Bio: Lord Berners

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lord Berners in 1935

Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners[1] (18 September 1883 – 19 April 1950), also known as Gerald Tyrwhitt, was a British composer, novelist, painter and aesthete. He is usually referred to as Lord Berners.


Early life and education

Berners was born in Apley Hall, Shropshire, in 1883, son of The Honorable Hugh Tyrwhitt (1856-1907) and his wife Julia (1861-1931), daughter of William Orme Foster, Apley’s owner.[2] His father, a Royal Navy officer,[3] was rarely home. He was brought up by a grandmother who was extremely religious[4] and self-righteous, and a mother who had little intellect and many prejudices. His mother, a wealthy ironmaster’s daughter with a strong interest in fox hunting,[5] ignored his musical interests and instead focused on developing his masculinity, a trait Berners found to be inherently unnatural. Berners later wrote, “My father was worldly, cynical, intolerant of any kind of inferiority, reserved and self-possessed. My mother was unworldly, naïve, impulsive and undecided, and in my father’s presence she was always at her worst”.[6]

The eccentricities Berners displayed started early in life. Once, upon hearing that you could teach a dog to swim by throwing him into water, the young Gerald promptly decided that by throwing his mother’s dog out the window, he could teach it to fly. The dog was unharmed, though the act earned Berners a beating.

After devising several booby traps, Berners was sent off to the boarding school Cheam School at the age of nine. It was here that he would first explore his homosexuality; for a short time, he was romantically involved with an older pupil. The relationship was abruptly ended after Berners vomited on the other boy.

After he left prep school, Gerald continued his education at Eton College. Later, in his autobiographies, Berners would reflect on his experiences at Eton, claiming that he had learned nothing while there, and that the school was more concerned with shaping the young men’s characters than supplying them with an education.

Adult life

In 1918, Berners became the 14th Baron Berners after inheriting the title, property, and money, from an uncle.[7][8] His inheritance included Faringdon House, which he initially gave to his mother and her second husband; on their deaths in 1931 he moved into the house himself.[9] In 1932, Berners fell in love with Robert Heber-Percy, 28 years his junior, who became his companion and moved into Faringdon House.[10] Unexpectedly, Heber-Percy married a 21-year-old woman, Jennifer Fry, who had a baby nine months later. For a short time, she and the baby lived at Faringdon House with Heber-Percy and Berners.[11]

As well as being a talented musician, Berners was a skilled artist and writer. He appears in many books and biographies of the period, notably portrayed as Lord Merlin in Nancy Mitford‘s The Pursuit of Love.[12] In January 2016, he was played by actor Christopher Godwin in episode 3 of the BBC Radio 4 drama What England Owes.[13] He was a friend of the Mitford family and close to Diana Guinness.

Berners was notorious for his eccentricity,[14] dyeing pigeons at his house in Faringdon in vibrant colours and at one point entertaining Penelope Betjeman’s horse Moti to tea.[7] There were paper flowers in the garden and the interior of the house was adorned with joke books and joke notices, such as “Mangling Done Here”. As visitor Patrick Leigh Fermor recalled:

“No dogs admitted” at the top of the stairs and “Prepare to meet thy God” painted inside a wardrobe. When people complimented him on his delicious peaches he would say “Yes, they are ham-fed”. And he used to put Woolworth pearl necklaces round his dogs’ necks [Berners had a dalmatian, Heber Percy the retriever, Pansy Lamb] and when a guest, rather perturbed, ran up saying “Fido has lost his necklace”, G said, “Oh dear, I’ll have to get another out of the safe.”[14]

Other visitors to Faringdon included Igor StravinskySalvador DalíH. G. Wells, and Tom Driberg.[15]

His Rolls-Royce automobile contained a small clavichord keyboard which could be stored beneath the front seat. Near his house he had a 100-foot viewing tower, Faringdon Folly, constructed as a birthday present in 1935 for Heber-Percy,[15] a notice at the entrance reading: “Members of the Public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk”.[16] Berners also drove around his estate wearing a pig’s-head mask to frighten the locals.[4][12]

He was also subject throughout his life to periods of depression which became more pronounced during the Second World War, and following the production of his last ballet Les Sirènes he lost his eyesight.[17]

Death and epitaph

He died in 1950 aged 66 at Faringdon House, bequeathing his estate to his companion Robert (‘Mad Boy’) Heber-Percy[7] who lived at Faringdon until his own death in 1987.[18] His ashes are buried in the lawn near the house.[19]

Berners wrote his own epitaph, which appears on his gravestone:

“Here lies Lord Berners
One of the learners
His great love of learning
May earn him a burning
But, Praise the Lord!
He seldom was bored.”

The Trump Card of Modern Nihilism – Entropy

Posted On : 19th March 2017 Published By : Epicurus Of Albion (

Entropy is as fundamental a law of physics as the fundamental forces of nature, that being: Strong and Weak Nuclear forces, Electromagnetism and Gravity. It is the motive force that drives the arrow of time. Viewing entropy from a different angle I would say that entropy is the interplay between matter and energy, matter cannot be effected and therefore disordered without energy, the real prime mover of motion and change and vice-versa energy needs matter to act upon so its effects can be manifested in reality. This article, as a philosophical commentary, is about the implications of entropy. Also to note, I’ve noticed that when nihilists do argue for the validity of their philosophy they invoke ‘nothing lasts all the time’ without naming the phenomena that is responsible! entropy!

An example of the implications of entropy, that I cannot resist to omit, is a quote on Nurgle, the chaos god of decay and disorder (entropy) from the Warhammer universe:

“Indeed, the very process of construction and creation foreshadow destruction and decay. The palace of today is tomorrow’s ruin, the maiden of the morning is the crone of the night, and the hope of a moment is but the foundation stone of everlasting regret.”

So young ladies I hope that you cherish every moment of your present youthful beauty since you may have a physique like Aphrodite but the inevitability of entropy will do a number on that. Bits here and there will start to sag and loosen and before you know it you will look like Meg Mucklebones from Legend because you see the maiden of the morning is the crone of the night

Even though Warhammer is just fiction, this sentence, I think, has good implications for entropy in philosophy. The implication being that it turns attention to and illustrates a feature of reality: impermanence, change and disorder. This is why modern nihilism can give a ruddy good clout in the philosophical arena by calling on the law of entropy.

I think, when entropy is brought into philosophy it becomes, a sort of, modern Heraclitean philosophy in the sense that reality is constantly undergoing a process of fluctuating change his well known maxims paraphrased;

“Everything flows and nothing remains still … and … you cannot step twice into the same stream.”

