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Random Articles
Professional skeptics The professional skeptic makes an interesting study. A little skepticism is generally a healthy thing in this day and age. For most self-identified skeptics, it is the mood of skepticism, which borders on the cynical, that they seem to identify most strongly with. It is out of a mood that their thinking operates. The problem is that their thinking is not consistent. If skepticism is taken to it’s logical extreme, it ends in nihilism or the thinker goes through...
Random notes I was talking to my friend Stephen Usher today about the website we designed for the Austin Branch of the Anthroposophical Society. We are still trying to decide if we like the color of the background. It is nice to have a soft watercolor – it gives a bit of an ethereal feel – but it could be distracting. I brought this up after talking to Caron of Sontec Instruments, who is looking to put a website together for...
Eric P. Wijnants: serial plagiarist... Once upon a time I came across a site that annoyed me. It had a wealth of material on esoteric subjects, details that were available nowhere else on the web, and in some cases nowhere else at all. The only problem was that not one piece of it had any citations, and that made it essentially useless for my purposes. It is standard scholarly practice if you are talking about something that happened 300 years ago to describe the...
Heaven and Hell in modern fiction... Modern fiction writers, whether novel, short story, TV, film or comic book – understand the mechanics of evil extraordinarily well. All the various ways that human beings can transgress against their higher nature is detailed with chilling accuracy. And when the occult is brought in as a plot element, the evil always “comes alive” as it were. Demons have personality, hell is interesting. Heaven, on the other hand, is boring. It is full of straight-laced fundies playing harp. It...
Racism vs Racialism Kwame Anthony Appiah‘s distinction between ‘racialism’ and ‘racism’ seems important in considering Steiner’s statements on the subject of race. A nice summary is provided by George Fredrickson in his book Racism: A Short History.[1]First Fredrickson offers Appiah’s definition of ‘racialism’ as a belief "that there are heritable characteristics, possessed by members of our species, that allow us to divide them into a small set of races, in such a way that all the members of these races share certain...
How do we know what Steiner said?... The historical sources for analyzing the development of Rudolf Steiner‘s thought have been collected by the Rudolf Steiner Archive in Dornach, Switzerland, and have been published in the 330 volumes of complete works. Additional documents continue to be issued every year, and several important volumes from this time period were first published as recently as 2006. From accounts we have from his listeners, Rudolf Steiner‘s lectures were complex, riveting, and each one unique. Almost from the beginning a number...

Polemic and History

Polemic and History A number of critics of Anthroposophy have acknowledged that they are writing polemical history when they attack Rudolf Steiner. Some even seem puzzled as to why that is considered a ‘bad’ thing. And certainly, from one point of view there is nothing ‘bad’ about polemic; it is what it is, after all. I have further argued that polemic history has important differences from standard, or what I even might call “ideal” history. Should someone attempt to point out that all history is necessarily polemical, I beg to differ. Whether something is or is not polemical has to do with the intention of the author, not the effect of the work. Examining the etymology of the word, as shown in the dictionary entry at the end of this essay, the word polemic is derived from the Greek “war” and was originally used in theological contexts. To indulge in polemic is to wage war against an idea and those holding the idea. Originally, it was theological (religious) ideas that were so attacked, but in the present, polemic is an attack on any sort of idea. So while in on narrower sense the word also means “argument”, perhaps even in the sense of “to formulate a case against” it clearly has stronger connotations, as a glance at the list synonyms (also listed below) makes clear. A polemical argument is not one that is necessarily couched on reason, nor is reason the only tool at the disposal of the polemicist. And a polemical argument is certainly not one that will consider all sides of an issue in an attempt to find truth. That is, a polemical argument is by definition not objective. Being objective (or fair) is not the objective of polemical writing. History is an examination of the past, done from the present. History goes beyond merely cataloging details of events, and involves an attempt to put these events into a meaningful context, and answer questions involving “Why?” If (big if) you subscribe to a philosophical realist or idealist position, then there will be some answers that are more correct, and others less correct. The relativist historian, on the other hand, sees the past a collection of raw material to be assembled into whatever order pleases him or her and/or suits his or her conscious or unconscious agenda. No explanation is any more right or wrong than any other, they are merely more or less effective. All is merely a matter of how you choose to look at things. If, on the other hand, some versions of history are...

