The second part of
Mystic Shadows of Colour
By Nick Chulapatnabongse Na Nakorn
5.Transition Towns and the Anthroposophical Influence.
In my searches to establish if clear non-racist diversity principles guide green groups and organisations as to how they might pro-actively denounce racist Anthroposophy in practice, I have noted, as have others, the fact that the Steiner Schools tag-line ‘Heart, Head and Hands’ is also used by the Transition Town Network (TTN).
In itself, such a co-incidence is not really anything to worry about. Indeed, as a poetic notion of what it means to be an environmentalist, it is apt and metaphorically represents my own approach to learning and action. But a nagging feeling persists that Anthroposophy, so adept at infiltrating so many areas of life, might too have a hand in the management and policies of the Transition Town movement. My aim is not to rubbish the TTN; in general I think it is an extraordinary project that will, hopefully, spread the concepts of energy decent and community resilience. Indeed, there is so much I approve of in TTN’s general approach, that any connection to the racist doctrines of Steiner and similar nonsensical New-age mysticism should be pro-actively opposed to ensure the TTN can not be used to mobilise fascist tendencies; something that must be guarded against during times of economic and social collapse; of which I am sure there is more to come.
With an open but critical mind, I hope to find out the extent to which my misgivings are true or false and to expose links where appropriate.
As with most detective work, the advice is always to follow the money and that is where I will start.
According to the Transition Network’s ‘Who We Are and What We Do’ document, at:
TTN is run by:
Peter Lipman (Sustrans, Chair),
(the late) Brian Goodwin (Schumacher College),
Ben Brangwyn (Transition Network),
William Lana (Greenfibres),
Julie Richardson (Dartington / Landscope),
Pamela Gray (Transition US),
Rob Hopkins (Transition Network).
The TTN is part sponsored by the Tudor Trust. The Tudor Trust is a major investor in the Triodos Bank’s Opportunities Fund, a venture capital fund for social enterprise. I was shocked to discover recently that the Triodos Bank is an Anthroposophical organisation; shocked because many organisations that I otherwise admire, such as Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International and Café Direct, bank with them. Indeed, I recently applied to Triodos myself for funding and it was a chance perusal of their site that led me to their Steiner roots. If my business plan is accepted by Triodos (doubtful as I am often so critical of Steiner) I am now in the horrible position of having to turn down their investment. (I’ve since heard my application was turned down so the dilemma no longer exists).
According to their website, The Tudor Trust’s Trustees are:
Triodos is Greek for ‘threeways’: in Steiner’s anthroposophy that means Spirit, Thinking and Yoga; concepts that became the Heart, Head and Hands of the Steiner Schools and of TTN. But being bank-rolled by a Trust that invests in Triodos does not make one a supporter of Anthroposophy if one is ignorant of the link. Is TTN ignorant of the link or does TTN support Anthroposophy? Another of TTN’s sponsors is Ashoka. Ashoka is an organisation dedicated to social entrepreneurship in underdeveloped countries; aside from having a distinctly colonialist flavour that puts me off more than somewhat, it seems to be a very well-meaning venture. The organisation is named after Emperor Ashoka the Great (304-232 BC), a military dictator who later turned to Buddhism, and is run by an American called Bill Drayton who has been both an investment consultant for McKinsey & Company and a MacArthur Fellow; his credentials are hugely impressive, as are his achievements.
The money, or some of the money at any rate (the TTN document only mentions the organisations above) has come from two main sources; Tudor is an outwardly pro-Anthroposophical supporter that invests in Triodos and Ashoka is an organisation known for its more traditional roots in high-capital philanthropy. They share an inference to sympathies with karmic re-incarnation and charismatic fascism but otherwise seem quite different.
Interestingly, in Bill Drayton’s video about the founding of Ashoka and his travels and work in India
what he does not say reveals almost as much as what he says. Nevertheless, Ashoka’s record is quite astounding, particularly in the field of human rights; it seems so strange that TTN can not present themselves as specifically inclusive on issues of enfranchisement as do most of the organisations under Ashoka’s philanthropic wings. But Bill Drayton clearly chose the name Ashoka for a reason; perhaps because Buddhism appeals, perhaps because empire building appeals. It is a sad fact that ‘good works’ are often offered with substantial philosophical, political and religious strings attached. It is also true that a huge number of excellent aid organisations and NGOs have strong religious values at their core; but that’s a whole new essay on colonialism.
The Rudolf Steiner Foundation, clearly Anthroposophical, and Ashoka do however share other similarities. They are both part of the growing network of corporately funded charities tied in to global businesses, the ravages of which NGO projects hope to challenge; using crumbs from the capitalists table to feed those disenfranchised from the global economy. One such new organisation is StartingBloc, a new social entrepreneurial organisation with similar aims to Ashoka.
