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.

 

Comments:

#1 Janet Factor (Guest) on Monday January 11, 2010 at 10:27am

Nice, Ben. I like it. I always found being told what I was “really” like on the basis of my astrological sign infuriating.

#2 Max (Guest) on Monday January 11, 2010 at 11:58am

Not all stereotypes are based on pseudoscience and myths. Some are based on statistics, culture, genetics, and life experience.

“Challenging the widely held view that race is a ‘biologically meaningless’ concept, a leading population geneticist says that race is helpful for understanding ethnic differences in disease and response to drugs.”
(

#3 Max (Guest) on Monday January 11, 2010 at 12:00pm

Not all stereotypes are based on pseudoscience and myths. Some are based on statistics, culture, genetics, and life experience.

“Challenging the widely held view that race is a ‘biologically meaningless’ concept, a leading population geneticist says that race is helpful for understanding ethnic differences in disease and response to drugs.”
(nytimes.com/2002/07/30/science/race-is-seen-as-real-guide-to-track-roots-of-disease.html?pagewanted=1)

The following article on racial profiling quotes Jesse Jackson as saying, “There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery—and then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”
(nytimes.com/1999/06/20/magazine/the-color-of-suspicion.html?pagewanted=3)

That’s backed up by statistics in the same article:
“Black males between the ages of 14 and 24 make up 1.1 percent of the country’s population, yet commit more than 28 percent of its homicides.”

We can debate what hidden variables account for the correlations, but we can’t deny that the correlation exists.
Who’s more likely to mug you, a young black male or an old white female? If you can’t answer this, then political correctness has increased your risk of getting mugged.

#4 Reba Boyd Wooden on Monday January 11, 2010 at 1:47pm

So, if prejudice means to prejudge.  Then if we have evidence is it still prejudice?  I would not think so.

#5 Kathy Orlinsky on Monday January 11, 2010 at 2:01pm

Sure, race may be helpful in treating some diseases.  It’s also useful to look at a person’s skin color before recommending sunblock or to know how tall a person is when buying him pants.  No one is suggesting that physical properties should never be considered under any circumstances.  But racism and astrology both judge personality and aptitude neither of which correlate with visible characteristics.

I thought this was a very interesting article.  I’m tempted to call the next person who claims that his sign says anything about him a Capricornist.

#6 J. (Guest) on Monday January 11, 2010 at 6:11pm

Max, you’re right, not all stereotypes are based on pseudoscience and myths. Some are based on ignorance, some on racism, some both. Who’s more likely to mug you, a young white male or an old black female? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back and your number.

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