I argue with my first premise:

The Morphology of matter is not fixed

Current morphologies, that is shapes, forms and structures that exist in the present will not keep their morphology forever. The particles of matter give form and extension to the objects we perceive but matter is never still to the disordering effects of entropy and will continually to be so even though we cannot perceive it at the microscopic level, because the human eye has a limited resolution of 100 micrometres. Some objects are so durable that it takes a long time to disorder testing our patience in the mean time and more boring than watching paint dry! So the forms that we see in everyday life, people, animals, plants, structures e.g. will, given the durational passing of time, such as the passing of years, have their morphologies change gradually, we are talking about the phenomena of aging a most vivid idea we have of entropic processes. We can imagine that it shifts the morphology of the body, happening over the passing of years. Seniors on TV shows say ‘I’m not as young as I used to be’ surely we’ve heard that line on the television many times before in a show. We know that the senior is noticing a qualitative change that his body has gone through, he attributes it to the passing of durational time but, it really is at the bottom of it, due to entropy. People may age chronologically the same as years are standardised measurements of time with NO VARIATION! However, physically, people age better than other people and by that I mean age slower. Aging slower means a lower state of entropy progression in the closed system that is the human body compared to other bodies where that entropy is of a faster progression. Look at Jacque Fresco for someone over a century old he’s aged well he walks without the aid of a Zimmer frame! About you! Have a look at a picture of yourself as a child, you don’t say it is me you say it was me as your morphology is very much different now than it was of back then.

The fact that you can remember yesterday but not tomorrow is because of entropy. The fact that you’re always born young and then you grow older, and not the other way around like Benjamin Button – it’s all because of entropy. So I think that entropy is underappreciated as something that has a crucial role in how we go through life. – Sean Carroll

The constituents that make up a living being or any object for that matter are always in motion even when it cannot be justified with the naked human eye. These constituents are the atoms, the building blocks of ordinary everyday stuff we see around us are buzzing with kinetic energy – the energy of motion – In solids they vibrate in a stationary position kept in their place by adjacent atoms, solids are the most ordered , relatively speaking compared to liquids and gases that have their atoms at greater liberty to move about and around from one region to another, this means, having greater kinetic energies, theses states of matter are of a higher entropic state and so consequently with the accumulation of disordered atoms from their original position now changed as a consequent change of morphology will happen on the level that we are able to perceive.

Even on the macro scale of things the morphology of entire continents will change over time, the tectonic plates have been in constant motion for millions of years prior. Look below at how the tectonic plates have shifted and morphed over millions of years; a picture says a thousand words.

The continual shifting of the landmasses throughout many different ages provided new habitats that assisted evolution in flourishing. Not all disordering processes are an anathema to life as a whole in fact it is required, as entropy can give opportunities for life to branch out into endless forms most beautiful because is evolution not change in the forms of life over time? Provided humanity is still around in millions of years, since the continents will shift in their morphology so will the geopolitical relationships between states and with that our maps all of them will have to be updated to reflect changed reality; the land, millions of years from now will be unrecognizable.

In summary, I take the view that morphological change happens because of the accumulated rearrangements of the atoms that make up bodies or objects, the change in arrangements of its atoms is correlated with a change in the appearance of its form.

Nothing ultimately stands the test of time

The palace of today is tomorrow’s ruinindeed it is, visit any medieval castle today and see how the keep and its battlements are worn away like the abrasions on wood by a filer, bit by bit being worn away. That is why the construction and civil engineering trades are always required to maintain the condition of all buildings lest the effects of weathering such as ice, acids, salt, plants, animals, and changes in temperature or earthquakes crumble them to ruins.

Venice is the perfect place for a phase of art to die. No other city on earth embraces entropy quite like this magical floating mall.

– Jerry Saltz

Artisans and artists build monuments and structures so that these edifices outlast them and stand the ‘test of time’ and become the posthumous crystallised extension of their ‘immortality’ in the form of a work; a reminder to those living that ‘this is my stamp on history’. The passions to be remembered as someone of status and importance drives them, even though, they will not experience the probable fame after their passing. This applies to all, not just artists and artisans, look at writers like Karl Marx and H.P. Lovecraft through their works they are famous and remembered but they can’t experience it they’re dead six feet under! But even being in the know that everything you do or create is susceptible to change/disorder this still does not deter us from pursuing our aspirations, we are not built like that spider in my bedroom waiting in its web for over 7 weeks for food, no, we find ourselves driven to do something with our allotted time lest we become existentially bored with existence void of an immediate goal. Now you really gotta love those dopamine secretions in the mammalian brain anticipating rewards, being the naturalist view I take on why human beings are driven to do these things, for the rewarding feeling that comes with dopamine secretions. Take comfort though that it is only your mind’s judgement that is responsible for the attachment towards importance to creating/acquiring objects for social approval.

If buildings and works of art last for thousands of years then what is to be made of those doings that people enact day after day. The everyday frivolous dramas throughout civil life, on a Saturday night they say ‘That was a bloody good drama at the theatre innit Bazil?’ construction workers mending a roof or fitting in a new one as apart of a commissioned project, the valley slapper bleating though a karaoke microphone on a drunken hens night etc. Human activities and services can hardly to have been said to have existed at all  because they are actions which are perishable upon acting just like the passing impulse of a sine wave; they are of the same importance as their brief existential expression. All the daily labours of everyone has never and will never have any lasting existential presence in the future configuration of the universe.

Seneca even though he was a man of antiquity; a man of his time. Didn’t need to understand the laws of thermodynamics to understand the principle of entropy, of impermanence and certain potential of all things towards degradation

 “The seven wonders of the world, and any even greater wonders which the ambition of later ages has constructed, will be seen some day leveled with the ground. So it is: nothing lasts forever, few things even last for long: all are susceptible of decay in one way or another.” – Seneca

Everything, any new form brought into the now whether its new life, or a new building or the crafting of a work of art will be acted upon instantly by entropy; the very process of construction and creation foreshadow destruction and decay. So as has been said earlier, nothing is built to last an infinite amount of time in a fixed state of being, When the prime characteristics of the universe is that of entropy being always restless and disordering matter. Will your creations outlast the time modern humanity has been in existence? which is at least now over 300,000 years? As the Moroccan fossils have recently shown? Saying that will the human species still be around another for another 300,000 years? A certain guaranteed prediction is that humanity’s existence in the future will be… uncertain. Seriously though, well, for one thing, that is for the future, we know that entropy will increase and will, I’m sure, have an effect on the way that we will harvest energy in the future as fossil fuels will get harder to acquire in the near future as the energy released from them cannot be recovered and in the far future be totally depleted.

On Knowing that something is finite gives it more value

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die. – Roy Batty

Tears in rain? sounds like a highly entropic disordered happening right there I can imagine the saline solution of the tears being ripped apart by the polarity of the water molecules… yes I know that is one way to ruin a classic monologue; but only one way mind you!

To touch on the Stoics, to give them credit, they were not deluding themselves that the nature of all is impermanence they talked about this in-depth even concerning their own lives and the brief moments we are here we should cherish and live life to the fullest; here are a couple of quotes they said:

“live as if each day were your last in life then hopefully you would not squander it on hedonistic and trivial activities.’

