Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Age of Aquarius

[currently sitting in the bar waiting to see if any of my players will be showing up least three wanted to be here but couldn't and a fourth is out-o-town...anyway, figured I might as well brush up on my blogging while brushing up on my drinking]

[by the way, this is long, rambling, and has precious little to do with might want to stop reading after the first couple paragraphs]

The "poll" goes well with close to 30 actual responses. I've built a grid to tally preferences and provide them with the proper weight (I'm kind of big into grids the last week-and-a-half...more on that later). Please feel free to continue commenting on the "writing bonanza" isn't happening till mid-August and, well, aren't there more than 400 people signed up as followers of this blog? Let's get some damn feedback, folks!
; )

Actually, it's fine. I'm quite surprised at how things are weighing out. No, I'm not surprised more people aren't selecting the DMI options...only people who've actually had a chance to play DMI know quite what it's all about. However, I did find it interesting how many people are interested in me finishing D&D Mine...I mean that's a true vanity project, after all. Aren't there enough editions of D&D already on the table? Apparently not.

Well, whatever. Right now I want a blog a little bit about...well, about this post over at Monsters & Manuals about man's real inhumanity to man and why humans can thus be considered the supreme antagonist in D&D (and presumably other fantasy RPGs). There's also a nice little response to it over here from richardthinks, defending the use of monsters in D&D. For those of you interested in such philosophical discussions, I'd recommend teeing off in both categories and seeing what kind of responses flame up.

HOWEVER, over here at Ye Old Blackrazor, we've never been ones to let a good tangential thought or chance to extrapolate on some random astrology go to waste. Without further ado, let us discuss the present (and possibly future coming) storm.

The procession of equinoxes is the term used to describe the grand rotation of the various "astrological ages" (like the "Age of Aquarius" or the "Age of Pisces"). Each age is around 2100 years in length (an "age" is long), and due to our perception of the constellations from our vantage point here on Earth, the ages occur in the reverse order of the normal zodiacal calendar (so, for example, Aquarius was preceded by Pisces preceded by Aries...and it will be followed by Capricorn).

The theoretical, philosophical, astrological point of view is the age in which we live colors it...the "sign of the times" as it were...and we can learn something (or find some understanding for the time in which we live) by knowing a bit about a sign's astrological significance. So, for example, we can take a look at the sign of Aquarius to understand a bit about the world in which we are currently making our lives.

Now...full disclosure time...there is a lot of dispute and debate as to when EXACTLY one age ends and another begins. Some will tell you we've been in the Age of Aquarius since the 19th century, and others will tell you we're still in the Age of Pisces and will remain there for the next 200 years. However, while I don't believe in "cusps" in normal natal astrology (there are other ways to explain why a person born on the edge of one sign has resemblances to the adjacent sign), the grand procession of ages is hazy enough (to me anyway) to allow for some "over-lap" (or rather "spill-over") between signs. My own personal belief? We are currently in the Age of Aquarius, and have been since at least the early 20th century...however, we continue to get some spill-over from Pisces. But that's becoming less and less a factor.

So let's talk about the sign of Aquarius a bit, since it "colors" the times in which we live.

Aquarius is what we call a "fixed" (organized, prone to inertia) "air" (intellectual, mental) sign. The combinations of these thing lend a powerful intelligence to the sign, often associated with genius. The sign is ruled by the planet Uranus (that's pronounced Urine-us, not ur-Anus, by the way) a planet known for delivering powerful shocks: both "Eureka" bolts from the blue, and traumatic crisis that rips up and overturns our staid and sedentary habits. Aquarius is the ruler of such modern inventions as electricity, television, computers, also rules astrology and weird, eclectic pursuits.

Probably "geek chic" as well, though that's not a term I find in my astrology books.

Aquarians tend to be iconoclasts and geniuses, hippies and activists. I like to refer to them as "the flakes of the zodiac" (what about Pisces, then? They're "the doormat of the zodiac"). They're not really all that flakey ('s debatable) but they DO tend to have their head in the clouds quite a bit, thinking great thoughts and forgetting to, oh say, pay bills or do laundry. Doesn't mean you won't find some rich Aquarian who's hired an accountant to do their taxes (the godfather of my child actually IS an accountant and CPA!)...but you'll find those Aquarians have a lot of practical Capricorn in their mix.

