Monday, March 07, 2016

Astrology & Authoritarianism ?

There have been, of late, articles and commentary around the net about authoritarianism, mostly in relation to the surge of support for Donald Trump in presidential primaries. This Vox article by Amanda Taub is the most recent, but broadly similar pieces can be found from earlier years.

Curiosity led me to Google search "authoritarianism and astrology", not expecting to find much at all. There was this though, at The Conversation website:

Some people think astrology is a science – here’s why - by Prof. Nick Allum.

Articles by sniffy astrology skeptics are not hard to come by, but this one proposes a rather strange linkage of astrology with authoritarianism.

Under a section headed "Take things as they are", following much of the usual anti-astrology spiel, the Prof. wrote [my own highlighting]:
The most interesting result, however, is based on an idea proposed more than 50 years ago by the German sociologist Theodore Adorno. In 1952, Adorno carried out a study of a Los Angeles Times astrology column. He is witheringly critical of astrology, dubbing it, with the rest of occultism, a “metaphysic of dunces”, suggesting “a climate of semi-erudition is the fertile breeding ground for astrology”.

What is particularly interesting, though, is the connection drawn between astrology with authoritarianism, fascism and modern capitalism (remember that this was in the aftermath of WWII and the Holocaust). For Adorno, astrology emphasised conformity and deference to higher authority of some kind. As some researchers put it: “Take things as they are, since you are fated for them anyway”. In short, Adorno believed that “astrological ideology” resembles “the mentality of the authoritarian personality”.

People high on authoritarianism tend to have blind allegiance to conventional beliefs about right and wrong and have high respect for acknowledged authorities. They are also those who are more favourable towards punishing those who do not subscribe to conventional thinking and aggressive towards those who think differently.

If this hypothesis is correct, then we should see that people who value conformity and obedience will be more likely to give credence to the claims of astrology. In the Eurobarometer survey, there was (by chance) a question that asked people how important they thought “obedience” was as a value that children should learn.

I used this question as a rough and ready indicator of whether a survey respondent was more or less authoritarian in their outlook. And, again, I used regression analysis to see if there was a link between people’s answers to this question and what they thought about astrology. In line with Adorno’s prediction made in 1953, people who attach high importance to obedience as a value (more authoritarian) are indeed more likely to think that astrology is scientific. This is true regardless of people’s age, education, science knowledge, gender and political and religious orientations.

So, on one hand, it seems that horoscopes and astrological predictions are, for most people, just a bit of harmless entertainment. On the other, the tendency to be credulous towards astrology is at least partially explained by what people know about science – but also what kind of personality traits they have. And these factors might prove useful in understanding beliefs about a whole range of pseudo-scientific fields.

Although I understand the thinking, I still find the connection a reach - and that's putting it politely. What do others think?

NOTE: There's a loose, non-astrological, connection here to matters mentioned in a post last month:


mike said...

Psychology is likewise not a scientific discipline! Nick Allum is throwing rocks from his glass house. He presents his results, but his methodology may be suspect. I thought his "How Scientific would you consider astrology or horoscopes" misleading, as he then proceeds to infer confusion over astrology equal to astronomy, because 25% thought astrology scientific vs 7% for horoscopes. Ask most astrologers and each would draw a line between astrology and horoscopes, as most have disdain for Sun-sign-only forecasting. Astrologers would also rank horoscopes very low without confusing astrology for astronomy. His linking of conformity and authority with belief in astrology is alarming, as both terms are qualitative at best, and conformity-authority is linked to a wide variety of psychological outcomes. His "quantified" terminology defined as, "how important they thought 'obedience' was as a value that children should learn" is left wide-open, which is why he put quotation marks around the word obedience. I won't be losing any sleep over Allum's essay. Those that are predisposed to thinking astrology as rubbish will find satisfaction in his authoritarian study.

His very last sentence is striking. He states, "And these factors might prove useful in understanding beliefs about a whole range of pseudoscientific fields. Well, duh, psychology, political science, and economics fall into the pseudo-scientific fields, too, but are much more respected. Each falls victim to the same authoritarianism. Guess that's why most economists didn't see the 2008 recession...or this year's politics cannot be predicted by the pundits. Any discipline involving human nature will never be a science. I believe that astrology has much to offer in characterizing human nature and affords a method of trending-predicting human-human interactions.

