biodynamic magic

to my astonishment, the same misunderstandings keep raising their ugly heads. Thus, I felt I may perhaps repeat myself, once again. It can’t hurt, but it probably won’t do any good either. It seems that certain people, or perhaps just Sune and nobody else (I really don’t know), find my convictions and my actions inconsequential. The thinking goes like this: if you criticize anthroposophy, in this case biodynamics, you must also contend that everything from the underlying ideas to the end-products are basically crap, and avoid them. This, however, is a rather black-and-white perspective, which I’m sure suits one-sided minds (like Sune’s, I’d say), for whom the world can be easily divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and where no shades exist.

I recommended the blog Biodynamics is a hoax, because I honestly think it is about time that someone who knows the field takes the proponents of biodynamics to task for their fantastic claims.

Saying that the biodynamic method is pseudoscientific is emphatically not to say that all biodynamic products are bad. They most definitely aren’t. There are many reasons for this. They compete in the higher price segments, so of course they can’t be crap — they would have maintain a certain quality level (or expect to sell only to other true believers). But biodynamic food may taste divine; yet, this is no indication that magic works. Those methods that are unique for biodynamics — i e, not shared with the larger community of organic farmers — are based virtually on nothing but magic thinking. The conclusion of believers is, not surprisingly, that these magic practices are effective.

My conclusion is rather different. It is that biodnamic producers do what they can to compete in their price segment, and as a result end up producing food which, most of the time, is of high quality. It isn’t the magic, though, which enables them to compete. It is other aspects of their work. For example, expensive vegetables from small-scale local growers are usually much tastier than mass-produced cheap stuff that has been transported from far away before it finally reaches our tables. Organically produced food usually tastes better than conventional varieties — in my opinion — but this rule is certainly not generally applicable now that organic food is also mass-produced and shipped over long distances. To sum up, there are many things which influence the quality of the product: scale of production, price, time (e g, for the food to grow and time in shipment), the commitment of the farmer to quality and to his farmlands, and so forth.

It is certainly possible that a religious farmer believes in appeasing the gods to yield better crops — it is also possible this farmer produces great food, and that I’d happily buy his products. This action of mine is, however, not to be interpreted as an endorsement of the belief in god(s) or in the belief that higher powers magically interfere in the production line. I think that’s complete bogus, regardless of the taste of the food produced under these conditions.

The same goes for biodynamic agriculture. As long as there is no solid proof to suggest otherwise, I’d say it’s safe to conclude that the magic aspects of biodynamic farming are nothing but — at most — unnecessary but perhaps enjoyable activities the farmer engages in due to his private spiritual beliefs. These particular practices do nothing for the farm products as such. But, obviously, everybody is free to believe that cow-horns with dung — dug down during full moon — have some higher connection with cosmic forces. This right does not entail the right to impose this belief on others as a scientifically valid viewpoint.

As for using biodynamic flour, which was what caused some consternation for certain people, there are several independent reasons for it. One reason is that it’s quite good, although I don’t know much about flour, I have to say. (I almost never bake my own bread, so I very rarely buy flour at all. It’s an odd example, but it was used, so I continue with it.) Another reason is that biodynamic flour is the only organic flour to buy that has not been imported, and it seems to me a waste of resources to ship flour from other countries (not that I have considered this question in any depths, I have to admit). The third, and perhaps most important, reason is that biodynamic flour is the only flour without additives. I have nothing against additives, but I see no point in favouring products with unnecessary additives. And since I grew up on bread baked on flour without additives, I can’t for my life understand what good the additives do. I’d rather buy just flour. Until other producers begin to offer this on the market, I see no reason to buy their products. I think it’s rather simple, actually.

80 thoughts on “biodynamic magic

  1. Absolutely! I think your reasons are completely right, and I suspect a very great many people do just that.
    People say the reasons for the biodynamic wine for example, growing is because the price can be hiked up; it would be hard to believe all those wine growers really believing Steiner’s gibberish.

    And when people from Steiner waldorf schools say, “Visit a school and see for yourself”, they are doing the same sort of thing- the maintained quality level of their end product! Never mind the messing with children’s minds to to get that result, or the books the teachers have to read and their meditative training and angel gazing etc…..The visits are usually staged, it’s highly unlikely the schools allow anyone to pop unannounced into a class in session, or a child study or college of teachers meeting to actually witness what goes on and how they do it.
    The schools are colourful, attractive, the children from homes where parents are interested enough in their education to believe they are getting a creative one.
    It isn’t the “spiritual” or the fact that the teachers have taught certain things at a certain time to ensure children’s “souls” have “incarnated”.
    The fact that Dr Hauschka face cream or Demeter spinach are good has nothing to do imo with anthroposophy, just as the fact that some children survive Steiner education relatively unscathed.

  2. You’re absolutely right, Cathy.

    This is why Stuart’s efforts on his blog are of great value — to inform people about what actually makes biodynamic different from organic and about the fact that there is scant evidence for the biodynamic methods. Because biodynamic is sold as organic only even better. Thus they can charge an even higher price for super-organic. (That biodynamic wine growing has become so popular is obviously no fluke — there’s money to earn. Biodynamic potatoes just don’t earn you any money… It’s probably even a risky business.) Without really saying much about what separates them from organic producers. I have a feeling the rather talk about what they have in common — and then claim they do the same things, only better.

    And, of course, any biodynamic proponent might say (like waldorf people do), ‘just try it, and you will be convinced’ — but that’s beside the point. What’s specific about biodynamics — the ‘magic’ — isn’t what makes the wine or the vegetables taste nice. The reason to criticize biodynamics is not that it tastes bad. If this was the case, there would be no need for criticizing. The concept would disappear from the market entirely of its own accord. It’s not like the belief in cosmic properties of cow-horns somehow ruins the wine. It’s just ineffective — and it works both ways. The reason for criticism would be that when producers hype biodynamics as something it isn’t, people pay overprice for no good reason — and this is the problem. As is the spreading of irrational beliefs, of course, among producers and customers. Such beliefs are probably never a good thing, on the whole.

  3. if visits were ‘staged’ then i dare say i’d probably would not have been fired as a waldorf teacher. even when i decided to have an open house in my first grade classroom to assuage my parents, they were not impressed.

    i think people see what they want to see.

    i also think there is nothing wrong w/ infusing a little love abet spiritual mojo into your gardening. but i read more on the topic because i want to know what exactly is the biodynamic community advertising that is raising such concern?

    ps ~ dr hauschka’s products never worked on me

  4. Well, yes, people do see what they want to see. And parents have a tendency to fall in love with waldorf. When they fall out of love with it, they see all those things they probably would have seen on their first visits, had they not been infatuated. Also, all those fairs and plays are staged presentations (by their very nature) — what parents see is not the reality the children experience. I don’t think spontaneous visits in class ever happened — not even when I was in kindergarten. ‘Outsiders’ weren’t allowed in, even if their children were in the class — much less would other outsiders be welcome to watch. (Although I know my mother was allowed to stay a while on some occasion in first grade — only because I refused to stay in school volontarily.)

    I do think, however, that they present it as a school with equal focus on eurythmy/painting/flute-playing and maths/reading and so forth. In reality, this was far from the case. On an open day, I think they’d try to shift focus from reality to their fantasy of what waldorf ought to be. For a casual observer to understand this — to arrive at a more accurate picture — from a few visits would be rather difficult.

    I suspect the big-wigs at your (former) waldorf school weren’t keen to stage (or help stage) anything to improve your image (after all, you wore jeans) ;-)

    It seems to me that the issue of biodynamic advertising has become more pertinent now that biodynamic wines have become a hip thing. Simply because of the money involved. Not that there’s anything wrong with earning money from wine-production (and the world of non-biodynamic wine is certainly filled with all kinds of mythologies — which may be the reason why a few biodynamic myths on top of it won’t cause people to raise their eye-brows too much). It would seem to me, though, that biodynamic producers tend to characterize their products as some kind of organic+. Like, the better version of organics. When it is, in fact, likely that the particular biodynamic (mystic) practices don’t contribute anything extra at all. As long as the consumer is aware of what distinguishes biodynamic from organic — and as long as there’s a healthy debate and discussion — I believe the farmer is free to add whatever spirituality he likes to his farming practice. In its benign forms, there’s no harm in it — even if there are no benefits. As long as one doesn’t throw rationality over board entirely.

