Postcapitalism by Paul Mason

Most people would agree that capitalism is not working too well these days – to put it very mildly! Author Paul Mason takes us on a journey from the origins of modern capitalism through to the current crisis we are in. At the end he offers some possible solutions in great detail, some of them based on underlying social trends that are already emerging.

The first half of the book is heavy going in places, although readers more at home with economic theory might have a different view. I found myself struggling to take in the detailed analysis of the likes of Kondratieff, Schumpeter and the relevance of Marx. Gradually the author ties the theory in with where we are now and what may be ahead. Mason suggests that we are at the point of “The exhaustion of capitalism’s 250 year old tendency to create new markets where old ones die out”. The length of several cycles, such as the one just mentioned which corresponds to a complete cycle of Pluto, was interesting to me as an astrologer. Amongst other interconnected topics, the effects of automation in factories and the how neoliberal capitalism dealt with the 2008 financial crash are explored. Most neoliberal capitalist countries are now left with ridiculous unsustainable debts.

The emergence of the information economy and the networked individual are seen as crucial to the postcapitalist future. “A networked lifestyle and consciousness, at odds with hierarchies of capitalism”. The implications of this are examined in the last few chapters, covering climate change, the population explosion and just about every other major problem you can think of. A basic income is suggested. Many of the ideas will be familiar to those who have read the likes of Andrew Simms of the new economics foundation. The reader is left feeling that there may be some hope for the future.

Arrival – a film about astrology?

The film Arrival appeared on mainstream cinema screens towards the end of last year and has been widely acclaimed as the best science fiction film for many years. It has been both a critical and commercial success. Although there are perhaps one or two clichés near the beginning, Arrival is far more sophisticated than the average film about aliens visiting Earth. There is an unusual depth and intelligence throughout, as themes of love, grief, memory and the passing of time are explored. What does it mean to be human, what is our purpose? The film is nicely paced, the award-winning music is suitably haunting, there is often a sense of magical wonder. Leading actress Amy Adams is outstanding.

Directed by Dennis Villeneuve, Arrival is an adaptation of a 1998 short story Story Of Your Life by Ted Chiang. Amongst many other things, it explores the idea that language determines thought and perception. The concept of linguistic relativity has been linked to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, first published in 1940 by linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf. Philosophers such as Wittgenstein (“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”) have explored similar territory. I had never come across Chiang before but one review had this to say about him:- “If there is a single recurrent theme in Ted Chiang’s work, it’s the attempt to square the circle between human fantasies of belief, and the perceived certainties of a rational, scientific worldview. There’s a strong sense in Chiang’s work that he sees conflicts of faith v reason, or freedom v determinism, as illusionary. That if we can simply see clearly enough, all conflicts give way to harmony. Chiang’s rigour and logic take him to a point of mysticism.” (1.)

After a brief but important introduction, the film begins in the style of many other science fiction films about aliens landing on Earth. The spaceships hover in twelve locations around the world and there is worldwide panic as humanity wonders what to do next. Some strange sounds are recorded at the spaceship that has arrived in Montana and the American government calls on linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to lead an investigative team. “You approach language like a mathematician”, Ian says to Louise at one point.

To the accompaniment of a drone that would not be out of place in a Tibetan Buddhist ceremony, Louise and her crew make their way down a tunnel in the nearest alien spaceship. This begins a series of attempts to communicate with the Heptapods, as the aliens become known. They are more interested in visual communication rather than sound.

IdentifyingLogograms

In Arrival, each logogram is divided into 12 sections, just like an astrological horoscope. As a person learns the alien language, their perception and experience of time is altered.

For astrologers, this is where it starts to get really interesting. In reference to the twelve spaceships, we have already been told that the twelve fit together to form a whole. The aliens now gradually begin to communicate by drawing a series of circular puffs of smoke in mid-air, each of them containing specific visual blobs that carry highly complex information. These circular patterns bear a striking resemblance to horoscopes, both visually and in their function. The alien language of the Heptapods is nonlinear, with no beginning or end – the whole of a particular sentence or idea is communicated at once, not in a progressive order. The past, the present and the future are presented as one.

