Astrology and Racism

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Jared Alesi's picture
Astrology and Racism

If I were to say that black people are criminals, Asians are math whizzes, Hispanics are only good at farming, and all Germans are Nazis, you'd call me a despicable racist. I would be characterizing whole groups of people based on no evidence, and it would be a detestable folly on my part.

However, if I were to say that anybody born in April is more creative, or that anyone who was born in September is more personable and outgoing, I'd just be writing the horoscope section of the newspaper. There is no difference between the two. So why the egregious double-standard?

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ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
I wouldn't call the first

I wouldn't call the first paragraph racist nor detestable. They are stereotypes, and stereotypes emerge from the brain's attempt to digest an information rich world.

Jared Alesi's picture
So you think it's perfectly

So you think it's perfectly fine to just assume any black person you meet is probably a criminal? I get that an information rich world needs categorization, but I disagree that stereotyping is permissible.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
I think its perfectly natural

I think its perfectly natural, for better or worse, to make such assumptions.

LogicFTW's picture

I am hoping you would never act on those stereotypes though. Especially in place of employment, or situations like background checks for housing and so on.

Everyone stereotypes at least some. It is a natural evolution based process to evaluate others based on outward appearance. For nearly all of evolution the most dangerous foe humans came across by far, is/was/are other humans. Suspicion is baked in on the "other." If we want to rise above our base instincts, we become aware of our natural tendency to stereotype, by making sure it does not turn into any sort of racisim, sexisim, etc.

Atheist are all to aware of stereotype and repression. The current US president has smashed through many "politically correct" barriers, but there are still a few he would not dare openly cross, such as saying he was an atheist or even agnostic. Even though atheist/agnostic and the not very religious make up a majority of the US population now, there has never been an atheist president, and their is very few major political offices held by atheist. We have openly lgbtq in a few higher political offices, women, minority races and so on in growing representation (and that is great!), but never atheist. It is still considered political suicide.

Unfortunately our racisim and sexisim can be sneaky. We talk a lot about the more obvious outwards signs of it, but still lots can happen that sometimes we are not even aware of. More subtle things that can still do a lot of damage. If we are to be better as people interacting with other people, we need to try to confront any of the 'ism's where ever they pop up

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
I'm in favor of stereotypes

I'm in favor of stereotypes losing their negative connotation, precisely because it makes people confuse them with prejudices. I disagree with your evolutionary explanation as well. What you are describing with your example of appearance is the birth of categorization, subdividing people into groups. When you first encounter a stranger, you intake the simplest and quickest information available which would be based on their race, age, and gender.

But stereotypes are cognitive shortcuts, they exist for the purpose of simplifying the information we encounter. Your brain does it all the time, for every form of information. If I ask you to think of a chair or a bird, the image that will pop in your mind will be the "stereotypical" chair or bird. When it comes to people and groups, you do the same thing. That's just your brain being efficient. Things like "men are taller than woman" "woman are more caring than men" are all benign stereotypes. Stereotypes can be negative as well, such as "all black people are criminals." That belief could have been formed because someone had enough negative interactions with blacks as to make it a stereotype, or in some instances the stereotypes could have been learned culturally. For example, I have the belief that bears are dangerous, not because I've ever had a dangerous encounter with them, because I've learned it from others who have.

So to sort of summarize and expand: Stereotypes are cognitive, Prejudices are attitudes, and Discriminations are behavioral.

LogicFTW's picture
I actually agree with

I actually agree with everything you wrote, short of you disagreeing with the evolutionary explanation.

To me, your explanation of "simplest and quickest information available," "cognitive shortcuts" that sounds all very much like something evolution would explain very well. A product of evolution.

We do categorize in our head a chair or a bird, like everything else, but stereotyping humans especially takes on a special place. They say more parts of your brain lights up when looking at high definition pictures of human faces, then almost any other activity we do. We are able to detect the subtlest of differences. Why do almost all humans have this ability to pick up and remember so well the most minute differences of peoples faces/bodies but not nearly as effectively for any other object? If not evolution, then why?

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
The problem with evolutionary

The problem with evolutionary explanations is that they don't explain anything. If you believe we are beings which evolved from scratch, then by default everything about us can be attributed to evolution. Evolutionary theory takes all of the credit, but does none of the work. Cognitive and social explanations of prejudice and stereotypes, are far better and more useful. If you wish to attribute their discoveries to evolution once they're made, that's up to you, but I don' see it as adding anything useful to our knowledge of those behaviors.

Jared Alesi's picture
But those cognitive and

But those cognitive and social explanations are attributed to evolutionary progress in organisms. The study of anthropology is largely based on this principle, as is much of sociology. Most fields that are derived from biology have their basing in evolutionary theory. It's not just a catch-all answer, it's the point we use as a starter to find new answers. And if the question is biological, chances are that the answer is nested in evolutionary theory.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
You are essentially repeating

You are essentially repeating what said: "If you believe we are beings which evolved from scratch, then by default everything about us can be attributed to evolution."

