Blood, Soil and Racism in the Devon Green Movement.
By Nick Chulapatnabongse Na Nakorn
1. Symbiotic Science and Technology
The extent to which a political act becomes a personal journey is largely defined by ones emotional and practical responses to social forces. For people of colour living in a predominantly white society, the sum of one’s individual experiences, by which I mean all information of every type including sensory and intellectual inputs, does more than simply inform one’s opinion; what might metaphorically be called intuition – views and feelings about one’s external and internal world that seem not to have come about through organized evidence – often endow minority and disadvantaged people with a capacity for recognizing racist bullshit that is more sensitive than might otherwise be expected.
But intuition is not, as many mystics might claim, mysterious: it is simply the confluence of knowledge and experience gained without conscious or conscientious organisation; for want of a better word, wisdom. But wisdom, like intuition, is very often wrong. Scientists like Einstein or Darwin, for whom great discoveries were initially prompted by intuitive thoughts and ideas, are often cited by mystics as proof that intuition plays some special role in the development of science and thus mystics underwrite mystical, non-reductionist and spiritual approaches to problem solving and social policy. However, those who attempt to endow intuitive leaps of imagination and discourse with mystical or metaphysical importance forget to mention that, of the many intuitive leaps made, only a handful turn out to be true; and the extent to which such leaps are judged to be true is determined by testing the ability of a new theory to model accurately the phenomenon being studied.
Truth is thus not an absolute but is itself a metaphor for super-accurate, tested modelling; tested by experimentation, tested by peer review, tested by continuous application and sometimes tested by social acceptance. Some models are so accurate that they are accepted as facts within the bounds of their own limits. The theory of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, the theory of natural selection and all accepted scientific laws are so useful in their ability to describe and predict physical events that most people trust them in their day-today lives without worrying that the physical relationships modelled by them might suddenly change without warning. For example, whether or not one knows about or understands the Newtonian physics that underpins the construction of a house, one is not expecting the floor to turn into quick-sand or the roof to suddenly cave in without some physical explanation. If we were so worried, life would become impossible and we might seek advice concerning our mental health. But in an earthquake zone, vibrations can fluidise poorly made concrete and collapse buildings in a matter of seconds; such effects are founded and scientifically explicable, adhering as they must to Newtonian physics. In other words, science can tell us what to expect, and how to deal with what we expect, within the boundaries of the science in question. Science, as a set of rules deemed to be true, is a box of tools. Not every tool is required in every situation but all the tools work. Quantum mechanics, for example, is of no practical use to a car mechanic or a house builder but is of immense use to other technicians involved in the design of new materials or electronic systems that might later be used in manufacturing cars and houses.
The categories in which scientific theories are used are thus pragmatic. Quantum theory is applicable to everything but is pragmatically practiced within sets of circumstances that are defined by practical and social norms; traditional chemistry and physics (mid points between quantum theory and engineering), for example, are both useful disciplines to which the skilled car mechanic or house builder can refer when required. Of course, houses have been built for thousands of years without recourse to science; builders relied completely on socially organized knowledge and experience. Such socially organised experience is what we now commonly call technology.
The green movement is rightly suspicious of technology. In fact, everyone with a sense of fairness should be suspicious of technology. Technology, being the application of knowledge defined by social norms, is, unlike science, primarily a social product. And while the relationship between scientific endeavour and technology is symbiotic in that, in the modern world, one can not advance without the other, it is important to remember that scientific theory is as accurate when put to good use as it is when used destructively. Science tells us, with the best possible accuracy, what is true, not how we would like things to be. It can tell us what to expect but it can not make decisions. Technology, on the other hand, uses artefacts to which purpose is ascribed, intended or represented by the makers and users – by which I mean people. Technology is part of, and the result of, the decision-making process. The way in which technology is controlled, and by whom, is thus of immense political importance.
Technology is sometimes used as a short-hand to describe how other animals, such as birds, use artefacts with what looks like purpose. And as neuroscience improves there is some evidence that many animals might have rudimentary levels of sentience and self-awareness and some might even be fully sentient. It might be that some birds building nests are in fact involved in technology rather than hard-wired genetically-driven behaviour. Dolphins, whales, elephants and primates such as apes are also thought to be fully aware of themselves and their surroundings, and human affections for pets often endow animals with notions of sentience whether they have it or not. But, for now, we can pretty much define technology as a human activity; on a vertical scale of technology, humans are at the high end and most animals are perhaps creeping onto the ground at the foot of the technological ladder.
Social norms, themselves mutable and subject to the changes in the power-relations of societies that form them, drive, and are driven by, technology; yet science, also driven by political forces, does not reciprocate in quite the same way. If a politician wants to change the laws of nature, he (politicians are still mostly, and tragically, male) will be sorely disappointed. Technology, on the other hand, beholden to science in its physical manifestation, is nevertheless utterly mutable to social and political purpose.
The holocaust and the atom bomb are both examples of technologies put to horrible purpose. Some Green campaigners, correctly distrustful of technology because it represents the physical manifestations of ill-directed political and social purpose have, however, gradually become equally distrustful of science; given the overlaps and the symbiotic relationships I have described, it is perhaps not surprising – particularly as science teaching in schools and universities has become subsumed by consumerism. But while it is easy to see that thermodynamics did not produce the desire for some humans to put other humans into gas chambers and crematoria, it is not so easy for the scientifically uninformed to see how atomic theory was not responsible for Hiroshima and the arms race.
But neither atomic theory nor thermodynamics, or any other scientific law for that matter, were responsible for any human events. The laws themselves, though modelled, created and employed by humans hold true independently and are not endowed with purpose, intent or responsibility. The sun burns now much as it did before the earth supported life; gravity retained its relationship with mass and the square of inverse distance long before humans discovered and developed mathematics. Einstein made a political and social decision to support the creation of the atomic bomb. It was a technological act, not a scientific one. Hitler and the Nazis made a political and social decision to commit genocide. Scientists can be blamed for collaborating with, or helping to create, destructive technologies but science itself is merely the sum of the human knowledge-bank concerning models of reality that are good enough to be deemed laws of nature (i.e. true) by virtue of their reliability.
The distinctions I have made between science and technology are to do with categorising concepts in ways that promote rational debate. By making clear the differences between scientific laws and human decisions on can rationally separate ethics from points of fact. Making good ethical decisions is partly about wisdom, mostly about science and rarely about technology. But the rise of irrational, New-Age mysticism within the green movement has resulted in some terrible and dangerous sets of ethics being promoted; decisions that are mostly about irrational wisdom, highly dependent upon technology and dismissive of science and rationality.
Technology, remember, is not science. Technology is what existed before science and has since been exponentially developed in a symbiotic relationship with scientific advance. New-age thinkers often claim to understand some of the relationships I have outlined; they might agree that technology has been damaging and that it should be mistrusted, they might agree that ethics have been too much influenced by technological necessity. Yet, in practice, very large numbers of green New-age thinkers are busily promoting the very technologies that are least able to be tested by rational and scientific debate; technologies that were developed in the absence of science or, even worse, in the absence of ethics and the presence of science purposefully ignored. New-age technologies, like all technologies, are not neutral; they are guided by power-structures and have massive political ramifications. Now that green campaigners and politicians are helping to shape the political and practical responses to climate change, peak oil and the decline in biodiversity, we face a potentially catastrophic return to mystic technologies unless we are very careful. And one of the most disgusting aspects of such technologies is that they are steeped in racism.
2. Ethics and Scientific Rationalism
It is an historical fact that all cultures have practiced some form of racism, by which I mean the categorisation of otherness as intrinsically inferior. In modern parlance that would include sexism, homophobia and all similar prejudices. The power structures that drove scientific rationalism were no different – indeed, many scientists were, and are, part of the racist power elites of past and present empires. But the scientific method, so useful and essential to test a scientific theory, requires that a theory can be seen to be true regardless of who carries out honest experiment. The way in which science insists on testing and reliability, transcends prejudice even when carried out by people who hold racist views.
If racist views are deemed to be more important than the science, then cheating inevitably occurs; data is falsified, a-priori fictional theories are invented and the whole edifice becomes corrupted. Other scientists, in the process of replication, become aware of the cheating and thus poor theory does not last long. Furthermore, bad science, whether promoted by racism, greed, power or any other corrupting influence doesn’t actually work. Again, it is important to realise that technologies using good science can do bad things while bad science doesn’t work at all. In cases where corrupt scientists happen to come up with good science by accident we are faced with having to acknowledge that a theory is true while opposing the political and ethical forces that drove the original research; remember, though, that the journey from speculation and intuition to good science is one of testing, testing and yet more testing.
If scientists start out with the prejudices of their social milieu, they inevitably contextualise their theories to include or promote their prejudices. Alternatively, some abandon or ameliorate their prejudices in light of their scientific self-criticism. In that regard, Darwin is an interesting figure. It is my view that Evolution by Natural Selection, as a scientific law, is as good as fact. It is the best and most rational model we have to explain how life gains complexity and diversity and, as genetic science becomes more sophisticated, Darwin’s basic premise is further confirmed. As we might expect, though, further research might eventually turn Natural Selection into a sub-set of Genetics in the same way that Chemistry and Physics are now both sub-sets of Quantum Theory. Newtonian physics, still as useful and reliable as ever it was, is now seen in terms of the limits of its own capacities yet, in practical terms, it is all the physics most of us will ever need in our day-to-day lives.
