‘in no sense secret’

I guess this document might be known to everybody but me already but I thought it quite funny. It’s a document which refers to the handling of the Anthroposophical Society’s status by the UK Charity Commission, as I understand it. (I absolutely do not have any knowledge about the details.) In it we learn that anthroposophy is ‘directed to the mental or moral improvement of man’ which sounds pretty grand. In addition, the Society itself has, in describing its aims, claimed that (and here comes the fun part):

It [ie, the Anthroposophical Society /a] was to be an entirely public organisation and in no sense a secret society. It was averse to  any sectarian tendency and did not consider politics to be among its tasks. A dogmatic position in any sphere whatsoever should be excluded from the society.

Not totally succeeding, these aims, are they? How do we categorize the first class studies? No matter if the secrecy surrounding them is (or has been, rather) justified or not, the existence of them is in fact evidence the society is not ‘entirely public’. And it also makes it ‘secret’. So how is it ‘in no sense a secret society’, when it has levels of membership shrouded in some mystery, as far as the contents of the material studied, even to other ‘lower’ members? How is it ‘in no sense secret’ when its most important sources are… secret and unavailable to both the public and many members? By all means, the lessons and what they teach might be justifiably secret (I don’t, as you know, believe there’s a point in keeping them that way), but to pretend they aren’t meant to be kept away from he public eye is ludicrous. To claim that the society is in no sense secret is equally ludicrous.

And don’t get me started on dogmatism. It’s only an appropriate attitude if it’s the consequence of a canineosophical conviction. Yet, anthroposophy so often seems to excel.

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20 comments

  1. Now for the questions — does the Society still have status as a charity? I assume so.

    Is it possible to lose this status? Has their status ever been challenged, and, if so, on what grounds?

    I’m really just curious. I keep wondering why it seems to have been so important to point out that it’s an open and not secret society.

  2. Many societies may ostensibly be open but are actually closed.

    Groups who are openly ‘secret’ are ridiculed for it, as in Freemasonry. It is not good for their image.

  3. Yes. Or part closed, part open.

    Agreed, although for the freemasons, I think it’s probably bad for their image, overall, but on the other hand, it may not be bad for attracting the ‘right’ number and types of people to it.

  4. A group can lose its charitable status. As I understand it, it has to prove it’s for a public good rather than just for the sake of the members, i.e. if they were a secret society they wouldn’t be mainly for public benefit and so couldn’t easily be a charity. That’s probably why they emphasise the educational good works or whatever. For instance the Pagan Federation lost its charitable status when it was shown it did not represent -all- pagan’s views.

  5. Oh, thanks. That’s interesting. They probably think that since a large part of their activity is directed towards the public, even if the core parts are secret and kept for certain (more advanced) members, it’s for the public good. Still a bit funny to use the word ‘entirely’ though!

  6. Alicia refers to, ‘for certain (more advanced) members,’.

    I think the words ‘more-advanced’ are misleading. It is a matter of degree of commitment.

    To belong to the anthroposophical society no degree of commitment is necessary. One could be completely opposed to anthroposophy and be a member of the society if one wished, and indeed there are people within it who do behave as if they were completely opposed.

    To join the First Class (first in the sense of first of three) one is supposed to be saying, ‘I stand for anthroposophy in the world’.
    No test of commitment is made.
    One could ask to be a member without any intention of ‘standing for anthroposophy.’

    Whether one is admitted or not depends on the judgement of the Class Reader one approaches. One might be rejected by one reader and accepted by another.

    There may be many very advanced people around for all I know, but I have not yet met anyone in the first class who thought they were more advanced than other human beings. I know I don’t.

    As far as secrecy of the texts goes, they were published by the Goetheanum itself some years ago.
    Also one can find the meditative verses on the internet and a new English translation of the full text of each lesson.

    So where is the secrecy?

  7. This decision was made before the texts were published. And they have only been published officially in German. As far as I understand you can’t, or couldn’t, just buy them freely from the publisher either. But these days they’re online. Not thanks to organised anthroposophy though. Frankly, if these lectures hadn’t begun appearing anyway, what would have happened? The english version published online now is thanks to one person, really, not the society. (And, as you know, the lectures contain a lot more than the verses, which have indeed been online for many years also in english.)

    To call them ‘more advanced’ is perhaps not perfect, but they are indeed supposed to have come a bit further. You need to be an ordinary member for two years (isn’t it?) and to be recommended by two members who are already first class. Implicit in this is, I conclude, some kind of advancement. Whether or not each member is truly spiritually advancing is certainly another question…!

