Academia Press and Pop Culture

Astrology Handwringing (again)

The BBC has joined the growing number of articles that try to explain away rational and intellectual interest in astrology: “The Anxieties and Apps Fuelling the Astrology Boom.” In this case, the author does a better job distinguishing astrology from the dross we see in newspapers.[1]

A recent BBC article worries about the rising popularity of astrology.

But the basic assumption that animates this article is, as always: no reasonable and rational person would “believe” in astrology.[2] Astrology is, apparently, not a kind of knowledge system, so much as a form of emotional and psychological solace. People turn to astrology after they’ve “lost loved ones,” or to find “support,” or because of the trauma caused by “the destabilizing years of the Trump presidency and Brexit.” Or they are merely sheeple, falling for popular TikTok and social media stars.

What would happen if an article took astrological practices seriously? Not to defend them, but to understand them. Any thoughtful and useful critique has to begin by examining the practice at issue rather than dogmatic rejection. But something about astrology prevents journalists, science popularizers, self-described skeptics, podcasters, and scientists not only from taking astrology seriously, but also from doing the work necessary to identify this astrology they so clearly detest.[3] For centuries now opponents of astrology have caricatured the practice, or parts of the practice they rejected. But at least centuries ago even the most vociferous opponents of astrology, Pico I’m looking at you, knew what they were attacking.

  1. I feel compelled, once again, to say I am not taking a stand vis-à-vis astrology. I am, instead, reflecting on how non-practicing astrologers and the broader public approach astrology.  ↩

  2. The condescension in the use of the word “believe” is unmistakable. Why do we always get the word believe applied to astrology but not to astronomy, or physics, or chemistry?  ↩

  3. A great example of a dogmatic rejection of a caricature of astrology (and hypocrisy) is the infamous “Objections to Astrology Statement” signed by 186 scientists. Scientists, who often claim to reject arguments from authority deploying little more than an argument from authority.  ↩