nothing between rejection and acceptance

On the Steiner exhibition, now in Weil am Rhein:

Dass das Vitra-Design-Museum in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg und dem Kunstmuseum Stuttgart dem einflussreichen Reformer nun als erstes Museum überhaupt eine Retrospektive widmet, verweist dagegen auf lange Zeit verbreitete Berührungsängste gegenüber der vielseitigen Persönlichkeit. Als gäbe es im Umgang mit ihm keine Alternative zwischen Bekenntnis oder Ablehnung. Schuld daran war Steiners Weltbild, das zu Kontroversen und Polarisierungen Anlass gab. Legt man den Fokus wie in der Ausstellung jedoch für einmal auf seine konkreten gesellschaftlichen wie künstlerischen Impulse, dann lässt sich Steiner ebenso problemlos in die Moderne einordnen wie seine Bioprodukte in die Regale eines Supermarkts.

Since Steiner’s worldview, which caused (and causes) controversy and polarisation (among people who care about it at all), is still the same — does that have to colour the perception of, for example, his art and design and anthroposophical art and design? Or the other anthroposophical applications for that matter? Or does it not, after all, have to do that, as the quote suggests? Is the controversy just there if you choose the wrong (or right, depending on taste) focus?

23 thoughts on “nothing between rejection and acceptance

  1. Alicia, I think you’ve touched upon something of immense importance concerning how we deal with one another as humans socially and politically. In my view it is important to reject as a whole religions and cults that are set up to be exclusive, divisive and dangerous and to support forms of organisation that are fair, democratising, rational and inclusive.

    Imagine, dear readers, you, as either an individual, a business or a committee – or a political entity – commission a firm to build a house. You look at all the designs and costs and check that each firm is properly regulated and qualified. You live in an earthquake zone.

    Of them all, you choose the one that looks most interesting because all the prices seem similar, all the firms belong to the same professional bodies and all offer quake-proof designs.

    Yet, two years after the house has been finished and occupied there is an earthquake, the house collapses and kills all inside. It is the only new house in the area to have collapsed. At the inquest it is discovered that the engineering division of the firm that you’ve hired belongs to an esoteric sect that does not believe in Newtonian physics and instead had the engineering specifications delivered to them by automatic handwriting through a medium.

    Now, however much you liked their aesthetic, would you visit them in prison and reward them with further work?

    Now if we look at Anthroposophy and the way in which is practiced one might not think there are such extreme cases. But how many non-white people suffer from depression and are unable to find work because so many people still, to this day, refuse to renounce sects and movements that are explicitly racist? How many children (and adults) will die because an immunisation programme was thwarted? How many farm workers will be put out of business because ‘official’ pro-Steiner organisations belittle the value of competitors’ produce because they refuse to believe in gnomes and moon-planting?

    As you know, my particular emphasis concerning these issues is combating rural racism and it is quite clear from the evidence that many non-white people feel extremely uncomfortable working with, mixing with and having to do business with people who belong to cults that are explicitly racist. So even if Anthroposophists produced particularly beautiful artefacts (they don’t in my view), I would (as I do with Christian artefacts, music etc) acknowledge the beauty but put my support, energy, money and sympathies elsewhere.

    That is why I do not take as an excuse the claim made by Steiner advocates that Steiner’s racism does not matter/count/is not real as long as Steiner/Transition/Green Party/Soil Association/Triodos et al do good work. I maintain that the ‘good bits’ (and we can argue over what those are using rationality and evidence) are all able to be done sans Steiner. The BNP once had excellent green policies but does that make them acceptable? No. The same must be said for Anthroposophy, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism and so-on. Until these organisations renounce their old ways of racism, homophobia, sexism, exclusivity and the support of tyranical forms of government, they must be rejected as dangerous to the safety of rational people. And if rationality is to be so downgraded in favour of mysticism then all is lost; because language itself, and thus all discourse and discussion, relies on the rational and logical processes of modelling reality that are inclusive and specific.

    If I say ‘plate’ and you decide that ‘plate’ means ‘antelope’ then serving dinner becomes impossible. Likewise, a more subtle yet no less disruptive problem occurs when ‘evidence’ starts to mean ‘personal opinion as revealed by a mystical force’. Or ‘rational” becomes ‘whatever pseudo-science I can invent as I go along’. In short, the controversy is there because if one does not go along with the prevailing cult/s that control society, one is forced to exist as an outcast from the society to which one might otherwise belong; while all around there is descent into barbarism and unreason.

  2. This is an interesting point of view. I would like to make just one observation. The 20 Century had a number of examples of regimes which claimed to ‘reject as a whole religions and cults that are set up to be exclusive, divisive and dangerous and to support forms of organisation that are fair, democratising, rational and inclusive.’ but what those regimes did in fact led to a ‘descent into barbarism and unreason.’
    I am thinking of Lenin, Stalin and other Marxist inspired dictatorships such a Mao and Pol Pot.
    Of course Stalin would never have admitted to ‘unreason’. He would have claimed that wiping out huge numbers of people who got in his way was a perfectly rational thing to do, it was all part of a vast social engineering programme.

