Disproving Astrology, Once and For All

Humans have a chronic issue of obsessively trying to explain the world and everything around them. About 70 million Americans read their horoscopes every day, and it is becoming increasingly more popular, especially among young people. In Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Janina is obsessed with calculating horoscopes and goes on page long tangents that almost leave readers believing they are true, almost. As a teenager in the age of social media and unrestricted access to the internet, I too have fell victim and seen my peers fall victim to the trap of astrology. But let’s disprove it once and for all, delete those apps and stop telling people the reason their boyfriend was toxic to them was because “he’s a Scorpio”. So here is some REAL science. 

The earth is made up of nickel, iron, silicon, oxygen and other minerals that orbit the sun at 67,000 miles per hour. From our perspective, it seems the backdropped provided by the sky moves over head, the sun rises and sets. But of course it is the Earth that is actually moving and rotating about its axis. It moves through our solar system and makes a full lap around the sun every 365 days, we know this. As the earth moves we see different stars overhead, unless you’re at one of the poles. The 12 signs given in the horoscope map out the zodiac, the 12 constellations we pass by in the course of a year. If your a Libra, that means you were born late September to early October and the sun was towards the constellation, Libra. Except thats not quite right. The Earth has an additional form of motion called precession, “as Earth rotates, it wobbles slightly upon its axis, like a slightly off-center spinning toy top”. Since the time astronomers and astrologers started mapping out the constellations and zodiacs in the sky (some thousand years ago), our position relative to those constellations has drifted about 30 degrees, or one whole month. This means you may think your a libra but if horoscopes were connected to their present day constellations you’d actually be more like a Leo. So is astrology scientific? In 1985 Sean Carlson conducted a test, he asked 30 American and European astrologers to review the charts for 116 people without meeting them in person. He then provided 3 personality descriptions for each of the 116 people, one which was actually true for the subject, and the other two that described other people. He asked the astrologers to match the personality with the results from their chart, ultimately they were only able to make the correct match 1/3 of the time, in other words, given that there were only 3 personality options, they already had a 1/3 chance of getting it right, so basically they accomplished nothing significant. Carlson concluded astrologers likely work off the body language and reactions of their clients during meetings to improve their odds if guessing relative details about their lives, this is called cold reading. Cold reading is the key to fake science, used by astrologers, psychics, fortune-tellers, and mediums. All of which are absolutely unscientific and fake professions. 

So, while Janina may have you pausing and debating whether or not to visit MyHoroscope.com, I hope this was able to shed light on how incredibly unreasonable and false it all is. I wonder what Janina would say if someone confronted her with these facts.

Groundhog Day and Bittersweet Lessons

Whether or not you’ve seen the movie, you’ve probably heard of the expression “it feels like groundhog day”. The phrase indeed refers to the iconic 1993 movie, Groundhog Day. The movie stars Bill Murray who plays an arrogant weatherman, Phil Connors, traveling to Pennsylvania to report on their annual Groundhog day ceremony. Phil quickly realizes he is trapped reliving that same day, February 2nd, no matter what he does. Despite his attempts to change his actions and escape Pennslyvania, Phil wakes up in the same place on the same day every morning.

The reason for the time loop is left unanswered, but the story’s central conflict is still Murray’s inability to escape it. The movie perfectly encapsulates “the rise and fall of a sympathetic figure”. Phil initially comes off as a pretty unlikeable character, and in a way, his circumstances almost seem like karmic justice for his obnoxiousness yet you cannot help but pity him for the tortuous and maddening effects of having to relive the same day, potentially forever. Phil explores the limits of his predicament by jumping off buildings, binge-eating junk food, smoking cigarettes, and duping people. He eventually learns to take advantage of his situation, for example, he takes piano lessons and plans the perfect date to impress a woman he likes. Rita, his love interest is ultimately what helps inspire him to change his character, in a way making the film a sort of romantic comedy.