According to Joanna Opot at CSRwire :
StartingBloc is a New York-based 501(c)3 non-profit organization. StartingBloc educates, empowers and connects emerging leaders to drive positive social change across sectors. Since inception in 2003, the organization has been supported by the Rudolf Steiner Foundation, Goldman Sachs, General Electric, Ashoka Foundation, Rabobank, United Way of New York City, MIT Sloan, Fletcher School, Yale SOM, NYU Wagner, London Business School, White & Case, and Goulston & Storrs. For more information, please visit www.startingbloc.org.
StartingBloc is funded by Ashoka and Steiner amongst others. Whether or not each organisation is motivated by self interest, the greater good or both, one is still left wondering about the power-relations between these organisations and their ‘Fellows’. Incidentally, the quasi-academic structure of such organisations is thoroughly self-serving and is designed to increase the stature and status of the participating organisations as well as the individual Fellows upon which such honours are bestowed. We are all prone to such self aggrandisement, including me; but we should all at least know we’re doing it.
So not only is TTN well financed, it is also backed by a vast international network of charitable organisations in which Anthroposophists seem to play a significant role. One might say that to be so connected says much about the Anthroposophists new direction; away from mysticism and towards rationalism and good works. Equally one could say that Steiner’s political machine is attempting to infiltrate every area of life in order to more easily control an essentially colonialist venture that hopes to assist non-white people re-incarnate into whiteness in addition to promoting the ever-increasingly stranglehold of global capitalism. Either way, left-leaning NGOs and human rights organisations are being subsumed by the machine.
Ian Ybarra writes:
“And what does StartingBloc want? According to its mission statement, “StartingBloc seeks to help outstanding university students understand that a socially responsible career is not an oxymoron and that business can and should improve society as well as create private wealth.” (These are actually the words of Dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management Richard Schmalensee) Ultimately, StartingBloc hopes that undergraduates who come to understand this today will remember it when they’re running this joint in the future.”
From: A New Market for Self-Interest By Ian Ybarra
StartingBloc’s own website is rather peculiar and gives no hints as to the political positions it represents or encourages.
So where did following the money take us? We have established that the Transition Town Network is sponsored by the Tudor Trust and Ashoka, we have found that the Tudor Trust invest in Triodos and that Ashoka works very closely with the Rudolf Steiner Foundation and that all have sympathies with concepts of Karma and re-incarnation and all are part of a network of global capitalist philanthropy with colonialist themes. That such themes are largely hidden allows the subtle expropriation of otherwise left-leaning organisations via the processes of patronage and the provision of banking services.
Triodos claims to have severed its ties with Anthroposophy in 1999 yet in 2009 it was still keen to congratulate itself and its directors for its Anthroposophical values in its own internal reports:
Information from the Board
Philip Martyn’s tenure comes to an end this year
and he is not seeking reappointment. Over the past
few years, Philip has provided a uk perspective to
the board; personal input that is backed by
consider able banking knowledge and experience.
He has strong ties with anthroposophy, which also
inspired the founders of Triodos Bank, and which
linked him to Mercury Provident Plc, the predecessor
of the uk branch of Triodos Bank. The Board is
very grateful for Philip’s contribution as member of
the Board of saat.:
And in case one forgets what is at the root of Anthroposophy, this essential piece of Steiner’s philosophy should not go unread or unchallenged:
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.
Before leaving this section, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the corporate partners in the StartingBloc enterprise have much to gain by improving their image via philanthropic actions given their recent reckless past and the current Global Banking Crisis:
Goldman Sachs Turns Positive On General Electric
Goldman Sachs Thursday upgraded its equity recommendation on General Electric Co. (GE) to ‘buy’ from ‘neutral.’ At the same time, the bank lifted its 12-month target price for the stock to $15 from $13, which currently suggests upside potential of 22%.
The catalyst for this decision was comment from U.S. House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank late Wednesday indicating manufacturers like General Electric could keep their financial arms under new banking rules.
With high-ranking executives from Goldman Sachs and GEC metaphorically meeting in the metaphorical cosy confines of their StartingBloc protégé, one could easily see how such relationships are mutually beneficial. I’m not suggesting impropriety but illustrating what a small world it is when one’s socio-political and cultural values happen to coincide. This is, remember, the same company that is suspected of encouraging the sub-prime exploitation fiasco and one can’t help but notice that high capitalism is rooted in the ‘might is right’ tradition; many unethical city workers see their victims as suckers deserving of their fate – not a dissimilar notion to karmic punishment.
Senate Probes Goldman Sachs and Other Major Banks for Meltdown Fraud
Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) and Deutsche Bank AG (NYSE:DB) were issued subpoenas by a U.S. Senate panel seeking evidence of fraud in the 2008 mortgage-market meltdown, the WSJ reports, citing people familiar with the matter.
The direction of the congressional investigation, notes the Journal, is focused on whether internal communications show executives at the banks had private doubts on the soundness of the mortgage-related securities they were putting together, and if these securities, which played a big role in accelerating last year’s financial crisis, were as financially sound as their public pronouncements suggested.
