Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Stars Down to Earth.....

The spare (and rather old) pc I have been temporarily using is near it's dying day. Hopefully I should have a new one by the weekend (fingers crossed). My own phase of depression right now has stopped me also from keeping abreast with the current affairs as I do normally. Hence my recent absence from the blogosphere in general. But while this pc may be dying I can assure you all that I am still alive and so will this blog be. I will soon update my links as to include Ms Melancholy's interesting blog among them, and Elle's too.

Something I have found worthy of blogging about - I have been reading a curious essay by Theodore Adorno, a philosopher who was involved in what was known as the 'Frankfurt School'. It is the first time I have given him a shot. It is not easy reading but nonetheless it is worth persevering with. The name of the essay is 'The Stars Down to Earth' - it is an indictment of astrology. I intend also to read 'The Culture Industry' when I get the chance.

'The Stars Down to Earth' has made me think. While I have never presumed to take astrological columns seriously I have regarded them as mostly being for their part harmless. I have thought twice after reading that.

As far as Adorno was concerned their insidiousness lied partly in the fact that nobody really professes to read them for anything other than a bit of fun. He compares their sense of unseriousness with some of the exagerration involved in some fascist propaganda. However, if the columns had no psychological appeal they would not be so widely read. He points to the fact that their 'predictions' usually say nothing or at least very little about the source from where their supposed authority derives. There is also the irrational belief that astrology not only can predict what may happen in our day and how our time should be used but can also tell us about our respective personalities.

What the newspaper and magazine columns promote is a very bland form of social conformity. They both condescend to and similtaneously flatter their readers. The intended audience is comprised of what Adorno termed the 'semi erudite', or the lower middle classes. The columns address their audience as though their actions are far more important to the scheme of the system than they actually are.

The status quo is taken for granted, and the readers are advised (no matter what their date of birth) to roll along with it so that things run smoothly. Work and pleasure must be kept strictly seperate and one may never intrude upon the other. Hence work must remain pure drudgery while no seriousness should intrude on leisure, making it in effect rather empty. This is one of the legacies of the protestant work ethic and the effects of industrialisation and a technological society, bringing in work which is largely monotonous, tedious and even pointless a lot of the time.

The stars are an external authority that cannot be challenged. The only control the believer has over his or her fate is to behave according to the advice of the experts so that disaster may be averted and they may prosper in the system which is taken as pre-ordained. The columns give the illusion that the reader is in control while at the same time promoting obedience to a higher authority which is as impersonal as the social system itself.

The appeal of these superstitions is largely down to people losing what was their animistic attachment with nature (dependence on the will of the gods and the seasons, etc) while not yet developing the maturity to be able to think with complete independence and rationality. Hence the contradiction with modern superstition. Astrology columns are also unique in the sense that they find their circulation via mass media, there is no direct contact with the witch doctor or shaman. Hence Adorno's description of them as being a 'secondary' rather than a primary superstition. They do not fulfill the function of religion yet they are a small daily dose of comfort rather like a soap opera.

I will not go too far in debunking astrology myself - but I have long been amazed at the unquestioning faith displayed by believers. By modern calculations there should not be 12 but 13 signs of the zodiac. Everybody's sun sign by traditional standards would therefore be wrong as it would be one month ahead. Hence I would not be Pisces but Aquarius, the preceeding sign. Yet the 'experts' have ignored this and so do their followers when it is pointed out to them. See: here and here.

I have a friend who bores me endlessly with her astro babble. Every quirk in a persons' behaviour is, according to her, down to when they were born. Despite my protests that I am not a believer she still works on the assumption that I am or must be deep down as who can deny what is to her the ultimate truth? My mother is also a believer and I recall having that nonsense rammed down my throat even as a child. I tire of men using astrology as a chat up line on me, working on the assumption that all women believe in astrology. Unfortunately more women do seem to go for this than do men, and I don't have the time in this post to explore the reasons why. Perhaps it is partly due to the fact women have been more likely to be in a subordinate or dependent position. People who are or have been oppressed in a particular way may be more inclined to look for certainties, when they themselves have little control over their lives. This, for Adorno, was one explanation for the general appeal of astrology. Also it offers a sense of comfort to a weak ego or a low sense of self worth. Whatever one's educational level or place in the hierarchy they can still find themselves 'in the know' via possessing knowledge not shared by the ignorant or uninitiated.

