November 27, 2017

"So why, in an age of information overload and in a news-saturated city like New York, are written horoscopes still so popular?"

Asks Alexandra S. Levine in the NYT.

I'm going to read this because the National Review, linked by Instapundit, is reviling the NYT for "taking astrology seriously." Before reading the NYT piece, I'm just going to guess that the NYT is only taking astrology seriously in the sense of seriously inquiring into why people still read horoscope columns — do they believe in the pseudo-science, are they just having fun, or is there some deeper psychological need that is fulfilled by visualizing one's fate out there in "the stars"?

The NYT doesn't run an astrology column (like its NYC rivals The Daily News and The NY Post), and it must fret over missing out on the traffic. Why don't people want to read real news? Or is it that people want to read fake news (in which case, astrology fits right in)?

Now, I'm reading the actual NYT article. Ah, yes, it's the deeper psychological need:
“What makes us feel safe in the world is order, boundaries and sequence, and those three things are things that astrology can give us,” [said Galit Atlas, a clinical assistant professor in New York University’s postdoctoral program in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis]. “Especially in a time when the world doesn’t feel safe, we tend to search for an order that makes sense. That’s not a negative thing.... The more secure we feel in the world, the more we’re able to be productive — to live fully, to love and to work.”
Another thing, which I hadn't thought about, is art:
“I had no interest in astrology; I couldn’t see the use of it and it didn’t seem practical,” [said Eric Francis Coppolino, who writes the Daily News horoscope column]. “But when I started reading Patric Walker in The New York Post, I suddenly found myself with a guy who wrote like Steinbeck....  Between different astrologers, describing a chart is like poets describing a tree... You’re going to get 20 different poems.... But the conversion from that to that,” he added, waving a finger from his astrology table to a draft of his next horoscope column, “that’s where the mystery is. That’s where the art is.”
ADDED: I went looking for Coppolino's horoscope column, because I wanted to see how good his writing is. The first thing of his I found, however, was not about astrology, but sexual harassment: "Men get preyed upon sexually, too." That's a subject I'm very interested in. Let's read:
When I heard Weinstein’s voice from the episode when Ambra Battilana Gutierrez wore a recording device preparing for a possible sting by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, I got a serious case of the creeps: I had a memory triggered. I was so disgusted, I had to stop the recording, wait a while and play it again.

His voice and mental posture were nearly identical to someone I knew half a lifetime ago. It was that same mix of guilty, pushy and desperate. When I was 23 years old, fresh out of college and an aspiring young writer, I was given the name of someone who I was told could be helpful to my career....

He would hire young men, ostensibly for a day of work, which would take about an hour. It consisted of tearing up résumés, each of which he glanced at for exactly half a second. Then, on the second or third visit came the offer of drugs (his preferred libation was LSD). I liked to trip, so I took him up....
I'd only use the word "libation" for a drink, but I think this is good writing. I liked to trip, so I took him up. Okay. Oh, I don't know. I can't even understand that. If you like to use LSD, you presumably know enough about it to know not to use it in the wrong environment, like with a boss or someone you don't fully trust.

Ah, here's the Coppolino horoscope page. Am I "taking astrology seriously" if I opt to sample it by clicking on my own astrological sign? I've got to pick one:
You must be decisive, and yet carefully check to ensure there's not a trace of self-destructive impulse in any choice you make. That doesn't mean refusing to take risks; it's about the kinds of risks, your motives for taking them, and your probability of success. Pay close attention.
Pay close attention. That's practically my motto. Paying close attention to this advice, I'd say it's damned good advice, but, of course, it's good advice for anyone, and I'm not looking at the other signs, because who's got that kind of time? But I'm not reading this for advice. I'm reading it for literature. Does it reach the Steinbeck level?

60 comments:

Larry J said...

The gravitational attraction between two people in the same room is far greater than the attraction between a person and any moon or planet beyond the Earth. That just goes to show you that your mother was right once again when she told you to be careful about your associates.

rhhardin said...

``_I_ know astrology isn't a science,'' said Gail. ``Of course it isn't. It's just an arbitrary set of rules like chess or tennis or - what's that strange thing you British play?''

``Er, cricket? Self-loathing?''

``Parliamentary democracy. The rules just kind of got there. They don't make any kind of sense except in terms of themselves. But when you start to exercise those rules, all sorts of processes start to happen and you start to find out all sorts of stuff about people. In astrology the rules happen to be about stars and planets, but they could be about ducks and drakes for all the differnce it would make. It's just a way of thinking about a problem which lets the shape of that problem begin to emerge. The more rules, the tinier the rules, the more arbitrary they are, the better. It's like throwing a handful of fine graphite dust on a piece of paper to see where the hidden indentations are. It lets you see the words that were written on the piece of paper above it that's now been taken away and hidden. The graphite's not important. It's just the means of revealing their indentations. So you see, astrology's nothing to do with astronomy. It's just got to do with people thinking about people.