  8. “So where is the secrecy?”

    You have a point, falk. If there is any secrecy, it has to involve some of the worst kept secrets in the world! Or it just that some members like to behave as though it were a secret society?

    I asked the Hereford Steiner Academy about staff membership of the Anthroposophical Society. It seems a reasonable question, given the existence of the various sections covering pedagogy, science, medicine, eurythmy etc. In some sense, it is perhaps a professional organisation for Steiner practitioners. Hereford do ask prospective staff about their awareness of anthroposophy.

    Their reply was that they have no interest in staff membership and that it’s a private matter:

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/staff_professional_affiliations

    Make of that what you will.

  9. “If there is any secrecy, it has to involve some of the worst kept secrets in the world!”

    As Alicia points out, this is no thanks to the Anthro. Soc. themselves.

  10. Insidious answer by them. They may not be interested in membership in the AS — the membership is more or less irrelevant — but it absolutely matters to them whether someone is on the anthroposophical path, as it were, or not. The reason is obvious: anthroposophical knowledge among the staff is essential. It’s one of the criteria for a school joining the waldorf steiner organisation.

  11. Secrecy implies some elitism, which is probably what attracts people. If the Anthro. Soc itself is not secret, there is certainly secrecy surrounding its activities. Hiding information and behaving furtively seems par for the course to those involved.
    The tendrils have extended into so many aspects of local businesses and services, not just education and medicine.Their presence is not easily detectable on the surface, only if you dig underground.
    Interesting how a town can become infused with anthroposophy, whilst few people claim or admit to know of its existence.

  12. Alicia says, ‘Implicit in this is, I conclude, some kind of advancement.’ But it is a conclusion not supported by facts. Unless one means advancement in a fairly simple way, as one advances in knowledge of maths or a language one is learning.

    The purpose of the two year rule was to try and ensure applicants had a good grounding in anthroposophy, the same way a university would require that students joining a degree course in Physics had a sound background knowledge.
    That could be called advancement.
    I haven’t come across ,’to be recommended by two members’ before. It certainly wasn’t so in my case – I just asked the class reader. Maybe the two member recommendation was a rule applied by a particular class reader.

    Mark says, -‘ “If there is any secrecy, it has to involve some of the worst kept secrets in the world!”
    As Alicia points out, this is no thanks to the Anthro. Soc. themselves.’

    This is another train of thought. Whether the AS is incompetent or not!

    I believe the class-material has never been secret in the sense of deliberately being kept the preserve of a few people. In principle anyone following the correct procedure could have access to it.

    I think secrecy and confidentiality are being confused here.

    Re. Mark’s query to the Hereford Steiner academy and the opaque answer given. I wonder how the Academy are able to assess prospective teacher’s understanding of the special pedagogy, which is totally derived from anthroposophy.
    The pedagogy isn’t simply a set of methods which could be applied without any understanding. It requires insight based on Steiner’s revelations about the process of incarnation, the working of the etheric, astral and physical bodies, temperaments, etc.
    I do find it weird that there appears to be a completely unthought through situation here.
    I wonder how the Hereford academy monitor whether any of the teacher’s are actually doing the meditative work which Steiner says is essential for a Waldorf teacher

  13. Falk — very quickly: yes, I do mean advancement in a fairly simple way!!

    But, you know, if we critics wanted to join in, we couldn’t.

  14. “That could be called advancement.”

    Um yes it could – I wonder how else you might define advancement, if that’s not it?

    The school claiming they aren’t interested in staff membership in the Anthroposophical Society is quite disingenuous. Maybe there’s a school somewhere that breaks this mold – we’re always hearing these tantalizing rumors – but seriously, instititutionally, it is not in dispute that Waldorf schools desire their faculty to be if not committed to anthroposophy, willing to work under the close instruction of those who are. This is uniform. There is no point disputing this, Falk. If they tell parents something else, they are either outright lying, or engaging in some form of self-delusional hair-splitting. (For instance, “membership” in the AS is not the same thing as commitment to anthroposophy; the latter is the goal, whereas anthroposophists have widely varying levels of interest in the actual society – in fact a great many of them seem to to take pride in considering themselves renegades, but this often results from interpersonal conflicts, not from any doctrinal disagreement that would be discernible by an outsider.)

  15. Helen: ‘Interesting how a town can become infused with anthroposophy, whilst few people claim or admit to know of its existence.’