Using evolution as the starting point for finding new answers is a very inefficient, roundabout way of studying human behavior. The best starting point is the one most directly responsible for the behavior. In the case of stereotypes, cognitive explanations are the best starting point, secondly social explanation, thirdly biological, such as genetics, fourth perhaps chemical, and at the very end of the totem poll evolutionary explanation.

Jared Alesi's picture
I would argue that using

I would argue that using evolutionary theory as a starter is the probably the most effective, since evolutionary theory is substantiated the most by concrete evidence. Anything we build on such a sturdy foundation can be revised when further evidence is discovered. However, starting from the less tested and concrete fields of behavioral psychology and sociology could lead to entire endeavors being thrown out once the actual science disproves the initial assumption. After all, the answer with the fewest assumptions is more likely to be correct.

The problem with working backwards like this is that you essentially look for confirmation of your hypothesis by reinterpretation of data. When you start from facts and then build your conclusion on solid data that represents a real answer, it gives us the most reliable conclusion.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Ok, then lets pretend you do

Ok, then lets pretend you do have the task of explaining stereotypes. Given that you see evolution as the most foundational and solid explanation, what would such an explanation be, that does not make use of behavioral and social psychology?

Jared Alesi's picture
I didn't say that behavioral

I didn't say that behavioral and social psychology can't be part of the answer, but that we shouldn't start with the assumption that they are.

At any rate, here goes: Knowing that evolution is driven by propagation of life, it follows that the development of consciousness helped survival. With this consciousness came a healthy fear of the unknown, as the unknown was dangerous. Such fear evolved naturally, as the animal that runs from potential threats gets to live and propagate. From this fear stems the useful tool of knowledge retention and classification of said knowledge. Best way to fight an enemy is to know him, right? But with this classification of knowledge came stereotyping, because as you said, it makes knowledge easier to classify, for better or worse.

The key here is that I extrapolated my answer from previously collected and tested data because I know that organic tendencies can arise from evolutionary progress. But, however, I don't know for certain that anything Freud or Jung said is true because a lot of it remains untested or untestable. However, I do see use in psychology. I just think that the methodology of it is, at root, not entirely scientific.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Stereotyping is something

Stereotyping is something that occurs in the mind, and everything that occurs in the mind is psychology. So its not that psychology "can't be part" of the answer, its that there is no answer without invoking psychology; you can't even begin to describe what stereotypes are without it. In any case, your explanation goes by the following format:

Consciousness -> Fear -> Knowledge Retention -> Stereotypes

You say you extrapolated your answer from previously collected and tested data, but I see quiet the opposite. The first thing you did in your evolutionary explanation was begin with consciousness, which is interesting because evolutionary psychologists often treat consciousness as an unnecessary byproduct of neural activity. A philosophical zombie that lacks consciousness, but behaves in every other way as we do is not in any evolutionary disadvantage.

Secondly you say the unknown is dangerous, yet it could just as likely be safer. Your house is unknown to me, yet clearly I would be in no more danger than you who are in it. If the unknown creates fear in us, then it cannot be because it is more dangerous than the known. To the contrary, I would argue that the unknown only seems more dangerous, because we are afraid of it.

Lastly, the most interesting statement of all. The suggestion that knowledge retention and classification stems from fear. Isn't it obvious that in order to "fear the unknown" there must first be a way to retain and classify knowledge? Unless your brain already has a way to distinguish between what you know and don't know, you can't possibly be afraid of either.

Everything we know about the things you mentioned, from consciousness to fear, is known because a psychologist studied them.

CyberLN's picture
John, you wrote,

John, you wrote, “Stereotyping is something that occurs in the mind, and everything that occurs in the mind is psychology. So its not that psychology "can't be part" of the answer, its that there is no answer without invoking psychology; you can't even begin to describe what stereotypes are without it. In any case, your explanation goes by the following format:”

I haven’t pondered it as much as I might, but at first blush, I disagree. I don’t think that everything that happens in the mind is psychology. I think it can be, and frequently is, biology.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
I mean you're not wrong, the

I mean you're not wrong, the mind is an emergent property of biology, and psychologists are those who specialize in it's study.

Jared Alesi's picture
I say that the unknown is

I say that the unknown is dangerous because something we are unfamiliar with has the potential to be dangerous. After all, someone found out the hard way that certain things are poisonous. The example of my home in this scenario is hogwash because a home is a familiar item, and is used as a sanctuary for humans anyway. To assume my home is dangerous is not only daft, it's a conflation of my point to make it look absurd. The difference between my home and a new species of animal to discover, or a new plant that may be poisonous, is that we have no idea whether the latter is good or not. Naturally, we air on the side of caution.