But Darwin’s racial stereotyping of humans, so fervently written about by believers in Creationism and so-called ‘Intelligent Design’, though racist in content by any standard of historical, cultural or socio-political testing, has been overturned absolutely by the biological sciences themselves. In other words; the confluence of natural selection and genetics, by virtue of the self-critical process of the scientific method, has proved beyond doubt that the concept of race is rubbish. Racism, as well as being socially divisive, cruel and damaging to the global commons has always been irrational and science now has proved the point.
So whether or not Darwin was racist is really of little concern in terms of how we should view the theory Natural Selection as a scientific law. What is of concern is that racism is opposed and that rationality triumphs over mysticism. And part of that process is to do with the way we label our support for science. I would never call myself a Darwinist but am happy to call my self an Evolutionist. Rational humanists sometimes attempt to ‘prove’ that Darwin was not really racist or that he was a merely a man of his times and should not be criticised for his racism. But that is, I believe, a terrible mistake; it confuses the issues and undermines science. It is also to emulate followers of crackpots like Rudolph Steiner who continue to try and ‘prove’ that Steiner was not a racist. The extent to which Darwin was racist is a legitimate subject for historical and cultural analysis and the scientific and rational community should not be frightened by such studies.
The comparison between Darwin and Steiner is a good one. They were both ‘men of their time’ from a social milieu in which racism and the European imperial project were culturally endemic. Yet the theories with which they are associated are vastly different in scope, method and conclusion. The first difference is that Natural Selection works as a science and Anthroposophy doesn’t. But the most profound difference is that Darwin’s racism is something he and his social circle attempted to square with his science (and failed miserably), while Steiner’s Anthroposophy was designed around his mystic racism. Racism is Anthroposophy’s prime mover; all of Anthroposophy relies on racism in confluence with mysticism for its systems of thought and practice. Take away racism and mysticism from Anthroposophy and one is left with absolutely nothing attributable to Steiner. Take away racism and mysticism from Natural Selection and the theory of Evolution and one is left with Natural Selection and the theory of Evolution.
Here in the County of Devon, in rural South West England, there is much support for Steiner’s world view and the world of organic farming, for example, has been much corrupted by Anthroposophy. Choosing to farm organically is to adopt and adapt an old technology, parts of which having been submitted to scientific scrutiny, work very well. Choosing to adopt Steiner’s Biodynamics, in contrast, is to proclaim that as well as being in favour of organic farming one is also in favour of mystical racism. In supporting Biodynamics one is also denying the excellent science that has helped to develop organic agriculture as a modern green technology able to ameliorate some of the ecological ravages of the consumer society.
It is also important here to emphasise that Social Darwinism, that most hateful of political technologies, has much more in common with Steiner’s mysticism than Darwin’s natural selection. Social Darwinists attempted to use Darwin’s ideas to bolster their racism for their own political ends. Sadly, they were hugely successful. Science, then, survives while mysticism often thrives. Why is this?
The politics of power appeal to those for whom power and control are more important than truth and justice. Science, utilising methods that require constant testing, requires humility and appeals to those for whom truth is more interesting than power. The politics of power also appeals to those who prefer to be controlled, prefer to be on a winning side and value the cosy feeling of being a member of an agreeable cohort over and above the pursuit of truth.
Humans are, of course, social animals. Natural selection suggests many reasons for the human desire for social interaction; indeed, language, spatial recognition and synaptic development are so closely linked that it might be said that sentience is to a large degree dependant upon social interaction. The number of people suited to the lonely task of modelling genuinely new scientific ideas is thus very small; not only do they have to possess a startling intellect, they have to be prepared to overturn existing ideas (their own as well as those of others) and be content with a very small cohort of agreement and support; usually their own immediate scientific circle plus a scattering of family and friends. Sometimes, if their theories are truly different, they are denied even familial support.
Mystics, on the other hand, claim and desire the opposite of the scientific experience. The scientist looks for support but often doesn’t get it while the mystic claims not to need support (perhaps becoming a hermit for a while to prove the point) and yet utilises crude power-politics to gain a following. The scientist tests theories again and again and again to reach a model of truth that is reliable while the mystic simply adds rhetoric to disguise the holes exposed by rational analysis. The scientist, however widely acclaimed and however desirous of popularity, ultimately has to make approval less important than truth. Mystics, by very great contrast, demand approval in quite disgusting quantities regardless of the merit of their ideologies.
In exchange for such approval, the followers of mystics get to belong. The cohort of approval is thus enlarged. One is either in or out. To be out is to be alone and to be alone is almost unbearable.
Modern consumerist culture, in which the shopping mall has replaced the cathedral and in which the ruling classes behave like mystics and rarely have a scientific thought between them, are more often than not controlled at the top by individuals for whom their religion is their guiding light; when the humane and humanist aspects of their religion are cherry-picked in favour of vengeful and violent dictates, such religious leanings are not necessarily a short-term problem. But as consumerism has replaced religion and nationalism, so is New-age mysticism (religion and nationalism in disguise) beginning to replace consumerism; the consequences for the ways in which we view ethics are profound.
Ethical discourse and humane attitudes to otherness have stood against slavery, have supported feminism, have gradually re-normalised homosexuality and have pushed for peace and reconciliation amongst warring factions and nations; those projects, though incomplete and ongoing, have helped to map the possibilities for a better world. The challenges of climate change and impending ecological disaster have also concentrated the minds of people for whom truth is more important than power. Given the scale of the changes required over the next few years, the extent to which humane and ethical decisions are rationalised (or not) is of utmost importance.
Humane ethical decisions can only be made using rational thought and in reference to science; recourse to mysticism is a damaging side-show. Rational ethics begin with the basics.
The ecosystem, if not destroyed by human activity or natural disaster, will run quite happily on its own for millions of years. Our planet is thought to be in the region of 5 billion years old. For a billion years the Earth cooled. Natural selection has thus produced the complexity of life on Earth as we know it today in around 4 billion years. Complex multi-cell animals only appeared about 1 billion years ago, four-legged creatures appeared ½ a billion years ago and the early mammalian bipeds that evolved into apes are thought to have appeared 100 million years ago or thereabouts. Modern humans are a comparatively new species, about 10 million years old. The Sun is a typical star of its type and will burn reasonably consistently for a few billion years or so into the future. But during that time, it is likely that the sun will expand and consume the earth or throw the earth’s orbit out into deep space to the extent that the earth freezes.
Either way, we fry or freeze in about 3 billion years and our present stable condition can only be enjoyed for around 500 million years before things start to go gradually heat up. But 500 million years is long time in human terms if only a blink of an eye in cosmological terms. If humans manage to destroy themselves by accident or stupidity and only the microbes are left, then life – but not as we know it, Jim, – will re-evolve in some shape or form without us. If we mess things up, but some humans and some ecosystems survive, 500 million years is ample time for a substantial level of complexity to re-establish. Indeed, providing we don’t mess up completely we could re-do the last 10 million years 50 times over and perhaps even have the opportunity to find another planet with more time on its hands if a means of low energy fast propulsion could be found, which it probably wont given the distances involved and pesky-but-true thermodynamics and relativity theory.
Why are these facts important for ethical decision making? They are important because, in the final analysis, it makes little difference in the long run if the planet and its ecosystems live or die. Like an individual human, our planet has a life expectancy and there is very little we can do about it. While it might be poetic to think of the planet living healthily for all of its next 500 million years of stability, and while some microbes might survive for 30 billion years in deep space in the out-of-orbit scenario, it is plain foolish irrationality to think that the purpose of ‘saving the planet’, by which I mean environmentalism, has any purpose other than to create stability in which ecosystems and the environment are pleasant places for humans and animals to live. The only reason to be moral or ethical without recourse to hocus-pocus is therefore to reduce, avoid and ameliorate suffering. All other reasons are trumped by the knowledge that the Earth’s lifespan is limited.
Suffering is real. All complex animals have nervous systems and respond to threats of their injury or demise. The extent to which other animals experience pain and are aware of their own suffering is not fully known. But the extent to which humans can suffer is known. Naturally, it is the mystics who claim that suffering is all in the mind and that it is only their mystical prowess, system of thought or special religion that will alleviate it. Mystics also are pretty good at convincing their followers that those who oppose them are either not really human and so don’t really suffer, or that they deserve all they get. In both cases, genocide is always just around the corner. As a philosopher friend of mine once observed, even the most disciplined of mystics don’t take kindly to a punch in the mouth.
If one has a religious belief, one might believe in everlasting life, in re-incarnation, in heaven, hell, nirvana or other such systems of thought and being. And provided such thoughts are metaphorical and poetic, they do no harm and might even do some small amount of good. But any literal or political or socially active interpretation or manifestation immediately presents us with racism; with notions of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Race is, after all, a social construct. To be anti-Semitic to the extent that one wishes to see Jews or Arabs suffer or to be treated unfairly or to be regarded as inferior, one has to feel sufficiently different from Jews or Arabs. During the Nazi era, millions of otherwise peaceful people fully supported Hitler in the knowledge that at least they were on the winning (at the time) side and would be looked after. It was only the ‘others’, the Jews, Gipsies, the disabled and the rest who suffered. And if suffering isn’t really real for those regarded as non-humans, then what did it matter? If the Nazi’s had won the war, who knows how much greater the genocide might have been had Hitler also conquered Africa?
