THE world and its inhabitants are in a difficult place at this moment in time. In Pakistan, a Ramazan under lockdown has been followed by an Eid celebration haunted by the lingering and fatal presence of the coronavirus. There are those that have decided that they cannot bear the isolation and seclusion and are moving forward in full denial of the risks that lurk all around them. Those who are still socially isolating because they have pre-existing conditions or elderly family members whose lives they would like to preserve are equally frustrated.
Watching others enjoy themselves while a deadly pandemic lingers is much like watching people play Russian roulette; they will probably live but they may blow their brains out too.
It is natural, that in a time of uncertainty such as this, humans, all of us among them are searching for clues as to what is to come. Plagues, locusts, cyclones are all events that have been written about in divine sources and have caused humankind to come up with explanations of varying merit but unified in their apocalyptic doom and gloom. This moment is no different, the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the proliferation of all sorts of prophecies and theories regarding why the virus has struck.
What is the unthinkable of our moment? What new world can we see through the haze of this virus?
Among those offering explanations for mass consumption are the world’s astrologers. Now astrology itself evokes strong feelings and so before even talking about what astrologers have to offer, I must declare that I do not believe in astrology as a basis of predicting the future. Plenty of scientific theories have already proven its shaky foundations and we all know that the broad nature of predictions offered means that some bit of them will probably align with this or that person.
Considering astrology can be a helpful way to synthesise and process complex events happening at warp speed. The language of astrology lends itself to considering certain epochs in history against certain others. Also it helps pass time and we all suddenly have a lot of, perhaps too much, time.
On Jan 12 of this year, Saturn and Pluto aligned in the zodiac sign of Capricorn. According to astrologers (and it is interesting that many of them note the importance of this event in videos recorded before the pandemic) the last time the two planets met in this sort of alignment was the year 1518. Henry VIII was king and Martin Luther was challenging the power of the Catholic Church by questioning the sale of indulgences and the corruption of Church officials. In sum, Luther condemned the practice through which Catholics paid money to the Church to obtain forgiveness for various sins. The rich were therefore sin-free, the poor not so much. No one would have known it at the time, but what was begun then, would transform Western society, placing the individual in a direct relationship with God and at the centre of the way life was constructed.
It certainly appears that the current pandemic will lead to similar changes. An interesting point in relation to Pakistani history is that Aug 14, 1947, also fell during a Saturn-Pluto conjunction in the sign of Leo, which signified independence and expansion. The Saturn-Pluto conjunction before that took place in 1914 around the beginning of World War I. All of it may be coincidence but in the absence of any ability to actually predict the future, there will be those who will not see it as insignificant.
Whether or not astrology is right, we are at a historic crossroads. At the time Martin Luther rebelled against the Catholic Church, which truly held all the power in the entire Western world, no one could have ever imagined it would be relegated to what it is now. In the years following, people were able to suddenly obtain their own copies of the Bible they had been relying on priests to read for them. The changes that occurred then also marked the beginning of the Industrial Revolution whose end we are witnessing today. Similarly, having endured 200-plus years of British rule, few in India could have predicted that the colonial masters would be evicted from the country, the unthinkable suddenly became thinkable and then soon after, actually occurred.
What is the unthinkable of our moment? What new world can we see through the haze of this virus that appears imminent but not quite real? Perhaps just like in 1518 and 1914 and 1947, truths long held sacred will be ripped to shreds, the balance of power will shift in dramatic ways.
In my view, the pandemic will completely transform the way we work, where we live and how we relate to the world. The virtual world that has been gradually encroaching on the ‘real’ world will become the locus and centre of our activities. Physical presence will no longer be required for most work. This in turn will transform the world making all the borders and visas entirely irrelevant to what a person does for a living.
If all of this does happen, whether owing to the conjunction of Saturn and Pluto or for some other reason, then this terrible virus and all the upheaval that has occurred because of it would mark the breaking down of old structures centred on the nation state, towards futures where the location of most ‘work’ is ‘virtual’ — accessible by anyone, anywhere.
We all suddenly have plenty of time to entertain all sorts of thoughts as we sweat and stumble through the bizarre rituals of trying to survive a global pandemic. It is also useful, in these plague-ridden times to find someone to blame. Astrology may or may not be true, but it provides us with a couple of planets to blame. All of this mess, all of these deaths, the entire mess of Covid-19 is ultimately the fault of Saturn and Pluto that have come together in the sign of Capricorn and made a complete mess of our minds, our lives and just about everything else.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2020