Ahriman and the Internet: Is there a third path?
The following post is prompted by discussion of a recent response I made concerning two essays: the first by Sergei Prokofieff, entitled “The Being of the Internet”, in which he argued that the digital media are carriers of such darkness that they are unredeemable, and the second, a reply to Prokofieff, in an article by Eugene Schwartz entitled “Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education: The Web as Will and Idea”, The reader will likely get more out of the following if both the original essays are read, as well as my original post.
“If one looks behind the being of the computer on this basis, i.e. to the way information is processed and stored, then one discovers that everything is built on the duad which can endlessly and quantitatively be multiplied through repetition and differing compositions.”
“In contrast the Internet or DVD puts everything on the level of purely abstract information that in addition comes in “bites [sic],” (this brings up the picture of Osiris cut into pieces by Typon) and thus is spread amongst mankind in a way towards which no ‘reverent feeling’ is possible.”
I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. I think Prokofieff is confusing “how” with “what” in this case, and is using the term “abstract information” in a potentially (although likely unintentionally) misleading way. What makes information abstract is primarily the human being’s relationship to it, not the specific storage mechanism. For example, braille is a way of communicating written information that is entirely dependent upon a binary system of bumps and flat spaces. Does this make all information communicated through braille “abstract”; no, the notion is silly.
Simply placing information on a DVD or on the internet does not by itself change the nature of that information: what is required is an understanding of the whole system, which includes also the human (or other) beings doing the communicating, their intentions, their capacities, and so forth. Indeed, it is probably misleading to speak of “the nature of information” at all, because there is no such thing by itself. There is no “information” somehow “out there” independently of a system for which that information becomes useful. Information is always “information FOR” some system which can perceive and act or otherwise change because of this perception. As you can see, the whole concept of “information” is tricky, because the word has many meanings and is used in a variety of contexts.
I think Prokofieff is focusing too intently on the mechanism of storage (“how”). To declare that because information is communicated through digital means, it is therefore rendered into a state “which no ‘reverent feeling’ is possible” is not only a sweeping overgeneralization, but is simply not true; direct experiences of myself and countless others show this to be the case. I have been involved in many purely online interactions which have been transformative in a healthy sense, which have opened my heart to the other (and the other to me), which have broken barriers of abstraction, and which have connected me to another person, or even many people, in ways that I can confidently say further the Christ-impulse. In these moments I have a reverence for the other, for the space in between us, and for the unfolding of something new and completely NOT abstract: a living relationship. I have experienced love flowing through the internet–because human beings made the effort to do so.
“Already today one can find the most awful and defamatory attacks on Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy, Waldorf Schools and other institutions connected with Anthroposophy on the Internet. And this widespread effect is not comparable to that of print. There is no doubt that this will increase in future particularly with the publication of the collective works on the internet and DVD because then all alleged “vulnerable passages” in the collective works will be easily and quickly accessible.”
That attacks on Steiner and Anthroposophy and so forth are more common on the internet than in print is true, but I don’t think that this fact supports Prokofieff’s point that that internet is irredeemable. Something about the way Prokofieff states this rubs me the wrong way, as if his motivation is based on a fear of such criticism, and a desire to secretize what may invite such criticism, rather than meeting the criticism in a way that demonstrates in the action itself the worth of anthroposophical wisdom. Steiner is in no way infallible, and he said some things which were wrong, and other things which were ill-phrased or confusing. Thank God: he is human. Anthroposophists should be continually striving to develop and change, and to develop and change anthroposophy as well. Any living system that does not transform with its environment will die, and anthroposophy is no exception to this; it MUST change. Like any living system, some parts of it must decay and fall away, so that new growth can take hold and flower. I say this as a general response to the impulse to keep some information out of the stream of evolution and interaction simply because it is difficult to meet the task of transforming such information, of upholding what is appropriate and letting go what is not. This is not to say that ALL information should be available to all; simply that when the impulse to keep it secret is based on fear I become very suspect.
“If man wants to maintain his autonomy over the world of the computer then he has to differentiate between what objectively offers pure technical aid for his work and where he oversteps the mark behind which, at first unnoticeable, the ahrimanic seduction starts to take control.”
This is an excellent point, and is one that we cannot pay too much attention to. Here I see a glimmer of hope in Prokofieff’s words, because he at least indicates that there is a potential to use technology as a “technical aid”, and that this is different from being seduced by it into a kind of ahrimanic entrainment. But I would say that it is not enough simply to use technology as a “pure technical aid” for one’s work: we should use it as a means to further Michael’s mission, to manifest the impulse of Love, and to transform ourselves in progressive ways.
Now I would like to say that I primarily disagree only with Prokofieff’s conclusion that the internet is irredeemable and that it is solely the province of Ahriman. He paints only a partial picture–a valuable picture, but one that if taken by itself can be misleading. Prokofieff simply doesn’t speak to what human beings CAN do with these technologies, and to what the human being’s task is in relation to these creations. He only states that:
“What has been said does not mean, however, that one should therefore refrain from using a computer or the Internet. They belong to our civilisation and at the same time to the greatest ahrimanic provocations which mankind faces and will have to face increasingly in the future.”
I agree with this statement, in particular that it provides the greatest ahrimanic provocation which humankind has ever seen. The fact that we will have to face this more and more in the future, and he indicates, only makes his omission of any forward looking advice all the more confusing. That the internet (and its related technologies) offers a massive domain within which ahrimanic beings can do their work is something I won’t contest. But I’m not sure that I agree with Prokofieff’s indication that:
“Crucial is however, as with many similar problems, which we are faced with in today’s civilisation, whether man controls the computer and the internet or they man.”
Couching the issue as one of control, and offering only a binary opposition of outomes, seems to play right into the hands of the very beings he is ostensibly seeking to avoid. Attempts at increased control can be just as damaging as complete lack of control. As Prokofieff indicates, it is the introduction of a third option (or many “third options”) that is needed. Not control, and not abandonment. For me the third option is one that arises from the creative transformation of the will around the technologies in question. Steiner has offered us a fantastic bunch of advice on this very point. In my experience one of the most powerful ways of counteracting the ahrimanic tendencies is through the training of Goethean-style observation. This involves awakening a sensitivity to the movement of wholes, to their form, patterning, gesture, and meaning. This is not the space to give details on this way of walking a middle path, but at the very least I can indicate something of what I am referring to by linking to a recent essay on Goethe and a new aesthetic consciousness.
Prokofieff states that:
“Here the attempt is made in purely ahrimanic form to create a worldwide web that connects as many people as possible but in a way that mankind becomes increasingly separated from the cosmos and the hierarchies and thus is bound up with what was described above as an ahrimanic spider web.”
Earlier he quotes Steiner as saying that man will have to unite with the beings of the ahrimanic spider web. My sense is that if such a fate is in store for us (and it does certainly look as if we are going this way), then isn’t it important to build the capacities now that will help us in the future? Shouldn’t we learn how to keep ourselves connected with the impulses of the Michaelic school in the context of the first glimmerings of this spider web that takes the form of the internet today? Why shouldn’t we be active in doing what we can to make it possible to keep our spiritual evolution from future (and present!) stagnation? Should we leave the internet, its development, its adoption, and its various methods of capturing the will and intention of human beings up to those who have no esoteric understanding of what the consequences may be? Should we grant Ahriman his domain, bowing to get out of his way as he reaches his fingers further and further into our modes of perception and communication?