The Nation touts astrology

August 25, 2021 • 1:00 pm

As I started to write this post, my stomach literally became queasy, for it makes me unhappy to not only see woo like astrology purveyed to the public (there’s no evidence that it works, at least as predicting your personality or future), but also see it purveyed in a magazine like The Nation.  Now I don’t often read that magazine, but when I have I got the impression that it was a serious periodical tilted toward the Left. Wikipedia notes that it’s the oldest weekly magazine in the U.S. (replacing an antislavery periodical in 1865), and that it covers “progressive political and cultural news, opinion, and analysis.”

I guess “progressive” now includes “woo”, because “progressive” periodicals, including the NYT, are now running articles on discredited or unsupported practices like dowsing and astrology (see Greg’s post on the latter).

Now, as it appears from the article below (click the screenshot), The Nation has also drunk the Kool-Aid with a profile and interview of astrologer Alice Sparkly Kat.

But wait! It’s even worse. Sparkly Kat connects astrology with anti-racism, intersectionality, and colonialism, though you won’t learn much about their connections from the loosey-goosey interview.  Sparkly Kat has even written a book about “postcolonial astrology” (see photo below), which you can learn about here—if you can stand to see a dozen buzzwords all strung together.  Oh, hell, read for yourself. This is what we’ve come to:

Astrology is a language that millennials, Gen Zers and many others continue to build fluency in, and look to to inform their everyday lives, decisions and relationships. But so much more than a fad, astrology is an intersectional, political and magickal language with a cross-cultural history that informs our relationships to the planets. According to Brooklyn-based astrologer Alice Sparkly Kat, astrology is the ideal magical lens through which we can parse the harsh neolliberal [sic] and colonial systems of power that harm marginalized people. It’s these very systems that misappropriate the language, symbols and wisdom of the planets to prioritize self over the collective.

Impeccably researched and informed by the author’s deep knowledge, Postcolonial Astrology offers an advanced course in politicized astrological history and application, and an explicitly Queer, POC and instersectional [sic]resource. This is not a “learn your sun sign” introductory guide. Rather, the book serves as a history and toolkit, decoding the planets from a postcolonial perspective. In one chapter Sparkly Kat traces the disparate cultural applications of the planet Saturn. Once symbolically linked to fortune and a mythic agrarian “golden age” of abundance, Saturn’s qualities have been co-opted by political agendas and misused by power and capital interests. We see this misappropriation of Saturn’s wisdom embodied by the Jeffersonian vision of a white, land-owning state that mythologizes an imaginary agrarian golden age that perpetuated violence against marginalized bodies.

WHAT??????

Note as well that The Nation puts the piece in the “Colonialism” section.

The interviewer, Mary Retta, is the education columnist for Teen Vogue, which tells you everything you need to know about her.

 

Everything’s in there: woo, colonialism, post-colonialism, racism, gender, marginalized people, and capitalism. It’s a witches’ brew of nonsense, and not palliated by any content that makes sense. As usual with many astrologers in “mainstream media”, Sparkly Kat is koy about whether astrology actually connects the alignment of stars and planets with your personality as well as your future, but if you go to their website (which includes the expected victim narrative), you’ll see that yes, it does. Sparkly Kat does “readings”, though the price isn’t available and they’re booked up “until the summer” (but it is summer).  They are just not explicit it about it in this interview. (Sparkly Kat uses “they” and “their” as her pronouns.)

So have a look at these four Q&A interchanges and see if they make any sense. (They don’t to me.) And then tell me why on earth The Nation is publishing stuff like this.

MR: Why did you decide to analyze astrology through a postcolonial lens in this book?

ASK: A lot of my favorite thinkers and people whose work I was reading at the time inspired me. The funny thing is, if you look at a lot of post-colonial theory, astrology is already in there. Sylvia Wynter talks about the sub-lunar and beyond-lunar realm. If you look at Achille Mbembe, he’s talking about the light side of the empire versus the nocturnal body of the empire. Jodi Byrd’s book The Transit of Empire looks at a Venus transit. I’ve been reading all of these thinkers for years. For me postcolonial theory deals with issues of cultural belonging, citizenship, and who gets to belong where, which are also central to my astrology practice.

I suspect that nearly all these connections are tangential, just like one can connect rejection of evolution with white supremacy because some evolution rejectors are racists.

