racist cake (politics, art, anthroposophy)

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?  Continue reading “racist cake (politics, art, anthroposophy)”

books are not natural

Yesterday, I tried to reply to a point someone calling herself ‘Waldorfmommy’ was making on Steve Sagarin’s blog. She explained to MarkH why there were no books in waldorf kindergarten (there aren’t books in school either — at least not during the early years). He had asked, in school, and got the usual evasive answers. Waldorfmommy’s answer to MarkH is no less evasive — like the rest of the discussion, which focuses on what an ideal short explanation of waldorf would be, the readiness to provide an answer that honestly reflects the anthroposophical background is rather limited. Reading is bad for spiritual development. That said, I thought it still might be worthwhile to look closer on Waldorfmommy’s reply to MarkH. I wrote two comments that I posted here on this blog (and on Steve’s but they haven’t showed up there yet) yesterday, and I want to lift them as posts. I’ve also made a number of additions, so read this post too, if you have time.

Waldorfmommy: One of the most joyful and least expensive ways to get a child on this path is to appeal to their natural desire to hear and tell stories and act out their ideas through open-ended play.

What about the child who has an equally natural desire for printed books and for learning to read? Don’t you realize that this is just as natural? And, thus, appealing to that desire for reading and for books ought to also be regarded as natural. Needless to say, children with such desires will find waldorf dull — waldorf provides them with (some of) the things Waldorfmommy mentions — ‘listen to complex stories, move their bodies in rhyming games, recite verses and songs’ — but that just won’t be enough. And I know it won’t be; it wasn’t enough for me.

But we also need discuss to this stuff about what’s ‘natural’, which is apparently something of a buzzword, like ‘holistic’. It is assumed, then, that waldorf education is ‘natural’; mainstream education, in contrast, would have to be less ‘natural’ (or else: why use ‘natural’ as a specific selling point for waldorf?). I believe waldorf teachers need to hear a few words from someone who, as a child, clearly failed to meet waldorf standards for what’s natural and normal. They probably rather not, because actually hearing it would mean doing some damage to their own self-image. There are beliefs so deeply ingrained in the waldorf personality. They’ll brush it away, saying ‘waldorf is not for everyone’, but that’s just an after-the-fact excuse. If waldorf is the natural way, then it is for everyone. If it is natural not to read before this or that age, then the non-reading is the thing to promote. For everyone. Provided that what’s natural is also good — another assumption waldorf folks seem unwilling to examine. Of course, many waldorf children read — or have a desire to learn it — prematurely according to anthroposophical standards. But waldorf teachers ignore this and raise the slow-learners to ‘natural’ standard. They have to. This strategy helps support their dogma. Some, few children aren’t eager to learn, don’t want to be engaged intellectually, let’s make them the blueprint for everyone.

This leads me to the next important point: I think it’s time that waldorf teachers show some evidence for what’s natural and not, because if you don’t, you have no reason whatsoever to deem a certain behaviour or preference ‘natural’ and, effectively, to deem everything else — everyone else who doesn’t follow this template of waldorf normality — ‘unnatural’. And you also need to prove that what you’ve shown to be natural is also good, beneficial, in other words, something we ought to promote because it has the effects we desire to achieve. So far none of this has been shown. Ever. All we get is emotionally based arguments about what’s natural… and fluffy nice and cute and seemingly comfortable. At least for adults who believe in a certain type of paradise for children and who like to close their eyes to the not so paradisiacal aspects of their preferred paradise.

Whether you believe it or not, those children who have ‘unnatural’ desires can sense what you feel about them, they can sense that, in your eyes, they are wrong, they do wrong. They, their personalities, their individualities, don’t fit into your worldview; their way of being and of expressing themselves is undesirable to you. Thus, they’re bound to feel deficient, defect — they’re failing in the eyes of the adults they often look up to: their teachers (and parents). There is a standard they try to meet, but constantly fail. They have to try to become someone they are not. And, in this instance, they will have to dumb themselves down to try to meet this standard, they will have to become stupid — to reject their intellectual desires — to be a good waldorf child in the eyes of the adults who care for them. All of this, I believe, is a very bad thing for self-confidence.

So, at least, if you’re talking about what’s natural (or, for that matter, good), offer some proof that it really is. Until you can do that, I think it would be much preferable if you treated reading as just as natural an activity for children as listening, clapping, whatever. Because chances are it is! And you will have intellectual children in your classes and as long as you assume there’s something unnatural about their desires, you’re not able to treat them with the respect they deserve — as human beings who have their own inclinations and their own reasons and their own capacity for making choices. Even at a young age. If they want books, they should be allowed to enjoy books and, most of all, they should not be met with the attitude that books are unnatural.