Race is a social construct. The colour of one’s skin, differences in the proportions of some physical features and the geographical location of one’s birth or the birth of one’s ancestors are common signifiers for people who believe in race and have been promoted by the power-elites of many societies throughout history. And before the advent of science, such distinctions were largely believed by powerful societies to correlate absolutely with a range of character traits to which moral and ethical values were attached and notions of comparative intelligence ascribed; those in power seeing themselves as racially superior to their subordinates and their enemies. The human genome project has, however, torn notions of race to shreds. Study after study has shown that genetic variation between ‘races’ is no more prevalent than genetic variation within ‘races’. The variations that old-fashioned racists have observed and catalogued are simply the variations we can see. In other words, two white Englishmen are often as different genetically from each other as a white Englishman and a black Ethiopian – it just so happens that some differences are immediately visible when comparing the latter pair while the former pair share external appearance while differing in other ways.
Dark skin colour, in the tropics and near the equator where sunshine is bright and plentiful, allows the absorption of light and the production of vitamin D whilst preventing damage to the underlying skin from ultra-violet radiation. In less sunny locations, dark skin colour blocks out so much light that vitamin D production falls away and a lighter skin colours tend to proliferate. Ascribing intellectual, ethical or moral values to a person’s ‘method’ of producing vitamin D is clearly irrational. Yet, even when the facts are known, racists persist in their attitudes in order to preserve the mystical and idealised fictions that improve the status of the cohort to which they belong.
Such tribalism is often used to define gender differences too; gender (as opposed to physical sex), like race, is socially constructed according to the myths propagated by the ruling tribes of men and socially internalised by women and men. In white society, non-white women are thus dealt a doubly uneven hand unless they fit a stereotype in which sexual ‘exoticism’ becomes a passport, if not a currency.
Racism, then, is not much more than prejudice induced by skin colour and/or place of birth or residence. Racism is crude tribalism. There is absolutely no evidence to support the concept of race as having any meaning other than a trivial one. But because the consequences for the subordinated peoples of the world are so dire, combating racism and acknowledging that racist categorisation exists is of immense importance; to be ‘colour-blind’ might seem like a modern, liberal ideal but in practice such a position completely disempowers disadvantaged peoples because their complaints are trivialised and ignored on the grounds that racism can not exist without race. Furthermore, right-wing individualism refuses to recognise how social forces shape and influence individual and group action thus the responsibility to rise above racism is placed upon the victim rather the institutional or individual perpetrator; Margaret Thatcher’s famous phrase, “…there is no such thing as society…” appealed to members of her ruling cohort wishing to be absolved from any social responsibility.
Race has no meaning in scientific terms at all. Race has been created; as a result of the power-relations fostered by mystics, madmen and tyrants and to underpin the British Empire and all the European forays into places in which darker-skinned people were exterminated and/or subjugated in their millions – not least in the Americas. In all cases, the races were defined by the power elite, catalogued like so many species of low-caste animal and treated with appalling brutality while, at home, novels, plays, artefacts, songs, poetry and pseudo-scientific tracts emphasised the sensitivity, intelligence, creative powers and technological superiority of the oppressors. Racism is thus a technology and, as with all technologies, it doesn’t take much to persuade people that technology is the same as science.
Many in the green movement, having become distrustful of science and rationality in the mistaken belief that science and technology are the same, have much to think about. New-age thinking is steeped in the very same idealised cultural paradigm that drove the European empires and the Nazis to genocide:
• Cultural leaders become Gurus or are even deified;
• religious and mystical symbols are borrowed from an eclectic mix of existing religions;
• racial stereotypes are created, fostered and intricately catalogued;
• mystical forces are invoked to bolster concepts of alternatives to rationality;
• materialism is debunked in favour of meta-physics to stifle rational discourse;
• nationalism (scaled down this becomes regionalism) replaces internationalism as a mode of operation;
• the authenticity of humans not ‘in the group’ is questioned;
• the authenticity of humans ‘in the group’ is praised and
• those ‘in the group’ try and emulate or claim to have that most ‘sacred’ of qualities – a special mystical ‘connection’ to the soil.
The ways in which the above elements are put together varies from one cult to the next but the accepted short-hand to describe such cults is ‘Blood and Soil’. The rise of Blood and Soil cults, intimately connected to the environmental movement and much praised by New-age adherents, is one of the most dangerous developments of the last few years. And the extent to which such cults are connected to fascism is truly frightening.
3. Mysticism and Empire
It would be a mistake to assume that all those who are members of, or support, Blood and Soil cults are self-identifying racists. It is clear that much of the appeal of such groups is that, on the surface, they look like an antidote to the harsh world of modern technology, high capitalism, consumerism and competition. Stylistically, many Blood and Soil cults are almost indistinguishable from similar groups with social and environmental concerns based upon the ethics of rationality and science. And because organisations such as the Steiner movement cloak their foul beliefs in gentle middle-class respectability, many people are taken in by them without ever questioning the mystical and racist core beliefs that drive the Steiner political machine. Indeed, I recently applied to the Triodos Bank for small business funding only to discoverer that it too was part of the Steiner Empire; it is not easy to tell what goes on behind the gentle facades of the eco-fascist’s inviting shop-front.
I live in South Devon. As an environmental activist since 1977 and as a professional environmentalist, on and off, since 1990, I have a reasonable track-record in the fields of energy policy and community-led energy conservation. And while I have much poetic sympathy with the ‘tread lightly upon the Earth’ sentiments of some of the mid-20th century hippie cultural values, my brushes with modern interpretations of 19th century and early 20th century mysticism have not been fruitful. It is worth summarising the context in which I returned to Devon after working for some years in the South East to show how rural Blood and Soil sensibilities mirror urban nationalism.
My largely successful time working for Watford Council in the 1990s came to an end in 1997 over disagreements with management concerning their insistence that I should falsify documents to make the environmental performance of the Council look much better than it actually was and over my involvement in helping to support members of the Black Employees Support Group through various racist incidents and pressures. My immediate boss, Dr. Sheila van Dorst was also under constant pressure from senior management, to curb her desire for probity and fairness, and was talked about behind her back in reference to her sexuality. Another gay colleague, Steven Fursey, was forced out of his post due to constant homophobic taunts and sleights. As a Labour Council that was proud of its tradition of fairness and of its support for minorities, the political establishment and senior management in Watford displayed many of the traits to which I have referred in this piece; racism, homophobia, a strongly expressed jingoism and a dislike of honest science. Many of the ‘old guard’, by which I mean long-established personnel and the neo-con elements of the political class – some of which were either Tory or New Labour devotees, were highly adept at outwardly promoting fairness while actually behaving as if they were part of some new imperial consensus. Added to that was the fact that Watford’s eclectic mix of cultures had polarised many voters; the fascist National Front having their head-office nearby.
Though many local politicians, such as Dan Meek and Jon Horsfield were very sound on these issues and attempted to bring rationality to the fore in the face of right-wing urban reactionary opinion, they were eventually outvoted by their peers and by the electorate. But many women, non-white and gay employees did very well at Watford; providing they did not complain, make a fuss or behave as if they had an intellect. People of colour had to present themselves as, and be perceived as, ‘coconuts’ – white on the inside; ‘honourary’ white people. Women had to present themselves as either traditionally feminine or as honourary men. Such ideology pre-supposes that skin-colour is on the surface (it is), but also sees whiteness, for which read European Mysticism, as the default setting for what lies beneath or inside. Needless to say, those of us who refused to be so categorised had a tough time. But Watford is not exceptional; such things happen everywhere in mild-mannered Britain. Mental health problems are common amongst disadvantaged groups and, after a serious spell of depression, and for other personal reason, I returned to Devon in the late 1990s.
The global economy is hugely dependent upon consumerism. Growth-oriented capitalism and ‘liberalised’ communism, based on consumerist doctrines, are political positions for which no rational analysis makes sense if one accepts that the Earth is of finite size and has a finite life-span; how this can be disputed continues to amaze me. The historical basis for consumerism and the extraction of profit assumes that some peoples’ hard labour is worth less than other peoples’ comfort and convenience. Class struggle, human rights, gender and race equality and the peace movement are thus all antidotes to a single problem. Whether one labels the problem racism, sexism, homophobia or capitalism can help to define the sub-issues but one must be careful that such semantic boundaries do not obscure the central theme; rationalism works and everything else leads us inexorably in the wrong direction.
Mild-mannered Britain; the phrase trips so easily off the tongue. As one of the most brutal and most successful empires ever to have existed, the British Empire exported the worst of its misery abroad and, even though the plight of British workers was often dire, it was nothing compared to the brutality of the plantations and mines in the colonies. If places like Watford in the UK are mild in comparison to places like Montgomery, Alabama, in the United States, it is because the American continent was one of the places the British and European Empires exported their misery to. The United States, far from being founded in freedom was founded in genocide; not just of the original inhabitants of that vast continent but of the slaves traded to and fro within the hinterland of the Europeans’ military-industrial theatre. The British political classes took great pains to ensure such atrocities were not committed at home. The Civil rights movement was, and still is, so crucial to the United States precisely because the European empires left a legacy of such violence and prejudice; prejudice taught in schools, supported by the state, ratified by the judiciary and cheered by the majority of the electorate – the original inhabitants of the USA having been barred from attaining voting rights until 1948. The very idea that America was founded is, in itself, disgusting.