The only grain of truth this superstition may have is the simple law of gravity. The phases of the moon do affect women's menstrual cycles and it has been speculated that it may affect our moods too (both sexes). Maybe the location of other bodies can have some impact on our bodily chemistry and our minds, but this is by no means a scientific fact but a mere speculation. And it gives me no reason whatsoever to treat an entire superstititon with no scientific basis or rationality at all as though it were fact. There is far more sense behind traditional religion as while unproven the existence of a creator may be a philosophical possibility. Not astrology, though.


Political Umpire said...

Good post. I have never begun to understand why people buy into astrology (nor does Patrick Moore, who knows a bit more about these things than I). For a start the number of zodiacs, as you say, is wrong, as are the number of planets (Pluto is only a planet for sentimental reasons, there would have to be a lot more planets if celestial bodies corresponding to Pluto were included). The gravitational pull of any would be infintessimally small. The idea that they could affect humans or much else on earth is a joke.

Well that's what the tired and grumpy Umpire thinks, anyway.

I hope you're feeling better Liz. I'm sorry things worked out badly in the end, these things happen (not that that's any consolation), but you are an asset to the blogosphere.

China Blue said...

I like to blame my weaknesses on being a typical Libra (indecisive and fluffy), but I have always been at least logical enough to know that not everyone born under that starsign has those qualities.

After all, how could Santa deliver presents when our fireplace was blocked up, and why did the Tooth Fairy always look like one of my parents? It stands to reason, then, that believing in either of those two makes as much sense as the notion that a group of planets have any control over your actions or destiny.

I'm prepared to accept the Moon has some effect on me: I have shorter periods during a full moon, which does indeed coincide with some dramatic mood changes.

I refuse to take any suggestion that 'your rising star is in Uranus' seriously, unless it's from a fully qualified medical professional.

Great post, Liz.

China Blue said...

It's also occurred to me that the blind faith in this, and other belief systems, is most troubling. There are a great deal of people rubbing their hands with glee, waiting to exploit those who don't stop to analyse in any depth, or question, what they are signing up for. Scary thought...

james higham said...

...I have regarded them as mostly being for their part harmless. I have thought twice after reading that...

It's anything but harmless. I have a friend who knows all the spells and incantations, the astrological juxtapositions and so on.

There are forces best left alone and many which should not even be named. If you don't know what you're doing - stay well away.

Liz said...

Thanks for your comments. It surprises me that people who often seem otherwise sensible buy into astrology. I recall my mother putting a lot of my quirks down to the fact I was a Pisces, but funnily enough I noticed not everyone of that sign shared those traits! Some of it was simply not true, she had a book in which Pisces children were described as having a tendency to make up stories to tell their parents (and I didn't do that, I never told tales that were false!). She still swore by it though.

With all respect, James, I don't think there are any 'forces' behind popular astrology (or any kind, for that matter) save for salesmen. It's all a scam as far as I'm concerned. If you're talking about other things that can't be explained it might be a different topic.

QUASAR9 said...

lol! so what did you say your starsign was?

Yep, I can see this would be a weak chat up line when it comes to you.

Whilst I would not presume to subscribe to the whole of humanity falling into traits or fates determined by 12 starsigns - one cannot wholly argue against the sequential origins of matter, galaxies, stars and planets ... and one cannot argue against the clear effect of the Sun & Moon on our tides and moods. But whether Venus or Mars are shining bright oe whether seven planets are in alignment - is little more than saying well its xmas - and if you are from the christian or nordic tradition there's a good chance you are celebrating xmas with a chritmas tree, and Santa Claus, a fairy or a Star on top!
However if you are from a different tradition, whether you were born at the same hour of the same day - your thoughts will be on whatever your local custom is
Even in the global village of the Internet.