April 2004 Archives

Steiner on clarity of thinking

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"No occult teacher will ever instruct a person who is filled with superstition or common prejudice, or one who is prone to senseless judgment or apt to fall prey to any illusion. The golden rule applying here is that, before even taking the first step in the direction of higher learning, a person must free himself from any flighty thinking or possibility to mistake illusion for reality. Above all an aspirant for spiritual enlightenment must be a person of common sense who only devotes himself to disciplined thinking and observations. If a person leans toward prejudice and superstition in the world of sense reality, it soon tends to be corrected by sense reality itself. If, however, a person does not think logically but indulges in fantasies, correction is not so simple. It is essential, therefore, that one have one's thought-life completely in hand and be able to exercise strict control over one's thoughts before ever venturing into soul and spirit worlds. One who easily leans to fantasies, superstitions and illusions is unfit to enter into the schooling prerequisite for spiritual teaching. It would be simple to reiterate that one were free of fantasies, illusion and superstition. But it is easy to deceive oneself here. Freedom from fantasies, illusions, prejudices and superstitions is gained by stern self-discipline. Such freedom is not easily attained by anyone. It must be remembered to what extent most people tend to sloppy, careless thinking and are unable to control their thought life through their own will-power."
Rudolf Steiner. "The Inner Development of Man." New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1970, page 10. Lecture of December 15th, 1904 (GA53). Translated by Maria St. Goar.

Anthroposophy and Propoganda

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Rudolf Steiner had some interesting views on the relationship of Anthroposophy to the methods of propaganda.

"Anthroposophy - for this very reason - cannot find its way through the world by ordinary agitation or propaganda, no matter how well meant. Agitation kills true Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy must come forward because the Spirit impels it to come forward. It must show forth its life because life cannot but reveal itself in existence. But it must never force its existence upon people. Waiting always for those to come who want it, it must be far removed from all constraint even the constraint of persuasion."

Rudolf Steiner, "The Life, Nature and Cultivation of Anthroposophy." Rudolf Steiner Press: London, 1963, page 17.

That Rudolf Steiner was did not desire to mix his work with politics is evident in the following quote:

The General Anthroposophical Society is in no sense a secret society, but an entirely public organization. Without distinction of nationality, social standing, religion, scientific or artistic conviction, any person who considers the existence of such an institution as the Goetheanum in Dornach - School for Spiritual Activity in Science and Art - to be justified, can become a member of the Society. The Anthroposophical Society is averse to any kind of sectarian tendency. Politics it does not consider to be among its tasks.

Rudolf Steiner, "The Life, Nature and Cultivation of Anthroposophy." Rudolf Steiner Press: London, 1963, page 5.

Steiner aginst dogmatism

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That Rudolf Steiner rejected dogmatism and encouraged his followers to remain independent-minded is evident in the following quote:

"As a result of the Christmas Foundation Meeting, Anthroposophy and the Anthroposophical Society should become ever more and more united. This can never be the case as long as the seed continues to flourish which has been disseminated through continual distinction being made in anthroposophical circles between what is 'orthodox' and what is 'heretical'.
Above all one must know what the true standard and content of Anthroposophy should be. It does not consist of a sum of opinions which must be entertained by 'anthroposophist' It ought never to be said amongst anthroposophists, 'We believe this', 'We reject that'. Such agreement may arise naturally as the result of out anthroposophical study, but it can never be put forward as an anthroposophical 'programme'. The right attitude can only be: 'Anthroposophy is there. It has been acquired by persistent effort. I am here to represent it, so that what has thus been acquired may be made known in the world.' It is still much too little felt in anthroposophical circles what a difference-indeed as between day and night exists between these two standards.

Rudolf Steiner "The Life, Nature and Cultivation of Anthroposophy." Rudolf Steiner Press: London, 1963, page 52.

Steiner's Legacy

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Despite a long record of opposing prejudice and discrimination in any shape or form, Rudolf Steiner is occasionally depicted as a racist. Some even describe Anthroposophy as "racist to the core". These attacks are so ludicrous as to be silly if the charges weren't so serious, for it does not take much reading in Rudolf Steiner's works for the uninformed reader to become aware of how strongly Steiner campaigned for the overcoming of all forms of prejudice, and thus how absurd the accusation really is. Yet as these claims are repeated more frequently, a danger arises, namely that something starts to be perceived as true simply because it is repeated so often. In our media saturated age, opinions are often formed by quick soundbites rather than careful consideration, and advertisers and propagandists of every persuasion exploit this fact. Another tendency also comes into play: the obsession with sensationalism that is so prevalent in our culture contributes to the situation where people are more eager to hear that once revered personalities actually had feet of clay than to build well-informed opinions. So there is a real danger that Rudolf Steiner's life work dedicated to overcoming prejudice might actually become associated in the minds of a many with an opposite ideal, the discredited and harmful doctrine of racism and anti-Semitism, simply through having the accusation repeated frequently. And it is very easy to throw labels like this around.

Professional skeptics

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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 the zero-point of epistemological uncertainty and comes out the other side. The professional skeptic, however, refuses to take the plunge, and circles aimlessly and illogically, spouting off cynically on every subject that catches his or her fancy. Skepticism becomes a lifestyle, not a philosophy. When such a "skeptic" encounters Anthroposophy the commentary teeters between the inane and the moronic.