(Not to be confused with the UK firm GEC/Marconi)
As we have seen, the General Electric Company, is clearly well known to Goldman Sachs and they share many of the same problems:
General Electric In Im-Melt-Down?
Profit fall at GE sparks split talk from the New York Post reports that the once mighty General Electric is literally in a meltdown, making tought (sic) choices for CEO Jeffrey Imm (sic) Shares dived yesterday after GE reported a 49 percent drop in second-quarter profit. Its one-time cash cow GE Capital suffered an 80 percent tumble in profit, while its NBC Universal media unit’s profit fell 41 percent.
“Getting GE out of the dog house is going to take a lot of fear and pain,” said analyst Nick Heymann of Sterne, Agee & Leach.
He said GE’s best hope is to convert its loss-laden financial arm into a full-fledged bank — a conversion regulators could order anyway in the coming weeks. If that happens, GE could be forced to put up as much as $6 billion in new reserves as a bank. However, as Haymann noted, “GE doesn’t have the cash reserves.”
GE has a history of large-scale air and water pollution. Based on year 2000 data, researchers at the Political Economy Research Institute listed the corporation as the fourth-largest corporate producer of air pollution in the United States, with more than 4.4 million pounds per year (2,000 Tonnes) of toxic chemicals released into the air. GE has also been implicated in the creation of toxic waste. According to EPA documents, only the United States Government, Honeywell, and Chevron are responsible for producing more Superfund toxic waste sites.
The above from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Electric
One has to keep reminding one’s self that these companies, so easily led into irrational behaviour by the demands of competitive capitalism, are supposed to represent so-called ‘materialism’. To be led by greed, to lie and cheat and to pretend that the planet’s resources and ecosystems are inexhaustible, is to delude oneself as surely as if one was following the orders of a mystical cult. Yet the high-capital consumerist ideal is considered, by the majority of mainstream politicians, to be a default rationalist position. It is therefore utterly predictable that Anthroposophists and powerful capitalists would feel comfortable working together.
Rabobank is a Dutch cooperative-movement financial institution. Reading through the Rabobank website, one is immediately struck by the specific ways in which Rabobank distances itself from traditional capitalists and consumerist values. In that respect, it reminds me of my initial impressions of Triodos and of the UK’s Co-operative Bank. So why are they associating with Anthroposophist and disgraced high-capitalists? Regardless of their history (about which only good is written on the internet – though histories of the bank seem to miss out 1939-45), a modern clue can be found at the top of their operations.
Bart Jan Krouwel is Rabobank’s Managing Director of Sustainability and Social Innovation and Deputy General Manager of Rabobank Nederland.
After starting his career within the AMRO Bank N.V. in 1964, he was co-founder and first general manager of the fully independent Triodos Bank N.V. in 1980, a new banking institution operating on the basis of the anthroposophical way of life. For this work he received a special award from Prince Claus in 1981, the FEM/PA medal for socially innovative entrepreneurship.
From 1986 to 1993 he worked in the healthcare sector as general manager of various institutions (mainstream, anthroposophical and alternative).
From 1993 to 1996 he was employed as managing director of a number of affiliated, privately runned foundations in the field of national and international environment management, humanitarian aid, healthcare and peace initiatives, among them an organisation of which the former president of the Soviet Union, Michail Gorbatchov, was honorary president.
He has been employed by Rabobank Nederland since 1 August 1996
I have not been able to find out if Rabobank has always held Anthroposophical principles or if the Triodos model has been so influential that Anthroposophists are being hired by left of centre institutions in ignorance of the racist nature of Anthroposophical doctrines. But it seems inconceivable that the Rabobank board will be unaware of Bart Jan Krouwel’s background or of the value-systems at work within Triodos. Either way, Steiner’s mystic racism does not seem to be a problem for Rabobank. Indeed, a recent study has concluded:
Managing diversity is a relatively new domain within HRM. Theoretical debates around the issue have not matured yet. This case study examines in detail the diversity management practices of Rabobank, a major bank in the Netherlands, which has applied diversity concepts in its management practices. Through interviews with managers and employees of the bank we contrast theoretical premises on diversity management with praxis at Rabobank. Findings show that diversity management has been used primarily to attract ethnic customers to the bank, rather than to advance the quality of working life and career prospects of ethnic minority employees. The latter remain segregated in lower positions and not allowed openly to express their culture and religion.
In other words, my micro-experience in attempting to become accepted by the local community group Buck The Trend is mirrored at the macro-scale of the corporate governance at Rabobank; BME people are welcomed as customers and clients but full participation is denied. At both scales of operation we are witnessing a new colonialism for the modern world and Anthroposophy in action.
United Way of New York City
As far as I can tell, there are no links between UWNYC and Anthroposophy other than the partnership behind StartingBloc
It would be crazy to suggest that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has any direct connection with either Anthroposophy or Blood and Soil politics. But that was not always the case. MIT Sloan was funded by the philanthropist Alfred P Sloan. Sloan was a huge admirer of Hitler and was instrumental in supplying the Nazis with plant and equipment throughout the war years as Chairman of General Motors (GM).
