A Case for Medieval Astrology and Modern Genetics: Is There A Such Thing As Destiny?

The star cluster Westerlund 2
This image shows the sparkling centerpiece of Hubble’s 25th anniversary tribute. Westerlund 2 is a giant cluster of about 3000 stars located 20 000 light-years away in the constellation Carina. Hubble’s near-infrared imaging camera pierces through the dusty veil enshrouding the stellar nursery, giving astronomers a clear view of the dense concentration of stars in the central cluster.

In medieval times, astrology was synonymous with science, viewed as an infallible knowledge source for insight into human nature, a compass of sorts for predicting human behavior and determining fate. Astrology’s prominence as a reference guide for humanity was, no doubt, a substitute for the absence of fields like neuroscience, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and biology. It was the means by which people in the Middle Ages examined socio-political factors and behavioral differences among rulers and citizens, and provided a framework for understanding variations in the customs, rites, and beliefs systems of different nations.

Although the view of astrology as a reliable, standard measurement of social issues and human activity has become archaic, its presence in medieval times is exemplary of advancements in human thought. During this era, human thinking patterns became increasingly analytical, exhibiting a new awareness of the relationships between past and present events, as well as past and present behaviors. Thought leaders of the period were particularly concerned with endowing behavior and events with meaning, and there was an increased effort to view such aspects as contributions to a larger, inevitable fate.

The connection between medieval subscription to astrological principles and contemporary debates over the role of genetics in human behavior is similar to the nature vs. nurture debate.

The central question being: are our fates dictated by the environments in which we are reared, our genetic history, or both?

Obviously, there are very clear distinctions between astrology and genetics; one is more in keeping with mythology and folklore and the other is based in science. But the view of genetics as a predictor of health and behavioral outcomes shares similarities with medieval reliance on Astrology.

For one, the notion poses the same questions, such as whether or not environment predetermines behavior: are human beings capable of making decisions independent of social environment or, in the end, do our genetics— a euphemism for fate— dictate who we are or who we become?

There are strong arguments for both, but the use of astrology as a thinking guide in the Middle Ages, and its relationship with current ideas about genetics, demonstrates that even primitive notions can be the first step on the journey of scientific discovery.

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The ‘Transracial’ Phenomenon Rocking the Nation

Race and cultural identity differ; the same is true for biological sex and gender identity. People who describe President of the Spokane NAACP chapter, Rachel Dolezal’s, misrepresentation of herself as black, as indicative of being “transracial,” are really talking about cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is, often, an expression of the value an individual places on a particular culture, so much so, that his or her own identity is significantly informed by it.

The argument that Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner are the same, that transgender and the term, “transracial” share similar qualities, or that, because Dolezal identifies with black culture, she should be considered black, is problematic. For one, such arguments fail to recognize differences between biological sex, race, gender identity, and cultural identity. Biological sex and race are static, which isn’t the case for cultural and gender identity.

Being transgender isn’t about denial of biological sex, it’s about accepting that one’s gender identity cannot subscribe to norms espoused by society; it’s about allowing one’s own instincts and natural tendencies to determine how one chooses to live and, socially, identify.  Biologically speaking, Caitlyn Jenner keeps the sex she was born with. But, in all other ways—behaviorally and otherwise, the label of “man” is no longer appropriate.

Racism isn’t about culture.

Racism is discrimination, inequality, and social stigma directed towards a group of people based solely on the fact that they were born of a certain race and have, often times, its physical traits, ect.

Being on the receiving end of racism, as we have seen, brings with it a host of experiences unique to those who are members of that race, or another oppressed racial group. The implications of Dolezal’s actions are connected to a long history involving the topic of race and culture in this country, just as the comparison to Caitlyn Jenner relates to much research, scholarly and otherwise, concerning gender and sexuality.

With that being said, here are two transgender people of color ‘making waves’

Janet Mock: The New York Times bestselling author of Redefining Realness and the host of  So POPular! — a weekly MSNBC digital series about culture. She is a sought-afterspeaker and the founder of #GirlsLikeUs, a social media project that empowers trans women. Her book recounts her journey towards womanhood and serves as a inspiration for transgender people of color everywhere.

“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power – not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.” – Janet Mock

Laverne Cox  is an activist and actress on Netflix’s hit series Orange is the New Black. She was born in Mobile, Alabama, and was the first openly transgender person in history to receive and Emmy nomination.

“My third grade teacher called my mother and said, ‘Ms. Cox, your son is going to end up in New Orleans in a dress if we don’t get him into therapy.’ And wouldn’t you know, just last week I spoke at Tulane University, and I wore a lovely green and black dress.” – Laverne Cox.

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This article originally appeared in BlackEnterprise.com