    (I’m trying to finish two bottles of Dr Hauschka shampoo right now. Different sorts. None of them good. I very much prefer Weleda, but they don’t make shampoos for the Swedish market. But I buy the soaps and the Skin Food (for my winter hands; it’s literally magic) — I’m a bit of a hypocrite, but we all have to live with ourselves and our weaknesses ;-))

  5. I was reading a post on another blog. This was rather good, I think:

    ***
    People will continue to practice biodynamics, and that is their right if they wish. Look, they will say, the quality of these vegetables is fantastic, and they may well be right- but there remains no evidence that the magic potions or “preperations”, nor the moon planting, is responsible.

    I have known many biodynamic gardeners and they are amongst the best and the most dedicated of that profession. Perhaps the meditative process of stirring the preperations at dawn; perhaps the ideological commitment to their craft, the extra tiome they may spend in their fields may all contribute to their success.

    There is however no need to resort to such esoteric practices to be a successful grower, and any qualitative difference will be marginal compared to the results that can be obtained from any good gardener who cares about what they do.

    ***
    http://zone5.org/2009/09/biodynamics-why-believe-what-steiner-said/

  6. The only thing worse than jeans in a waldorf school would be black jeans! ;-) It’s funny, though, when trying to remember, I think male waldorf teachers wore jeans; females rarely, if ever. I think there was more of a dress code among female waldorf teachers than among the males. (Come to think of it, this rule probably applies in many professions.)

  7. When you don’t accept the existence of a spiritual world, and when you do not think it ist possible to know this spiritual world than everything that reckons with its mere existence must appear as nonsense to you.
    But consider this: Is it not a dogma to simply say: I know the truth: there is no spiritual world. This position can lead to the terrible arrogance of many mainstream scientists.

    Again: I can understand the criticism on anthroposophical institutional life, but anthroposophy itself is much more than that. Do not mix these things up.

    I “discovered” anthroposophy when I was 23 (I am 53 now) through the books of Steiner.
    I did not know any anthroposophist at that time. Before that, I was thinking materialistically.
    After a while I became a member of the anthroposophical society (which I am no longer since 1996) and started visiting the evenings for members. This was a great shock to me..
    This was not the modern society I expected.

    I learned about all the problems in the development of the anthroposophical movement.
    The official anthroposophy has not become what Steiner wanted it to be.
    A modern and open society with eyes for world-wide developments.

    This does not mean that anthroposophy is dead. On the contrary. But is must come from the common people now, not from above. “Die Mysterien sind am Bahnhof” has Beuys said.
    I advocate therefore an anthroposophy of the “left”. I mean social=political left.
    For anthroposophists the greatest concern should be the world wide gap between the rich part of the world and the poor part. In my eyes anthroposophists should not “collaborate” with capitalism (but I am not against free entrepreneurship). We must find ways to overcome these world wide injustice. We have to create a new social order for the wellbeing of all people rather than for our own institutions.
    This newanthroposophy is in its beginning but I am sure it will grow. The official anthroposophy is past – unless it would dramaticcaly reorganize itself.
    The newanthroposophy must stimulate and develop social life and understanding between people.

  8. Jan:

    Does your ‘new anthroposophy’ repudiate the elements of Steiner’s supposedly spiritually acquired knowledge which are racist?

    There are undoubtedly arrogant scientists (as in all walks of life) although arrogant is a relative word. It seems to me that your concern about the arrogance of leading scientists – I assume you mean those at the cutting-edge of scientific research – is more about their unwillingness to engage in a debate about ‘spiritual science’ than a concern with those aspects of arrogance (an inability to listen, to engage with others) which may very well get in the way of good science. If some leading scientists seem arrogant because they are too busy to suffer fools and want to get on with their work, this may simply be an occasionally unattractive personality trait. If anthroposophists want to be taken seriously they need better arguments and evidence. They have had about a hundred years to come up with either.

    Very few people however arrogant would say: ‘I know the truth, there is no spiritual world,’ It is impossible to prove the non-existence of entities or dimensions outside our present understanding although the word ‘spiritual’ implies something other-worldly, transcending the natural world so presumably were it to be established that such things existed and could be scientifically analyzed, they wouldn’t anymore be spiritual. Which might take away a lot of the fun.

    We cannot prove the non-existence of god/s, faeries, The Flying Spaghetti Monster or the infamous orbiting teapot. But we can reserve belief in them for the day when further evidence for their existence is forthcoming: cosmic tea or raining meat-balls etc. You may feel that makes our skeptical lives poorer. I disagree.

  9. See the definition of racism of Albert Memmi and than judge again whehter there is racism in the anthroposophy. His definition is a leading definition.

    Read the book of Pim van Lommel, a dutch cardiologist and scientist (and not an anthroposophist), who made clear that there is consciousness outside the body.

  10. That’s one definition I don’t share though I’m aware that anthroposophists have an industry of disclaimers for every uncomfortable (and in this case indefensible) aspect of Steiner’s output, reflecting how much there is at stake. Your answer suggests there is no such creature as a ‘new’ anthroposophy.

    Pim van Lommel had a bone to pick with Michael Shermer, who in this rather gentle article from 2003 misrepresents, imo mistakenly (without malign intent) what van Lommel thought he was establishing re out of death experiences in a 2001 study published in the Lancet:

    http://www.michaelshermer.com/2003/03/demon-haunted-brain/

    I have not read any books by Pim van Lommel but to my mind the Lancet study does not make a good case for ‘consciousness outside the body’, by which I assume you mean a survival of consciousness after death, perhaps justifying for anthroposophists some concept of karma, reincarnation etc. Van Lommel may make it clear elsewhere that HE believes in it but the evidence in the Lancet article can be read two ways.

    At a later date Deepak Chopra appeared in the debate, prompting this letter in Skeptics Magazine from psychologist Gary Whittenberger:

    http://www.skepticforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=67&t=9712

  11. Too easy.
    You ask scientific evidence.
    I showed you a study that is at least subject of scientific debate.
    Not everyone can publish in the Lancet.

    Albert Memmi’s definition is not any definition.
    It is the most accepted definiton of racism, again of a famous scholar.

    So I gave you scientific and scholarly arguments. Didn’t you ask for it ?
    When people ridiculize the work of Steiner, is it not understandable that people who do recognize the value of his work want to defend him?
    Newanthroposophy a creature?
    Do you really want a serious discussion ?

  12. Jan:

    Come on, Andrew Wakefield’s study was published in the Lancet. It was flawed in the sense that its conclusions were not robust: the results showed an association, not a causal link. Being published in the Lancet does not mean your conclusions are right, even peer reviewers can make mistakes.

    I would disagree with any definition of racism that suggests anthroposophy is not racist, regardless of who you cite in its defense. Albert Memmi’s may be the standard definition. I hardly think he agrees that mankind reincarnates through the races from Black to Aryan. If he does, perhaps this should be more widely known.

    I do see anthroposophy as a creature, it’s true. It is ungainly, mythical, dragonish, snake-like, winged, scaled, fanged, foul and wreathed in smoke. It stares at itself, mouth open, transfixed by its own designs. It is unsupportable. It is purely a work of the imagination. It is a religion. Those who defend it must hide its great bulk behind frankly slender defenses, pretending it is altogether something other than it is. And they want us to take this seriously.

  13. Frank has posted two images on twitter this morning which I haven’t seen before, in spite of recent indications that I might have done:

    http://www.myartspace.dk/www/Art/ShowArt.asp?
    Kunstværket Spareuhyret fra Silkeborg ! – MyArtSpace – Online galleri, Se de flotte gallerier:
    http://www.myartspace.dk/www/Art/ShowArt.asp?artid=16232&sorting=1
    Kunstværket MONSTROPOSOPHIA ! – MyArtSpace – Online galleri, Se de flotte gallerier:
    http://www.myartspace.dk/www/Art/ShowArt.asp?artid=16290&sorting=1

    Perhaps it isn’t Jan’s anthroposophy, a benign philosophy which might ‘stimulate and develop social life and understanding between people’ but nevertheless the monster might represent the results of the real, sprawling, anachronistic, narcissistic anthroposophy.

    The autocratic voice is familiar: read this book, accept this statement, agree that a matter has been established without supporting evidence, that the scientific method is not equipped to judge (unless we find a scientist who appears to support our position). Agree that I have sufficiently explained those disagreeable statements even though all I have done is throw down a novelist/commentator (however august) instructed you that he is the accepted authority and while you look away, covered the offending passages with my hand.