‘You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply”

– Seneca

Same with what is external to us, we must cherish the objects that we already have because only when we lose something do we really care. So the stoic advice is to want what we already possess and appreciate that instead of wanting more objects. What the Stoics are doing here is accepting entropy and as many people come to the realisation that we take things for granted in their longevity there always follows an appreciation towards the object, now invested with greater importance in value and care upon realisation.

I can imagine a scenario that will suit Seneca perfectly, you get these typical examples with orphans in films, one day said orphan walks through the park and comes across another child with its mother and father and predictably so the orphan is reminded of his parental deprivation usually accompanied with weeping monologue. However if Seneca was there I would imagine he would impart his Stoic wisdom and say: “lad, right now that kid is enjoying the joint activities of having parents, while for you it’s been denied. Nevertheless, cherish this wisdom ‘nothing remains forever’. Aye, now it’s good but since a family is not an individual but numerous people who are interconnected, attached by each others’ company and  love. One day one of them will die if not mum or dad then the child. It is inevitable that the family will have to suffer the bond that death does part. But you orphan, you will not go through that and are free because the attachment does not exist in the first place.”

On beings giving value to the finite as finite themselves

It isn’t knowledge on objects and experiences being cherished more because of the fact they are temporary that is the problem but it is the agency doing the cherishing itself. Now here’s the part where nihilism comes in invoking the law of entropy. How can sentience that gives subjective meaning to things, which this sentience is itself finite, of no lasting presence, be of any lasting ‘value’ The values, ideas, in short all aspects of sentient awareness from rudimentary lizard consciousness to the philosophical pondering of the tailless primates of man. All that in entirety that you impute on yourself, others and objects are not timeless they will shift into the void of nothingness because consciousness, values and ideas themselves are only expressed and so predicated on a body, a brain, a mind that will one day be no more, ceased to be. So when we die so will the consciousness, values and ideas that we held, even those espousing nihilist philosophy. We ourselves are of brief longevity and beings of fragile flesh that can be ended by an accident that we did not order come happening. So when we die, kick the bucket, so simultaneously is the destruction of our concepts, values, cherished things living and inanimate, knowledge and pain and pleasure.

“This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn’t nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot.”

A rock does not give value, a tree does not give value, and a puddle of water does not give value. It is life that has attained sentience that assigns value. In ‘assigning value, giving value’ you don’t change the object that receives your value its chemical structure and properties remain unaffected it can only be changed through entropy, through a law of physics embedded in reality. In truth it is only you that changes in the sense that you change your predisposition and attitude towards the object and not the object itself. What are the manifestations of ideas and thoughts? People? but reliant only to be expressed through a physical medium which is itself non-judgemental, absent of mind. You could be the voice of a certain buddhist teacher conveying meaning to do good deeds for a fortunate rebirth or a liberal lecturing with indignation on your perceived structural inequalities in society from a megaphone, your voice is nothing more than a series of agitated layers of air they are called longitudinal sound waves they are objectively mechanical waves, this phenomena, is itself devoid of value it does not give judgements of what is good or bad, correct or incorrect it is totally mechanical, being disturbed compression of air particles in a medium. It is not the voice but consciousness that understands language the purpose being the sharing of information. Entropy undermines consciousness with the death of the body, brain and mind.


Remember entropy is a process not a qualitative transformation. However entropic processes are responsible for things like death and it could be argued that on the contrary death is a process not a binary qualitative switch shift from life to death as maybe near death experiences could testify?

Like I always say, it is because of entropy that all individual life forms are a passing sentient speck compared to cosmic timescale. However, life as a whole is durable and able to recover and adapt from ‘setbacks’ setbacks being events like ‘the great dying’ or the Permian extinction event which killed off 95% of all life. The endless forms of life is often too slow to keep up and adapt with the sudden ecological and environmental changes over time.

The arrow of time always progresses turned by the gears of entropy. At earlier eons the universe was in a less disordered state, the energy content back then was of different values, more ordered, especially resources that contain potential energy ready to be released but upon being released has become highly disordered and the act being irreversible ties into the law the entropy within the ultimate closed system; our universe. Cosmic entropy always increasing with a qualitative shift from what was past to present nothing being the same again and with, I must repeat, the universe being the ultimate closed system par excellence. When the universe reaches a point when no more entropic processes can happen since there is no more sub atomic, atomic, molecular, compound, in short, no more matter to disorder. Then this marks the stage of the universe when maximum entropy is present and is known as the heat death of the universe.

Ultimately for nihilists, they must understand that it is about being at peace with the entropy and accepting that changes will happen in all our lives whether this is good changes or bad changes in life. No matter how much of a failure you think you are in life it doesn’t ultimately matter in the grand scale of the cosmos. Entropy is the antidote to jealousy because the successes of your rivals, though stinging to the ego in the present moment, you must realise that this too shall pass and the endeavours of the rivals, everything that they have laboured with heart and soul and sweat are predestined by nature’s law of entropy to fade away gradually or rapidly and ultimately perish as the end result. There is no lasting significance to the suffering nor to the idyllic and jubilant joy when the beings that originated and expressed these behaviours are no longer existentially…expressed!

As we close in to the end of the article your face may look like this after reading:

But fret not, as I emphasise the following quotes in bold, and take the absurdist perspective of Meursault, the main character of Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger:

“Gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.”

In addition, there does not have to be tears in rain over things coming into being and going out of being because although in death consciousness is gone, the body remains and will dissociate and still have a role as apart of the workings of the entire universe and the plans that come with it through its laws. Indeed this can be summed up in a quote by Seneca.

‘It is of great consolation that it is together with the universe that we are swept along.’


Astrology of May 2020 – Venus goes retrograde

In May the mood will become less and less Capricorn-like and more and more Gemini-like. These signs couldn’t be more different – Capricorn is heavy and restrictive, and Gemini is curious and lighthearted.

Less Capricorn and more Gemini means we will all lighten up a bit.

And it is about time!

May 2020 brings us two key astrological events: the Lunar Nodes shift, i.e. the North Node moves into Gemini on May 5th, AND Venus retrograde in Gemini on May 13th.

The Nodal shift and Venus retrograde will come with important changes and developments. The Lunar Nodes only change signs every 18 months so it makes sense that when the Nodes change signs, our lives change as well.

And then we have Venus. Venus goes retrograde once every 18 months, more rarely than any other sign (except Mars).

In fact, Venus and Mars go retrograde the least amount of time of all planets. Slow-moving planets are retrograde almost 50% of the time, Mercury is retrograde only 20% of the time, but Venus is retrograde only 9% of the time. As a rule of thumb, the less frequent an astrological event occurs, the more important it is.

It’s not only Venus that goes retrograde. In May we have no less than 3 planets changing direction: Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter.

