Astronomer Parke Kunkle caused quite a stir recently among believers in astrology when he pointed out that a wobble in Earth’s rotation meant that the stars were in a different position above us two millennia ago, when the Zodiac was created.
Astronomers have long dismissed astrology as unproven pseudoscience,
and Kunkle’s observation — though quite correct — has been known for many centuries (the phenomenon is called “precession of the equinoxes”).
The fact that many sun sign horoscopes are based on badly outdated information is troubling to many people, but what may be even more disturbing is astrology’s close similarity to racism.
The basic premise of astrology is that people who were born at certain times and places share specific, distinguishing personality characteristics. Libras like myself, for example, are said to be diplomatic, refined, idealistic, and sociable. Cancers are emotional, sensitive, and domestic. Those born under the Taurus sign are stubborn, analytical and methodical — and so on.
Hundreds of millions of people read their daily horoscopes, or at least know something about their sun signs.
Astrology and racism share many of the same ideas. For one thing, in both cases a person is being judged by factors beyond their control. Just as people have no control over their skin color, they also have no ability to determine when and where they were born.
Both astrology and racial stereotypes are based on a framework of belief that basically says: “Without even meeting you, I believe something about you. I can expect this particular sort of behavior or trait (stubbornness, laziness, arrogance, etc.) from members of this particular group of people (Jews, blacks, Aries, Pisces, etc.).”
When an astrologer finds out a person’s astrological sign, he or 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 characteristics and 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 confirming their beliefs.
Of course, astrologers are not racists. But the belief systems underlying both viewpoints are identical: prejudging individuals based on general beliefs about a group. If we do not assume that African-Americans are lazy, Arabs are terrorists, or Asians are scholastic geniuses, why would we assume that Cancers are emotional, Aries are born leaders, or Geminis are optimistic non-conformists?
People should be judged as unique, individual persons, not based on what arbitrary group they belong to. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., 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.