MR: Each of your chapters looks at the history and etymology of a planet. I particularly liked how you used the chapters about Venus and Mars to look at gendered power dynamics. How do you believe we can use astrology to complicate Western ideas of gender?

ASK: The binary gender system is very Western, so going into the book I was interested in learning more about how these ideas came about historically. While reading Hebrew stories from around the time of the Roman empire, I learned that the way that Venus and Mars were conceptualized was often in relation to the military, which also explains how we think about gender today. Venus was a city under siege—she’s vulnerable, needs protection, and is automatically feminized. While Mars is an invading army, so it becomes very masculinized.

What’s interesting though is that in later astrological interpretations, Mars was often seen as very effeminate, and Venus was also seen as a masculine planet. In Western astrology today Venus is more like an idea of femininity that was created by men.

First of all, just because some societies that aren’t Western don’t describe genders as absolutely binary doesn’t mean that “the binary gender system is very Western.” I suspect that long before the rise of the West, cultures in Asia, Africa, and South America were pretty much doing the male-female thing ages ago.

But what does this have to do with planets? This interview is a series of assertions about gender, the West, colonialism, and racism, with no clear connection to astrology. Is there now a new generation of astrologers who don’t really have to study astrology, bogus as the practice is, but can slap the label on themselves, make up stuff and then connect it with the Zeitgeist, charging a pretty penny for an intersectional consultation? That is my theory, which is mine.

A bit more, and then it’s time for Pepto Bismol. This is the part where they’re koy about whether your personality and fate can actually be affected by the planets and how they were aligned when you were born.

MR: Though you write about astrology as a political force, that’s not how mainstream astrology is often practiced. Do you think there are any limitations to contemporary mainstream astrology?

ASK: Yes, definitely. The most popular type of astrology right now is usually horoscope columns, which are usually written by white women, though this is starting to change. Horoscopes today can often be very limiting; there’s something about horoscopes as a genre that’s like, “You’re going to talk about relationships and career,” and that’s it. As a form, I think horoscopes can do much more, but we don’t always get to see that. I know astrologers who say that horoscopes are like a recipe, or your medicine for the month: They can be a poem, a collage, a series of questions. I write monthly horoscopes, and I usually try to leave my readers with questions, a way to introspect, and a way to interrogate their relationship to capitalism.

The “white woman” reference is obscure, but you can probably guess what she means.  Here we see that horoscopes can “do a lot more” than just tell you about your career and relationships, implying that they are potent predictors or guides, but see the next exchange for the caveat. Horoscopes are also recipes, medicines, poems, and questions, as well as guides to introspection.  But do you need planets and stars for that?

Below you see where she evinces the deeply unscientific nature of astrology. In reality either works or doesn’t work (the latter is the case), and is not something that becomes true if you believe in it. And what does Sparkly Kat mean by saying “it’s a social agreement”? Does that mean that when you go to an astrologer, the agreement is “I’ll pay you money and pretend to believe you if you pretend that the stars and planets will guide my future”? I think they’re confusing “social agreement” with “social construction.”

MR: For as much as astrology has grown in popularity, there are still a lot of skeptics. What would you say to people who think that astrology is fake, or believe that astrology can never be political?

ASK: I think it’s a personal choice. I’m not an evangelical, I don’t think everyone has to believe in astrology. I don’t “believe” in astrology. I think it’s a social agreement, and I believe there’s something really mystical about imagining something together. It’s a consensual space too, so if you don’t like astrology, there’s nothing wrong with that.

I want people to talk about astrology in a more political way, because it’s already this intimate language—it’s already political. So let’s make it explicitly political. I want people to be more aware of how astrology exists as a political form.

As for astrology “existing as a political form”, I have not the slightest idea what Sparkly Kat means. It’s a sad state of affairs when someone can actually support themselves peddling stuff like this. But, as P. T. Barnum supposedly said. . . .

Most important, why are MSM places suddenly afflicted with a penchant for publishing stuff about woo?

Oh, I found a video in which Sparkly Kat talks to another astrologer, Kirah Tabourn. It’s more or less what you’d expect. The conversation starts at 6:50.

h/t: Barry

50 thoughts on “The Nation touts astrology

    1. Remember that to the ‘Woke’, reason, logic, objectivity and things like the rules of grammar/spelling are all tools of the ‘White Race’ to oppress and should be replaced with whatever feels right.