[and Matthew the accountant is very much the peace, love, and justice for all -type Aquarius...he just likes numbers. Weirdo]

The term "can't see the forest for the trees" doesn't usually apply to Aquarius. They are much more likely to miss the trees for the forest. Hell, they may walk into the damn tree for not paying close enough attention.

This tends to give 'em a reputation for coldness. That they don't care or don't have emotions or some such nonsense because they're so worried about "the big picture" or (worse slander) that they're some sort of unfeeling robot. But they're NOT I said, they tend to be the activists of the zodiac, fundraising for causes and organizing movements and trying to make the world a better place. But they have (due to their airy nature) an ability to operate with detachment and not get caught up in the petty dramas that often mire us other signs (*ahem*).

There's a very good and useful reason for this...of all the signs they are the most about self-actualization and authenticity...especially towards themselves. Remember Uranus blowing shit up? What it does is blow up the areas where we are's job is to get us to be authentic and true to ourselves. To figure out what we're really all about and get us to be that, dammit. This is very different from the Piscean (and Neptune) influence that wants us to dissolve our egos and surrender to the will of the universe (often acted out by escapism...whether through drugs or religion or obsessive-compulsive gaming...hey, just saying!).

Not that "being true to ourselves" is easy to do...or even interpret. Uranus, being far out in the solar system, moves through the signs slowly. Around 42 years into your life, it is directly opposite its placement at your time of birth and forces you to examine your life and see if you are being true to yourself (the proverbial "mid-life crisis"). This forced self-examination and discomfort leads to all sorts of crazy, half-assed attempts at "authentication," from buying sports cars to leaving your spouse of 20 years, when all it's really trying to do is say "hey, wake up and live your damn life with purpose and integrity." Uranus reaches its return point in your natal (birth) chart at 84 years and its no wonder that's the average human lifespan these days...most of us can't take the "shock" of another such forced examination.

SO what the heck does any of this have to do with Noism's post on the inhumanity of man to man? Especially considering that the "Age of Aquarius" has this reputation for being all about peace and "brotherhood of man" and all that? Well, here's what:
  • All the incidents in the books Noism chronicles are from the Age of Aquarius (or a period of over-lap).
  • All of Aquarius colors its age to a degree...HOW it colors it depends on the context.
Woodrow Wilson helped create a League of Nations that failed to prevent World War II and eventually collapsed, only to be replaced by the United Nations. Both of these institutions carried with them Aquarian ideals: a let's look at the forest attitude to resolve a great peace on Earth. But being institutions made by humans they are only as good and effective as the humans that make them up.

The Aquarian age rules technology and with the rise of technological developments has come, at the hands of not-very-nice folks, technological developments in the weapons of war. Weapons that allow us to practice the art of killing with a decreased detachment from the act of violence we perpetrate. Cannons and bombards allowed the indiscriminate killing of many individuals at a distance, machine guns and chemical warfare weapons upped the body count, and now we can launch missiles across the globe or fire laser-guided bombs from un-manned drone vehicles...taking lives, many human lives, without ever getting a drop of blood on our own hands. Without ever seeing the blood and viscera we spill at the touch of a button, should we choose not to look.

And what is an individual human life? What is a single tree when one has a whole forest to look at? Certainly, our own life is precious to ourselves, and those whom we hold near and dear to our hearts...our spouse, our children, our parents. But what is one life of another...especially one whom we've never known and who may be or IS, in fact, our enemy?

Well, Alfred Nobel's inventions of nitroglycerine and dynamite haunted him so much that decided to make his legacy the Nobel Prizes, including the Peace Prize, encouraging folks to work for the cause of a better world with a large financial incentive paid for by his inventions responsible for the deaths of so many over the years. If we had simply judged Nobel for the evil he created and condemned him to death, would we not be depriving the world of his legacy that has caused scientists and philosophers, etc. to strive for a better planet for decades since? How are we to know how one's life will eventually turn out, or the impact it will have?