    I agree that the scientific method as it is presently understood may not serve the needs of anthroposophy. So I invite a description of a different method. It is the method that is lacking. I make one proviso: this new method must be transparent.

    [edit: links /zooey]

  14. Jan Luiten wrote:
    “I can understand the criticism on anthroposophical institutional life, but anthroposophy itself is much more than that. Do not mix these things up.”

    Children in Steiner schools aren’t given a choice about “mixing up” these things. Steiner schools are, in their essence, anthroposophy and institutional life all mixed up. This “mix up” that you chide others for is what is going on from the time the school bell rings in the morning. You as a 53 year old can sit in your armchair and extract threads that please you from anthroposophy and disdain people who’ve had any little problem with anthroposophical institutional life, and to a large extent, adults who have had problems in anthroposophical institutional life also have this luxury. The children never do – unless it’s years later, as Zooey has had to do.

  15. Thetis mercurio wrote:

    “And they want us to take this seriously.”

    They do and they don’t. They live with this ambivalence. They don’t want outsiders to look too closely, or get interested in the details. That almost always turns ugly.

  16. @Diana,

    Diana, have you ever considered going in for some Primal Scream Therapy?

    It might do you some good.

    @Jan,

    Jan, at the end of the day, anthroposophy is for people who wish to approach the world with an open heart, thinking clearly and without prejudice.

    Don’t waste too much time with the folk here

  17. Mercuryrules: it’s a paradox. You want people to believe that anthroposophy suggests open-heartedness (perhaps that means love) and even intellectual sophistication but you can never resist the temptation to be spiteful and childish.

    It is worth reading the comments alfa-omega re-posts. They illustrate our present concerns.

    Diana reiterates the seriousness of allowing anthroposophical ideas to be practiced on children. I’m grateful for her input wherever she comments, always to the point.

  18. Mercuryrules:
    “@Diana,
    Diana, have you ever considered going in for some Primal Scream Therapy? It might do you some good.”
    “@Jan,
    Jan, at the end of the day, anthroposophy is for people who wish to approach the world with an open heart, thinking clearly and without prejudice. Don’t waste too much time with the folk here”

    This is one demonstration of many of the anthro/steiner/waldorf arrogance, the believe of their superiority.

    @ThetisMercurio and the few:
    the arrogance, the believe of superiority, has been defeated before.

  19. OK, Ladies, please tell me than what according to you has to be happen with anthroposophy or anthroposophists.

  20. Mule ?, a new star ? or an old/familiar one ?

    It does not matter.
    I say good-bye to any one now.
    God bless you.

  21. Mule has posted before — I can’t remember which thread though.

    Don’t leave, Jan, when I have just returned! (And don’t listen to Mercuryrules — he’s not very nice, and you’ll have more fun ‘wasting’ time on us then on him ;-) it’s true, actually.)

    Mule has a point — honesty. I think that’s what needs to happen. Less dogmatism (especially in waldorf education). Anthroposophists also need to accept that non-anthroposophists are entitled to their own opinions — that all criticism doesn’t amount to attacks and wars and crusades (we discussed that already). Anthroposophists need to come down from their high horses (and, in my opinion, it looks better to climb down than to fall down); and stop underestimating non-anthroposophists’ capacity for thought, morality, consciousness, et c.

    Most of all I think honest communication is of paramount importance. That whole idea of serving anthroposophy in bland, but always appropriate and impersonal, chunks for ‘outsiders’, it isn’t working. It’s just boring. There’s no point in trying to attract everybody, and in making oneself so uncontroversial that nobody is repelled. It’s better to accept that people will either reject anthroposophy all together or they will take an interest in it but even in that case you can’t decide on the reasons for or the manner in which this interest expresses itself. And if anthroposophy were characterized by openness, honesty and versatility, none of this would be an important issue.

    I, for example, believe Steiner was wrong about many things. I still think there’s a cultural heritage connected to anthroposophy and that this is worth preserving.

    (I must read through the rest of the thread before writing more replies.)

  22. hello zooey,

    I think anthroposophy is interesting historically, as part of a fascinating esoteric tradition. It doesn’t have for me a resonant cultural heritage but I have a similar ambivalent attitude towards the C0fE: I would miss it if it disappeared even though it’s often embarrassing (and I don’t believe in god).

    I have every respect for private meditation on the nature of the world, or there would no novelists or poets.

  23. Response to Jan Luiten

    I am disgusted that Jan Luiten should try and con readers here into thinking that a leading writer on racism such as Albert Memmi would excuse Steiner and the Anthroposophical machine of racism.

    Attempts to ‘modernise’ Steiner, and to repudiate allegations of racism, by the Steiner fold have in fact merely cast additional veils of mystery over what remains a thoroughly racist philosophy. The reference made by Jan Luiten, above, to Albert Memmi as having the standard definition of racism comes directly from the infamous Frankfurt Memorandum, Rudolf Steiner and the Subject of Racism by Ramon Brüll and Dr. Jens Heisterkamp.

    In the report, Memmi is quoted thus:

    “generalising and absolutising value placed on actual or fictitious differences for the benefit of the accuser and to the detriment of his victim to justify his privileges or aggression” (Albert Memmi)

    And because it was considered by Brüll and Heisterkamp that Steiner did not advocate aggression, they – after a convoluted and unconvincing argument – come to the conclusion that:

    “Despite the racist remarks cited in this group, Rudolf Steiner was no racist and no representative of a “racial theory” in the sense of an ideology to safeguard a supremacy based on race.”

    This rather pathetic attempt at getting around Steiner’s racism has been roundly and fairly criticised by Peter Staudenmaier who says of the Memorandum:

    “Steiner’s complex racial doctrines are a topic on which anthroposophists in general have even farther to go toward a meaningful historical understanding than on the similarly charged topic of the anthroposophical movement’s history during the Nazi era. Steiner’s statements about race contain all sorts of inconsistencies and contradictions, but there is no reason not to characterize them collectively as a set of racial doctrines.”

    Moreover, the real and violent racism of senior European Anthroposophists as part of both Hitler’s and Mussolini’s fascist regimes, including using slave labour on Nazi Biodynamic farms and the rounding up of Jews for Hitler’s ‘final solution’ , makes the idea that Anthroposophy is benign quite impossible.

    Albert Memmi did not, furthermore, only have one definition of racism, he wrote about racism in all its forms. The Frankfurt Memorandum, dishonest in so many ways, picks just one of Memmi’s remarks to try and show that Steiner was not a racist, Memmi would not have approved of this at all as he believed:

    “Racism rests upon and functions as a kind of seesaw: the persecutor rises by debasing and inferiorizing his victim.”

    If Jan Luiten thinks that Steiner’s crazy karmic reincarnation, in which yellow skins such as myself have to strive for whiteness in a future life lest we be demoted to blackness when reincarnated as a result of our past deeds is not inferiorizing then I have no conclusion to draw other than he is yet another racist anthroposophist.

    Oh, and did I mention that the Frankfurt Memorandom was written by Anthroposophists? Hardly an independent report.

    I leave the last word to Albert Memmi:

    “There is a strange kind of tragic enigma associated with the problem of racism. No one, or almost no one, wishes to see themselves as racist; still racism persists, real and tenacious.”

    Nick

  24. @thetismercurio — that was what I was after, basically. Or, to return to biodynamics, I’d say Steiner’s writings, e g, can be cherished for various reasons and that they ought to be preserved — regardless of their scientific value being non-existent.

  25. Thetis wrote:

    ‘We cannot prove the non-existence of god/s, faeries, The Flying Spaghetti Monster or the infamous orbiting teapot. But we can reserve belief in them for the day when further evidence for their existence is forthcoming: cosmic tea or raining meat-balls etc.’

    I believe already. In fact, I am convinced. Waiting for raining meat-balls. Come come! … no? Did Dog in heaven eat all the meat-balls himself? If so, it’s utterly upsetting. I prefer to think he’s in the process of making them. I’ll be waiting. I have faith in canineosophical science and culinary art. /Mr Dog.

    Jan wrote:

    ‘Read the book of Pim van Lommel, a dutch cardiologist and scientist (and not an anthroposophist), who made clear that there is consciousness outside the body.’