    2. Exactly what I thought. If you have a strong enough constitution to go to the website (not to be undertaken lightly), the English is bloody awful – it’s all over the place. I only had the fortitude to read for a few minutes, but three or four times I actually winced due to the poor grammar. It really was that jarring. Ugh!

  1. Yikes, has the world gone mad!!?? As if we don’t have enough to worry about, there’s this drivel being taken seriously.

  2. I don’t read the Nation because I despise leftism, but this is even worse than I could dream of. I am afraid the United States may be entering a Dark Age of superstition and willful stupidity. As for her claim that the sex binary is a very Western thing, she can do a quick search of anthropological databases such as the Human Relations Area Files or the Standard Cross Cultural Sample and she will see that all cultures have categories for male and female as well as gender roles associated with each.

    1. Excellent point about the sex binary, it is ubiquitous. Nothing particularly ‘Western’ about it, on the contrary.

      1. She used the term “gender binary system,” which could mean: two sexes, male and female; the conceptual hierarchy of masculine and feminine; both; either one, depending on who she’s talking to or what she’s talking about — but don’t expect clarification.

    2. She did not claim that binary “sex” is a very Western thing. She claimed that binary gender is very Western. The HRAF that you mention will acquaint you with many non-Western cultures in which there are third genders.

          1. I actually see three observations in your post without a clear argument connecting them.

            Do you agree with Kat’s claim that binary gender is very Western? And if so, how do third genders in non-Western cultures support it, while there are also many and often dominant binary concepts in the non-Western world who also much too often culminate in extreme gender inequality? And why don’t third genders in Western cultures debunk the claim in return?

            My apologies if I misunderstood you, I just don’t see your actual position yet.

            1. My first two observations were corrections to Yours Truly, and focused on what Kat wrote. I took no stand on the accuracy of Kat’s claims: my only interest was in representing accurately what she wrote.

              My third observation was that there are numerous examples of third genders in cultures included in HRAF. That is true. I mentioned this because Yours Truly suggested checking HRAF; Your Truly claims that all cultures in HRAF have categories for male and female and have gender roles for male and female — my point was that HRAF’s database includes cultures in which there are, in addition, third genders.

              I did not draw any conclusions from that. Thus, the rest of your questions have a non sequitur quality that I am unable to decipher.

        1. I cannot tell if you are asking me this question, but I certainly made no such claim. So the simple answer is “no”.

  3. If you portrayed this person in a work of fiction, the Woke would cancel you. We now have a social movement that pre-emptively lampoons itself.

  4. How is this different from Doc’s Magic Elixer, “Guaranteed to energize your brain with electricity! Fills you with vigor and vim!!!”
    In a bygone era maybe the newspapers had these things as a paid advertisement, distinctly blocked off from the news. But now it’s a full blown article.

  5. Up until about five or ten years ago, the Nation had an illustrious history of political and economic reporting, even when it was owned by conservatives. Even today, I have found some of its articles high quality, particularly when eminent historians review history books. But, on the whole, it has become a parody of what solid, leftist oriented political and economic reportage should be. A test that I use to judge whether a publication on the left should be taken seriously is this: does every article that deals with a current event find some way to indict capitalism and/or white supremacy for every problem facing the world? If the answer is yes, I ignore it except for selected articles. Such is the case with the Nation. For example, today’s home page has an article by Sarah Jones, entitled “How capitalism made the world sick.” Publications such as this seem to survive by catering to a niche audience of extreme leftists that can’t stop bitching about the world and wonder why their ideas never seem to get anywhere.

    1. It caters to an audience of young leftist idiots. Elderly extreme leftist with brains cringe when the hear oversimplified and easily disproved nonsense like “Capitalism made the world sick”, or at least I do. The capitalism-fetishizing liberal/libertarian right isn’t much better in the quality of their favorite narratives, though. Political activism is a profession that can’t be bothered with nuanced, balanced and fact based thinking, and the world is the worse for it.

  6. I stopped reading The Nation years ago. I found much of its reporting to be poor to mediocre journalism. Other sources such as Pro Publica are much better.

    1. ProPublica: carefully documented, nuanced, dead-serious investigative journalism.

      The Nation: reflexively Israel-hating, white-indicting, knee-jerk hostility to Enlightenment values—especially the importance of closely reasoned debate and the preservation of crucial distinctions—and the intellectual and political traditions of the West.

