Jessica Murray's America in Transition

Dumb and Dumber

by Jessica Murray on January 1, 2010

Saturn in Libra

In last month’s column we looked at the transit of Saturn in Libra as an antidote for the flailing irresponsibility of the American collective mind. We discussed the talking heads of the US media, and the inordinate amount of power the country has given them. With the US Saturn return just around the corner and Saturn (responsibility) squaring Pluto (power) for the second time at the end of this month (1/31/10), the time is right to examine this power.

America’s pit-bull pundits share with many of their brothers in the political arena the gambit of appealing to the lowest common denominator in the public mind. In an effort to contrast themselves with their sworn enemies, the “liberals,” the trend among social conservatives is to equate intellectual rigor with “elitism.” The ability to think is presented as if it were some kind of character flaw.

Fox commentator Gretchen Carlson

Fox commentator Gretchen Carlson

But there are multiple layers of disingenuousness here. As discussed last month, everything we see in the media is the result of marketing strategies; and much of the dumbing-down process is an out-and-out charade. TV commentator Gretchen Carlson personifies this stance. She is Fox’s pert-yet-earnest blonde, whom they apparently hired to reduce current events to sound bites without her audience catching on that she is condescending to them. Consider the elaborate show she makes of not knowing what words mean. She recently pretended she didn’t know what a “czar” was; “I had to Google it,” she said. This is a woman who, it turns out, was a classical violinist and studied at Oxford before her reincarnation as a just-folks gal. Clearly a cynical corporate decision is at work here.

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin, infotainer

The popularity of these infotainers, and of politicians who use similar tactics (like Sarah Palin), is very telling. The idea seems to be not to promote understanding, but to distract us from it. That is, these media figures implicitly persuade their audiences that understanding doesn’t have to be bothered with.

This is a tempting proposition. It isn’t easy for the human mind to understand things that fall outside of its comfort zone, and we would like to avoid having to try. It takes effort (Saturn) to use reason (Libra) to consider the merits of circumstances that are unfamiliar or threatening; such as having a mixed-race president, or scaling back a bloated consumer lifestyle. It’s much easier to indulge our knee-jerk reactivity, and let our fears run the show. (1)

That is, it is easier in the short term; in the same way that a child might decide that throwing a tantrum is easier in the short term than doing her homework. It is a way of postponing growing up.

But Saturn is the planet of growing up. And while it is passing through Libra, the planet of considered judgments, the cheap fix of emotional reactivity that is the stock-in-trade of many of our opinion- and policy-makers will start wearing very thin.


Every society needs to be reminded of what its core values are. The US population has bestowed upon its pundits and politicians the role of issuing these reminders.

Infotainer Don Imus

Infotainer Don Imus

In more ways than one, the US public creates its public figures. Most obviously, we create them by consuming what they offer. When enough listeners follow the broadcasts of a guy like Don Imus, advertisers sponsor him, networks give him a lucrative contract and he becomes a cultural force. Similarly, as citizens, we create our politicians. We allow men like Rod Blagojevich and William Jefferson of Louisiana (the guy with the cash in his freezer) to rise to power; we allow them to keep their jobs even after their corruptions have been proved. Sometimes we even vote for them.

Moreover, we create these guys in a metaphysical sense. Ultimately the corruptions of the American system are themselves generated by the mass mind. The public figures who nominally represent us are like weathervanes, showing what way the collective wind is blowing. By this measure, the American mind is in sad shape. Like the pundits, the vast majority of our politicians actively undermine the group intelligence, rather than supporting it.

Unlike the Gretchen Carlsons of the media, most American politicians do not seem to be merely pretending to be ignorant. Watching their pontifications on the Senate floor, plugging their lobbyists’ bills and defending their unconscionable votes, is like watching a crime being committed: a crime against human wit.

Unlike the cable TV hit men and their ilk, most of these congressfolk are not professional speakers. (Some of them, like Senator Grassley [R, Iowa], seem to realize this; and are larding their speeches with references to Rush Limbaugh, whose coattails they hope to ride.) Most of them aren’t smooth enough to sneer effectively or hold audiences in thrall. The ones I’ve seen just ramble on, as humorless as they are hypocritical, microphones in front of them and pie charts behind them.

One shudders to imagine what must be going on in the heads of the handful of their colleagues who may be genuinely sincere, and who are forced to listen to these disingenuous snooze-fests. I worry about Al Franken.


Saturn in Libra has been conjunct the US chart’s Midheaven since the Autumnal Equinox, hovering around its exact degree since November 09. All year the planet of karma will be going back and forth over this point, scraping away America’s disguises and making very public its failures of leadership (MC).

As orchestrators of the ideas that run through our mass mind, the pundits and politicians will be instructive to watch. As we have seen, these guys are no more impelled by original insights than a mercenary is impelled by patriotism, or a sex worker by romance. They are phonies, but they are our phonies. We created them to reflect something back to us about ourselves.

The transits assembling in the sky suggest that the American system of manipulative chicanery is on the verge of a grand-scale breakdown. This augurs the possibility of a return to coherence for our collective intelligence, but we can expect plenty of incoherence before that happens. Those of us who made the soul decision to incarnate as citizens of this strange and outsized collective would do well to cleave ever more resolutely to the planets’ bidding, rather than to that of idea-men who don’t deserve their job description.



1 Fear is rooted deeper than anger. Despite the fact that the shock jocks cultivate an aggressive style as a point of pride, I would argue that fear—not anger—is the active ingredient that inspires them, and the listeners who identify with them. On the personal level, bullies of every stripe tend to be motivated by fears of inadequacy; and on the cultural level, media personalities who style themselves “patriots” seem to be motivated by a terror of social change.

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