    If this was a scientifically established fact, rather than a personal belief of mr Lommel, I’d hazard a guess we would have heard about it. It would be a revolutionary piece of scientific evidence, if it existed. But I’d say it’s (as Thetis wrote) Lommel’s interpretations and his expression of a philosophical position. (Lots of people who are not anthroposophists believe in stuff like consciousness outside the physical body.

    ‘When people ridiculize the work of Steiner, is it not understandable that people who do recognize the value of his work want to defend him?’

    Not at all. But I think you would want to speak up on behalf of Steiner’s work — if you value it — no matter what other people say. Wouldn’t you? It would be just as important if anthroposophy had no ‘enemies’?

    Thetis wrote:

    ‘I do see anthroposophy as a creature, it’s true. It is ungainly, mythical, dragonish, snake-like, winged, scaled, fanged, foul and wreathed in smoke. It stares at itself, mouth open, transfixed by its own designs. It is unsupportable. It is purely a work of the imagination. It is a religion. Those who defend it must hide its great bulk behind frankly slender defenses, pretending it is altogether something other than it is. And they want us to take this seriously.’

    The Goetheanum should hire you to write its PR brochures. This is a highly attractive way of putting it. Far more exiting than the bland stuff they produce (which seems to be the verbal equivalent of lazure wallpaint).

    Thetis also wrote:

    ‘I agree that the scientific method as it is presently understood may not serve the needs of anthroposophy. So I invite a description of a different method. It is the method that is lacking. I make one proviso: this new method must be transparent.’

    Brilliantly put.

    Diana wrote:

    ‘Children in Steiner schools aren’t given a choice about “mixing up” these things. Steiner schools are, in their essence, anthroposophy and institutional life all mixed up. … You as a 53 year old can sit in your armchair and extract threads that please you from anthroposophy and disdain people who’ve had any little problem with anthroposophical institutional life, and to a large extent, adults who have had problems in anthroposophical institutional life also have this luxury. The children never do – unless it’s years later, as Zooey has had to do.’

    Indeed. And as long as anthroposophists themselves keep mixing these things up — which is inevitable given the directions Steiner gave them for how to run their businesses — they can’t tell critics, who’ve been subjected to exactly these mix-ups, to not confuse one thing with another. Anthroposophists run waldorf schools according to anthroposophical principles, these anthroposophists are adults and they can’t keep things properly apart — it’s impossible to expect a child to be able to determine which fuck-ups belong to ‘real’ anthroposophy and which belong to misapplied anthroposophy and which belong mere human failings. As long as anthroposophists run these institutions, they open themselves up to criticism from the outside world, to an extent they could avoid only by not dabbling with education, and so forth, at all.

  26. Nick – your understanding is invaluable, many thanks for explaining the reference to Albert Memmi for those of us who have not read him and for placing his words in the proper context. It’s essential to acknowledge the extent of anthroposophical smoke and mirrors and to insist on clear thinking, these aren’t abstract concerns.

    That’s a great analysis zooey – as just above in your last paragraph. So much confusion, so many fuck-ups, nervous breakdowns, lost notes, misplaced impulses. Teaching is tough already, running a school is hard, education is a difficult business without the responsibility of a sacred task shared with hardly any of the parents and hidden (thus far) from the Department of Education.

  27. Those responsible for the PR at the Goetheanum may contact my agent through the unusual channels.

  28. The way that some anthroposophists deny Steiner’s racism reminds me of the way that some Christians deny racism, sexism, homophobia et.c. in the Old Testament. The anthroposophists have a harder time doing it because Steiner lived in our time and is infinitely more documented than the authors of the OT. It’s the same mechanism though, keeping the good parts by denying the bad parts.

    I think there’s a similarity between anti-racist anthroposophists and homosexual Christians. What should they do when their founder/holy texts show signs of what they abhor themselves? It’s not an easy situation to be in and it demands some creative reinterpretation if you want to have it both ways. There’s probably a difference though between those anthros who are anti-racist by heart but who wants to keep their anthroposophy (and it’s hard to reject Steiner completely in that case) and those that are pro-anthro. or pro-Steiner at heart and wants to keep them from bad reputation (but doesn’t really care about racism). But how to tell them apart?

  29. My mother worked as a midwife (barnmorska). She brought over 400 babies into the world. Later in her career she was in charge of a premature baby unit and looked after the smallest baby to survive in England at that time. She was a good person who took into her home many lost young people of different races and nations and helped them find some stability in life. She never intended to be racist yet sometimes, as she was talking, racial and sexual sterotypes would come out.
    When I was young I was horrified by this. But as I got older I realised that it is what lives in the heart that counts. In her actions and intentions she did no harm to anyone, only good.

    For me Rudolf Steiner is like this but writ large. Having lived with his thought for many years I do believe he did not intend to discriminate, his fundamental belief was that every human being is an image of the divine, regardless of race, gender, class, sexuality etc. But he did use , occasionally, thoroughly unpleasant racial stereotypes. This was a serious failing.

    He often spoke of a development in consciousness that he called ‘the consciouness soul’. This is especially present in people born after the second world war. One aspect of this development in consciousness is that we have become especially sensitive to when our fellow human beings are unfairly discriminated against on grounds of race, gender, disability, sexuality, etc.
    Steiner himself did not know exactly how the consciousness soul would manifest. He failed to see that his racial comments in themselves are a form of discrimination and would be extremely repugnant to people.
    But I wish to reiterate he did not believe that people of different races should be discriminated against. He really did think that every single human being has a drop of the divine in them.
    How can the two things live in one person – racial stereotyping and a belief in the fundamental value of every kliving person?
    Well they can.
    Human beings are not always consistent, nor anyone all-wise or all-knowing.

  30. To Falk Ramaren

    For non-white people and Jews, Steiner’s racism is not merely a serious failing by Steiner himself, nor is it merely repugnant, it is politically extremely dangerous. I have no idea of your ethnicity, nationality or skin colour, but imagine, if you will, that in all of Steiner’s racial remarks it was you at the bottom of the list. Imagine that you wished to take part in local politics only to discover that the people in charge of the political parties and community groups on offer supported a doctrine in which you, yes you, were considered spiritually inferior. Imagine that they all claimed that you were welcome and would be treated fairly when, within living memory, members of their sect had sent people of your colour or religion to be enslaved, experimented upon, starved, humiliated and then killed in gas chambers or simply shot for no reason at all.

    Anthroposophists are extraordinarily callous when it comes to facing up to their historical legacy. Non-white people and Jews are rightly fearful that history will repeat itself. Ethical white people do not want to look on, turn away or pass by on the other side; they do not want to be supporters of unacceptable bigotry. You might not think that racism is enacted by modern Anthroposophists but, in a myriad of small but highly unpleasant ways, that is exactly what is happening in communities where Anthroposophists feel safe from critical opinion. Moreover, if you look at the terrible things happening around the world today, you will find that genocide is often committed by otherwise ordinary people, even without the support of a book of rules or a spiritual scheme that supports such action.

    What Steiner said, and what he wrote, was racist and discriminatory. Now you could decide to think that Steiner was so stupid that he had no idea that a racial spiritual hierarchy would not be taken seriously, but that is to assume a level of stupidity on his part that should make you wonder why you follow his ideas. Alternatively you could contemplate the idea that he knew exactly what he was doing; casual racists do not write about their racism in painstaking detail and non-racists do not write about it at all.

    Inevitably, people attracted to racist ideologies are drawn into the power structures that such philosophies imply and you should not wish to be one of them. What continues to amaze those of us who are opposed to Anthroposophy is that there are many, many alternative religions and spiritual ideas that do not have racism built-in. Not only are there many different Buddhist sects and systems but also a number of esoteric Sufi mystics to choose from. You might also wish to look at branches of Mystic Traditionalism. Or, you could simply have an independent opinion and write your own spiritual system of thought and action.

    Racism is enacted every day by followers of Steiner. If you are genuinely anti-racist you will read as much about Steiner as possible and read thoroughly all that the critics of Anthroposophy have to say. You can find all the links you need to start your enquiries into the true nature of Anthroposophy on my blog. If, after that process, you still find Anthroposophy the best possible choice of how you wish to live your life and how you wish others to be treated then all we, the critics, can assume is that you’d rather be a racist.

