The Threefold Social Order – has it been forgotten? (Part 2)

Guest Post by MICHAEL SPENCE

Part 2 of 3

2 Hindrances and Obstacles

In my observation there are several factors or obstacles that presently make it very difficult for people, or even prevents them, coming to a clear perception of the threefold social order. I give below what I think are four of the major factors why so little progress has been made over the years. If progress is to be made, these need to be understood and worked around.

1) People often attempt to arrive at an understanding of economic activity along the path necessary in other fields of anthroposophical study, that is, along the inner path of thinking and meditation. The path to all forms of higher knowledge is one that an individual has to go alone – “in the loneliness of his study”. That is right for those active in the cultural sphere of society. But a truly social form of economic activity cannot be sought along that lonely path. That can only be achieved in any particular place or time by, and in conjunction with, those actually active in that community.

What products of economic activity people need, the values they place on any particular product and the prices they are willing or able to pay vary from place to place, from time to time, and from one people to another. There is no universal reality in economic life. What people want, and what they can or are willing to pay will constantly vary according to many factors such as climate, fashion, religion, people’s ages and educational attainments. In markets, whether of products, commodities or financial, whether small and local, large or global, prices will always fluctuate. Immense work and study goes into predicting future prices, but they can never be actually known. This is why markets, particularly financial markets, take on the characteristics of gambling casinos.

New inventions are being created, new products thought up and produced. For most there is no possible certain knowledge as to whether they will be wanted and so will sell at a particular price until they are actually put on the market. We do not see the many that are put on the market but fail. Watch the television programme “Dragon’s Den” and one soon sees the uncertainty in it all.

The economy is a creation of human beings, not of the spiritual world, and in our time an understanding of it can only be reached by human beings active in it and working together in community. There is no other way.

Rudolf Steiner points to this particularly in the final lecture of

The Esoteric Aspect of the Social Question[i].

Human beings of course must not only seek the path to the supersensible world and to nature, but out of their own thoughts they must seek the path leading to social life. However, as social life cannot be developed alone but only through really experiencing other people, the lonely people of our modern age are not exactly best suited to develop social thinking. Just when they came to the point of wanting to attain something worthwhile by means of their inner forces, the results of their efforts turned out to be anti-social, not social thinking at all! People’s present-day inclinations and longings are the outcome of spiritual forces arrived at in loneliness and are given a false direction by the overwhelming influence of ahrimanic materialism.

. . . .

If you look into Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s “Geschlossener Handelsstaat” you will see that it is the social ideal of a person who really and truly was endeavouring his utmost to tread the highest paths of knowledge, and who developed the kind of thinking that constantly tended towards the supersensible world. However, when he tried to work out for himself a social ideal, even though it came entirely from his heart, we see that the very thing that suits us when we pursue for ourselves the highest ideals of knowledge is a handicap when applied to the kind of thinking necessary for working in social life. The kind of spiritual work Fichte did requires to be done alone, whereas social thinking has to be worked out in a community of other human beings, where the chief task of the thinker is to consider how the social organism might be laid out so that people may work together in the right way to found a social existence within the social realm itself. . . .

And another extract from:

The Social Question[ii],

Above all we must learn really to think as modern people, so as to come to a formation of a social judgement in the modern sense – but let us not take that superficially, Ladies and Gentlemen. We can only do this if we see into the depths beneath the surface of social phenomena. There it is revealed that however clever and however intelligent and even idealistic and practical a person may be – I should like to underline the word practical three times – the individual as such cannot attain to a social judgement. It is a social mystery, Ladies and Gentlemen, that every individual judgement on a social question is a false one.

Study what clever judgements were passed when the gold standard was introduced into Europe. Whoever steeps himself in what was said at that time in trade associations, in Parliament – I am not saying this ironically, but with full conviction – there you have an excellent example of human cleverness. It was very impressive to hear all these extremely clever people talk, or at any rate to absorb what was said from the middle of the nineteenth century about the influence of the gold standard upon the social ordering of the world. And it was above all emphasized, so logically and so practically as to be very impressive, that if we had the gold standard free trade would flourish. The very opposite has happened. We have been obliged to see the customs barriers erected again as the direct consequence of the gold standard, which means that exceedingly clever people looking into the future have talked nonsense.

This is not a complaint. It has happened because the cleverest people, however many of them there are, talk utter nonsense as regards their social judgements if they speak as individuals, if they judge only with what comes out of the single individuality.

Hence today it is not at all a question of allowing ourselves to be moved by all the wide spread misery in the world. The individual can form no judgement as to cause and effect. We have to go deeper. We have to look to the organisation of humanity. We have to ask ourselves how a real judgement can come about.

It is probably true to say that a very large number of articles published on the threefold social order have been written by people involved in work in the cultural sphere, that is, in spiritual work that requires one to work “in the loneliness of one’s study” – the way least suited to understanding the social problem. That, of course, is where most anthroposophists work, or where their anthroposophical interests lie. Many of these articles have been carefully thought through and are often interesting to read, but too often do not lead into the actual practice of life, into how practically to work into social life. Others seem to remain in the realm of academia, they give the impression that the writer has not experienced the practical side of life, the actual activity of production and distribution, nor of the dehumanising effects of much of economic life and so have not properly understood what it was Steiner was actually saying.

All true cultural activity of necessity starts from a form of egoism. Division-of-labour, the basis of all economic production, increases in productivity the more people work together in mutual cooperation in order to produce not what they themselves need, but what is needed by others. Egoism works in the opposite direct to division-of-labour and nullifies its benefits to the community. Steiner goes into this in an interesting and informative way in lecture three of World Economy.

I was happy to see Steiner’s very important lectures on economics back in print. But it provides interesting examples of what I have just been indicating. Firstly, it is unfortunate that the title has been changed from “World Economy” to “Rethinking Economics”. Much in those lectures points to the fact that the actual economy at the time the lectures were given was beginning to evolve from the stage of many self-contained national economies trading with each other to the stage of a one-world economy that has to be complete in itself. But economic thinking of the time had itself remained at the stage of national economies. Now, in our time, the fact that we are in a partial world economy is widely accepted and economic thinking is already concerned with the problems of world economy. It seems to me extraordinarily unfortunate that just as the world economy he pointed to, and that these lectures were a sort of preparation for, actually becomes reality the words “World Economy” should be dropped from the title and the name “Rethinking Economics” given them instead.

If we look at this new title, what is actually meant by the word “rethinking”? What is being “rethought”? It is clear from the lectures that Steiner did not start with thinking, he started with observation. As I have shown above, he pointed to the fact that one could not come to an understanding of economics by thinking alone. In these particular lectures, he says:

World Economy[iii] lecture 10

This is the great difficulty which besets the formation of economic ideas. You cannot form them in any other way than by conceiving things pictorially. No abstract concept can enable you to grasp the economic process; you must grasp it in pictures. Whereas it is just this which makes the learned world so uneasy today – this demand, no matter in what sphere of thought, that we should pass from the mere abstract concepts to ideation of an imaginative kind. Yet we can never found a real science of Economics without developing pictorial ideas; we must be able to conceive all details of our Economic Science in imaginative pictures. And these pictures must contain a dynamic quality; we must become aware how such a process works under each new form that it assumes.[iv]

This also applies to the working of “economic-associations”, the essential future organising and leadership organs of the economic sphere. The imaginative pictures Steiner speaks of above can only be arrived at by people actually involved in the economic process, and then each can only come to them as he sees them from his particular activity. To put it simply, we can say that the producer will see the economic process he is involved in from the point of view from where he stands in it, similarly the distributer and consumer will come to different pictures from where they stand. Only when the three come together, in the right sense of community, the sense for the economic process as a whole, will the group be able to come to a correct picture of the whole. The individual, out of himself, cannot do this.

I would like to give another example, also from Rethinking Economics, of the present widespread approach to an understanding of economics and threefold social order that may seem trivial but which I believe is, again, too symptomatic not to be taken seriously. In the penultimate paragraph of the last lecture of the original translation of World Economy[v] Steiner is translated as saying: For this very reason, ladies and gentlemen, it gave me deep satisfaction to see you here, prepared to work with me during these two weeks, thinking through the realm of economic science. I thank you sincerely. I may express this thanks, for I believe I see how significant it is – how very much those whose position in life today is that of students of economics can contribute to the healing of our civilisation and to the reconstruction of our human life.

In Rethinking Economics the words I have underlined have been changed to: that those who stand in life today as academics

The notice on the title page gives the translators as A.O. Barfield and T. Gordon-Jones, that is, the original translation was used in the new publication. But it is clear that the translation has, in places, been edited. I have no problem about that, provided the editing is an improvement or correction. But why, in this case was “students of economics” changed to “academics”? It makes no sense to think that Steiner would say to students of economics who have just been working with him through fourteen lectures and workshops that “academics”, or “students in general”, can contribute to the healing of our civilisation and to the reconstruction of our human life. Clearly he was referring to the people he had been working intensely with – students of economics – because this particular subject was important and had to be approached and understood with different faculties than other “academic” subjects. But in this edited translation an important point that Steiner had made a particular point of saying has been lost. There is much about this particular publication of Steiner’s lectures that seem to want to take them into the cultural/academic world. But as I have tried to point out, Steiner himself suggests that there, in what is right for cultural/spiritual studies, they cannot be understood correctly. The cultural and economic spheres of social life have to be seen as very different, in fact as, in every way, opposites. What is true and right for one is almost always untrue and harmful for the other.