In 1935, GM agreed to build a new plant near Berlin to produce the aptly named “Blitz” truck, which would later be used by the German army for its blitzkreig attacks on Poland, France and the Soviet Union. German Ford was the second-largest producer of trucks for the German army after GM/Opel, according to U.S. Army reports.
Less than three weeks after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, GM Chairman Alfred P. Sloan defended this strategy as sound business practice, given the fact that the company’s German operations were “highly profitable.”
The internal politics of Nazi Germany “should not be considered the business of the management of General Motors,” Sloan explained in a letter to a concerned shareholder dated April 6, 1939. “We must conduct ourselves [in Germany] as a German organization. . . . We have no right to shut down the plant.”
MIT accepted Sloan’s money from 1931 and established MIT Sloan in 1952. Sloan’s philanthropic influence continued until his death in 1966. For younger readers, this background history might seem irrelevant. But for those of us who spent our childhoods in the 1950s and 60s or earlier, the affection of ‘the great and the good’ for racist ideology was a normalised context for how power continued to flow through fascist channels before and after Hitler had been defeated. In the 1970s a great many documents came to light during Congressional hearings and only 10 years ago, in the late 1990s, GM’s collaboration with the Nazis was again resurrected when Nazi-era slave labourers threatened to sue GM and Ford for reparations and, over the last few years, many researchers have approached General Motors to be allowed access to their records without success.
These issues of colonialism and race affect people alive today. People who survived the Nazi’s slave camps that provided labour for the likes of GM and Ford; people who survived the forced partition of India and people all over the world still subject to the idea that their labour and their quality of life is worth less than the luxury of the colonist. It is vital that we remember that the transmission of these values, of Blood and Soil ideologies and of state-funded racism have taken place within living memory and continue behind the scenes today. The memetic growth of ideas and cultural norms, remember, does not require a conspiracy; all these ideas need to grow is a fertile social and political milieu in which irrational values go unchallenged.
And while there might be legal reasons why MIT has not changed the name of the Sloan School, one would have thought it only humane for the University to explain their position on these issues via a disclaimer on the Sloan home-page. If MIT are not able to face up to their racist past, it is no surprise that the Steiner machine is similarly wary.
The Fletcher School at Tufts University has, as far as I am aware, no Blood and Soil skeletons lurking in its cupboards other than its seemingly unbending support for high-capital consumerism.
Yale School of Management, as above.
New York University Wagner School, likewise
London Business School
White and Case
As above. In fact this law firm should, given its reputation for Civil Rights pro-bono work, have its head examined getting into bed with Anthroposophists
Goulston and Storrs
As for White and Case, above.
There are three themes I wish to underline at this point.
- The first is that many otherwise thoroughly respectable organisations seem to be quite happy to work with Anthroposophically driven entities, perhaps in ignorance of the value-systems being promoted by Steiner’s racist philosophy or, perhaps, not realising that a great many of those in power, in the Anthroposophical machine, actually believe in a racist and irrational ideology.
- Secondly, it might be that the influence of Anthroposophy is now so great that even executives of non-Anthroposophical organisations have been recruited, by accident, from the Steiner fold; in other words, the Steiner value-system has infiltrated most of our institutions. I find it hard to believe that that is the case, hope it is not the case and hope to expose the extent to which it is the case.
- Thirdly, it might be that institutional racism, enshrined in the Steiner doctrine, is simply not considered to be ‘real’ racism compared to, for example, physical attacks or extreme verbal abuse. But it is my experience that institutional racism is as damaging as a physical assault; not least because it’s almost impossible to immediately identify and very, very hard to take to court.
6. Transition Town Totnes (TTT).
As the first Transition Town on the Transition Towns Network’s (TTN’s) list of Transition Towns, TTT is in the forefront of the movement. TTN’s co-founder, Rob Hopkins is on the board of the TTN and is a Fellow of Ashoka. Rob’s achievements are truly spectacular and it’s worth having a look at his website at: http://transitionculture.org/about/
As I have said, I hugely admire what the TTN is doing in terms of the rational green agenda and I’m only undertaking this piece of writing to expose the mystic racism, and consequent lack of democratic accountability, that accompanies it. And although Rob’s Transition Culture site is full of mystical nonsense, he does at least choose Permaculture instead of Biodynamics as his preferred method of organic agriculture. This is important. Biodynamics is an Anthroposophical racist-mystical system of organic growing that relies upon Steiner’s cosmic forces for its shaky nonsensical rationale whereas Permaculture, regardless of the religious convictions (or lack thereof) of its founder, Bill Molison, is trying to make sense of the high productivity of eco-systems and transfer those qualities to organised food production; no mysticism is required or implied. Indeed, I once asked Bill, when we were attending a meeting in Bristol many years ago, what the science was behind Permaculture. His honest and revealing answer was “We’re not sure, but we’re trying to raise funds to computer-model the biochemistry to produce reliable guidelines for communities in different climatic zones.” I have no idea if that has happened in the intervening years but I hope it has.
