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Islamic Astropolitik

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Despite Western anxieties over Muslim conquest, traditions of Islamic astronomy and the portability of ritual space in Islam find Muslims at home among the stars  

When man spread to the stars, he took his various faiths with him. On Earth, Islam faces Mecca and the black stone at the heart of the Kaaba Shrine. On Helion, we face New Mecca and a fragment of that same stone placed inside a sister shrine. But Helion is home to many people of many cultures, and we manage to coexist in peace, united by a purity of spirit.

—Imam al-Walid in Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

Astrological and cosmological inquiry by medieval Muslim and Arabian scholars (that is, they wrote in Arabic) were concerned with the link that connected the earth and the night sky, and humankind’s place in it. The religious impulse to make sense of this “place” would animate scientific debates about the stars in the ninth to 14th centuries—the “golden age of Islam.” In turn, the legacy of Muslim scientists or natural philosophers of this period would inspire Islamic practice in outer space in the 21st century, with dubious results.

For centuries, the stars out in outer space provided humanity with a sense of wonder, mystery, and the divine. Through gazing upon the stars and stripping away their distant secret, a mastery of extraterrestrial worlds and dreams of conquest became inevitable. Thus in the present century, Islamic science and space exploration would together at last arrive at a spectacular conclusion: an achievement of greater proximity to the stars to better understand humankind’s place and space in the universe. Not only would Muslims arrive in outer space, but through techno-theological discourse, they would able to make space for Islam among the stars.

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Black Sun Rising

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Today’s New Right and techno-futurist circles are echoing the unorthodox beliefs of Nazi cosmologists.

Shortly after the National Socialist party consolidated their power, a writer named Peter Bender convinced some Nazi brass to attempt an experiment that, if successful, would send a rocket from Magdenburg to New Zealand. The intercontinental ballistic missile was still decades away from completion, but Bender believed he had figured out how to attack the other side of the Earth—by firing directly into the sky.

He had come under the influence of an American occult group that believed in a particularly bizarre variation on the Hollow Earth theory. While the concept of habitable layers beneath the Earth’s crust had been popular for centuries amongst occultists, Bender’s Hohlwelt-theorie argued that the Earth was a vault within an endless field of matter. The sun was somewhere in the middle of this vault, and the stars in the sky were the lights of cities from the other side.

“An infinite universe is a Jewish abstraction,” wrote Bender. “A finite, rounded universe is a thoroughly Aryan conception.” The anti-Semitic aspect of the theory attracted the attention of Herman Göring but was quickly dismissed in favor of Hanns Hörbiger’s slightly less fanciful World Ice Theory. The idea nonetheless remained compelling to some, and the German Navy attempted to locate British fleets using astronomical instruments.

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Cloudy Logic

james-383 Big data doesn’t forecast the future but remakes the present in the image of down-to-earth stereotypes. 

While Theodor Adorno was exiled in Los Angeles, he wrote The Stars Down to Earth, a short book about the “pseudo-rationality” of mid-20th century American culture drawing on his study of “Astrological Forecasts,” the Los Angeles Times’s astrology column. Adorno uses the column to demonstrate how the capitalist culture industry in 1950s America sold quasi-scientific posturing to help an audience “excluded from educational privileges” nonetheless feel in the know.

Though the differences between Adorno’s time and ours are vast, his concept of pseudo-rationality still has something to tell us about the “rationality” of contemporary algorithmic culture, social media, and big data. The pseudo-rationality Adorno identifies in the astrology column shares key features with the data-driven “science” of forecasting that Nate Silver describes in his 2012 book The Signal and the Noise. For both Adorno and Silver, forecasting is a “down to earth” activity, a matter of applied knowledge that helps people figure out what to do in their daily lives. Both kinds of forecasting use profiles to explain the past and predict the future choices we will make: Both astrological signs and psychographic categories derived from demographic data (like, say, “college-educated women who tweet about Scandal and buy shoes online”) similarly forecast individual behavior. Adorno describes astrology’s capacity to fulfill “the longings of people who are thoroughly convinced that others (or some unknown agency) ought to know more about themselves and what they should do than they can decide for themselves.” Data-driven algorithms fulfill a comparable function, but now the secret to our identity and our future happiness and success lies not in the stars but in the cloud.

