On the 23rd of March, Pluto will change signs for the first time since 2008, ingressing into idealistic and humanitarian Aquarius just after midday where it will remain (bar a few retrograde spells) until 2044. This is momentous on so many levels – not just for humanity, but also for science, technology and even the future of democracy.
This article originally appeared on the AstrologySphere website, but I have decided to modify it and repost it here as it seemed more appropriate.
Pluto in Capricorn
In astrology, Pluto is known as the ‘kill or cure’ planet. It’s job seems to be to ‘stress test’ large systems and structures, often by pushing things to their limit – sometimes to breaking point.
To give you an idea of just how powerful this planet can be in terms of shaking things up, shifting paradigms and the balance of power, think back to 2008 – the date of Pluto’s previous ingress into traditional and conservative Capricorn – and then consider how much our relationship to the patriarchy, traditional institutions and social conventions, from marriage to politics, banking and even gender, has either dramatically altered or been upended, whilst the gaps between rich vs poor, the political right vs left, and race/gender inequalities, have simultaneously widened. Here, we can see Pluto’s reputation for creating both major transitions and extremes at play.
As it made it’s way through the sign of the establishment, i.e. mainstream conventions and institutions, it swung a wrecking ball on Capricorn ruled phenomena such as traditional forms of banking, our relationship to the masculine principle (and gender identity as a whole), fatherhood and patriarchal systems, time (does anyone wear a watch anymore?), aging and mortality – just think of how our attitudes to pensions, retirement and extended lifespans has shifted, for example.
As Pluto comes to the end of its 14-year stay in Capricorn, it’s laser sharp focus will shift towards Aquarius-ruled phenomena like democracy/civil rights, philanthropic pursuits, futuristic marvels involving space exploration, science and technology, as well as our future relationship to each other, and, if all the talk on AI is anything to go by, with machines.
Pushing things to Extremes: Sport & Religion
Before that, Pluto powered through Sagittarius (1995-2008), setting in motion events that would eventually lead to several high profile doping scandals such as the one involving Lance Armstrong, as well as allegations of bribery and corruption within sporting organisations like FIFA, beginning in May 2002; and amplifying the cultural polarisation that would to the re-emergence of religious fundamentalism, which many believe motivated terrorist attacks such as 9/11 and, in turn, to the retaliatory military campaigns that came to be known under the banner of the so-called ‘War on Terror‘.
As a transpersonal planet, Pluto’s role is to ‘stress test’: to push things to their limit – often to breaking point – so that seismic geopolitical reform and socio-economic shifts can take place. Structural faults or toxic cultures within ailing, outworn or corrupt systems, organisations or institutions are often exposed, sometimes via scandals or whistleblowing, so that they can break down and be reformed or replaced. Often, there is a shift in the balance of power after a period of major struggle, usually involving an authoritarian regime, interest group or tyrannical leader attempting to cling on to the reigns long after they’ve lost control of the situation.
Spectre of the 1930’s
Discovered in February 1930, Pluto’s symbolism has become strongly bound up in the era following its discovery.
Pluto is very much a 20th-century planet and refers to the two world wars, weapons of mass destruction, nuclear power, and a desire to totally control the world we live in. It is a planet that reveals to us the extremes we are capable of if we do not set healthy boundaries. It also governs our hidden or subconscious compulsions – our secret vices – those things we feel compelled to do but know we should not, as well as anything done in excess or taken to extremes. Considered to be the higher octave of Mars, it co-rules Scorpio, the sign most closely associated with the cycle of birth and death, as well as seduction, secrets, persuasion and power, often exercised by stealth or exerted by force; as well as the ‘scary’ eruption of volcanic emotions, bringing or revelation of deeply buried truths – one of the reasons why it has become synonymous with detectives, undercover investigations, forensics and spying.
Think back to the 1930’s and 40’s – the time when Pluto was first discovered – and all the major regime changes and/or new political movements that occurred, especially in Europe, both before and after the Second World War. This was an era that saw the rise of nazism, fascism and communism in Spain, Germany, Italy and Russia as the Great Depression laid waste to the influence of conventional governments and fuelled widespread disillusionment with existing socio-political ideologies.
A similar situation also precipitated the start of the French Revolution, which many believed was fuelled by discontent over rising inequalities exacerbated by a period of economic recession, marked by food inflation and unsustainable levels of government debt. It is this spectre that we may potentially have to face again, especially if the economic after-effects of COVID-19, including the current banking liquidity crisis (which has strong echoes of 2008), end up leading to another worldwide recession on the scale of the Great Depression, accelerated by soaring food and commodity prices caused by weather extremes, supply chain shocks and Putin’s war in Ukraine.