So, within the TT movement, there is certainly respect for rationality when it suits the TTN’s agenda. But the pick-n-mix attitude to rationality exemplified by the overlap of rational green politics and the irrational New-age agenda is unhelpful if those who end up controlling the agenda are more concerned with mysticism than rational enfranchisement.
In Totnes, a town renowned for its links to a profoundly New-age social class and otherwise politically Conservative, many of the movers and shakers, within green activism generally and within the South Devon Green Party, are linked to Anthroposophy and/or Goethean mysticism.
Local Writer James Long, author of the (excellent) re-incarnation novel ‘Ferney’, for example, is a Trustee of the pro-Anthroposophy Tudor Trust (one of the funders of the TTN) and is a tutor at the Arvon Foundation and is closely involved with the Dartington ‘Ways with Words’ festival. Dartington also hosts the Schumacher College. Coincidentally, a James Long was also one of the winners in the Song4Devon competition in which the ‘Blood and Soil’ values I have outlined in this piece played a prominent role in connection with the promotion of the New Devon Flag.
The late Brian Goodwin of Schumacher College, who sadly died last month (as I write) in July 2009, was one of the college’s teachers of Goethean Science and was on the board of TTN. The anti-rationalist roots of Goethe’s proposals being fundamental to Theosophical, Anthroposophical and Nazi ideals. This is not to say that Brian Goodwin had anything but good intensions (as far as I am aware) but it is to say that Anthroposophical influences might easily go unnoticed or be supported at Schumacher College.
Schumacher College’s Satish Kumar, currently Visiting Fellow and Creative Director of the Dartington Tagore Project and someone I’ve known slightly, on and off, for nearly 30 years, hardened his ‘spiritual’ lines of argument when he was Director of Programmes at Schumacher. I’ve always admired Satish’s commitment to peace and education yet my last conversation with him in November 2007 was revealing. In an introductory morning session for a short course at Schumacher, he announced that all endeavours towards peace and environmental stability must be spiritual journeys and that it is only by acknowledging one’s spirituality that meaningful change can come about. In the past his position was that it is where science and intuition meet that the most powerful insights occur. As a non-spiritual person, that previous position, though not entirely to my liking, seemed to me to be reasonably inclusive. Over lunch, we greeted each other with usual affection having not conversed for a number of years. After catching up for a few minutes, I pointed out the change in his position and suggested that his new position disenfranchised rationalists from the debate generally and from the course I was attending in particular. His reaction was surprisingly aggressive and, like so many peace-loving mystics, he ended up pointing his finger at me saying, “Nick, Nick, you can’t expect people to deny their true spirituality to accommodate your irrational scientific outlook; it’s your attitude that has created all the problems!” with that, he turned away and started a conversation with someone else. In subsequent discussions with others attending and teaching the course, it was clear that my feelings of exclusion were thought to be without cause and unreasonable. In an afternoon session I mentioned my reservations again and was met with a stony reception; not one person offered the slightest support; yet combating exclusion and supporting local needs used to be at the heart of Schumacher’s Buddhist Economics in which:
..production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life..
When a thing is intelligible you have a sense of participation; when a thing is unintelligible you have a sense of estrangement.
The errors are not in science but in the philosophy put forward in the name of science.
Within the limits of the physical laws of nature, we are still masters of our individual and collective destiny, for good or ill.
From: Small is Beautiful, Schumacher E.F., Abacus Edition 1974. pages 49, 68 and 75 respectively
It was a sad end to a long association with someone who, in the past, had offered much wise and good advice. But while such anecdotal experiences do not a theory make, it serves to illustrate a growing and observable trend away from the meeting of science and spirituality upon common grounds to a polarisation in which science must be subservient to spirituality; thus those of us who are not spiritual are, in effect, disenfranchised as mere technical functionaries within an anti-democratic hierarchy ruled by gurus and mystics. Such a change in emphasis within the environmental movement leads inevitably towards an ‘us and them’ mindset in which other horrors can flourish. E.F. Schumacher, for whom spirituality was vitally important, would be turning in his grave to witness such scant regard to rational discourse.
That Transition Town Totnes has been so successful is, in my view, in no small part due to the existence of Schumacher College and the South Devon Steiner School, both located at Dartington on the outskirts of the town. Indeed, the Steiner School is a common venue for many TTT events:
Saturday 11th October. . The Steiner School, 7.30pm for 8-10pm. £3 (£2 conc.)
Parallel Community: A platform for change
A talk by author & renowned dowser Hamish Miller in association with The Steiner School.
Live Rhythm Sessions
Held on the second Thursday of the month at the South Devon Steiner School. Sessions cost 9TP or £10. Contact Fanny on 866317 for details.
