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October 15, 2007 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]


In the first century AD, the Roman Emperor Tiberius Claudius Nero often consulted astrologers in order to run his empire at its optimum standard. Because Tiberius was somewhat untrusting, he would have a burly servant carry his soothsayers along a rocky path to his citadel; if he believed their divinations to be utter rubbish, he would instruct his servant to throw the soothsayer down into the ocean below. Nevertheless, the historian Tacitus reckoned that none of this did Tiberius any good, since he basically sat in his castle and neglected his empire. And we all know how well the psychic hotlines worked for VUWSA this year…

Another big leader who believes in the importance of consulting the stars when making political decisions is General Thandar Shwe, dictator of Myanmar since 1992. Although he failed to complete high school, after rising through the psychological warfare division of the Burmese army in the 1950s he came to play a part in the brutal military coup of 1988, before taking total control in 1992. He enjoys reading Time magazine, playing golf and dressing up in traditional Burmese garb; and he never makes a move without consulting his star-chart people.

In November 2005, the stars told Shwe that he ought to move his capital 200 miles into the bush, away from the commercial centre Rangoon, to Naypyidaw on 6 November 2005 at the astrologically auspicious time of 6:37 a.m. Soon afterwards, 11 military battalions and 11 government ministries were moved, but due to a lack of schools, shops and other amenities, the bureaucrats are now isolated from their families. Meanwhile democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and anyone else who oppose Shwe have to either sit still inside their homes and speak not – or be eliminated.

Rome under Tiberius and Burma under Shwe are both astrolocracies: dictatorships run according to the prophecies of the stars. Tiberius is forever remembered as a villain for wallowing in palatial orgies through the countryside while his right-hand man Sejanus tyrannised Rome in a reign of spies and paranoia. Yet no-one really bothered to remove the Emperor from power, so he was able to die regal and elderly. Fortunately, the Burmese people have not been so willing to acquiesce to Than Shwe.

Earlier this year, a video of Than Shwe’s daughter was leaked onto the internet, showing the bulky tyrant perspiring under the weight of diamond-encrusted necklaces and swathed in silk gowns, while plump members of his junta reclined on gold-trimmed chairs before a five-tiered wedding cake. Then the junta raised the price of fuel, vital for cooking and transport, by 500%. Obviously unwilling to starve in order to provide the trifles of luxury, the Buddhist monks of Burma began marching through the streets of Rangoon, bellowing against Shwe and trailing swathes of saffron robe. By September 24, the marches had grown into over 30,000-strong demonstrations. Two days later, troops barricaded the protest centre Shwedagon Pagoda and started laying into the monks with batons and tear gas. The following day army raids on monasteries commenced. This stopped the monks from marching, but increased outrage among the general populace who continued to protest.

The UN has sent a special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to look into the matter. He will most certainly condemn Shwe, but with the militaries of the world’s most powerful democratic nations tied up fighting a moronic war in Iraq, the UN will no doubt do little more than tut-tut.

Now, we could all blame this on the stars and their undue influence on Shwe. But the fact is people are cruel enough when left to their own devices for us to have any need of invoking foreign agents. I’ve been writing this column of obituaries for a year and a half now, and after 37 instalments I’ve come to think that most early deaths could be avoided if people just stopped being so stupid; most people are not intentionally cruel, they act cruelly because they are too lazy or ignorant to do otherwise. Unfortunately, death and ignorance are both inevitable.

We spend four-score years at the most upon this earth, and are restricted to our five senses. Not only can we not experience everything that ever has been or ever will be – we cannot even experience everything that happens in a single village over a single day (of course, if we could we would be arrested for perving). We don’t know much in the great scheme of things, really, so we’re bound to be stupid, and we’re gonna believe in the power of the stars of the beneficent hand of the free market, or whatever. So yeah, it would be nice if we could declare death to astrolocracies and end the terrible reign of the celestial military over Burma. But it won’t make everything okay.

Neil Gaiman’s demon Crowley gave up torturing humans around the time of the Spanish Inquisition, when he realised that no matter what inventive horrors the demons thought up to inflict upon people, the humans would always surpass them… yay?


About the Author ()

Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

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