Is Astrology like Racism?
Does astrology denigrate individuals by factors beyond their control?
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The claim: "How Astrology is like Racism"

The deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, Benjamin Radford penned an article entitled "How Astrology is like Racism". He justifies this claim by arguing that people use astrology to classify individuals according to stereotypes based on their Star Sign (Sun Sign) and therefore "a person is being judged by factors beyond their control".

Radford closes with the comment: "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."

Radford's claim rests on a belief that people are being judged. However, modern astrologers don't consider signs, planets or even horoscopes to be 'good' or 'bad'. Certainly some horoscopes are more challenging than others, but this can drive a person towards a successful and fulfilling life.

Any analysis of human traits is open to abuse in the wrong hands

Nevertheless, in the wrong hands any form of analysis of human character traits and behaviour can be used for negative stereotyping. In a bigoted mind, astrology can become vehicle for prejudice with false claims such as those born under a certain sign are dishonest or weak. But a bigot can also abuse people for their age, gender, name, religion, culture, hair colour (think blonde jokes or ginger bashing) - even foot size to express their personal distaste. Yet all these measures have value in the right context.
THE OBJECTION: "Isn't Astrology just another form of bigotry?"
THE RESPONSE: "Sure... if you're a bigot."
Yes, there are people out there who will say things like "don't date him, he's an Aquarius and they're unfaithful" or "I'd never hire a Gemini because they're too scattered" or "don't get a dog unless it's a Virgo, otherwise it'll be too messy" and so on. That sort of thing isn't astrology's fault... it's how people use it to back up their own biases. The same impulses that make people look down their nose at others based on ethnicity or religion or handedness or belief in astrology or whatever can just as easily be twisted around into astrological terms.
Eight Things Skeptics of Astrology Don't Get Astrologer, Matthew Currie 2013

Is profiling equivalent to racism?

Assessments about people based on factors beyond their control are an inescapable part of life and in the right context of great value. Sometimes it's essential.

  • A modelling agency must select people by their looks and shape.
  • Most people's voices are not suited for work as a professional singer or presenter.
  • People with red hair and light skin should avoid exposure to strong sunlight.
  • Geneticists are able to profile people in ways that can result in life-changing decisions.
  • Haematologists classify patients into 4 blood group types: A, B, AB and O. But this is a simplification. Just like the supposed "twelve types of astrology" which fronts at least 14,400 sub-categories,[1] there are many subtypes of blood group and many other systems of blood classification.
These biological profiles are all based on factors beyond our control, but useful. And to argue that we should pussyfoot around such classifications is not defending racism, but a warped form of political correctness.

Racism is not defined as classifying individuals by factors beyond their control. Otherwise geneticists, haematologists, casting directors, clothing designers would all be like racists. Racism is the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. The practice has a history of horrific violence.

Does equating astrology with racism trivialise racism?

Not only is it misleading, but to equate astrology with racism is to belittle racism. Racism was the inspiration and justification for the Ku Klux Klan, the Holocaust and slavery. Martin Luther King actually said "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Radford's corruption of MLK's famous quote and the claim by comedian Dara O'Briain that "racism is way better than astrology"[2] is an insult to those who have fought and died for civil liberties throughout the world. This type of offensive comparison to justify what is no more than personal beliefs is known as the Reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy.
Show me the person who's been denied housing or enslaved based on being a Libra. I'll wait. ~ Sam Reynolds, Astrologer
Why does Radford conflate astrology with racism and not with stereotyping, where he may have a case? Could it be that racism is a highly-charged emotive topic while stereotyping does not have the same history. In keeping with the style of the Skeptical Inquirer, Radford seeks to manipulate using emotion rather than logic known as the Appeal to Emotion fallacy.

Racism is fundamentally different from astrology:

  1. Racism is almost always used to denigrate or disadvantage one type over another. Positive discrimination is not considered racism. Astrology is generally used to discover talents, strengths and challenges (which can be turned to advantage) and a chart analysis is about potential and not about what a person cannot do.
  2. There is no 'master' sign or theory of a master sign with claims of superiority over other signs and there are no inferior signs. While each sign has different properties, they are all considered equal. Astrology is remarkably free of age, class and gender bias.
  3. Labelling people by Sun signs alone should be done with great care, if it has to be done at all, as this can be taken literally. A Sun Virgo and Sun, Pluto, Uranus conjunct in Virgo are quite different. This is not just about avoiding prejudice; it is how astrology is practiced as Radford should have investigated before writing. And this is exactly why this type of generalisation is not what a professional astrologer would do. Every chart shows potential in a number of directions and a good astrologer can facilitate an individual to explore those directions.
  4. Radford twists Martin Luther King's seminal message to claim that a person should be judged not by the date and time of their birth ­ but by the content of their character. Astrologers do not make moral judgements or assumptions about people based on their birth data. They can identify both positive and negative potentialities caused by their internal energy dynamics, and guide them to work effectively to resolve the more problematic potentials in a constructive manner. And as for prejudice, that is judging without knowing - and by conflating racism with astrology Radford becomes a prime example of this.

The Scientific Pretensions of the Skeptical Inquirer

And who is Benjamin Radford? The deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer self-styled 'science' magazine and a so-called 'Research Fellow' with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP). The Skeptical Inquirer is simply not scientific and copying the term 'research fellow' could seem like a ploy to make this vigilante operation look more 'sciency' and their eyes respectable. A research fellow is an academic research position at a university and CSI is not an academic body or even a research institution. CSI abandoned all attempts at scientific research after their disastrous investigation into the work of Michel Gauquelin that ended up supporting astrology. They later wisely dropped the word 'scientific' from their name (previously CSICOP) to become Committee for Skeptical Investigation. So their focus is not on critical thinking and research, but on preaching and promoting their beliefs.

Is it appropriate for a senior member of a predominantly male and almost exclusively white sceptical group (CSI/CSICOP) to use the "racist card" to justify his personal beliefs? This seems hypocritical when the sceptical movement has been widely criticised for being sexist and patriarchal.[3] Distancing themselves from this type of unfounded nonsense would help to clean up their collective act and from the author a retraction and an apology to all those who have suffered and still suffer from racial abuse for trying to hijack and downgrade racism.

Footnotes

  1. Star Signs or the correct term "Sun Signs" place the Sun in 12 signs. This is a generalisation. An astrological chart locates ten astrological planets (that includes the Sun, Moon and Pluto) in 12 zodiacal signs and in 12 houses. This alone results in 10 * 12 * 12 = 14,400 sub-categories. This total does not include the aspects (angles between planets) and other astrological techniques.
  2. Dara O'Briain - Astrology - Craic Dealer Racism is WAY better than Astrology! (Youtube Clip Published on Nov 17, 2012) In a comedy show to an astronomy oriented audience, Irish comedian Dara O'Briain compared astrology with racism and logos with excrement. To comment in this way, even in jest, displays his ignorance. Logos (knowledge, logic) is the essence of the tradition of science. The video has since been removed from YouTube presumably on the grounds of poor taste. Archived without video.
  3. Irish former sceptic Stephen Bond, Why I am no longer a Skeptic: "It's an increasingly acknowledged fact that the skeptic community is rife with sexism -- especially in the wake of the "elevator guy" controversy."

Robert Currey


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