When I read explications of waldorf that include words like ‘natural’, I think that this is not really about ‘natural’, it’s about ‘judgmental’.

It’s about passing judgment over people (children) who do not live up to your own particular spiritual standards. Them being individuals in their own right doesn’t seem to be much of a concern, sadly.

celebrity swamp

I’m sorry, but this is simply bullshit. Pathetic bullshit.

…Waldorfschüler [sind] glücklicher an ihren Schulen als Schüler staatlicher Schulen. Sie haben seltener Angst vor dem Unterricht, den sie in der Regel interessanter finden als die Zöglinge der herkömmlichen Einrichtungen. Das ist kaum verwunderlich bei einem Unterricht, der keine Noten kennt, kein Sitzenbleiben, dafür viel Zeit für Kunst, Musik, Theater und Arbeit auf dem Bauernhof. Wer meint, die jungen Menschen, die nach zwölf Jahren Kuschel-Schule ins echte Leben entlassen werden, seien zum Scheitern verurteilt, der irrt. Der sollte sich die Liste der erfolgreichen Waldorfschüler ansehen, die von Hollywood-Stars wie Sandra Bullock und Jennifer Aniston bis zu Wirtschaftsgrößen wie dem Manager Wolfgang Porsche oder dem ehemaligen Präsidenten des Bundesverbands der Deutschen Industrie, Michael Rogowski, reicht.

Die Waldorfschulen vermitteln eben mit ihrer ganz eigenen Methodik nicht nur den üblichen Lehrstoff, sondern auch im verstärkten Maße die im Arbeitsleben gefragten Softskills, zu denen vor allem eine starke freie Persönlichkeit gehört. Das ist das Besondere an der Anthroposophie: diese Besinnung auf das Ich, diese Anregungen, nach dem Sinn zu fragen, selbstbewusst zu sein, aber auch sozial, demütig und dankbar für das Leben, das nach Steiners Ansicht für jeden eine Aufgabe vorsieht. Das sind unschätzbare Lebenshilfen.

And it isn’t just bullshit; as always, the references to celebrities are nauseating. The celebrities, however insignificant, are important; ordinary people are not important. Now, that’s one way to show your deep insights about the nature of the human being, waldorf proponents! In other words, your insights are shallow as a documentary soap opera. And nobody ever wonders about all the celebrities who didn’t attend waldorf school and ended up with Hollywood careers all the same… Because, honestly, why would it matter? Just as it doesn’t matter one bit that Jennifer Aniston went to waldorf school.

No, there’s no development of free personality in waldorf; not for those of us who don’t fit in with the dogma. And the unhappy waldorf students tend to leave. Sooner or later. But they leave. You can’t leave state school, at least if there are no decent alternatives.

The only truly redeeming aspect of this dreary piece of promotional junk is that some of Steiner’s less appealing sides are at least mentioned, as are a few issues with waldorf education, for example, the uniformity and the lack of change. I don’t object to some of the things said about Rudolf Steiner either. But in light of the article as a whole, the few positive or neutral aspects sadly fade away.

Ironically, this is how the article ends:

Die Welt dreht sich weiter. Und die beste Reformbewegung ist keine, wenn sie nicht bereit ist, sich ständig wieder infrage zu stellen.

I wonder what makes the author think this particular movement is prepared to critically and seriously question itself and its ways? Maybe to some extent, but surely far from enough has been done or is likely to be done in the near future. Eventually it may be forced to — but is it going to take on that path willingly? The answer seems less than obvious to me.

steiner biographies — reviews

Und wenn er ganz entspannt war, konnte [Rudolf Steiner] den Haushund eines Gastgebers ins übersinnliche Gespräch mit einbeziehen…

Now, that’s a quote from Zander’s biography of Rudolf Steiner. Since this quote covers everything important anyone could posibly need to know, perhaps there’s no need to say anything more. It’s a pity I haven’t read any of the biographies yet, which is why I’m reading reviews. I already covered the one published by NNA of Heiner Ullrich’s book. Ansgar Martins has written a lengthy and informative review of the two new biographies by Miriam Gebhardt and Helmut Zander. I do recommend it highly, and, sort of at least, agree with the conclusion of this statement:

Das originelle Gespräch ist ein gelungenes Intermezzo, und zeigt auch eine Tendenz, die hoffentlich im anthroposophischen wie anthroposophiekritischen Dunstkreis zunehmen wird: Die ganze Sache um Gottes willen nicht so ernst zu nehmen!

