Medicine Pseudoscience Skepticism/critical thinking

Biodynamic farming: Like anthroposophic medicine, only on the farm

Rudolf Steiner had a farm, and on that farm he had some woo. It is called biodynamic farming, and what woo it is!

[Editor note: The weekend was busy. I had to produce material for my not-so-super-secret other blog, and I didn’t view last week’s material to be sufficiently timely to crosspost here. So I dug deep into the vaults, all the way back to February 2006. Most of the links were broken, but thankfully the almighty Wayback Machine at still had the material. Besides, biodynamic farming is a topic I haven’t written about in years. ]

I don’t write about farming much, if at all. True, I do write about anti-GMO pseudoscience, but it’s usually in the form of deconstructing bad studies that the woo is down on the farm (and winery), and it’s “biodynamic.” If you believe the hype, it’s the ultimate in farming technique that produces only the finest wine. Maybe it is and does, but, man, is there a lot of woo there! For example, check out these quotes:

Biodynamics is the aikido or ashtanga yoga of winegrowing — a way to focus energy and awareness for peak performance and exceptional health. Sick vineyards need homeopathy; biodynamic vineyards radiate a vigor that can be felt. Like Barry Bonds turning a 100-mph fastball into a soaring arc headed for McCovey Cove, biodynamic vineyards are completely aligned with their purpose, and therefore able to channel all the forces of the moment into a powerful result.”

The New York Times (Download the .pdf)
June 16, 2004 – Trying to Bottle Moonlight and Magic

“Biodynamics, its advocates assert, maximizes the personality of a given plot of earth. Like a homeopathic doctor, a Biodynamic farmer analyzes the land and determines what is out of balance. The aim is to turn the land into a self-sustaining, self-regulating habitat.”

The Press Democrat (Download the .pdf)
June 30, 2004 – Eco-friendly, high quality and tasty, too: Benziger releases Tribute, a wine made from biodynamic grapes
by Peg Melnik

“Like a homeopathic doctor”? “Sick vineyards need homeopathy”? “Biodynamic vineyards radiate a vigor that can be felt”? Uh-oh. Sounds like woo to me. And, boy, is it ever! And some of it in the New York friggin’ Times, yet!

So, what is “biodynamic farming”? Well, in essence, biodynamic farming’s a lot like organic farming, only with oodles of the most amazing woo added! If you believe what its advocates say, this is what it can do for your farm:

While it encompasses many of the principles of organic farming, such as the elimination of all chemicals, Biodynamics goes further, requiring close attention to the varied forces of nature influencing the vine. It also emphasizes a closed, self-sustaining ecosystem.

OK, sounds good so far. Who could argue with eliminating chemical pesticides in farming wherever possible? But what on earth are these “varied forces of nature” they’re talking about? It’s starting to sound woo-ey to me. But let’s see what’s involved:

  • Employs a series of eight herbal-based preparations applied to the soil in order to promote soil vitality through increased microbiologic activity and diversity (think of these as vitamins for the plant and soil). The more nutrient-rich and biologically diverse the soils, the more character in the wine.
  • Uses cover crops and companion plants to maximize the health of the vineyard environment.
  • Promotes pest control through soil management; Biodynamic sprays and teas; crop rotations and diversification; and the encouragement of diverse animal, bird and insect populations that lead to self-regulating predator and prey relationships.
  • Aligns vineyard practices (planting, pruning, etc.) with the earth’s natural cycles (lunar, seasonal) for maximum health and development of the vines.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t be in favor of minimizing pesticide use and using crop diversification to minimize the harmful effects of mass farming on the environment? Unfortunately, along with all these laudable goals comes a heapin’ helpin’ of good, old-fashioned woo. You see, biodynamics was derived from the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner back in the early part of the 20th century. The philosophy based on Steiner’s teachings, anthroposophy, forms the basis of the philosophy behind “biodynamic farming.” Anthroposophy, which means “human wisdom,” is also known as “spiritual science.” According to Rudolf Steiner, anthrosophy is:

Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge to guide the Spirit of the human being to the Spiritual in the universe. It arises in man as a need of the heart, of the life of feeling: and it can be justified inasmuch as it can satisfy this inner need.