When personal identity is experienced and understood as a matter of forecasting, “the adage ‘be yourself’ assumes an ironical meaning,” Adorno claims. Such forecasting doesn’t predict the future; Adorno argues that it crafts the future in the image of “the established ways of life,” “the life of those whom it embraces.” The profiles are designed to produce the identity or frame of mind that they supposedly just describe.

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The Space NDN’s Star Map

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The creation story is a spaceship

The first time I saw a space NDN was in The 6th World, a short film by Diné director Nanobah Becker that extends the Diné creation story into outer space, where humanity’s future is made possible through ancestral corn crops on Mars. The movie was released in 2012, the same year Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction was published, the first-ever anthology of its kind. This was the official inauguration of indigenous futurism. The movement is in part about speaking back to the SF genre, which has long used indigenous subjects as the foils to stories of white space explorers hungry to conquer new worlds. Given these continuously re-hashed narratives of “the final frontier,” it is no coincidence that western science fiction developed during a time of imperial and capitalist expansion.

Science/speculative fiction author Nalo Hopkinson, known for her use of creole languages and Caribbean oral stories in her works, writes that people of color engaging with SF “take the meme of colonizing the natives and, from the experience of the colonizee, critique it, pervert it, fuck with it, with irony, with anger, with humor and also, with love and respect for the genre of science fiction that makes it possible to think about new ways of doing things.” Perhaps because science fiction is so prone to reproducing colonial desires it has become seductive to the “colonizee” who finds pleasure and power in reversing the telescope’s gaze of who is exploring who. This reversal is no mere trick, though. It is a profound deconstruction of how we imagine time, progress, and who is worthy of the future. 

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Why Do Stars Love the Stars?

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Celebrities and their astrologists practice an ancient psychological form of art.

A few weeks ago I was invited to do astrology readings backstage at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles. I’ve been a professional astrologer for going on five years now, time enough to consider the enduring and even mythic relationship between celebrities and astrologers. When I first began my career, I was unexpectedly busy very quickly, seeing nearly five hundred clients in my first year of reading birth charts. With that early success came a number of high profile “star” clients. And though I would say that, mostly, celebrity clients are like every other client an astrologist sees (they worry about mostly the same life issues—romantic troubles, career and money problems—and have mostly the same questions—what’s in store for me in the future? will my relationship last? etc.), it’s also true that the relationship between celebrities and astrologers is unique. I want to share how, recently, I came to see this dynamic more clearly.

I assume when I write that not every reader is hip to the language of astrology. The term conjures horoscopes in women’s magazines or Sunday newspapers, or the hyperclichéd mechanical mannequin in an old corner shop, red neon light image of a blank hand, and words like “fortune teller.” These are potent images of course, and so it’s not my intention to mock or even to displace them, rather to start by clearing up some misconceptions.

In fact, relatively few contemporary people have a grasp on astrology’s claims philosophically, scientifically, or spiritually. Astrologers have been employed by orthodox spiritual leaders like Popes and Lamas, kings and politicians, presidents (like Ronald Reagan), and bankers (like JP Morgan), common people and celebrities alike. Astrologers have famously predicted cataclysms like the Great Fire of London and the Black Plague, the rise and fall of rulers and dynasties, and the accurate timing of major life events for millions of people. At the same time, attempts to test or “measure” astrology in any empirically rigorous sense fail. There is no scientific proof for astrology, and yet we sophisticated practitioners of the craft—those of us who study in-depth chart reading and forecasting as well as vast amounts of historical astrological technique—remain in business, and we also remain in the employ of some very powerful people, just as we have for thousands of years. 

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