(The dog quote, too, was borrowed from Ansgar’s article!) As for other reviews, there was this one, published 10 days ago. The title depicts Steiner as a ‘controversial reformer’, and the review covers the bios by Zander and Gebhardt. Unfortunately, the reviewer seems rather naïve and uninformed himself. Continue reading “steiner biographies — reviews”

steiner biographies (comment on an old NNA review)

(For some reason I never posted these notes on NNA’s review when I wrote them, in early December, and now dug it out of the dark corners of my drafts folder. I think it had to do with being reminded of it as I have numerous recent reviews of these biographies in front of me to read… In certain ways, this NNA review was particularly dimwitted, but please do read it anyway. The main reason I wanted to mention it at all was that it brings up Dahlin’s waldorf study again. I’ll just post this, and move on.)

Three new Rudolf Steiner biographies are about to be published in German. Anthroposophical NNA has a review on the one by Heiner Ullrich (the author of an earlier book on waldorf education). The other two biographies are written by Helmut Zander (author of the massive Anthroposophie in Deutschland) and Miriam Gebhardt. From the review of Ullrich’s book:

Steiner sei ein Gnostiker, schreibt Ullrich in Anlehnung an Koslowski (1988). Seine angeblichen Beobachtungsresultate beruhten nur auf subjektiver Glaubensgewissheit. Seine Erkenntnistheorie sei nicht voraussetzungslos, wie die Anthroposophen noch immer glauben, sondern ein Rückgriff auf antiken Neuplatonismus, vor allem auf Plotin und dessen gnostische Selbsterlösungslehre. Wie für bestimmte mittelalterliche Scholastiker seien Ideen für Steiner etwas Wirkliches. Kant jedoch habe bewiesen, dass Ideen nur „regulative Prinzipien und keine Erfahrungsgegenstände“ seien. (S.107) Was bei Kant in „lebendigem Nichtwissen“ bleibe, erhebe Steiner als neuplatonischer Gnostiker zum „Wissen“. Steiner, der Kant nie begriffen habe, sei aber auch kein reiner Mystiker, sonst wäre er sprachlos, sondern betreibe eine „rationalisierte Mystik“, die weder religiös noch wissenschaftlich sei. Steiners angebliche Wissenschaft sei nur Weltanschauung (S.108). Er lasse sich nicht auf Empirik oder historisch-kritische Einzelwissenschaften ein, die er als ideenblind abqualifiziere. Auch Goethes Wissenschaftsbegriff sei antik und vorneuzeitlich.

This does not seem to make NNA’s reviewer content. Continue reading “steiner biographies (comment on an old NNA review)”

understanding (the ‘real’) anthroposophy

(Whatever that is.) On DC’s improbable science blog, there’s a discussion going on right now. Begins around this comment.* The latest one is this however; Jan Luiten wrote:

Please don’t become an anthroposophist of the kind you think of as an anthroposophist, rather stay a critic, stay who you are.
You mentioned the “standpoint of anthroposophists”. Should I have that standpoint too ? It is just that generalizing thought that leads to so much misunderstanding. You cannot say: “ he is an anthroposophist so this is the way he looks at the world”. I can assure you there are very few people who see the things like I do. It would be nice when you and others would take me as an individual and not just as a member of a group about which you have stereotypical thoughts.

Of course, you ‘shouldn’t’ have any standpoint at all, unless you happen to agree with that standpoint. What I was pointing out, however, was that your expressed stance — that we don’t know or understand what anthroposophy really is — happens to be quite common to anthroposophists. If ‘we’ — whoever we are — don’t agree, it must be because we don’t understand, rather than because we do understand but nonetheless choose to reject what we understand. The assumption is, apparently, that nobody who truly ‘understands’ will say what critics say about anthroposophy.

I would say, too, that it would be impossible to talk about anthroposophy and anthroposophists if there didn’t exist a set of beliefs typically held by anthroposophists. Paths and processes and whatnot aside, there are some beliefs typical for anthroposophy. There is a way of looking at the world that is typically anthroposophical. Continue reading “understanding (the ‘real’) anthroposophy”

comment on an interview with rene querido

Interview with Rene Querido. Querido is a prominent figure in waldorf education (as well as in anthroposophy, I guess), and has long experience in training waldorf teachers in the US. (It took me a while before I realized I was commenting on a old article which must be ten years old now. Anyway, since I went through the trouble, and Rene Querido said a couple of crazy things, here it is.)

the Austrian philosopher and educator Rudolf Steiner

Most importantly, though, he was the founder and leader of an esoteric movement and a spiritual guru.

