American Materialism: The Elephant in the Middle of the Room


 

Money as Taboo

Pluto is the planet of taboos.
How appropriate it is that the god of Hell is the governor of these festering
energies, always in the atmosphere but rarely discussed honestly and directly.
The danger attached to these ideas causes baroque mythologies to build up
around them, a system of apologias which would provide a fascinating self-study
if we had the courage to look into them. In our own natal chart, Pluto's placement
points to issues we may be semi-aware of but rarely look into, because we
simply don't know what to do with them.

It
is human to resist confronting this realm of the psyche. As individuals, it is
difficult to even begin without a trusted, dispassionate guide. We need help
negotiating that dark, uneven path, which is why we have therapists and AA
groups. But what do whole countries do with their Pluto issues?

For
the United States, the big taboo is money. Our enthrallment with the world of
matter is something we are all too aware of, but don't know what to do with. In
the USA birth chart (July 4th, 1776, 5:10 pm, Philadelphia, Pa), Pluto resides
in the second house, the house of valuables, territory, things of worth.
Materialism is America's elephant in the middle of the room.

Pluto
represents the forces of regeneration which manifest as takeovers and
makeovers. The second house governs resources and ownership. This placement,
whether in the chart of an individual or a country, links the planet of control
together with the activity of possessing.

 

Obsession

Through this astrological lens we
can start to make sense of why money is so central to the American ethos. No
other topic is held with such fierce ambivalence: coveted above all else, yet
strangely despised. It is rare to hear money talked about in a sober, rational
way; instead it is approached with a kind of magical thinking masked in a
façade of dead seriousness. Obsessing about money sucks the energy out of
Americans from every socioeconomic faction, from the high to the low, the haves
right along with the have-nots.

If
your natal Pluto is in this house, you are familiar with the intensity it puts
into your financial dealings. You may have found that your personal karma
involves "going through hell (Pluto) and back" as regards earning, selling,
buying and saving. Similarly, as a group entity, America is destined to grapple
with intensified financial dealings. We are meant to go through economic hell
and – if we're smart – climb back up into the light, having matured as a
culture.

Certainly
it is obvious to the rest of the world that the USA has a desperately neurotic
relationship with money. The problem is that it is not obvious to us.
Individual members of a collective inevitably have a hard time seeing the
idiosyncrasies of the whole of which they are a part. But as astrologers, we
are in a good position to achieve this perspective; and as souls who have
incarnated into incomparably perilous times, it would seem that we had the
responsibility to use it.

Considering
the degree of impact our financial dysfunction has upon the world at large, it
is remarkable that more thoughtful analysis is not attempted on the subject.
From our frenzied consumerism to our obsession with security, we are fixated on
money without any sense of what it means in the big picture.

America
has been using her Pluto in the 2nd house like a nonstop partygoer, eating and
drinking herself into oblivion and then shopping for the next round.

 

Pluto's House Placement

Let's review how Pluto affects
the activities of a given house.

What
house does your natal Pluto occupy? Here is where you find yourself
simultaneously repelled and fascinated by a certain set of activities. You may
invest more time and energy into them than you'd want others to know about. Or
you may avoid them like the plague. Even activities that would seem to be as
rote and prosaic as commuting or using the telephone (3rd house) may be
associated with feelings of danger or compulsion. This is not because of the activities
themselves. It is because, for you, that house's activities channel deeply
compelling forces. Unprocessed feelings and urges bubble up from the depths of
the unconscious, and play themselves out through the activities designated by
your Pluto placement.

Pluto
in America's 2nd house does not mean that money and territory are fated to be a
problem. Our money issues are merely symptomatic. At issue is our collective
karma about right use of power, which gets expressed through the way we
use our resources.

Material
wealth is not the origin of our power as a nation. But we think it is. That is
the problem.

 

The Pathology of Power

Pluto's meaning encompasses
decay, compulsion and shame. But what does this have to do with power?

The
placement of this planet in the natal chart shows us where we have been
operating undercover — literally (hidden affairs, espionage) or undercover of
awareness — and have cultivated, over time, a set of obsessive habits. These
take up residence in our unconscious, where they don't have to answer to
criticism.

