the dangers of grabbing your pen and using it

You don’t expect to end up in court for saying what you feel is true and justified. If you’re saying what you feel is true and justified about a cult, you may end up in court nonetheless. Yes, it is completely justified to call anthroposophy a cult. A movement which sues someone for expressing his opinions, for voicing concerns or for telling others about his experiences – has splendidly deserved to be recognized as a cult. A dangerously intolerant one, at that.

This week my thoughts are with Grégoire Perra in France. Together with the Union Nationale des Associations de Défense des Familles et de l’Indivu Vicitimes des Sectes (handy abbreviation used hereafter: Unadfi) he’s standing trial for a text he wrote (and Unadfi published) based upon his experiences within the Steiner movement in France. The Féderation des Écoles Steiner-Waldorf made the spectacularly moronic decision to sue him for it. You’ll find the text here. Roger Rawlings has a copy of the original French text here and an English translation here.

I’ve looked at the document handed in to the court by the Féderation, and the organisation is objecting to large parts of the text, claiming they are defamatory. Not a passage or two, but big chunks. Page after page. Basically, there’s a whole lot they think Grégoire should not be able to say. For example, he shouldn’t be able to say, as a former waldorf student himself, that waldorf schools indoctrinate. He shouldn’t be able to argue, based upon his theoretical and practical knowledge from working within waldorf education and the anthroposophical movement, that — in his estimation — waldorf schools indoctrinate. It isn’t enough for the Féderation to disagree with his viewpoint, and make the argument that Grégoire is mistaken. They want to shut him up instead.

They don’t want you to make up your own mind about the level of indoctrination by reading the arguments. Arguments which are undeniably informed by both theoretical and practical knowledge, something which has to be conceded, even if you might disagree with all or some of the conclusions. They want to decide for you that you’re not to think that there is any indoctrination. All cults deny that there is indoctrination. That’s worth pointing out. Most of them would probably prefer it if people didn’t talk about indoctrination, and many would stop it if they could. (Should we really allow these cults, too, to dictate what is allowed to be said about them?)

They will never be able to suppress the text Grégoire wrote. It’s online, and it will never disappear. People will read it. People will share it with each other. It won’t go away. I don’t even need to agree with Grégoire on exactly everything to realize why this is important; everybody can read his text and make up their own mind. The text, however, is even more important simply because the movement feels he shouldn’t have the right to say what he says. That in itself tells us something about the movement. It tells us something about the conditions for criticizing it.  The movement’s own actions has made the text more important.

What this is, is not mainly an attempt to make Grégoire’s text disappear (because it won’t, and they know it), it is a blatant attempt to dissuade anyone else – people who, today, are still in or close to the movement – from doing what he did, from choosing to go public with concerns about how the movement operates.

The fact that – to my knowledge – no other anthroposophical organisations are standing up against the thuggish behaviour of the French Féderation says a lot about the movement’s ideals, when it comes to facing reality. So much for the respect for freedom. So much for respecting the individual, and the individual’s moral choices.

And so much for the movement’s faith in its own worth. If you have to sue to suppress dissent, then you have no faith in what you’re doing. None whatsoever. You’re weak. Fragile. Anxious. Uncertain. Even desperate. The problem is not – emphatically not — that anthroposophists disagree with Grégoire’s interpretations. I would expect them to – more or less at least. Some would perhaps be able to make a good argument against Grégoire’s viewpoints. Some would fail. Suing, however, is failing completely.

What this all is about is the measures they take to protect themselves against the freedom of others, a freedom which they can’t abide, much less respect.

As I said, this event is revealing. It isn’t revealing about Grégoire or the Unadfi. But about anthroposophists and about where anthroposophy finds itself.

This is perhaps most of all a cautionary tale. It isn’t the first lawsuit the movement has engaged in to protect itself from a bad reputation. In addition, there have been several threats in the past. In countries where waldorf education is partially or wholly state-funded, tax-payers will be financing these threats and these lawsuits. It will add to the social and emotional pressure on former students, members, teachers and parents not to complain or to voice concern. At the same time the French Féderation sues a former student and teacher, it happily reports on its own website that the dream of public funding has come true in Great Britain.

Suing is rarely a successful way of protecting a reputation, especially not when you’re using the tool unfairly to suppress dissent rather than dealing with actual defamation. But I guess that, as far as the movement is concerned, I’m talking to deaf ears and writing for the blind. It’s an ideological blindness and deafness; it’s religious zealotry and blind, irrational survival instinct, which prohibits thinking and reasoning. Also, needless to say, prevents compassion and understanding for the opposing viewpoint – and for the mere fact that there will always be an opposing viewpoint. I’m talking and writing to – perhaps rather about – people who have lost faith in their beliefs and their ideas and in their ability to defend themselves through arguments rather than force.

When waldorf proponents complain that critics aren’t acknowledging the positive things or aren’t being constructive, then I’d say, given the circumstances, should we be positive and constructive? When those who criticize the movement risk having to stand trial for doing so, what more is there to say but this: if the movement can’t accept that there is criticism or that people will disagree with what they do or that people present arguments that they don’t like, then waldorf education deserves to perish. There’s nothing to be constructive about. There has to be tolerance for dissent, or everything is lost.

Anthroposophy, at least for some anthroposophists, is supposed to be the philosophy of freedom. For everyone else the message appears to be ‘shut the fuck up’ – don’t think for yourself. That’s a spiritual philosophy too. Albeit not one of freedom.