So, what can we expect from the current Pluto cycle? To get a sense of the future, it’s always good to look back at the past for parallels between then and now…
Can the Past Tell us about the Present?
The last time Pluto was in Aquarius was 1777-1798, a period that encompassed the Age of Reason, as well as the French Revolution (which is, of course, when Uranus, it’s ruling planet, was discovered). This was also the time of the industrial revolution, global maritime exploration and colonisation, as well as rapid advances in fields like science, technology and medicine.
Acording to Rose Marcus,
Historically, Pluto’s transit through Aquarius is a time of upheavals, revolutions and rebellions, significant social and political development, modernization, and momentous inventions that influence the quality of daily existence. During the previous Pluto in Aquarius cycle (1777 – 1798), the Declaration of Independence would give the world its first blueprint of modern democracy.” Liberté, égalité, fraternité, ou la mort!” became the battle cry for the 1789 French Revolution, a violent period that saw the overthrow of the French monarchy and the introduction of democratic ideals.
…It was also the height of the first industrial revolution. Global trade and exploration expanded greatly too. ..William Herschel’s discovery of Uranus in 1781 expanded the known boundaries of our solar system. During the preceding transit of Pluto through Aquarius, (1532 – 1553), Copernicus published his idea that the earth rotated around the sun.
Age of Exploration & Discovery
Much like the Renaissance, this was a period of discovery and a flourishing of both knowledge and invention. Rather than ideas or philosophies, however, this was an age of geographical exploration and territorial expansion via extended maritime trade and various state-sponsored mapping expeditions.
Geographic knowledge gained economic and political value in these conditions. It was in the 17th century that the Dutch, the French, and the English began trying to fill out the map of the known oceans. Islands and coastlines were added to sailing charts almost on an annual basis. By the mid-18th century all the world’s shorelines not bound by sea ice, with fairly minor exceptions, were charted. Only Antarctica remained hidden until the mid-19th century.Britannica
It was also an era of scientific advances led by figures such as Newton and Galileo, which put the focus firmly on reason, physics, as well as the desire to expand ever upwards into space via technological inventions such as the telescope.
Interestingly, given that the water bearer is the only human figure in the zodiac, both periods coincided with a strong emphasis on both rationalism and humanism. This philosophy rests on a sort of ‘master of the universe’ notion that mankind is the pinnacle of evolution, and has a limitless capacity for development or achievement, provided he/she acquires the right knowledge, skill or techniques to do so, and applies his reasoning abilities in appropriate, if occasionally novel, ways.
Humanistic ideas can be seen in esoteric concepts like Universal Man or ‘Adam Kadmon’, representing the pinnacle of man’s evolutionary potential, ideas that became popular amongst initiatory traditions and ‘illuminist’ secret societies like freemasonry and kabbalism at the time. These, in turn, show clear parallels with the altruism and utopian ideals associated with the sign of Aquarius, qualities that may have their roots in the star lore of the Babylonians, who saw the constellation as a chief-like demi-god named Gula, who was a sort of archetypal embodiment of the hero-leader associated with the water god Enki.
However, unlike Renaissance humanism, the emphasis during this period was less on philosophy and the study of humanities, and more on civic humanism – giving more freedoms and rights to ordinary citizens via charters such as the English Parliamentary Bill of Rights, Rousseau’s Social Contract and The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, considered by many to be the crowning achievement of the French Revolution.
2023: New Frontiers in Science & Technology
Given all of this, it is not hard to see parallels with today, particularly emerging technological trends around what’s been dubbed ‘the singularity’. Coined by the author and former Google engineer, Ray Kurzweil, the concept centres around the notion of the convergence of man and machine, which ostensibly enables humans to transcend the limits of biology, developing new forms of intelligence/superhuman capabilities via phenomena like augmented AI or cyborg-like gadgets or body implants like those being developed by companies like Neuralink and Neurosity.
While these inventions may hold the promise of accelerating medical breakthroughs, aiding people with disabilities, and finding solutions to the climate crisis, they also have their downsides, leading to what dystopian critics might call ‘progress without hope,’ to quote GK Chesterton.
