The trifecta short-circuit of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp is the work of astrological forces (AKA ‘Mercury in Retrograde’), according to certain media outlets.
“Of Course Instagram Went Down During Mercury Retrograde,” blares an article headline at Cosmopolitan.
“Facebook Down and Network Global Outages? Thanks, Mercury Retrograde,” says Teen Vogue.
Astrology is often associated with spirituality and new age ebbs and flows, an undercurrent to the universe carefully guiding everything. But when all human behavior is reduced to predetermined choices within the frameworks of a globalized monopoly system, is astrology even capable of playing any significant role, or is it merely a simulation of itself that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a product within capitalist realism?
The answer lies in the paradox.
Despite its continued hold over the public’s imagination, spread via social media and corporate digital publishing houses like Conde Nast and Hearst (the former owns Teen Vogue, while the latter owns Cosmopolitan), astrology is not a new concept. Astronomical observation traces to Mesopotamia, where the Babylonians derived their number system from measurements between constellations. After Alexander the Great—a student of Aristotle—conquered Asia minor, Greece developed its own version of astrology which infused astronomy, and the field’s related literature, with religious meaning.
The variation of astrology dominating pop culture, Western media, and Google Search is rooted in Greek mythology. The sign of Aquarius, for instance, comes from the story of the Deucalion Flood in which Zeus pours water from the heavens to wash away evil. Pisces is personified by Aphrodite and Eros as two fish swimming in opposite directions. Gemini is associated with the twin half-brothers Castor and Pollux; the former was the son of Sparta’s king Tyndareus, while the latter was the divine son of Zeus.
A believer in astrology today likely won’t subscribe to Greek mythology as a religion when it is contextualized as a belief system separate from astrology. However, astrological believers conduct their entire existences within the frameworks of a worldview predicated on religious iconography of the ancient world.
While Greek philosophers like Aristotle at least attempted to create new frameworks for the human mind, rather than remaining shackled to the legends of bombastic Gods which overshadowed so much of ancient Greek culture, the astrologers redeployed religious canon into explanation. All matters of nature and science became packaged within a predetermined framework surviving to this day, with the help of additional cultural interpretations like the Italian forms of Tarot cards preserving the Zodiac.
Prepackaged belief systems create totality over an individual’s mind and are often subverted by political actors who frame themselves as a central protagonist in the belief system’s narrative. Astrology, like Christianity, has been used as ideological pretext for rulers: Julius Caesar took astrology into his own hands when, after winning election, he declared himself ‘Pontifex Maximus” who controlled all divination of Rome. Caesar’s adopted son Octavian later declared war on his father’s assassins and celebrated victory by dedicating two Roman temples to Mars, minting coins with Caesar depicted as a comet (he would also later erect the monument Apollo on Rome’s Palatine Hill following destruction of Antony and Cleopatra).
As a media narrative, “the rise of astrology in the West” is a simulated fallacy, considering the ideology is meshed deeply within the foundations of Western culture (via the Greeks and Romans). In the United States, the magazine American Astrology in 1923 produced a fanatic interest in astrology, publishing the first 12-paragraph horoscope tying birth dates to zodiac signs. The 1960s would later be dubbed the “Age of Aquarius” and launch both hippie and New Age counter-cultural movements.
Although Nietzsche famously declared ‘God is Dead’ as the nail in coffin to Christianity’s stranglehold over the public psyche, Religion—like Capital, and all the recurring forces manifesting across history—evolves.
According to a 2019 joint poll conducted by Morning Consult and Business Insider, young people (ages 18-29) are more likely than other demographics to believe in astrology and use knowledge gleaned from their horoscope in their daily lives; of respondents in that age group, 16% said they believe in astrology “a lot” while 28% said they believe in it “somewhat.”
In a feature titled “The New Age of Astrology” published by The Atlantic, the then editor-in-chief of New York Magazine’s The Cut attested to a typical horoscope on the site getting 150 percent more traffic in 2017 than a year prior. A senior editor at Broadly meanwhile said site traffic for horoscopes “has grown really exponentially.”
While there is nothing new in these statistics about the mainstream appeal of astrology (astrology has remained popular across centuries, helping maintain the legitimacy of individuals like Julius Caesar via votes and media institutions like Teen Vogue via page views), they do point to the continued hold of the ideology, and how it influences both media coverage and human behavior. When millions of human beings subscribe to an ideology, it becomes real because human beings believe it is real. When swaths of the human population are conditioned to believe certain periods of the calendar year are preordained for communication breakdowns and volatility (Mercury in Retrograde), then that is inevitably what happens; at the minimum, incidences of this nature like the Facebook outage are used as justification to reinforce an ideological imperative.
Astrology today, as it has throughout history, plays the same role as religion: it is ideology, explanation, a predetermined, prepackaged belief system wherein every occurrence in man and nature is attributed to a “higher power” umbrella framework taking into consideration everything.
In advanced capitalist societies, the ideology of astrology converges with the ideology of individualism. Zodiac signs become reference points for how an individual fits into the big picture, predetermined qualities for helping guide emotional responses in regulated environments. Zodiac signs mask predetermined individualism as free will, as well as the greater system constructing fallacy. After being born under one of twelve Zodiac signs (Cancer over Aquarius, for instance), an individual enters a lifetime of making binary selections in regulated environments they believe presents free choice (Pistachio over Strawberry flavored Hagan Daaz).
Those living in the Western world, who produce and consume digital simulacra, have less contact with the natural earth as the inhabitants of the Aegean world, who relied on astrological worldviews for farming, sailing, and all enterprises beholden to favorable natural conditions. Astrological interpretations are no longer matters of life and death at the forces of nature, and today exist as simulations of their previous forms, maintaining the iconological canon of the Greek and Roman empires.
With mass communication vehicles like Facebook and Instagram, widely read horoscope writers influence human behavior more than any Oracle of ancient Greece. While many Zodiac descriptors are intentionally vague and applicable to anyone no matter the circumstance (simulations of a framework produced by difficult natural elements), they do offer directives while underscoring certain emotions over others, which, if focused on by an individual, changes their behavior.
Despite astrology’s marriage with individualism under global capitalism, the ideology categorizes individuals by tribe which forms collective behaviors and reinforces the underlying frameworks central to the ideology’s form (whether it’s timelines of abundance like the “Age of Aquarius,” or periods of disarray like “Mercury in Retrograde”). Although every timeline of abundance contains elements of disarray, and vice versa, one is emphasized to create narrative and the basis of worldview.
Mercury is Retrograde exists because millions of believers decided it exists, and when millions of believers act under the assumption that all behavior is delegated by certain conditions, those conditions become reality.