Indeed, the very concept of biodynamic farming is based on a series of lectures that Steiner gave in Germany in 1924 at Schloss Koberwitz in what was then Silesia, Germany. (In actuality, Steiner was a prodigious lecturer and gave an incredible number of talks in his lifetime, many of which are archived here.) Reasonably, Steiner was concerned about the increasing use of chemicals in the form of artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides in farming. Not quite as reasonably, he viewed this form of farming as having “spiritual shortcomings.” The central aspect of biodynamic farming is that the farm is viewed as a single organism, which should be viewed as a self-nourishing and self-replenishing system. So far, this is not that far out of the mainstream, although you can already feel a bit of woo creeping in, as if this is “Gaia Lite.”

But if you really want to get the full feel of the woo involved in biodynamic farming, you really have to check out the recipes for eight different fertilizers that Steiner prescribed to “strengthen the life force” of the farm. These are numbered 500 through 507 (why 500 through 507 instead of 1 through 8, I have no idea). First, we have field preparations for stimulating humus formation:

  • 500: (horn-manure) a humus mixture prepared by stuffing cow manure into the horn of a cow and buried into the ground (40-60 cm below the surface) in the autumn and left to decompose during the winter.
  • 501: Crushed powdered quartz prepared by stuffing it into a horn of a cow and buried into the ground in spring and taken out in autumn. It can be mixed with 500 but usually prepared on its own (mixture of 1 tablespoon of quartz powder to 250 litres of water) The mixture is sprayed under very low pressure over the crop during the wet season to prevent fungal diseases. It should be sprayed on an overcast day to prevent burning of the leaves.

Both 500 and 501 are used on fields by stirring the contents of a horn in 40-60 litres of water for an hour and whirling it in different directions every second minute. About 4 horns are used for each hectare of soil.

This is some serious woo, stuffing cow manure into a horn and using crushed powdered quartz for…no apparent reason. Why dilute it in 40-60 liters of water? Why not 100? Or 25? “Whirling it in different directions every second minute”? What’s the reason for that? Why not every minute or every third or fifth minute? I suppose it must have something to do with the life force of the farm. But it gets woo-ier. Just check out the compost preparations:

  • 502: Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium) are stuffed into urinary bladders from Cervus elaphus, Red Deers, placed in the sun during summer, buried in earth during winter and retrieved in the spring.
  • 503: Chamomile blossoms (Chamomilla officinalis) are stuffed into small intestines from cattle buried in humus-rich earth in the autumn and retrieved in the spring.
  • 504: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioca, and the whole plant in full bloom) is stuffed together under ground surrounded on all sides by peat for a year.
  • 505: Oak bark (Quercus robur) is chopped in small pieces, placed inside the skull of some domesticated animal, surrounded by peat and buried in earth in a place where lots of rain water runs by.
  • 506: Dandelion flowers (Taraxacum officinale) is stuffed into peritoneum from some cattle is buried in earth during winter and retrieved in the spring.
  • 507: Valerian flowers (Valeriana officinalis) is extracted into water.

One to three grams (a teaspoon) of each preparation is added to a dung heap by digging 50 cm deep holes with a distance of 2 meters from each other, except for the 507 preparation, which is stirred into 5 litres of water and sprayed over the entire compost surface. All preparations are thus used in homeopathic quantities, and the only intent is to strengthen the life forces of the farm, i.e. the preparations fulfill spiritual goals and nothing else.

Alright, the parts about stuffing the intestines or peritoneii of cows or the urinary bladders of deer (what did the deer ever do to deserve this fate?), burying them on the farm for the winter, and then retrieving them in the spring are truly disgusting. Just imagine how much fun it is to dig this stuff up in the spring–probably even more fun than stuffing the various animal organs and burying them in the first place. I somehow picture sandal-shod, long-haired, tambourine-playing woo-meisters chanting magical spells as they bury these various “composts” around their farms in order to “strengthen its life force” before finishing up the day with a little drum playing and a mini Burning Man ceremony. But, hey, that’s just me. I do wonder, however, what’s the deal with all the horns used in these recipes? Thanks to an old episode of Skeptoid, I get an idea, as this is what Rudolf Steiner himself said about it:

The cow has horns in order to reflect inwards the astral and etheric formative forces, which then penetrate right into the metabolic system so that increased activity in the digestive organism arises by reason of this radiation from horns and hoofs.

