Can I buy a book? Read it? Enjoy it? Can I like an object? Can I eat what I like? Can I fancy an idea? A thought? An image? That is: can I do this without betraying political interests — my own or those of other people?
I’m not so worried about betraying my own; it is more that I feel others may have an expectation. Predominantly an expectation on my taking political standpoints even when there are none to take in any meaningful way. (As far as I’m concerned. That may be my stupidity or ignorance, for which I’m certainly responsible. Be that as it may.) Recently, in Sweden, I’ve seen people call for boycotts of anthroposophical products (food) because of the current measles outbreak in Järna, caused by the low vaccine coverage in the anthroposophical community there. That, too, is a call to take stand — and often, it seems, people assume what mine is. What isn’t actually the case seems to be self-evidently the case, apparently. I haven’t taken a stand. This is perhaps not about political principles as much as it is about immediate anger at the situation, the ignorance, the recklessness, the contempt for others who live in the same society. But still — it is a call to take stands. To show concrete support, in everyday choices, for the ‘right’ side. (But I feel I’ve done other things; I’ve done a great deal to inform about why anthroposophists don’t vaccinate, for example. I may be justifying myself now, but there are different ways to act… and I don’t know which is the most effective in the end or even if I want to spend much time pondering that rather than write, write, and write! I simply can’t do everything people want me to do. It has to do with time, energy — and sanity.) And then there’s the more important issue of the racist strands in anthroposophy.
There’s that idea that everything you do, in life or in art, is political — it’s all about taking some kind of political stand, even going so far as to show support or solidarity with one cause or another, and that nothing can be allowed to exist for its own, unpolitical sake. There’s the idea that what you do should be in support of something bigger than itself and its own beauty. This necessity sometimes seems to me a needless illusion to fall prey to. Also, it is exactly what plagues anthroposophical expressions — the assumption that virtually everything has to serve higher purposes, albeit for them these are spiritual not political. Almost never, it appears, is something there for its own sake; or for beauty, enjoyment, pleasure. Individuality is erased for this higher purpose, for meaning defined by others or by loftier aims derived from spiritual decrees. Insisting that all life and all art is in the service of political debate makes us fall into the same bottomless pit, where things are usually unbearably black and white (and this without the nuances and the light of a black and white photo, mind you), the same way as when everything is seen in the perspective of spiritual progress.
Either you show solidarity with the ‘good cause’ — or you don’t. Supposedly. And you can’t avoid making the choice, because if you avoid making it, you end up making it anyway. In the eyes of others, I guess, every move (or non-move) can be construed as political action. (It’s tricky navigating in this world. Without hurting sensibilities.) But just as little as I write this blog to help or inform — no matter how readers interpret it; damn is this the thousandth time I repeat this? — do I write it to show political solidarity. That would be as tedious as cleaning toilets to me, and I would be writing nothing at all, thus not making myself very useful anyway (as if the point was usefulness; it’s not — oh, damn, again!). The risk is I’d be showing political solidarity with the wrong causes. (I’m not against state-funded free schools, just said by the way…)
Sure, one can be interested in a phenomenon and nonetheless reject it; it’s perfectly possible. It’s pretty easy with crime and murder. It’s less easy with Rudolf Steiner. It’s no longer so simple. Maybe I’ve been hanging around with old Rudi for too long a time. Because that’s what I do; I don’t do politics much, I hang around with ghosts. I guess that’s my weakness: my fondness for mad, dead men. I like their company. They’re extremely funny and loveable, and have lost all interest in the politics of earthly life. They’re distant enough to fall in love with. And still they’re close enough; closer than anybody.
Not that I would characterize my blog as art; to make art is a grand aspiration, possibly too grand for me. But the political shit fucks up art all too often and too much. It claims a right to take precedence over everything else. It wants to eat your life. It wants to consume your artistic freedom and parasitize your organism for its aims. And it always claims the moral upper hand — because these political goals are always ‘self-evidently’ good. How can you not…? You will have to show solidarity, or be an enemy of ‘the good’. Whatever it is. But, then, remember: anthroposophists also think their values and aims are self-evidently good, and justified spiritually. The only obstacle to success is that the world does not yet understand. Not making comparisons in any other regard. I agree that Steiner’s ideas on race are idiotic; I think he’s spouting crap. What else is there to say? (I read a brilliant quote by Nabokov the other day: ‘A work of art has no importance whatever to society. It is only important to the individual, and only the individual reader is important to me. I don’t give a damn for the group, the community, the masses, and so forth.’)
It might be worth adding that I came upon these topics — waldorf, Steiner and anthroposophy — for completely different reasons: racism, no matter how important an aspect of Steiner’s work it is to others, was not my reason. I was driven to do this by my own experiences, in which racism was not a component. It had to do with being a child in a waldorf school. That’s what I had to find out about; it’s what I had to deal with. Not the racism some adults may have experienced. I guess it may be the naïvety of a small white blue-eyed child, but I never saw racism. I still live in Europe. I’m still a white european in a northern european country. Racism was not what made me want to make sense of my experiences. It played no role whatsoever. My focus was, in this regard, a wholly different one. But, yes, I know what’s in Steiner; I know about the racial hierarchies, about the idiotic statements he made. That was not what drove me to find things out though. It’s not what’s driving me now. Steiner’s racist ideas don’t dictate my choices today. When I despised everything anthroposophical it was not for political reasons related to racism it was for purely personal reasons — call them childish if you like. But they were not about political antipathy or solidarity. And I don’t have these feelings anymore. Thank Dog I don’t. They would suffocate me.