By the same token, the comparatively rough and tough political forces for and against racism and xenophobia in British cities (rough and tough by UK home standards) is not thought to be significant in the British countryside. Rural Britain has always been where so-called civilised society resides: monarchs preferred the country and bestowed lands upon their lords; industrialists built their country houses away from the rural sites of brutal manufacturing and extractive industries to avoid the smoke and the stench; industrial towns were born on the backs of displaced farmers yet the industrial revolution (yes, factory towns were rural, in those days) re-defined the countryside as all that was outside the visible and sensory range of imperial exploitation at home and abroad. Abroad, though, the unexploited country was called wilderness as the local inhabitants were often described as wild-life.
The fantasy of rural bliss, of bucolic grandeur and the idea that the natural world is both poetic and blessed, has huge appeal. Our literature is full of it and modern socio-political theory and cultural analysis abounds on the subject. But one has to remember that though the ‘metropolis’ is the theoretical seat of power from which the organs of empire and exploitation operate both metaphorically and in practice, the power-elite nearly always choose a grand country house as their actual place of residence. And because cities more often than not do have bad air, congested streets, social problems and so-on; the fiction that the countryside is somehow different is enhanced. It is no surprise that many interpret such a difference as having a mystical or ‘spiritual’ quality.
Consumerism relies very heavily on the fiction that a decision to purchase large quantities of goods is a materialistic decision. Opponents to consumerism often complain that society is too materialistic. In fact, in the absence of abject poverty, purchasing decisions are more often made for non-utilitarian, non materialistic reasons; fashion, social cachet, boredom, instant gratification, class distinction, peer pressure, false or extravagant advertising claims, greed and fear all play their part. Capitalists, for whom career politicians are, in effect, super-salesmen for the American Dream worldwide, praise the high consumer at every opportunity. The American Dream, itself born of the European Imperial Project, rewards consumption, promotes addiction, and disparages people living simpler and more meaningful lives as fools. Consumerism also rewards extreme modes of competition and slanders co-operation as if those involved were plotting some terrible experiment. In short, far from being materialistic, consumerism is driven by the irrational desire to accumulate more than one could ever possibly need; and because the desire is shared by the capitalist and the consumer, the system neatly replicates the mystical desires for heaven and redemption shared by priests and sinners. Mysticism is thus continually transferred from one corrupt system of power to another in the absence of rational intervention.
The mysticism of racism and empire is, then, as suited to urban notions of high standards of living through consumerism as it is to high standards of living through rural bliss. Quality of life has come to mean something quite different in rural communities compared to the notions cited by the urban middle-classes, yet both ideals have their roots firmly planted in the occult soils of exploitative political systems. Furthermore, the rural societies that survived the enclosures, the factories, the mines, urbanisation, civil unrest and the growth of suburbia have sometimes been gradually and perhaps, inevitably, drawn into the fiction in which they have been misrepresented.
The idea that those who work on the land are ‘salt of the earth’ or have ‘soil in their blood’ plays upon the same sentimentality that empires have had for ‘the noble savage’ or the ‘valiant worker’. George Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ is a fine book but it nevertheless manages to romanticize poverty while attempting to expose it. The plight of the over-worked, under-paid and under-appreciated farm worker is likewise misrepresented; such a life on the land is much, much tougher and more difficult than the vast majority of urbanites would imagine and the poverty and ill-health associated with working for minimum wages from one’s teens until way beyond national retirement age is not something most people would choose. Large farm owners with lucrative contracts with the industrialised food supply system might live the middle-class dream, but for most farm workers, life is rarely as sweet.
But, in the UK, considerable numbers of inexperienced, ex-city-dwellers and suburbanites do choose to sell-up, move to the country to give ‘the good life’ a go. Some are successful, particularly if they are well financed, and some fail. It’s not easy. But the fact that farming is a skill does mean that it can be learned. Nature, by definition, works according to the laws of nature and thus by scientific laws. Farmers do not have a special relationship with the soil anymore than commodity brokers and hedge-fund managers have a special relationship with the silicon chip. But the mystical concepts of Blood and Soil create and bolster such opinions because they are convenient; rural communities can increase their status in the misty-eyes of the metropolis and the mystification of skills, particularly if such mystification excludes foreigners, or those not born locally, helps to retain what little land there is left for friends and family. Inward investment means a loss of local capital and democratic control; particularly when multi-national companies want to buy the best land.
Small farmers should be supported because they are highly skilled and provide services and products essential to all of us, but all too often they are over-exploited, ripped off and treated like idiots. To lend support because farmers are perceived as magic beings with special powers is distracting and revoltingly patronising. But that is what the New-age movement is promoting and the political powers behind the fiction of the consumerist dream are increasingly happy to accommodate them.
One of the most extraordinary shifts in the rise of New-age thinking is from counter-culture to neo-conservatism and neo-fascism. The hippies of the 1960s, the beat poets, musicians and displaced workers that were forever on the road and the travellers, the Dharma bums and the festival organisers, were rebelling in their exuberant youth against what they saw as an American and European military industrial complex out of control. Memories of the 2nd World War, the arms race, Suez, the Korean War, Vietnam, apartheid South Africa and the living legacy of imperialism were all driving forces for rebellion against the establishment. Feminism, though supported by hippies, suffered from the male-hippie ego as much as it did from the conservative and left-wing elite. Civil rights too were consigned by many hippies to the category of being far too heavy, man, far too heavy.
Indeed, things ‘being heavy’ was always a slight problem for the hippie generation; from the literal sense that hard work might corrupt the eternal holiday of music, drugs, sex and light meditation to the metaphorical sense of issues being often so seemingly immense and intractable that it was simply easier to chill out, turn-on and drop-out. Feminism and civil rights are hard work; campaigning is mentally and physically demanding and often dangerous. And because the ideas of universal suffrage across the artificial boundaries of race, gender and sexuality required a life-long commitment from which no reward might be seen in one’s own lifetime, there was little immediate appeal for those to whom the next high was considered an essential aid to attaining an improved state of hippie consciousness.
As a child of the 1950s, I have always been hugely attracted to hippiedom and I still am. But I am also aware that its appeal is rooted in my own middle-class consumerist mind-set; what the hippie culture promised was, in essence, not much more than instant gratification; far out, man, far out. In that respect, the marketing machines of the military industrial complex didn’t miss a trick. The subsuming of counter-culture by consumerism started as soon as it was seen that there was money to be made. The music industry was just the tip of the iceberg; alternative medicine, alternative holidays, alternative housing, alternative energy, and the alternative life-style generally became another set of growing niche markets to be embedded within the consumerist machine. Yet, within those technologies, those socially organised sets of experience and practice, some good and useful things did emerge.
The application of science and rational thinking to alternative technologies of all types, tested by the rigours of humility rather than the opinions of mystics, revealed that some ideas borrowed from other cultures and other technological traditions actually worked as well as, or even better than, the highly mechanised and centrally controlled technologies foisted upon the world by the corporate arms of the political elite and the political arms of the multinationals. By the same token, it was revealed that a great many alternative technologies were rubbish. But while it is gratifying for individuals to learn that, for example, many herbal medicines are (in the allelopathic tradition) useful, it is very hard for individuals to accept that their homeopathic remedies are ineffective; particularly if great expense has been incurred or, worse, social cache or business opportunities gained. The double-think required to praise science for confirming the efficacy of a herb and, at the same time, denounce science for failing to find the same for homeopathy is tragic. In my work as an environmentalist I encountered, and still encounter, such double-thinking on a daily basis. My area of expertise, such as it is, is energy. The reasonably simple calculations required to appraise energy technologies for their efficiencies, energy-saving properties and environmental impacts are based upon tried and trusted science and mathematics, yet pretty much every one of my employers and many of my clients insisted that science is wonderful when it agreed with their stated political or social purposes but arrogant and unfeeling when the results of the calculations didn’t happen to support their political intensions. For many professional environmentalists such frustrations are commonly shared and recognisable.
For the non-white, gay or disabled environmentalist, however, there is the additional problem of having to deal with a racist power structure that ensures that one is left out of the loop even if one’s calculations are eventually accepted. And the glass ceiling for women is clearly as shiny and polished as ever it was even though cracks and holes occasionally appear. In short, the extent to which alternative technologies are accepted have much more to do with the comforting (or rejecting) arms of the controlling cohort than any rational meritocracy of efficacy or enfranchisement.
One way, however, to get back in the loop and stay there is to adopt the particular mystic system prevailing in the culture in which one finds oneself. In urban and suburban consumerist settings, the stereo-typical colonial white male, non-white coconut, undemonstrative gay, disabled stand-up comedian or sado-masochistic woman can find a welcoming home. Indeed, becoming the token ‘other’ in such a particular society lends authenticity to the policies of freedom and democracy behind which such societies hide. Counter-culture, once seen as an antidote to such hypocrisies and so active in the agit-prop movement of the 1960s, 70s and 80s (less demanding than serious civil rights or feminism but useful nonetheless) had, by the mid 1990s, sold out almost completely; historically speaking, gratification had never been so instant in the industrialised nations.
But even white men are required to become subservient to the system unless they prefer honest poverty. And as the hippie generation grew up and became old, many of them saw opportunities for success and enterprise within alternatives to alternative culture, older new alternatives that were welcoming, were person-centred, environmentally aware, driven by communities and critical of modern life; arenas in which a disenfranchised white hetero-mystical-man and his earth-mother wife might thrive. Welcome, one and all to the mystical British Countryside.