My assertion that knowledge retention stems from fear isn't actually unfounded. Negative stimuli are some of the most potent. Any kid that touches a hot stove will remember that experience when dealing with high temperatures in the future. We categorize our knowledge by whether things help or hurt us, whether we like it or not.

To your last point, refer to my opening statement. Psychology is not without merit. It's just not a good starting point for new endeavors. We know what we know about consciousness and fear because the evolutionary science supports it. The fact is that nothing in psychology can ever be proven unless it agrees with evolutionary biology. So why not just start with evolutionary biology, and work our way up? It's worked for every other field of scientific endeavor.

The way I view psychology in relation to biology is not dissimilar to the relationship between science and history. Biology informs psychology, like science informs history. History is used to relay the discoveries of forensics or archaeology in a meaningful and useful way, and psychology and other social studies are used to relay the discoveries of evolutionary biology in a useful and meaningful way. The fact that consciousness is a byproduct of neural activity is meaningless without the field of psychology, but unsubstantiated without the evidence uncovered by biology.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Right, but the person who

Right, but the person who found out the hard way that certain plants are poisonous, didn't live to tell his tale genetically; and the person who was afraid of oranges, placed themselves at risk of scurvy (although technically deterrence from eating poisonous foods is biologically mediated by the taste of bitterness, not fear). When it comes to rape and murder, you are more likely to die by the hand of someone you know than a stranger. So my point is that the unknown is unknown, and isn't by default dangerous. Fear can just as easily stop you from living a healthy life, finding a sexual partner, and even keep you from going to the doctor.

The issue with saying that memory stems from fear, isn't because they don't interact, but because memory is foundational to everything the brain does. Fear, love, hate, walking, eating, thinking, speaking, all of these require memory, and you could just as easily have argued that knowledge retention stems from any of the other.

Jared Alesi's picture
I think our understanding of

I think our understanding of fear isn't syncing up. What I'm trying to suggest is not that fear of the unknown is a perfect solution to the issue. It doesn't even work in all cases. But it's effective enough to keep us alive long enough to propagate in most cases.

Imagine you're a Neanderthal, sitting on a log by the woods. You hear a rustle in the leaves behind you. It could be any number of harmless things, sure. Or, it could be a predator that's about to kill you. So let's say it's a harmless rabbit. If you run, no big deal. You were safe, and you're still safe. You don't run, and you're safe. But if it's actually a mountain lion, and you run/defend yourself, you're arguably more safe than if you just ignored the noise. It's like a second nature gamble. We instinctively run from or defend against potential danger because that's what the survivors the precede us did.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Right, fear is a defense

Right, fear is a defense mechanism after all. So I agree that to a certain extent it is better to overshoot with fear, so long as its also understood that there are circumstances in which overshooting puts you at a disadvantage.

Overall I just want to drive the point home that evolutionary explanations of such behaviors are not all that useful. If I were to summarize evolution's contributions to our understanding of behavior, it just states that whatever the behavior is, benefited survival and reproduction, or at the very least didn't interrupt it.

When I read your comments, I see precisely what I said I would see: evolutionary theory piggyback riding on the discoveries of other fields. You said it was the foundational starting point, yet right off the bat, you started talking psychology. I don't know how else to explain it, if not by repeating that things such as fear, memory, consciousness, and stereotypes, have been directly studied by psychologists and neuroscientists that do not, generally speaking, care how the brain evolved. Their only interest is in the current state of the brain, and its modern behaviors.

Jared Alesi's picture
I wouldn't call it

I wouldn't call it piggybacking, but proving. We know psychology and its theories are accurate because they agree with concrete scientific knowledge. If the evolutionary science was different, so too would be the psychology. And while you're right that psychologists are only concerned about the current state of the brain and its behavior, you're wrong to assert that they don't care about how it evolved. How it evolved answers the question of why it does what it does. It's just that whatever answer you discover is called psychology because it falls into that field. Isn't that what psychology is? The study of behaviors and reason for human thought and action? Well, the study of biology is its predecessor. Psychology is a derivative of biology, even if its modern work is done independently of biological sciences. In the end, psychology is still just more refined biology and must adhere to previously established scientific law.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Ok, but its not possible for

Ok, but its not possible for psychology to contradict evolution precisely because psychology is concerned with current human behavior, and not with whatever came before. To the contrary, even though in the grand imaginary scale of things you could argue that if our evolution were any different so too would our psychology, that statement isn't true from a researcher's perspective. Quiet the opposite is true. Whatever psychology discovers, evolution must change itself to.