2) To understand a second major factor that has caused, and continues to cause, considerable confusion in attempts to understand and work with the threefold social order, it is necessary to differentiate between two usages of the word “social”. (What I say here relates to the English word, but I believe it is also true when applied to the original German). One usage refers to human society as a whole and how it is organised. When Steiner spoke of the threefold “social” order, or of the “social question” he clearly referred to human society as a whole, its inherent threefold nature, and of how it needed to be organised or structured. Any smaller grouping or organisation cannot exist in isolation, only as part of the whole. In such smaller grouping the three sectors will, of course, be present and need to be taken into account according to their own natures, but they do not exist on their own.

The second usage of “social” is quite different in that it relates to the way in which people, singly or in groups behave and interact. It is in this sense that it is most widely used in anthroposophical circles. How people relate to and interact with each other in any social group, whether in a common study, a cultural activity or in a business or other economic organisation arises out of their individual lives of soul, and their karma. This is a question for each individual, not for humanity as a whole. Working with this can only be a matter for the cultural realm of human society.

The work of the NPI (Netherlands Pedagogical Institute) founded by Bernard Lievegoed, was an activity clearly within the second usage of this word. In its early years, and as it has developed since, it has been involved in working with and advising individuals, groups and organisations on social, development and management problems. It has done important work in enabling people to work together in, for example, overcoming personal antipathies and coming to difficult decisions. The threefold social order and the restructuring of human society as a whole according to its three quite different sectors has never been part of its primary impulse. But not all the people who became involved in the work of the NPI were able to make the distinction and considerable confusion arose, particularly, in my experience, in the 70s and 80s of the last century, and, in some people’s minds, has continued ever since.

Through the Social Development Centre at Emerson College I got to know a number of people from the NPI who came onto the staff there. I myself was then fairly new to anthroposophy and to the ideas of the threefold social order. In many discussions with them, some of whom became friends and for whose work I felt great respect, it became clear that they did not differentiate between these two usages of the word “social”. I did not understand this then but from what I knew of the threefold social order, I knew something was wrong – what they were teaching was something quite different. For example, they spoke of the “spiritual”, “social” and “economic” spheres. In the cultural/spiritual sphere they placed man’s relationship to the world of the higher hierarchies, in the social sphere the world of human beings and their relationship to each other, and in the economic sphere man’s relationship to the lower kingdoms – the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms. In their particular work and teaching this was quite correct, but it was quite different from everything Steiner said of the threefold social order. Clearly the rights sphere of the threefold social order – the sphere of the State, of law and order, of that which relates solely to life between birth and death – cannot also be the social sphere which includes karmic relationships. This and other such discrepancies have led to considerable confusion. Later, Ernst Amons, who had at one time worked very closely with Lievegoed particularly in the founding of the Vrije Hogeschool, told me that Lievegoed himself had told him that he had never worked closely with Steiner’s threefold social order. His work arose from his medical training. Much then became clear to me.

The work of the NPI fulfilled an important need, both in anthroposophical organisations and in the world at large, but this confusion, has contributed to the fact that work with what Steiner had brought of the threefold social order has slowly been pushed to the background and has now almost been lost sight of. Until this unfortunate but understandable confusion is recognised and worked with I do believe there will be little understanding of what Steiner gave us as the threefold social order.

Another result of this, when looking at organisations active within the economic sector, the focus of people’s consciousness has tended to be focused on the single organisations, seeing each as separate from others and complete in itself, rather than on the process of production of which the single organisation plays only a part and could not exist except as a part of the whole. So the focus of our consciousness has not reached to world economy, and will not do so until we first come to see the single economic organisation as fulfilling one or more functions within a world economic processes. Only then will we come to a perception of the one world economy.

Another factor arising from this is that, so long as we see only the individual organisations, and do not see the economic process that includes the many productive organisations, each also working on and playing their part in the production and distribution of each completed product, what Steiner pointed to as Economic Associations will not be fully understood.

The economic problem is not a question of individuals learning to bring morality into their work, but of people learning to work fruitfully for all humanity according to the inherent moral nature of the economic process of production and distribution based on division-of-labour.

3) A third problem is this: If we look at the whole range of activities founded on the work of Rudolf Steiner: education, agriculture, arts and crafts in all their forms, medicine and therapy, science, Christian Community, banking, consultancy and others, these are all activities or occupations in their own right in all of which there are people actually involved in and carrying the work professionally. But the threefold social order is something quite different. It is not an activity, occupation or profession in its own right. Like anthroposophy itself, it touches and therefore concerns every human being. It is anthroposophy, or spiritual science, itself giving form and structure to the practical side of social life. Only when this is enabled to come about will the individual feel that the practical arrangements of the organisation or community in which he works is true to his own threefold nature, and so feel at home and able to make a full commitment to the whole. At the beginning of the lecture “The Mysteries of Light, of Space and of the Earth”[vi] Steiner refers to the threefold social order as the practical side of spiritual science: “When in the present time the practical side of our spiritual scientific effort, the Threefold Social Order, is placed before the world as the other side has been . . . .”

But this can only be achieved if some understanding of the threefold social order, and the will to bring it into the organisation, lives within those active in the organisation, particularly those in positions of leadership and management. It is not enough for just one or two people to have the impulse and understanding to achieve what is needed. In my view, the will to structure the organisation on the basis of its threefold nature and of understanding something of what this means must live in more than just a small minority of those carrying the work of the organisation.

There are, however, difficulties to be overcome before anything like this can be achieved. The great majority of people carrying important work in anthroposophical organisations already work long hours and put all their energy into that work and into studying what they need in order to strengthen and deepen that work. They are, understandably, reluctant to give time to studying something that they do not recognise as directly contributing to their particular work. So the threefold social order has too often come to be treated as something extra and beyond what a person needs for his work, a special interest or even something like a hobby. It is not given the serious study and support that it needs if it is ever to enter into the life of humanity and to bring the healing forces and the reconstruction of social life so desperately needed.

4) There is a widespread tendency, particularly in the world at large but also in anthroposophical circles, to act and think as though money has a reality in itself. We assume we have something because we bought it, because we paid money for it. Our consciousness stops there. Because, in the complexity of today’s world economic productive process, we cannot know all that had to happen in order that what we want could be there in the shop for us to buy, it does not mean that we should act as though it comes into being in the shop and we have it because we pay money for it. That becomes a denial of the reality and nature of the actual world economic process and, more seriously, of the existence of all the people who labour in it, a large part of the world population.

In not seeing the actual productive process we come to see the money as that which enables us to have what we buy, and in the money we sense mysteries that are not actually there.

When we do look at the productive process the focus of attention too often stops short at management and business, and we have come to see “business” as the actual economic sector of social life. The productive process and the people who labour “on the factory floor”, those who are the real economic workers, are too often not seen.

We live on what is actually produced by human activity, not on the money which stands for, or represents, its economic value.

When we see money as having value in itself we fail to see and distinguish between money that stands for something real, a product of people’s work – real money – and money that comes into being when what are matters properly belonging to the sphere of human rights, such as land or shares in a business, are treated as economic products, which they are not, and are bought and sold on the market. This money does not represent anything real – it is a false or counterfeit money in that it purports to stand for an economic value that it does not.

Before we can come to any clear idea of the true nature and form of the three different sectors of social life we must first come to see beyond the money. Only then will we come to clarity as to what is an economic product, what is a human right and what is the proper sphere of the free cultural/spiritual life. Until we come to clarity in this we will never come to the threefold social order. Money itself has taken on the qualities of a veil or fog through which it is hard to see what actually is real. There is an enormous amount of research, discussion and written works given to understanding money and of how to heal the economy through controlling the money, but comparatively little attention to the actual social economic process itself. Until the focus of our attention comes back to the economic process and away from looking into the assumed mysteries of money, we will not come to an understanding of the social question.

Rudolf Steiner says of money in World Economy[vii]

In the circulation of money we have, in effect, the world’s bookkeeping. This is, as everyone can really see for themselves, what should be aimed at. In this way we give back to money the only quality that it can properly have – that of being the external medium of exchange. Look into the depths of economic life, and you will see that money can be nothing else than this. It is the medium of exchange of services or things done. For in reality human beings live by the things actually done, not by the tokens thereof.