Anthroposophy remains in general, poorly understood and little recognized outside Europe, despite its many achievements.

Achievements, well… But that’s the point: people are supposed to enjoy the ‘achievements’ without asking too many questions about foundations, unless they are among those who are willing to adopt these foundations as their own worldview. This means, I would say, that among most Europeans too, anthroposophy is poorly understood and little recognized. To Rene Querido’s replies, then:

I usually say we need [to establish a waldorf school /z] a group of dedicated parents who are prepared to find out something about Waldorf education and about the spiritual background of anthroposophy …

Or a group of dedicated parents (preferably with money to waste) who buy into the myth of waldorf as a paradise that will rescue their children from the dreads of mainstream schools. It’s a lot more beneficial for waldorf if not all parents are too curious about anthroposophy. It’s enough that anthroposophists — parents and teachers — focus on anthroposophy and the rest of the customers remain in the (relative) dark about it. Continue reading “comment on an interview with rene querido”

comment

Via @thetismercurio I found this blog post. I think it brings up several important criticisms of waldorf education, including one of my pet topics, the delay in teaching literacy and the discouragement of reading and writing. I think this is one seriously harmful aspect of waldorf pedagogy. Waldorf proponents either don’t acknowledge that it happens at all (at most admitting that waldorf students learn at a ‘different pace’ or something similar) or they claim that no harm comes from it anyway. The harm to me is obvious: the child is not allowed to learn to read and write, and this, in turn, restricts the child’s experience of the world. It’s actually a confinement of the mind. Because waldorf schools don’t stop at refraining from ‘pushing’ (as they often call it) literacy; they intentionally delay it, and actively discourage children’s interest in reading and writing, if these interests are appearing prematurely according to anthroposophic dogma. Continue reading “comment”

consciousness soul

Falk sent me a comment via email. It’s an independent topic, really, but does bear some important connections to a post I wrote about a week ago about waldorf communities. First, let me note briefly that Rudolf Steiner talked about the consciousness soul and the age of the consciousness soul. The latter is supposed to have been occurring for a while now, and basically signifies that humanity becomes increasingly conscious on a spiritual level, becomes prepared to understand certain ‘truths’. It’s a stage of human development in the course of spiritual evolution. Let’s resort, for a moment, to quoting Steiner. In Theosophy he writes:

By causing the self-existent true and good to come to life in his inner being, man raises himself above the mere sentient soul. An imperishable light is kindled in it. In so far as the soul lives in this light, it is a participant in the eternal and unites its existence with it. What the soul carries within itself of the true and the good is immortal in it. Let us call what shines forth in the soul as eternal, the consciousness soul. [. . .] The kernel of human consciousness, that is, the soul within the soul, is what is here meant by consciousness soul. The consciousness soul is thus distinguished as a member of the soul distinct from the intellectual soul, which is still entangled in the sensations, impulses and passions. Everyone knows how a man at first counts as true what he prefers in his feelings and desires. Only that truth is permanent, however, that has freed itself from all flavor of such sympathy and antipathy of feeling. The truth is true even if all personal feelings revolt against it. That part of the soul in which this truth lives will be called consciousness soul.

Later in the same chapter, he continues to say that ‘[t]he consciousness soul is in touch with the self-existent truth that is independent of all antipathy and sympathy.’ [For the quotes see Theosophy.] This will suffice as an introduction to the following text that Falk sent me and kindly gave me permission to publish. I will save my own stray and confused thoughts and comments until after the quote. Continue reading “consciousness soul”

comment on a comment (re steiner post on dcscience.net)

Can’t figure out how to comment (and am just a tiny bit lazy) but I did want to comment on one of the comments on the Steiner guest post at DC’s Improbable Science. Namely the one written yesterday by MarkH, who is a Steiner school parent (in some kind of group for small children, that is, as I understand it, not even kindergarten). He writes:

The importance of play in early childhood is widely accepted.

In Steiner kindergartens and schools I assume. But really, who says play isn’t important in early childhood? This idea certainly can’t be unique to waldorf schools — more likely, it’s the most common stance pretty much everywhere. I regularly see groups of small children, even first and second graders, in the park or in the forest. They play. It looks like they’re playing. At least it doesn’t appear as though they’re busy cramming their heads full of facts. Continue reading “comment on a comment (re steiner post on dcscience.net)”