I feel I owe to my readers, and especially to those who are engaged with anthroposophy, a more personal note, adding to my latest post. Let me explain how I came into contact with Steiner’s heritage, and got interested in his work. I first heard of anthroposophy when I was a student. My first encounter was with a reading group of believers, which I visited on the invitation of a friend. They discussed Steiner’s cosmic views on Christ. The people over there were very confidant on their beliefs, which struck me as odd, for their emphasis that they were based on real knowledge, a thing which I could not make sense of, back then, being immersed in the scientific worldview through my studies (that was sociology, back then). Later, when I studied philosophy, I got a friend who had been raised and schooled anthroposophically, and who told about Steiner’s epistemology. I tried to read some of it then, but didn’t succeed. I left it at that, and although I was sympathetic to my friend’s approach of the things of life, I didn’t research their foundation further.
My next encounter with anthroposophy resulted from some horrific experiences, while raising my children, with mainstream schooling in my country. It seemed, despite all the advertising of the mainstream schools – that they would put the child central, that they had methods to go against bullying, and that the best of the child would be addressed by their approach – that they completely missed what they should do: let children enjoy learning, and develop themselves in a safe atmosphere. Bullying was addressed by fruitless talks in which the aggressor should ‘see’ what he did, and the victim should see what he contributed to becoming a victim. Ridiculous psychologizing which might be well for rational adults who are in a conflict (with the emphasis on rational), but completely useless, and even harmful for children’s relationships. Learning was entirely focused on intellectual goals, which were again narrowed down to measurable steps of attaining ready made knowledge, which was endlessly tested to get quantifiable results on the schools performance. Safety was absent, and the development of children was practically overlooked.
When in the end I turned to a Steiner school (also called Waldorf school in the English speaking countries), it seemed I met for the first time some educators who seemed to know what education was about, on the basis of a sound insight in how children behave and develop. I must admit, though, that this was a ‘liberal’ Steiner school, attended by a lot of children whose parents are no anthroposophists, and also manned by a lot of teachers who are neither. It is open to new developments, accepting the importance of computer knowledge, for instance, next to the traditional importance given in such schools to handicraft.
In the book I discussed last time, Lachman highlights that Steiner’s main goal was to initiate a movement that could counter the prevailing materialism of western culture, by turning to its own spiritual tradition (think Eckhart, Paracelsus, Bruno). The materialism (it is not only that, to my view, it is also, perhaps even more, a stress on quantification and statisticalization, although that word does not exist – organizing humanity in categories, forgetting it’s ‘organical’ potential to grow in ‘natural’ and unpredicted ways) is a factor that makes humans dumb, and even endangers their potential to be moral agents (I agree with that).
I think Steiner’s work to be of great importance for having left behind at least places where there is openness in western culture (which is not only western, however, about that another time) for a different view of humanity, and especially for having tried out practical ways to investigate and develop human potential that is left to lie waste otherwise.
Having said that, I am for openminded, creative, experimentation with the essentials of his heritage, and in order to make this possible, it is important to criticize what is wrong or distorted in his ideas. Every great spiritual movement deserves such criticism. Here is where philosophy comes in, as well as taking serious original experiences of people (instead of living off second-hand spirituality as James called orthodoxy). I aim to study further on these things, but for now some of the things that I think wrong in Steiner’s views are a) his emphasis on Western culture (although rediscovering it’s spiritual tradition is important, I did something of that when graduating, it is false to see it out of the context of it’s relations and being influenced by other traditions, wrong historically and morally), and, b) what goes along with this, his lack of distinction between the spiritual experiences he had, and his uncritical expression of them in the language of the christian and esoteric traditions which he thought best to describe them in.
Whereas original spiritual experiences can inspire to do great deeds (as were his experimental development of environmental, agricultural and educational awareness), the choice of the language in which to express them is not an innocent one. It has to be scrutinized thoroughly, and discussed publicly. Again, here is where the instruments of philosophy can fulfill their task. They are different jobs, to develop, for instance, good methods of education, and to reflect on the ideas they are based upon. But equally important. Complementary. My job it is to contribute to the reflection part.