 

(Part 3 follows)

[i] The Esoteric Aspect of the Social Question – GA328 – lecture 4, Rudolf Steiner Press – 9/3/1919, Zurich

[ii] The Social Question, GA305 – lecture 2, 28/8/1922, Oxford

[iii] World Economy lecture 10, page 129, Rethinking Economics page 124

[iv] The Esoteric Aspect of the Social Question – GA328 – lecture 4, Rudolf Steiner Press – 9/3/1919, Zurich

[v] World Economy – lecture 14 penultimate paragraph

[vi] The Mysteries of Light, of Space and of the Earth –GA194 lecture given in Dornach on 15th December 1919

[vii] World Economy, lecture 14, page 176, Rethinking Economics page 172

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Emerson College UK, Rudolf Steiner, Threefolding

The Threefold Social Order – has it been forgotten? (Part 1)

Guest Post by MICHAEL SPENCE

Part 1 of 3

On a recent Saturday, the anthropopper made his way to Rudolf Steiner House in London, where he and other members had been invited to meet the Vorstand from Dornach (the Executive Council of the Goetheanum) as well as many of the general secretaries from the European national societies and the Council of the ASinGB. The meeting was a rare opportunity for conversation on topical and important issues concerning anthroposophy and the future direction of the world Society. We had been asked to send in questions in advance on topics that we wished to discuss. Bearing in mind that Rudolf Steiner had said that, following the failure of his threefolding initiative at the end of the First World War, another opportunity to gain a hearing would not arise until one hundred years had passed, it seemed to me and several others that this is exactly the time when the Society should be seeking a wider audience for these ideas.

So it was serendipitous that on returning from what, from my perspective, was a disappointing meeting, I had an email from Michael Spence with the following essay attached. Michael is a former bursar of Emerson College, who was closely involved with Francis Edmunds in developing the college, where he carried responsibilities for finances, administration and the campus. He also ran study groups and lectured on the threefold nature of social life. He has written an excellent history of the college (The Story of Emerson College) as well as a truly inspiring book (After Capitalism) calling for a fresh look to solutions to our present social, environmental and economic crises. He has kindly given me permission to publish his essay here as a guest post in 3 parts. Parts 2 and 3 will follow in due course.

Part 1 – The Question

When one looks at all that has been achieved and that is still being developed within the fields of work initiated by Rudolf Steiner one can indeed be truly impressed. In education, agriculture, the many forms of art, medicine, therapy, Christian Community and others there are people deeply committed to the work and to taking further what Rudolf Steiner gave. But next to all this there seems to be one glaring exception – the Threefold Social Order. In this there has been minimal, if any, achievement. In fact it seems to have been largely forgotten or ignored.

In 1917, towards the end of the First World War when Europe was in chaos, and for the next four years Rudolf Steiner dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy to promoting the ideas of the threefold social order. He gave very many lectures to members and to the public, he wrote articles and a book and also touched on the subject when lecturing on other subjects. He met and discussed these ideas with leading people in government and business. He saw it as important, and not just because there was an opening at that time for new ideas. Humanity had reached a point in its evolution of the consciousness soul when the form of its earthly social structure had to be given a form more appropriate to its needs. As the newly emerged butterfly requires a different environment in which to unfold its wings than the caterpillar from which it emerged needed, so the individualised free human spirit seeks an environment different from that required by the group soul from which it has emerged. That environment is the threefold social order. Without this and held back in old forms of social structures originating in the theocratic group soul societies, the emerging individualised consciousness soul feels cramped, unfree and unable to fulfil itself.

Since Steiner gave us the threefold social order, money and the financial system have grown even further beyond the reach of human intelligence and control. This is made clearly visible in, for example, the inability of any government or independent organisations to come to any practical idea of how to halt the continuing widening gap between the rich and the poor, between those who have immense wealth and those who cannot provide for themselves even the basic necessities for a life worthy of a human being.

One of the main causes of the increasing wealth of the few, and of the power of money itself, is the fact that today our present legal system makes it possible for certain matters, properly belonging to the sphere of rights such as land, labour and shares in a business, to be owned and treated as economic products, which they are not, and sold on the market at ever increasing profit for the holder without any actual reciprocal economic value being created. Anyone who observes life as it is today, and understands something of what Steiner pointed to as the threefold nature of society will see other such distortions creating similar social aberrations.

But, despite all the huge commitment of time and work Steiner gave to it and the importance he placed on it, what has been achieved in this field? Is there anywhere where something of what he gave has been brought to practical expression? It seems that now, despite the very great and urgent need for it, we have nothing to show or give the wider world.

I was privileged to work with Francis Edmunds at Emerson College where I met and began working with these ideas in 1967. When he founded the College, he did not consciously set it up on the basis of the threefold social order. In later discussions with him I came to recognise that in all his wisdom he did not have much more than a fairly rudimentary knowledge of it, but he did recognise its importance. He had been one of the leading teachers at Michael Hall School in England. He set the college up intuitively on the foundation of his deep understanding, out of anthroposophy and his experience of young people, of the needs of the human being as a threefold being living at this particular time in human evolution – the time of the awakening of the consciousness soul. In doing this he, and those who worked closely with him, could not help arriving at a form for the social structure and the practical administrative side of the college that was, at the same time, true to the inherent threefold nature of human society. (I go into this in more detail in my book The Story of Emerson College[i])

In later years, as I worked more deeply into the threefold social order, I came to recognise the inner necessity that in striving to place anthroposophy as the foundation of every aspect of an organisation or community of work, particularly into its social structure and its practical affairs, then, so long as one is able, with a certain amount of courage, consciously to step aside from the conventional and generally accepted way of doing things, one must arrive at a form of threefold social order.

From my observations I am convinced that there are in the world at large many people destined for, or already in, positions of leadership and influence in, for example, business, politics and government, trade unions and law, who are seriously looking for new ways to order human affairs. Many of these will have brought with them through birth a strong impulse to bring healing to the social life of humanity. Some will already carry within them, just below waking consciousness, a picture of what is trying to come into being within the being of earthly humanity. I met mature young people at Emerson who instantly recognised the reality of what Steiner gave as the threefold nature of human social life. Why do these people not find the anthroposophical movement? Where in the anthroposophical world does a wider imaginative picture of the threefold nature of human society and of what it is striving to become, live? Where has this been a dynamic in the forming of, and can be experienced in, an anthroposophical organisation and institution? To where or to whom can people seeking the true form of human social life, that which actually wills to come about, turn?

Clearly the present world social order cannot continue indefinitely. A social order that is a true expression of the threefold human being of today and of the future must come about and is the only one that can enable humanity to overcome much of the present social chaos and suffering. That is why, after I retired from Emerson College I wrote and called my book “After Capitalism[ii]. This was written as my attempt to contribute something of the threefold social order and of economics and money which Rudolf Steiner had given us – so far as I then understood them – in a form acceptable and capable of being understood by the wider public, particularly of the Anglo-Saxon world of the 21st century. It was written mainly for the wider public, particularly for those in business, government and social affairs. So it does not include the more esoteric aspects of the threefold social order. I sensed that amongst such people, rather than amongst anthroposophists, there would be many who, out of the experience of their practical work, would recognise the sense of much of it. The question for me was how to reach them.

This book was based on some 25 years of study and on striving to understand what became for me, as bursar of Emerson College, the practical foundation of my work. In carrying responsibility for the financial, legal and economic matters in a form true to the cultural purpose of the college I had to strive to make sure that decisions on these matters were based on the same spiritual truths as was that which was taught in the classrooms and experienced in the Christian Festivals and in the social life of the college.

I came to realise that in the wider anthroposophical community interest in the threefold social order was declining. Too many of those former students with whom I worked in study groups when they got into their work of teaching, farming or other such important work, though still interested, gave all their energy to doing their best in the profession they had taken up. When I first tried to find a publisher for After Capitalism no anthroposophical publisher to whom I sent it was interested. Sevak Gulbekian of Rudolf Steiner Press said to me “You run a bookshop; who will buy this book?” (At that time, after retiring, I ran the Emerson College Bookshop) When I thought about it I had to recognise that he was right, hardly any anthroposophists would buy it. A leading non-anthroposophical publisher commented that while they found the ideas expressed in the book interesting, booksellers were reluctant to stock books that covered such a wide variety of subjects in the one book. Eventually, in 2014 Adonis Press in the USA published it. From this and other observations I came to the question: why is there so little interest in the threefold social order? In all other areas of the work inspired by Rudolf Steiner remarkable progress has been made in deepening and spreading what he gave. In almost all areas the anthroposophical work, time and again, leads the way in the world rather than just touching the edges, or following behind what others in the wider world are doing.

As a first step towards finding an answer to my question I decided to look more closely at the website of the Social Science Section of the School of Spiritual Science and particularly at the monthly newsletters. I looked to see what there was in these letters that, on the basis of the threefold social order, could help people to a perception of what actually underlay the financial crisis. And, further, was there anything there that pointed a way to healing the discords and deep social injustices, poverty and suffering arising from the chaotic state of human social life?

I do not speak German but looking through about ten of the recent English translations of the newsletters I found virtually nothing. It was predominantly reports and articles by people or organisations, most probably sympathetic to, but with little or no connection to anthroposophical spiritual science. Reading many of them I found myself questioning their relevance or connection to what I imagined the work of the social section could be. The threefold social order was almost never even referred to in any form. It was almost as though Steiner had never written the books and articles nor given the many lectures that he did give – or that what he gave then is of little importance in our time, as though it was only relevant for that particular time.

Yet it is only on the foundation of what Rudolf Steiner put so much of his time and effort into that any sense can be made of the deepening human social chaos of today. The basic nature of the threefold social order he pointed to is just as real and relevant today as is what he gave of the threefold nature of the human being. Only on the foundation of this is it possible to come to a real and penetrating perception of what underlies the social disorder and conflicts of today and to find a way to a more equal, just and truly human world social order that can and will include all humanity.