But not everyone things about this kind of thing. There's detachment (and big picture thinking) and then there's simple detachment for the sake of detachment. There's plugging yourself into your smart phone or IPod or tablet and isolating yourself from what is going on about you. Alienation and isolation are also parts of Aquarius...again, in aid of withdrawing from the rat race enough to find your authentic self: what you are meant to do to be a positive, contributing member of society, doing the will of The Universe (or God or whatever) to make this a better place to live. However, we often get distracted within our detachment...whether, we are isolated through our use of technology, or firing up a joint and watching television at the end of the day.

It's about context folks. Is this an age of "brotherly love?" Yeah, if you make it about that. We don't live in a world of serfs and slaves anymore (for the most part). People are not stuck in their class or caste (for the most part) and there is great knowledge and medicine and constructive philosophy that is shared between people within and between cultures. The stars still beckon to us and people are still interested in creating a better world...whether by fighting for justice or the environment or universal health care or better and cooler technology for the sake of better & cooler technology (as opposed to "for the sake of making a buck"). Those Aquarian ideals ARE there.

But with intellectualism and detachment from spiritual values (because they are associated with those earlier, superstitious Piscean institutions called "organized religion" that only exist to "be an opiate of the masses") with the acceptance that a rejection of God (whatever your name him/her/it) and spiritual values is reasonable, logical, and, heck, practical you run into the possible pitfall of dehumanizing individuals.

Not just marginalizing. Not just oppressing or converting. I'm talking OBJECTIFYING people...making them objects. That it doesn't matter what atrocities or abuse or Terrible Things you do to someone...that a human is nothing more than a Smart Animal. Ignoring the potential of a Mother Theresa or an Albert Einstein or whatever. That such individuals that exemplify and uplift the human race or simply flukes or genetic aberrations in our apelike evolution instead of (yeah, get this) the POTENTIAL we can all strive to be and emulate.

Jesus...the world is watching the Olympics right now and we are watching young teens achieve heights of physical prowess (and mental focus) exhibited in few individuals after only a few scant years of training. And when their Olympic careers are over (shortly, in the Very Near Future) who knows WHAT they will do? What heights they might achieve in other fields...even if just passing their genetic code onto the next, greatest, record-setting athlete?

Who knows how many potential Olympians lie buried in shallow graves? Were mowed down in the trenches of the Great War? Who were the subjects of genocide in Serbia or Darfur or Rwanda? Were casually snuffed out (with detachment) in concentration camps? Were cut from the bellies of Tibetan mothers by heartless soldiers? How many corpses were potentially great doctors or peace makers or thinkers? How many might have made good parents for good children who would make this world a better place?

My point...if I have one besides rambling about the tragedy of the human experience and the dichotomy of our extreme potential (as humans) for both good and POINT is this: I'm not sure it's fair to judge the humanity of a fantasy role-playing game by the standards of humanity in our modern/post-modern/Aquarian age. Because the inhumanity you can see in recent history is a sign of our times...just as is our "more enlightened" perspective towards other issues.

FOR EXAMPLE: we (generally) don't continue to live in a feudal society, where land grants and baronial titles are granted for our "great accomplishments." But THAT is exactly the kind of fantasy world that is the setting for the D&D fantasy adventure game. And in a fantasy based on an antiquated age (as D&D is) we can base the values of our imaginary human society on those earlier human values (good and bad that there were). We can create imaginary worlds where humans are NOT detached...where they care enough about their fellow humans (or the spiritual state of their souls if you want to mix in Old Time religion) to not commit atrocities and to generally ally with each other against the forces of Chaos: goblins, orcs, demons, necromancers, etc. Facing down evil in heroic battle because to do otherwise would be to condemn their families to horrible torture and death at the hands of creatures who don't care about their souls or sanity or the brotherhood of man. Creatures who are detached from and devoid of simple human values and decency.

