By Vaike Neeme
Some years ago the women in my family went on retreat together. I facilitated a process whereby we wrote a list of the five most precious things in our lives. The youngest attendee, a dear cousin in her then early teens, had ‘technology’ as one of her items. At the time, we mature women found this amusing: surely she only included it as she was too young to have a serious fifth item?
Fast-forward to Rose Nekvapil’s recent lecture at the Society AGM. Early in the talk, she revealed that she didn’t know what she was talking about. Rose had been preparing a visit to our shores from Nicanor Perlas, with some kind of youth work in mind, and thus Jan had invited her to introduce this initiative herself, as a presentation. So Rose had chosen the topic ‘Moral Technology’ as it was a main area Nicanor was working with, and would bring in his workshops. And she was interested too. But, as she said, ‘I wanted to find out about it, suddenly I’m presenting on it!’ I can say likewise, with this article. Rose had commissioned me to write a piece based on her talk. Suddenly, I’m writing on Moral Technology, and I’m certainly no expert. More on this later.
Anthroposophists, God love them (I’m one too, so I can say it), can be quite opinionated. When discussing this article with several of my fellow Anthropops, they have been quite direct in telling me that Rose and I have gotten ‘moral technology’ wrong. Mostly, I think they are referring to what Steiner calls Moral Technique. So, this is an area of inner development; it is the final step in a path described in The Philosophy of Freedom. And though the final step becomes an actual deed, world-transforming, it is only possible when one is free, thus the prerequisite inner steps.
Early in her talk Rose surveyed some of the avant garde technologies that are in the world right now (robots, computers, body parts, software, artificial intelligence…), and also what is being forecast. She looked at a timeline that made it clear how quickly this is advancing. She also spoke of, as does Nicanor, the technological singularity (the inevitable moment when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence, beyond which events may become unpredictable, unfavourable or even unfathomable).
One could call Moral Technique an element of an inner path, and Moral Technology, an element of an outer path. Are they different?
Let’s take the esoteric route first. I recently heard a Dennis Klocek lecture where he was talking through the evolution of consciousness. He pointed out that all human progress had been built on slavery. In the developed world today, the slave is in technology. He explained the role of elemental beings in machinery, showing them to be our slaves. He emphasised that since we caused them to be bound to these machines, we are now responsible for them, and will continue to be. One may not immediately connect this with Moral Technique, but to my mind, working with elementals is definitely ‘over the threshold’ work, so this is on the ‘inner’ side. But hang on, weren’t we just talking about machines? Importantly, how are the elementals feeling about our treatment of them? I’m thinking now of my cousin: are they precious to us?
‘Those machines, you know, they’re made out of the Earth and therefore they can speak to me and I can hear them because they’re made out of the Earth itself. And they hate, I can tell you they hate being used to destroy the Earth. And they say to me “Dave, we really don’t want to be doing this—we’re tired of being reduced; help us to oxidize.” ‘ – Dave Foreman, founder of the Earth First! movement
Rose posed an interesting point in her talk. She said that many people, including herself, would flinch at the idea of moving towards any kind of cyborg scenario. But, she said, this is likely to happen insidiously: it is already happening. If you are having heart problems, and a pacemaker is suggested, how many would say no? One could even speak in lower-tech terms and consider glasses: this is technological augmentation of the human body. Step by step, faster and faster this technological evolution progresses, but the decision-making at any point is an Ego-activity: this is moral activity. It’s inner. Isn’t it? But weren’t we just talking about robots? Hmmm…
But what would Rose and I know anyway? We’re too old! In an early conversation between us two Luddites, I through in the comment: ‘The more human beings become creators instead of creatures, the less we can know about the future, as the more it is a co-creation and can’t be known without our input in the moment,’ thinking I sounded wise. Not so, Rose corrected me, had I been around many actual young people recently? I had, as it turned out, but not to the extent that she had. ‘They do know about the future’, Rose continued, ‘more than we do anyway, because they are bringing it. They are on the crest of the wave. Ask them.’
