September 20, 2021 - 2:30pm

Astrology and postcolonial theory. Some things just go better together and always will. That, at least, is the view of ‘Alice Sparkly Kat’, a ‘queer Chinese Astrologer’ based (where else?) in Brooklyn.

Mx Sparkly has published a book applying post-colonial theory to astrology, a move that the cynic in me thinks makes at least as much sense as applying astrology to post-colonial theory.

But we should set aside the temptation to see this as two strands of confected nonsense fusing to create a new, hybrid strand of confected nonsense. Take it rather as another example of the death-rattle of Enlightenment rationalism as the dominant elite epistemology. This decline is evident in a paper published in January by MIT, which explored competing uses of the same datasets by official advocates of Covid restrictions and opposing, self-organising groups of Covid sceptics.

Covid sceptics are routinely painted as paranoid, credulous rejecters of reason and scientific consensus. But the paper’s authors show that the reverse is in fact true. Far from being a superstitious, science-denying bunch, Covid sceptics in fact place higher value on evidence-based decisions, replicable results and science as a process.

Members of this community are described, in fact, in terms that strongly resemble the classic picture of a scientist: they “value individual initiative and ingenuity, trusting scientific analysis only insofar as they can replicate it themselves by accessing and manipulating the data firsthand.” Nor are they naïve realists but rather “highly reflexive about the inherently biased nature of any analysis”, resenting “what they view as the arrogant self-righteousness of scientific elites”.

But the paper first details this scepticism and commitment to evidence and open debate — attitudes until recently strongly coded as elite — only to conclude that this stance is a clear and present political danger. The anti-authoritarian narrative of evidence and reason, it appears, just enables sinister manipulators such as Big Tech or Donald Trump to foment wickedness, ‘prompting people to simply “think for themselves” to horrifying ends’.

We should not be surprised by this conclusion. Just out in American Sociological Review, a new study used four waves of data from America’s National Study of Youth and Religion to show that higher education both inculcates a strong liberal moral framework, but also increases moral absolutism — especially in humanities, arts or social sciences. That is, universities both teach a specific moral worldview and also a heavily morally-coded reluctance to consider alternative perspectives.

To put it more plainly, universities are rapidly reverting to their pre-Enlightenment role as theological seminaries. In the Enlightenment model, these institutions were tasked with delivering something morally neutral called ‘knowledge’ and ‘critical thinking’. But in the new model they deliver a fundamentally moral worldview, where ‘knowledge’ comes second to the doctrinal framework, and even what’s knowable is ordered by that framework.

Nigh-on every elite young person undergoes a version of this religious orientation. No wonder individualist, evidence-oriented scepticism is increasingly coded as marginal and dangerous. And no wonder a publication as venerable as The Nation is gushing about ‘astrology as a political force’.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.