``So when you got so, I don't know, so emotionally focused on stars and planets this morning, I began to think, she's not angry about astrology, she really is angry and unhappy about actual stars and planets. People usually only get that unhappy and angry when they've lost something. That's all I could think and I couldn't make any more sense of it than that. So I came by to see if you were okay.''

Douglas Adams

rhhardin said...

``Astrology serves as a much better candidate for the Explanation of Thurber than psychology does. Thurber was born under the sign of Sagittarius, which rules, among other things, archery. The placement of the sun is what rules a man's health, so a man born with any afflictions to the sun in Sagittarius is going to be vulnerable to health problems associated with archery. I don't have an ephemeris handy for December 8, 1894, the date of his birth, but I bet there is either an affliction of the sun to Mercury, the planet of the eyes and of sense perception in general, or else an affliction from his sun to some planet in Gemini, Pisces, or Virgo. An affliction to Virgo, however, is made fairly unlikely by the enormous intellectual and domestic pleasure Thurber got from dogs - Virgo rules animal training. But Gemini rules dogs, so that lets Gemini as a source of affliction out. It was therefore probably an opposition to Mars in Pisces, which would also account for Thurber's excessive dreaminess and his problems with alcohol, as well as the tenderer and more romantic spheres of experience, as Pisces rules love and all other intoxicants. I would also expect to find Uranus, the planet of the inexplicable and especially the planet of misunderstood geniuses, in the constellation Scorpio, which rules erotic thought, since his brilliant visions of the wars and comedies of the sexes are so persistently misunderstood.''

Vicki Hearne

traditionalguy said...

The Astrology Muse sure does like artists it can use for divination of the future. Too bad it always lets people down. Majik/ULTRA code breakers did a better job. The Nazis were enamored of Astrology. But last time I checked, they were the ones being fooled.

james james said...

I think there was a Shakespeare line about our faults having something to do with the stars.

Might have been in his book 'David Copperfield'.

Been a long time since I read it.

-jj

Rob said...

Let’s not mince words: astrology is fake news. It seems fake news is okay if it’s in the service of a higher purpose, like making us feel safe. Or getting subscribers? Or promoting the journalists’ agenda?

Ann Althouse said...

The point is the NYT article isn't about whether astrology is science. It leaves that question behind because it's obviously not science. The National Review is more mired in astrology because it acts as if there is some question there to be examined. There isn't! The NYT knows that and presumes its readers also know that. The question of interest is the psychology of people who read horoscopes and the motivations and experience of the people who write the columns.

Please don't discuss whether astrology is science. That's not the topic.

n.n said...

They expressed the same concern for diversity: judging people by the color of their skin, social progress: friendships with benefits or "casting couch" relationships, abortion rites: Nazi-inspired final solution, etc., then pleaded ignorance and used their mainstream bullhorn to project their twilight faith to shift the focus of attention.

buwaya said...

The Chinese take astrology (their own version) much more seriously.

There are professionals who make big money on this stuff, casting horoscopes and the like. It is not considered silly even in professional-academic or business circles.

And the popular culture makes much more of it. It is ubiquitous and bound up with all sorts of other cultural institutions, like new years day.

Ron said...

I thought your motto was "Curiously strong"....oh, wait, that's Altoids, not Althouse!

Michael K said...

Some people really believe in Astrology, just like some believe in ghosts. My wife is one who believes in both.

She is quite well educated and rational but she believes in both Astrology and ghosts.

My mother did, too.

Darrell said...

Aquarius--

You will meet a video editor and put out to make nice. All signs point to Uranus on the horizon.

james james said...

I think the art in writing Astrology advice is finding differing ways to say the same three things (it's getting better, it's getting worse, inconclusive), about maybe four topics (love, family, health, success) for 12 signs, every day, day after day.

It's like writing a grand novel where nothing actually happens.

I'm assuming self-plagiarism is okay here.

-jj

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I don't believe in astrology. Probably because I'm a Taurus; we're more rational than most.

buwaya said...

So am I, a Taurus.
A natural conservative, its in my stars.

tcrosse said...

In this scientific age superstitions like Astrology have been superseded by the Meyers-Briggs.

tim maguire said...