Does knowing about it (it being Steiner’s less acceptable ideas) put an obligation — of any kind — on anyone to reject everything coming from the same source (ie, Steiner and anthroposophy)? Does not doing so amount to inadvertently taking a political position?
I guess the following replies to comments have been superceded by more recent comments. I guess maybe what I blurted out was stupid, but I have never intentionally given anyone the impression that I avoid everything anthroposophical. On the contrary; there are many posts suggesting otherwise, I would say. I do things like that, I’ve never lied about it: I buy my biodynamic bread, my biodynamic fruit (anytime I can get it), I get my plants from anthroposophists, I use some Weleda products (despite their history! oh dear!). I buy books from anthroposophical publishers (so do many critics, I’ve heard…). Hell, even Sune has a post about my biodynamic pizza. Perhaps you’ve all thought I’ve been joking? But let’s move on. Consider this extra material. It explains the cake in the title.
Nick suggested that my choice could mean putting my own interests above political solidarity. In a certain sense, it is indeed so — right or wrong, to be able to write about these topics, my interests are more important. In my life and in my personal choices, they are more important. What I read for my enjoyment, is what I read for my enjoyment. I don’t intend to start reading or doing (or eating) boring things because that would be more supportive of some cause or other. My life is not a cause. It’s the life I have at my disposal and I intend to live it as fully as I can. Yes, I am ‘a white person living in [a] predominantly white societ[y ]’. But I figure other people, who are not white europeans, also live for things like joy, art, love, et c — if they don’t, they should (I say, naïvely, nobody needs to listen). Nobody lives only for ‘good’ causes either. Not everything everyone does in life is dictated by a political choice. If it were, life would be utterly complicated. Not to say utterly tedious. You’d risk ending up in all sorts of extreme places.
And, no, not everything is political. If there’s something that makes art, literature (et c) boring, it is the expectation, so prevalent nowadays, that everything be political. That everything is done in the favour of a cause or some supposedly good value to benefit society (and, then, people are pretty darn eager to prescribe what that political cause or evaluation ought to be). I don’t blog to show what values I support. I gather what I believe shows anyway, sometimes intentionally, but it’s not my aim, it’s not my reason for doing it. I don’t blog to show solidarity with anything either. I say as I say when people say it’s to inform or to help: no, it’s not for those purposes. If it happens, it happens. Purpose is something else.
I see Steiner as an interesting person who created a fascinating body of work during his life. Much like any author or any artist. Some of it isn’t appealing, but that’s not unusual. And, then, anthroposophy being a continuation, an extension of what he created. I feel I’d be in some ethical trouble if I really thought he had access to higher truths. But I see it as the product of his mind, his inspirations and his imagination. Maybe I could imagine the same things myself — but I would still find taking part of his imaginations interesting. I don’t accept the anthroposophical worldview as provider of truth about the world, so I just don’t believe the stuff. I don’t reject fiction either.
Certainly, there’s nothing stopping Falk from dancing any other dance or dancing the same dance but calling it something else. But he doesn’t want just any dance; he doesn’t want to rename it; he doesn’t want to erase what eurythmy is about. There’s nothing stopping me from buying non-biodynamic fruit instead of biodynamic fruit (oh! the rare pleasure of finding biodynamic pears!). But I eat food for taste, not for political reasons. Unless staying alive is political action, which perhaps it is. If you want to have it that way. It could also be about: enjoying what’s there to enjoy.
I’m not sure if ‘democracy is not about each individual clamouring for their own desires to be accommodated’, but I sure know that my life is about my desires. As are everyone else’s lives, it seems to me, whether they admit it or not.
Maybe just I don’t see what a total rejection would accomplish. Either for me or for anyone else. It seems only like a word, if what I continue to do are the same things as before. So why are people requiring it? I’m not prepared to decry biodynamics publicly in order to continue to consume the products privately. I simply don’t see the point of such actions, even though I realize I, and everyone else, is at liberty to act that way. It just seems weird and unnecessary to me.
What would be the point of me publicly rejecting everything Steiner — just because it would presumably be the ‘more right’ thing to publicly make a statement of support for something, a decision to show solidarity, whatever –, while continuing to feel the way I feel in private? This would make my blog into something it isn’t. There are thousands of causes in the world. I would be doing nothing else, and then bore myself crazy with it. I wouldn’t be writing anything useful, because I would be bored. This is a pastime. To some extent the whole darn point is to accommodate my mad desires. Someone on twitter (@SimonMcPherson) asked something waldorf school fans ask occasionally — what’s my mission? (What’s their mission?) It’s writing, for the hell of it, I said. Why is the assumption that one needs to have a mission? Do we all need to save the world with every statement we make?
Helen asked what bits of Steiner I don’t reject. I don’t know. I just don’t see any point in wholesale rejection. Perhaps it’s more that he fascinates me. But reading him is reading lots of things — it’s page after page after page of everything between heaven and earth (and beyond). Rejecting every word, even when he’s making sense, would be nonsense. Should one reject his jokes? His pontificating over mental/spiritual states? His art? His architecture? Every statement he made — even if he happened to be right (if only by pure chance)? And so forth. What would be the point?
But I do agree that the pretty face of waldorf needs to be seen for what it is, a pretty face. And that anthroposophy needs to be debated because it does have an influence and people don’t know enough about it.
Interestingly, three years ago, I could write posts like this one and nobody paid much attention. Now, I am sure, somebody would call me out for supporting anthroposophy. Because, bascially, that’s what I do, isn’t it? It’s a damn silly post, so don’t read it. It’s three years old. It’s confused. It’s much easier for me to say, today, that I’m not signing up for any cause. Neither to bring waldorf or anthroposophy down, nor to rescue it or build it up. None of it is my task.
tulips in biodynamic gardens