The TTT enterprise is also enlisting celebrity endorsement from famous faces connected to Anthroposophy.
Transition Town Totnes
Garden Share Scheme: A partnership between CSF and Transition Town Totnes (TTT) has resulted in the urban local food initiative called Garden Share. The basic idea is that householders can give spaces within their gardens to people who are willing and have time to cultivate food (such as people waiting on allotment lists). In return, householders receive a share of the produce. In this way TTT maintains a kind of dating agency to bring food growers without land to gardens without food growers. It is a win win relationship and so far there are a growing number of garden shares spreading throughout Totnes. Hugh Fearnly Whittingstall was so impressed he featured it in one of the River Cottage programmes on television and even set up a website to set up a similar scheme at national level!
Of course, Hugh Fearnly Whittingstall might not know anything about Anthroposophy but the fact he banks with Triodos and is mentioned as an inspiration by many Biodynamic farmers only reinforces the mistaken idea that Anthroposophy is a force for good. In so many ways the all-encompassing network of approval, in which Steiner is involved, is typified by the links evident at Schumacher in respect of Transition Town Totnes:
Resources (with potential for project based work)
Alongside the speakers and tutors, the participants and the Schumacher community experience, there is our unique library, access to computers and wireless network, our evolving Edible Landscape Permaculture project and the adjoining Agro Forestry Research Trust; the surrounding gardens and woodland; The Dartington Hall Trust (including Landscope, Steiner School, MA Art and Ecology) and other local Projects such as Transition Town Totnes, LandMatters, Steward Community Woodlands, Embercombe, Forest School.
The legitimacy of Anthroposophy is also enhanced locally by the University of Plymouth.
BA (Hons) Steiner Waldorf Education
This unique and innovative course enables you to study an alternative approach to education. The Steiner Waldorf Schools movement follows a distinctive international curriculum. Our degree course studies this while making a comparison with current educational thinking and practice in Britain.
As the only UK university to offer such a course, one wonders about the ways in which the university policy makers square their support for the doctrine with their equality policies. This might not be a problem if their promotional material did not emphasize support as opposed to critical analysis:
What the students say
“I went to a Steiner school myself so I was aware of Steiner teaching, but it wasn’t until I was working as a volunteer in East Africa that I decided I wanted to teach. I enjoyed all of the course but what particularly appealed to me was the international aspect of the teaching: looking at different approaches to education and studying issues in a global context. I was able to carry out my Teaching Practice in Kenya and Tanzania. I am keeping my options open at the moment, but may take a teaching job in Kenya or America.” Hazel Jarman, BA (Hons) Steiner Waldorf Education graduate
Hazel Jarman’s support for the international aspects of the course and her experiences in Africa, when combined with the Anthroposophical view that “The white race is the race of the future, the spiritually creative race.” make one shudder. If Hazel Jarman and the university are unaware of the racism being supported, it does not say much for the academic professionalism of the university or the depth of Hazel Jarman’s studies, particularly as Anthroposophical pedagogy is in the syllabus:
- A foundation for developing an understanding of Waldorf pedagogy, the main teaching focus being the 7-14 age range
- The philosophical/Anthroposophical approach that underpins the education is a core element
- Opportunities to develop an initial perspective by artistic work and visits to Steiner Waldorf and mainstream schools
The power, poignancy and horror of the university’s commitment to Anthroposophy does much to explain my own experiences as a student (on an entirely different course I hasten to add) at Plymouth in which my commitment to rational discourse was not met with enthusiasm by many of my teachers or my peers.
Coincidentally, the name Jarman crops up again in Anthroposophical circles:
Gloucestershire Stroud Hills: Ron and Stella Jarman, 67 Bowbridge Lane, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 2JN, Tel.: 01453 750477
I have no idea if Hazel, Ron and Stella are related or not. Yet another Jarman, Mel Jarman, the leading light of the Buck The Trend group (to which I referred earlier in this piece) might too be related. Indeed, on the same page as the Gloucester entry there appears:
South Devon: Buckfastleigh: Derek Lapworth, 10 Chapel St, Buckfastleigh, Devon TQ11 0AB 01364 644010, Totnes Area: Diana White, 0l803 866670
The above address is a few doors away from the address of the Anthroposophical Christian Community at 23 Chapel Street in Buckfastleigh, a few minutes walk from my home, and the venue for the Biodynamics talk I had objected to in my e-mails to Mel Jarman. It is interesting too that one of the reasons Mel gave for choosing to set up Buck The Trend, as opposed to setting up Transition Town Buckfastleigh, was to ensure that the people of Buckfastleigh could make practical, down to earth choices concerning reducing the town’s carbon footprint; unencumbered with some of the more mystical elements of the Transition movement such as “The Great Unleashing”. Indeed, it was her assurance that Buck The Trend was not a mystical organisation that gave me the confidence to join in the first place.