By the end of the movie, Phil had learned to become a better, more compassionate person. The comedic and absurd nature by which it took him to reflect on his treatment of others is what makes the story powerful. The transformation of a rude and arrogant character into a compassionate one is not a new concept in the world of stories, but the way this movie told that story is what makes it particularly unique. The concept of a time loop allowed Phil to go through countless stages of philosophical outlooks on his life; egoism, his initial outlook, and his character at the beginning of the movie when he is rude to everyone around him.  Hedonism, when he recklessly engages in self-indulgence after realizing he gets to redo the day. Nihilism, when he becomes so depressed with his situation that he tries to kill himself. And altruism, when he wakes up on February 3rd after learning the importance of generosity and living in the moment. 

Ultimately, the movie has gone down in history as a classic for a reason, it tells the story of human greed and compassion without being heavy and depressing but rather in a light-hearted comedic manner that forces the viewers to imagine what they would have done in that situation themselves and simultaneously come to the conclusion that life is about the little things, and every day is important.

Political Satire and Veep

Veep is one of the most iconic satirical TV shows in American history. As in the name of the show, it follows Vice President Selina Meyers (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) as she fumbles through her career and makes a mockery of American democracy by caring more about her own reputation and status than her ideology or party ties. The Veep and her staff have no respect for institutional processes and no need for any guiding moral principles. They’re determined, cynical, and indifferent if not contemptuous of the people they’re supposed to govern. The show is a parody of a documentary series, similar to the office, but it is not actually a documentary. The characters make use of verbal and dramatic irony, as well as hyperbole, constantly mocking the American political system with their incompetency and inability to show genuine compassion for the people that they govern and the responsibilities they have. Selina often uses “the president is calling” as her default escape from uncomfortable situations, which is hilarious irony mocking the “useless”  role of the vice president in the American government as she and her staff are aware that he never actually calls.  By focusing on the incredibly unbelievable stupidity and pettiness of these Washington officials, the show makes their chase for and inability to be completely in power even more hilarious. One of the beauties of this show is that not once do they make mention of political parties or ideologies, no one knows whose a conservative or a liberal, democrat or a republican is (although you kinda know). Both sides of the political spectrum are portrayed as equally corrupt, stubborn, greedy, and cynical which allows the show to reach a more heterogeneous audience.  The show began in early 2012 before Obama won his re-election and was a very different time in American politics compared to today. It demonstrates the broader theme in American society of the performative nature and ulterior motives inherent in political activities and how easily idiots can thrive in a broken political system, especially when the show imbecile and clown Jonah Ryan, becomes a front-runner in the presidential election of the last season (veering less from satire and more towards reality in this post-2016 world).

The Voice of Reason in King Lear

Kent is the dedicated and loyal servant in this story. He is loyal to the King above all else. Not only this but he is firmly blunt the entire play saying things like, “What wouldst thou do, old man?” (I.1.145) to the King himself, offering one of the only voices of reason in the story. He is pretty likable throughout the entire play, giving clear advice that, as the audience, we can see is ultimately justified. Even after he is banished for only trying to do right by the King, he remains loyal, going out of his way to disguise himself in order to still support Lear. Kent is one of the most passionate characters in the play, he is fiercely dedicated to Lear and defends his name with deep devotion. In act 2, we see how passionately affected Kent is by the prospect of others undermining Lear. He goes so far as to attack Oswald when he suspects him of plotting against Lear, he becomes enraged on an extreme level as if he himself was being betrayed. In act 3, when he is out in the storm, he is only concerned about Lear’s well-being. In act 4, he undermines Lear to save him by communicating with Cordelia, one of the only other respectable characters in the play. Kent’s conflict is external, he never once doubts his love and respect for Lear himself but those around him are suspicious of his obsessive behavior which tends to costs him as the rest of the kingdom shifts away from loyalty to the king and towards a new system of power (both in the beginning when he is banished and later in the story). Kent’s conflict is also connected to the Lear’s conflict as he is ostensibly an extension of Lear. When Lear’s authority is threatened, Kent sees it his duty to remain honest and supportive of his king, despite the controversy and conflict it creates among the daughters and other members of the kingdom. His decision to remain loyal to Lear and his persistent fight for him to regain his power suggests he (like Lear) is also obsessed with the hierarchy of power within the kingdom. In the final scene in act 5, Kent eludes to killing himself after Lear’s death, a depressing yet fitting ending for the loyal servant in the story. Now that Lear is dead and the old hierarchy of power can no longer be restored, Kent’s purpose is lost and there seems to be no place for him in a kingdom without Lear.