      Polar opposites in pretty much every way…

  7. People believe all kinds of nonsense.
    They believe face-to-face conversations are worse than guesswork based on poor and pathetic psychology.
    That in order to get to know a man you need concentration camps, keeping people in cages without a court sentence and torturing them for years.

    (That’s what people are like, it’s good that Jerry Coyne does not join this phenomenon and does not try to justify things that cannot be scientifically and ethically justified.)

    For young people in Poland, the words of Gustaw Herling-Grudziński were a popular topic in Polish-language class essays “I have learned many times that man is human in human conditions and I consider it a terrible nonsense of our times to judge him by deeds he committed in inhuman conditions”
    Write in your own words how you understand them the writer’s words (remember the rules of syntax, spelling and punctuation)

    Indeed, astrology is a small part of human folklore.

  8. Let’s face it, publications today spend a lot of time conferencing about revenue. It’s natural, one would have to think, eventually for someone to say, “Hey, how about astrology?” They glance around the room looking for support…someone else says, “There’s this astrologer my kids like.”

  9. “Sparkly Kat connects astrology with anti-racism, intersectionality, and colonialism….” When you give up facts, you find all sorts of new allies.

  10. “Sparkly Kat is koy about whether astrology actually connects the alignment of stars and planets with your personality as well as your future…”

    “koy?” 😀 PCC gets me every time with his subtle digs at the unscrupulous.

  11. I see liberal promotions of astrology and the like as the natural outcome of accomodationism and the belief that we shouldn’t try to “impose our views” on other people who think different things than we do.

    Like all deepities, there’s the True But Trivial interpretation (“respect personal choices and lifestyles”) and the Extraordinary But False interpretation (“personal choices and lifestyles include science, history, and other factual matters.”)

    1. I see as nothing more than venal bandwagoning. Of course astrologers, mediums, palm readers, etc. are going to use the popular causes and language of the day. Anything to rope in the next sucker.

      1. As the old Certs commercial would say, ‘Stop!—you’re both right!’. I think both are true: the scam artists use the language of the accomodationist institutions to hitch a ride on sociocultural trands and the accomodationists steadily widen the scope of their relativist idiocy (and, possibly, you know, their commercial appeal in a brutally competitive media marketplace…).

  12. It was at The Nation that Christopher Hitchens began his US journalism career and for which he wrote a weekly column for two decades (which is where I first encountered his writing). He fell out with his colleagues there over the US invasion of Iraq following the 9/11 attacks, but I imagine he’s nonetheless figuratively rolling over in his grave over this astrology nonsense.

  13. Then yin and yang are also very Western, I guess:

    Yin is the receptive and Yang the active principle, seen in all forms of change and difference such as the annual cycle (winter and summer), the landscape (north-facing shade and south-facing brightness), sexual coupling (female and male), the formation of both men and women as characters and sociopolitical history (disorder and order).

  14. “But so much more than a fad, astrology is an intersectional, political and magickal language with a cross-cultural history that informs our relationships to the planets.” – shoot me now!

    1. I got as far as “magickal” in the article. That was enough for me. Or should I say “artikal”.

  15. Was this their April Fool’s Day issue?

    Astrology is junk science. Pseudo-science.

    Onward!

    John J. Fitzgerald

  16. Oh now THIS is a new level of stupid I didn’t know even existed! It meshes bs woo with CRT in a hideous mix of extremely dumb. In The Nation – of all horrors (I applied to work there once!)

    D.A.
    NYC

  17. Makes me want to retch. Every time I read crap like this I am reminded of how badly our system of education has failed to equip young minds with the most basic tools to evaluate (and reject) even the dumbest of myths to which we are subjected as Americans. Why would The Nation expend space on this nonsense. For the same reason that the New York Times soft peddles religion (as we all discussed on this web site the other day). They are simply pandering to a portion of their constituency. My naive self once believed that journalism was about helping people understand and interpret the real world. Sadly, I have come to understand that journalism is less about understanding the world than it is about creating an imaginary world for their constituent audiences.