Thus far, I have not shown that the Transition Town Network and Transition Town Totnes are controlled directly by Anthroposophy. But I have demonstrated that in its international organisation, and in its local practice, the Transition Town Network is heavily influenced by Anthroposophy and quite willing to be partnered with Anthroposophical organisations and individuals. For rationalists and for non-white people this is extremely problematic. Racism, when unchallenged is, by default, supported and normalised. The political and social consequences of normalised racism are clear and history shows us just how horrific those consequences can be. In some respects, the TTN is aware of such dangers in as much as there is much emphasis on inclusive, resilient communities. But within the TTN and TTT literature there is the attempt to de-politicise the very issues in need of political analysis. The historical and current colonial capitalist enterprise (that has in no small part fuelled the irrational worship of unrestrained consumerism) may not promote, as an explicit philosophical doctrine, that ‘might is right’ but, as a political machine, capitalist forces behave as if such a doctrine was its driving force; in short, capitalism has built upon the medieval power-structures from which it sprung.
One of the naiveties of libertarian politics, typified by right-wing anarchists such as the economist Friedrich Hayek, is that social justice can not exist in a free society because resources can only be distributed by the price mechanism unless distributed by totalitarian regime. In Hayek’s schema, an unregulated free-market goes hand in hand with the spontaneous and uncontrolled creation of efficient distribution mechanisms in which the price mechanism ensures that all those capable of participation have access to goods and services. In conversation with the Reason organisation Hayek confirms his views:
Hayek: I think there is a little shift recently as a result of my outright attack on the concept of social justice. It is now turning on the problem of whether social justice has any meaning at all and, of course, social justice is essentially based on some concept of merit. I’m afraid I have shocked my closest friends by denying that the concept of social justice has any meaning whatever. But I haven’t been persuaded that I was wrong.
Reason: Well, then, why isn’t there any such thing as social justice?
Hayek: Because justice refers to rules of individual conduct. And no rules of the conduct of individuals can have the effect that the good things of life are distributed in a particular manner. No state of affairs as such is just or unjust: it is only when we assume that somebody is responsible for having brought it about.
Now, we do complain that God has been unjust when one family has suffered many deaths and another family has all of its children grow up safely. But we know we can’t take that seriously. We don’t mean that anybody has been unjust.
In the same sense, a spontaneously working market, where prices act as guides to action, cannot take account of what people in any sense need or deserve, because it creates a distribution which nobody has designed, and something which has not been designed, a mere state of affairs as such, cannot be just or unjust. And the idea that things ought to be designed in a ‘just’ manner means, in effect, that we must abandon the market and turn to a planned economy in which somebody decides how much each ought to have, and that means, of course, that we can only have it at the price of the complete abolition of personal liberty.
Hayek’s unreserved support for the fascist Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet somewhat undermines any claims that Hayek’s supporters might have concerning a positive appreciation of Hayek’s ethical values. Far-right and neo-conservative organisations, for whom Hayek is a guru of sorts, are greatly in favour of individual freedom and antipathetic towards social justice; they are (in their own eyes) bravely standing up to Political Correctness and rarely support civil rights. Within that social and political milieu typified by the promotion of free-market, spontaneous self-organisation, the freedom of the ruling elite to be racist (or sexist or homophobic or islamphobic) outweighs the freedoms denied to groups subject to unreasonable prejudice and social pressure; for such privileged anarchists, society (and thus social presure) does not exist and every individual has as much chance of winning the capitalist race as any other; it is no coincidence that one of Hayek’s greatest admirers was Margaret Thatcher (also a personal friend of Pinochet) and that some of her greatest admirers are the power-elite at New Labour.
The Transition Town movement, I hope and imagine, would not see itself as supporting dictators like Pinochet. Indeed, Transition Culture suggests that one of the criteria for setting up a transition initiative is human rights:
13. a commitment to strive for inclusivity across your entire initiative. We’re aware that we need to strengthen this point in response to concerns about extreme political groups becoming involved in transition initiatives. One way of doing this is for your core group to explicitly state their support the UN Declaration of Human Rights (General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948). You could add this to your constitution (when finalised) so that extreme political groups that have discrimination as a key value cannot participate in the decision-making bodies within your transition initiative. There may be more elegant ways of handling this requirement, and there’s a group within the network looking at how that might be done.
Yet, if one searches the Totnes Transition Town website (at the time of writing) using the search-term ‘racism’, not one single example is returned by the search engine. The search term ‘feminism’ likewise yields no results. ‘Human Rights’ returned only 6 results: Two in relation to Albert Bates, a speaker at an event who had experience in human rights campaigning; one in relation to mobile phone masts; two in relation to HIV and one in relation to diverting tax. And though one is thankful that human rights are mentioned in passing concerning the above issues (HIV/aids in particular), none of the search results were in relation to inclusivity and enfranchisement in respect of race and gender; it is as if such social problems did not exist.