Even Sunlight Burns Sometimes

To get the full effect of the following analysis, I urge you to quickly go to your favorite music streaming platform. Search “Sunlight” by Hozier, and click play. Thank you. Now continue reading. 

“Sunlight” by Hozier is a part of his album Wasteland, Baby! The album is centered around complex paradoxes that convey the experience of both pleasure and sufferings simultaneously. Even in the title itself, “wasteland” and “baby!” are deeply contrasting words that are representative of the overall theme of the album. The various songs blend experiences of devastation and joy but the song “Sunlight” conveys the complexities of love specifically and how although it can both tournament and heal us, it is ultimately worth taking the risk to experience the joys it can entail. The speaker seems to be a person who is describing the conflicting feelings they have about loving another. Throughout the song Hozier consistently uses the pronoun “your”, suggesting that this song was intended for someone specific that he loves. Hozier mainly communicates the meaning of the song through metaphors, personification, and allusions that help to convey the experience he describes. 

In the very opening line, 

I would shun the light, share in evening’s cool and quiet

Hozier establishes the overarching metaphor in the song as light being a symbol of love. To “shun” the light is to turn away love. The evening, which Hozier describes as “cool and quiet”, is the world without sunlight, or love. The diction Hozier uses to describe the appeal of a “cool and quiet” evening represents the safety and comfort that one can depend on at night, or a life without love (and the pain that naturally comes with it).  He continues in the following lines to sing, 

But whose heart would not take flight 

Betray the moon as acolyte

Here, Hozier uses both personification and allusion to add to the idea that although the dark may be safer, humans naturally long for love, the same as sunlight, and will go to it whenever given the chance. The personified image of a heart taking flight is dramatic but serves to emphasize the strong force that is the urge to experience love. Additionally, the reference to the moon and acolyte in the same sentence alludes to the Greek myth of Artemis who was the goddess of chastity and the moon. Hozier refers to himself as an acolyte, acolytes were the hunters of Artemis and were forced to remain chaste and would be punished with death if otherwise. Here he claims he would go as far as to betray a Greek Goddess for love, emphasizing the addictive nature of love, despite its extreme costs. 

Hozier continues to use figurative language and rhetorical devices to build on this idea and sings, 

Oh, all these colors fade for you only

The Icarus to your certainty 

Again, Hozier utilizes both metaphor and allusion to better describe his experience with love. The idea of colors fading again represents sunlight and love. Colors naturally fade in the light, which is a seemingly depressing notion yet Hozier says his colors fade nonetheless for the person he loves, symbolizing a sort of sacrifice he is making to love and be loved. He continues to allude to the Greek myth of Icarus who used his wings to fly too close to the sun until they melted off.  Again, Hozier is encapsulating the paradox of love by drawing parallels to the Greek story that embodies the risks and consequences that becoming consumed with something pleasurable (such as love) can lead to.   

One line that I particularly like is, 

Death trap clad happily 

Hozier utilizes unique diction to further convey the paradox of love. Describing love as a death trap is an extreme comparison which he counters by adding the word “happily” suggesting that despite its dangers, it is not entirely bad. 

Finally, the ending line,

Sunlight, sunlight, sunlight, sunlight, sunlight 

There is clear repetition as the song fades out which suggests that the sun is setting and Hozier again is shunning love for the night. As a listener, we also forget about the love he describes as the song is ending (and naturally so, it leaves our minds) but this also supports the metaphor of how love is like sunlight, it sets and disappears as quickly as it came. Ultimately, the heart of the song is in both the lyrics and also the music. The music only becomes more sensational when you put in the context of the song’s meaning. I hope you listened.

Meursault is The Villain, not The Hero.

