When I was a teenager in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, I had some dealings – via friends of the family – with people who followed Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (1860-1925). The Austrian cult leader was long dead by the 1970s, but his pseudo-religious dogma – ‘anthroposophy‘ – outlasted him.
I never understood why; his stuff was a heavy-handed mashup of nineteenth century mitteleuropäische Christianity with woo woo that Steiner drew from the fringe diaspora of his time, mostly Helena Blavatsky’s ‘Theosophy’. This was also ‘borrowed’ later by the Nazis. But that wasn’t the disturbing Nazi confluence. Steiner’s pronouncements were suffused with racism, around which he wrapped his teachings.
Steiner’s disciples have since tried to sanitise his assertions, particularly Steiner’s anti-semitic claims. But the fact remains that their spiritual leader insisted on racial heirarchies that put blue-eyed, blond Germans at the top, with everybody else structured below – and he spewed his repellent tripe to the world a full generation before the Nazis began spouting the exact same nonsense, in detail. Although the generic racism that the Nazis exploited was long-standing, and the Nazis banned Steiner in 1935 over his education system, the direct similarities of Steiner’s specific racial theories to Hitler’s rantings on the subject are so close it’s been speculated Hitler took inspiration from Steiner. Ouch.
None of the Steiner faithful I knew appeared aware of this catastrophic flaw in their woo woo. Although don’t forget that Steiner also dictated that people should not ‘intellectualise’ early. If they did, he warned, they’d get bad teeth. I’m not joking. He also claimed that if people stopped thinking, they’d be open to his ‘higher heirarchies’. Quite. Furthermore, Steiner demanded adherence to his dogma – presenting his catechisms with an autocracy that has been critiqued since.
All this made clear what Steiner was about. It also meant he attracted followers who had to invalidate anybody that doubted their faith. I still remember when one informed me that I didn’t believe in Steiner’s superior teachings because I had an inferior mind that wasn’t capable of understanding. Naturally the inferiority he assigned me for not believing also invalidated any objection I had to that judgement.
As Norman Dixon has observed, authoritarianism works because it attracts followers who know how to bully.
Steiner called what he was doing ‘science’, though Swedish philosopher Sven-Ove Hansson concluded that ‘anthroposophy’ wasn’t a science by any measure. I agree – in fact, I can’t see why there can possibly be debate over that, outside Steiner’s proselytes. And that’s without invoking my own background which includes post-grad study under one of Karl Popper’s proteges (Popper was the inventor of modern scientific method, ‘falsifiability’, since you ask).
It’s difficult to summarise the mountain of pseudo-intellectual junk that Steiner set out in his lectures, writing and other declamations. He began with pronouncements about reincarnation, which he infused with the racial bigotry that the Nazis later stole. To Steiner, ‘better’ people got reincarnated as ‘higher’ races (ultimately, of course, his master people). He imagined Earth was comprised of layers leading to its centre, all relating to human ego and psychology – including a layer of ‘vapours’ that formed a ‘circle of inverted consciousness‘, whatever that is. Even particle physics did not elude his attentions – here is what he said about atoms, in his original German: ‘Blasen vor der imaginativen Erkenntnis’. I think he was saying ‘bubbles of the imaginative knowledge’.
There is, of course, a lot more. Steiner even extended his anthropocentric quatsch into medicine. For instance, he decided that red things, like iron-rich soil, fixed problems with red things in the body. He also insisted that the heart does not pump. Yup, according to Steiner, blood had such ‘vitality’ it circulated all by itself. Perhaps predictably, Steiner also embraced homeopathy, albeit with his own twist.
So what does that add up to for me? Well, given that I was informed by one of the Steiner faithful that if I didn’t believe, I was mentally deficient, here’s a promise. If anything about Steiner’s scientific hochstapelei can be shown to be true – and no, I don’t mean coincidentally, but via independent tests by non-Steiners, based on mainstream science, I’ll pay a forfeit in the form of taking some of his own medicine.
That’s right. If proper science can show that any of the mindless botty-dribble that vomited out of Steiner’s mouth – meaning his morally void racism, his mystic fairies, his insistence that the heart does not pump, his woo-woo moon forces, his asserted layers of vapours inside the Earth that invert human consciousness, and all the rest. If any of this intellectual vacuum has any basis in what I accept as science, I promise to publicly drink a Steiner C30 preparation of urine – a sample that I’ll also supply myself.
Which, by Steiner principles, means I’m curing myself of my own urine along with anything yellow, like lemons or turmeric.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016