The Hayekian resemblance is further enhanced by the TTN’s opinions concerning spontaneous organisation as the Transition Initiatives Primer explains:
Although you may start out developing your Transition Initiative with a clear idea of where it will go, it will inevitably go elsewhere. If you try and hold onto a rigid vision, it will begin to sap your energy and appear to stall. Your role is not to come up with all the answers, but to act as a catalyst for the community to design their own transition.
If you keep your focus on the key design criteria – building community resilience and reducing the carbon footprint – you’ll watch as the collective genius of the community enables a feasible, practicable and highly inventive solution to emerge.
TTN’s Naresh Giangrande outlines how these community initiatives link to anarchism:
This is an anarchic, grass roots, democratic, citizen based initiative. We are aiming to reclaim power over our lives and the resources in our area. We will certainly engage with local government, but will act independently from local government.
We are staying out of party politics, but parties might want to align themselves with the process, or not!
Neither of us has any idea how the process will unfold and where it will go. That’s part of the beauty of it for me. It’s unpredictable. We have set the process in motion and then are allowing it to happen. Chaotic in the sense of chaos and complexity theory. There is no way of predicting what might happen or when, like predicting the stock market or the weather. We will be responding to events and happening as and when they happen, and let those events and happenings guide us. When dealing with complex systems with many different feedback mechanisms and inter-relations there is no way of knowing how they will inter act and what will be created.
Open space events: Whoever comes is the right person. Self organising. Whoever wants to be part of it can, and can take whatever responsibility or role they wish.
And, as with Hayek’s schema, the independence of money and the support for free-market price mechanisms seem to be fundamental to the Totnes Transition Town model. The creation of the Totnes Pound, a local currency designed to promote local spending, is, in many ways an admirable enterprise in terms of attempting to mitigate capital flight. But without a clear strategy backed by the enfranchisement of minorities and disadvantaged groups it is also an effective mechanism of sterling capitalisation; essentially selling vouchers and putting the proceeds into a bank account controlled by the chosen few.
And in the case of the Totnes Pound, the chosen few are those on the Totnes Pound steering committee:
- Noel Longhurst
- Nigel Topping
- Robert Jackson
- Ben Brangwyn.
Apart from the fact that the committee is made up entirely of white men, itself a shameful state of affairs given that these people are in charge of an alternative currency, I note the following:
Noel Longhurst is a supporter of Steiner education and is a leading contributor to the Norwich Steiner School; often advising on financial issues.
Nigel Topping is a financial and business consultant and a consultant for Embercombe. Embercombe’s CEO, Tim Macartney, wrote a book called “Finding Earth, Finding Soul, the invisible path to authentic leadership”. From what I can gather, Embercombe is rooted firmly in the mystical ‘Blood and Soil’ tradition and has close links with Steiner Schools and has hosted Anthroposophical events.
Robert Jackson keeps a low profile and I was unable to find out much about him via internet searches.
Ben Brangwyn, is one of the founders of TTN and is on the TTN steering committee/governing body. He lectures frequently on matters concerning the Totnes Pound and Lewes Pound. Though one might consider that to be on a committee in charge of the Totnes Pound and be a founder of the TTN and be a leading light in TTT was a series conflicts of interest waiting to happen, there is no evidence to suggest that Ben is anything other than a respected individual.
What is of interest here is that 2 of the 4 in charge of the new currency are heavily linked to Anthroposophy. In that respect, the Totnes pound is to all intents and purposes a micro-representation of Triodos at the local level. As every Totnes pound is matched by sterling in the aforementioned account, one also wonders where the account is held. The power-relations at work here are either conceived naively or with political aforethought.
In conclusion to this section
In my brief survey of the links between the Transition Town movement and Anthroposophy I have demonstrated that the Steiner machine is hugely over represented and has tied the TT movement to the corporate world with which it shares a love of power and domination; the mystic racism of Steiner echoing the imperial capitalist project that has shaped the modern world and turned us all into mass-consumers. The fact that the Transition Town movement is all about mitigating over-consumption and offering alternative economic models should not convince one that the corporate links are trivial. In effect the TT movement is setting up a parallel system of economics and political action that can be easily controlled by the corporate sector if, and when, a sufficiently momentous calamity befalls global capitalism. With the banking crisis and the global economic crisis still in flux, the scene is set for the rapidly expanding network of Transition Towns to become ever-more appealing to the land-owning middle classes as peak-oil and climate change further undermine the viability of the global market system.
In many ways, such parallel systems are essential to ensure that there is a viable alternative if global economic collapse becomes a reality; in that respect I support what the TT movement is doing. But because it is so heavily controlled by Anthroposophists and their corporate masters, the opportunities for the disenfranchisement of all but the white elite are frightening. And with no visible democratic process or equalities policy in action, I am concerned that the TT movement could easily become the eco-fascist state-within-a-state in times of trouble.
The above is an excerpt from
Copyright Nick Chulapatnabongse Na Nakorn 2009 all rights reserved