Ah, yes, when I start hearing talk of “astral and etheric formative forces,” I know I’m right at home in some serious woo and that Friday is the perfect day to write about it.

One thing you should notice is that 500 and 501 mixes one tablespoon of quartz powder into 250 liters of water and that 502-507 involve spreading mere ounces of the disgusting potion of decomposed plants and animal organs into many tons of compost. Truly, as the advocates of biodynamic farming say, this is indeed a homeopathic amount of whatever stinky concoction it is that they’re making. But, hey, it doesn’t matter, you know. After all, none of it has anything to do with any scientifically measurable phenomenon. Its purpose is to “strengthen the life force” of the farm. (I’m guessing that the stinkier the mixture, the more the “life force” is strengthened.) Also, like homeopathy, there’s a rather bizarre element of “like cures like,” except that it’s extended to an entire farm. This “like” is diluted to, in essence, undetectability but still somehow manages to retain some sort of therapeutic effect. This whole concept is taken to a ridiculous extreme when it comes to pest control. To Steiner, pests and weeds are are the result of “imbalances” between life forces emanating from the earth. Most biodynamic strategies to control pests or weeds involve ceremonially burning the pest or weed in question and then sprinkling the ashes over the farm, preferably at the right astrological time. Check it out:

Since Steiner viewed the full moon, Venus and Mercury as cosmic powers influencing the fertility of plants, the biodynamic techniques for pest control involves blocking the fertility influence from said planets on different pests. Steiner dictates that this is achieved in different ways for pests and weeds:

  • Pests such as insects or Apodemus (field mice) have more complex processes associated with them depending on what pest is to be targeted. For example field mice are to be countered by deploying ashes prepared from field mice skin when Venus is in the scorpius.
  • Weeds are combated (besides the usual mechanical methods) by collecting seeds from the weeds and burning them above a wooden flame. The ashes from the seeds are then spread on the fields, which will according to biodynamic philosophy block the influence from the full moon on the particular weed and make it infertile.

All I can say is: Woo-woo!

Oddly enough, even today, the whole concept of “biodynamic farming” is pretty well accepted, at least in the wine industry. Some wineries go to great lengths to make sure that they plant their crops at the right phase of the moon or under the right astrological alignments. It’s also not at all uncommon to see gushing reviews of wines from wineries that use biodynamic farming techniques, coupled with claims that the wine coming from such farms “tastes better.” The problem is, wine varies from year to year and from vineyard to vineyard, even when using the same species of grapes. There are good years and bad years; similarly, there are vineyards that do a better job at making wine than others. There’s also a whole lot of subjectivity involved in the tasting and evaluation and rating of wines. It’s thus not too hard to see how confirmation bias, wishful thinking, and other logical fallacies could lead wine makers, wine drinkers, and wine reviewers to detect a salubrious effect on the wine from biodynamic techniques that may or may not be there.

What’s really irritating about biodynamic farming is that it’s quite possible that the non-woo components of the technique may actually result in better crops or better wine, depending on whether we’re talking about farms or vineyards. After all, minus the woo, biodynamic farming involves nothing more unusual or special than hardcore organic farming with little or no pesticides. There’s no need to invoke magic or woo to explain why biodynamic farming, stripped of its mysticism, might potentially result in better crops or tastier wine. Yet, woo is what is invoked, in the form of bladders, horns, or or skulls full of herbs or blossoms buried in the farm, and biodynamic farming is considered quite natural, normal, even respectable. Almost nary is heard a skeptical word from wine reviewers, for instance.

I could be wrong (in fact, I hope I’m wrong), but I’m guessing that most of these vineyards that advertise that they use “biodynamic” farming probably steer clear of the most blatant woo associated with Steiner and the technique. Either that, or they downplay the mysticism and burying of animal parts stuffed with various plants to decompose followed by the spreading the resultant mix over the soil and instead play up the organic farming angle. I’m also guessing that most of them probably don’t believe in the woo-iest aspects of biodynamic farmings. However, because somehow the term has become fashionable to the point that reputable newspapers publish glowing and credulous accounts of the wonders of biodynamic farming, few people seem to be aware of the serious woo involved or that biodynamic farming is nothing more than a form of organic farming gussied up with a huge helping of truly bizarre woo.