Meursault is a murderer. A murderer!! I feel like this fact got lost throughout the story and class discussion of the theme. But Meursault is literally a horrible person. Yes, he may have discovered how to “unlock the key to happiness”, but at what cost? I agree that there is much to be impressed about Meursault and the way he lives his life, however, let’s not take it too far. The line between existentialism and sociopathy is not that thick. What I mean by this is although Meursault is able to be content by the end of the novel, the philosophy he embraced to accomplish this ultimately was harmful to those around him. Meursault is incapable of acknowledging the feelings of others. The most obvious case is the Arab whom he shot not once but four separate times. And what about the religious man whom he brought to tears at the end of the novel? It is these instances that suggest Meusault embraced his philosophy a little too much. I think it is okay to live as Meursault does but with the condition that you are careful not to inflict your practices on other people as Meursault does. Camus writes the novel encouraging sympathy for Meursault from the readers as it is beyond Meursault’s ability to act any different. Also because the story is told from Meursault’s perspective, we are given more insight into his thought process and ultimately made to feel as if we understand him more. But if we did not have all this insight, the simple circumstances surrounding the murder would lead most to conclude Meursault is just plain evil. Although I fell victim to what Camus tried to do as I did feel sympathetic towards Meursault, after much reflection I have concluded he is in fact a murderer and did deserve the death he got…unpopular opinion?

The Ethics in Escape from Spiderhead

The first time I read Escape From Spiderhead, I was taken aback at how much had happened in such a short story. Jeff goes from being obsessively in love with not just one but two different people, to feeling an indescribable level of pain that drives him to kill himself. There are many different thought provoking aspects of the story but the one I found most interesting was the drugs that Abensti used, and the way he justified using them. When administering the “love drug” that causes Jeff to love both Heather and Rachel, Abnesti says

”Can we stop the war? We can sure as heck slow it down! Suddenly the soldiers on both sides start fucking. Or, at low dosage, feeling super-fond. Or say we have two rival dictators in a death grudge”.

This poses a seriously interesting hypothetical, would it be ethical to use drugs in this way if they existed? If a love drug seriously had the potential to stop wars, genocides, and hateful violence, shouldn’t we use it? I would say yes, but then we must also consider where the lines are drawn. Would it be ethical to secretly put some of the drug in my significant other’s coffee while they’re not looking because I’m scared they’re losing interest? What if it’s to keep two parents together to raise their child? And even if we are able to look past the various scenarios that test the morality of the use of these drugs, there is always the question of their validity. If Jeff and Rachel were somehow able to escape Spiderhead and begin a life together, would it be real? Does he actually love her and she, him? If he does, then is love just a bunch of emotions in our brains that are stopped as quickly as they started? Or is it more than that? In our reality, love and affection are deeply intimate emotions for most people. Falling in love with someone occurs (usually) over the course of much time getting to know them. Is this type of love more valid than the one Abnesti administered to Jeff? It would seem so but if you were able to ask Jeff when he was on the drug I’m sure he’d strongly disagree. Anyways, I don’t have any answers…just some things to think about!

Social Movements and Mutual Recognition

One of the most obvious examples of Benjamin’s theory in action is social movements, particularly Black Lives Matter. After learning about her theory, I find this movement to be a near-perfect example of attempting to achieve mutual recognition. The Black Lives Matter movement is a counter to the systemic inequalities that have given way to white dominance and severe discrimination against black and brown people. The movement (as it says) is dedicated to achieving a universal recognition of Black lives and their importance, in the same way, that white lives have long been recognized as important and worthy of recognition and protection. Now knowing about Benjamin’s theory, I find it to be the core principle of most social movements that fight to achieve rights and acknowledgment of different groups of people. Movements are centered around organization, they’re people gathering in the streets to protest, boycotting institutions, and doing what they can to draw attention to themselves, to be recognized the same as those in power. Because the dominant majority (white men) has long been recognized, the power of achieving mutual recognition lies in the movements of those who have yet to be fully recognized in their worth, their rights, and their power. Social movements that attempt to achieve equal rights and equity are key to advancing democracies and building a better society. Now that I understand Benjamin’s theory on mutual recognition, I truly believe that it is the key to social movements and thus a better world. I think that perceiving these movements as attempting to achieve mutual recognition, highlights their importance in a broader sense of the world. Many people turn away from movements because of their political associations (for example Black Lives Matter is widely recognized as a democrat movement). Further, I believe that by explaining to others that the core principle of social movements is simply mutual recognition, we can give everyone a reason to see their importance, ultimately making them moral causes rather than political ones.