Is there anything left for me to believe? The question of where I draw my convictions from and how I judge right from wrong has long since become a political issue. The survival of humanity depends on the answer.
Looking at the development in this field, we can get the impression that pessimism and resignation about humanity’s ability to learn are inevitable. Roger Harrabin, an environmental journalist with the BBC, confesses: “I’m glad I’ll be buried under a tree by the middle of the century and won’t find out [whether the environmentalists turn out to be right; author’s note]. Among other things, he points as a reason for his scepticism to the disinformation efforts of the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a lobbying group founded in the USA in 1989 to influence policymakers to prevent measures to limit fossil fuel emissions.
Half a million dollars a year was used by the team of the father of environmental PR, E Bruce Harrison, for a campaign that was extremely successful in sowing doubt about the science of climate change, the consequences of which we are still experiencing today. The BBC documentary Big Oil vs the World, released in July 2022, proves this in a frighteningly impressive way. Using corresponding methods, it is now possible to cast doubt on any scientific findings or even turn them into their opposite by using social media. The environmental activist and former executive director of Greenpeace, John Passacantando, drew the resigned conclusion: “If you say something often enough, people will start to believe it.”
Technology will not save us
A very similar conclusion will be reached by anyone who recalls the positive visions from the early days of the Internet and compares them with today’s reality. Thirty years ago, Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web, did not, as an incorrigible optimist and altruist, patent his brilliant idea but passed it on freely – for the benefit of humanity. Today he is devastated: it is not the open platform with equal speech rights for all and free access to information for a constructive exchange of ideas across borders for the betterment of the world that has developed, but a tool that has enabled hate and violence, fraud, blackmail, stolen data, rigged elections, fake news and, ultimately, the excessive power of tech giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google. Meanwhile, solutionism has also failed to deliver on its promises. This term was coined in 2013 by the Belarusian publicist Evgeny Morozov. Behind it lies the idea that complex social problems can be solved with the help of smart technology, through ever new devices, algorithms and apps. A concept that was expressed in the regular proclamations of the tech corporations of Silicon Valley, which stylised their product presentations into celebrations of the saving power of technology. The belief in this saving power has meanwhile eroded.
Virtual world as a way out?
As a consequence, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, for example now offers a new solution through the metaverse. Zepeto, for example, one of the most important platforms in the metaverse universe with 300 million users in Asia, has been offering a virtual world since 2019 in which you can design your very own environment, untouched by everyday individual and global problems. The motto is: “Another me in another universe.” On Zepeto, users celebrate virtual parties, shop – for real money – in exclusive boutiques or meet in a dreamy village to ride a unicorn. Kim Dae-Shik, a professor at the renowned KAIST university in Daejeon, South Korea, who studies the effects of technological progress on the brain, says: “I don’t like the metaverse, but it is unstoppable. [...] For a ten-year-old Korean child, the Internet has become a kind of home. Home is a place where we feel comfortable, it shapes our brain.”
The separation of thinking, feeling and volition
The crisis in the certainty of cognition described at the beginning is accompanied by a phenomenon caused by a drifting apart of the soul’s faculties of thinking, feeling and volition. We know a lot, but are not able to align our actions with this knowledge. A phenomenon that parents of children in puberty know well and which is expressed in the sigh: “How many times have I told you not to ...?”
From Rudolf Steiner we know that in many respects the development of humanity as a whole resembles the course of life of the individual human being and that the unconscious crossing of the threshold to the spiritual world is accompanied by the soul forces separating from each other and becoming independent. This entails the danger that thinking becomes completely detached from feeling and volition, that feeling is no longer controlled by thinking, and in the same way the will gets out of control.
Forming judgements as a task
What at first seems like a deplorable development can, however, be understood as a step towards freedom. We are no longer bound by traditions or authorities, but potentially free in our thinking, feeling and actions. However, this freedom goes hand in hand with all the greater responsibility. The gradual development of individual judgement, which leads to certainty in independent thinking, must be complemented by a corresponding development in feeling and finally also in volition. In dealing with the matter of a given subject and also with artistic and practical challenges, the pupils learn to inform themselves and to form an opinion. In doing so, they should develop an individual stance and examine their own ideals against reality. Once they have found an outlook on central questions of life, they can make decisions that lead to concrete actions.
This shows that there is no reason for resignation but that there are existentially important educational tasks that are not easy in view of the opposing forces described. School must also face up to these tasks. In this context the basic principles of Waldorf education, especially an education that aims to promote the healthy development of children, and coping with the challenges of the modern media world are not in opposition. The Medienkompass (Media Compass) of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, published in a new edition in May this year (the link to it can be found in the editorial), explores these questions.
1. What must a child be enabled to do in order to grow up physically healthy and with strong mental development in the midst of a world dominated by technology and media?
2. How does the child learn to understand the media world, to handle it in a meaningful way and to develop it creatively?
Here it is important to look at what has been tried and tested from a broader perspective and to transform the diverse knowledge and skills acquired in such a way that the goal of media literacy can be achieved. All subjects can contribute to this, and at any age what is developmentally pending can be an essential step in this direction. “Media education starts on the first day of school”. (1) Examples of this can be found in this issue and also in the media education handbook for middle school, one of the publications of the von Tessin Chair of Media Education. The chair at the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart – Seminar for Waldorf Pedagogy offers training and further training courses on a regular basis, which are open to all Waldorf teachers. (2)
1 | Glaw, Franz (2022): “Medienpädagogik beginnt am ersten Schultag – medienpädagogische Transformationen”, in: Edwin Hübner (Ed): Medien. Wissen. Projekte. Ein Handbuch für die Mittelstufe, Stuttgart (to be published at the end of 2022)