Here, some of Nicanor’s thoughts come into play. He speaks of there being a special connection between ‘millenials’ (those who are currently aged between around 15 and 35) and ‘baby boomers’ (those who are currently aged between around 50 and 70). The Millenials are a large group, some say they are a larger group than the Boomers. Nicanor sees this as hopeful, and characterises the Millenials as having progressive values innately, such as seeing the aim of business as social reform, rather than profit. But the shadow of this idealistic will is that it can turn inwards if it does not find the means for manifestation – the ‘selfie’ culture can be seen as a symptom of this. Enter the partnership with the Boomers who share similar characteristics, and are likely to be well-resourced and connected (seeing as they own the world), and are now in need of passing from world-rulers to mentors. This is a possible bridge.
But is Moral Technology about inner development, or is it about things like ‘screen-free time’?
Paul Emberson and Anthro-Tech have been quietly working away in Europe for over ten years on some of Steiner’s indications regarding all this. In a nutshell, they are taking seriously that technology/ machines are a major part of man’s creative output, and the welding together with them in some way is inevitable.
‘…The point is not what is going to happen, for it certainly will happen, but how it happens – how these things are handled. The welding together of human beings with machines will be a great and important problem for the rest of Earth-evolution…’ – Rudolf Steiner
But almost all technology today, even the cutting edge stuff, works with electricity: a death force. Steiner gave indications for working with etheric energy: a life force. Emberson and friends are making headway on this, it’s very exciting! But even better, etheric technology necessarily requires the moral participation of its creators and users. This is the stuff of the Keely machine, or the ‘Strader machine’. Emberson calls this work Moral Technology. The work they are doing includes both technological research and development, and simultaneously experimenting with social forms that allow for the amplification of selfless love. This bridges the threshold.
And here is where myself, Rose and Lisa Devine are involved. All three of us could be said to be within Generation X, slap bang between the Millenials and the Boomers. What have we got to do with it? We too seek to build a bridge.
When Rose got about two thirds through her presentation she said: ‘I’m going to speak now just from myself. No more pieces of paper.’ and she put her notes away. The room became deeply still. She began to speak of Christ, the ultimate bridge, and the archetype of selfless love. Of course there is no other way to speak of The Mystery of Golgotha, except ‘from yourself’. This is the voice of the truly moral. And this is when one truly does not know what they are talking about.
I wanted to learn about this, and now I’m presenting on it. Or, as Steiner put it in conversation with the Youth Movement, ‘That is what it all depends on – those initial acts of will.’ (1) and ‘We are not at leisure to wait for clarity. We do not have time to gain clarity in the old way.’ (2) He gave this in light of working with Michael. But Michael brought the capacity for crystal clear thinking…
It is (luckily) said, in our circles, that paradoxes are a good sign. But when more than one thing is true, how do you decide on an action? Perhaps, Michael is urging that we act, while being clear on what we do not know. No wonder he recommends courage. Correspondingly, I’m told that this is how development progresses in the Consciousness Soul age: one must act, in order to learn from the after image. This is Consciousness Soul morality.
And this is how the Millenials work with technology: they play with it. They don’t need to read the instruction manual and they’re not afraid of making mistakes. You may have heard the running gag about ‘cloud technology’ – no one understands the cloud! It’s a cloud! It’s a mystery! – which doesn’t, however, stop us using it. Our technology is over the threshold – as are we, though we’re not always conscious in it. But we need to become so. And here is another area of specialty for Nicanor, and another bridge: a through-line between outer work and inner mastery.
The question of Moral Technology is really one of transubstantiation. Rose said this to me early on in her preparations, but I didn’t understand it at the time. Then, in her presentation, she spoke of the work of Jesaiah Ben-Aharon, and the activity of transcending. For a moment, fearing Luciferic motivations, my alarm bells went off. But then she continued, saying that the path of Christian initiation was not just a rising upward, but that it entailed a further step; a descent back into the earthly. And if there is, then, any material that we are having trouble penetrating with consciousness, then this is a problem of transubstantiation.
Observing the end of The Act of Consecration of Man – the Eucharist service of The Christian Community – a few months ago, I was struck by a new idea. The two servers and the priest disappeared into the vestry and as the door closed I thought: and now the sacrament is over, because it can’t continue without the involvement of human beings. As an aspiring priest myself, I have been learning about sacraments, and my understanding so far is that: sacraments are a balancing of life and death forces, in a human body, on the Earth, through human ritual, out of human consciousness. They are a mutual working of the spiritual and human worlds. The Christian Community have a conference coming up that is called ‘Applied Christianity: Technologies of the Threshold’. I don’t know what kind of technology they will be talking about, but certainly a sacrament could be considered as one.