Psychology
tells us that repressed material gains potency as a result of the energy
invested in keeping it secret. Astrology tells us that Pluto governs the Dark
Mysteries of death and rebirth, which, when tapped, allow us to access
tremendous power. But unless mindfully used, that power waxes destructive.

However
you explain the potency of Pluto, it is the source of the greatest power
available to the chart. And as a first step in getting in touch with it, we
have to look at how we misuse it. Does America misuse the power of money? Our
country has more wealth at its disposal than any nation that has ever existed
on Earth. Where does it all go?

Most
of us don't like to think about how much of the national budget goes to the
Pentagon, but let's look at it with the dispassionate eye of an accountant for
a moment. At this writing, one hundred and eighty billion dollars of our money
has been spent in Iraq over three years' time. Whether or not it has been
well-spent (killing and maiming innocents, destroying the infrastructure,
reducing ancient holy sites to rubble, spreading depleted uranium throughout
the air, soil and water, and convincing young Muslim idealists worldwide that
Bin Laden was right), let us just try to wrap our minds around that number. We
are talking about 250 million dollars a day.

Moreover,
we are in debt. Major debt. It is beyond this writer's capability to
conceptualize the several trillion dollars that America is apparently in debt.
And how are we making amends? We are giving away money to those who need it
least. In a world where four billion people earn less than four dollars a day,
our leaders are busy planning additional tax cuts for the already
preposterously wealthy profiteers who put them in office. And so far, Congress
and the public have been letting them do it.

It
is time for America to raise its collective hand, as at a twelve-step meeting,
and say: "I have a problem with money."

 

Plutonian Cover-Ups

The Plutonian level of the psyche
is masterful at covering itself up. Its operations tend to take place in their
own little world under their own separate laws, quite apart from our self-image
and its laws. Like a cult member avoiding questions from skeptical
outsiders, we tend to resent being asked about the area designated by Pluto's
chart placement. We prepare ruses to throw people off the scent. Take another
look at your own chart and ask yourself whether you protect your compulsions
with stories that wouldn't stand up to scrutiny.

When
the will to grow is properly engaged, however, we can drum up the courage to
challenge Pluto's blind workings and access its power creatively. This requires
seeing through the tales we tell ourselves about why we are riveted upon
certain subjects in a not-altogether-wholesome way. The process of transforming
Pluto from a destructive to a regenerative force begins with identifying the
alibis and obfuscations that the unconscious mind has erected to keep our
dramas intact.

In
the natal chart, Pluto's placement by house and aspect indicates our personal
myths. In the national chart, it points to our collective myths. It takes a
special kind of awareness to see through our own myths. Certainly it will take
a great deal more consciousness than we have thus far been using, to admit that
– as a nation comprising a mere five per cent of an increasingly impoverished
world population – we Americans harbor some rather incongruous beliefs about
wealth and entitlement.

 

Middle Class Bag Ladies

One example of such a myth is the
entrenched middle-class fear — currently reaching epidemic proportions among
midlife baby boomers — of becoming a bag lady. (A couple of generations ago,
the same phobia was expressed by the quaint Dickensian phrase "ending up in
the poor house
".) The genuinely indigent do not buy into these pictures, of
course; they have their own stories. But among those whose middle-class
expectations are slipping, as well as among many who would, by any standard, be
described as quite well-off, a peculiar strain of financial panic is on the
rise that might be called First-World poor-mouthing.

When
the stark realities of the world economy are taken into account, we may find
ourselves conceding that the bourgeois bag lady threat seems less than dire.
Indeed, in the spirit of overall ecological balance, for the American middle
class to consider lowering its standard of living just a tad might not be an
altogether inappropriate idea. But Plutonian fixations resist global or
philosophical perspectives, as nightmares resist logic. Pluto is an
all-or-nothing planet and its myths follow suit. The bag lady scenario would
have us believe that any lowering at all of our financial status quo will lead
to starving in a gutter somewhere, and that's all there is to it.