Louise and her team set about examining the meaning of the circles, as do investigative teams in other countries. Problems emerge when different conclusions are drawn about exact interpretations of one particular message. Does it mean “Give technology now” or “Use weapon now” and is this a threat of some kind? This leads to a global crisis point and the final scenes of the film, when it becomes clear that Louise’s perception of time and reality has become altered by learning “The Universal Language”.

Researching on the internet, I have not been able to find any acknowledgement of astrological knowledge in relation to the film or the original story. It has been suggested that the alien circles may have been inspired by a Zen calligraphic symbol. Presumably, the number of striking similarities to astrology must therefore be a co-incidence. A visual language based around circles and symbols, a language that communicates complex information and changes our perception of time, a language which when learnt can change our experience of what it means to be human in the world. That certainly sounds familiar to serious astrologers! See this excellent film and draw your own conclusions, or lack of them.

  1. “Ted Chiang, the science fiction genius behind Arrival”, The Guardian, 11th November, 2016.

The original version of the above article appeared in the March/April 2017 of The Astrological Journal, the flagship bimonthly magazine of the Astrological Association.

Consultations and readings available at https://www.timburnessastrologer.co.uk

Farmageddon – The True Cost of Cheap Meat

farmageddonjpegFor anyone who has not cottoned on to how much harm is being done (to animals, people and the planet) by current methods of food production, I highly recommend this book. The authors demand that we reconsider how we are raising animals for meat and ask many other serious questions about our methods of agriculture and eating patterns across the world. For anyone who has already studied the issues here, there may not be much that is new.

A wide range of different types of damage caused by modern farming techniques are examined in great detail. The scarcity of bees, the massive overuse of antibiotics in farm animals (“Roughly half of all antibiotics produced in the world go to food animals”), the use of cereals and grains as animal feed instead of for direct human consumption (“A third of the world’s cereal harvest is used for animals. If it went directly to human’s instead, it would feed about 3 billion people”) the problems in modern fish-farming such as sea lice and waste (“A fifth of the world’s fish is effectively being wasted feeding other fish”) and so on.

Author Philip Lymbery

Author Philip Lymbery

Industrial agriculture is yet another example of how placing corporate profits before people and the environment is, in the long-term, self-destructive madness. The authors finish with the importance of consumer power and a call for more compassionate and realistic solutions as the way forward. Reduce and recycle food waste, take animals out of the factory sheds and restore them to the land, eat less meat, buy organic and free-range. Farming – a return to the old ways of mixed farming with plants and animals on the same farm. Use natural manure to fertilize crops, doing away with the giant pits of excrement found on mega-farms.

Many people still want to believe that pigs and cows and sheep and chickens all live on Old MacDonald’s farm, happily chomping away at grass in the fields or pecking in the farmyard, despite all the evidence that’s now available to the contrary. This book is a powerful, comprehensive and balanced wake-up call that doesn’t preach and it doesn’t say that we should all be vegan or even vegetarian. Time for us all to open our eyes a bit.

Cancel The Apocalypse by Andrew Simms

CancelTheApocalypseMore economic growth! It will solve everything! Or will it? In this book of relentless and exceptionally thorough analysis, Andrew Simms of the new economics foundation (nef) carefully exposes the many weaknesses of an economic system committed to growth at all costs. Perhaps more importantly, he is equally masterful at presenting the many practical alternatives that could help us (and maybe will have to help us) out of the mess we are in.

Certain basics are questioned in the opening chapters. The measurement of GDP only shows the quantity of economic growth, it says nothing about the quality. Is it really okay that banks literally create 97 per cent of the money in existence, simply by loaning it out? What is going on in advanced economies that leads to so much unhappiness for so many? Simms continually questions the whole value system, using countless quotes and examples from everyday life, history, science, politics around the world and just about everything else. Chapter 9 is particularly powerful as he rips into the advertising industry.