Sources and accuracy

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In an effort to prove Steiner's anti-Semitism, Peter Staudenmaier offered a quote from volume 92 of Rudolf Steiner's complete works (called GA92). There is only one slight problem. These words are not Rudolf Steiner. True, they are printed in GA 92, but if you read the title page, it makes clear that these are listener's notes of the lectures, and not a stenographic reproduction. This particular lecture is reconstructed from the notes of two participants: Walter Vegelahn and Eugenie von Bredow (this is stated on page 181). It was first put into coherent form and published in the 1930's, almost 30 years after the fact. From these notes, what Steiner might have said was reconstructed and put into a coherent form, edited for this edition by Helmuth von Wartburg at the Steiner Archive, and only published in 1999. What Steiner's actual, carefully-formulated exact words on the subject we can only guess. He obviously spoke about the topic of Wagner's racial views. Whether actually uttered the words "Wagner... cannot possibly be an anti-Semite" simply cannot be known. Certainly at least one of his listeners came away with the impression that he said something to this effect when they later sat down to write their notes, and then much later when the lecture was reconstructed the sentence was written. But we cannot know how much the issue is contaminated with the personality of either Walter or Eugenie. Nor can we correlate this to any other statements of Steiner's on the same theme, as this is the only place the issue is mentioned. Further I must not that even as these words stand, it is hard to call them an endorsement of Wagner's anti-Semitic statements. They are a description of Wagner's views and an explanation of their origin, not praise thereof.

Peter Staudenmaier appears not to have actually read the book that he is relying on to make his statement. If he had read the whole book, he would not go running around claiming these to be Steiner's actual words. He has thus demonstrated an incredible carelessness with historical sources for someone claiming to be working as a historian, and shown once again why he is not qualified to call himself a Steiner scholar. There is really no excuse for such sloppiness.

Opinion and Accuracy II

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I posted the entire article along with my commentary to the Anthroposophy Tomorrow Yahoo group. Peter Staudenmaier (a so-called historian and self-professed expert on Anthroposophy) objected:

This is very, very naive. Anyone who opens up a history book looking for analysis-free facts, devoid of explanations and personal thoughts, is being extraordinarily foolish.

I responded:
Peter, you are polarizing the issue to create a false dichotomy. The issue in history, as in journalism, is not simply whether or not there is any interpretation or opinion mixed in the presentation of facts. Both history and journalism have some interpretation and opinion mixed in. Several authors have demonstrated that this is in fact an inevitability in all writing. Rather than viewing the question in a polarizing either-or light, I suggest that philosophy of history (and of journalism) can see the prejudices of the author as falling on a continuum between the poles of the admittedly impossible "objectivity" and what I would term "absolute bias". All authors are more or less objective, and more or less biased, in their work, and all to varying degrees. It is not an either-or proposition. I suggest that fundamentally, efforts towards objectivity tend to land closer to truth than efforts to "prove" a point (like that Steiner was a racist, for example). What did Steiner really think about the relationship of the individual to society?

Peter, I must say, I find you incredibly weak-minded for someone as apparently clever as you are. I have written at great length on philosophy of history [on the Anthroposophy Tomorrow list during the time Peter was subscribed], and all you can get from it is that I "apparently" stand for antiquarianism, a position I have already addressed at length. If you can't grasp my rather simple presentation on philosophy of history, I am not at all surprised that you fall flat on your face when you open a Steiner book.

The naive view is the one that paints a false polarity over a complex phenomenon.

Opinion and accuracy

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I read something interesting in the New York times recently. The piece was called The Privileges of Opinion, the Obligations of Fact

I find this an interesting piece on the relationship of fact to opinion in the practice of journalism. It should have some relationship to discussions of how historians operate, and the difference between historians and polemicists. I see the historian much like the journalist, and the polemicist like the opinion columnist. Some of the salient points:

"But who is to say what is factually accurate? Or whether a quotation is misrepresented? Or whether facts are used or misused in such a fashion as to render a columnist's opinion unfair? Or even whether fairness has anything to do with opinion in the first place?"

"The opinion writer chooses which facts to present, and which to withhold. He can paint individuals he likes as paragons, and those he disdains as scoundrels. The more scurrilous practitioners rely on indirection and innuendo, nestling together in a bed of lush sophistry. I sometimes think opinion columns ought to carry a warning: "The following is solely the opinion of the author, supported by data I alone have chosen to include. Live with it." Opinion is inherently unfair."

Waldorf Materialism

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I came across an interesting concept recently: Waldorf Materialism. It sounds like an oxymoron - after all Waldorf is supposed to be born of Anthroposophy with a spiritual background. It is not at all uncommon to hear materialism denounced in Waldorf circles. So what is Waldorf Materialism? Well, one thing that attracts people to Waldorf is the style of interior decoration in the Kindergarten: Natural fibers, wooden toys, faceless dolls and knitted gnomes. These come with precise explanations: nurturing the senses, inspiring the child's power of imagination, etc. So what does the newly enthusiastic parent do? Go to the store and spend 3 grand on a whole new set of toys, and all the old ones go in the dumpster (or perhaps to the school's rummage sale)! The child's room at home then looks exactly like the Waldorf kindergarten (minus all the other children). That is Waldorf Materialism - spending a lot of money to replicate the material aspects of the Waldorf environment.

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