If upon closer inspection, it was discovered that we are not in fact afraid of the unknown, and instead we are afraid of a different variable that's within it, you would be force to change your previous explanation accordingly.

In contrast, if evolutionary biologists realize discover that evolution works differently, say, Lamarckian style, it wouldn't alter the observations made in psychology. If the fear of the unknown exists, then it exists irrespective of how it got here.


Another problem with evolutionary explanations of behavior, is that it fails to explain variations. Evolution forces you to speak in general terms, so either you blame racism on a Neanderthal's fear of the unknown or you do not. But in modern times prejudices and racism aren't present in every culture. In America for example, modern racism was born out of the reconstruction of the South after slavery ended. Yet, in the Caribbean you don't see that type of racism. Spaniards, slaves, and indigenous people all merged together and coexist normally. What evolutionary explanation would account for those differences? It wouldn't make sense.

Jared Alesi's picture
I'm not going to cater to

I'm not going to cater to your fundamental misunderstanding of evolutionary science. Everything you have posted in this thread represents a total lack of understanding of basic biological concepts. You want to argue semantics until the cows come home, fine. Do it somewhere else, with someone else. You can't just change facts and misrepresent science for your own masturbatory pleasure and the delusion that psychology is somehow of more scientific credibility than actual tested, peer-reviewed data.

All of this notwithstanding, this isn't even the focus of the OP. This wild tangent doesn't even matter, because this was not the issue. The original issue was how astrology, an unfounded, irrational categorization of people based on insignificant matters such as date of birth, is fundamentally similar to racism, an unfounded, irrational categorization of people based on insignificant matters such as melanin content.

Jared Alesi's picture


Lamarckian style of evolution has already been debunked by observation.

Darwinian evolution by natural selection has been rigorously tested for over a century, and found to be true in all cases. This isn't even a debate in the scientific world anymore. The only people who doubt the validity of evolution by natural selection are the people who don't put forth the effort to adequately understand it.

As far as the scientific community is concerned, the only mystery left to be solved in the field of evolutionary biology is the concept of biogenesis (the transition from nonliving molecules to self-replicating ones), and the world's leading scientists are working on that issue now.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
"Everything you have posted

"Everything you have posted in this thread represents a total lack of understanding of basic biological concepts."

I don't want to toot my own horn, but I am educated in everything we've discussed so far. Not only have I been taught the psychology of prejudices, fear, memory, and social interactions, part of that education means I need to learn the neuroscience of it. From the way neurotransmitters as synthesized, to the neural networks of the brain and everything in between. How I can study the most complex biological organ known to man, and yet lack an understanding of basic biological concepts is beyond me lol.

Here is a paper by someone much more sympathetic of evolutionary psychology than me: Evolutionary psychology

Notice that one of the biggest issues he sees in evolutionary theory is their insistence on finding adaptive purposes for behavior; that if a trait exists, then it must be good for something. The best example of what he warns against, is your made up explanation of how fear of the unknown provides an advantage. You took the psychological knowledge of fear, and created an evolutionary narrative around it so it makes adaptive sense, all without a single shred of evolutionary evidence. You don't know what Neanderthals were afraid of, you just made that up out of thin air because its what made sense to you.

Lastly, I agree this isn't the focus of the OP, precisely because evolution barely provides much useful information. Had we stuck with my original approach of cognitive and social explanations, the conversation would have been more informative towards that end. So to summarize my original approach: Stereotypes are cognitive simplifications of our social environment; they are descriptive in nature, and thus contain, generally speaking, some kernels of truth. Astrology is not like that at all, it isn't descriptive it is predictive. Its goal is to predict and understand human behavior using the stars as the independent variable.

CyberLN's picture
Quick question for you, John.

Quick question for you, John.

You wrote, “I don't want to toot my own horn, but I am educated in everything we've discussed so far.”

Does that guarantee you understand It correctly?

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Presumably yes, but strictly

Presumably yes, but strictly speaking it means I understood it enough to pass all the required tests, essays, and projects. Whether or not these exams actually measure how correctly we've understood the information is a different story.

CyberLN's picture
So, was your horn tooting for

So, was your horn tooting for naught then?

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
It means the deans and

It means the deans and faculty of psychologists at my university found me qualified for admittance into their field, and the president of the university, with the authority vested on him by the state of Florida and the concurrence of the board of trustees, conferred upon me the degree for which I was recommended, and which I qualified.

But if you feel that the examinations which are used to qualify someone, do not really measure the understanding of a person, then there's not much I can do.

CyberLN's picture
You wrote, “But if you feel

You wrote, “But if you feel that the examinations which are used to qualify someone, do not really measure the understanding of a person, then there's not much I can do.”

John, are you intimating that was imbedded somewhere in my posts to you?

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
The word if

The word if introduces a conditional. Which means its up to you if it applies or not.


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