You know, thinking about all this, perhaps I should postulate my own “philosophy” of farming or medicine. If I got EneMan involved, I bet I could come up with some sort of homeopathic farming woo that involves wine enemas and the depositing of the outflow onto the farm. (For a vineyard, like=wine, plus some human-made natural fertilizer added to the mix to “increase the life force of the farm.” What could be better?)

Nahhh. Even I wouldn’t sink that low. Probably.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: orack[email protected]

39 replies on “Biodynamic farming: Like anthroposophic medicine, only on the farm”

“While it encompasses many of the principles of organic farming, such as the elimination of all chemicals, Biodynamics goes further, requiring close attention to the varied forces of nature influencing the vine. It also emphasizes a closed, self-sustaining ecosystem.”

Elimination of ALL chemicals? Not possible.
Closed, self-sustaining ecosystem? Not possible if they rely on sunlight, rainfall, and CO2 from the atmosphere. Also not possible if they buy or sell goods off the farm.

When you add in all the mysticism, this is just paganism.

I used to subscribe to a CSA run by Steinerites (Angelic Organics). Despite the silliness, it was some awfully good produce.

This is also how woo-med keeps going: use some practices that are science/evidence-based e.g. diet & exercise, throw in a dose of mystification (that’s the correct word for that, not “mysticism”), add some quack nonsense, recite a chant while the Moon is in Pisces, and ta-daa!

So yes, there’s a lot of really good organic produce out there, which is tasty & nutritious because a lot of today’s “organic” methods are just sound agricultural practice (crop rotation, returning biomass (manures) to the soil, etc.) with plenty of empirical history to support them. Then, for the sake of branding, throw in a dose of mystification, add some quack nonsense (all the better if it’s gross, like burning the skins of mice), recite a chant while the Moon is in Pisces, and ta-daa!

As for wines, empirical tests have shown that tasters often can’t tell the difference between expensive Chateau Merde and cheap Rotgut Red: it’s all about the branding, the “mystique” (or mystification as the case may be), the “energy” (read “emotional spin”) and so on. It becomes “special” when you can attend an “exclusive” event and speak with the vintner (high priest), and get buzzed among fellow “beautiful people” (see also “mouse utopia”). Then comes the ego-investment on the part of the buyer/drinker, and emotional contagion to their friends who drink the stuff and praise their host’s good taste (and their own by implication).

All perfectly harmless around the edges of the mass food production needed to keep the rest of us plebes fed. Not so harmless when it’s about medicine and people imbibe nonsense until it kills them.

BTW, Steiner’s other big invention, Waldorf Schools, are, as you know, hot beds of anti-vax nonsense, where “natural” measles and “organic” whooping cough are right at home. Ugh. Not so harmless, that. I mention this in case anyone reading this isn’t aware of the connection.

Weeds are combated (besides the usual mechanical methods)

The “usual mechanical methods” presumably involve physically pulling the weed out of the ground. Which is how I, an amateur gardener (though so far I have restricted myself to ornamentals), typically deal with weeds. That is at least as effective as spreading the ashes of burned weeds over the affected area.

Seeing how somebody with the surname Steiner is involved, this calls for somebody with the necessary video editing skills (which I lack) to do another parody subtitling of the Führerbunker scene from Downfall. Das war ein Bezehlt!

Thank you for digging this up for those of us who haven’t been around from the early days. I’ve seen the “biodynamic” label at WF–where I occasionally venture to get my lacinato kale–and have wondered about it. I am familiar with Steiner because I sent my kid to Waldorf kindergarten (it is a lovely way to spend kindergarten and no one at our little school took Steiner seriously), but I didn’t know (or forgot) that he was associated with this particular woo.

Well Steiner is associated with a lot of woo and even racism. The latter is mostly put under the carpet by those left-wing hippy-like lovers of antroposophy.

I worked for a year at after school care in a Waldorf School; eventually I got around to reading some Steiner, and yep, holy sh!t he was racist. I got a different job after the school year was over, working with developmentally disabled adults.

Fun fact: Sufjan Stevens went to a Waldorf School. He didn’t learn to read and write until he ended up in a public school.

Every year I spend time in Northern California and have observed a trend : some wineries label their wares organic, biodynamic and/ or sustainable. As far as I can tell, none of these specialities are amongst the larger, more moneyed operations but they can be found ( listed on the internet as well) easily in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino Counties.