    Nick

  31. Really sorry Z wrong link not intended.

    The fear that what comes out of anthroposophy, like Waldorf schools, would be a danger and promote racism is contradicted by independent empirical research http://bit.ly/b1vmln

  32. Nick wrote:

    ‘What continues to amaze those of us who are opposed to Anthroposophy is that there are many, many alternative religions and spiritual ideas that do not have racism built-in. Not only are there many different Buddhist sects and systems but also a number of esoteric Sufi mystics to choose from. You might also wish to look at branches of Mystic Traditionalism. Or, you could simply have an independent opinion and write your own spiritual system of thought and action.’

    Well, but at the same time: what if there are elements in anthroposophy which attract you? And which you don’t think these other traditions can give you? I’m not sure that it is, in principle (but as you write, anthroposophists have been horribly slow at getting to terms with their legacy), impossible to discard certain parts of anthroposophy… to transform it into something entirely without any racial thinking at all. I’m not suggesting the kind of useless apologia that Excalibor /the bee engages in, but something thorough. It would need re-thinking the whole complex of issues regarding the past and future evolution of mankind, and also the concepts of reinkarnation and karma. But I’m not sure that one would have to discard anthroposophy in favour of some other tradition. You could, for example, cherish Steiner’s advice for meditative practices, and not the rest. Sure, it would — with too much picking and choosing — no longer be thought of as ‘traditional’ anthroposophy. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be worthwhile. If you’re into that kind of thing.

    Of course, Steiner said those things and they cast a shadow on the rest of his work; as Falk points out, what he said about races probably didn’t sound as bad to Steiner’s contemporaries as it does to us. This is less of a ‘problem’ if one simply assumes Steiner was a human being; then one could pick and choose (was he mistaken — discard! was he wise — keep!). It is much more of a problem if one considers him clairvoyant. Or someone with special insights. You can’t as easily pick and choose then. But I think it’s wholesome to see him as a human being, someone suffering from human weaknesses (and some strengths, obviously). Not differnt from Falk’s grandmother. Or my grandparents. Some views they held would certainly seem appalling today. None of them were gurus though, and none of them claimed to be clairvoyant. So Steiner is a special case, no matter how you view him. The best way to view him would be, I’d say, as a fallible human being and as a historical fogure whose views can be subjected to discussion and criticism. Someone whose advice one can accept or discard depending on its merits.

    That’s one side of it. The other is how contemporary anthroposophists act. It is a separate issue from that of how to view Steiner (or how to partly salvage Steiner, if possible). I don’t have the experiences Nick has (there are obvious reasons: I was a child in a waldorf school, not an adult interacting with other adults), but they don’t exactly surprise me. There is, within anthroposophy, a tendency towards the doctrinarian, to the point of fanaticism. There is an inability to deal with the past and with Steiner’s teachings, and an unfortunate tendency to whitewash. Look for example at Excalibor’s link above. Instead of addressing the problems Nick raises — you could potentially address them in several ways (even I tried to, and I’m not an anthroposophist!) — he provides a link to his blog where he writes that waldorf students are no more racist than other kids. Well, ok. It seems like a way to provide irrelevant information that averts attention away from the real issues. (Apart from that, one could object in various ways to the contentions of the study Excalibor refers to.) It’s quite typical of the inability I mentioned.

    The people Nick encountered could inform themselves and take a stand but they chose not to. Maybe they were lazy. Maybe they felt uncomfortable. Maybe they… I don’t know. There could be many explanations, ranging from the unreasonable to the somewhat understandable (even if not condonable). However, one sadly suspects that much of it is due to exactly the inability displayed by Excalibor and other loud anthroposophists — the inability to take it seriously and deal with it. That what they prefer is trying to whitewash, deflect responsibility, and so forth. When it’s done by people who know perfectly well what’s in Steiner’s works.

    That’s a very real problem.

  33. zooey: “what he said about races probably didn’t sound as bad to Steiner’s contemporaries as it does to us”

    I actually think it did, but not mainly because it was racist (although I’d really like to know how common racism was then, we all tend to assume that almost everyone was racist), but because the ideas were so wacky. Atlanteans and root races and all those theosophical ideas must have sounded very strange to people then. And as Nick said, Steiner’s dwelling in all these details made him different from ordinary everyday racists.

  34. True. Clearly many of these ideas (Atlanteans…) seemed rather strange to people even then. I was thinking more about specific racial prejudices, such as the belief that Europeans were more intelligent or more evolved or civilized by nature. There were anti-racists of course, but I figure many more people — than is the case today — had no or little experience of people from other parts of the world. And they knew much less about other people. That’s the reason I figure Steiner could get away with lots of prejudices that would hardly be accepted today (except by a few people). In the children’s books I owned as a kid you learn rather… strange things about foreign lands and peoples. Some of it on par with Steiner’s utterances, as far as the level of prejudice is concerned. I’m sure one would find lots of stuff fitting the same pattern if one were to browse through other types of sources. Today you couldn’t publish that kind of stuff, but then it was apparently possible and even popular, which leads me to think people, on average, wouldn’t have reacted to Steiner’s ideas (re human races, excl the real wacky stuff about planetary incarnations and lost continents) quite the way we do today.

  35. Excalibor,

    Thank you for the link to your blog and to the Report on racism. Sadly I don’t read or speak German. In my efforts to locate an English language version I have noticed that there are very few sites (either for or against) that have anything to say about this report. I’m surprised; I would have thought Anthroposophists would be delighted with it – why do you think there is so little enthusiam for it?

    Perhaps it was thought that the results were so much in favour of Waldorf that readers would not quite believe them?

    I would be particulalrly interested in the way the survey was conducted, how the questions were asked and by whom.

    If you have any further information, I would be grateful for the links, without knowing more about the survey it would be difficult to comment upon it.

    Nick

  36. A bit OT but I’d like to know what children’s book zooey refer to, what the examples are and when they where published first. I don’t recall any such obvious racism in the children’s books I read as a child (rather the opposite), but I’ve seen older books such as “Lillans AB- och CD-lära” that contain those things.

  37. Zooey’s post of July 12, 2010 2:06 am reflects well how I feel about Steiner. He was a fallible human-being and one can discriminate between what is helpful in his work, what could be harmful, and what can be discarded.
    Many of the things Zooey says about Anthroposophists tending to be doctrinaire and fanatical are also true but not true of everybody.
    In the Steiner schools I have some insight into there has to my knowledge only been one allegation of racism from a parent in the last 10 years or so. The school I am most familiar with employs people of European, Asian, Afro- Carribean, African, and Jewish race, people from a variety of ethnic groups. The Irish, the Romanies and other Travellers in England have often been a discriminated against ethnic groups, even though nominally ‘white’.
    All of these people find that by using their common-sense, and thinking for themselves they can find what is fruitful and worth-while in Steiner’s teachings and combat what is not.
    I can understand and share Nick’s passionate feelings of abhorrence for any form of racial discrimination. It has to be dealt with and opposed whenever it is genuinely at work, as must prejudice based on gender(which affects a significantly greater number of human beings than racial prejudice every day and in most social situations) and prejudice based on class – a particular affliction in England.
    But just as Christians used to be prejudiced against Jews and have come to see that racial prejudice is actually UNchristian, so many anthroposophists have come to see that racial prejudice is really incompatible with their essential belief in the spark of divinity in every human being.
    I was glad that Nick acknowledged that he knew nothing of my own ethnicity, race or colour.

  38. @ devadatta: indeed. Many of my childhood books were inherited books, older books from the 30s, 40s, 50s. They were not books written in the late 70s and early 80s. (Books like Alfons Åberg or Spöket Laban (or whatever they were called, Stora Pappan? I don’t know) wouldn’t have made it into our household — my mother loathed them. I had many modern books too, but not the ones Swedish children of my generation have read. And then I had the older books. Some older books I read when at grandparents, too.)

    @ falk: Concerning christians, there are, of course, a great variety. Some christians have most definitely not left racial, gender-based or other prejudices behind them… Others have become more tolerant, in some cases, I would think, because modern and secular society has made such a development inevitable. Not being prejudiced is also, for some groups, a way to expand their congregations when secular Europeans no longer bother about organized religion. I’m thinking about evangelists or revivalists who’ve expanded their mission to less modern societies. These same movements often pay lip-service to the ‘spark of divinity in every human being’ while continuing to embrace the most vile prejudices towards, e g, sexual minorities, not recognizing that such traits are as little a matter of conscious choice as is skin colour. (And, for that matter, are often prejudiced toward atheists, non-believers, non-christians.)

