The Fault in Our SARS-CoV-2

Imagine this: nearly a full year into a once-in-a-century pandemic, with daily fatalities rivaling 9/11, healthcare workers are so beat down by a toxic combination of misinformation and critical communication failure that 29% are refusing to get vaccinated (healthcare workers!). The American death toll is second only to the American Civil War, but is vastly outpacing the conflict’s “death per day” count. Vaccine austerity has largely resulted in trashed vaccines as healthcare workers are forced to shirk basic logic to follow nonsensical state guidelines after the federal government has declined to be useful.

For intrepid readers, the root causes of these issues is clear: a healthcare system designed to be on the brink at all times, repeated malfeasance on behalf of a particularly sadistic presidential administration, Andrew Cuomo. The most effective vaccination campaign in the world right now is actively and purposefully failing its second class citizens just so it can claim victory over this stupid virus. We’re in an all-time strange era, one where we bypassed healthy skepticism for pharmaceutical corporations, and went straight to refusing to get vaccinated at risk of killing grandmothers the country over. For some, however, the fault is in our stars.

Perhaps Reddit atheists got too annoying. Perhaps the past four years have created an anti-facts-and-logic-tm ideology so pure it burns without smoke when challenged by non-believers, but whatever it is, the consequences are a cycle of lockdowns, closures, and reopenings into infection rates greater than when that lockdowns began. We’ve become helpless, completely at the whim of politicians who are already vaccinated and make $174,000 a year, on top of whatever other private wealth they may have. 

So, lost, like humans are wont to do, we’ve turned to faith. Astrology is particularly popular among the young, the poor, and women — a clear manifestation of alienation from capitalism. Of course, there are the astrologers to the stars (pun agnostic), but most believers aren’t wealthy. People who turn to astrology for answers are stressed, anxious, and hoping to find answers in a superstructure that sees them as part of a larger story and not just a cog in a machine. 

Faith in heavenly bodies ruling human affairs in and of itself is not the issue. No one really gets hurt from reading a daily horoscope with a sip of morning coffee, aside from self-inflicted psychic damage, leaving them irksome but ultimately harmless. But with pseudoscience comes pseudoscientists who have studied the blade while you were partying. Though there are qualifications to become a true ~*~astrologer~*~, they are based on ghosts and fog and confirmation bias. 

Astrology, horoscopes, and signs from the stars have always been with us (a cursory Google Ngram search shows that usage of the word “astrology” is actually less popular now than it was in the 19th Century, go figure), but the current boom is tied to social media and venture capital, not the classic teenybopper magazines of you. The popular Co–Star app raised a $5.2 million seed round in 2019, while Google searches for “birth chart”, “natal chart”, and related astrological terms have increased in the past two years. Products like zodiac-themed candles, and subscription boxes curated for your sun sign populate Instagram ads. 

The point here is that this thing is popular. It makes money. It informs a lot of people’s decisions, from things as small as what nail color to buy, to what day of the week to apply for that new job, to things as big as should you get the coronavirus vaccine?

Yeah, sorry, you had to find out about it this way. Like the flagellants whose bloody penance slouched through Europe during the Black Death, internet astrologers throw themselves on to the pyre of the divine to save the rest of us from pestilence. 

Any reasonable person would laugh at a claim that a vaccine’s efficacy can be deduced from and determined by the astronomical positions of gas giants on its development date. And I imagine most astrologers know they are peddling bullshit. But with warnings of nodes and crossings, of angular separation and ingress of dying stars abound, these faith healers are part of a broader coalition of vaccine skeptics that have created a global vaccine hesitancy problem. In a war where the enemy is literally, genetically evolving daily, the fewer fifth columns, the better.