Retrogrades are not the most sought-after events, but all in all, May doesn’t look as tense as April or March.

In the last 5 months, we had Saturn, Pluto, Jupiter, and the South Node – all in Capricorn. Saturn, Pluto and the South Node are the most problematic planets in astrology, and they haven’t been so close together for centuries.

Not easy!

That’s why the South Node’s departure from Capricorn is nothing but great news.

But let’s have a look at the most important astrological events of the month:

May 1st, 2020 – Mercury Conjunct Uranus

On May 1st, 2020, Mercury is conjunct Uranus at 6° Taurus. Mercury rules ideas, news and communication, and Uranus rules breakthroughs, surprises and discoveries.

We can expect a-ha moments, important announcements, breakthroughs and discoveries.

You will be especially influenced if you have a Gemini or Virgo ascendant, or if you have planets around 6° Taurus.

May 4th, 2020 – Sun Conjunct Mercury

On May 4th, 2020 the Sun is conjunct Mercury at 14° Taurus. Sun-Mercury conjunctions bring clarity and consensus on how to move forward.

You (the Sun) and your mind (Mercury) act as one.

Sun conjunct Mercury also indicates that we are now in the middle of the current Mercury cycle. If you have started some projects around February 25-26th (at the beginning of the current Mercury cycle) you can expect some developments around May 4th.

May 4th, 2020 – Venus Square Neptune

On May 4th, 2020 soon-to-be-retrograde-Venus squares Neptune at 20° Pisces. Normally a Venus-Neptune square only lasts for a few days, but because Venus is stationary, this particular Venus-Neptune square will last unusually long, until early June!

In astrology, you always want to pay attention to these “anomalies” or rare occurrences, because these transits will play a much more important role than they normally do.

Venus square Neptune is known as one of the most confusing transits out there. When Venus is square Neptune, you don’t know what you want anymore – from yourself, from your relationships, and from life in general.

And because both Venus and Neptune are passive planets, you may get stuck in a rut, or trapped in a fantasy world.

However, there is a silver lining. Neptune is, in fact, the higher octave of Venus, it’s like a 2.0 version of Venus, and Neptune will help Venus ‘upgrade’ herself.

If your values, your relationships, or your life, in general, are not where you want them to be, something needs to change.

What? Let Neptune guide you. Neptune works in the invisible world, so you want to open your mind – and your heart. Listen to your intuition, analyze your dreams, look for signs. If you allow it, Neptune will show you the way.

May 5th, 2020 – The North Node Enters Gemini

On May 5th, 2020 we have one of the most important astrological events of the year: the Lunar Nodes change signs, and the North Node enters Gemini, and the South Node enters Sagittarius.

The Nodes will be in Gemini and Sagittarius until January 2022 and they will bring profound changes in the way we communicate, commute, learn and travel. If you haven’t done it already, you can read my extensive report on the North Node in Gemini / South Node in Sagittarius here.

May 7th, 2020 – Full Moon In Scorpio

On May 7th, 2020 we have an intense Full Moon at 17° Scorpio. This is one of the positive Full Moons of the year.

The Full Moon is opposite Mercury in Taurus and trine Neptune in Pisces. The keywords of the Full Moon in Scorpio are intimacy, compassion, and heart-to-heart communication.

Mercury is in an exact sextile to Neptune. You have an almost psychic awareness of your environment. Feeling stuck and uninspired? The New Moon trine Neptune will help you envision a better future.

May 11th, 2020 – Saturn Goes Retrograde

On May 11th, Saturn goes retrograde at 1° Aquarius. Saturn entered Aquarius on March 21st, giving us a first “taste” of the Saturn in Aquarius transit, which will last until 2023.

We can already see some of the Saturn in Aquarius themes emerging – social distancing, remote work, distance learning.

Does this mean we will wear masks until 2023? Not necessarily. But society will be transformed from the bottom up, and what we’ve witnessed is just the beginning.

May 11th, 2020 – Mercury Enters Gemini

On May 11th, Mercury enters Gemini. Mercury is in domicile in Gemini, which means it feels at home in this sign.

Our ability to learn and grasp new concepts is at its best when Mercury is in Gemini. The next two weeks are a great time to learn a new skill, to write, or to do DIY projects.

May 13th, 2020 – Mars Enters Pisces

On May 13th, 2020 Mars enters Pisces, to stay here until June 28th, 2020.

Mars and Pisces don’t have many things in common. Mars acts, Pisces feels. Mars goes for what he wants, Pisces waits for the “right moment”. In the next 6 weeks, you will only act if you feel like it – for good and for bad.

But there is another reason why Mars in Pisces may be, in fact, one of the good Mars transits this year. Mars will soon enter Aries, go retrograde, and stay in Aries until January 2021… and just a warning, it won’t be pretty! So if you need to get “Mars stuff” done this year, Mars in Pisces might be one of your best windows of opportunity.

May 13th, 2020 – Venus Goes Retrograde

On May 13th, 2020 Venus goes retrograde at 21° Gemini. Venus retrogrades repeat every 8 years.

The last time Venus was retrograde in Gemini was in May-June 2012. What was going on in your life back then? You can expect similar themes to resurface.

I will write an in-depth report about Venus retrograde, so stay tuned!

May 14th, 2020 – Jupiter Goes Retrograde

On May 14th, 2020 Jupiter goes retrograde at 27° Capricorn. Jupiter will stay retrograde until September 13th, and meet Pluto for the 2nd time on June 30th.

In fact, Jupiter is in the close proximity of Pluto for the whole year. And when Jupiter is conjunct Pluto, nothing will be taken lightly.

These are intense times, and Jupiter retrograde conjunct Pluto will help us make sense of the higher purpose of this transit so we can adjust our approach.

May 20th, 2020 – Sun Enters Gemini

On May 20th, 2020 Sun enters Gemini and the #geminiseason is officially here! With Venus, Mercury AND the North Node in Gemini – May 2020 is the Gemini month! And that’s great news.

In the last couple of years we had a record number of planets in earth signs, and literally zero slow-moving planets in air signs.

So the May Gemini stellium will be a much-needed breath of fresh air. This is a time to be curious, witty, and flexible – just like a Gemini.

May 22nd, 2020 – New Moon In Gemini

On May 22nd, 2020 we have a New Moon at 2° Gemini. The New Moon trines Saturn, Jupiter and Pluto and squares Mars. On the same day, Mercury, the ruler of this New Moon, is conjunct Venus retrograde at 20° Gemini.

This is one of the most positive and constructive New Moons of the year. We will finally make sense of what happened and integrate what we have learned.

I especially like the trine to the Capricorn planets. We only had squares and tension to those planets in March and April. In the upcoming lunar month (May 22nd – June 21st) we are ready to move on.

May 28th, 2020 – Mercury Enters Cancer

On May 28th, 2020 Mercury conjuncts the North Node at 29° Gemini and then enters Cancer.