  39. And I second Nick’s objections. I read German, but I haven’t read this study, and I would be very very cautious about accepting Sune’s (Excalibor’s/TheBee’s) rendering of it. He’s behind many websites you probably know already, Nick, and familiar from old discussions; I think he figured in LibCon threads, for example.

    It is possible that this study is as flawed as many other studies on waldorf schools and waldorf students. It is possible that it was, like an infamous Swedish study, arranged in such a way that any results would have to be interpreted accordingly.

  40. Falk:
    “In the Steiner schools I have some insight into there has to my knowledge only been one allegation of racism from a parent in the last 10 years or so. ”

    Oh yes. At the waldorf school I have been a part of for some months, those few months were enough for hearing of one allegation of racism from a parent.

    In addition to what this parent told me about events prior to my presence there, I have noticed the results of years long negligence of the pupil’s needs. No one there have noticed for years what I have noticed in few weeks – how come? However, the needs of an other pupil, a child of a member of the core group, were, of course, observed and taken care of.

    I have noticed, too, (at the w-sch and elsewhere) various PR attempts of the kind which Zooey calls “lip-service to the ‘spark of divinity in every human being’ “

  41. zooey permalink*
    June 29, 2010 7:26 pm
    “The only thing worse than jeans in a waldorf school would be black jeans! ;-) It’s funny, though, when trying to remember, I think male waldorf teachers wore jeans; females rarely, if ever. I think there was more of a dress code among female waldorf teachers than among the males. (Come to think of it, this rule probably applies in many professions.)”

    When I was younger, it must have been in first grade, we werent allowed to wear any black clothes at all, no clothes with text or ant print on at all. We werent allowed to have nail polish even in high school and I remember one girl that was wearing make up and she had to go to the toilet nad wash it away with olive oil. Our teacher was really mean to her and made her look bad or funny in front of the rest of us, I remember that she told this girl how ugly her eyebrows were.

    I had this Stockhom-accent and my teacher told me that was not real swedish. She laughted at me in front of the class and after that I tried to speak without this accent.

    One of the worst things is that you are not allowed to be who you are, if its something that is not working it is allways YOUR fault and its something wrong with YOU. You cant ask questions because they dont have any answers. I regret my nine years in waldorf and was so happy to go to a non-walrorf gymnasium. And it wasnt at all bad, that all the waldorf teachers told us. They tried to make all the communal schools look bad and evil, they were plain and the students were mean to each other, they sad. But in waldrof the teachers are the ones that are mean to the students.
    I think that is worse.

  42. Ah! the nail-polish! I remember that! It was forbidden. Once I spent a day with my paternal grandmother, this was perhaps in 4th grade or so, and I vividly remember having to tell her I could not let her paint my nails because it was prohibited in school and I was going to school the day after. It wasn’t even in a distinct colour, something light pink similar to what nails look like.

    Black was my favourite colour fairly early on. Perhaps it was made more exciting because it wasn’t considered ‘proper’ for children. During the last years I spent in that waldorf school, I remembered I draw the flipsides of note books black.

    I don’t think there was any prohibition on printed sweaters or shirts though; at least people wore them. I’m sure some waldorf teachers didn’t like that kind of thing. I know that the kindergarten teachers I had did entertain some ideas about clothing. It may be that my class teacher in school was, in waldorf terms, less extreme in this particular respect. Make-up was, like nail-polish, prohibited, but since I left in 6th grade, it hadn’t become that much of an issue yet. Although some kids were into it already.

    As for the two incidents you mention of teacher behaviour — awful, simply awful.

  43. @alfa-omega: Wow. That’s interesting, how it (the allegation) surfaced in some form so quickly. And that it came to your attention. I would guess they try, if possible, to avoid letting new-comers become aware of such things, until they figure they can be ‘trusted’.

  44. Falk

    Your comment:

    “The school I am most familiar with employs people of European, Asian, Afro- Carribean, African, and Jewish race, people from a variety of ethnic groups. The Irish, the Romanies and other Travellers in England have often been a discriminated against ethnic groups, even though nominally ‘white’.”

    Are, as a matter of policy, the non white employees, parents and children at the school, and at other Waldorf and Steiner schools told about Steiner’s racial hierarchy of Karmic progression before they are enlisted? And do the senior staff explain the controversy surrounding these issues?

    What mechanisms exist to ensure the racism in the philosophy isn’t internalized by the non-white or Jewish staff, parents or children? I’m trying to imagine a ‘non-racist’ senior teacher trying to explain the Steiner position. Perhaps they say something like:

    “Well, some of us think you’re spiritually inferior because your skin color indicates a lack of spiritual awareness in an earlier life but if you follow our instructions you might be lucky enough to be white in your next life. Naturally, this is all racist rubbish but we continue to employ people who believe in racist rubbish. Anyway, it doesn’t apply to you because I don’t believe it and I’m your boss/teacher/parent. By the way, even though I don’t believe it, I’m quite happy to work with people who do believe it and it’s not my job to protect you from racism or strongly oppose it – welcome to our world.”

    Clearly, my imaginary quote is ridiculous, but how is the issue tackled? If you believe as you say that,

    “It has to be dealt with and opposed whenever it is genuinely at work, as must prejudice based on gender(which affects a significantly greater number of human beings than racial prejudice every day and in most social situations) and prejudice based on class – a particular affliction in England.”

    How does your dealing with it manifest itself in practical terms? Will you put your name to an outright condemnation of Steiner’s karmic racial hierarchy and do your best to publicize your objection?

    My point is that a genuine rejection of racism by an organization or an individual is explicit. Letting racism continue without strong censure is to approve it by default.

    By the way, I find your comment,

    “All of these people find that by using their common-sense, and thinking for themselves they can find what is fruitful and worth-while in Steiner’s teachings and combat what is not.”

    quite abhorrent. You seem to be saying that the responsibility for opposing racism lies with the victims.

    Nick

  45. ‘You seem to be saying that the responsibility for opposing racism lies with the victims.’
    I don’t understand how Nick got to this conclusion from what I said.
    It is not what I meant. I meant anyone who thinks for themselves, as opposed to those anthroposophists who take everything Steiner said as gospel, can see what is racist and what is not in Steiner’s work. I also believe that it is everyone’s duty to combat racial discrimination of any kind.

  46. Then it’s simple Falk: if you choose to follow a religious path which is of essence racist, you are not combating anything. You are going along with it. If you agree that Steiner had no clairvoyant access to any hidden records or possessed super-human intuitive powers etc (this is demonstrably the case, since there is no such thing as clairvoyance) you are looking at the man’s work in a historical context, as Peter Staudenmaier has accomplished so successfully and you are analyzing his contribution to education by having a good, hard look at that peculiar Steiner pedagogy as if Reason mattered, as if children too were true individuals, not bit-players in adults’ spiritual fantasies.

    If you want to believe what you want in private, no one will stop you. But as anthroposophists are greedy and come after more public money to fund a pedagogy based on an essentially racist religious creed (NOT philosophy) they lay themselves open to scrutiny and inevitable public opprobrium.

    Gather what you like about Steiner’s ideas by all means, but don’t ask for special favours.

  47. I’ve just read the comments on another part of this blog which reiterate my concern about children:

    zooey:

    ‘I say it again: waldorf education is about the sentimental and romantic dreams of adults, it’s about them fulfilling their psychological needs, giving in to a longing for something they probably can’t always define. It’s much less about the actual needs of the children. The children are more or less an excuse for grown-ups to pursue elusive personal spiritual satisfaction.’

    read on..

    https://zooey.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/the-micha-el-institute/#comment-3433

  48. What Zooey states is the kernel.
    Around this kernel there are other goals as well. One such goal is providing job opportunities to people who have no qualification other than belonging to the anthro/steiner/waldorf movement.

  49. Nick:

    ***
    By the way, I find your comment,

    “All of these people find that by using their common-sense, and thinking for themselves they can find what is fruitful and worth-while in Steiner’s teachings and combat what is not.”

    quite abhorrent. You seem to be saying that the responsibility for opposing racism lies with the victims.
    ***

    Like Falk, I don’t quite understand how this particular conclusion comes about. There must be a middle-step here, something which can illuminate how we get from A to B, as it were. What Falk expressed in that sentence is basically what I have said too (not in the same words, and besides I have a slightly different perspective in many ways, but it certainly isn’t opposed to what I’ve been saying). I’m quite surprised it can be interpreted as ‘responsibilty for opposing racism lies with the victims.’ Which, I assume, indicates there’s something in the line of reasoning that I’m not getting or that perhaps could benefit from a more explicit explanation.

