The intelligence is at stake

By Nana Göbel, November 2019

We live in absurd times today. Truth and falsehood, health and illness, good and evil are becoming mixed up. These absurd times are also exciting as everyone has to decide either to remain in sleep mode as consumers or to wake up. The latter requires perspectives both to be actively involved and to recognise the approaching challenges. How can be obtain such perspectives?

I’m with J.W. Goethe in the view that it is exceedingly helpful to look to the past to obtain perspectives for what will come from the future. The last three thousand years and more reveal that at large intervals there has been a fundamental change in the way the forces of intelligence are perceived. If the Egyptians in the age of the pharaohs still experienced the intelligence as a being which they portrayed on the walls of their burial places, the incisive and fundamental transformation from outside to inside took place in fifth century BC Greece. What previously determined human beings from outside as divine wisdom, now turned to inwardly audible intelligence.

And the latter was celebrated conceptually in medieval Europe to such an extent that we can only stand in admiration today, full of respect for the precision with which the intelligence was conceived. From then onwards, intelligence could be handled independently of morality and thus be used for good and evil. Since the eighteenth century, it has been used less and less for the sake of knowledge and more and more for the optimisation of machines to replace human labour. Furthermore, it is envisaged that the robots of the future will increasingly modify their own programming and develop an independent intelligence. How we handle the forces of intelligence will be one of the great challenges of the future. 

It is worth at least considering whether there are certain gestures in the course of history which repeat themselves in metamorphosed form. The last hundred years (1919 – 2019) show such signatures. After the end of the First World War, the first Waldorf school was founded as a free school on the basis of certain insights into the nature of the human being which is independent of the state. The world economic crisis of 1929/30 showed the dependence of the global economy on speculative transactions with an egotistical purpose and thus prepared the following destructive political actions. In 1941, Konrad Zuse built the first working computer for which he used the system of binary numbers. Intelligence became usable for machines and 35 years later entered the market with the first PC.

After the ways of dissecting an image had been investigated towards the end of the nineteenth century, the first image was transmitted in 1926/29 and from 1950 onwards television became a general medium. The entertainment industry entered the living room. In 1949, the Basic Law (constitution) was introduced in the Federal Republic of Germany, creating the basis for coexistence based on human dignity and requiring moral integrity of the highest order. Irrespective of this, conventions were maintained in the German post-War world which were only put to bed by the liberalisation and democratisation endeavours of the so-called 1968 movement.

Artificial intelligence increasingly determined people’s lives. The arrival of mobile communications – the first iPhone entered the market in 2007, sixty-six years after Konrad Zuse’s first computer – henceforth determined the deployment of human intelligence and reduced it, we might say sarcastically, to the communication of trivial events or personal feelings.

These examples show: once something has been thought, it can become practicable in a next step and thus obtains the potential to be a general medium. The same applies with regard to Waldorf education. After its introduction in Stuttgart, it became the starting point for pioneering establishments worldwide but until the mid-1980s it was by no means a globally effective movement in terms of quantity. It is only in the last thirty years that the numbers of the Waldorf education movement have grown vastly and have spread into every corner of the globe. 

The twenty-first century is the century of globalisation. The challenges facing education can be read in present-day thinking. Artificial intelligence will find its way not just into the living rooms but also the classrooms. The associated will devoid of meaning will then express itself through violence the more the I withdraws from thinking, feeling and the will and the question of meaning comes to a head; that is, the question where the human individuality can find meaningful expression. In a further phase, images will increasingly be assimilated which surround people in their day life and which do not have a health-giving effect during sleep. School must therefore provide access to a living world of images so that health-giving forces can taken effect during sleep. And once chips are implanted under people’s skin and we no longer need a bag to carry our things through the world people will become inwardly and outwardly transparent.

The struggle for the survival of intelligence which is managed by the individual themselves, and which is not determined, is entering the next phase. For all these reasons the tasks of Waldorf education will grow immensely. At stake will be the healthiest possible corporeality, truthful and therefore health-giving images, and an independent intelligence which is so powerful that it extends to the cosmos. At stake is even greater trust in the collaboration among colleagues and a living relationship between teachers, parents and pupils. The power of rebellion must develop with even greater courage to swim against the tide of business advertising and other manipulating factors. Above all, at stake will be the conscious development of Waldorf establishments as places of beauty, as oases of humanity and human dignity – both inwardly and outwardly.

Nana Göbel has been on the executive council of the Friends of Waldorf Education since 1978 and possesses a detailed knowledge of the Waldorf movement worldwide.