4. Blood and Soil in Action
I have, above, outlined themes of empire and control shared by both global capitalism and New-age adherents. I’ve briefly illustrated the context in which hippie counter-culture was both subsumed, and partly created by consumerism and how the mysticism associated with the old European empires was transferred to counter-culture ideologies in a seamless transition. I have, too, made semantic and rational distinctions between science and technology to enable rational discourse about both to be able to be had. Clearly, the ways in which rational arguments can be brought to these cultural and historical forces are quite dependant upon an agreement of terms and definitions and, because we only have one planet to play with, such rationality must, by definition, be couched in socio-political terms in reference to science.
The rural landscape, shaped by technology and history, is also shaped by idealised notions of civility enshrined from without by the metropolitan elite (for whom the countryside is a bucolic playground as well as a place of residence and a source of income) and from within by rural communities dependent upon metropolitan markets and an uncaring political machine. The notions of civility to which I have referred include the idea that those who work the land have a special relationship with the land by virtue of having been born into it. And while attaining such mystical and spiritual status might seem preferable to being labelled as workers in an agricultural industry, it is the latter description that is more likely to reveal the economic forces at work and thus the opportunities for reform. Yet the archetypal metropolitan settler to a rural area sees himself as belonging above and beyond mere industry; he would rather see himself as mystical, pioneering, educated, civilized and worthy of more than years of early mornings and hard work. Indeed, the status he failed to achieve in the city is almost at once restored by downsizing to the country; comparative wealth lends him an advantage and having ‘a place in the country’ (even if it is his only place, small and rented) lends status and cache in comparison to those he has left behind to toil in the wicked and corrupt cities. For with the notions of rural spirituality come also notions of incorruptibility.
The rage against the machine, the production line and poorly-planned and designed urban spaces, the rage against uncaring capitalism and technology is, for the mostly scientifically illiterate middle-classes a rejection of what they think science to be. If indistinguishable from technology, science becomes the enemy and the mythologised countryside becomes the fount of all goodness. In rural areas, my fictional urban man is treated with distain by farm workers for whom their industry is all too evident (compared to the idle rich or the just plain idle) yet the integration of the once disenfranchised urbanite and the disenfranchised farmer into the New-age nexus continues apace.
The ever more urgent environmental agenda in relation to climate change and the loss of habitats has come from the researches of the scientific community and is gaining ever-growing support from the political establishment. But few politicians and few bureaucrats can tell the difference between science and technology or between rational alternatives to consumerism and quackery. Consequently, in establishments such as schools, colleges, universities, councils, government departments, NGOs, charities and banks, genuine science often sits side by side with mysticism as if there was no difference between the two. Worse, the incorrect assumption that New-age thinking is somehow new science, or science yet to be properly explained, wrongly legitimises quackery over and above scientifically tested alternatives because the scientific alternatives don’t have the instant appeal of consumerism. And because consumerism is itself based upon irrational systems of belief, it is simply easier for the establishment to accept quackery than to have to go to the trouble of understanding science. After all, most people in positions of power have gained their positions of power without understanding science and they see no reason to change their value-systems to accommodate the views of scientists; scientists who are popularly labelled as arrogant, close-minded and coldly unemotional. In comparison to science, the New-age position looks warm and open minded to people who think ideas should not be tested.
Scientists are, naturally, as emotional and warm as anyone else. To assume they are not is just as daft as saying that black people are not, or women are not. Being anti-science thus appeals to people for whom prejudice is more important than evidence. Science, like all other endeavours, is something able to be learned. But the New-age position is that one should not learn anything not agreed upon by the in-crowd, the gurus or the New-age political machine. But when scientists fall into the same human traps of prejudice and stupidity (as I say, scientists are fully human) their ideas get tested by rational methodologies. To be pro-science is thus not in itself an intrinsic prejudice against New-age people, it is a rational position that encapsulates fairness and inclusivity. All ideas, regardless of where they have come from, get tested equally if funds can be found. The fact that ideas are tested as to their reliability and effectiveness according to fair and rational rules is fundamentally liberating and more politically urgent than ever.
Rational and scientific discourse is, then, in itself, an essential tool in combating racism and promoting peace. Humanistic ideals do not promote the idea that nature exists for the purposes of human exploitation as many New-age people proclaim because, in the rational scientific schema, no purpose is ascribed to nature; rationalism ascribes purpose to sentience. Sentience is an emergent property of nature but it is not nature itself; it is the ability to be self-regarding, self critical, analytical and decisive (rather than reactionary). And with sentience comes responsibility. It has not been science that has been over-polluting the planet and cutting down the rain forests, it has been the social and mechanical forces of mystical Consumerism; sentience applied without sufficient ethical and scientific reference. By ascribing sentience to nature, rather than seeing sentience as an emergent property of nature, New-agers often unwittingly underwrite racism and fascism and lend support to the idea that any idea is as good as any other regardless of practical merit.
I started this piece with the view that intuition and wisdom is often unreliable and yet I also have said that people of colour within white societies often have a well-developed sense of sniffing out racist bullshit. I have before been criticised for decrying intuition, rubbishing the idea of wisdom and insisting upon scientific rigour while, at the same time, putting forward cultural critiques such as this to which no scientific proof can be ascribed. On the surface, it’s a fair criticism. But what one has to remember is that rationalism can be applied to intuition. If, throughout one’s life, hundreds of people react to one in a particular way and accompany their response to one’s presence with pointed remarks referring to race, ethnicity or their views on who should or who should not be acceptable, one can assume they have a reason. While such cumulative and rationalised experience is not as fool-proof or as reliable as science, it is in a different league from rhetorical mysticism. Non-white people make up a minority in British society (on British soil at any rate if one unfairly discounts the millions of workers elsewhere still beholden to British investors) and our shared experiences provide a sample size for which most scientists would pay a great deal. Years of experience, of remembering, of mentally cataloguing events, of critical evaluation and of gathering evidence turns intuition into rational discourse so long as mysticism is kept at bay. That is not to say that individuals can make many mistakes, we all can.
Furthermore, scientific proof requires reliable experimental results. We can not live our lives more than once (unless we believe in Karma) so no reliable experiments can be carried out by an individual upon themselves. The Earth too is, in practical terms if not cosmological terms, unique and thus not subject to experimental proof; we can not run different models on a few thousand planets and observe which decisions turn out to be consistently useful in terms of reducing suffering. The only way for disadvantaged groups to promote fair treatment, and to expose systems of thought designed to disadvantage them, is through political action and rational discourse. For many in disadvantaged groups, such rationalisation starts from a young age and thus their intuitive thoughts regarding their own subjugation have had years and years to mature, be consciously worked through and developed. The racist-bullshit-meter is, after a lifetime of experience, much more than reactionary intuition, it is informed opinion.
New-agers often note that our collective inability to use the planet as an experimental subject justifies their resort to mysticism. Yet to replace scientific ethics with sets of beliefs that rank groups as being ‘in’ or ‘out’ according to poetic rules merely exacerbates the problem that mystics claim to solve; assuming some people are ‘in’ or ‘out’ of a cohort is what racism (sexism, homophobia etc) actually is. It is therefore no surprise that, in predominantly white societies, people of colour are rarely well represented in environmental groups and organisations that have been infiltrated by, or are controlled by, mystics.
Given the constraints of political analysis, of polemic and of rational discourse I have mentioned, it is advisable to test the bull-shit meter against observable social phenomena. In the corner of the world in which I find myself, there is a wealth of material to work with, a few examples of which I will outline.
4.1 Anthroposophy and Green Politics in Devon
In New Flags of Xenophobia and Reply to the New Devon Army, I wrote about my thoughts and feelings of disenfranchisement from a specific community activity, The Song4Devon competition. In those pieces, I linked the competition to a rise in racism in the area, the creation of the Devon flag and a youth movement; observable social technologies in which the themes of Blood and Soil were both implied and explicit. Amongst many other experiences of direct and indirect racism, the most insidious and well hidden are those connected to Anthroposophy.
In order to make the claim that to choose to be associated with Rudolph Steiner’s Anthroposophy is to be supportive of racism, it is necessary to outline the arguments. For those interested in finding out more about Steiner and Steiner’s opponents I point them in the direction of two of the most productive contributors to the political and ideological conversations concerning these issues.
In the rationalists’ corner we have social ecologist and Cornell University Academic Peter Staudenmaier and a good starting point is to read some of his many essays at:
In the mystics’ corner we have Anthroposophist Sune Nordwell, known by his net-name TheBee. A good starting point is to read some of his many essays at:
The internet yields a vast array of material in support of and critical of Steiner and I recommend you read as much as possible from all sources. In an essay of this type, I will not attempt to replicate all the materials you will find but I will attempt to encapsulate the flavour of Anthroposophy here.
In essence, Anthroposophy takes Goethean ideas of combining subjective ‘spiritual’ experience and objective science to create a mystical and non-scientific approach to nature. Between 1900 and 1945, in reaction to materialism and the rise of Marxism, this Goethean paradigm split into several political strands, all of which were informed by Social Darwinism (for and against) and Eugenics generally.
Left-wing environmentalism known now as the ‘Green Shift Paradigm’ or ‘Social Ecology’ typified by writers such as Murray Bookchin, rejected both the non-rational aspects of Goethe and the totalitarianism of Stalinism and have supported Civil Rights in opposition to Eugenics and mysticism. My own political position probably sits somewhere within the Green Shift.