    1. Actually, it’s about selling dog food. Cars, chiroquacktic services…wait…of course, I meant “chiroquacktick.”

  18. Masochist that I am, I made the mistake of visiting Sparkly Kat’s website. Not only is it overflowing with stupid, it’s also full of content which is just plain bigoted. Just take a look at the passage below. Please note, the content is bad enough, so for your own good try to ignore the childlike grammar and punctuation:

    ———————————————————————————-
    WHY DONT STRAIGHT MEN LIKE ASTROLOGY
    To be honest, and this may be my own lack of exposure speaking, but I don’t believe that straight men actually exist. I’ve never met a single straight man who didn’t have queer inclinations. Straightness is an ideology and the reason why straight men find it easier to engage in astrology purely as ideology is because pointing a finger at the wrong story towards the outside means that you don’t have to think about the warped stories within. Straight men have to find astrology wrong, whether that is because astrology is too pseudo-scientific or because it is too western or because it is too erotic, because they must do the everyday task of convincing themselves that they are straight. Their straightness is a performance and this performance includes the act of resisting astrology.
    ———————————————————————————-

    Can you imagine ANY demographic other than straight white men being spoken of in this manner? She doesn’t believe straight men exist! She says straightness is an ideology. She claims straight men deny astrology to convince themselves we aren’t queer! I have used the pronoun SHE on purpose – if she cannot be decent enough to respect that straight men exist, I really can’t respect her.

    Can you imagine if ANYONE wrote this about trans people, non-binary people, lesbians, or any other group? There would be hell to pay. The author would be castigated for denying those groups’ rights to exist, it would be seen as violence, inciting of hatred. The writer would be hounded off every platform, in the UK they might even find the police at their door!

    My mind boggles that this sort of thing is viewed as acceptable. To me, these assertions demonstrate she’s a bigot. The fact that any reputable publication would support and even celebrate someone with these views is shocking. It shows how far down the plug hole we have already gone.

    1. To my mind, Sparkly Kat is, as they say in psychology, projecting. She *needs* this concocted view of straight males to help bolster her own non-conforming identity which in turn is bolstered by her “acceptance” of a self-invented woke form of astrology, as if astrology itself wasn’t bad enough.

  19. Sparkly Kat’s book is an example of what Herman Cappelen & Josh Dever call “deep bullshit” in their book “Bad Language” (Oxford UP, 2019): She doesn’t care about facts, and she doesn’t even care about making sense.

    “The deep bullshitter will utter words and combinations of words that we can describe as nonsense or gibberish. They might appear meaningful, but on closer inspection they are not.” (Cappelen&Dever, p. 60)

    Postmodernist literature abounds with such illusions of meaning and thought.

  20. “What would you look like if you were able to do the naive act of imagining yourself in a world without capitalism?”

    The construction of that sentence is awkward, but Sparkly should have answered that instead of making stacks of cash pushing astrology to the rubes, she would be picking turnips on a collective farm somewhere, or on land assigned them by the local aristocracy. At best.

    1. If it’s any consolation, I don’t think she will be making lots of cash. At least that’s my earnest hope. Her writing is so clumsy and poor I can’t see many people buying her book, or even staying on her website for more than a couple of minutes. Fingers crossed.

  21. My hope for humanity is that Sparkly Cat’s efforts are really a Sokal-like hoax which will be revealed in due course when enough mainstream media have been suckered in.

  22. And now I have a perfect example of what the Americanism “grifter” means!

    But, a serious question: if we are to decolonize space, won’t Elon Musk cry?

  23. First, I’m certain the great linguist Deepak Chopra would approve of Ms Sparkly Kat’s vocabulary. Second, back in December of 1999, I had fondly hoped that the new century would be the dawning of a new age of science. Instead, we got Aquarius redux.

  24. It’s a little frustrating that Kat explicitly goes by they/them pronouns, which you make note of, and then proceed to purposely misgender them throughout the piece. Even if you don’t respect the individuals beliefs, have the integrity and courtesy to respect their identity. Come on.

    1. Bugger off, jackass. I realized that and corrected it when I proofread the published post. And the “misgendering” wasn’t on purpose, either.
      People like you can’t resist passing judgement without knowing what you’re talking about. You just HAVE to assume I did it on purpose.
      Sorry, but I didn’t, and never do.

      And you didn’t even have the guts to give your name. Bye.

  25. Every water and sewer department in my rural county has a pair of divining rods on ball bearings that are regularly put unto use. They do not work for me. I was told to walk across a known drain line and I’d see them fly out. They did for everyone else.

    Other hints cause the body to deflect them- if you believe in them.

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