This
dread of insolvency, even in Americans who by no stretch of the imagination
could be considered impoverished, is viscerally and painfully real for millions
of people. If nothing else, this certainly goes to show that everything is
relative. Of interest here is that tell-tale certitude of doom, a tip-off that
Pluto is involved. Those in the grip of this fear tend to defend the likelihood
of their imminent poverty with a fervency that rivals that of a trial lawyer in
a capital case.

But
there may be a covert spiritual mechanism operating here as well. The bag lady
obsession seems to involve a kind of reverse projection, by which the American
middle class is inadvertently reflecting what is going on in the greater world.
Rather than making it our business to address, in thought or deed, the actual
destitution that exists almost everywhere except in our own tiny
demographic minority, we seem to be identifying with global poverty
unconsciously. We are, after all, psychically interconnected. Perhaps worrying
about our own future "in the poor house" is the American way of feeling at one
with the millions of victims of genocide, AIDS, war and diaspora we hear about
daily in the news.

 

Absolute Control

Pluto is the planet of absolute
control. Wherever it is positioned in the chart, we want to dominate and
manipulate something or someone. In your own chart, do you detect any of these
urges in those areas of your life designated by Pluto's placement?

The
positioning of America's Pluto tell us that in the mass mind, the sharing of resources
is a counter-intuitive concept. That is, in the absence of an integrated
national consciousness, Pluto will take over our behavior as regards physical
valuables and compel actions which fly in the face of the more refined values
we harbor as a culture. A consummate example of this drive at work is the "New
American Century", the not-all-that-secret doctrine erected by our shadowy
Washington king-makers. This document outlines, quite specifically, a
geopolitical and military plan of action whereby our corporate titans would
achieve absolute control of the world's resources. (And here we thought that I-want-to-rule-the-world
thing was just a comic book-villain trope.)

Larger-than-life
and unapologetically amoral, Pluto's vision is one of straight-up power;
leaving such niceties as social justice and moral responsibility to the other
planets. Plutonian impulses are too raw to be expressed on their own. Unless
softened by Venus and Jupiter (personal and ethical values) and boundaried by
Saturn (civil law), our Plutos wouldn't be allowed out in polite society.
Unalloyed, the planet would get us locked up, or impeached for war crimes (or
would, if we had a working democracy).

 

The Earth Plane

Let us look more closely at what
we mean when we use the term materialism, a classic 2nd-house issue.

The
2nd is the house that most directly refers to life in the tangible realm, and
here we immediately run into the limitations of cultural assumption. Unlike in
ancient philosophies like astrology, which divides all experience down into
four utterly equal parts (matter, thought, emotion and spirit), in modern
scientific thought it is axiomatic that the realm of matter has greater
validity than the other realms.

Modern
thinkers presume that the nature of physical things is incontestably objective,
whereas all other experience is more or less subjective (the New Physics
has refuted this, of course, but consensus opinion has been slow to register
the news). The language we use to speak about such things tells the tale. An opinion
is "only an opinion", whereas an object "really exists".

Material
things are thought to live out there in the external world, whereas we
live in here in our internal world. The barrier between these worlds is
seen as an absolute existential divide. Moreover, if the realm of matter has a
monopoly on realness, and money is a concentrated symbol of matter, it follows
that money is über-real. Ideas, by contrast, are given only qualified
credence in our society; usually only marketable ideas are considered "real".
Our poor feelings are seen as having even less credibility. And intuitions?
They are snubbed entirely.

With
Pluto in the 2nd house of America's chart, our selective interest in the
physical plane is taken to an extreme of slavish devotion. Attention is
directed to the material world and kept there, holding us captive to the
bizarre assumption that our survival depends upon material security
exclusively. Throughout our lives, we are explicitly and implicitly taught that
a diamond, or a paycheck, or a stock quote, is possessed of a deal-breaking
kind of power, a power that can either ruin us or transform us. We are led to
believe that our financial lives are governed by a different set of laws than
those that govern everything else.

Quite
simply, this line of reasoning doesn't make sense. But Pluto surrounds its
issues with a primal urgency that makes us feel we cannot afford to question
even the most blatant theoretical inconsistencies.