Coppolino sounds like the fortune cookie of astrologers. That's no a fortune, as you point out, it's advice. Which is fine, but then why not write a straight up advice column?

MayBee said...

I have many friends who mock people who don't believe in "science" and do have religious beliefs who have absolute faith in astrology.
It's fine, but they aren't very self-aware.

traditionalguy said...

Steinbeck wrote under the influence of a Muse that gave him great characters and insight into humans. John just wrote the Preface.

Owen said...

Astrology = climate change

Same need to believe, same ability to conjure epicycles and ever-finer distinctions among the infinities of when one was born. This latter aspect reminds me of the "butterfly's wing" which epitomizes the sensitivity of the climate system to every input and feedback.

Result is a mental and social self-pleasuring device. And for some, a very good living.

tim maguire said...

james james said...I think the art in writing Astrology advice is finding differing ways to say the same three things (it's getting better, it's getting worse, inconclusive), about maybe four topics (love, family, health, success) for 12 signs, every day, day after day.

You make it sound like sports writing.

james james said...

"You make it sound like sports writing."

In Sports Writing now you can also have Social Justice.

You can write endless words on Social Justice, from what I can tell.

The well never goes dry.

-jj

Hari said...

The NYT is normalizing people who believe in astrology.

Darrell said...

You need sports writing because there has to be something for B-and-C-students.

traditionalguy said...

Bywaya reminded me of the total design of all decisions to match horoscope days that many of my Indian Doctors regulates their life decisions by. And these guys were smart and well educated...and rich. I often wondered if they thought I was a good lawyer because they informed me I was a triple gemini.

Most Christians see Divination as useless, or at best Satan’s plan for your life. Even if it works 5 Times, it will do you harm on time 6...like a good con man will suck you in.

Quaestor said...

The NYT's astrology column is popular for a reason closely related to the reason why Hillary Clinton carried NYC by such a wide margin. One will also find a strong correlation between people who read astrology columns and people who think it's possible to be born the wrong sex.

rhhardin said...

same ability to conjure epicycles

Epicycles weren't a mistake. They're the fourier series of the ellipse.

Fernandistien said...

Michael K fantasized...
She is quite well educated and rational but she believes in both Astrology and ghosts.


One of those two statements is obviously false. Boo!

Article/Coppolino said: "I should be completely clear:"

Yes, you should be clear: according to your article you were not "preyed upon sexually".

Bay Area Guy said...

Hey, Baby, what's your sign? I'm a Gemini, with Pisces rising. Far out, man.

Amexpat said...

In my younger days, I'd liked it if a woman asked me which sign I was born under. Not because I was interested in Astrology, but because it was a sign that she was interested in me. Now, it's a complete turn off. I have to resist going Larry David and explaining that Astrology is absolute nonsense.

Ann Althouse said...

"Coppolino sounds like the fortune cookie of astrologers. That's no a fortune, as you point out, it's advice. Which is fine, but then why not write a straight up advice column?"

Because it doesn't address any specific problem, and yet it's not completely general (because it's particularized by sign and by the day). There's always something to read, and it gives you a hit of something that's different from yesterday and purportedly about you (and not just you but you and the universe).

Fernandistien said...

Ignorance is Bliss said...
Probably because I'm a Taurus; we're more rational than most.


(Ford) Taurus
"You’re starting to think about settling down, finding a nice little place, starting a family, maybe eventually even getting some clothes."

Is the horoscope from "Thick as a Brick" online anywhere? That one was really accurate!

Michael K said...

I see the creep is back. Go away.

tcrosse said...

Maybe they could write some new, snappier answers for the Magic 8 Ball.

Quaestor said...

Scorpio Be indecisive for once. In spite of your over-inflated sense of self, you don't know beans about almost everything. Ask someone else, anybody.

james james said...

"Maybe they could write some new, snappier answers for the Magic 8 Ball."

If you touch my Magic 8 Balls I will tell you your immediate future.

Which can segue into a Magic 8 Inches joke.

As long as your Magic is around 8 inches. Otherwise that joke can backfire.

-jj

Bay Area Guy said...

I don't know many folks who dwell on horoscopes today, but during the "Age of Aquarius" it was mostly about getting pretty, long-haired girls to lighten up, loosen "inhibitions" and put out.

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars…

Quaestor said...

Libra Avoid blue cars today. Don't step out in front of one. Don't ride in one. And for gawd's sake don't drive one. Take a cab. Most of them are yellow.

Quaestor said...

Gemini Today is the day for healing familial breaches. Your dipshit uncle who can never stop talking about Gene McCarthy has lymphoma but doesn't know it yet. Call him up and make nice. He may remember you kindly in his will. $$$

Quaestor said...