There’s an area called the Sanel Valley ( near Hopland) in Mendocino which is especially loaded with these places and has a Solar Living compound nearby. The organic, biodynamic winery that is most advertised is called “Frey”** in another part of the county. Some of their products are served at organic restaurants in the area.
I tasted one of their wines and it wasn’t bad.

Despite travelling there I spend little time at wineries or drinking but I do like to read about them and find the industry and its history an interesting phenomenon. Mendocino also has a storied history involving marijuana. ( which I don’t buy either).

I go there for nature, history and art. And not being available to people who bother me for a few days.

** note to Chris: but was it named after the god? I didn’t see any worshippers carrying his image around in a cart though.

Frey is a not-especially-rare German surname. I actually know somebody with that name. Most readers will have heard of the late Glenn Frey. I am not aware of any relation between than name and the Norse goddess Freja (in Scandinavian languages the J is pronounced like English Y).

I almost never drink Napa wines because the ones sold outside of Northern California tend to be overpriced: wines from elsewhere at a given price point are usually better. The effect is present but less pronounced in Sonoma wines. I am not familiar with Mendocino wines, which are rare on the east coast. Northern California has a ready supply of rich, gullible wine drinkers, so I can see why some of the region’s wineries would cater to that crowd–winemaking is one of those businesses where people who do it right can make a small fortune, and those who don’t do it quite right can make a small fortune out of a large fortune.

The winery I most frequently visit, which is about 30 miles from where I live, is not (at least in any obvious fashion) into the kind of woo discussed in the post. Yes, we do grow wine grapes in New Hampshire, varietals which can survive our winters. Reds are very much hit-and-miss, but some of the whites (such as Riesling and Seyval) are quite drinkable.

@ Eric Lund:

FYI Freyr is Freya’s brother and the g-d of fertility/ plenty amongst the Norse; they carried his image – usually a phallic wooden post- around in a wagon to farms and settlements to spread the joy so to speak

But mostly, that was a joke for Chris who often invokes the name of Thor etc.

I can’t believe that I know something that Eric doesn’t!

-btw- there are actually wineries about an hour north of NYC in the Hudson Valley. The wine is so-so, the music is better.
With global warming, who knows what places will be next!

AND wineries in NorCal et al make loads of money with tourists: I think that there are over 400 in Sonoma alone.
Plus most of these places have nice gardens/ picnic areas/ events/ restaurants. Coppola’s place charges $$$$ for anything.

Comfrey tea and nettle tea are commonly used as foliar feeds. Fill a bucket with either plant (leaves, stems, roots, it doesn’t matter) and top it up with water. Put a lid on it and leave it somewhere out of the way. You’ll know when it’s ready (maybe six weeks later) because when you take the lid off you’ll get complaints about the smell from the neighbouring county. Extract the liquid and dilute it by somewhere between 10:1 and 20:1, then spray it on your tomato plants just as they’re setting fruit. Throw the remaining plant gunk from the bucket onto your compost heap.

Alternatively, pull up and chop up comfrey and/or nettles, drop them on your beds and leave them to rot in as a mid-season fertiliser. Be careful not to include seeds or roots, though. No cow horn required.

Also, the plants don’t give a toss about the phase of the moon. They just want feeding.

The one reason why I could see the phase of the moon being significant is that near the time of a full moon, assuming sufficiently clear skies (which I admit is often not the case in Germany), you can see well enough to work into the evenings. But in that case it’s the workers, not the plants, who care. The treatment would work just as well in other phases of the moon; you just would be limited to daylight hours applying the stuff.

These recipes sound very much like this old ditty from old William’s quill pen:

“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.”

From the Biodynamic Association web site, an article titled Nature Spirits: How Can We Help Them? (I think “nature spirits” might include gnomes):

“…the nature spirits belong to the whole long process of creation, which changed with the incarnation of the Christ. They are in danger of losing their connection to the higher hierarchies, because angelic beings also evolve and advance, and these now work with the human thinking, feeling, willing, sense perception, and memory, in a kind of collaboration based on what use we make of them. We are a bridge for the nature spirits. It matters that there are human beings in their vicinity who have studied and who know in detail where evolution is headed, what the human being really is, and what are the present relationships of anything to the spiritual world. We are so close to the turning point of evolution that conceptions of how things used to be are still the most prevalent, and it brings light into the whole world if human beings can carry in their consciousness where we are now.