AndrewSimmsOne of the recurring major themes is the need to re-connect with our environment, with each other and with ourselves. “I believe that the way ahead – and I am fully aware that this involves inviting the scorn of that same culture – is to fall back in love with the world, and each other”. Andrew Simms presents us with suggestions for the way forward, many of which have already been tried and tested in different cultures at different times. Revitalizing local economies through co-operatives, shortening the working week, a move away from the doctrine of neoliberalism as taught in universities. “An obvious forward step is to shift the balance of corporate ownership and governance away from the domination of the shareholder model.” Towards the end of the book there are some very interesting observations and comments about China’s economic development. There is a clear, human and refreshingly sane voice, throughout this intense book. Nice one Andrew.

The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science

TheHereticsAuthor Will Storr takes the reader on an extraordinarily human and personal journey as he asks the question: “Why do obviously intelligent people believe things in spite of the evidence against them?”. This is one of the most original and thought-provoking books I have read for some time, it really is quite brilliant.

There are many unpredictable twists and turns. Throughout the book, Storr encounters a wide range of colourful characters and belief systems on his travels. A Creationist minister, homeopaths, Holocaust denier David Irving, and Skeptics themselves are just some of the cast of characters. The author is skeptical about everything – including his own skepticism. “My work has taught me that the truth is always nuanced; that outrage is mostly born of misunderstanding and that, sometimes, black really can be white.”

There is a flavour of the investigative journalist Louis Theroux and, for those who remember him, the late Robert Anton Wilson. A rational and scientific approach is mixed with personal memoir, an open mind and a great sense of humour. Whatever your beliefs and views on the superiority of a scientific approach to knowledge, this book can not fail to shake you up a bit! Genius.

Tomorrow’s Harvest by Boards of Canada

The enigmatic Boards of Canada make a welcome return with their first album since 2005. This collection of unique, atmospheric and brooding electronica is up there with the best of their work, Music Has The Right To Children (1998) and Geogaddi (2002).

BoardsHarvest2Many of the textures and stylings are recognizable from their earlier albums, but the overall feel is darker and more ominous here. The sounds of the seventies remain, with echoes of the likes of Tangerine Dream in places, but the rhythms are more from the nineties. Every track has something of substance to offer, although these ears found the clunking snare drum all the way through the track “Jacquard Causeway” a bit heavy going.

Tomorrow’s Harvest evokes a wide range of moods in the listener. Even though this album continues to explore the musical universe they created for themselves some years ago, it draws the listener in and is far from predictable. Mostly, it feels fresh and inspired – in a slightly disturbing way. Towards the end, “Come To Dust” sounds an anthemic note of something close to optimism, immediately followed by the simple sadness and deep bass of “Semena Merlvykh”. A great end to a great album.

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism

23Things Cambridge professor Hu-Joon Chang’s international bestseller is an accessible, balanced, warm and entertaining analysis of the myths of modern capitalism. Many books on the subject of what has gone wrong have been published since the crash of 2008, but “23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism” goes right to the very heart of the problems in plain language. It shows how the world really works.

Early on, the author makes it clear that this is not an anti-capitalist manifesto. “Being critical of free-market ideology is not the same thing as being against capitalism.” With countless examples from people’s everyday lives, aswell as the world of business and politics, different forms of capitalism are explored. Particular issues with the USA and UK model from the last thirty years feature prominently. To a certain extent, the chapter headings speak for themselves. “Thing 1 – There is no such thing as a free market” (government is always involved in setting rules and regulations to some degree), “Thing 2 – Companies should not be run in the interests of their owners” (running companies for the often short-term interests of shareholders risks destroying the entire system in the long-term), and so on.

Ha-JoonChangFor many, some of the observations in “23 Things…” may seem like common sense, but Chang can still be quite shocking as he slices right through widely accepted political and economic orthodoxies. In the conclusion he suggests ways to rebuild the world economy – build systems that acknowledge the limits of human rationality, ban complex financial products that don’t benefit society in the long run, build a system that brings out the best in people, take “making things” more seriously, “unfairly” favour developing countries – who have suffered badly as a result of free-market policies.

This is a great book that cuts through a lot of economic and political waffle like a knife.