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Commonsensical mysticism

Astrology doesn't connect us with the stars - but it does keep our feet on the ground.

Patrick West

Patrick West
Columnist

Topics Politics

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  • In praise of astrology

Astrologers are miffed that a study for the Journal of Consciousness Studies has proved their profession to be a load of nonsense.

For several decades, researchers tracked more than 2000 people born within minutes of each other in March 1958. Looking at more than 100 different characteristics, including occupation, anxiety levels, aggressiveness, IQ levels and sporting ability, the scientists found that these ‘time twins’ grew up to have absolutely nothing in common with each other. ‘The test conditions could hardly have been more conducive to success’, says the report, ‘but the results are uniformly negative’.

Astrologers have reacted angrily. ‘It is simplistic and highly selective and does not cover all of the research’, says Frank McGillion, a consultant to the Southampton-based Research Group for the Critical Study of Astrology. Elsewhere, Roy Gillett, president of the Astrology Association of Great Britain, said the findings should be treated ‘with extreme caution’, accusing the researchers of trying to ‘discredit astrology’.

One would have thought that astrology was quite a discredited pursuit as it was. Alas, it is still given credibility by the credulous. Its grip on the public’s consciousness remains as tenacious as ever – even among those who should know better. For instance, two high-profile intellectuals, the philosopher Camille Paglia and the novelist Jeanette Winterson, swear by astrology. As does my mother, a journalist and writer. One might have thought that being a Roman Catholic would satisfy one’s appetite for the superstitious and the irrational, but like Cherie Booth and her crystals, it appears she needs a top-up of mumbo-jumbo.

Still, pointing out that astrology is but hocus-pocus is a case of but stating the obvious. It is a pretty harmless pursuit, which even if responsible for the shrinking of the intellect of the easily led, seems to help people through the day.

One criticism of astrology is that its diagnoses and consequent words of advice are so vague as to betray the practice as a matter of guesswork and bet-hedging. Consider some pieces of advice from Peter Watson’s column from the Daily Mail on Wednesday this week. ‘You have some very valid points to make but objectivity and clarity of thought are essential if you’re to convince others that you’re right’, he tells Aries readers. ‘Your emotional responses might overshadow common sense. You mustn’t let that happen because in order to be of any help to others it’s essential that you are calm and clear thinking’, is his advice for Geminis, while for Capricorns he intones: ‘It’s about to become obvious that some menial tasks need to be taken care of.’

To accuse such sentiments of banality or blatant flattery misses the point: it is because such pieces of advice are so universal and commonsensical that they are worth repeating. Sometimes it is important to be reminded that valid points need to be made with clarity, or that you mustn’t let emotions cloud one’s judgement. Star signs may not be symptomatic of the forces of the cosmos going about their work, but they do offer sound, if obvious, advice.

And take it from me, for the Mail also has some wise words to say about us Libras: ‘There’s something very reassuring about feeling confident that your opinions are your own and they are sound. They certainly don’t deserve to be pulled apart by those whose own ideas seem to be all over the place.’

  • The West diet

Jennie Bristow writes elsewhere on spiked about the fuss over the Atkins diet (see Fad panics). What seems remarkable to me, is that this diet has only found mass appeal in Britain after its inventor passed away prematurely in April.

Of course, to ascribe this lifestyle solely to Robert Atkins is a little unfair to the Masai people of Kenya. This ancient warrior race has practised a carbohydrate-free diet for centuries. They live principally on the milk and blood from cows and goats, supplementing this occasionally with honey and cornmeal. It is not known whether they suffer from bad breath as a consequence, or that they really care, but suffice to say they are still going strong. Not that all of sub-Saharan Africa is as well off.

Yet those drawn to the Atkins diet are so obsessed with being thin that they probably actually envy emaciated, starving Africans. Perhaps the next fad for decadent, body-conscious film stars and pop stars will be ‘the famine diet’.

‘Oh gawd!’ they will exclaim, ‘I’ve lost, like, four stone. Can you see my ribs? And the flies?’.

‘You think that’s impressive?’, will say another. ‘I had Bob Geldof over at the weekend to drop off a bag of emergency grain.’

Friends tell me that I’ve lost some weight recently, which I’ve decided is good. It’s nothing to do with the Atkins diet, but thanks to my own creation. Eat an apple and drink orange juice for breakfast, a cheese and salad sandwich for lunch, and cheese and garlic toastie for dinner, followed by three gin and tonics for a digestif. Repeat after me: apple, orange, cheese, salad, cheese, garlic, gin.

  • Overcrowding? Fat chance!

As I tucked into my garlic bread and G&T on Tuesday night, I saw reports on Newsnight that a body of academics argues that Britain should reduces its population to 30million by the next century. It contests that our current level of 60million and growing is ‘unsustainable’, and that we will shortly be facing a ‘crisis’.

Ever since the days of Thomas Malthus, we have been faced with glum predictions about there soon being too many people and not enough resources to support them – and they have always been wrong. But surely even Malthus would have raised a smile upon hearing his theory preached at a time when the public’s main concern is not finding enough food to eat, but trying to stop gorging themselves to death.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics

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