    It works supersensibly!! Like magic…

    ‘Secrecy implies some elitism, which is probably what attracts people.’

    I don’t think one can discount the possibility…

    Falk: no, I’ve seen it — about two members — in some kind of more official circumstance. I can’t remember where, unfortunately. I assume that one of the two might be the class reader, who perhaps — speaking hypothetically about your case presuming, for the sake of the argument, that I’m not mistaken about the two people thing — felt s/he could admit you, while also asking some other member who also knew you. I’ve not seen anything about how formal it’s supposed to be — I’m sure it can be very informal.

    I can’t say if this is a general thing, it might very well not be. I assumed it was. I may also have this confused with something else. I should look it up, really…

    ‘This is another train of thought. Whether the AS is incompetent or not!’

    That would depend on how secret they were supposed to keep stuff!

    ‘I believe the class-material has never been secret in the sense of deliberately being kept the preserve of a few people. In principle anyone following the correct procedure could have access to it.’

    I have no disagreement with that description. But it does (or did), in fact, make the material inaccessible to the interested (eh, well, perhaps not) public and to members who were not accepted.* In effect, its contents were kept secret.

    (*We should discuss the correct procedure. Do you think a known critic, if s/he committed him-/herself to studying Steiner, going through the correct procedure, as it were, would be admitted? Without cheating the system, pretending to be something s/he is not, of course. That really is a good test… Still, for the stuff to be truly non-secret — it should be available at the library! For anyone.)

    ‘I think secrecy and confidentiality are being confused here.’

    I’m not sure about that! It’s the kind of material that when — unlike some individual’s medical records, e g — it’s kept away from the public eye, it’s for reasons of secrecy rather than reasons of confidentiality.

    Mind you, it’s not necessarily something wrong about having internal documents that outsiders can’t gain access to. But if these constitute or express the core of your spirutual philosophy, well, then there’s a shroud of secrecy around the philosophy in question! You might try to justify it, sure. Depending on the reason and situation, it might work. But saying, to some public body or other, that you’re — what on earth was it… entirely not secret… that’s questionable. It’s really a quite significant aspect of it that’s kept away too. It’s not the cookie and coffee receipts for your fika breaks.

    Diana: I don’t think falk is disputing that.

  16. Melanie · ·

    No clarity at Homeward either.

    ‘Well, he has the pupils dancing around in a most strange manner and insists it is good for their health.

    Frankly, he is barking mad.’

    http://talesfromhomeward.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/schools-free-for-all.html

  17. For an organization to have “secrets” is different from having certain information it keeps confidential information, which usually pertains to protecting individuals’ privacy (e.g., I work for a medical school attached to a hospital, and a cardinal rule is protecting patients’ private health information); also, I have to maintain confidentiality regarding research findings that I’m aware of that are not yet published.

    “Secrets” pertaining to what the group is about, or how the group conducts its activities, are generally only found either when 1) the organization is up to something legally or ethically questionable, which would provoke outrage (or prosecution) if it were generally known or 2) the organization is a religion. (Hm, interesting connection …)

  18. That’s how I think about it too. Doesn’t have to be wrong to have secrets (you mention a very legitimate reason, risk of prosecution), but it helps to distingish a secret from other kinds of information that isn’t made public either. Generally, people are free to have secrets, but claiming you don’t in order to achieve some privileged or otherwise desired status… well…

  19. What I was getting at is that “secrecy” is different animal from confidentiality or privacy. The latter are legitimate policies in almost any organization, about certain things; secrets are generally not a good thing, organizationally. They almost always imply that something is going on that shouldn’t be.

    Or else, they imply something religious. Religions, especially esoteric ones, often claim to have “higher knowledge” not available to just anybody, only for committed seekers who have jumped through all their ideological and organizational hoops. The general public shouldn’t be asked to fund this. It doesn’t matter that the “knowledge” available to “First Class” members in anthroposophy is not inherently any different from most of the other thousands of pages of stuff Steiner wrote – it’s a huge disappointment, for anyone thinking there are juicy “secrets” involved. But the principle’s the thing. The Anthropsophical Society has every right to have a “First Class” that guards material that isn’t available to others, either members lower in the hierarchy of the society or publicly. They just shouldn’t be claiming for funding purposes that they’re “an entirely public organization.” There should be no element of “secret society” for such an organization, and that’s what they’re incorrectly trying to claim.

  20. I agree. It was something like that I was trying to say, although perhaps expressing myself too briefly and too inexactly (or even incorrectly…).

    But, yes, that’s it.

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