It also helps them if we say grace at meals. Substance can arise only when elemental beings sacrifice themselves, allow themselves to be enchanted into rigidity so that something invisible can arise. When we consume the food, all this dissolves, and they are released. The grace is very important…”

Land sakes. If I read that in a fantasy novel it would go right out the window. Who writes this stuff? Who thinks this way?

“Substance can arise only when elemental beings sacrifice themselves, allow themselves to be enchanted into rigidity so that something invisible can arise. When we consume the food, all this dissolves, and they are released.”

OK folks, that gets the Victorians’ Secrets Award for the most euphemistically obscure description of [email protected] ever.

I suppose that after you consume the food, when the elemental spirits are released and something invisible arises, you’re supposed to say something like “Blessed be!” When I was a kid, you were just supposed to say “Excuse me.”

Heh. Biodynamic farming is certainly a ‘thing’ here in NZ. We’ve even had folks suggesting ‘possum peppering’ to get rid of possums (down here the Australian possum is a real pest & totally destroying many forests): burn their testicles & then ‘pepper’ the land with the resultant ash. The other possums are supposed not to like this, & steer clear.

Except the research has actually been done and (as you’ve already guessed), it Doesn’t Work.

Reminds me on a book I read some years ago, where someone nailed dead skunks on his fence, to keep the living ones away.

It really is muck’n’magic.

I spent a few weeks in a Steiner community here in UK-ia a couple of years after I graduated, while my final year soil science course was still fresh in my mind, and found it, errrrr, fascinating. I tried getting the folk there to explain, in terms I understood, how all that worked. None of them had even the most basic clue about soil structure, nutrient levels in the soil or pretty much anything: it was all magical thinking, if it could be called thinking.

That said, a number of my favourite wine makers use biodynamic techniques and make fabulous wine. However, I attribute this to old vines, good locations and being very attentive to all aspects of viticulture and production, rather than any magic invented by a racist, ignorant scumbag.

Murmur, there are a few passages in Steiner’s writings that can be seen as racist. While these are clearly erroneous they should be seen in the context of the current anthropological thinking. Steiner was one of the least racist people around in those days. As for “ignorant scumbag”, that just shows your ignorance.

It might seem strange that Orac didn’t mention or doesn’t know about the Steiner movement’s achievements outside the field of agriculture — their remarkable systems of education, architecture, design, and so on. Perhaps there is an elephant in the room here. Surely Orac’s real beef with the Steiner people is that they don’t and won’t vaccinate their kids. And for that reason alone Orac wants to rid the world of the Steiner people, since he wants all people force-vaccinated.

I recall that the Nazis outlawed the Steiner movement, and certainly wiped it out in Germany for those years. And I note that, in our day and age, totalitarianism hasn’t gone away.

I recall that the Nazis outlawed the Steiner movement, and certainly wiped it out in Germany for those years.

Hahaha,no. Ahistorical nonsense. It was quite popular with the Nazis, actually, since it was nice, Aryan, and idealized nature (for the pure, advance, white people), the same as the Nazi philosophy.

Steiner was one of the least racist people around in those days

stares in internationalist anti-racist socialist

I recall that the Nazis outlawed the Steiner movement

They banned Anthroposophy in 1935, because charlatans don’t like competition.
This did not stop the Nazis from appropriating Biodynamics, as part of their Lebensreform efforts. It was a natural fit to their völkisch Blood-&-Soil philosophy. Wilhelm Frick (German Home Minister), Walther Darré (Minister of Agriculture), Hanns Georg Müller — all enthusiastic proponents of biodynamic farming for the newly-conquered lands. They ran Biodynamic plantations within the feckin concentration camps.

Not that I remember any of this directly (the first rule of Analeptic Alzabo Club is “Don’t talk about Analeptic Alzabo Club”).

Rudolf Heiss took quite the shine to Waldorf Schools, and intervened more than once on their behalf.

Racism is racism is racism, no matter how you try to pretend that Steiner was close to the then current mainstream.

The educational “achievements” are questionable at best.