I am not trying to point to any failing of the newsletter itself nor of the people who obviously put so much work into it, but to what one can see there as being an indication of a sort of gap, an emptiness, in the work and consciousness of the wider anthroposophical movement. The newsletter seems to me to be a fairly true reflection of the state of anthroposophical understanding of the threefold nature of human society today.

From my experience it seems that in most anthroposophical institutions there are serious splits between what, in schools for example, we can refer to collectively as the office and the classroom. In the work in the classroom there is, certainly in the great majority of Waldorf Schools a serious commitment to founding the work on anthroposophical spiritual science. But there is seldom any such serious anthroposophical basis to the work in the office. Whereas it is often merely difficult to get sufficient teachers for the work of the classroom, it is almost impossible to find people with a similar level of understanding of the threefold social order so as to bring anthroposophy also into the practical organisation of the school. Even if such a person is found there is too often a lack of support, if not actual resistance from the teachers, for the changes in the organisation and procedures that will probably be needed in the school organisation. Conventional procedures are often thought of as more “professional”. If such a person is found he or she will often find that the teachers look down on his or her work as unspiritual.

We understand the meeting of the child with the teacher as having its roots in earlier lives, as a working of karma. The teachers understand this and take it deeply into their teaching. But in the office too often there is little or no consciousness of the working of karma, that on a deeper level the teacher is doing what he does out of karmic necessity, not in order to earn money. What he is paid enables him to live, it frees him to fulfil his life’s work. In the office conventional established procedures tend to be followed and the teachers treated as being employed to do certain work as laid down by the employer and described in job descriptions. According to the contract they work for a salary consistent to the work they do and their particular experiences and qualifications. The salary is payment for the work, it is a purchase. In such an arrangement there is no recognition that karma lies behind their coming to this particular work – work they actually do because only in the doing of it will they find inner fulfilment to their lives. So there is a lie, an untruth, within the being of the school, and this has its effect. The discord that then exists in the environment of the school is felt or sensed, even if unconsciously, by more people than is generally recognised.

There is, of course, still good work being done. There are many different aspects of the threefold social order that have been and are taken up and worked with. But people appear to concentrate on particular questions that relate to their work or that especially interest them. Discussion groups often take certain questions or problems and try to understand them in the light of particular current situations. But where has all this study and discussion manifested in practical expression?

Rudolf Steiner referred to the economic sphere of activity as the “social sphere” or as the underlying area of the “social problem”. Anyone who can put aside the usual perceptions and judgements of economic life commonly held today by virtually all of us, and look quite objectively at the realm of economic activity as described by Steiner in his lectures World Economy[iii], will recognise that the economic activity of production and distribution is, in its essential nature, a social and moral activity. Neither the rights nor the cultural sectors can properly be called social in the same way.

(Parts 2 and 3 to follow)

[i] The Story of Emerson College – published by Temple Lodge, UK in 2013 – ISBN 978 1 906999 44 5

[ii] After Capitalism – published by Adonis Press in USA in 2014 – ISBN 978-0-932776-45-7. Earlier version translated and published by Remedium Kft in 2012. Now also published in French by aethera pour Triades in 2016

[iii] World Economy, GA340 14 lectures given in Dornach 24/7 to 5/8/1922 – published in 2013 by SteinerBooks in USA as Rethinking Economics.

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Filed under Emerson College UK, Rudolf Steiner, Threefolding

An open letter to Frank Thomas Smith

Dear Frank,

You have asked for comments on your “Apologia” for publishing your translations of the lessons of the First Class of the School of Spiritual Science and making them available for anyone to read in your Southern Cross Review.

When you first began publishing your translations, I wrote to say that I did not on the whole agree with what you were doing and now that you have completed this very long task, which must have been a labour of love on your part, I would like to add a few more thoughts.

I will refer here to what Steiner himself wrote about the First Class for people who were not members of the School of Spiritual Science. These comments were set out in various letters published between January and June 1924 and originally printed in the News Sheet issued by the Goetheanum. Steiner had very clear guidelines for both how the content of the lessons should be received and also for what was expected of people who wanted to become members of the School. I would like to look at these indications of Steiner’s, to see which of them might still apply today.

We could start by looking at what Steiner said were his intentions for the School:

“…what we need is the place which gives what is given nowhere else: namely, that which can guide man into the spiritual world. And that is intended to be the content, in the strictest sense of the word, of the School of Spiritual Science.” (Lecture at Dornach, 18th January 1924)

Steiner also gave an outline of the nature of the classes:

“… the aim is to give insight into the experience of the ‘threshold’ between the sensory and supersensible world. For those who really seek knowledge of the human being it is necessary to understand how everything that ‘nature’ reveals in the way of beauty, grandeur and nobility cannot lead to the human being. The inner human being, working in the external world, does not have his source in the natural but in the spiritual world. But into the latter the senses and the brain-bound intellect cannot penetrate. These inevitably cease their activity where the human being seeks to engage with the world of his origin. But where this activity ceases the human being initially finds himself incapable of perceiving anything. He gazes into his surroundings and, as though it were ‘nothing’, the darkness appears to him that is present due to this incapacity. This incapacity can only give way to spirit-beholding capacities as the human being becomes aware of higher forces within himself which form the ‘spiritual senses’ in the same way that the physical forces of the organism form the body’s senses. This depends on a complete transformation of the inner life from one form of existence to the other. In this transformation, a person must not lose the one form of existence before he acquires the other. A proper process of transformation results from the right mode of experience at the ‘threshold’. Knowledge of the human being in his true essence is only possible from a perspective beyond the threshold. Someone who wishes to absorb with healthy human reason the communications of a seer that come from the realm beyond the threshold must also have a picture of what the seer experienced at the threshold. He only becomes able to properly judge the supersensible realm when he is also aware of the conditions under which knowledge of this supersensible realm is gained.

One will only be able to give content to the words with which the results of supersensible vision are expressed when one understands what the seer underwent before he acquired the power to form such words. If one does not understand this, it appears as if the words do not signify supersensible but sensory things – and this leads to confusion. The words become deceptive, and instead of knowledge, illusion arises.” (GA260a)

Was Steiner trying to keep these things secret?  Definitely not; he said that the Anthroposophical Society is “an absolutely public Society like any other Society…not in the least hedged-in from the outer world…we must not be in the least bit narrow-minded when it comes to the admission of members.” When speaking about the relation of the individual member to the Society, he emphasised: “What we may call the teaching and spiritual impulses of this Society can be understood by every one if only he will use his everyday human intelligence…you do not need any kind of initiation or the like.”

But Steiner also said that most people “do not like to admit that the spiritual can be clearly seen and understood. Most people have not the necessary courage. They find it comforting to say: ‘The spiritual world is that which a man divines but cannot understand – it is the great secret.’ Now spiritual science always consists in the unveiling of this secret – so that the secret is made manifest before the world.” (30th January 1924)

So from the foregoing, it is clear that Steiner did not wish to prevent anyone from knowing about, or finding access to the spiritual world – quite the contrary. This would seem to accord, Frank, with your desire for openness about the text of the Class lessons. But this does not mean that it was right for people to come to these lessons with no preparation.

On the contrary, he advised that only those people who had been members of the Anthroposophical Society for two years should apply to join the First Class:

“… for two years, one should endeavour to find one’s bearings in all that the Anthroposophical Society already contains…Whoever has not been in the Society for two years will not be well advised to enter a Class at once.”

Steiner’s reasons for saying this seem to have had at least some of their foundations in what he perceived as the necessity for community: “…you must go into the Society, or into its several groups, not merely in order to learn what is there said or even debated, but simply because the human beings are there. You must be able to go there for the sake of human beings…The human being needs the human being.” (ibid)

As far as applicants for Class membership were concerned, Steiner addressed those who were involved with what he called ‘playing at esotericism’ and the creation of cliques: “You find it too difficult to get to grips with the esoteric content of life itself; you find it comfortable to talk about the esoteric. When esotericism passes from mouth to mouth, no matter with what unction, then it is idle esoteric chatter…this among other things does untold harm… Therefore within the Classes, in future, the question of trust and confidence will have to be taken most earnestly. It will be quite invalid for people to say: ‘Having been in the Society for two years, I now have a claim to be received into a Class.’ “ (ibid)

If members of the General Anthroposophical Society (GAS) were inclined to cliquishness and esoteric chatter, then Steiner and the Society leadership reserved the right not to admit them to the Class: “Whoever wishes to gain entry merely for the sake of curiosity, or in the hope of hearing something different in the Classes than he can hear in the General Society, should therefore think again and rather decide not to seek entry…The point is that those who are in the Class should become the true representatives of the anthroposophical cause…The care of the anthroposophical cause will be in the hands of the School…the School of Spiritual Science must consist of those who feel themselves through and through as representatives of the anthroposophical cause.” (ibid)

Steiner felt that the GAS provided people with spiritual knowledge, and anyone could become a member of this without taking on further responsibilities. But he also felt that: “…we must have a group of people who penetrate through the exoteric to the esoteric, and this cannot be achieved unless one shoulders definite responsibilities. For if none could be found to take on these responsibilities, then…anthroposophy would not be able to exist…it will be essential that all members of the Class also state their complete willingness to cultivate anthroposophy in the world and to stand as its representatives.” (3rd February 1924)

So, Frank, it seems to me that by publishing on the internet the Class lessons, you have done several things which could be unhelpful:

  • You have short-circuited the two-year period of preparation that Steiner thought was necessary and which could be done by joining the Society
  • By putting them online, you have taken the Class lessons outside the context of human community which Steiner thought was essential
  • You have made the texts available to people who may not be ready for such esoteric concepts and thereby could be “put off”; and by so doing, have perhaps deprived them of an opportunity to benefit from these lessons within the proper and supportive context of a group.
  • You have given scoffers and opponents the chance to quote these lessons, which are bound to seem fantastic and absurd to those who have as yet no understanding of the spiritual world from which we all come
  • You have given opportunities, specifically warned against by Steiner, for spiritual tourists to engage in esoteric chatter without getting to grips with the esoteric content of life itself.
  • The lessons are steeped in esoteric knowledge and require much background preparation from the student. They are not to be read or talked about like stories from a newspaper, or thought about with our everyday kind of thinking. So these texts are not for intellectual or casual reading, but require a certain cast of mind, as well as preparation and commitment, before engaging with them.