  50. Zooey,

    Perhaps there are linguistic differences. In English, the phrase ‘these people’, when used in the context of race, does not mean everyone. It means everyone except the speaker and the group to which the speaker belongs. Otherwise one would use the inclusive ‘us’ as in; ‘all of us find that by using our comon sense’ or ‘all people find..’ etc. But, even then, the statement is too general and does not constitute a specific condemnation of a particular racist doctrine by the speaker.

    Faulk, I partly accepted your clarification when you said:

    ” I meant anyone who thinks for themselves, as opposed to those anthroposophists who take everything Steiner said as gospel, can see what is racist and what is not in Steiner’s work. I also believe that it is everyone’s duty to combat racial discrimination of any kind.”

    because I then suggested you make your firm and detailed opposition to Anthroposophical racism clear. To suggest that we all use our common sense isn’t a declaration against a specific doctrine, it’s an excuse not to make such a declaration.

    Nick

  51. Nick,

    Ok, then I understand where your objection comes from*, but I still don’t really get it. I took Falk’s words ‘these people’ to refer to anthroposophists more generally, including himself.** That all anthroposophists, as well as all others (all other humans) obviously, can do the things he described.

    * And saying ‘these people’ can be used in the same way in Swedish but at the same time it can be used rather in a neutral manner too. If it’s used in a derogatory manner — as opposed to a neutral — would depend on the context. I think Falk’s maternal tongue is Swedish, but he may be bilingual (— Falk?). To avoid misunderstanding one could, of course, say/write ‘they’ instead, but in Swedish ‘they’ can be used rather… in a bad way too. Or neutral. But if the context isn’t clear, well, it’s complicated. To say ‘us’ in the context, one would avoid that. But — and I’m not sure if this is maybe a Swedish thing or ‘international’ or just a zooey thing — I often feel uncomfortable using ‘we’ unless I know there’s at least someone sharing my position. Sometimes it’s the only way to express things, but I don’t particularly like it. It seems like someone using the ‘we’ pronoun wishes to boosts his/her views by relying on an undefined group, rather than making a distinction ‘I’ or ‘they’ and, only in cases where it applies, ‘we’. **Which may be a real difference between the languages, because I believe this way of expressing it would work in Swedish. Especially — but definitely not only — if one is part of a group whose views one may want to slightly, but only slightly, distance onself from, for some reason. I can think of doing just that, and using a similar expression, under lots of circumstances, whether it be about contexts I belong to or not, whether it be about groups of people I agree or half agree with or totally disagree with.

    (Sorry. That was a strangely massive footnote.)

  52. Zooey,
    thankyou.
    I feel ashamed that I only speak and read English, though I’m currently learning Thai.. v e r r r r y s l o w w w w l y
    Nick

  53. But then English is a much more useful language! Everything, almost everything, happens in English. Swedes who didn’t learn foreign languages well enough to read them (or rather, *it*, since most learn only English) or to follow a movie or a TV program, would live fairly limited lives…

    I imagine learning Thai is far more difficult than learning English is for a Swede! At least we have the same alphabet and the languages belong to the same family.

  54. Thank you, Zooey, your analytical powers certainly help to untangle some knots here.

    My mother tongue is English but I have studied Swedish and can read it reasonably well. I am interested in Nordic music and poetry. Which explains the quote from Evert Taube!

    I also lived in Sweden for a while. So I can speak a little. It is a very beautiful, musical language.

    Nick, My experience in life has been that people have different ways of fighting various battles. When I have been in positions where I could combat racism, sexism and other kinds of prejudice I have done so.

    For example during the early eighties I worked for the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority) when the delivery of the Policy On Race, Class and Gender was a major initiative, around 1983.

    Part of my job involved making sure workers at all levels understood and would carry out the policy. One of the things I learnt was that it is easy to get people to pay lip-service to a policy and the values therein, even to sign up to a code of practice, but it is significantly harder to change people’s minds and hearts.

    Later in life I found that changing hearts and minds mainly came about through actually working with and alongside people of different racial and ethnic groups, through sharing the ordinary daily tasks and difficulties of the work place. One can have very rich experiences through working together for a common objective.

    This does not obviate the need to have explicit policies on Racism, Sexism, Disability, etc., nor for institutions to say where they stand in relation to these issues.

  55. Falk,
    that explains it! When you posted the Taube quote I realized you must know some Swedish, but when you wrote the word ‘barnmorska’ in Swedish (I think it was in this thread) I thought you must be from Sweden or at least be bilingual!

  56. I think that… maybe it is a discussion with several levels. On one, it’s about anthroposophists and their attitudes towards the contents, interpretations and history of their spiritual philosophy; and also about how they react to people and treat people and how this relates to this said content. On another level, there’s biodynamics — which is, on the one hand, an application of anthroposophy, on the other hand only one part of anthroposophy — with its actual practices, which can be tested and evaluated, and its spiritual/mystical beliefs which are on par with praying to the gods for better crops.

    You can’t really use biodynamic principles without somehow endorsing anthroposophy, or at least: a large part of the biodynamic practices don’t make much sense without anthroposophy. But let’s suppose that a particular farming (or educational!) idea actually worked, should it not be used because Steiner also posited a doctrine of racial hierarchies? It’s hypothetical, because we’d have to be in a parallel universe where the contingencies are radically different, but what if digging down a cowhorn, and later using it in the manner described by biodynamics, actually conferred a measurable benefit on the crops? Let’s assume it was unequivocally proved to be so. Thinking rationally, in this parallel universe, would then indicate this particular method should be used. Despite Steiner’s other sinister ideas. It is an independent question. Of course, in this scenario, we’re simply concluding that one particular idea — not Steiner’s whole system of thought — is worth pursuing. This is quite different from obscurely taking a stance in favour of biodynamics and anthroposophy (as entire systems of thought) without evaluating the individual ideas contained within this system. Without even bothering to be aware of them.

    But surely, if one or several biodynamic principles were efficient, then certainly they should be applied to modern farming, and it would be entirely uncontroversial to adopt them in my opinion, regardless of Steiner’s racial doctrines. What the whole thing comes down to, though, is that in this reality we inhabit, biodynamic principles don’t work. Organic agriculture does work — at least to some extent — but the anthroposophical aspects of biodynamic farming are quite different from anything found in organic farming. The anthroposophical farming ideas have no scientific basis, there’s no proof they work (neither are some of them even possible to prove…), in pretty much the same way the doctrine on races and reincarnation doesn’t. And if a certain farming method worked, and people chose to adopt it, I can’t see why it would be relevant to ask them if they endorsed, e g, reincarnation.

    As things are, though, it would be relevant, from several aspects, to ask why an organisations (like that environment organisation), endorses biodynamics, and if they do so without knowing what they do endorse. It seems rather reckless, both from scientific and ethical perspectives, to endorse biodynamics wholesale. They should be able to say which parts of biodynamics the endorse and, if relevant, why. It isn’t terribly complicated.

  57. ‘Barnmorska’, to my ears, as child of someone who so loved new-born babies, has a special quality which is missed by ‘midwife’ .

    Well, despite being a pink and blue card carrier I endorse what you say here wholeheartedly.

    Similar considerations would apply to the use of Iscador as a treatment for cancer. I have often argued that if Iscador was an efficient treatment, in the sense that it has demonstrably consistent effects, then it would have become a runaway commercial success.

    There are many drugs in use of which it is not known exactly how they work, but the effects can be demonstrated to be consistent and useful. A very ordinary everyday example would be Paracetamol. It is not understood how it reduces pain and fever though recently there is a theory that it may have something to do with reducing the production of prostoglandins.

    A more unusual example would be Thalidomide. Speculation in recent years about why Thalidomide caused deformities in unborn children has led to its use in the treatment of certain kinds of cancer, particularily multiple myeloma.

    I like reading your blog. It is clear where your sympathies lie but your posts are very well argued. You express your feelings and your point of view forcefully without sounding dogmatic. Oh Dear, I hope Mr. Dog wont be bemused by that last adjective!