To quote a recent New York Times article, like Faust:
We have summoned an alien intelligence. We don’t know much about it, except that it is extremely powerful and offers us bedazzling gifts but could also hack the foundations of our civilization. We call upon world leaders to respond to this moment at the level of challenge it presents. The first step is to buy time to upgrade our 19th-century institutions for an A.I. world and to learn to master A.I. before it masters us.Yuval Harari
Given Pluto’s proclivity towards meglomania, it’s probably a good idea if there is a collective push to hasten regulation around this area. Working with organisations such as the Turing Institute to agree on a collective ethical framework around the development of AI should go some way to curbing any power hungry states or greedy profiteers from unleashing an unchecked modern version of Frankenstein on the world.
The space race and all things futuristic is also likely to heat up. As one astrologer recently noted, Aquarius is an air sign associated with elevated places in traditional astrology, and as such, many have interpreted this transit as accelerating our ascent into the skies – and possibly further into outer space, especially if ‘NewSpace’ developments at Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and Space X are anything to go by. Again, with Pluto in the mix, it will be important to ensure that this doesn’t become an Us vs Them type scenario, where the planet burns or blows up, and it is only the rich who can afford to make their escape.
Big Tech, The State & Surveillance Capitalism
Of course, we cannot talk about Pluto in Aquarius without considering the power dynamics of mass communication and technologies like the Internet and social media.
Privacy and ownership/control of your data is likely to become the next frontier in terms of the struggle for control between individuals and the state – something we’re already seeing via investigations into new-era spyware like Pegasus that enables ‘zero-click’ hacks into your smartphone, along with growing concerns over what have been termed ‘Orwellian’ state ‘clearing houses’ where personal data, including ‘sensitive information,’ like medical records, sexual orientation etc is collected from various sources to create ‘big data’ profiles that can be used to do everything from vet journalists, control and predict (and affect) behaviour for terrorism/crime prevention purposes, deport illegal immigrants or collect unpaid taxes.
However, as Oxford University’s newly-formed AI Ethics Institute, as well as law professors like Danielle Citron, have pointed out, this type of technology can also be used for more sinister reasons. Most notable examples include the covert monitoring and communications interceptions of ordinary citizens by spy agencies first revealed by Edward Snowden, together with the profit-driven data gathering business model developed in Silicon Valley which Shoshana Zuboff has dubbed ‘surveillance capitalism’.
As historians and humane tech advocacy groups have pointed out, more needs to be done to regulate this area and introduce guardrails so that people’s human rights are not violated and small states can continue to maintain their sovereignty.
Currently, cyber-surveillance regulation is a mostly lawless frontier. Some countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom, have laws dictating the circumstances in which agencies can covertly extract data from devices, but Israel and many others don’t. International law is similarly lacking, though a 2019 UN report described potential rules for using commercial surveillance tech, such as spyware, facial recognition software, and computer interference tools.Council on Foreign Relations
Preserving the Sanctity of Truth & Privacy
Democracy itself may also be under threat if we don’t take steps to protect its integrity. First there was the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which many believe affected the outcome of both the Brexit Referendum and the 2016 US Presidential election. More recently, an undercover investigation by a group of journalists into Team Jorge, the shadowy for-hire organisation founded by a former Israeli intelligence operative, revealed that the group may have already influenced over 30 elections worldwide using cyber weapons like hacking, sabotage and bot farms to spread disinformation and fake news. And then there are the allegations that the Chinese government is able to spy on foreign journalists via secret backdoors in social media apps like TikTok – something that Snowden and Julian Assange had already exposed the NSA for doing on a mass scale to ordinary citizens as far back as 2013.
Oxford academic and author of ‘Privacy is Power,‘ Dr Carissa Véliz, argues that ‘as surveillance creeps into every corner of our lives’ via smart devices like phones and TVs, domestic gadgets and appliances like Alexa (or even your fridge!), social media platforms, biometric data collected for state ID cards or passports, so we are slowly ceding too much power to big tech and governments, often without our explicit consent.
Without your permission, or even your awareness, tech companies are harvesting your location, your likes, your habits, your relationships, your fears, your medical issues, and sharing it amongst themselves, as well as with governments and a multitude of data vultures. They’re not just selling your data. They’re selling the power to influence you and decide for you. Even when you’ve explicitly asked them not to. And it’s not just you. It’s all your contacts too, all your fellow citizens. Privacy is as collective as it is personal.Privacy is Power podcast
This is Pluto in Aquarius at its worst – a utopian vision turned into an Orwellian nightmare in which a secretive Big Brother-like state (or multi-national corporation) can deploy technology on a mass scale to control its citizens/employees/users and carry out large-scale social engineering, using truth-warping technologies such as algorithms, deepfakes and bot armies, or by limiting/controlling access to things like jobs, medicare, social security benefits – even the right to vote. And if we are to avoid becoming zombie-like slaves to a new breed of authoritarian overlord, then Zuboff and others argue we need to act now to protect, not just our privacy and personal autonomy, but also the very integrity of democracy.