Do you still feel that publishing the Class lessons was a good idea, Frank?

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, School of Spiritual Science, Spiritual Science

It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism…

…yet this is what the world needs if we are to survive our present multiple crises. Rudolf Steiner showed 100 years ago what an important role the overcoming of capitalism must play if we are to have any hope of finding our way to a future for the earth and all its species.

The anthropopper nevertheless tries to be positive and optimistic whenever possible, despite everything there is to worry us. We are undergoing not only what has been called “the sixth great extinction” but also an intense transformation of our society and what we thought were our certainties; and all this is happening at a speed which leaves us both breathless and disorientated. It is, of course, capitalism and globalisation that are forcing the pace, facilitated as they are by information technology and the omnipresent internet. These forces have brought with them economic liberalisation, falling trade barriers and tariffs, and the all-consuming imperatives of global corporations. The effect of these changes and the emphasis on the individual has led to the gradual dissolution of some of the traditional glues that have held society together, such as trade unions, religious organisations, political parties and voluntary associations. Hand in hand with this we have developed a scepticism, even a contempt, towards authority and the establishment. Our cynicism has only been encouraged by the way in which giant international corporations have been able to ignore borders and national loyalties and play off one country against another. They are beyond the effective control of national governments and can move their capital and profits around to wherever labour costs and regulatory requirements are lowest. We can all see that politicians have lost the plot, and despite their continuing pretence that they can control events and improve the situation for ordinary voters, we no longer believe them.

Corporations can now go wherever labour is cheapest and they can drive down workers’ pay with pernicious new forms of employment, such as zero hours contracts, which reduce their costs and responsibilities. While corporate profits soar through such devices, by the same process the job security and spending power of workers decline. This is not just making the working classes poorer, it is also affecting a growing number of the middle classes, who are less able to buy the products and services which these corporations are selling – so this is not only leading to the economic stagnation we have started to see all around us, it is also the start of a process by which global capitalism has started to eat itself. As Francis Bacon observed so wisely, “Money is like muck – not good unless it be spread.”

Middle-aged men who had expected to be breadwinners no longer feel in control of their fate, so they vote against a rich elite and for someone like Donald Trump, who despite being a billionaire, makes noises as though he understands their plight. I’ve decided that the key to understanding Trump is not to listen to what he says, but to look carefully at what he does. In my last post, I noted how the victory speech he gave after Clinton had conceded was a sign of his duplicitous style, going against everything he had said about her in the lead-up to the election. Similarly, during the election campaign, Trump said he would “drain the swamp” of Washington insiders and lobbyists. Instead of draining the swamp, the appointment by Trump of several billionaires and Goldman Sachs bankers to his administration shows that, in the words of Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, he is bent on stocking it with alligators.

At the time of writing, Trump has appointed 12 multi-millionaires, billionaires, Goldman Sachs bankers etc. to his cabinet, presumably on the grounds that, as they have feathered their own nests so well, they may be able to look after the country’s interests too. Either you believe that Trump is appointing poachers who may turn into gamekeepers, or else all his anti-corporate rhetoric in the campaign was just a pack of lies. So in this extraordinary era of post-truth politics, let us remember to watch what Trump does and not be taken in by the words he says.

I said in my last post that this new era of politics, with Trump at its head, is likely to be ugly; and so it is proving. Looking at the appointments in more detail, some worrying trends emerge:

Steven Mnuchin, 53, a former Goldman Sachs banker with a net worth of $40 million, has been appointed Secretary of the Treasury, with a brief to cut corporate taxes.

Scott Pruitt, 48, who as Oklahoma’s Attorney General made his name by opposing climate change policies such as the Clean Power Act, has been appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He is on record as saying that the EPA has too much power.

Andrew F. Pudzer, 66, an anti-abortion lawyer turned fast food magnate, has been appointed Secretary of Labour. His experience includes opposing the raising of the minimum wage at his two fast food chains.

Jeff Sessions, 69, with a net worth of $15 million, and who was rejected for a post as judge during the 1980s amid claims of racism, has been appointed as Attorney General. His brief is that there should be less focus on investigating the deaths of black people in police hands.

Mike Pompeo, 52, a lawyer and former soldier who is now a congressman who sits on the intelligence committee, has been appointed as director of the CIA. He believes in the effectiveness of torture and his brief includes a loosening of the rules on “enhanced interrogation” and drone strikes.

Trump’s attitude to the environment is of course a disaster and perhaps it is the impending ecological catastrophe that should worry us most of all. Species extinction is the clearest indicator of what’s happening to ecology, and is the factor that will precipitate its collapse unless we stop it. We are currently losing around 100 species per day. When species loss, soil erosion and climate change turn countries into deserts, as is happening, then the scale of recent migrations into Europe will be dwarfed by what is heading towards us. As the global population heads towards 10 billion, while at the same time, desertification and ecological collapse are reducing the earth’s ability to feed us, many millions of people are going to be on the move in coming decades, and there is also likely to be a drastic population crash. It’s now conceivable that humanity as a whole may not survive into the 22nd century.

Now one could be very pessimistic about all of this and much else, just as George Monbiot is in this article, but as I say, the anthropopper likes to look for the tiniest hints of a silver lining; and in my view it’s just possible that a Trump presidency might wipe out the complacency that would have accompanied a Clinton-led administration, and the belief that if only Hillary were in the White House, we’d be slowly moving in the right direction and everything will eventually get back to normal. Everything is not going to get back to normal. Ecological damage is accelerating, which means that we’re on the path to extinction; and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a smaller and smaller number of people takes away the ability of the rest of us to do anything about it. This would not have been changed in the slightest with Clinton as president or Britain voting to remain in the European Union. Could the sheer unfolding horror of the Trump presidency be part of the shock we need to realise that we’re looking at an existential crisis for the human race; and that business as usual, including the Democratic Party, the European Union and other corporate-controlled institutions, is never going to solve it?

It is impossible to get to grips with our current ecological crisis as long as we have an unfettered capitalist economy. The present day extinctions cannot be understood in isolation from a critique of capitalism, because the constant emphasis on growth, growth, growth is destroying ecology.

Economic growth always results in an increase in spending power and it is of course impossible to ring-fence this increase in spending power so that it’s not spent on material things. Therefore, economic growth has to stop, because it always produces material growth, and we’re already past the limits of the material human economy that can be sustained without damaging ecology. Our economic system is destroying our life support system, and as we can’t afford to lose our life support system, we have to replace our economic system or suffer the consequences. This is simple logic but as the title of this post indicates, for most people it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.

As mentioned above, Rudolf Steiner stated these things 100 years ago. Since then, conditions – not only in big cities – have become much worse. An ever growing inner emptiness can be observed, especially among young people, many of whom, to my eye at least, seem to be aging prematurely. What future do they have, these young people of my daughter’s generation? Some of those I meet are talking of moving from the UK to Berlin, where they might stand some chance of buying their own home one day; they are in despair over Brexit, which seems likely to deprive them of the opportunity to live and work in other European countries; but the real source of the emptiness in their lives lies elsewhere.

In this Age of the Consciousness Soul, it appears to us human beings that we are no longer linked to the world in the same way that people were in earlier ages. This has been an essential preliminary condition for the achievement of our freedom and egohood but as Stewart C. Easton has pointed out in his Man and World in the Light of Anthroposophy, it has meant that our attitude to the world has become necessarily a cold one. It is our urgent task today to overcome this coldness, to change our cold, dead, materialistic thinking into the spirit-infused warmth of living thinking that connects us once again with the earth and all living things. The philosophical basis of this has been set out by Rudolf Steiner in his book, The Philosophy of Freedom, but in essence all that we humans need to overcome our present dilemmas is to have a loving heart and a sense of connection with all of life – and then to act on our knowing.