Having split from the Goethean Theosophical Society, Steiner created Anthroposophy with massive support from pre-war corporate Germany. His schema proposed that every human was a manifestation of his or her Karmic history. The cosmic forces controlling Karma emanated from points in Europe, Africa and the lost city of ‘Atlantis’ and ensured that people who were sinful were reincarnated as black people while the spiritually aware were reincarnated as white people; the other races being on a sliding scale of skin tone and goodness. Disability and other misfortunes were also karmically decided. The same cosmic forces also controlled the growth of plants and animals. In detail, Steiner lifts ideas from everywhere and muddles the whole into a mystic-racist-spiritual-doctrine. An intrinsic part of the doctrine in Steiner’s own words is:
“On the one hand there is the black race, which is the most earthly. When this race goes toward the West, it dies out. Then there is the yellow race, in the middle between the earth and the cosmos. When this race goes toward the East, it turns brown, it attaches itself too much to the cosmos and dies out. The white race is the race of the future, the spiritually creative race.”
National Socialism, in other words, The Nazis, fully endorsed Goethean ideas and added their own brand of nationalism. That Hitler was a vegetarian is common knowledge but he was also very interested in ecology and studied Anthroposophy. Much of the Hitler Youth was modelled along the lines of Anthroposophy and senior Nazis continued to be Anthroposophist even after Hitler denounced them. The fact that Hitler denounced Steiner and attempted to take-over some of the Steiner schools is one ruse that Steiner advocates use to persuade people that Steiner was a good guy. But both Anthroposophy and National Socialism were competing for the same constituency of white supremacy. Hitler’s love of mysticism (the swastika etc) is lifted straight from Theosophical ideals. The Nazis and their corporate allies continued to fund and endorse Steiner schools outside Germany in occupied Europe during the war years in spite of denouncing them at home.
In the UK, the British National Party (BNP) and the National Front (NF) have always had very well developed green policies in the Nazi Blood and Soil tradition. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) too are very much aligned to that way of thinking. Oswald Mosley’s Black Shirts and King Edward VIII embraced Goethean ideologies and even Prince Charles is reported to have been a fan of Steiner’s Biodynamics. Naturally, all of these strands overlap and intertwine much like all of politics. But the Steiner project, now a vast international political edifice, is now attempting to reach out to non-white people in a horribly colonial way, to help them on their spiritual path to whiteness. Most of this awful stuff is hidden from the average citizen, sanitized to attract popular support while being carefully propagated: through the inculcation of young children at Steiner Schools; of people with disabilities at Camphill Communities and of adults through the values expressed by Nationalist and Patriotic political parties and through the infiltration of charities and peace organisations via mechanisms such as the Triodos Bank.
A list of UK Steiner organisations can be found at:
In the materials produced in Steiner’s defence, a number of typical arguments are always present and I have approximated my responses to them below.
• Firstly, many Steiner supporters accuse Steiner critics of Cherry-picking racist and anti-Semitic comments as if such actions were cheating the public in some way; Steiner’s anti-racist remarks being as prolific as his racist remarks. In my view, a person who addresses anti-racist remarks to one audience and racist remarks to another is simply a racist political opportunist; I’m reminded of work colleagues who excel in their performance in an employee-led Equality and Diversity workshop yet continue to propagate racism, sexism and homophobia when it suites them, in quiet corners of the office and with their similarly minded friends at the pub. Lets us be absolutely clear; people who are not racist do not think such things, say such things and certainly do not write them down as part of their political philosophy or their religious or spiritual opinion.
• Secondly, Steiner’s concept of Karmic progression, of blondness and of the mutable character of spiritual development is intrinsically race-depended according to Steiner, not simply according to his critics. If one chooses to believe in Karma, there are plenty on non-racist Buddhist traditions to study or one could invent one’s own non-racist version.
• Thirdly, if one is not a racist, one does not support writers and philosophers for whom racism is an intrinsic mechanism of spiritual improvement. It is interesting that Steiner supporters don’t attempt to distance themselves from Steiner’s racism and re-brand their own ‘version’ of ‘benign’ mysticism, they defend Steiner’s racism as if it were some kind of vaguely worrisome anomaly.
• Fourthly, none of Steiner’s ideas have respect for rationality. When he does appear rational he is merely repeating and re-packaging ideas that were already in the public domain at the time. Furthermore, the pro-Steiner camp attempt rational argument to overturn rationalists’ objections even though Steiner’s own philosophy values mysticism over and above rationalism.
• Fifthly, a legitimate defence might be that Steiner started out as a racist and later changed his mind. Yet researches have shown that not to be the case; indeed some of his more elaborate racist offerings were produced later in life.
• Sixthly, as Steiner thinks some people with darker skin colours to be less than human and spiritually deficient, any claims he makes concerning equality and fairness are null and void as many people are left out of his descriptions of what it means to be fully human – many of us do not fall into Steiner’s human family to which he suggests equal treatment should be given.
• And finally in this section, Steiner supporters give the distinct impression that exposing racism is somehow an unworthy activity; they talk of Humanist and humanitarian conspiracies as if being humane was wrong or that it requires a conspiracy to approach life with a rational outlook. Even if that were true, the same conspiracy theory would have to apply to any opinion (including Anthroposophy) unless some mystic power or sensibility is brought to bear on the argument.
In practice, the above themes are highly prominent in the arguments for and against Anthroposophy. My own position is clear, once one knows that a dogma, system of believe or mystic practice has racism as an integral part of its philosophy, one must oppose it; to do otherwise is to accept it by default. Take for example my recent enquiries into Biodynamics and the support for it within a local community group.
Buck the Trend (BTT)
In May and June of this year, I telephoned a local green organisation called Buck the Trend in Buckfastleigh where I live. I was hoping to become involved in the life of the community and contribute to the Low Carbon strategy for the town. Having had a very friendly reply from the organiser, Melanie Jarman, I attended a meeting of BTT, hosted by organic farmers Ruth and Toby Chadwick, on 20th June 2009.
Walking to the farm, Mel and I chatted amiably about BTT and I had the distinct impression that the group was in favour of a non-mystical and practical approach to low-carbon technologies. As she revealed she had written a book about Climate Change, I was hopeful that the day would go well. In beautiful weather we reached the farm and about ten of us shared an outdoor lunch from a terraced area outside a low-impact dwelling overlooking the valley in which the farm lay. I hugely enjoyed the experience and our hosts provided a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere; many green issues were discussed and we were given a guided tour of the farm and explanations of the various organic strategies used to improve the condition of the soil, reduce the energy consumption of the farm, provide humane alternatives to large slaughter houses for the livestock and so-on. In all, the whole enterprise is one that, on the surface, would pass rational tests for allelopathic and symbiotic organic farming and high standards of animal welfare; in other words, ordinary, scientifically tested and humane technologies.
But, later in the afternoon, as some of the group were leaving, Toby, from 50 M or so away where he and I were standing in the vegetable garden, called out, “Everyone, just to let you know, the system we are using is Biodynamic! Biodynamic, everyone!” I had heard of Biodynamics and knew that it was a form of agriculture favoured by many in the green movement and by those involved in Steiner education. I did not, at that time, know that the Biodynamic system was part of the Anthroposophical movement.
Being a curious person, once home I looked up Biodynamics on the internet and found out that it was not just a system favoured by Steiner, it is a system invented by Steiner and differs from ordinary organic agriculture in several areas:
• Firstly, that all matter, including animals, plants and people, has condensed from ‘spirit’ and will one day become spirit again.
• Secondly, that all things that exist represent an embodiment of various spiritual qualities in various rhythmically fluctuating proportions.
• Thirdly, that humans, like all things that exist, are on a spiritual path towards future spiritual worlds, exemplified by the planets, and subject to cosmic forces that enable spiritual development.
• Fourthly, that humans have spirits and souls that have the potential to become the embodiment of deeper, greater and higher forms of existence through reincarnation.
• Fifthly, that each plant and animal represents aspects and qualities of spirituality to which humans should aspire (if they are positive qualities) or avoid (if they are negative qualities) and it is the quality of revelation that both reveals spirituality itself and directs the outcomes of how spirituality condenses into physical objects.
• Sixthly, that the rituals and practical spiritual ‘sciences’ that ensure Biodynamic agriculture yields useful and healthy crops are themselves manifestations of the human spirit striving for higher and better states of spiritual being in conjunction with the spiritual strengths of the crops themselves.
• Seventhly, that failure to experience the revelation that Anthroposophy promises by not adhering to the rhythmic (Eurhythmy), astrological (moon planting etc) and spiritual (water as flowing angels etc) practices, results in humans experiencing a step down in the spiritual hierarchy.
• Eighthly, that the stages in the spiritual hierarchy of humans can be directly observed through skin colour; white people being the most advanced and black people the least advanced with other colours being ranked on a sliding scale between the two. Failure to experience revelation and goodness results in a karmic reincarnation down the scale to blackness while success leads to whiteness. Total failure results in being reincarnated as a goblin in charge of tending the roots of plants underground.
While the Anthroposophical view is clearly circular, irrational, unscientific, poorly structured, mystical, racist and intellectually vacuous by any standard of reasonable debate, Steiner does attempt to unify all of his beliefs (though a charlatan like Steiner is really more interested in power) to ensure that the Anthroposophical scholar can track concepts such as Karmic re-incarnation, Astrology, Eurythmy, Homeopathy, Colour and so-on through all of the Anthroposophical technologies. The Steiner and Waldorf schools, Camphill communities, Biodynamic farming, the Triodos and Mercury banks (now combined) and many other business and institutions utilise the interconnected nexus of Anthroposophical revelatory beliefs to entrench their power-positions within a mostly white and middle-class social milieu for whom science is as seemingly mysterious as mysticism and is considered of no greater value.