Mercury conjunct the North Node in the last degree of Gemini will bring a sense of purpose and completion. Mercury is our mind, and the North Node is our purpose.

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.” You can have some great intellectual achievements around this date. The universe says YES. Things fall into place.

Hours later, Mercury enters Cancer, inviting you to take whatever you have achieved in the last couple of weeks, while Mercury was in Gemini, to the next level of perfection.

Have a wonderful May!

Astro Butterfly

Gilead’s hopeful Covid-19 drug appears to do well in 2 key clinical trials

Dan O'Day is the chairman and CEO of Gilead Sciences Inc.

By Ron Leuty  – Staff Reporter, San Francisco Business Times

Apr 29, 2020 (

A potential Covid-19 drug from Gilead Sciences Inc. did well in two important clinical trials that revealed early data Wednesday.

The experimental antiviral drug, called remdesivir, showed promise when doctors in China and Italy unleashed it against the effects of the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The study results — preliminary data from a Gilead-sponsored trial and another led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — appear to back up the anecdotal findings of those doctors with more than half of severe Covid-19 patients leaving the hospital within two weeks.

However, a third study by investigators in China, which also published results Wednesday in the Lancet, appeared to show that treatment of serious patients with remdesivir did not significantly boost “clinical improvement, mortality or time to clearance of virus.”

Even with those caveats, the New York Times reported that the Food and Drug Administration is planning to announce emergency use authorization for the drug as early as Wednesday. The company’s stock (NASDAQ: GILD) was up nearly 7% in early afternoon trading.

In the study sponsored by Foster City-based Gilead, 60% of the 200 patients given a five-day course of remdesivir were discharged from the hospital within two weeks; meanwhile, 52.3% of 197 patients who got a 10-day course of the drug were discharged within two weeks.

Clinical outcomes varied by geography, the company said. Outside of Italy, for example, 23 of 320 patients died by day 14 — about 7% across both treatment groups. The company didn’t disclose the corresponding numbers within Italy.

“Unlike traditional drug development, we are attempting to evaluate an investigational agent alongside an evolving global pandemic,” Gilead Chief Medical Officer Dr. Merdad Parsey said in a statement. “Multiple concurrent studies are helping inform whether remdesivir is a safe and effective treatment for Covid-19 and how to best utilize the drug.”

Details of the federal government agency’s study were not available, but Gilead, led by Chairman and CEO Daniel O’Day, said in another statement Wednesday that the study’s primary endpoint, or goal, was met. It said the NIAID will provide detailed information at an upcoming briefing.

In a White House session this morning with President Donald Trump, NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said the agency’s study of remdesivir was not a “knockout.”

“What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus …,” Fauci said. “This drug happens to be blocking an enzyme that the virus uses.”

Pope Francis Says Native People Have Rights Over Their Lands

Image: A woman holds Pope Francis' head on the occasion of his meeting with representatives of indigenous peoples attending a UN agricultural meeting in Rome, at the Vatican, Feb. 15, 2017.

A woman holds Pope Francis’ head during his meeting with representatives of indigenous peoples attending a UN agricultural meeting at the Vatican, Feb. 15, 2017.L’Osservatore Romano / AP, Pool

Feb. 15, 2017 By The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis insisted Wednesday that indigenous groups must give prior consent to any economic activity affecting their ancestral lands, a view that conflicts with the Trump administration, which is pushing to build a $3.8 billion oil pipeline over opposition from American Indians.

Francis met with representatives of indigenous peoples attending a U.N. agricultural meeting and said the key issue facing them is how to reconcile the right to economic development with protecting their cultures and territories.

“In this regard, the right to prior and informed consent should always prevail,” he said. “Only then is it possible to guarantee peaceful cooperation between governing authorities and indigenous peoples, overcoming confrontation and conflict.”

The Cheyenne River and the Standing Rock Sioux tribes have sued to stop construction on the final stretch of the Dakota Access pipeline, which would bring oil from North Dakota’s rich Bakken fields across four states to a shipping point in Illinois.

The tribes say the pipeline threatens their drinking water, cultural sites and ability to practice their religion, which depends on pure water. The last piece of the pipeline is to pass under a reservoir on the Missouri River, which marks the eastern border of both tribes’ reservations.

The company building the pipeline, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, has insisted the water supply will be safe.

Francis didn’t cite the Dakota pipeline dispute by name and the Vatican press office said he was not making a direct reference to it. But history’s first Latin American pope has been a consistent backer of indigenous rights and has frequently spoken out about the plight of Indians in resisting economic development that threatens their lands.

“For governments, this means recognizing that indigenous communities are a part of the population to be appreciated and consulted, and whose full participation should be promoted at the local and national level,” Francis told the indigenous leaders Wednesday.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, amid protests over construction that led to some 700 arrests, federal agencies that have authority over the reservoir said they would not give permission for pipe to be laid until an environmental study was done.

Francis’ reference to prior consent is enshrined in the U.N. Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2007 over the opposition of the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Francis’ strong backing for indigenous groups and refugees, his climate change concerns and criticism of the global economy’s profit-at-all-cost mentality highlight the policy differences with the Trump administration that may come out if the U.S. president meets with Francis while in Italy for a G-7 summit in May. There has been no confirmation of any meeting to date, however.

(Contributed by Richard Burns, H.W., M.)

Don’t Waste an Economic Meltdown

A Strategy to Replace Capitalism

People Wearing Masks

byronv2 People Wearing Masks

In the height of the largest pandemic the world has known since the plague in 1918, people are struggling to make ends meet, losing their jobs, struggling to pay mortgages and rents, in danger of becoming sick, and experiencing increased hunger. Food banks report being depleted of supply[i], while farmers in Wisconsin and Ohio are dumping and burying eggs, milk, and other produce[ii]. The largest U.S. dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, estimates that farmers are dumping 3.7 million gallons of milk each day. A single chicken processor is smashing 750,000 eggs every week.

Why, when people are in need of food, is food being thrown away? The NYT “neutrally” reports that “many of the nation’s largest farmers are struggling another ghastly effect of the pandemic. They are being forced to destroy tens of millions of pounds of fresh food that they can no longer sell.”[iii]

But who is forcing them? Most farmers would prefer to have their food used to help people who are hungry. The “capitalist system and its profit making imperative, itself enforced by government, media, and economists, are “forcing” farmers to (choose to) destroy the food so many people desperately need rather than give it to food banks and people in need.