Taurus The Bull. A big, stupid, dangerous herbivore that nevertheless gets eaten between slices tasteless bread garnished with pickles and a cheese-like substance. Sound familiar? It should. Your next visit to the butchers is as likely to be as merchandise as to be a customer. Steer clear of anyone who wants to make something of you as that something is likely to be lunch.

gspencer said...

Horoscopes are popular because each one of us (yes, even Democrats) longs for the eternal, but so many ignore the evidence of our eyes, and therefore search for fate in foolish things.

Ecclesiastes 3:11, He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quaestor said...

Capricorn Half Goat, Half Fish. Like the goat, you devour anything within reach, and you are able to drive your head into immovable objects without apparent injury thanks to your remarkably thick skull and incredibly tiny brain. Like the fish, you can breathe underwater. If you haven't already you should try this right away!

Quaestor said...

Scorpio What can one say? A spineless, treacherous urchin upon whom no one in his right mind ought to turn his back. If you are not popular now you soon will be — among the local constabulary, that is. Under other celestial circumstances, you'd be a true menace to society. Fortunately for humanity and small animals, Scorpios are not that creative. Instead, the height of your career will be petty larceny, graft, and minor skullduggery, much like Hillary Clinton, a fellow native, and not like Adolf Hitler, a fact that must chagrin you no end.

Quaestor said...

Cancer The Crab. Or perhaps a lobster. Whatever. Some kind of damned invertebrate. You pinch naked toes, frighten small children, and taste best with drawn butter and a squeeze of lemon. Your other crustacean-like attributes are a tough hide and no detectable brain. In all situations, your best policy is to withdraw to your miserable crevice and just sit there. Your immutable lucky numbers are 14, 77, 32, 5, and 81. Unfortunately, they are more lucky for the lotto operators.

Peter said...

I've never understood the anger this subject evokes among rationalists, scientists, etc. Who cares if people check their horoscope--it's fun and harmless. I don't buy it, but I find it no less persuasive than the theory that all our successes and failures, loves and hates, hopes and despairs, laughs and sorrows, etc. are nothing but the product of mindless little grubby genes desperate to replicate.

Mary Beth said...

It leaves that question behind because it's obviously not science

Or, it leaves that question behind because they are afraid that too many of its readers also believe in astrology - maybe not in the day-to-day predictions, but that people of a given zodiac sign share certain traits.

Peter said...

It leaves that question behind because it's obviously not science.

Why not? Astrology is 100% materialism--it doesn't rely on gods or spirits or anything outside of material reality. The theory that our characters and behaviors are influenced by planetary movements may be right or wrong, but it's hardly crazy. It's widely believed by very intelligent people in other parts of the world. Unless by "science" you mean the Church of Science, a.k.a the "scientific consensus".

Fernandistien said...

Michael K wished he could give orders...
I see the creep is back. Go away.


Now we know why you're so defensive of ignorant, illogical people and their superstitions.

Darrell said...

British comedian Diane Morgan, who also plays Philomena Cunk.

http://standardissuemagazine.com/misc/horoscopes-by-linda-cockshott/

tcrosse said...

Who doesn't read their Fortune Cookie ?

Quaestor said...

Lefties despised First Lady Nancy Reagan for consulting an astrologer, and failed to despise First Lady Hillary Clinton for managing the White House "Bimbo Eruptions Unit".

Quaestor said...

Who doesn't read their Fortune Cookie ?

I always read them in hope of a prediction rather than a platitude. In my entire life I've only gotten one bona fide foretoken enclosed in a pancake. It read You will get 50,000 trouble-free miles, which I taped to the dashboard of my Audi Quattro.

I didn't.

Michael K said...

Now we know why you're so defensive of ignorant, illogical people and their superstitions.

No, I'm not defensive of you. Go away.

mgarbowski said...

National Review's preferred name for itself is "National Review," not "The National Review." See e.g., this About page essay in which the name appears a dozen times without a single "the" preceding it.

n.n said...

There is a progressive pattern where so-called "secular" people are particularly prone to conflate logical domains. NYT only sees an image of its own projection.

n.n said...

As for the National Review, some advice: separation of logical domains, and perhaps a sense of proportion.

Fernandistien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fernandistien said...

Michael K's authoritarian urge to control other people is frustrated so he emoted...
No, I'm not defensive of you.


Well, duh, Mr. Genius, that's what I said.

Hey, sailor, come here often? What's your sign?

Boo!

Bob R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.