  3. Falk – The regimes you list all became cults and resembled religions in themselves, based around the leaders. I think we can have a democracy where cults are unacceptable and do not wield any power ie they are not allowed to educate children at tax payers expense.
    I am afraid where I live the cult of Steiner is starting to prevail, and one begins to feel an outsider if one questions their methods.

  4. Helen, I entirely agree. Falk, I find your comment quite objectionable.

    Firstly, as Helen points out, you are citing crimes comitted by regimes that are themselves cults in a bid to discredit my criticism of the Steiner cult.

    Secondly you say that Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot attempted “to support forms of organisation that are fair, democratising, rational and inclusive.” and then decended into unreason and barbarism. Well, they may have made such claims (I don’t remember any such claim made by all 4 of the tyrants you’ve mentioned but I’m sure you will doubtless find them for me unless you’ve just made that up on the spot) but it was clear they did not adhere to their rhetoric if, indeed, it was what they said. Marx, by the way, was also explicitly racist and had a very poor opinion of black people and Jews – but I’m sure you knew that. (http://www.vho.org/GB/Journals/JHR/5/1/Whisker69-76.html)

    Thirdly, are you suggesting that because I wish “to support forms of organisation that are fair, democratising, rational and inclusive.” that I might also become barbaric or unreasonable?

    Finally, you have made your observation but you have not dealt with any of the issues; do you think there is a middle way? Should one reject the ‘Art’ of regimes and cults one does not like even if it appeals aesthetically?

    You find my comment ‘interesting’ but make it pretty clear you think I’m in very poor company without dealing with the issues – so not interesting to you at all really; your passive/agressive attitude, so typical of cult members (do you support Steiner’s views or not?) is one of the things I’m complaining about. Steiner is clear about his preference for white people and he is clear that he prefers magic to rationality. If you agree, with Steiner then we all know where we stand. If not, why belittle his critics and thereby defend him? Why is it so hard for you to reject a racist?

  5. Nick, I have made it clear on this blog before that I reject Steiner’s racist views, but I think there is also truth in his revelations. I find it useful to look at what people say in detail rather than saying, “Oh he held some racist veiws so therefore I cannot be contaminated by any association with him”.
    Yes, I knew about Marx’s racist views, (most people by now probably know that even Ghandi held some racist views) I also know Marx probably did not intend his teachings to be interpreted the way they were by various ideologists. His primary motivation in developing his philosophy was compassion for the poor and exploited. Despite those racist views I believe there is something to be learned from Marx.

  6. Falk, you still don’t see how utterly offensive your attitude is. All his revelations are racist because all the ‘good’ stuff (by your definition, not mine – I think it’s all crap) only holds true for those able to to be spiritually capable according to Steiner’s definitions. Steiner believes that it is the white northern Europeans who are able to do this; becoming white being their karmic reward. None of the ‘good’ stuff applies to those lower down the scale of his racial hierarchy because, if it did, they would not be low down on the scale and would not be non-white. Being non-white is a karmic punishment and being white is a reward. So it matters not that you like some of his ideas; they are all in the service of his racial karmic progression. Anyway, nearly all of his esoteric nonsense was lifted from existing religions. So why pick his brand of nonsense over another? If you like re-incarnation, if you like karma, if you like goblins in the roots, if you like dancing with a weird expression on your face, if you like buildings with funny shaped windows then like them independently of Steiner. Invent your own stuff – just reject Steiner outright and be done with it. Not to do so is to support the racism regardless of the fact you say you do not support it; because you refuse to reject wholly an institution that is founded upon it.

  7. This attitude to Steiner’s racism echos theologians who only pick out the ‘good stuff’ from the bible or other holy book. They reject or overlook the references to slavery and women as property, not to mention the encouragement to slay non believers, and they trumpet the examples of good works done by religious groups.
    These good works can be and are carried on without religion and would be more frequently in a world without it, and without the suffering caused by religious policies such as refusal to supply contraception.(another controversial element of anthroposophy, I understand)
    To cherry pick the bits you like from a philosophy and ignore the basic tenets seems a pointless and potentially harmful exercise.

  8. ‘All his revelations are racist because all the ‘good’ stuff (by your definition, not mine – I think it’s all crap) only holds true for those able to to be spiritually capable according to Steiner’s definitions. Steiner believes that it is the white northern Europeans who are able to do this; becoming white being their karmic reward. None of the ‘good’ stuff applies to those lower down the scale of his racial hierarchy because, if it did, they would not be low down on the scale and would not be non-white. Being non-white is a karmic punishment and being white is a reward’
    I think this is a complete misinterpretation of Steiner’s intentions.

