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the-nation-normalizing astrology horoscopes reason atheism politics america
Photo illustration depicts a fortune teller using esoteric astrological tools to predict future events. (Starblue, Adobe Stock)

The Nation, the storied, thoughtful, 150-year-old uber-progressive American magazine, is evidently normalizing astrology now.

Say, what!?

I admit I was taken aback by a question-and-answer piece in the magazine’s June 28/July 5 online edition that featured Alice Sparkly Kat, a “queer, Chinese Brooklyn-based astrologer” who “started studying the planets in the early 2010s.” What queer has to do with it, though, I don’t know. Or why an “astrologer” should be questioned about anything material.

She has, however, written a book — Postcolonial Astrology: Reading the Planets Throught Capital, Power, and Labor, which today (August 9) was ranked 49th among titles in Amazon’s “horoscope” category and 29,509th among all best sellers. (I posted previously about the inherent silliness of horoscopes, here.)

I might point out, however, that, both my books (Holy Smoke and 3,001 Arabian Days) are doing better than Kat’s in their genres on Amazon, if not overall. And I’m not even gay or Asian, although I was born in New York. Yet, no magazines have asked me to wax philosophical on anything. But then, why would they?

Clearly, far more people and media are more fascinated by invented horoscopes (sadly) than by the toxic effects of Christianity on American culture (i.e., Holy Smoke) or a memoir of growing up in an American-run oil town in Saudi Arabia in the 1950s (3,001 Arabian Days).

But broad popularity should be no reason to elevate any idea to respectful prominence. I mean several billion self-identifying Christians exist in the world, and nearly two billion Muslims. Yet both monotheist faiths are almost wholly based on myths, not facts (as far as we can determine in actual reality). Nonsense, in other words.

Basically then, who The Nation’s Q&A was questioning was a young, homosexual Asian woman with limited experience studying something that for centuries has been debunked, even ridiculed, as fundamentally fanciful and inherently false in its core assumptions: that alignment of heavenly bodies at birth and in the present materially affects everyone’s lives and sets their real-world trajectories in life and love, success or failure, and death.

Studying astrology, it must be said, is like studying theology. It’s the study of nothing, in effect, as the late atheist gadfly Christopher Hitchens aptly explained:

“Attempts to locate oneself within history are as natural, and as absurd, as attempts to locate oneself within astronomy. On the day that I was born, 13 April 1949, nineteen senior Nazi officials were convicted at Nuremberg, including Hitler’s former envoy to the Vatican, Baron Ernst von Weizsacker, who was found guilty of planning aggression against Czechoslovakia and committing atrocities against the Jewish people. …,” Hitchins wrote in Hitch 22: A Memoir. “All this was unknown to me as I nuzzled my mother’s breast for the first time, and would certainly have happened in just the same way if I had not been born at all, or even conceived.”

Which is to say that the concept of astrology is inherently fraudulent in that there is no good evidence showing how planets are aligned at any given moment changes anything predictive in the lives of beings. Except maybe tides, say.

Still, most newspapers carry daily horoscopes to this day, and they remain avidly read.

Smithsonian magazine in 2016 wrote that: “A National Science Foundation survey from 1999 found that just 12 percent of Americans read their horoscope every day or often, while 32 percent read them occasionally. More recently, the American Federation of Astrologers put the number of Americans who read their horoscope every day as high as 70 million, about 23 percent of the population.”

There was a resurgence of horoscope fascination during the presidential administration of Donald Trump, and Kat says horoscopes and right-wing politics and outright fascism have a long, shared history. Makes sense; reactionary conservativism and eternal religion are both fantastical. She claims both Ronald Reagan and Adolf Hitler had astrologers.

Kat (and The Nation, apparently) has clearly been spurred on by all this new interest in the material heavens.

Kat sees a riches of down-to-earth answers in heavenly bodies.

“[A]strology is a tool to break political and social norms,” she told The Nation. “A look at the relationship of Mars and Venus complicates gendered power dynamics, while the study of the sun becomes a history of surveillance culture and the politics of who gets to be seen.”

Exactly how those observations directly relate to real life is, as always, unclear and implied, as are daily horoscopes (including ones Kat pens) that advise the credulous on fortuitous or risky romantic, interpersonal and activity-related behaviors. And they don’t explain exactly why it would be sensible to rechart your life using daily horoscope advice, which is as varied as astrologers writing them and newspapers publishing them.

Kat is a proponent of so-called “post-colonial astrology,” in which practitioners “use[s] astrology to re-chart a history of the subconscious, redefine the body in the world, and reimagine history as collective memory.”

Again, how planetary alignment does this is vanishingly unclear as is why it’s not dangerous to buy into it. But there was some buy-in in the past to such concepts from controversial if groundbreaking thinkers such as pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875-1961).

“Astrology is assured of recognition from psychology, without further restrictions, because astrology represents the summation of all the psychological knowledge of antiquity,” Jung reportedly wrote.

This “summation” of which he speaks is his concept of the “collective unconscious.”

Collective unconscious, term introduced by psychiatrist Carl Jung to represent a form of the unconscious (that part of the mind containing memories and impulses of which the individual is not aware) common to mankind as a whole and originating in the inherited structure of the brain,” according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. “It is distinct from the personal unconscious, which arises from the experience of the individual. According to Jung, the collective unconscious contains archetypes, or universal primordial images and ideas.

But, again, just because Jung linked astrology with psychic archetypes speculatively shared by human beings in no way confirms that there’s any relation whatsoever between the two spheres, just that the assumptions of astrology apparently stimulate unconscious impulses in a lot of people. But so do pictures of Marilyn Monroe or George Clooney, and whatever Venus or Mars was or is doing seems objectively to have nothing at all to do with it.

I’m with the popular late science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who once sardonically said:

I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.”

As I said, the study of “post-colonial astrology,” which Kat is clearly deep into the weeds of, still uses heavenly alignments as its guiding light. As the study of theology uses supposed “miraculous” events and purportedly divine humans as its guiding light.

But, in all probability, it’s just the study of imaginings based on nothing.

I would have thought The Nation wouldn’t traffic in such new-Agey pseudo-intellectual rubbish for the sake of adding subscriptions.

But I would apparently be wrong.

 Buy either book on Amazon, here (paperback or ebook editions)

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...

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