BERKELEY'S NEWS • SEPTEMBER 24, 2022

Capitalist conformity and the cosmos

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MAY 07, 2021

My horoscope does not always resonate with me. Astrostyle.com makes me out to be a “girl boss” capitalist: “You’d do best heading up a well-established corporation, or wisely choosing an industry where profit is guaranteed.” Occasionally, the forecast for my supposedly success-motivated star sign can make Capricorns like me sound rather conservative: “Work is very important to you,”astro.com tells me, “Family life is equally important, and you may have a love of history and tradition.” As an aspirational nonconformist currently pursuing a life in the arts, I can’t help but be a bit surprised when the planets seem to have a plan for corporate snakehood in store for me. More importantly, what are pro-capitalist concepts (profit-oriented work) and pro-establishment mantras (with an admiration for traditions and old values baked into the rhetoric) doing lurking in the stars? 

I’m somewhat of an outsider to astrological esoterica, so when a New Yorker article offered up the interpretation that astrology’s popularity today reflects a decline in organized religion and rise in economic uncertainty, I willingly understood the horoscope as a meal replacement for the orthodox faith-intolerant. Of course, astrology is not technically a religion — it does not advocate for worship nor lay out a moral map of right and wrong. Nevertheless, I naturally assumed this seemingly mystical tool existed in the same realm as tarot cards, yoga, incense and essential oils. Astrology seems marketed to people who liked to sample from different belief systems in an effort to craft their own. Normally, when Westerners look for answers in Eastern or ancient traditions and knowledge, the goal is to escape the materialistic stuff of modern life, to abandon the path the dominating political, social and economic systems demand of us. What happens, then, when seemingly materialistic things such as corporate and financial pursuits make appearances in what we’re trying to make a spiritual realm? Financial astrology demands that we include our material pursuits in our effort to connect to something beyond earthly matters. Does the spiritual world, however, have room for material desires?

Astrology seems marketed to people who liked to sample from different belief systems in an effort to craft their own.

Sociologist Theodor W. Adorno thought not. In efforts to better understand mass culture in capitalist society, Adorno studied the astrology column of a Los Angeles newspaper in 1953. In his view, popular astrology invariably leads to broad statements encouraging conformity. Those astrologers who go against the status quo by discouraging performance at work, for example, risk losing their jobs. As a result, Adorno sees astrology as a wide-scale manifestation of systematic irrationalism: Through flattery and generalizations, astrology column readers are led to believe they are being singled out and seen as individuals. In reality, the optimistic rhetoric of the astrology column minimizes this audience’s painful conditions into something more tolerable. According to Adorno, the astrology column functions much like a totalitarian regime — abstract, irrational and somehow still powerful. 

I am less pessimistic when it comes to classifying financial astrologers or any other astrologers for that matter. Unlike dictators, people who write horoscopes do not benefit much beyond compensation for their service. They’re simply one of us — trying to figure out the best ways to navigate our societies even if that is by telling us how to do so for their own financial survival. Besides, despite how pseudoscientific astrology may be, at least it provides a somewhat accessible realm where people can strategize self-directed fulfillment and purpose as a collective.

After understanding the basics of my sun, moon and ascendant signs, looking closer at the system of astrological “houses” (areas of life organized into placements on a solar map) helped me pinpoint where exactly the financial aspect of my horoscope came from. Astrologers rely on 12 houses in total, each defined by themes such as transformation and sexuality, partnership and marriage, self-worth and money. Depending on the source, astrological charts might rely on different definitions to define their houses. The more general “self-worth” and “money” house in the first chart I saw, for example, might be referred to as the more private resources-focused “values and possessions” house in another. 

They’re simply one of us — trying to figure out the best ways to navigate our societies even if that is by telling us how to do so for their own financial survival.

The inclusion of financial indicators in the house-based organizational system doesn’t only belong to the kind of astrology we see in the West. Vedic astrology, the Eastern-based counterpart based on the Hindu system, also designates the second house as a money-focused indicator. It seems money is not just a Western addition to a more spiritually-focused map from the East; the presence of money in astrology is systemic worldwide. 

