which meant everything that didn’t make you happy.   Although at first glance, its hard to see how this would be in one’s self-interest – but when you realise (1) that Kierkegaard embraced a radical form of Protestant Christianity (2) and he believed the only alternative was the pursuit of self-satisfaction, then it all makes perfect sense
  5. Nietzsche (late 19th century) believed men now lived in a moral vacumn.   After all, if God were truly dead (and we killed Him), then it only made sense one might as well do as one pleased (he called this the ‘will to power’).
  6. Then come the reformers (early 20th century) – for whom morality meant to do as they said –  after all – God was on their side.
  7. By the late 20th century & early 21st century – in midst of media madness, morality can be summed up as ‘you got to look right to be right’ – ( I believe this is attributable to Strom Thurmond)  – and there’s little doubt it’s in everyone’s self interest to do just that.


[1] See A Short History of Ethics by Alasdair MacIntyre (Routledge Classics, 2002) for an excellent overview.

Ethics

Political Posturing or Master-Slave Morality – in the ‘Free World’

Treasury Minister David Gauke has just told us that paying tradesmen cash (in order to secure a discount against 20% VAT) is morally wrong.

This should come as no surprise.  It’s long been a popular ploy for leaders to suggest that their mandate is God-given.

In the olden days, this was accomplished through invoking the Divine Right of Kings.  Today, it is accomplished through invoking ‘morality’ – which – at least in Judeo-Christian cultures – comes fully loaded with notions of Divine reward and retribution through heaven and hell.

I suggest that those who so easily invoke ‘morality’ on their side,  have given little serious thought as to what it might mean or perhaps more interesting – from whence the concept might come.

Luckily for us, Nietzsche has done just that.

In his essay Good and Evil, Good and Bad, Nietzsche illustrates two different moral codes, with origins appearing to date back to ancient times.  The first applies to the nobility – or masters – while the second applies to the lower class – or slaves.

Nietzsche suggests that while the upper class moral code was designed to be better than that of the lower class (i.e. to hold superiority over the lower classes by suggesting that being rich is good while being poor is bad), the lower class – through spite and resentment – have created their own moral code which in some respects is ultimately superior.

In the case of Mr Gauke’s ‘cash payments to tradesmen’, it would seem that the lower class ‘slaves’ (i.e. tradesmen and those who employ them) have indeed created their own moral code, which Mr Gauke as coined the hidden economy.   In laymen’s lingo, it’s known as just trying to ‘get on’.

While Mr Gauke may believe his moral code to be superior, Nietzsche would suggest that it is not.

This is because the government’s master morality (however dressed up) defines itself solely by reference to that which furthers the rich and noble.

In other words (unlike slave morality which at least seeks to further the interests of society as a whole), the master morality of Mr Gauke is self serving, self-centred, and self-fullfilling.

Given that we believe ourselves to live in the ‘free world’, is it any wonder that the slaves have rebelled?

Ethics

The Unexpected Benefits of Shame

In his highly readable book, A Blissful Journey,  Geshe Kelsand Gyatos suggests that instead of being a punishment, shame  restrains us from doing that which the person that we wish (or ought to wish) ourselves to be ought not to do.

In this context shame is not a painful conclusion, but a joyous opportunity.

For Buddhists, shame is the frontline defence against inappropriate actions.  Such actions not only produce negative karma (locking you into the painful cycle of rebirth) but also lead to difficult rebirths.

But even non-Buddhists find inappropriate actions to be trouble.  Folks tend to get annoyed when one steals, murders, and cheats.   Likewise, they shy away from those who frequently lose their temper and fail to honour their commitments.  Indeed, during the course of a single day, you are confronted with a whole host of activities that someone considers inappropriate. If you wished to comply with all of them, you might as well just stay home.

The reality of life is that we cannot always abide by an external set of rules when deciding what we should or should not do.

Yet assuming that you want to be ethical, what standard might you use?

I suggest using your own ‘sense of shame’.

Assume that you wished to use your mobile phone in a place where it was prohibited.  You might be tempted to do it anyway – especially if you were (1) in a hurry, (2) pretty sure it wouldn’t harm anyone , and (3) fairly certain you wouldn’t be caught.  If – prior to giving way to temptation – you considered how you’d feel if you were caught, you’d have your answer.

If you’d feel embarrassed or guilty, then deep down you know that you ought not do it.  This is regardless of the logical arguments you might make to the contrary.

However, if you truly wouldn’t be fussed, then you might as well give it a try.

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