‘the false promise of racial progression’

Ok! I now have your attention! I know I do. Nick wrote (in a comment I’m trying to reply to; well, I actually did, on paper, in the middle of the night, which makes it complicated):

Anthroposophy offers nothing that can not be found elsewhere other than the false promise of racial karmic progression.

I know there are people who agree. I know there are those who disagree. I know there are those who redefine spiritual racism as non-racism, or even anti-racism. Or who fail to see that Steiner speaks of racial progression at all. But is Nick’s estimation correct? Is there indeed nothing but ‘the false promise of racial karmic progression’ and is it necessary to judge everything else he taught in this light? Why? (Oh, yes, I know this is topic old. But why not do it again? Besides, I’m busy with other things and need to keep you entertained.)

Right now, on the critics list, there are (once again) interesting discussions on the topic of racism. Sadly, I’m far behind in list discussions in general. It may make sense to pick a few items that could inspire thought, though. I’m thinking of a few of the Steiner-quotes that have been posted. For example this (posted by Peter Staudenmaier in this thread), from a lecture on education:

This ‘Body of the Ego’ is the vehicle of the higher soul of man. Through it man is the crown of all earthly creation. Now in the human being of the present day the Ego is by no means simple in character. We may recognize its nature if we compare human beings at different stages of development. Look at the uneducated savage beside the average European, or again, compare the latter with a lofty idealist. Each one of them has the faculty of saying ‘ I ’ to himself; the ‘Body of the Ego’ is present in them all. But the uneducated savage, with his Ego, follows his passions, impulses, and cravings almost like an animal. The more highly developed man says to himself, ‘Such and such impulses and desires you may follow,’ while others again he holds in check or suppresses altogether. The idealist has developed new impulses and new desires in addition to those originally present. All this has taken place through the Ego working upon the other members of the human being. Indeed, it is this which constitutes the special task of the Ego. Working outward from itself, it has to ennoble and purify the other members of man’s nature. [Source.]

Or this one, posted by Pete (same thread as above):

In each root race various stages must also be gone through. There are always seven of these. In the beginning of a period identified with a root race, its principal characteristics are in a youthful condition; slowly they attain maturity and finally enter a decline. The population of a root race is thereby divided into seven sub-races. But one must not imagine that one subrace immediately disappears when a new one develops. Each one may maintain itself for a long time while others are developing beside it. Thus there are always populations which show different stages of development living beside each other on earth. [Source.]

For an anthroposophical perspective (or ‘seeing things from a higher plane’), please do read Rafael’s comments in that and other recent threads. For more anthroposophical quotes on race, see Roger Rawlings’ website and for analyses look up Peter Staudenmaier’s work (and his posts on critics are usually excellent in picking apart the arguments of anthroposophists).

reincarnation, races and individuals

I don’t want this discussion — on race doctrines and reincarnation as a potential way to ‘justify’ or exhonerate hierarchal beliefs about human races — and these important contributions to be lost in a thread  on an unrelated topic, so I’m moving a couple of comments to this post; please do feel free to continue discussing this topic here!

Tom wrote:

Jefferson may have been a worse racist than Steiner, but Jefferson did not enshrine his racism in his life’s work but Steiner did. That’s the crucial difference. You see, racism is not incidental to anthroposophy; it is fundamental to anthroposophy. But it’s actually good for us, just like bitter medicine.

How so? Two major reasons.
[1] the flip side of racism in anthroposophy is reincarnation.
[2] racism is a necessary — but of course by no means sufficient — condition for us to transcend said racism and gain our individual freedom.

Starting with [1], Steiner’s racial doctrine is especially cruel for those people who do NOT accept reincarnation. So why are you surprised at the hatred and vitriol directed at Steiner and anthroposophy from all the critics here, most of whom reject reincarnation? Don’t you realize that without reincarnation, anthroposophy slips down to the default value of Nazi race doctrine? […]

Having said that, though, the acceptance of reincarnation does not make Steiner any less racist; rather it shifts the racism into the more benign but patronizing realm of anthroposophists carrying their version of the “white man’s burden.” With reincarnation, then, a black person in this life is not doomed to his or her blackness. Rather he or she can pull up by the spiritual bootstraps, as it were, and earn many karma points to cash in with a Caucasian body in the next incarnation. And it might be added that a white person in this life might become so morally bankrupt, that he or she could conversely reincarnate into a “lower race” as a punishment. See, at least that attitude is color-blind, don’t you think?

[…]

So, in short, by Steiner’s own logic, Steiner himself — and his anthroposophy — are BOTH racist AND not racist — simultaneously!