 

Practicality: The All-Purpose Rationale

Consider the much-touted practicality
argument, often used as a last word when other justifications fail ("Well, it's
true that I hate the color and the feel and the look of this thing I'm
considering buying, but it is practical.") Pragmatism is used to justify
all manner of activities in our society that are neither beneficial nor
pleasurable, nor even, sometimes, cost-effective (consider the millions spent
on insurance). People describe the most wildly fear-driven scenarios, such as
staying at a job they hate, as being dictated by practicality. The term seems
to have no meaning except to signal the entrance to Pluto territory.

Ironically,
it is when using the dollars-and-cents rationale that we seem to be most bereft
of common sense. And in no other realm of life do we so disrespect our inner
promptings.

 

Pluto as Button-Pusher

Pluto's function is to push our
buttons, and in this country, money is the button-pusher. All 2nd house
activities, from asking-for-a-raise to Christmas shopping, have a compulsive
quality that eludes superficial explanations. When the conversation turns to
money, even utterly reasonable people are apt to knit their brows and lose all
perspective.

 

Metaphysical Materialism

Indeed, even aficionados of
metaphysics, who are theoretically free of this bias (meta: beyond; physic:
the physical realm), can get their panties in a bunch around money. Though we
purport to believe that Money is Just Energy, astrologers seem as prone as
everyone else to see our financial vicissitudes as oddly distinct from the rest
of our doings. We say to ourselves, "This we-create-our-own-reality stuff is
all very well when it comes to relationships, maybe, or spiritual search; but,
hey – this is about the bills, my job, the real world."

What
do we mean by that phrase, "the real world"? Often mentioned with a kind of
conspiratorial wink-and-nudge energy, the phrase seems to be insisting on the
distinction between the way any sane person would approach the material
concerns encompassed by the realm of Earth, and the non-material concerns
encompassed by the realms of Air, Fire, and Water. With those other three, it
is implied, we have the luxury of applying our fancy metaphysical theories;
whereas with this special realm, the material one, we do so at our peril.

It
is as if all the cosmic principles we study – the law of correspondences, the
phenomenon of projection, the theory that event-follows-belief, etc. – all
somehow fail to apply where money is concerned. In this one area, we seem to
share with non-metaphysicians the view that we are the helpless victims of
harsh, implacable forces.

As
we have seen, a theoretical exceptionalism often prevails where Pluto resides.
This may explain why so many spiritual seekers, whose faith in an
unconditionally supportive God/dess seems otherwise unshakable, speak of money
matters as if they were under the auspices of entirely different gods —
relatively unforgiving gods, whose caprices render us either lucky or out of
luck.

Whether
we tell ourselves that we crave or despise material, whether our story is one
of paucity or of plenty, it has the same energetic valence. Consider the
perfect equality of the phrases "filthy rich" and "dirt poor". One expresses
the presumably shameful presence of money and one expresses its
just-as-shameful lack.

There
is no way to cultivate a healthy self-image around money if we follow our
society's messages about it. These messages are contradictory — a scenario
which psychologists say leads to mental imbalance — yet they are also
consistent; for they make of money either more or less than it is, while
attaching fantasies to it that lead to disappointment either way. We cannot
hope to achieve any kind of financial sanity with a perspective this skewed.

Just
as impossible is the achievement of spiritual self-awareness from within this
schema. When we buy into the prevailing cultural paradigm, we take power away
from our higher self and give it over to money.

 

Metaphysical Law

The truth is that money and our
attitudes towards it are no more a fluke of fate than anything else.

The
metaphysical worldview is not for everyone, of course, but if it is believed
that external events have internal origin and soul-driven meaning, it is surely
unfair to deny the 2nd house equal access to universal principles. If karma
works at all, it must work everywhere. If it is so that no event in our lives
is random, then every event — from the changes in the weather to the
fluctuations in our stock portfolio — must be, by definition, complicit in our
greater plan.

Moreover,
if we believe that there is no such thing as an accident of location any more
than there could be an accident of birth time, it follows that every one of us
who identifies as an American incarnated into this particular society in order
to learn Plutonian lessons about materialism.

This
is not the only blind spot in our national karma that we have been given to
transcend. But it is the one that is most urgently necessary to understand,
because it is driven by the planet of destruction.

 

Image by Jonathan Michael Peel, courtesy of Creative Commons license.