Dogmatism and the “Waldorf Critics”

I’ve been tuning in and out to the chatter of the Waldorf Critics for years now. Frankly, I find most of it tedious. But I do often ponder the significance of the Waldorf Critics as a phenomenon. One thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is the nature of dogmatism. A frequent criticism levied against the whole Waldorf movement on the WC list is that everyone in it is a dogmatic Steiner devotee. What I realized recently is that the vocal core of the Waldorf Critics list – really only about a dozen individuals – are far more dogmatic that most anyone I have ever met working at a Waldorf school. I came to this realization by looking at the nature of the argumentation on that list, the way that they bring facts to support an argument. They seem to believe that if you can just find one thing in all of Rudolf Steiner’s work that is wrong – either factually in error, too strange to be true, or racist – that this somehow invalidates everything else the man ever wrote. They further believe that anyone who believes any one thing Steiner ever said must also somehow believe all the silly/stupid/racist thing that they have found as well. That is, they argue on the assumption of dogmatism amongst those they are attacking. It is a basic logical error, but is a fundamental assumption in their attacks on Waldorf Schools. Let me put it another way. The Waldorf Critics actually operate from the assumption that people believe things they have never even heard of. Think about it for a moment. Rudolf Steiner authored nearly 330 books. Some of them are popular, at least among readers of Steiner. You can tell the popular books because they get reprinted frequently. Most books by Steiner are obscure (one printing or never even translated into English). The average person working at a Waldorf School has probably read five Steiner books in their life, plus a few compilations related to the subjects they teach, while most of their knowledge comes from secondary literature, mentoring, trainings and workshops. Those five books are probably the popular ones. Meanwhile, without exception all the problematic quotes come from obscure books, and several have not even been officially published in English. Yet the Waldorf Critics seriously argue that everyone working at a Waldorf School must not only know about these problematic quotes, but also believe them to be true and operate on a daily basis with them as guiding ideals! They can only come to this irrational assumption...

Random notes

I was talking to my friend Stephen Usher today about the website we designed for the Austin Branch of the Anthroposophical Society. We are still trying to decide if we like the color of the background. It is nice to have a soft watercolor – it gives a bit of an ethereal feel – but it could be distracting. I brought this up after talking to Caron of Sontec Instruments, who is looking to put a website together for the Colorado Anthroposophical Society. We’ll see if the site they design uses a flat color background or if they used a...

Steiner and Treitschke

Last week someone e-mailed me a post that Peter Staudenmaier wrote to the Waldorf Critics list nearly a year ago about a page I put up on my Defending Steiner site. It took me a little while to get around to investigating it, but upon careful examination of the claims that Peter Staudenmaier has made, I find it appropriate to write the following response. I made mistakes. Flipping the “e” and the “i" in Treitschke is the type of typing error I am prone to. I went through the site and found eight instances where I had misspelled Treitschke, writing Trietschke instead. Sloppy? Yes. But this hardly constitutes misspelling the name "in several different ways", precisely the type of exaggeration that Staudenmaier is prone to, and cannot resist, when he gets on his polemical rolls. Now to the central argument: Can Rudolf Steiner be said to be "an admirer" of Heinrich von Treitschke? Well now, I suppose that really depends on how you define "admirer". For Staudenmaier’s purposes, any hint of sympathy to any aspect of Treitschke’s work is sufficient to merit the label, so that this "admiration" can be rapidly and broadly extended to every aspect of Treitschke’s work, and especially the nationalistic portion, whether this is actually merited or not. This continues his "guilt by association" line of argumentation that he has been using against Steiner since he first published "Anthroposophy and Ecofascism". So I will make a concession. I will confess that it is inaccurate to state without qualification that Steiner was not an admirer of Treitschke. For there were some aspects of Treitschke’s work that Steiner did profess to find useful. On the other hand, it is just as inaccurate to state that Steiner was an admirer of Treitschke, for this too is misleading. It is just as misleading because Treitschke left a large body of work ranging across a number of topics, though German and especially 19th century Prussian history was his specialty. Today he is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, and therefore can be easily defined as a one dimensional character. During his lifetime he was a very famous and highly popular historian and politician. When I wrote about Steiner’s relationship to Treitschke in the article that Staudenmaier attacks, I concluded with the following statement: Steiner did speak favorably of certain aspects of Treitschke’s works in a number of places, but his praise was always narrowly directed. And Steiner was careful not to praise Treitschke’s person, only aspects of his work. Thus I do not feel that it is accurate to call...