Of course, there are many people who go hungry even in “ordinary times,” but the government does not interfere with this element of the capitalist economy. Big agricultural firms fear that government involvement, beyond the huge subsidies it gives them, would undermine their profits. As in so many aspects of daily life in a capitalist society, the hidden element shaping which human needs are met and which are not is this: the assumption that profits must be the foundation for all our economic interactions. The result: something as obvious as having a significant part of “the bailout of 2020” fund delivery systems from farm to food banks for the hungry was woefully not included. While giving $500,000,000,000 (five hundred billion dollars) to the large corporations, and many billions to smaller ones, the government did not require that the money go solely to pay worker wages and only to corporations that at least paid a minimum wage of $15/hr. But unfortunately our government is divided between those whose highest priority is further enriching the rich and those who would wish it could be different but do not have the backbone to stand up and say “no money to anyone unless it is disproportionately distributed to those most in need, including the poor and the homeless” and accompanied by instituting a living wage for all workers and a guaranteed income for every adult living in the U.S.

But the super-rich and powerful resist addressing these needs because funding them would require significant reductions in their wealth. And the rest of us lack the political power to successfully challenge corporate bailouts and demand the support necessary to meet our needs. In addition, the millions already unemployed and many more to come have found no effective way to organize themselves to pressure their governments to act on their behalf. In fact, the corporate insistence on huge profits for their stockholders led to many corporations to close badly needed hospitals around the country because they were not making enough profit. This made it very difficult for many Americans to even get to places where they could be tested or treated for a variety of ailments, most dramatically revealed in the way that those hospitals that remain have been overwhelmed, often without adequate beds or equipment. And without any obvious way to get their government to work on their behalf, many face isolation at home. Many think that all they can do is be cheerful about a grim situation (or pray that they and their friends and family don’t die) while frantically washing their hands, wearing masks, and avoiding anyone who stands too close in the supermarket or pharmacy.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that people only care for themselves, that we are all basically selfish, and that hence we have to just look out for number one. If that is the reality, then the hope of creating a society based on caring instead of on profit would be pointless.

But what we actually see is that there are literally millions of people who are risking their lives as doctors, nurses, hospital workers, bus drivers, supermarket and pharmaceutical workers, farmers and farmworkers, truck drivers, police, firefighters, caregivers, and many others who risk their lives to care for the rest of us who are correctly obeying the call to stay at home. It’s true that some may be driven by the need to make a living to feed their families, a reasonable goal! Yet many have chosen to continue to take the risks because they genuinely care about others. So if we had a society that was based on caring rather than profit, tens of millions of others would feel much better about their lives if they didn’t have to choose between making a living and serving the well-being of everyone else. People actually yearn to have work that serves higher needs than putting more money into the pockets of the super-rich.

For that reason, it is important to acknowledge that there is still a chance in the remaining weeks of social isolation for a mass movement to emerge and last beyond this sad moment. That movement would have staying power if it used Zoom-based conferencing to replace the hope to “get back to business as usual” with a vision of a different kind of society that we could create together.

This vision needs to satisfy both material and psycho/spiritual needs. It is the narrow articulation of human needs limited to material needs that has limited the appeal of the Left. Even when social democratic forces have won power and implemented generous programs to provide money, entitlements and services, the vast majority of people have accepted these goodies but not given much loyalty to those who delivered “objective caring.”

What the socialisms of the past offered was based on a theory of human beings that ignored our hunger for respect, love, generosity, and a sense of higher meaning to our lives. In my research at the Institute for Labor and Mental Health with thousands of middle income working people, exploring stress at work and stress in family life, I learned that many people think of the objective caring delivered by the Left (e.g., social security or even health care benefits) as a kind of insurance program. Just as they are happy to have home and car insurance, they are happy  to have social security and health care insurance, but they don’t feel particularly close to their insurance agents! And when they have to interact with their government that delivers these services, they rarely feel respected or appreciated. Rather, in many instances, the message our government and media sends folks who receive government aid is that they are somehow less than those who have bigger incomes and don’t rely on government subsidies. Yet the truth is that many of the most economically successful have had plenty of help from government (building the infrastructure, creating ways for a significant section of the wealthy to pay a smaller percentage of their income or wealth in taxes than the rest of us, declaring that corporations are really “persons” with the same or greater protections on their wealth than any of the rest of us have and protected their “right” to spend millions to influence the outcome of elections, and actually not working as hard as many in the bottom half of income earners who often have to take frustrating jobs or work more than one job just to barely support their families.

Some recognize that in a society where the top 1% own more wealth in the U.S. than the bottom 80% of wealth holders, that their government insurance programs are really little more than a way of giving as little as possible to most Americans and giving as much as possible to the ultra-wealthy. Others just suspect that there is something missing in what liberal governments offer, so they don’t feel appreciative, particularly when they find that government benefits rarely are enough to deal with their material needs. As a result, just as the New Deal of the 1930s was followed by conservative or neo-liberal regimes in the U.S., the socialists who delivered even more generous objective caring benefits in Europe were eventually voted out of power.

What is needed then is a politics that gives equal attention to fostering a society based on generosity and kindness—the opposite of the capitalist marketplace. To get there, forget about the word “socialism” and instead let’s talk about what I describe in my book Revolutionary Love as ”the Caring Society—Caring  for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.” To achieve that we will need a new bottom line.

In a capitalist society, we judge our institutions to be productive and efficient and rational to the extent that they maximize money and power. In “the Caring Society” a new bottom line would judge our economy, our corporations, our government policies, our legal system, our education system, our cultural systems, and even some of our personal behavior to be rational, productive, and efficient to the extent that they maximize our capacities to be loving and caring, kind and generous, attuned to social, economic and environmental justice for everyone on the planet, committed to overcoming every form of racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia, responding to each other as intrinsically valuable (or in religious terms, sacred beings) rather than simply valuing them to the extent that they can deliver something to satisfy our personal needs, and responding to the universe and our mother Earth with awe, wonder, and radical amazement, rather than valuing them only to the extent that we can turn them into commodities to sell in the capitalist marketplace.

Of course the caring society would also have material benefits, so I want to affirm the positive contributions made by those who helped create the social support system that does exist and who are righteously fighting to expand it, e.g. in the New Green Deal or the programs promoted by  Bernie Sanders. Yet these campaigns would be far more successful if framed in terms of achieving the Caring Society and the New Bottom Line—speaking to the values that underlie their more narrowly framed specific legislative initiatives. Yes, the need to expand those objective caring programs is particularly urgent now, but that can only happen when we start reframing those efforts in terms of achieving the caring society, treating people with respect even when they do not yet agree with our vision, affirming rather than dissing their religious commitments (even when we disagree with some of what those religions teach), and including in our discourse the need for a life connected to higher meaning than profits.

And, the caring society must be visionary in what we ask for even in regard to “objective caring”. This should include, among other things, a living wage for everyone, 28-hour workweek over 4 days (leaving more time to be with friends and family and to be in nature), guaranteed paid sick leave, canceling student and medical debts and debts of the poorest countries of the world, universal health/child/elder care, free education through graduate or professional schools, 6 week guaranteed vacation, universal replacement of fossil fuels with environmentally friendly sources of energy, among other things.

