Astrology, Fate, and Agency
“His virtue was a matter of habit only, and he had no philosophy”
--from The Myth of Er, Plato (contained in The Republic), translated by Benjamin Jowett. (accessed from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-myth-of-er-120332 on 7.15.17)
Plato’s myth of the Er tells the story of a soldier who was apparently killed in battle, only to awake twelve days late with a remarkable story of a visit to the underground. In what we now might consider a ‘near death experience”, Er recounts that he witnessed how souls choose their next lives. According to Er, each soul is offered many possible ‘lots in life’. Yet many failed to deeply consider their choices. Instead, most choose out of carelessness or despair or habit.
Sound familiar? How often do we act out of habit, reactivity, the influence of others, our own inner fears, etc.? [If your answer is “rarely”, stop reading now and instead let us know what workshop you give!]
The word “consider” means “with the stars”. To consider is to contemplate our actions in light of the larger patterns of meaning and movement in the universe. (Astrology might be defined as the study and practice of consideration.) Equally important, the word “consider” implies us that we, our subjective selves, must choose to act on the basis of our considerations. We are the agents (from the Latin verb ‘agere’, to do) who act in time.
The quote above is from Er’s description of a man who chose carelessly.
“His mind having been darkened by folly and sensuality, he had not thought out the whole matter before he chose…But when he had time to reflect, and saw what was in the lot, he began to beat his breast and lament over his choice, forgetting the proclamation of the prophet; for, instead of throwing the blame of his misfortune on himself, he accused chance and the gods, and everything rather than himself. Now he was one of those who came from heaven, and in a former life had dwelt in a well-ordered State, but his virtue was a matter of habit only, and he had no philosophy.”
The poor guy described above spent more time blaming and lamenting instead of considering and acting wisely. In our culture, he’d probably get a book deal and TV reality show and be judged a celebrity and ‘success’. But is that a well-lived life?
In this period of profound change, when the institutions of a ‘well- ordered State’ are in need of renovation, Plato’s Myth of Er reminds us that a well-lived life requires consideration and the willingness to be responsible for our choices. These qualities don’t seem so prized in our public square right now; indeed, lots of “leaders” and media chatter remind me of the guy described above—full of lamentation and blaming but not exercising serious consideration or responsibility.
We can choose another path. Let’s take the time to ask: what values do we truly hold and why? How can we consider the basis of true happiness in making our choices? That requires self-honesty and awareness. We may always react somewhat out of habit or fear but we can grow much more skilled in our awareness and agency.
You don’t need astrology to have a wonderful, meaningful life. But it’s a powerful tool that, used well, can help us consider our choices in light of the larger patterns of meaning and work as creative agents with the changing times.