Authoritarianism is's part of human nature.

mike (again) said...

It's interesting to note that Carl Jung found astrology as a rich resource and perhaps a foundation toward understanding his field of psychology. Financial astrology has contributed an understanding of cycles in economics and a number of astrologers have won awards for calling the reversal trends of money, assets, and precious metals. Several astrologers foresaw the incredible changes induced post 9-11-2001, based primarily on the Saturn-Uranus-Pluto T-square, then Uranus-Pluto square. Along with the Uranus-Pluto square, the Jupiter-Saturn-Neptune T-square extant was predicted to provide an amusing political season, religious consternation and extremes, and environmental havoc. Errant correlations or is there something to astrology? Astrology typically out-performs the scholastic pseudo-scientific experts.

mike (again) said...

Religion is one giant, authoritarian dogma. POTUS little Bush was a fundamentalist and thought the Earth 6,000 years old. Creationism is destroying our education system. Had Allum asked his respondents whether they did-didn't believe in astrology due to their religious beliefs, would the results have been different, or at least viewed in a different light?

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks for your observations on this. You've looked at in a rather different way from my initial impression. When putting astrology and authoritarianism in the same sentence, to be considered together, it struck me that perhaps, relying too much on astrologically predicted outcomes, atmospheres, transits etc, in relation to one's own natal chart or in mundane matters is ...kind being obedient to something - that is if astrology is taken too seriously.

I agree 100% that religion is akin to authoritarianism (dang, but that word is a nuisance to type!)

Twilight said...

But, as I wrote at the end of the post - it's a reach!

Out of the box Bob said...

Que sera, sera.

I stopped doing readings for people long ago and I rarely look at my own chart except for an occaisional post event. There is no telling what a particular chart combination is to herald beyond positive or negative, easy or difficult, or some similar description.

The transit of Mars occurs roughly every 2 years but will not coincide with the same event each time. Hiding in a closet or under the bed will not erase a negative read aspect. One may gain weight even when Jupiter is not in the first house, especially as one ages and becomes less active physically, and one will not lose weight just because Saturn is transiting the first house of your horoscope. Poor One!

Working charts is my main time filler when not doing something else.

Twilight said...

Out of the box Bob ~ I prefer to look back, quite a while later, and note whether any events or situations I've encountered stand out as having corresponded with transits. I'm not good at the expecting game - expecting something or some situation or state of mind, be it good, bad or indifferent, that could quite possibly never materialise, or if it did, in a way quite different from expectation. Hiding to nothing! I like astrology to be much looser than the way most astrologers "do it".

Sabina said...

Yikes! What I don't get up to after reading your columns! About three-and-a-half hours of reading your links above, and then on to Wiki entries about Adorno, his works, and massive intro to his key work in question (of which a free PDF exists online), I think he had some thought-provoking ideas about authoritarianism. BUT, he also had his own 'issues', both personal (he was a Jewish musician/intellectual forced to flee Germany in the 30's, and a Freudian Marxist) and professional (peer-identified problems with methodology inter alia). The astrology column he referenced was indeed just your run of the mill Sun sign nonsense. Sum total = no 'provable' connection there.

Personally, I think this 'rant' (linked from, of all things, Comments section of a Canuck financial advice column I read) speaks to the root causes of some of the political rage fueling Trump's authoritarian appeal:

Twilight said...

Sabina~ Lol! Are we keeping you out of mischief? Sorry! I glanced at Adorno's Wiki page when preparing the post and his natal chart, but decided to stay away from more detail. Coincidentally I came across him again this afternoon when searching for info on an artist I'm investigating for a post on Friday. Maybe his name will pop up again in that post.

Judge Jeanine ...hmm - she was talking about Trump - defending him against Romney's attack, but she could almost have been defending Sanders against Clinton. :-) A touch over the top though, but she's not wrong.