This approach will be received more successfully if liberals, progressives, and caring people of every sort prioritize what I call “subjective caring.” We need to teach that people would easily be won to caring for others if society stopped rewarding selfishness. Eventually, caring behavior would become the norm at work and at play. Caring at work might well slow down the pace of what we consider traditional ‘production’, which would be good for the future of the planet and a contribution to making work more pleasurable. If the goal of production was no longer profits for the top 10% of income earners, we could still produce enough of life’s basic necessities to have enough for everyone, though we wouldn’t have new versions of our cell phone or computers every year, or new flashy cars. The pace of life will slow down. For those who love the intensity of challenges, there will still be plenty of challenges for them to tackle. The big challenge will be creating enough global solidarity that people can work together to save the earth from the environmental catastrophe predicted by environmental scientists that will make the current pandemic look like a minor problem.

We are at a crossroads. Right now, while ordered to remain in our homes till the pandemic crisis is over, you and I could begin the process to build a movement for a caring society. Otherwise we will soon find ourselves returning to “life as usual” and ignoring all the warnings we are being given that a far greater environmental danger to life on earth is developing less dramatically but even more destructive unless we change how and what we are doing to our planet. While champions of the capitalist marketplace in our major political parties lead them to accept the notion that “success” equals endless growth,  producing more and more things, the Caring Society will see success in creating work and leisure that are serving the best interests of all humanity, the animals, and the survival of the life-support of Earth.

But how would it be possible to build a movement for a fundamentally different kind of world? There is something that each of us can do right now while so many of us are bound to our homes.

A first step is to invite everyone you know to engage in imagining a world they would really want if profit was no longer the bottom line. Ask them to share their vision and this new bottom line with everyone they know, and then to create large group discussions on social media and “face-to-face” on Zoom-like video platforms. Invite them to read with you my book Revolutionary Love: a Political Strategy to Heal and Transform the World. Go to to read why this book has been endorsed by Cornel West (professor of African American Studies at Harvard), Gloria Steinem (founding editor of Ms. Magazine), Keith Ellison (Attorney General of the State of Minnesota and the first African American to have been the vice-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus), Medea Benjamin (co-founder of Code Pink), Riane Eisler, Dean Ornish, Walter Brueggemann, Henry Giroux, Ariel Dorfman, and many others! (You can purchase the book there as well.) This is not some new agey “lets change ourselves first and then we’ll change the society” (a position I  show to be deeply flawed) but rather a tough minded strategy to actually build a different world. But it starts by changing the liberals and the Left so that they stop alienating the very people who they need to win over (for example by dissing all whites or all men or acting as though anyone into religion must be on a lower level of psychological or intellectual development than those who reject all forms of religion and dismiss all spirituality as nonsense). And what you can also do is invite people to an online book group discussion of Revolutionary Love, working thru your own and others’ resistances, and allowing yourself to really become advocates for a different world.

Every day we can read on social media or even sometimes on the corporate-dominated media stories of people showing caring during this pandemic. There are tens of millions of people in our society who would love to live in a world that valued generosity and caring. They just don’t believe it is possible—until you tell them that you are part of a movement that intends to build such a society. This is the kind of organizing that could lead to the birth of a non-violent revolutionary movement far more radical than we have seen, in part because it validates not only the legitimate material desires of socialist programs, but also the psychological, spiritual, and higher-meaning-to-life desires of many who have turned away from the one dimensional Left. And it can all happen right now. You can start the process with your own friends and contacts. And you can also take a training with Cat Zavis that will help you develop some of the skills you may need to talk to people who will at first dismiss your ideas because they themselves are fearful of allowing themselves to feel how unhappy they are with the world of money and power-over others.

This is one way to not, once again, miss the opportunity presented by the economic meltdown we are all facing.

Unrealistic? Yes, in the same way that the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the movement for GLBTQ rights were seen as unrealistic in the first few decades that they were being articulated. What I have learned is that you never really know what is or is not possible until you spend decades of your life fighting for what is desirable. So my advice: “don’t be realistic.” Instead make use of this very time of plague to create a new hopefulness that could change the world that will otherwise present itself as the only possible world – a world in which people will return to patterns and pathologies of the capitalist society, such as depression, hate of others, suicide, addictions, etc.

This is both the challenge and opportunity created by the current economic meltdown, and it will persist even when the media and government try to hide the ongoing suffering of so many who will be left behind by any “bail out stage 2 or 3 or 4” that the government is likely to provide. And this is the biggest spiritual and ethical opportunity of our time, and if we don’t take it, confine our focus to immediate (and very important) forms of societal repair of the worst suffering, but without a strategy to change the institutions and class and patriarchal practices that have caused so much suffering (including by failing to address human needs and give them priority over profit for the few, we will likely look back at this moment with deep regret. You and I can change that. The first step is to share this with everyone you can possibly reach.


[i] Facing Food Insecurity on the Front LinesNew York Times, April 10, 2020.

[ii] Dumping Milk, Smashed Eggs, Plowed Vegetables: Food Waste of the Pandemic, New York Times, April 11, 2020.



Rabbi Michael Lerner

Rabbi Michael Lerner holds a Ph.D. in philosophy (1972) and a second Ph.D. in psychology (1977), is editor of Tikkun, executive director of the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in Berkeley, chair of the international Network of Spiritual Progressives, and author of 12 books, most recently Revolutionary Love published by the University of California Press (more info about this book at Lerner was recently described by Professor Cornel West of Harvard U. as “one of the most significant prophetic public intellectuals and spiritual leaders of our generation” and Keith Ellison, Attorney General of the State of Minnesota, says: “The caring society is the only realistic path for humanity to survive, and in Revolutionary Love Rabbi Lerner lays out a powerful and compassionate plan for building that caring society.” Talking about his book Revolutionary Love, Gloria Steinem, a founding editor of Ms. Magazine, says “Michael Lerner takes the universal qualities wrongly diminished as ‘feminine’—caring, kindness, empathy, love—and dares to make them guides to a new kind of politics that can challenge the cruelty, competition, and dominance wrongly elevated as ‘masculine.’ Revolutionary Love opens our minds and hearts to a fully human way of living and governing.”

Spiritual Democracy

The general nature of the objects of the Corporation are:

. . . “The fostering and encouragement of a higher degree of spiritual enlightenment and understanding, the basis of true Spiritual Democracy as interpreted in terms of the self-evident Truth that Being is the equality of man; the cultivation of friendship and fellowship among its members; to safeguard the future welfare of the youth of America and the world; to build them up to a high plane, mentally, morally and spiritually; to foster, guard and protect them that they may grow and develop into upright cosmopolite citizens; to provide healthful recreation that they may develop perfect healthy bodies; to educate them in the better class of art and literature that their minds may only absorb that which is of the best, and to encourage them to study the latest scientific matter; to give them a moral and spiritual background in keeping with the Atomic Age so that they will be able to meet the world’s problems with poise and Intelligence and create a solution of affairs with peace, equity and justice; to so encourage and train them that they will exercise a spirit of liberty and tolerance toward all whom they may contact; to instill in them a reverence and knowledge of the Spiritual reality and resource of Democracy as envisioned by our forefathers and thus be prepared to oppose and be immune to any propaganda or agitation, either from within or without, which has as it object the destruction of Democracy as a way of life. . . . “

(from the Charter of The Prosperos)

Most Dictators Self Destruct. Why?