An oft quoted Steiner lecture is The Work of the Angels in the Astral Body. In it, Steiner speaks of pictures that the angels have planted in human consciousness in order to aid the healthy building of the Sixth Post-Atlantean Epoch. One of these pictures is the notion that every meeting between one man and another will of itself be…a sacrament; a partner to this picture is what he mentions in other lectures: the laboratory table has become the altar.
I hear these notions being passed around with a sense of hope for humanity, and also at times as a jibe about redundancy to those on the path of religious renewal. But for a deed to become sacramental means more than cultivating reverence. I return now to Rose’s idea that the artifacts of technology today form a major part of humanity’s work as creators. Another big area would be the arts. But art and ‘technology’ were once one. In that sense, as novice ‘world-creators’, technology is our creation. The raising of this creative work to the level of sacrament would involve many things; it would need to become, again, artistic, and also be a conscious partnering with the spiritual world.
The development of new technologies: etheric technology, moral technology, is required. But so is the redeeming of what we have made thus far. In my daily life, entering data into MYOB, a bookkeeping software, currently features. I set myself the task of being aware that there is a human being at the other end of each payment to a supplier I type in. Rose gave the examples of herself working to make conscious the part of her soul that is sent with a text message. She also spoke of a friend who gives prayerful thanks to the different beings whose work are incorporated in a medicine he must take each day, as he swallows the pill. These are beginning attempts and they may not work, but remember we are in the time of Consciousness Soul, where ‘initial acts of will’ are required for development.
To be even more practical, considering the human being on the other side of each bookkeeping transaction takes time, and I still need to get my job done in the allotted hours. Oh, to be a Time Lord! Luckily though, I am one. I am, when I do my six basic exercises, one of the effects of which for me, is a changed experience of time. And here again, my mundane daily task has the potential to become sacramental. Another element of sacrament, as it involves a partnership across the threshold, is the inserting of the eternal into the momentary. Suddenly, I have all the time in the world – if I am doing the work.
And finally, here arrives one of the deepest mysteries I know of. Matter is spirit, when I myself become the bridge. And then my cousin is right (I really must tell her!), then technology is precious to me.
So, now begins the Moral Technologies project, a three year plan that will be carried by a new holding group of Rose Nekvapil, myself and Lisa Devine, under the banner of Seed Australia. This currently involves talks around Australia and a youth workshop in Melbourne in September, building to Nicanor’s visit in January 2016. Further plans include two more international speakers on the theme, alongside nurturing a youth movement that will eventually form a connection with Year 12 students.
We seek to work with the young, and the not so. It may involve surveying one’s use of FaceBook, it may involve Steiner’s thinking exercise, it may involve social forms, it may involve gnomes! We don’t know what we’re doing, and we’re doing it. Co-creators are welcome.
– Vaike Neeme
Details here: www.moraltechnologies.com.au
(1): Report on the Dornach Youth Address of March 17, 1924, by Fred Poeppig, collected in ‘Youth and the Etheric Heart, SteinerBooks
(2): ‘The Life of the World Must Be Constructed Anew from the Ground Up’, address by Rudolf Steiner during the Anthroposophical Teachers Conference, Arnheim, 20 July, 1924, collected in ‘Youth and the Etheric Heart, SteinerBooks
Wikipedia – Technological Singularity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity
Dennis Klocek lecture audio: http://dennisklocek.com/lectures/nine-subtle-bodies-full-course
‘Working with the Forces of Life’ by Paul Emberson, New View #72
Nicanor Perlas, interview with the Anthroposophical Society NZ, 2014: www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HLchr6MhZY
The Philosophy of Freedom, RS
The Work of the Angels in the Astral Body, RS
The Apocalypse of St. John, Lecture 10, RS
Initiation, Eternity and the Passing Moment, RS
The Bridge Between Universal Spirituality and the Physical Constitution of Man, RS
The World of the Senses and the World of the Spirit, RS