In an interesting comment on “Why” about the Transition movement and its links with anthroposophy, reader Alan wondered whether we (maybe me especially?) have any idea about the sheer size of the problem we are facing, and attempting to tackle, in challenging the Steiner movement.
The comment was made on a page not a post, so I won’t continue the long trail of comments there, but instead discuss the issue here.
The answer is yes, I am indeed aware of the size of the problem of anthroposophy, and sometimes it is tempting just to give up and let them get on with it. It is difficult to rally support against an established cult, which as Alan says, has friends in high places, and as some have discovered, a history of trying to defend their reputation using the law (not always successfully).
Steiner is a seemingly unstoppable force if you look at the way it has grown internationally since Rudolf Steiner’s death, but the criticism grows internationally too. The internet has allowed better communication of the problems with the schools, and details about the way families have been treated have begun to emerge.
To return to the comment, Alan says
“Through the Transition Towns network, this increasingly strong nutcase cult with friends in high places is pushing an apocalyptic meme…”
I wrote in a comment early on the “Why” page that Transition was “heavily influenced” by Steiner. This was disputed by Helen Royall who stated that in Stroud there was bound to be a group of people involved in both movements, but that this was the extent of the Steiner influence.
“I am surprised to find that Transition Stroud is linked to Steiner. As I understand it the Transition movement has its routes in Permaculture, a very down to earth common-sense way of gardening and living. What we do in TS is about sustainability and supporting the community to work together towards a low carbon, enjoyable future, not dependant on cheap oil. The fact that people who live locally are involved will mean that there is a certain amount of cross over of interest but that can hardly be interpreted as ‘heavily influenced’.”
In my reply I agreed that “cross-over” was part of the problem but added
“The Transition movement has also been criticised for excluding those who don’t go along with the political or social attitudes of powerful members of the group- so if you don’t happen to think biodynamics is a sensible idea, for example, they may not be particularly welcoming and this I would say is heavily influencing the group.”
Certainly Transition and anthroposophy have a similar outlook, and you don’t need to be an expert on either ( I admit I am not) to understand that the effects of both are considerable in this area. I can imagine the scene if someone in Transition Stroud decided to lead a campaign against using the Steiner system of growing – “biodynamics”, because it is the product of a racist belief system. Nick wrote about his experience of doing just this in another group; they remained loyal to biodynamics proponents and the racist issues were ultimately ignored.
Transition has its attractive side for anyone interested in the environment and sustainability; for example it is great to encourage recycling; there is a scheme locally called the repair café where clever people will mend your broken table lamp or radio, repair clothing and try to slow the endless cycle of throwing away and buying new.
Transition’s stated aims are “supporting the local community to strengthen its’ local economy, reduce the cost of living and prepare for a future with less oil and a changing climate”, with the emphasis on the “challenges, and opportunities, of Peak Oil and Climate Change…”
Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Network is quoted
“A future without oil could be better than the present if we use our imagination and think creatively.”
So Transition thinks it is necessary to get used to living without oil. Helen Royall talks about “a low carbon future not dependent on cheap oil.” Despite the inclusion of words such as “enjoyable” and “opportunities”, I agree with Alan that the overriding image they conjure up is apocalyptic; a retreat into a kind of dark age where communities must be self-sufficient, eating only local, seasonal food, doing away with the hated car and generally isolating ourselves from the rest of the world.
To add to the general aura of doom and despair a new columnist in the Stroud News and Journal each week, Karen Eberhardt-Shelton, has been given the opportunity to vent her similarly apocalyptic, negative take on modern life; in each column she describes how selfish and bad humans are and how we are inexorably destroying our planet. Here is an exerpt from this week’s offering entitled “The Earth’s big struggle for survival”;
“The Earth ultimately can’t take our continual growth and development, so silently suffers and nurses its wounds while its parts disassemble as we spread and devour whatever we fancy regardless of consequences.”
No doubt the Steiner community (she may even be a member herself?) delights in this endorsement of their disdain for modernity, and regard her warnings as vindication for their mantra of “head, heart, hands”.
This idea of “living lightly on the land” may be desirable and even practical and is being adopted in some quarters.Certainly it appeals to many of those who unwittingly become members of an anthroposophical community by joining a Steiner kindergarten or school. They find themselves eating biodynamic food produced on small-scale local farms, drawn in by the word “organic”, which ostensibly has no connection to Steiner.
Organic food is attractive to many parents of small children, who make it a priority to provide what they think is best for their family, encouraged by media stories about harmful pesticides.
Through parent and baby groups and kindergarten parents learn that technology is bad, the “natural” world is good, and that the world outside Steiner is best avoided as much as possible, through adopting the habits of their chosen “community”.
The effect of the Steiner people on Transition is clear to see, when you look at the “Inner Transition” part of it, which is spiritual. The direction taken is away from science based evidence and towards an emotional interpretation of reports on climate change. Rob Hopkins himself appears enamoured by spiritual matters too. It is fine for individuals to take that line in their private lives, but to apply it to a movement such as Transition seems inappropriate.
Back to the comment from Alan again, and anthroposophy does appear to have “friends in high places”; it is difficult to see that Steiner schools would have been approved as free schools without the support of wealthy, influential families, as mentioned before.
In the case of Hereford Steiner Academy, the first state-funded Steiner school under Blair, it is interesting to note that Cherie Blair’s mother attended a Steiner school. The decision was made to push through “diversity” in state education.
I see no reason to give up fighting Steiner, and every reason to attempt to raise awareness of the effects of the Steiner cult. Maybe this is foolish and I should be more frightened of the consequences; time will tell.
John Marjoram (deputy Mayor, Quaker, Green, and anthroposophist by marriage) told me loudly and in no uncertain terms, instead of worrying about education issues, all I should be concerned about is climate change.
The powerful groups in Stroud do share concern on similar issues, and the Steiner movement enjoys the protection offered by all these movements; a disguise for their creed. Under the cloak of other environmentally and socially aware organisations, their beliefs do not stand out as controversial, merely forming part of an “alternative” lifestyle which has come to be accepted here as normal; what is not accepted as normal is to question these alternative lifestyle choices.
This blog is centred on problems in Stroud, but of course these stem from the national and international growth of the Steiner movement, and to tackle issues locally we have had to learn about the world-wide phenomenon of anthroposophy and its effects. Not a simple task at all, and the more you learn the worse the problems appear. It is daunting, I admit, but the solution is simple in a way; the more people know about anthroposophy the less respect they will afford it.