Eric P. Wijnants: serial plagiarist

Once upon a time I came across a site that annoyed me. It had a wealth of material on esoteric subjects, details that were available nowhere else on the web, and in some cases nowhere else at all. The only problem was that not one piece of it had any citations, and that made it essentially useless for my purposes. It is standard scholarly practice if you are talking about something that happened 300 years ago to describe the sources upon which you base your conclusions. Other scholars such as myself can then go back to the sources and verify your research, or come to different conclusions. But if you have only the conclusions without the sources, than the opinions are essentially worthless. The author of the site was revealed after some clicking around to be Eric P. Wijnants. I wrote as much in a blog post entitled “How Not to Write Occult History”. It turns out I stumbled on something a little bit larger than just a personal annoyance. In the comments of my blog a graduate student came forward to tell how Eric P. Wijnants had conned her into sending review material, pretending to be a professor at the University of Vienna. Her entire research, previously unpublished, showed up on his website as his own work. In a follow-up post a few years later I summarized the whole affair: “Eric P. Wijnants and the problem of pseudo-scholarly writing without footnotes”. Eric himself, using psudonyms, jumped to his own defense in the blog comments. But the story continues. It seems Susan Olsson was not the only researcher and graduate student whose material was “borrowed” by Eric P. Wijnants – solicited for scholarly review and then posted wholesale on his site. Brendan French’s Ph.D. thesis was similarly plagiarized, as was that of Dr. Walter Penrose. Because his own name is now linked to this broadening plagiarism scandal, Eric P. Wijnants has increasingly used pseudonyms to solicit work. He also uses the pseudonyms to reference his own work, support himself and his other pseudonyms, and defend himself in public discussions (a tactic known as sock puppeting). Ah the wonders of the Internet, when you can pretend to be anyone you want! Among Eric’s many pseudonyms: Eric P. Wynants Dr. Brigitte Muehlegger Robert Anton Wilson Francois Martinet PhD C.Wong Bhakti Ananda Goswami Dr. Raphael Vishanu Brian Muehlbach Amara Das Wilhelm And there are doubtless dozens more. Some of these pseudonyms Eric P. Wijnants uses may be real people, but they are also names that have been borrowed and used by him...

Wikipedia page views

A new beta program is going around that counts Wikipedia page views. I tried it on a really obscure page, and none the less found that the page was getting just over 1000 views per week! At first I chalked it up to theh global reach of Wikipedia. But then I started to think about it more. I have to wonder if that number doesn’t include hits from all of Wikipedia’s bots. Wikipedia employs a number of automated software programs (referred to as ‘bots – short for robots) that read through all the articles on the site looking for various problems. The most obvious are the ones that look for profanity and remove it automatically. But there are quite a few other automatic programs that read Wikipedia pages for various reasons. There are even several non-Wikipedia bots they read through all the articles, the Google spider (so named because it crawls through the Internet following the web of links) being just one of many. Probably every search engine on the net (and there are several hundred including some private ones) go through Wikipedia monthly, and possibly weekly. And then there are the various research projects that seek to understand how Wikipedia functions by taking frequent snapshots. So a thousand hits per week does not necessarily mean a thousand interested individuals searching for just that information. In fact there is probably some threshold amount, maybe even close to a thousand hits per week, that every single article on all of Wikipedia gets. It would only be hits above this threshold that would indicate genuine human interest. I am not sure what that threshold is. For non-Wikipedia pages, it seems to be about a thousand hits a month. That is, anything with a registered domain name will get a thousand hits a month just by virtue of being on the Internet. So it is only hits beyond that level are actually...

Are there Evil Virtures? Slavery, virtue, and practice in MacIntyre’s moral philosophy...

Alasdair MacIntyre’s concept of “practice” is a comprehensive one and transcendent of any particular culture. It is precisely in his distinction between the “codes of practices” (193) and the “core virtues” that are expressed within these codes that allows virtue to be independent of particular actions. While MacIntyre uses the morality of lying in different cultures as an example of how “codes of practices” vary from virtue (192-193), the issue of slavery (whether the American form or any of the others – African, Asian, Native American, ancient or early Modern) is an interesting one. Is there such a thing as a virtuous slave owner? (Aristotle should hope so, since he owned slaves). Is there such a thing as excellence in the management of slaves? While we might acknowledge excellence in the “practice” of the management of employees, is there any “internal good” to be gained from excellence in the management of slave labor? Or is it just inherently wrong? MacIntyre addresses the question on page 199, asking if some “practices” are inherently evil. He allows for the possibility, while confessing to be unable to find any examples (200). For him, the problem with the possible candidates for an evil practice, torture and sadomasochistic sex, is that he finds them closer to a “techne” than a “practice”. But plantation management in the antebellum South is complex enough to be a “practice”, and the social element is fulfilled by the community of wealthy slave-owners. In that historical context a slave owner could strive for excellence in the management of his plantation, judging himself according to objective standards shared by other plantation owners, and exercise “core virtues” in pursuit of an “inner good” (the wealth and status accrued from his exploitation slave labor being secondary), and be simultaneously virtuous and evil. In fact, the description might apply to Thomas Jefferson, except by all accounts he was a very poor manager of his estate, dying in near bankruptcy. Reference: Alasdair MacIntyre. After Virtue. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press,...

The epistemological problem of pure of discourse analysis...

Epistemologically, if you spend all of your time analyzing a discourse without reference to the original subject of the discourse, you run the risk of remaining so highly abstracted from the subject of study that you get not closer to the truth, not closer to reality, but further away from it. This of course presupposes that you believe in such a thing as “reality”. An alternative point of view denies that there is such a thing as “reality”, or at least denies it is possible to know such a thing. In that world, all there is are discourses, and any one discourse is just a serviceable as any other discourse. But reality has a curious way of continually reasserting...