The Link Between Astrology and Prejudice

January 11, 2010

some of them from psychics and astrologers.


I thought a brief examination of the underlying principles of astrology deserve some consideration. Unlike astrologers, I don’t think that people should be stereotyped and subjected to prejudice. (I use prejudice in its original meaning: forming an opinion about a person or group on the basis of generalizations, assumptions, or stereotypes.)


Yet if you think about it, that’s the basis of astrology. For example, astrologer Sasha Fenton, author of Astrology for Wimps , writes that astrology is for “people who want to understand themselves, their friends, and their loved ones… With no more than a date of birth to go on, we can see where people are coming from, and how they are likely to impact our lives… You can apply [astrology] to others who share the same signs” (p. 9-10).


The basic premise of astrology is that people who were born at certain times and places share distinguishing personality characteristics. Libras, for example, are said to be diplomatic, refined, idealistic, and sociable; Capricorns are responsible, disciplined, hard-working, demanding, and so on. Tens of millions of people know something about their sun signs and read their daily horoscopes.


There are some interesting parallels between racism and astrology. For one thing, in both cases a person is being judged by factors beyond their control. Just as a person has no control over his or her race or skin color, they also have no control over when and where they were born. In both cases, there is a framework of belief that says, “Without even meeting or knowing you, I believe something about you:   I can expect this particular sort of behavior or traits (sneakiness, laziness, arrogance, etc.) from members of this particular group of people (Jews, blacks, Aries, etc.)”


When an astrologer meets a person and finds out that person’s astrological sign, she will bring to that experience a pre-existing list of assumptions (prejudices) about that person’s behavior, personality, and character. In both cases, the prejudices will cause people to seek out and confirm their expectations. Racists will look for examples of anti-social behaviors in the groups they dislike, and astrologers will look for the personality traits that they believe the person will exhibit. Since people have complex personalities (all of us are lazy some of the time, caring at other times, etc.), both racists and astrologers will find evidence to confirm their beliefs.


Of course there are differences, and astrologers are not racists. But the belief systems underlying both viewpoints are very similar: prejudging individuals based on beliefs about a group. Some might ask what the harm is, if the stereotypes are harmless. Not all stereotypes are negative; some are positive. Chinese and Japanese, for example, are often assumed to be good at math; Latin men are said to be good lovers, black women are strong and sassy; attractive people are seen as more honest. These prejudices can be just as harmful in creating expectations. In fact, astrologers cannot explain how a person’s personality or future could possibly be influenced by the position of planets and stars at birth. Why would a person be especially creative and generous just because she happened to come out of her mother’s womb between July 23 and August 22?


I don’t assume that Blacks are lazy, Arabs are terrorists, Asians are scholastic geniuses, or Geminis are optimistic non-conformists. I judge people individually, on who they are as a person, not on what arbitrary group they belong to. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe a person should be judged not by the color of their skin—nor the date and time of their birth—but by the content of their character. Then again, I’m a Libra.