Phillipian Commentary: Looking Up to Find Meaning

Two days ago, I handed over the narrative of my life to someone else. A sleek app named Co-Star promised to tell me everything I never knew about myself and my choices. After inputting the city, day, and hour in which I was born, along with my email address, Co-Star figured out my horoscope. Moments later, I received an 875 word statement telling me how I perform in friendships, in romance, at work, and even how I think and operate when I’m by myself. As I poured through Co-Star’s assessment of who I am, I was pleasantly surprised with every new paragraph. This app really understands me. Aspects of myself that I like–my empathy, determination, and tendency towards goals–are not up to me to maintain. They are permanent parts of me; cosmically ordained. And the parts of myself that I don’t like, someone else is now responsible for: my negative traits do not belong only to me.

My generation is obsessed with Co-Star, and any other tests that claim to tell us about ourselves and each other. We take personality tests to find out about ourselves, and we treat this information almost like a religion. Yet Gen Z is the least religious generation alive right now: according to Pacific Standard Magazine, almost a third of us are atheists[b][c]. While horoscopes are far from a religion, they can fulfill many of the same needs. Religion has an incredible ability to form unbreakable community bonds, nearly instantaneously. Some of this unification certainly comes from the values and beliefs that people of the same faith have in common. But some of it also comes from the tribalism inherent in religion: it gives you a group to belong to. Horoscopes and personality tests serve that same need to belong. Co-Star tells me that I’m a Gemini, therefore I have an immediate connection to other Geminis. The Myers-Briggs personality test tells me that I am empathetic, intuitive, emotional, and ethical, and it immediately connects me to others who’ve been assigned these traits. I can relate to people from my group almost as quickly as I can differentiate myself from people outside of it.

Religion and horoscopes create powerful community narratives that bring people together. But they are just as important in shaping people’s individual narratives of who they are as of how they fit in to the world. Whether things are going right or wrong, both religion and horoscopes provide a clear explanation of why. They can ground you in times of personal hardship as easily as they can make you feel deserving of good fortune. Yet their methods for doing so are starkly in contrast. Religion, particularly Christianity, relies heavily on the concept of personal responsibility. If things in your life are going wrong, it is up to you to become a better person and a better Christian. Horoscopes and personality tests tell an opposing story. You are a member of your group before you are an individual, so responsibility is irrelevant. You will always behave as the other members of your group do, and your behavior is dictated by the stars.

Perhaps this is part of the reason that Gen Z is so drawn to things like Co-Star and the Myers-Briggs test: we have grown up in an era where nothing seems certain. The world has not guaranteed us financial, political, or even environmental stability, so we must look elsewhere to find it. Yet even as these tests comfort us in their categorization, they do so with a unique sense of irony and humor. We remind each other constantly that nobody actually believes in this stuff. It’s just for fun. We can rely on these tests to shape the narrative of who we are without ever admitting our need for them.

As I checked my Co-Star notifications for the fifth time that day, I found myself laughing. I don’t think of myself as a believer in astrology. I’m empirical and rational. I don’t get sucked in by clickbait and hoaxes. Yet here we all are, converts, drawn in ever further by something that couldn’t be further from rationality. Why do we cling so tightly to something that seems so improbable? Perhaps we aren’t searching for true answers about ourselves and each other: we just want a narrative to believe in.