In most cases, democratization has followed an authoritarian ruler’s mistake.


  • Leonid Bershidsky

Ceausescu was overconfident. Photo by Spiegl / Ullstein Bild via Getty Images

With authoritarian rulers ascendant in many parts of the world, one wonders what must happen for their countries to liberalize. The likes of Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey or Xi Jinping in China are entrenched, experienced and not unpopular — so should their opponents simply resign themselves to an open-ended period of illiberal rule?

According to Daniel Treisman, a UCLA political scientist, that’s not necessarily the case. For a recent paper, he analyzed 218 episodes of democratization between 1800 and 2015 and found they were, with some exceptions (such as Danish King Frederick VII’s voluntary acceptance of a constitution in 1848), the result of authoritarian rulers’ mistakes in seeking to hold on to power. The list of these errors is both a useful handbook for authoritarians and a useful reminder that even the most capable of them are fallible, with disastrous consequences for their regimes.

According to Treisman, deliberate liberalization — whether to forestall a revolution, motivate people to fight a foreign invader, defeat competing elite groups or make a pact with them — only occurred in up to a third of the cases. In the rest, democratization was an accident: As they set off a chain of events, rulers didn’t intend to relinquish power. Some of them — such as Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet president — have admitted as much. 

Treisman’s list of mistakes is worth citing in full. There are five basic ones:

  • Hubris: An authoritarian ruler underestimates the opposition’s strength and fails to compromise or suppress it before it’s too late. King Louis Philippe of France was deposed in 1848 after, as Treisman puts it, turning “a series of reform banquets into revolution by refusing even mild concessions.” Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was making a routine speech when he realized he was being overthrown. Indonesian President Muhammad Suharto believed he could get the country under control right up to the moment of his resignation.
  • Needless risk: A ruler calls a vote which he “fails to manipulate sufficiently” (like Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1988, when he lost a plebiscite on whether he should be allowed to stay in power) or starts a war he cannot win (like Leopoldo Galtieri in Argentina with the Falklands conflict of 1982).
  • Slippery slope: That’s Gorbachev’s case: a ruler starts reforms to prop up the regime but ends up undermining it.
  • Trusting a traitor: This is not always a mistake made by the dictator itself, although it was in the case of Francisco Franco in Spain, who chose King Juan Carlos, the dismantler of fascism, as his successor. In Gorbachev’s case, it was the Politburo — the regime’s elite — that picked the wrong man to preserve its power.
  • Counterproductive violence: Not suppressing the opposition when necessary can be a sign of hubris in a dictator, but overreacting is also a grave mistake. The example Treisman gives is Bangladeshi President Hussain Muhammad Ershad, who was forced to resign by an uprising that started after police shot an opposition activist at a rally. But the error was also made by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2013, when his riot police descended on a few hundred peacefully protesting students and brutally beat them, setting off the much bigger protests that resulted in Yanukovych’s ouster.

These are all very human errors of judgment. Dictators are people, too, and sometimes they’ll act on imperfect information or erroneous gut feeling. But Treisman makes the point that they may be prone to such errors precisely because they are dictators. They’ll be fooled by polls which people don’t answer sincerely, taken in by their own propaganda (like Malawi ruler Hastings Banda, who called and lost a referendum in 1993 because he’d been impressed by the high turnout at rallies in his support even though people had been forced to attend them). And sometimes they’ll rule for so long that their mental faculties will be less sharp than at the outset.

I have a particular interest in watching Putin for any of the errors on Treisman’s list. So far, it’s as if he’d read the paper before Treisman wrote it. His suppression has been timely and cleverly measured, his election manipulation always sufficient, his temporary successor, Dmitri Medvedev, avoided the liberal slippery slope, and he’s only started wars against much weaker rivals. He helps his regime’s propaganda by treating it as truth, but he doesn’t buy it to the point of losing vigilance. In the 2018 election, he kept his main opponent, Alexei Navalny, out of the race, mindful that modern technology allows a rival to loosen media restrictions — something Treisman notes can lead a hubristic dictator to an electoral loss. 

But even Putin, after 17 years in power, is in danger of making a miscalculation one day, perhaps finally misreading the mood of the increasingly cynical Russian public that keeps registering support for him in largely worthless polls. It’s easy to imagine the choleric Erdogan getting into an armed conflict Turkey cannot sustain or using disproportional violence as Turks’ patience with his reprisals wear thin. It’s a possibility, although a remote one, that, after Xi’s power consolidation, the Chinese Communist Party will opt for a more liberal successor and he won’t be able to hold the reins as tightly.

Treisman notes that in 85 percent of the episodes he studied, democratization was preceded by mass unrest. Sooner or later, people tend to get tired of regimes in which they have little say. Then, it only takes a misstep from the one person at the center of such a regime. Dictators often overestimate the external danger to their power, the plots of foreign or exiled enemies. In the final analysis, they are the biggest threat to themselves.

Leonid Bershidsky is Bloomberg Opinion’s Europe columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners. For more columns from Bloomberg Opinion, visit

This post originally appeared on Bloomberg and was published October 24, 2017. This article is republished here with permission.

Plotinus on “signs”


“The stars are like letters that inscribe themselves at every moment in the sky. Everything in the world is full of signs. All events are coordinated. All things depend on each other. Everything breathes together.”

–Plotinus (204 – 270) was a major Hellenistic philosopher who lived in Roman Egypt. In his philosophy, described in the Enneads, there are three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas, who was of the Platonic tradition. Wikipedia

Bio: Marie Curie


Most know Marie Curie (November 7, 1867–July 4, 1934) as a trailblazing scientist — a pioneer of radioactivity, the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize, and to this day the only person to win two Nobels in two different sciences, chemistry and physics. But unbeknownst to most, she was also a woman of tremendous humanitarian heroism and courage: When WWI swept Europe, Curie, a vehement pacifist, invented and operated mobile X-ray units known as “Little Curies” — ambulances which she herself drove, treating an estimated one million wounded soldiers and civilians, using the technology her own discoveries had made possible to save innumerable lives.

It fell on another extraordinary woman, the great poet and feminist Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929–March 27, 2012), to eulogize Curie exactly forty years after the trailblazing scientist’s death in the 1974 poem “Power,” which opens Rich’s 1977 masterwork The Dream of a Common Language (public library).


Marie Curie