“Financial astrologers” use their understanding of the house system to offer consulting services or predict market movements. One article, for example, attributes Karl Marx’s prediction of the fall of capitalism as a result of sun and moon placement in “materialistic” Taurus during the time of his birth. According to the article, the reason that Marx’s ideas had the most resonance across Russia, Eastern Europe, Northern Asia and China, was due to the fact that there was an eclipse that appeared “the fullest,” meaning most visibly, to these parts of the world. 

Maybe this is my raised-without-religion showing, but the notion that the story of the whole world and a single person alike could be explained by the same ever-changing, vastly expansive arrangement of forces in the sky left me with some form of hope. Even as someone who did not quite “believe” in astrology, I was enamored by the system’s storytelling power. The career and financial recommendations in my horoscope — especially as someone currently being bombarded with adulting advice while I finish the last couple of months of my undergraduate career — had initially been a source of resistance to the idea. However, the more resonant themes I found scattered throughout the houses — relationships, philosophy, wisdom — the more I developed a fondness for the way people use astrology. Sure, one astrologer might have nudged me toward becoming a corporate lawyer (not happening), but just because she thought what she was telling me was what I wanted to hear, there is some charm to receiving advice in a world seemingly without answers. My lack of resonance in this Capricorn reading was not a problem of astrology’s rhetoric and charm, but a question of who was telling the story and whether their ideas suited me. The astrologer could have encouraged me to seek a traditional publishing house rather than employing the tricky business of self-publishing for my novel-in-progress. But part of astrology’s widespread appeal is that the stories are designed to resonate with a vast majority, and most people don’t want to become a writer like I do. The fact is, if you’re seeking to be a bit of a cultural rebel or maybe hold some alternative views, it might be hard to resonate with a system designed to appeal to the fantasies expected from a diverse set of horoscope readers.

My lack of resonance in this Capricorn reading was not a problem of astrology’s rhetoric and charm, but a question of who was telling the story and whether their ideas suited me.

I began this essay thinking I might end up arguing that the existence of financial astrology explains the pursuit of profit’s encroachment on a seemingly spiritual endeavor. Instead, I realized that astrology is less about a connection to the ethereal realm and more about personal and collective storytelling. Maybe capitalism and companies trying to sell astrology and tarot card reading bundles are to blame for my misunderstanding. Still, astrology dates back to Babylonians in Mesopotamia, the Mayans and Aztecs in Mesoamerica and Hellenistic cultures in Egypt. Astrology is in fact older than capitalism itself. Capitalism is the dominating system today; astrologers such as the one telling me to go work at a well-established, profitable organization are simply trying to offer me a path based on the world we live in. Maybe one day, I’ll find that the astrologers were right, that surviving in a world of hyper wealth, inequality and globalization requires that I sell out as a grant writer rather than a novelist.

Even though furthering my understanding of astrology revealed a more lifestyle-based framework than the morals-interested one I might have anticipated (a testament to the high expectations of a spiritually curious atheist like myself), I admire the notions of individuality, intention and connection astrologers celebrate. I like that astrologers imagine ways to transformation and understanding through the practice of looking more closely at the self, that they make efforts to suggest clear pathways in a world made complex by capitalism. Still, though I appreciate the offer, I admit I remain uncomfortable in that this format does not take into consideration my own unique ambitions, and often contradicts the steps I had already been considering. For me, it’s harder to find my own way of looking inward when someone is telling me how to do it. 

I guess my reaction to financial astrology says less about my disappointment with the presence of materialist rhetoric in what I supposed was a capitalism-free sphere (the planets and stars) and more about my resistance to conforming to what I perceive as authoritative ideology. Though astrology’s simplified and modern-day applicable readings are part of what makes it so popular, I personally would rather exercise my own intuitive muscle rather than look to a directive tool to find answers. Then again, as someone who feels like there isn’t a clear path for me, I suspect I might seek a bit of the comfort astrology community’s shared worldview and set of guidelines provide for some. Nevertheless, despite being unable to successfully wield astrology as a tool for meshing earthly pursuits and cosmic fate, I’ll continue to enjoy watching others use it from the sidelines. After all, different signs find different ways of navigating the world.

Contact Cate Valinote at 

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MAY 09, 2021