I'll repeat, we CAN do this...we don't have to, of course. But as I commented on Noism's blog: it's my fantasy, dammit. Can't I at least dream of a better, kinder humanity - one that uses the teachings of Aquarius in a context that pays attention to the higher laws of spirit?

: )


  1. Hollywood has been producing movies with this sort of non-detached human sentimentality you suggest at the end of your post, and it hasn't worked yet to produce any sort of story that's compelling or interesting. It is, however, very preachy, trite, priggish and dull.

    But you keep trying.

  2. Thanks for writing this - now I understand how we come at things from such different angles.

    My concern here is with how we would know how detached or attached people were in the past (and attached to what, exactly?). And if we find a difference that we're confident is not just our own prejudice or cultural projection, then how we might isolate factors that could explain a change in detachment. Several ideas have been put forward for social change around and after 1750, mostly based on changes in economic circumstances, population densities, the societal costs of producing food and shelter, and available technologies. All of these are speculative and most of them presuppose some fundamental shift in spirit between "modern man" and whatever came before it but for myself, I cannot say either that I know the spirit of what came before or that I know what modernity is (apart from being a term used to justify a bunch of theses and political positions). Specifically on the topic of atrocities, I don't see the past hundred or two hundred years as exceptional beyond what can be explained by changes in technology and population density. The Allies might have fire-bombed Dresden but then Napoleon burned 7000 prisoners of war in a tower during his invasion of Egypt and the Mongols slaughtered whole cities - and then came back a few days later to mop up people who'd managed to hide the first time - and towns were set on fire in the Warring States period in China and... it looks to me like this is just a thing humans do sometimes.

    It's certainly true that in Europe (and I count the US culturally as Europe for these sorts of arguments) we now have unprecedented social and spatial mobility, which means we have to make connections more often and with a wider variety of people than we used to, or that we have more opportunities for isolation but on the other hand a thousand years ago there was a substantial class of scholars and soldiers in the Islamic world (of whom ibn Batutta was one example) who migrated across large distances, entered and left quite different cultural regions, and from the writings they themselves left behind (to be read with critical caution, naturally) they seem to have been anything but detached from the peoples they met along the way, while magistrates in Ming China, appointed by central authority, might be quite detached from the towns where they officiated.

    All that said, I agree with your point that we should be conscious of what sorts of societies we put in our games, and how socially attached the PCs are, in particular. I'd like to play games and make art with deeper and more complex social attachments partly because they make for great plot generators and they can increase the emotional stakes at play - there's a limit to how involved or involving murderhobo stories can get.

  3. @ RIchard:

    Well, sure, it's pure speculation to consider "what were you thinking?" of anyone, whether past or currently living and breathing. That's not really what I was saying.

    Astrological interpretation is a convenient shorthand for describing trends and tendencies; it is symbolic of the times we live in (in this case, discussing astrological ages), but who knows how much direct influence it has? That is to say, I'm not sure that a "switch gets flipped" just because an age progresses into a new constellation. However, the behavior of people IS influenced by other people (one sees this in changing social values over times...people dress a lot differently in the 21st century than in the 19th century or the 15th century for example). And being descriptive of trends, one can draw a correlation between the two. But whether it is solely descriptive ("God gives us coded writing in the stars to tell us what's going on") or has an actual influence ("the stars trigger spiritual evolution") or a little bit of both is something long debated and discussed by astrologers.

    I don't know if you had the chance to read my addendum to this post, but I do realize folks have been killing each other for centuries. What I'm talking about here is the detachment that accompanies the act of violence in our current age...the inhumanity of the act because we lack a connection to our fellow. I would suggest...hell, argue...that in past ages the act of violence was extremely personal and done for different reasons, also descriptive of their age (specifically empire in the Piscean age and aggression in the Arien age)...but those are loong posts for a different time. Maybe later this week (as they might better be used to signify the ancient, classic, and medieval periods best modeled by the D&D game).

    And, yes, in all ages there are exceptions to trends. Free will always plays a part.
    ; )

    (sorry, I'm a bit pressed for time at the moment...I'll write more later)