There is something about the capitalist system which drives out of people’s minds any sense that there are realities other than economic reality. Anything which is not based in economics is dismissed as airy-fairy or unreal. This has led to our present situation in which the human personality, together with the spiritual-soul nature of the human being, is separated from the economic process. We cannot expect this to change until capitalism is changed. Humankind does not willingly prepare for crises. It’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve. The only way I know of in which capitalism can be overcome in a healthy way is through what Rudolf Steiner calls the threefolding of the social organism. After the failure of his efforts to persuade politicians to introduce this at the end of the First World War, he was asked whether another opportunity to do so would occur.  He replied that it would take 100 years before a new chance would arise.  We are now approaching that point and I’ve no doubt that I shall have more to say about this in 2017.

 

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Trump, Clinton and Brexit plus,plus,plus

In my post of March 3rd 2016 I referred, rather rudely, to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as “the arsecheeks of Ahriman.” The implication was that the 2016 USA presidential election represented a Hobson’s Choice (ie a non-choice or no choice at all) between two routes to a place you really wouldn’t want to go to.

Upon further reflection, I’m not sure that this was entirely fair. The defeat of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump could have at least one upside – it could signal the end of neo-liberalism, that pernicious doctrine that came in during the 1980s and 90s, signed up to by Reagan, Clinton, Thatcher, Bush, Blair etc and which marked a decisive end to the post-Second World War social contract that I had grown up with, and rather liked. Neo-liberalism brought us privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade and market “solutions” to problems we didn’t realise we had, and the ever-increasing enrichment of the super-wealthy 1% (who lied that this was necessary because it would lead wealth to trickle down to the rest of us). It also brought us the financial meltdown of 2007/8 and the realisation that as the banks were bailed out and hardly any bankers on either side of the Atlantic were prosecuted for their crimes, it would be the taxpayer who paid the price of their behaviour.

What neo-liberalism also led to, for most of us, was a stagnation or decline in our incomes and living standards and deterioration in our public services. In the USA and much of the Western world, the basic morality behind the idea that ‘if you work hard, you get ahead’ has broken down, because people’s wages and salaries have not kept pace with rising prices, and many of their jobs have disappeared. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics in the USA, the hourly wage of blue-collar workers doubled from the 1940s to the 1970s, but has flat-lined ever since then. At the same time, the free movement of capital has allowed factory jobs to be lost to poorer countries abroad. Since 2000, the real median wage in the USA is down by 14% and the real low wage is down by an incredible 26%.

This wage stagnation took place during the sixteen-year period covering the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, so it became clear to voters that both Republican and Democrat parties were going along with it; and neither party was concerned enough to do something to reverse the trend. But Donald Trump, a man described by his son as a “blue-collar worker with a bank balance,” had noticed what was going on and spotted an opportunity. The image Trump likes to project is that of a man surrounded by bling and with a trophy wife, who eats fast food in front of a TV screen tuned to Fox News – the epitome of the American dream for a certain demographic. For white, working-class voters, Trump represents a break with the cosy arrangements between big business, big banks, big media and big politics that had shut them out from the dream and put them economically and culturally in retreat. The irony of looking to a billionaire with inherited wealth to rescue them from their predicament was presumably less of a factor than their hatred for the Washington machine-politicians who had brought them to such a pass.

These people suspected that a Hillary Clinton presidency would have continued the same old policies with the same old corrupt arrangements with big business and lobbyists, while failing to deal with issues such as illegal immigration which had done so much to undermine their own living standards. Why on earth would they vote for four more years of that?

How could Clinton offer hope when she helped create this situation in the first place? In fact, she systematically destroyed the candidacy of Bernie Sanders – the only politician in the US who really spoke to the anger of ordinary voters. This is why her Wall Street connections and her former position as a Walmart board member were so deeply resented. Trump may be a boorish billionaire, but politically and economically, he is less responsible than Clinton for what has happened. When he said, “Make America great again”, it resonated. When Clinton replied, “America is already great”, it seemed like a sick joke by someone from the elite to whom neo-liberalism had been kind.

From my perspective here in the UK, Hillary Clinton was, just like Barack Obama, fully signed up to the GMO/Monsanto agenda; she would have pushed for TTIP to be implemented; she would have put post-Brexit Britain at the back of a 10-year queue for a trade deal; and she would probably have got into a war with Russia. It might have been nice to have had a woman in the White House but that’s about the best thing you could say for Hillary – no-one was going to vote for her with any real enthusiasm, other than that she wasn’t Trump. So I can’t say I’m dismayed that her presidential bid has crashed in flames and the Clinton political dynasty has come to an end.

Now, that is not to say that I’m happy about the election of President Trump, either – far from it. What’s more, it seems very likely that he is bound to disappoint his supporters, who may believe that his promises should be taken literally (do they really expect a wall along the Mexican border paid for by the Mexicans, a total ban on Muslims entering the USA, Hillary Clinton in a jail cell, etc?). Their rage when he fails to deliver is going to be awesome to behold. The victory speech he gave after Clinton had conceded the result is a sign of compromises to come – instead of calling her “crooked Hillary” as he had done throughout the campaign, he called her “Secretary Clinton”, congratulated her on a very hard-fought campaign and said: “We owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country.”  His supporters, who just an hour earlier had booed loudly when her picture flashed up on the giant TV screens and chanted “Lock her up! Lock her up!” must have been puzzled by this sudden change of tone.

But, again from my UK perspective, with Trump there are going to be some moments to treasure. What, for example, will Boris Johnson (our new foreign secretary), say to excuse himself when he meets the new president? This is what Boris said in December 2015, as Mayor of London: “Donald Trump’s ill-informed comments (that there were no-go areas in London as a result of Muslim terrorism) are complete and utter nonsense. I would welcome the opportunity to show Mr Trump first-hand some of the excellent work our police officers do every day in local neighbourhoods throughout our city. Crime has been falling steadily in both London and New York – and the only reason I wouldn’t go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.” And here’s our former prime minister, David Cameron, also in December 2015: “I think his (Trump’s) remarks are divisive, stupid and wrong. If he came to visit our country I think he would unite us all against him.” And what about Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, who had previously stripped Trump of his role as an ambassador for Scottish businesses on the world stage after he had called for Muslims to be banned from the US, and who was vocal in her support for Hillary Clinton? What on earth will she find to say to excuse herself when Trump next comes to Scotland to visit the birthplace of his mother and inspect his two golf course businesses?  Oh, to be a fly on the wall when that meeting happens!

One of the few British political figures to have backed Trump is Nigel Farage, the man who beyond any other forced David Cameron into offering the Brexit referendum, and who said on November 9th: “Today, the establishment is in deep shock. Even more so than after Brexit. What we are witnessing is the end of a period of big business and big politics controlling our lives. Voters across the Western world want nation state democracy, proper border controls and to be in charge of their own lives.”

Of course, Farage is correct that there are several resonances between the situations in Britain and the USA. In Britain, those people who voted Remain didn’t do so out of any great love for the European Union (I’m not the only one who regards it as neo-liberal and anti-democratic), but because they liked the idea of having a passport allowing them to live and work anywhere in Europe. In the USA, I suspect most Clinton voters found it easier to find reasons to hate Trump than they did to cast a positive vote for Hillary.

As James Meek wrote in the LRB Blog:

“There are many similarities between the Brexit vote and Trump’s win. The reliance for victory on white voters without a college education, fear of immigration, globalisation being blamed for mine and factory closures, hostility towards data-based arguments, the breakdown of the distinction between ‘belief’ and ‘conclusion’, the internet’s power to sort the grain of pleasing lies from the chaff of displeasing facts, the sense of there being a systematic programme of rules and interventions devised by a small, remote, powerful elite that polices everyday speech, destroys symbols of tradition, ignores or patronises ‘real’, ‘ordinary’ people, and has contempt for popular narratives of how the nation came to be.”

And so it came about that a billionaire who has been characterised as a bigot, braggart, demagogue, idiot, liar, misogynist, narcissist, racist, sexual predator and sociopath was nevertheless chosen to become the 45th President of the USA.

Sixteen years earlier, The Simpsons predicted that Trump would become leader of the free world. In an episode, entitled ‘Bart To The Future’, broadcast in early 2000, Lisa Simpson, who had just been elected President in succession to Donald Trump, is pictured sitting in the Oval Office surrounded by advisers. “We’ve inherited quite a budget crunch from President Trump,” she says. Writer Dan Greaney told The Hollywood Reporter: “It was a warning to America. And that just seemed like the logical last stop before hitting bottom. It was pitched because it was consistent with the vision of America going insane. What we needed was for Lisa to have problems that were beyond her fixing, that everything went as bad as it possibly could, and that’s why we had Trump be president before her.”

Last month, the creator of the show, Matt Groening, told The Guardian : “We predicted that he would be president back in 2000 – but (Trump) was of course the most absurd placeholder joke name that we could think of at the time, and that’s still true. It’s beyond satire.”

Beyond satire it may be, but it has just happened. An era is ending and a new one is taking form. Despair, anguish, incredulity are expressions of grief for the lost era. But apart from the Blairites, Bushites, Clintonites and Goldman Sachs parasites who have enriched themselves, who else will really mourn the loss of the neo-liberal period?

This new era of politics, with Trump at its head, will probably be ugly. What it might mean for the future of NATO and the Baltic states, for European defence budgets, for the European Union, for the Paris climate change agreement, for Mexicans or Muslims, for relations with China, Russia, Iran, North Korea etc, for gun control and healthcare in the USA – who at this stage can say? What it might mean from an anthroposophical point of view, however, I will try to piece together in my next post.