Whether or not people specifically believe the medical astrology junk doesn’t make it less insane. Non-professionals should not dish out medical advice, especially based on abject pseudoscience. The stars do not actually predict anything, and if they do it’s a coincidence. If one has a twinge in the knee, you ice it, not read Café Astrology to see if the twinge’s Capricorn moon means it’ll feel better tomorrow. But when nothing else is certain, when everything is crashing around you and society is collapsing and governors are reopening restaurants for indoor dining despite the pandemic getting worse, what’s the worst the stars can do?

One on hand, it’s a reminder of the human longer for order. We have science now, science was supposed to replace religion, or whatever Christopher Hitchens was on about. We have facts and logic and PhD epidemiologists who have answers for what it takes to control a pandemic. Sure, we had Trump take to a podium and lie every week, but we also have a spat of Democratic governors who claim to “believe science” and still did jack shit. So, okay, maybe we don’t have science. On the other hand, we’re really beefing this whole thing.

Formalized disinformation studies won’t and shouldn’t necessarily tackle this part of the people-lying-online equation. Individuals making individual choices based on heavenly Rorschach tests written by some underpaid freelancer is not the end of the world. But it doesn’t mean it’s not a problem: one astrologer with, say, eighteen thousand followers saying she doesn’t trust the vaccines because the vibes are all off has just endangered eighteen thousand people and their loved ones. But how do you moderate normal, everyday magical thinking without becoming the fun police?

The astrology bubble is due for a burst soon, but it will have to be a concerted effort. Unlike the Black Death that shattered the trust of the Catholic Church, the COVID-19 pandemic is not a sign that we have been forsaken by our great savior. Self-help horoscopes are more akin to Greek gods than the Abrahamic one. They aren’t there to make us feel better, just to be in charge.

In The Stars Down to Earth, philosopher heavyweight Theodor Adorno spoke at length about the “predigested irrationality” and “abstract authority,” of horoscopes. Astrologers cater to narcissism and anxiety in their predictions, how the world revolves around the reader or how the reader is just a bystander in their own fate (and therefore cannot be blamed for wrong doing). Here is a passage worth reproducing:

Thus, the very gesture of astrology, its basic presumption that everyone has to make up his mind at every moment falls in line with what will later come out with respect to the specific content of astrological counseling: its leaning towards extroversion. Moreover, the idea that the freedom of the individual amounts to nothing more than making the best of what a given constellation of stars permits implies the very same idea of adjustment the affinity to which has been pointed out previously as one of the traits of astrology. According to this concept, freedom consists of the individual’s taking upon himself voluntarily what is inevitable anyway.

Adorno, The Stars Down to Earth: The Los Angeles Times Astrology Column

Are we… just supposed to ride Covid out because a few stargazers have surgically removed the agency from their brains? Medicine is one of the few modern amenities where we can control or divert an unwanted fate, as opposed to just accelerating a journey or reading a book faster–why should we not take the risk if the reward far outweighs it? And it’s not even much of a risk if it’s all peer-reviewed and the product of decades of improvements to technology! 

The biggest frustration here is that these occult, imprecise, and pessimistic superstructures are damaging to progress of many kinds. Metanarratives, like that of a zodiac unchanged for centuries despite human advancement, are incompatible with materialist analysis of history. It’s the eternal science of Marxism-Leninism not the Gospels of Karl and Vlad. Hell, it even contradicts the Enlightenment values that flow through liberal philosophy. There is no room for cryptic crystal balls to lead our movements politically or medically or otherwise. 

People earnestly comparing the “angular separation” of planets and the worldwide COVID-19 death count should put an end to the popularity of astrology. Aquarius memes on Instagram are one thing, but using made up math to blame COVID-19 deaths on a bad hair day for Pluto instead of local, national, and international political malpractice and failure is nasty. The planets did not cause this mess. Decades of austerity, a healthcare system permanently on the brink, and neoliberal regimes concerned with the bottom line of hospitals over serving the people caused this. And sitting back, hoping Mercury might bring better days is the most baby brained reaction possible. 

Instead, threaten to burn down your governor’s mansion or vote them out or whatever. 

It is much scarier to them than Jupiter’s ingress.

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