  9. I find myself at loss for something to say, and I don’t know why. I personally can’t reject Steiner outright and I’m not adverse to picking cherries. Of course, I’m not trying to do good in the world; I’m interested in Steiner because he interests me.

    That said, I don’t think we should ignore the unacceptable things Steiner taught or his followers have been saying, doing, et c.

  10. Falk, it’s what Steiner said. Using some of Peter Staudenmier’s research as a starting point I spent hours and hours reading through stuff on the Steiner Archive to make sure I had the correct information. A non-racist would never think up such vile ideas in the first place; never.

    Alicia, it’s a simple choice – either you decide to show solidarity with those fighting racism or you decide that your own interests are more important. All political action, whether on a blog or by membership of a political movement, is about making public choices – showing which values you support. And one doesn’t have to stop being interested in anything in order to reject it wholly. For instance; Many years ago I used to love riding a motorcycle without a crash helmet and some of my friends were appalled to find that I was in favour of making crash helmets mandatory in the UK – I even wrote letters in support of the introduction of the crash-helmet laws. One of my friends called me a hypocrite. But democracy is not about each individual clamouring for their own desires to be accommodated, it is about choosing to support what makes rational sense and causes the least harm. Not rejecting Steiner does immense harm because it makes the whole Anthroposophical/Steiner/Waldorf machine acceptable in the public domain. There is nothing, for example, to stop Falk from dancing in any fashion he likes while, at the same time, being very public about rejecting Steiner if he wished it (dance is not owned by anyone). Likewise, there’s nothing to stop you eating the types of food you enjoy while rejecting Biodynamics (because there’s plenty of other organic methods that produce similar foods).

    But the impression I often get here is that, in the minds of many, racism simply isn’t considered a sufficiently important reason to reject Steiner; and for non white people living in predominantly white societies that seems like an unacceptable position. Particularly as Anthroposophy offers nothing that can not be found elsewhere other than the false promise of racial karmic progression.

  11. My eyes have been opened even wider about all things Steiner/Waldorf on the blog today – hats, games.
    The more I learn, the more improbable it all seems.

    Would it be prying to ask which bits of Steiner you don’t reject Alicia? As you know I am still finding out. I have not read all the archive so you could maybe refer me to something you have said before.

    My point about ‘good works’ is a comment on what I suppose seems to most people the acceptable face of the movement – the pretty side of Waldorf schools. This seems to me similar to the way for example the Cof E ‘sell’ their convictions to the rest of us. In doing so they divert attention away from the roots of the Church and thus gain more support. They also use up resources which would otherwise be available to non sectaian or non religious groups and therefore better used. Free schools would not be run by Cults, and Aid agencies would be run by people who do not let religious imaginings affect their work. (in my dreams, maybe)

    People who send their children to Waldorf schools without knowing or caring about anthroposophy are allowing the Cult in by the back door. I assume it’s ok to call ‘it’ a cult since Geoffry Ahern has no compunction in doing so.

    Cooking and commenting again, hope this makes sense.

  12. Nick said
    ‘… one doesn’t have to stop being interested in anything in order to reject it wholly.’
    I couldn’t agree more.
    My bookshelves are stacked with books on religion but I reject it completely.
    I am sure anthroposophy can have a similar appeal.

  13. absolutely Helen. But what if you want that biodynamic cake too? Is it ok to eat it? And, after all, the anthroposophical books, they come from anthroposophical publishers, which means through buying them, you do support anthroposophy. I don’t have a huge problem with that — I think there should be anthroposophic publishers and anthroposophic books aplenty. As schools are run on the basis of these ideas, these ideas should be available to people. That’s one reason. But not the only one.

    By the way, I very much intend to get back to this — I got stuck with my thoughts and my reply, and need to dig it out again to look it over.

  14. Alicia, I really think you need to get your priorities in order; it’s only cake. There is nothing special about biodynamics – it’s complete woo apart from the bits that are ordinary soil science (and Steiner is not responsible for discovering any of that). If you put cake before major ethical principles I feel there’s no more I can add to this blog. Eventually this is what all converstaions about institutional racism come to; someone teeling me the issue is not worth fighting for – or, in this case, is less important than cake. Well done, here is another place I don’t feel welcome.

  15. At times I feel utterly tired. Beyond tired. Just fucking out of it. This world. To deal with it. I can’t.

    All the rest of you, go ahead. It’s yours. I’ll spend my time in lalalla fantasy land because obviously I can’t make your political causes mine and fight them. There are too many. Everybody has a cause. Every cause is terribly important.

    I want sleep. I’m tired of fighting this crap. All of it. Anthroposophy. Its critics. All of it. I want my cake, I want my childhood, I want to forget about it all.

  16. Nick, whatever you feel about it now, you are very welcome. I can’t help your feelings about it, so it must be your choice, of course.

    And I really must sleep.

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