When I visited that Steiner community I did not know about their stance on vaccination, but what I did observe and was told was more than enough to demonstrate a hefty dose of magical thinking at best and, far worse, some very punitive thinking towards the physically and mentally disabled folk living there (this forms part of the “scumbag” epithet, as that came directly from the man himself). If I had known about their views on vaccination I would have thought even worse of them…

If the racism and that sort of punitive thinking have been disavowed I might think about withdrawing some comments, but I know what I have read in Steiner and I know what I saw, heard and was told in a Steiner community. And it is not good…

It might seem strange that Orac didn’t mention or doesn’t know about the Steiner movement’s achievements outside the field of agriculture — their remarkable systems of education, architecture, design, and so on.

The thing is, Steiner was an equal-opportunity bullsh1tter; he was happy to make up stuff about anything, unhindered by prior knowledge. Half the time, I suspect, he was trolling his acolytes, trying to find a limit to their credulity. The result, anyway, is a large oeuvre of fabrication.
You can’t expect Orac to survey Steiner’s entire fictional output any time he addresses one section of it, like Biodynamic Farming here, or (in an earlier post) Steinerian Medicine (which was basically homeopathy, but with ghosts). That could result in prolixity.

Racism is racism is racism, no matter how you try to pretend that Steiner was close to the then current mainstream.
Steiner was more extreme in his Aryans-Only white supremacism than most of his contemporaries.

His Racial-Destiny doctrines were part of the curriculum of Rudolf Steiner College (and Waldorf pedagogy in general) when Dugan was writing in the 90s.

the Steiner movement’s achievements outside the field of agriculture — their remarkable systems of education, architecture, design, and so on.

I am personally fond of Steiner’s Alternative Anatomy, in which (for instance) the blood circulates around the body by itself, inducing the heart to beat in its role as a regulator valve.
Or which the bones of the skull are an inside-out femur. I am not making this up.

We should also mention the Steinerian contributions to Alternative History. That is, their creation of an Alternative History in which Rudolf Steiner was not an inventive con-man who stole what he could from Theosophy and then went independent.

JP, I believe I’ve met your cat somewhere before, or some of their fellow workers;-)

Where Steiner fell on the scale of racism compared to the averages for others in his society at the time, I have no idea. I would guess that he might have sought to legitimize his philosophy or gain wider acceptance by seeming to adhere to various ideas that were in play in certain scientific circles in those days. (We see this today with quack medical “theories,” discussed in this forum all the time, that parasitize current physics and/or biology.) That would have included the pseudo-Darwinist variety of racism that was at one point more or less mainstream in anthropology.

To my mind the degree of moral culpability increases with the degree of emphasis on the racism or other immoral beliefs, as distinct from other aspects of one’s belief system. Merely going along with the prevailing BS because one doesn’t know any better, is less culpable than actively advocating it and emphasizing it.

In any case, the anti-vaccine stuff one hears today from Steiner adherents can’t use the excuse of “a lot of people believed that back then,” because it causes very real harm today by contributing to outbreaks of dangerous diseases. People can believe whatever they want, up to but not beyond the point where it causes them to act in ways that harm innocent others.

Unvaccinated people like me and hundreds of my acquaintances (of all ages) are sick of hearing that we “act in ways that harm innocent others.” That would be criminal, and we aren’t criminals, at least not until the state turns totally totalitarian.

It’s interesting to hear all the opinions and anecdotes about the Steiner movement. As regards the Nazi era, I favour reliance on the facts, as detailed here:

@ soubresauts

That’s hardly a neutral source, judging from the name of the site.

Doing harm to innocent others, isn’t always criminal, but still people who are not vaccinate can be a harm to other people.

That would be criminal, and we aren’t criminals, at least not until the state turns totally totalitarian.

Reckless endangerment has been a crime for quite a while in different jurisdictions, but it’s really the civil liability that applies.

Re. Soubresauts (why no Reply button?):

If you haven’t got your shots due to some legitimate medical circumstance such as a compromised immune system, you should be campaigning for everyone who can get their shots to do it, because herd immunity protects you.

If you haven’t got your shots due to a belief, then it’s like drunk driving. You aren’t doing any harm to anyone, right up to the point where you do, and then it’s a doozy. If there was a measles outbreak and you spread it to others, you’d be doing them harm. There is no escaping the moral culpability involved.

Next time, try arguing with the law of gravity or Newton’s laws of motion, and see where that gets you.

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