Surveillance capitalists now develop “economies of action,” as they learn to tune, herd, and condition our behavior with subtle and subliminal cues, rewards, and punishments that shunt us toward their most profitable outcomes….Surveillance capitalism’s “means of behavioral modification” at scale erodes democracy from within because, without autonomy in action and in thought, we have little capacity for the moral judgment and critical thinking necessary for a democratic society.
Democracy is also eroded from without, as surveillance capitalism represents an unprecedented concentration of knowledge and the power that accrues to such knowledge. They know everything about us, but we know little about them. They predict our futures, but for the sake of others’ gain. … These knowledge asymmetries introduce wholly new axes of social inequality and injustice.Shoshana Zuboff
As lord of the shadowy underworld, ruler of secretive Scorpio, the seductive persuader, Pluto’s tour through utopian Aquarius could therefore go either way. Much depends on whether those in plutocratic positions of power (including huge monopolies like Microsoft and Meta) are allowed to continue with their current business model of persuasion (and epistemic chaos creation) for profit unchecked. Or will we (and the politicians who serve us) force them to take the high road by putting in more guardrails such as more ethical algorithms and protections for vulnerable people? Isn’t it time we exercised our Aquarian collective democratic power to insist on fairer, safer and more ethical alternatives, and safeguard our human rights?
People Power: Taking Back Control
Enter the more positive side of this transit, which will last until early 2044: ordinary people taking their power back from the Capricorn-like state via organised collective action and social justice movements – something that both the Internet and social media, have (perhaps ironically) helped to facilitate.
Here too, though, we need to be careful of Pluto’s tendency to encourage extremism within otherwise well-intentioned attempts to achieve Aquarian utopianism. As we have seen from the toxic, destructive nature of recent climate change activism and gender wars on Twitter, social activism can quickly turn ugly if people adopt a ‘no compromise’ position, or them vs. us mentality. By extension, post-2016 and the Capital Hill riots, let’s also hope we choose to move away from the divisive rhetoric that has characterised the politics of demonization during he post-truth era of the last two decades or so.
As Amnesty International have pointed out, technology (especially under the current centralised social media model) tends to privilege both dissent and outrage, which certainly isn’t serving to encourage constructive debate or attempts at collaborative problem-solving that bridges political and cultural divides:
The push to grab users’ attention and to keep them on platforms can also encourage the current toxic trend towards the politics of demonization. People are more likely to click on sensationalist or incendiary material, meaning platforms systematically privilege conspiracy theories, misogyny, and racism.Joe Westby
Decentralisation of money and social media
The rise of decentralised cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin that employ blockchain ledger technology have the potential to replace the need for banks to verify transactions, along with federated social media platforms like Mastodon and Nostr are just some examples of how individuals can wrest their power away from plutocratic organisations such as big tech or the traditional banking system. We can already see this happening as more and more countries previously overlooked or seen as credit risks by western banks like El Salvador and The Central African Republic adopt cryptocurrencies and other digital forms of money, allowing the unbanked to transact internationally without the need for intermediaries, thus levelling the global financial playing field.
While critics are always very quick to point out that many of these digital assets do not have any intrinsic value, this is now true of most world currencies, the only major difference being that fiat currencies are backed by central banks and government regulation.
At a recent cryptocurrency conference, tech ethics advocate Frances Haugen also pointed out the potential for newer social media models to give people greater say over their privacy and user experience online than conventional platforms, with their advertising-based business models and algorithms designed to get people addicted, outraged and doomscrolling for hours:
[On centralised social media platforms] we’ve come to accept that we are subjects of a king, like Mark or Elon, and we can either follow their rules or leave…Now there’s an interesting opportunity for people to be citizens of their own platforms.Frances Haugen
Already, Twitter has essentially been dissolved into a holding company called X Corp and no longer exists as a separate entity, the ultimate aim being to convert it into ‘X the everything app,’ so it will be interesting to see what happens with it and some of the other legacy platforms like Facebook going forward.
For now, it’s safe to say that we are in for quite a turbulent but also potentially exciting period in which we may be forced to re-examine our relationship to the truth in the wake of chatbots and deepfakes, what it means to be human in an era of AI, and how much power we are willing to cede to corporations and the state in exchange for the everyday convenience afforded by new appliances/gadgets and our personal safety.
Protest pickets and tin foil hats at the ready, folks!
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