Diana replied:

Reincarnation does nothing to mitigate against the racist doctrines in anthroposophy. The idea that reincarnation provides some sort of theoretical loophole is clever but it’s wishful thinking. Neither in theory nor in practice does a belief in reincarnation somehow mean that a doctrine of higher and lower races isn’t racist.

The word for a doctrine that’s “racist AND antiracist” is racist. A person might hold contradictory beliefs, or different beliefs at different times in their life. A theory or doctrine can’t do that. A theory that posits higher and lower races is racist; other parts of the theory don’t nullify the racist parts. Other facets of the doctrine might render it contradictory, or incoherent, but they cannot succeed in also making it “antiracist.”

And later continued:

[The reincarnation loophole] doesn’t work, even theoretically. It’s a complete misunderstanding about what makes a theory racist or not. The statements *about various races* are what make Steiner’s doctrine racist.

I understand the reasoning behind the claim that reincarnation provides a “loophole.” But it’s mistaken reasoning. The idea is that if a person reincarnates, we are not to judge them on the basis of what race they may have been in a particular lifetime, since it may change in later lifetimes. But racism is not about judgements or stereotypes or beliefs about individuals. It’s about beliefs *about races*. What we think about an individual is just what we think about an individual. What we think about their race reflects our racial doctrines (if we hold such a doctrine). Many racists believe that their positive assessments *about individuals* make them not racist. They like a particular black person, for instance, or they have a positive assessment of that black person, so they think they can’t be racist. Believing the person may reincarnate in another race later (or may have incarnated in another race previously) works in an analogous fashion. It’s like the person gets points for the possibility they will reincarnate in a better race. Darker skin counts against you, the possibility of lighter skin later (or previously) counts in your favor. Such a scoring system is racist. Its premise is racist. How high or low a particular person scores in such a system is not what makes it racist.

It doesn’t matter what you believe about an individual’s past or future lives. What you believe about their *race* – in any lifetime – is what makes your belief racist or not.

In my opinion, the belief in reincarnation works exactly the opposite of the way Tom thinks it works. The belief not only doesn’t save the doctrine from being racist, it gives it away as racist. It amounts to saying, to dark-skinned people, “I won’t hold your dark skin against you, ‘cus you might have lighter skin next time” (or, even more radically, or so the adherents to this view apparently think), “I won’t hold your dark skin against you, because I MYSELF may have once had dark skin, or may some day in the future have dark skin!”

This merely gives away the beliefs the person holds about dark skin.

the waldorf (steiner) movement’s double bind

ThetisMercurio has written an immensely important guest post on DC’s Improbable Science. This time, it’s about the issues related to the racial doctrines contained within anthroposophy and the history of the anthroposophical movement, which isn’t quite as pleasant as the majority of its adherents likes to imagine. To me, though, a far bigger problem than what Steiner said is how present day anthroposophists and waldorf proponents deal with it. But to discuss the latter, you need to know about the former. And most of the time, it seems, waldorf fans are blissfully ignorant about it — or, if they are more deeply involved in anthroposophy, they seem to be in denial about it, if nothing else for the sake of appearances. At least as far as outsiders are concerned, they act as if the racial doctrines weren’t even an issue. As Thetis points out, the answer depends on who’s asking the question.

The structure of an esoteric belief system, with gradually imparted ‘knowledge’: impenetrable texts, study groups, a tradition of communicating certain information orally (a great deal isn’t written down) and a distrust of critical thinking, means that Steiner teachers themselves can be confused about the nature or real life implications of Steiner’s dogma, as well as largely ignorant of the Waldorf movement’s history. But there is an undeclared hierarchy of anthroposophical knowledge and influence within a Steiner school’s college of teachers; decisions about individual children are often steered by collegiate anthroposophical impulse. Obfuscation is deliberate: when explaining Anthroposophy, as far as the movement is concerned the answer depends on who is asking.

The racial thinking inherent in anthroposophical notions of karma and reincarnation is explained in Thetis’s post. One issue anthroposophists tend to dismiss, however, is how we are supposed to know which anthroposophical tenets modern waldorf teachers take seriously — and which ones they don’t take seriously and don’t follow. It would, presumably, be ‘crazy’ to think anyone would apply anthroposophical race thinking in the classroom (although the proposition is not as crazy as it may seem at first glance). But reasoning from karma, reincarnation and temperaments definitely occurs — and it is, even without the racial aspects, some mind-blowing stuff. No prospective parent, at least not one who isn’t an anthroposophist, could reasonably be expected to know which parts of anthroposophy waldorf teachers accept and which parts they reject. Continue reading “the waldorf (steiner) movement’s double bind”