Since we’ve been on the subject of the fortune-telling racket, we might do well to look into one of the most popular, lucrative rackets going. It’s this business of the horoscope. Thinking our lives are controlled by the stars goes back to the most ancient days. We generally think people were not as smart then as they are in this modern day and age, and we’re wrong.
The money that’s made each year selling horoscopes proves the statement I quoted the other day by H.L. Mencken:
“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”
Take my sign of the zodiac, for example. I was born under the twelfth sign of the zodiac, a zodiacal constellation directly south of Andromeda, Pisces, the sign of the fish. It comes from the Latin word for fish, as do all the others such as piscatorial or piscary.
This is the sign of the zodiac that is supposed to rule all human beings born between February 19th and March 20th. According to the purveyors of this absurd superstition, this means my lucky star is Neptune. My lucky day is supposedly Friday. My lucky color is lavender, and my lucky numbers are 4 and 9. For me, no problem is too great, and so on. I’m supposed to be successful at any of the three M’s: medicine, merchandising, or marriage. And, as a matter of fact, I’m miserable at all three.
You see, there’s a formula for getting people to believe in things like this.
Eric Hoffer writes of it in his wonderful book, “The True Believer.” You have to make it so outlandish, so incredibly and patently impossible, that you would imagine no person in his right mind could believe it. If you can do this, you have a real winner on your hands, because people will flock to you in droves.
According to the people who create horoscopes, it makes no difference as to how you are raised, the kind of friends, parents, or teachers you had, or what your environment happened to be. Your personality has nothing to do with experiences, education, or difficulties you’ve had, or anything of relative logic.
The secret of the horoscope is that every single one, no matter under what so-called sign it’s under, as they say, would apply to some part of everyone.
Horoscopes are masterpieces of generalization, and usually mostly complimentary, and everyone likes a compliment.
This is a good thing for the neurotic. Anyone can throw up their hands and say, “I’m helpless; it’s all in the stars. I’m just a plaything of fate, and all things, the stars.”
The amazing part of all this is that even after we were able to determine that stars were composed of the same elements found on earth, people wouldn’t give up. They still like to think of those twinkling constellations as Gods, ruling the destiny of creatures called human beings, millions of light-years away. But, as in everything else, this business has its value.
If nothing more, it at least separates the intelligent people from the bird brains.
In Caesar’s time, they used to examine the entrails of chickens to see whether the Gods were with them or against them in whatever they happened to be contemplating. Here’s an opportunity for someone to go into business and clean up. We have lots of chickens – and plenty of customers!