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Filed under Brexit, Donald Trump, European Union, Hillary Clinton, Neo-liberalism

Biodynamics versus Permaculture

We had a lovely outing on a recent Sunday to Stanmer Park near Brighton, where the Brighton Permaculture Trust  had organised their 2016 Apple Day. Apple Day celebrates all things to do with the apple, including the revival of old Sussex varieties of apple, some of which the Trust has brought back from the brink of extinction. I’ve bought two of these Sussex varieties (Forge and Saltcote Pippin) for our garden and can’t wait to collect them for planting in December.

sussex-apples-via-welovebrighton-com

Delicious Sussex apple varieties on display at Apple Day

It was a wonderful autumn day with lots of sunshine and the fine weather brought out families in their thousands. Apart from the focus on apples (including cider-tasting), there were stalls from many local organisations and food producers, as well as morris dancers, a Brazilian salsa band and dancers, a ukulele band, a choir, talks about bees, scything demos, tours of the orchards, permaculture taster activities etc. It was all very good-humoured, well organised and a truly impressive example of a community-based activity that also put across a serious message about sustainability and caring for the earth.

The Apple Day came just a few days after news of the death in Tasmania on September 24th of Bill Mollison, one of the two founders of permaculture.

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Bill Mollison – photo via permaculture.co.uk

Bill Mollison was quite a character and the source of many pithy quotations. Here are some of my favourites:

“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”

“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.”

“I teach self-reliance, the world’s most subversive practice. I teach people how to grow their own food, which is shockingly subversive. So, yes, it’s seditious. But it’s peaceful sedition.”

“The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves.”

“If and when the whole world is secure, we have won a right to explore space, and the oceans. Until we have demonstrated that we can establish a productive and secure earth society, we do not belong anywhere else, nor (I suspect) would we be welcome elsewhere.”

 

If you’ve not come across permaculture before (the name comes from “permanent agriculture” but is also coming to mean “permanent culture”), it is both a philosophy and a farming and living method that grew out of the books and permaculture courses of Bill Mollison and his fellow Australian farmer and researcher, David Holmgren. Permaculture systems or gardens are modelled on patterns observed in nature. Structures, access and water systems are also designed to be energy efficient and placed with a focus on the relationships between elements of a system rather than on individual components themselves.

 

bill-david-via-drbenjaminhabib

Bill Mollison and David Holmgren – photo via Dr Benjamin Habib’s blog.

David Holmgren once explained permaculture quite neatly by saying “Traditional agriculture was labour intensive, industrial agriculture is energy intensive, and permaculture-designed systems are information and design intensive.” As a basic definition, permaculture is a holistic design system for creating sustainable human settlements and food production systems. It is a movement concerned with sustainable, environmentally sound land use and the building of stable communities, through the harmonious interrelationship of humans, plants, animals and the Earth.

Clearly the work of the Brighton Permaculture Trust is having an excellent effect in the locality – they have for example helped to establish about one hundred community orchards, revived interest in local food production and sustainable methods of agriculture, and they specialise in working with schools and community groups. They have made enough of an impact to attract sponsorship for Apple Day from Infinity Foods, one of the UK’s leading wholesalers for organic and natural foods.

The impression I got was that those attending the Apple Day are exactly the sorts of people who are concerned that our society has become estranged and alienated from nature, and that this increasing alienation has been to the detriment of both our health and the natural environment. My guess is that these are people who believe that there are effects of food beyond nutrition and that there are aspects of what constitutes a good life which go beyond the modern ideas of health and wealth. As such points of view become more widespread, they are gradually building a foundation for real change and for moves towards a more sustainable future. How many of these people know about permaculture in any kind of detail I can’t say (only a few, I suspect) but clearly they all know the name of the Brighton Permaculture Trust and associate it with the kind of things that they wish to support.

 

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Thousands of people attended Brighton Permaculture Trust’s Apple Day.

 

I couldn’t help but ask myself whether biodynamics would get a similar level of name-recognition from these people – my sense is that probably it would not. Biodynamics and permaculture, however, clearly have a great many of the same attitudes and aspirations. What are the differences and similarities between the two systems?

Permaculture would claim to be an applied science, as its focus is on the application of scientific knowledge to achieve certain practical aims. It’s not about gathering information just for the sake of research but for the purpose of putting its scientific findings into practice. Observation and experience as tools in permaculture suggest that it is not a theoretical discipline, but one grounded in practicality and everyday reality.

I would say that biodynamics shares all of these characteristics with permaculture, although some might argue that, as the origin of biodynamics lies with Steiner’s supersensible perceptions and observations, it is not a science in the same sense. But these perceptions and observations by Steiner have been followed up, tested and proved on farms around the world now for more than ninety years. So I think we can argue that biodynamics is also both an applied and an empirical science.

Another shared feature is that, unlike other sciences, both permaculture and biodynamics are holistic and not reductionist. Both of them describe the connections and relationships between natural systems, the multitude of living organisms on this planet, and the planet itself. Both share strong philosophical and visionary ideas about sustainable patterns of living and social and ecological ethics.

Similarly, both permaculture and biodynamics share the goal of creating an almost perfectly closed system, in which all the inputs come from your own resources and as little as possible is brought in from outside. Permaculture does, however, imply that your system grows towards a natural maturity and then sustains itself there, while biodynamics works with fewer permanent plantings and has crop rotation cycles over several years.

Biodynamics, of course, also takes into account the connections with the cosmos, which permaculture does not, except inasmuch as it involves planting by the phases of the moon.

But I think there is a fundamental difference between the two: permaculture deliberately does not have an underlying spiritual system, whereas biodynamics arises out of a particular philosophy and spiritual system – anthroposophy. It’s relevant to quote Bill Mollison here: “We can teach philosophy by teaching gardening, but we cannot teach gardening by teaching philosophy”. What I think he meant by this is that one’s personal philosophy should arise from one’s experience of caring for the Earth and the plants and one’s life experience – and not from reading about it. Not (of course) that this is how most people come to biodynamics – it is often because of the totally delicious food, or the sense that a biodynamic farm is a place where the wellbeing of the earth, plants and animals is tangible – but biodynamics may be seen as carrying a certain amount of historical and intellectual baggage from anthroposophy that is not always easy for people to get past.

 

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A display of French apple varieties – photo via Brighton & Hove Camera Club

 

And here I think is the reason why those people attending the Brighton Apple Day might find themselves feeling more at ease with permaculture than they would with biodynamics. It is because permaculture, with its claims to being a science with its own values and ethics, can co-exist harmoniously with most religious and spiritual systems (or indeed with none) without offering a challenge to them or anyone’s pre-existing spiritual outlook. Biodynamics, on the other hand, is all too often tarred with the “all muck and magic” brush – instead of what it really is, which is a super-advanced science that scientists may catch up with one day – or with some other straw man set up by skeptics in their attempts to attack Steiner and anthroposophy.

It is of course perfectly possible for a permaculture farmer to be biodynamic and for a biodynamic farmer to farm using permaculture techniques. My own view is that biodynamics is greater and more all-encompassing than Bill Mollison would ever have acknowledged; I suspect he would have said: “Permaculture is the wardrobe and biodynamics is one of the hangers inside,” which is probably the reverse of the actual situation.

But I also suspect that Bill Mollison’s approach is the one that is more likely to find favour with the kinds of people who attended the Apple Day. In one of the obituaries for Bill Mollison, some words from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu were quoted: “True change is to so change things that it seems natural to everybody but no-one knows who thought of it.”

That surely is how the change that we all so desperately need is coming – like a thief in the night, without governments or media being aware of it, but happening in the hearts and minds of people everywhere – until the necessary changes just seem right and natural and commonplace.  Biodynamics, permaculture, organics and good conventional agriculture will all have their parts to play in making this happen.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Biodynamic farming, Biodynamics, Permaculture, Rudolf Steiner

Daisy Aldan, Anaïs Nin and Rudolf Steiner

I have to confess that, until quite recently, I had not heard of the Pulitzer-nominated poet and highly regarded translator and teacher, Daisy Aldan (1923 -2001). But when I first came across her poetry and then learned that she was an anthroposophist who had also taught at Emerson College in the UK (where I now work) I was sufficiently intrigued to want to find out more.

Paul Matthews, who teaches creative writing at Emerson College, told me that he “never met Daisy Aldan, but I did correspond with her briefly. I understand that in the late Sixties, perhaps, or early Seventies, she gave (through Francis Edmund’s invitation) a Creative Writing contribution at Emerson College. She gave me the impression that if I had not appeared on the scene in 1972 she might well have been offered a more permanent role at the College. I hope that she has forgiven me by now! I did include a poem by her in the anthology that I edited for Rudolf Steiner Press.”

daisy-aldan

Daisy Aldan in a pose from eurythmy.

It seems that Aldan’s earliest book of poems was published in 1946. This was followed by The Destruction of Cathedrals and Other Poems in 1963, with a preface by Anaïs Nin, and Seven: Seven (Poems and Photographs) in 1965. During the 1970s, Aldan published seven books of experimental and lyrical poetry. Her non-fiction and prose works are focused on the topic of poetry and consciousness. In 1979 she published the novella, A Golden Story.

