8. "But Where's the Harm?"
I now predict ( pun definitely intended ) that some readers will now be thinking, “OK, so we know astrology is a load of garbage, but so what? If some people want to believe it, what harm does it do?” Well, read on, and think again.
At first sight, you may well think that if some people want to believe in a ridiculous unfounded superstition, then it’s up to them, and it doesn’t do any harm to anyone else. But I beg to differ.
For starters, I mentioned in Section 2.3 that the UK’s biggest chain of bookshops once had books on astronomy and astrology randomly mixed on the same shelf – not by accident, but as deliberate policy! It’s easy to imagine the potential harm, if well-meaning but naive parents had bought their kids the wrong book.
But there is far worse. It’s not unheard of – today, in the Twenty-First Century – for employers to choose between candidates for jobs on the basis of their “star sign”! Does anyone think that is harmless? Apart from being absurd and irrational, this is surely a form of discrimination. In most of the civilised world, it’s now illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of their race, religion or sexual orientation – but you can still get away with doing so on the grounds of something with absolutely no basis in reality!
Even worse, there have been cases of people in real positions of power being influenced by it. In 1988, it was revealed that the dates and times of meetings in the White House were often arranged and rearranged on the advice of an astrologer! It was actually Mrs. Nancy Reagan who consulted the astrologer, but her husband – the President of the United States – went along with it. Think about that for a moment – the man in the most powerful political position in the world allowed matters of state to be influenced by the random gibberish of a deluded peddler of fantasy.
Half a century earlier, Mrs. Reagan’s delusions were apparently shared by another First Lady, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. It’s to be hoped that her husband wasn’t influenced by it, as he led his country through the Second World War...
During that same war, Adolf Hitler is known to have consulted an astrologer, before making political or military decisions. At this point, I expect some apologist to point out that Winston Churchill also did so, and he was no lunatic! Indeed he did – but not because he believed any of it; it was because he knew that Hitler did, and wanted an insight into the sort of garbage which was being fed to the latter. ( I suspect that this was a pointless exercise, however, as the Führer’s astrologer probably told him whatever he wanted to hear! )
So do you still think it’s harmless?
[ Update, March 2015: Another example has just made headlines in my own country. A certain Member of Parliament has stated his belief that astrology can somehow be used to diagnose illnesses – I don’t pretend to understand how! – and has actually proposed that it could be used to take pressure off doctors in the National Health Service. He also claims that so-called “complementary medicine” – including homeopathy, the insane belief that any ailment can be cured by drinking water – should be used as an “alternative” to real medicine. ( My treatment of homeopathy can be found in the “Miscellaneous Madness” section of this site. )
This is a man who is paid to play a part in the running of the country, and who might actually have a say in such things as the funding of our health service! He is clearly not fit to be in such a position; if I lived in his constituency, I would be writing to demand his resignation!
Oh, and he did trot out the Churchill strawman! ]
But on top of all this, astrology is just one of many examples of what has come to be called “anti-reality”. It promotes irrational, anti-scientific thinking, of a kind which has no place in the modern world.
Other kinds of anti-reality are becoming ever more widespread in today’s society, and poisoning people’s minds – creationism, global warming denial, anti-vaccination madness, and no end of barmy stories about imaginary “government conspiracies”. In today’s world, science is vital to every aspect of our daily lives – even for those who are too stupid to realise it, while happily enjoying its benefits in the form of their computers, mobile phones, satellite TV, etc. etc. – yet people’s minds are being turned against it. And ironically, it’s computers and the internet which enable all this drivel to be propagated as never before.
Astrology may be relatively harmless, in comparison to some of those other things, but it’s still a part of the general trend of anti-reality. After all, those who believe in one kind of delusion are probably likely to be swayed by others. It plays a part in weakening people’s ability to use logic and think rationally, at a time when this is more important than ever.
Finally, as an astronomer, it irritates me that astrology blinds people to the real wonders of the Universe! The Cosmos is fascinating and wonderful in its own right, without having to make up fairy tales about it! In an age when men have flown to the Moon, we have robot rovers exploring the surface of Mars, and we have sent space probes to the most distant planets, people still cling to ancient fantasies, left over from the time when our ancestors thought those bodies revolved on crystal spheres.
We teach children to believe in magic and fairy tales – but then they grow up. It’s time that we all, as a species, did exactly that!
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