In effect, Anthroposophy sets up businesses and institutions in order to infiltrate the existing power-elite and uses such institutions as spring-boards for individuals able to take senior positions in mainstream businesses, regulatory bodies and government departments. They have even set up their own version of Christianity called The Christian Community in order to attract Christians into the Anthroposophical fold.
Biodynamics, as infused with Anthroposophy as any other Steiner-inspired technology, has further entrenched its position of bogus respectability by gradually adopting most of the conventionally accepted techniques of real organic agriculture – none of which was invented by Steiner. The secretive and closed upper echelons of the Anthroposophical empire have manipulated the Biodynamics movement into places of influence; they have conned the public into thinking that science-based organic agriculture originated with Steiner and that science established after Steiner’s death agrees with Steiner because the science itself is a manifestation of Steiner’s spiritual vision when, in fact, Anthroposophists have stolen rational methodologies, claimed them as their own and overlaid mystical and irrational reasons for efficacy.
To support Biodynamics in favour of non-mystical, science-based organic farming is to choose a racist mystical value-system in favour of a testable, non-racist and thus more democratic, technology. When biodynamic farmers praise the practical benefits of Biodynamics compared to the consumerist agro-industry they are merely stealing established science-based evaluations. Furthermore, when biodynamic farmers praise the advantages of Biodynamics when compared to other forms of rationalist organic agriculture they resort to falsifying data and setting up unsound trials – as witnessed by so-called research ‘proving’ the superiority of the growth of Biodynamic vines over ordinary organic vines in which the ordinary vines were over-pruned.
We now have the horrible spectacle of the heir to the UK throne, HRH Prince Charles endorsing Biodynamics. More worrying, The Soil Association, one of the most influential agricultural institutions in the UK (respected worldwide) and the regulatory body for organic standards and practices is now run by the Anthroposophist Patrick Holden – the take-over of the UK’s organic food industry by Anthroposophy is now almost complete.
In my few hours of research into Biodynamics, I uncovered the real difference between science-based organic agriculture and Anthroposophical agriculture; the difference is mystic racism. Yet Ruth and Toby Chadwick seemed like genuinely nice people, as did the rest of the Buck the Trend group present at the meeting. Could they be ignorant of the appalling consequences of their commitment to Biodynamics? Do they not see that mystic racism is at the heart of Anthroposophical technology?
On the 25th June 2009, a new BTT newsletter arrived by email. In it they advertised a Biodynamic workshop, to be hosted by Steiner’s The Christian Community in Buckfastleigh and to be run by Derek Lapworth. It was to take place on the 5th September. I wondered if Ruth and Toby were involved, I worried that Melanie Jarman might not know of the links between Biodynamics and racist mysticism and I was concerned that I would be treated unfairly by BTT in the same way that I have been treated unfairly by the Devon Music Service in respect of complaints concerning the Song4Devon competition.
If taking part in environmental work in Devon was to be as restrictive for non-white people as taking part in music (see New Flags of Xenophobia ) I needed to know. With that in mind, I sent a concerned e-mail to Melanie Jarman on the 26th June:
2009/6/26 Nick Nakorn :
As you know, I very much enjoyed the day at Ruth and Toby’s farm and was very interested in their organic methods. While I had heard the term Biodynamics, as a type of organic farming, I knew nothing about it.
Yesterday, I looked up Biodynamics and was somewhat perturbed to find that it varies quite considerably from organic methods and include a number of, what seem to me, to be highly dubious claims and a very large dose of mysticism.
One of my problems with mysticism is that it devalues the science of its subject and thus devalues science generally and all forms of rational debate. Over the last 30 years, most of the problems I have encountered in attempting to promote a more sustainable way of life have been from organisations and individuals (particularly politicians) who refuse to accept the science and stick dogmatically to their irrational beliefs.
Now that climate change has, in the last thirty years, managed to become accepted, it seems crazy to back-track by supporting organisations and ideas in which science is not valued and, indeed, refuted in favour of mysticism.
So while I’m happy for people to follow spiritual or mystical practices that don’t interfere with rational discourse and application, (in other words they treat their spirituality as purely poetic or metaphorical), I do have problems supporting organisations in which mystical, paranormal, metaphysical and non-material aspects are thought to be intrinsic to practical application.
Another surprise for me was the fact that Biodynamics was invented by Rudolph Steiner. When my daughter was small, I took a great interest in Steiner education and attended a number of events at the Steiner School in Kings Langley near where I was living at the time. But, though I was impressed with many aspects of the system, I gradually found out more about the philosophy that went with the practice, including an anti-rationalist, anti-science stance that I felt was unacceptable. A few years later I found out about Steiner’s racist Anthroposophy ideas that were competing with Nazi ideologies to claim legitimacy for the white supremacy policies of Aryan Nationalism in the 1930s. As a human being I am opposed to such political philosophies and as a non-white person, I feel particularly sensitive to such movements as they legitimise attacks on people of colour; both physical and, more difficult to quantify, social and institutional. The tone of Steiner’s work as perceived today might seem benign (if odd) on the surface yet the underlying philosophy is clearly very dangerous and the people who run Steiner organisations must know about it if an interested outsider like myself finds out about it so easily.
A typical Steiner quote on race:
“But these things will never take place in the world without the most
violent struggle. White humankind is still on the path of absorbing the
spirit deeper and deeper into its own essence. Yellow humankind is on the path of conserving the era when the spirit will be kept away from the body, when the spirit will only be sought outside of the human-physical organization. But the result will have to be that the transition from the fifth cultural epoch to the sixth cultural epoch cannot happen in any other way than as a violent battle of white humankind against colored humankind in myriad areas. And that which precedes these battles between white and colored humankind will occupy world history until the completion of the great battles between white and colored humankind. Future events are frequently reflected in prior events. You see, we stand before something colossal that – when we understand it through spiritual science – we will in the future be able to recognize as a necessary occurrence.”
The quote is one of hundreds of a similar type. The defence put up by supporters of Anthroposophy is that Steiner was anti-Nazi and Hitler tried to ban Steiner’s teachings, but they fail to realise that Hitler and Steiner were competing for power amongst a white supremacist social and political class.
For the above reasons, I feel I can’t contribute to Buck the Trend unless Buck the Trend distances itself from Steiner as, as far as I can see, Steiner’s general outlook did not differ much from what the BNP are saying today and I’m not happy about them either. If Buck the Trend were to have a pro-science position and a non-racist, equality policy, I would be very happy to continue as I have been committed to low-carbon for many years.
What I find sad, though, is that Ruth and Toby seemed very nice and I hope that they are completely ignorant of Steiner’s views. For Buck the Trend to promote a workshop promoting Biodynamics is surely to support what Steiner stands for, and that is something I can not do.
Any comments you might have would be most welcome as it would be tragic if the only green action we can take is under the eco-fascist banner; for it is not one that appeals to me or one that, as a ‘yellow’ person, would welcome me – indeed it means to do me, my daughter and the rest of family immense harm.
Sorry to be so serious about this but I feel one has to stand up for equality, democracy and rationality – without those vital political underpinnings, life becomes simply too difficult,
Having sent the email my, perhaps naïve, expectation was that Mel and the BTT committee would confirm that Ruth and Toby did not know of the racist Steiner connection, would drop the meaningless and damaging Biodynamics tag and that the Biodynamics workshop would not be supported. And, at first it looked as if BTT would respond favourably. Mel replied on the 3rd July 2009:
To: “Nick Nakorn”
Sent: Friday, July 03, 2009 10:42 PM
Subject: Re: Buck the Trend June e-bulletin
Thanks for this email – sorry about the delay in replying but I’ve
been away for a week and just got back this evening. There’s a lot to
think about below so I’ll get back to you next week when I’ve had a
chance to read it properly. Also, if it’s ok with you, I’d like to
forward it to the rest of the BTT executive committee.
all the best for now
Ten days later I received another mail from BTT committee member Robert Byrnes:
Sent: Monday, July 13, 2009 4:33 PM
You have no doubt received word from Mel in reply to your letter which she shared with the BTT committee at our last meeting.
The committee affirmed that BTT is an open, even “secular” group, whose constitution states that “membership is open to all those in agreement with the aims and objectives” (of BTT). A first draft of a disclaimer to be added to future e-bulletins says “Contributions from other groups and individuals are not necessarily endorsed by Buck the Trend but may be of interest to members of the group”. This, of course, is general and leaves open the process of decision making in any particular case.
As I am probably the committee member with most acquaintance with activities relating to Steiner, I would be very pleased to meet you to discuss the issues which you raised. On my occasional visits to Germany, I have experienced something of the current debate there about racism in particular and the origin of Steiner’s ideas in general and have followed it up on the internet. I hope (and expect) that it will be possible for us to discuss fruitfully the issues which you raised. An anti-scientific attitude is probably the default setting in this area. I do not share this attitude.
With best wishes
This too, looked encouraging but, in spite of Robert’s last line, I got the impression that he would rather discuss the matter than say what he thought in writing. I have since discovered that few people willing to support Steiner are willing to say so outright in letters or e-mails to which they attach their real name. I replied on the 14th July 2009:
2009/7/14 Nick Nakorn :
many thanks for your email. It will be fascinating to talk to someone who has been involved with the discussions in Germany. I have been continuing my own internet searches and have noticed that sites like Waldorfcritics tend to have contributions from people who, like me, have had cause to question Steiner in the same way that one might question any proposition for educational, social, political or environmental change:- in other words they have used their critical faculties as one would normally when evaluating any issue. Statements on other sites in support of Steiner, on the other hand, tend to be defensive and rhetorical rather than analytical and seem to be sponsored by Steiner insiders.