Aldan edited several important poetry magazines, including Folder Magazine of Literature and Art (1953-1959) and Two Cities (co-edited with Anaïs Nin and so called because it was based in both New York and Paris), from 1961 to 1962. She also published in 1959 a book-length anthology of poetry and drawings, A New Folder: Americans- Poems and Drawings, that she considered a continuation of Folder Magazine. She also edited and published translations of works by Stephane Mallarmé, Anaïs Nin, Albert Steffen, and Rudolf Steiner. Aldan also founded Tiber Press in 1953, publishing her own work and that of poets and artists who are today household names, such as Ginsberg, Kerouac and Jackson Pollock.

Poetry has rarely made anyone rich, however, and so to support herself, Aldan worked as a teacher at New York’s High School of Art and Design, where her presence became an institution. She retired from there in 1973 to devote herself to her writing. To this day, her former students remember her in glowing terms. One of these students, Renée Magriel Roberts, wrote that:

“Having Miss Aldan as a teacher, was like having a combination of the European continent and the Greenwich Village literary scene brought into the classroom. We were fascinated, but largely unaware of the importance of the writing and the people to whom we were introduced. For example, one day she brought Anaïs Nin to our class to talk about Cities of the Interior. We were constantly exposed to the work of European and American poets, especially those of the Beat Generation whom Miss Aldan knew well, for she was not only a poet and a teacher, but also the editor of a publication called “Folders”, which included original and reproduction art works and poetry. By combining translation work (she was a gifted translator of Mallarmé, Anaïs Nin, Rudolf Steiner, and Albert Steffen), writing, teaching, and editing and promoting the work of others, Miss Aldan created a viable living for herself, and also afforded herself the luxury of not only writing luminous poetry, but of having the time to encourage others to write as well. Our classes were filled with music, experimental writing, and rich mythological studies.… The idea of the “artist-in-residence” was integrated throughout the school structure, as opposed to being like an alien from another planet surrounded by traditional classroom goings-on.

What this meant, for us students, was that we were literally surrounded by excited, working artists. It was a school that nobody ever wanted to leave, overflowing with incredible work, music, literature, an excitement that also translated into the “core” subject areas. It was a very happy school. “

 

Another student, Marc Widershien, has left this account:

 “I first heard of Daisy Aldan in 1978.  Howard Gottlieb, Curator of the then Special Collections at Boston University, had asked me to find some poets whose work would be worthy of having a home at the Twentieth Century Archives. I must have discovered her through her celebrated Folder Editions which began publication in the early 1950s. Much of her tabloid is collected by the New York Public Library, and most of her papers are housed at the Beinecke Library at Yale. Daisy published mostly avant garde writers and artists, many of whom are still known. She was one of the first publishers of Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Rexroth, Kerouac, Jasper Johns, and de Kooning.  They were all there and none of them were known.

At the time I made her acquaintance she was a proponent of Anthroposophy, an offshoot of Theosophy, founded by the Austrian Rudolph (sic) Steiner who was also the founder of the Waldorf schools.  The school originated with classes for employees at the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. The schools are headquartered in Dornach, Switzerland, but have satellites all over Europe; but, there are many in America such as Pine Hill and High Moving in Wilton, New Hampshire.

Daisy loved Eurythmy which is a form of dance where speech is made visible through dance, a discipline developed by Jacques Dalcroze at the turn of the 20th Century; but of course, the Anthroposophists would never admit their debt to Jacques Dalcroze and the American-born dancer Isadora Duncan.  Steiner was an occultist. It was exciting material for a poet with spiritual aspirations, and that is what I find characteristic about Daisy Aldan’s work—along with her mastery of modern diction. She explored a super reality not only through her work but through her own personal development. But she was thoroughly grounded as well, and highly practical. Her poems, though, reflect her taste not only in Anthroposophy, but French Surrealism.  She was very interested, for example, in the secret society of the Cathars, who were Gnostics of the 12th Century, later persecuted by the Catholic Church, and finally exterminated through the machinations of the Spanish Inquisition. They were an affront to political power just as Aldan was through her free thinking which manifested very early in her relationships with people such as Anaïs Nin.

Daisy also was an innovator in the translating of French poetry. Her translations of Mallarme are outstanding, and only her version of Un Coup de Des is truly successful. Mallarme’s poem was symphonic in nature. She said that “Mallarme wanted it done on music sheets because it was structured like a symphony.” She tackled a number of writers, including Albert Steffen, the Swiss poet, Edith Sodegran and others. She knew many of the French surrealists. She was an actress, a poet, short story writer, critic, and a constant innovator.

For nearly 14 years, she was my friend and sometime confidante. I have reviewed some her books such as Day of the Wounded Eagle, A Golden Story, Climb Mount Parnassus and Behold, Between High Tides and others. She was unlike any American poet I had read. There was a European tradition in her work, but also the secret traditions of Gnosticism and the Jewish Kabbalah which abounded in her work. She would often write to me from Dornach, and describe her need to do Eurythmy as a way of getting in touch with her adytum.”

 

In 1959, Aldan had become friends with Anaïs Nin, who at that time was a struggling novelist with a small but dedicated following. Nin noted in her diary, “Daisy is a magnificent poet, of the highest quality, yet she has to publish her poetry herself. Her teacher’s salary goes into that.”

anais_nin

Anais Nin in the 1970s

Daisy Aldan and Anaïs Nin worked together on several projects, including a 1960 reading of “Un Coup De Dés” at the Maison Française in New York, where Nin read the poem in French, and Aldan read her translation into English. This reading was recorded and subsequently broadcast on radio. Aldan was also one of Nin’s New York friends who helped her keep her “trapeze life” (her bicoastal relationships with Rupert Pole and Hugh Guiler) from being discovered by her two lovers. She would take calls from Rupert Pole (whom Nin had told she was staying with Aldan) and explained that Anaïs “had just stepped out” and would have her return the call. She then referred to a card index upon which Nin’s schedule was written, call her with Rupert’s message, and Nin would then call him back, never missing a beat. According to Aldan, she was just one of many who helped Nin in this very complicated process.

Anaïs Nin seems to have regretted Steiner’s influence on Aldan:

“Daisy Aldan’s interest in Rudolf Steiner alienated us. She sees everything through his eyes. God is back again in her poetry – an abstraction. It has removed her from human life and psychology. I feel as if in the presence of a Catholic dogmatist: every thought controlled by a theory. She translates a bad (Swiss) poet, Albert Steffen”

From The Diaries of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 7 (1966-1974)

 

And, according to an entry in the Encyclopedia of New York School Poets, M L Rosenthal, in an article in the New York Times Book Review, “compared Aldan to e.e. cummings for ‘combining daring technique with sentimental conception’. The latter quality evolved into a spiritualism (sic) informed by Aldan’s study of Rudolf Steiner, with the consequence that her later work failed to engage the avant-garde audience that she had originally attracted.”

Is it the case that an interest in metaphysics necessarily leads to a diminution of one’s poetical abilities? Or is it perhaps that those who know you, but who cannot follow the evolution of your spiritual development, rather than engaging with or trying to understand your new direction, resort instead to deploring this apparent softening of your brain?

Stanley Kunitz, when he was Poet Laureate of the United States, said of Aldan: “The world that engages her imagination lies beyond the ‘merely temporal and physical.’ Like Mallarmé, to whom she has devoted much of her primary and influential work as a translator, her poems evoke an interior landscape of dream and reverie, from which she ‘wakes to the miraculous.’”

I will finish with a poem Daisy Aldan wrote about Rudolf Steiner:

Y o u   r a d i a n c e…

For Rudolf Steiner

You radiance in wind,

concentrically weaving in and out of window frames

in concrete and steel skeleton structures, whirl

 

toward my ruined orbit.

Help me to sprout coral branches of light

antennae of the Eternal, through the prison

 

of my skull. Lead my

resurrected INsight toward that mercurial

Sun-abyss where Archangels are holding council;

 

let me know those plans they’re

concocting for us down here. Let the eyes in your

photograph pasted to my wall, transmute to mine,

 

balance between Here and There.

Sweep, golden-angel-winged, into my monotonous

opacity, and spark that luminous

 

region near my heart

which, you say, moves to understand the stars,

that I may perceive Man’s spidery ties

 

to constellations:

And let my footsteps glide in tranquil three-time

pace, during the earthly sun-period of my brain;

 

for they are restless

as a broken radiator; and I am angry,

and gossip about my friends, and write popular songs.

 

Let the squealing tones

of my voice deepen, and my tongue learn the folly

of useless chatter. Make me wise to choose

 

to shun the Trap of Fame

whose prize is a great hunk of putrefacted cheese:

For I sniff at the plastic lures of the senses

 

and forget it is enough

for God to mouthe my name. Let Promethean fire

fill me, though chained to a rock; symmetry not entice,

 

nor the rectangles of Albers*.

Beholding, let me face the blind of back alleys:

And guide the words I write to join your beacon to the Gods!

 

(*a reference to the work of German-American artist-educator Josef Albers.)

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Filed under Anais Nin, Anthroposophy, Daisy Aldan, Rudolf Steiner