  58. It is getting sophisticated and beautiful – on the surface – here.
    At the Waldorf school I have been part of for a while, the children of members of the core group were treated very well. The core group had vested interests in this matter and vested interests in other matters as well, getting the voucher money for the pupils and keeping job at the Waldorf school, keeping job there because their main qualification was “belonging to the anthro/steiner/waldorf movement”. The school as a whole was not run with the society’s as a whole interest on mind. Some of the pupils were regarded as “those who bring the voucher money”.
    Lying was a substantial part of running the school.
    Reading what some people with knowledge of biodynamics have to tell, I see the similarities. Homoeopathy may be a similar story as well.

  59. @zooey – I agree, it isn’t complicated. It can be made so..

    Of course, if certain unusual aspects of biodynamics – like ‘digging down a cowhorn’ did work, and were of benefit, they should be used. It would be foolish to ignore robust scientific evidence in its favour because we don’t approve of the other, seemingly unconnected opinions of the founder of biodynamics. That’s not to say that robust scientific evidence isn’t ignored all the time (witness UK drugs policy & the current Dept of Ed) but we can imagine for a moment that we are more enlightened than many of our politicians.

    There’s so much entertaining argument on ‘Biodynamics is a Hoax’ that anyone reading this does have to go back to Stuart, who is now a master at countering cross anthroposophists & their apologists.

    There’s no existing evidence that biodynamics is any better than organic farming, and its rewards are to do with good stewardship and for some people satisfaction in working together as a community, a conscious commitment to & enjoyment of the natural world (no one should deny others these pleasures). Biodynamic lore originates in the stated clairvoyantly acquired ideas of one individual, it’s part of an occult teaching and is thus intimately connected to the central ideas of anthroposophy. Since its structure is occult and supernatural, not based on evidence as we generally understand it, biodynamics is tantamount to religious ritual.

    In my opinion it does matter that Steiner’s race doctrines are an integral part of anthroposophy. It is important that the proponents of biodynamics are aware of this and, if they chose to continue with their practices, that they openly repudiate the offending doctrines. But of course to do so is to admit that either the spirit world as accessed by Steiner is inherently racist (in a curiously of-its-time-late 19th early 20th century manner) or that he was wrong. A seer can’t get bits of his clairvoyance right and other bits not, unless he stumbles unwittingly on a few Satanic Akashic Chronicles left hanging around in the ether as a cosmic joke.

    If Steiner was wrong: what are you guys doing stirring that pot of water round & round like something out of the Brothers Grimm? You might find your hand freezing in mid-stir and your mouth hanging open.

  60. @falk – you are clearly a very interesting and doubtless thoughtful individual but the fact that you don’t reply to Nick’s request makes me more than queasy. It’s significant that you admit to being both a blue & pink card carrier, although the idea is frankly ridiculous, like a dodgy secret handshake between masons in some Basingstoke portacabin. So, though your rhetoric is charming, that’s all it is.

  61. @alfa omega –

    A quote from Daniel Dennett’s ”Breaking the Spell, Religion as a Natural Phenomenon’ 2006

    ‘Here is a well-known trajectory: You begin with a heartfelt desire to help other people and the conviction, however well or ill founded, that your guild or club or church is the coalition that can best serve the welfare of others. If times are particularly tough, this conditional stewardship – I’m doing what’s good for the guild because that will be good for everybody – may be displaced by the narrower concern for the integrity of the guild itself, and for good reason: if you believe that the institution in question is the best path to goodness, the goal of preserving it for future projects, still imagined, can be the most rational higher goal you can define. It is a short step from this to losing track of or even forgetting the larger purpose and devoting yourself singlemindedly to furthering the interests of the institution, at whatever costs.’

  62. Thetis wrote:
    ‘A seer can’t get bits of his clairvoyance right and other bits not, unless he stumbles unwittingly on a few Satanic Akashic Chronicles left hanging around in the ether as a cosmic joke.’

    Well, this line of thinking would add a whole lot of hilarity to anthroposophy though. I don’t think we should write it off quite yet. I see literary potential. I’m quite fond of cosmic jokes, of course.

    @Falk — mr Dog is a true dogmatist! He’s never seen anything wrong with dogma. He’s rather dogmatic in following canineosophy of course, and then, of course, dogma equals truth! (https://zooey.wordpress.com/2009/05/24/caninosophy/)

    It’s absolutely true what you write about Iscador. It would no doubt have been a big success. It’s properties would have been analysed and the effective substances isolated and perhaps eventually been manufactured synthetically. (As I believe is the case with digitalis which, in natural form, is easy to overdose. Or maybe that was some other plant; in any case, some plants are more dangerous than others to get the wrong dosis of.) It didn’t happen though — and frankly, the mistletoe trials, at least the good ones, have not been any significant successes — and one would have to consider the use of mistletoe as a spiritually meaningful ritual if you believe in it. But because the patients suffer and are perhaps desperately clutching at straws, these things need to be made excruciatingly clear. Society as a whole should not endorse it or pay for it. Prohibiting it would, if we accept it’s a spiritual practice and not a medical one, on the other hand be tantamount to prohibiting other religious or spiritual practices. And that’s very complicated and can never be uncontroversial. It isn’t easy anyway, you’d have to draw a line between individual freedom anda reasonable level of protection of possibly vulnerable people (vulnerability in this sense could be as simple as lacking knowledge, being ‘desperate’ or, well, too easily fooled…). The same applies to biodynamics, basically. There’s always a risk that proponents of biodynamics take advantage of the fact that people who buy their products don’t know what exactly they’re paying extra for. Given the revenues from wine making, and the status conscious group of customers who buy the just-a-little-more expensive wines, it’s probably quite tempting…

  63. I like cosmic jokes too of course, which is part of the point (I am Ahrimiac to my glistening feet) and as for literary potential.. take care what you wish for. Anyway you already have Saul, pretty impressive. Which major literary figures can the scientologists claim?

    It’s a very difficult line but it may well be that mistletoe causes harm, at which point this becomes even more serious, as would be the case with any intervention.

    ‘Given the revenues from wine making, and the status conscious group of customers who buy the just-a-little-more expensive wines, it’s probably quite tempting…’ Absolutely. You’d be a demon in advertising.

  64. Zooey,

    I very much like your analysis (of July 17, 2010 4:14 pm) above except to say that when racism is institutionalised and becomes part of a social structure it normalises a whole set of dangerous values. So while if, in another universe, Biodynamics was shown to have scientific value, it would still be important to reject the label, if not the practice.

    But, as has been noted by many writers, not just Peter Staudenmaier, the woo that accompanies both esoteric and exoteric religion tends to encourage racism, even when it is not written into holy books, lectures or sermons, precisely because the methods of ethical and moral encoding are revelatory: those not capable of experiencing the revelation being demoted to 2nd class citizens within the power structure of the society over which the religion or cults holds authority; race, in those terms, being defined by religious persuasion. In recent history we have witnesed India and Pakistan being formed into ‘racial’ groups via forced partition and the sad divisions between Jews and Muslims requires no futher comment.

    Anthroposophists, like all religious people, believe that they are not subject to these lessons of history and socio-political dynamics because they believe their religion is the true religion, and if only everyone would adopt it, all would be well.

    I’m writing a piece about structural racism and its consequences and it will probably appear on my blog in a few weeks.

    Nick

  65. ‘Which major literary figures can the scientologists claim?’

    Can’t think of anyone. But some of their followers are real jokes, although pretty unfunny jokes, one might add.

    You’re right about mistletoe. That possibility does complicate things. It definitely causes harm in that it may cause people not to seek real treatment. (A child in Germany died because her mum relied on mistletoe and vitamins, for example.) And there are some indications, although as far as I know inconclusive, that mistletoe can be dangerous in itself.

    ‘So while if, in another universe, Biodynamics was shown to have scientific value, it would still be important to reject the label, if not the practice.’

    Sure. Not that this problem will actually arise in the universe we live in… On the other hand, I — obviously — don’t reject biodynamics. Even though I very well know it’s scientifically bollocks in this universe. It would be hypocritical of me to say I reject the label biodynamics and then continue to buy the products. In many ways I’d be more interested in boycotting food produced by fundamentalist christians or muslems. Not that that choice is a possibility presented to the customer.

  66. Not that I know of. But they do own companies, not that it is easy to know or remember which ones. It would take way too much time to keep track of that, and analyze one’s choices accordingly. Muslems produce halal meat, which I’m very much opposed to. My point, although it is quite obscure and irrelevant, is that I’m more reluctant to contribute to the incomes of fundamentalist christians. I don’t see any good reason why my money should go down their pockets at all.

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