It seems to me that the extent to which any secular organisation welcomes people inclusively will always be problematic when the organisation in question is positively promoting non-secular and non-evidence-based systems that reject the validity of particular social groups.
The problem is that one can not always expect members of any organisation to leave their beliefs at the door. The extent to which one welcomes people with whom one disagrees is thus a matter of great concern. It seems to me that having equality and diversity policies are a good way of testing inclusion. People who believe in Steiner’s ideas (or God or Fairies for that matter) will then be as welcome as those who do not; provided all are happy to be subject to critical scrutiny. Yet one question still remains; if one welcomes all, how does one prevent influences that might be anti-secular (or racist or sexist for example) from dominating the cultural milieu? Having been involved in these issues all my life, I am convinced that one has to make inclusion political. If one is not explicitly anti-racist, anti-sexist (etc.), then one is, in effect, continuing to support racist and sexist (etc) ideals. The end result is that in predominantly white-male dominated cultures (for example), non-white people and women feel sufficiently unwelcome not to be able to participate. How Buck the Trend decides to resolve these issues is, of course, up to the Committee.
So regardless of the outcome, I would be delighted to meet up to discuss these matters further. I’m not working currently so my diary is very flexible. If you’d like to suggest a time and date, I’m pretty sure that will be ok for me.
On the 15th I also got another email from Mel:
From Mel Jarman
hello there Nick
I hope all is well with you.
As Robert said in his email we did discuss your email at the committee
meeting and affirmed that Buck the Trend is a secular group and
drafted a disclaimer to be added to our e-bulletins.
Your points below about making inclusion political are particularly
interesting though. I just re-read our constitution (see attached)
and, while racist or sexist behaviour for example would, under general
law, be illegal, we do not explicitly refer to them in our own key
document. I am wondering whether we need to add a specific clause to
our constitution. Would you be interested in drafting such a clause?
all the best
Well, by now I was both encouraged and deeply suspicious. In my work for the Black Employees Group in Watford, and in my community work promoting energy conservation, I had often come across community groups inviting a non-white person to write an equality policy to add credibility to diversity issues while, at the same time, the group continued to support racist organisations. But I was also aware that a genuine effort might have been made by BTT in this case. So, in good faith, I replied later that day:
many thanks for your email. I would be delighted to draft a paragraph in respect of equality and diversity though it might be better to adopt a set of E & D policies from a trusted source such as the Green Party or similar organisation. (The Green Party version is excellent in my opinion and has been accepted by Peter Tatchell; someone whose judgement on these issues is usually very sound).
By the way, I’m gratified that the Committee discussed my original e-mail and that Robert is keen to discuss the issues. I am troubled, however, that, thus far, no opinion has been proffered concerning the substance of my concerns: that organisations or systems with strong racist, sexist and fascistic connections and tendencies should not be given a platform.
I have found two excellent articles that encapsulate my own feelings around these issues from a fascinating site that fills in many of the gaps that many green activists prefer not to address.
they are pages from an excellent site:
The articles do much to underline how important it is to have a political position and to be very specific in terms of how encvironmental and green issues might be progressed without furthering the aims of ‘blood and soil’ exponents.
As a BME person for whom such matters are a question of personal safety, a lack of clear opinion on these matters seems like neutrality. As you might appreciate, Feminist, BME and GLBT equalities (such as they are) have all been gained and maintained by ensuring that neutrality is constantly challenged to ensure that simple majority inaction does not allow facistic tendencies to flourish. In other words, having a policy is a good step in the right direction but it is also necessary to have an opinion concerning the substantive issues.
Regardless of my own involvement (or not) with Buck the Trend now or in the future, it would be incredibly sad if a fledgling organisation grew to a position of prominance and influence within the local community on a white supremacist ticket; the original founders (yourselves) having been ousted by a popular vote to whom ‘blood and soil’ might be more appealing than the acceptance of otherness.
I’m looking forward very much to further discussions and perhaps, having read the articles in the above links, members of the committee might like to meet up to discuss how fairness and equity might be integrated into low-carbon politics. If so, I’d very much like to take part in such a discussion.
Incidentally, such issues do not get in the way of practical action on
carbon reduction and energy conservation as some might fear; I was lucky enough to pioneer one or two energy reduction schemes in the 1990s while being active in anti-racist groups – the mathematics and physics of combustion and renewables being unaffected by my political position, much to the amazement of new-age mystics. I would very much like to contribute to helping low-carbon technologies becoming established locally, but I do need to feel safe to function effectively.
So while I was flattered to be asked to write an Equalities policy, I was more concerned that BTT would allow me to feel safe by first rejecting support for Anthroposophy. If between them the BTT were incapable of reading the Steiner literature and publically denouncing the racism therein by rejecting support for Biodynamics, something that it took me only a few of hours to achieve, even a well-written policy would not be worth the paper it was written on. Concerning such rejection, Mel replied:
To: “Nick Nakorn”
Sent: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 2:40 PM
Subject: Re: Steiner
Thanks for your email. Re your point below – we do not support the
airing of such tendencies, particularly via our organisation. I’m
sorry if this point was not clear – I probably focussed too soon on
what action we needed to take to address the issue.
Now I was once more hopeful that Biodynamics would be dropped but:
2009/7/15 Nick Nakorn :
sorry to have missed that point. Does that mean BTT is withdrawing support and publicity for the proposed Biodynamics workshop?
Here’s the clincher:
To: “Nick Nakorn”
Sent: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 9:47 PM
Subject: Re: Steiner
We are not withdrawing publicity for the biodynamics workshop as the
event does not contravene our constitution, and is open to all. When
we talked at the executive committee, we did not consider that we
needed to distance ourselves from the biodynamic movement.
all the best
It seemed that my suspicions were well founded. BTT was willing to have a really good Equalities Policy but unwilling to allow non-white participation if it meant abandoning racist doctrines. On the 16th July 2009, I sent Mel an early-morning e-mail:
to say I feel upset by your decision is an understatement. The web
references I have supplied concerning the philosophical basis for
Biodynamics as a tool for furthering Steiner’s white supremacist agenda –
still being continued around the world to this day – through his Nazi-style
‘Blood and Soil’ mysticism could not be clearer on the subject.
There are huge amounts of information available that enable organic farming
methods to be carried out without recourse to racism or mysticism and I
don’t know why you and the Committee have decided to promote a racist
version over and above a scientific non-racist version.
Biodynamics may be ‘open to all’ but, as you will know if you have read any
Anthroposophy, Steiner’s ‘all’ is much like Hitler’s ‘all’. I feel that, as a
non-white person, I am being discriminated against. I can’t understand why
you wish to have me help write an equality policy while simultaneously
making it clear that you would rather support a racist organisation than the
There is much else to say about these issues and how non-white people end up
not feeling able to participate in community events but, frankly, I’m too
upset, too sleep deprived and generally fed up to say much more at the
Robert replied on the 16th July 2009:
I have a pretty clear diary for next week, so would be pleased to meet you then. Really any morning or afternoon from Tuesday onwards would be possible. You say when.
Just to add insult to rejection, Robert was still hoping to discuss the matter after the committee had made its decision. The BTT committee could not even wait to discuss the matter with me before coming to its conclusion. And what was Robert’s part in all this? The only internet reference I could find for Robert was a Robert Byrnes who is listed as a Reflexologist (Reflexology is yet another mystical practice) for the Exeter area. A Robert Byrnes also appears in the 2001 newsletter of the Anthroposophical Science Group:
Earthly and Heavenly Harmonies
4 – 7 October 2001, at Hawkwood College, Painswick Old
Road, Stroud, Glos, GL6 7QW.
The ‘Eclipse Conference’ of 1999 had 62 participants and was
deemed a success. Topics covered in this conference will include:
The planets and metals; A mythology of Jupiter and
Saturn; The Aurora; Sunspots; Agriculture in relation to the
Tutors will include: John Meeks, astronomer and colleague
of the Mathematical-Astronomical Section of the Anthroposophical
Society in Dornach, Alan Brockman, a leading Bio-
Dynamic farmer, Liesbeth Bisterbosch, an astronomer from
Holland, Ron Jarman, Nick Kollerstrom, Maggie Salter, Henry Goulden and Robert Byrnes.
He might not be the same man but it’s a striking coincidence and, besides, it was pretty clear the collective BTT response to my very real concerns was one of appeasement and avoidance. I did not arrange to meet Robert, as BTT had already decided to exclude me. I also have no idea if Mel Jarman is related to Ron Jarman who also appears in the above list.
It is not possible to tell the extent to which those involved in this incident are themselves racist. Indeed, my personal contact with the BTT members did not reveal any racist talk or language. And, from what I can ascertain, Melanie Jarman has a good reputation as a writer and journalist, writes for a number of reputable organisations and has been published by the Fernwood Press (as far as I know not connected to Steiner). So I may never know why BTT preferred to support Steiner, Biodynamics, The Christian Community and mystic racism rather than ensure a non-white member felt genuinely welcome. Perhaps too many committee members educated their children at Steiner or were themselves Steiner children? Who knows? They won’t say.
The above post in an excerpt from
Mystic Shadows of Colour
by Nick Chulapatanabongse Na Nakorn
2009 copyright all rights reserved