Indeed, Anglo-Americanism is a modern cultural narcotic to anesthetize our urge to find the spirit within us. It is the task of Anglo-American culture to organize the material realm and spread it over the whole globe, but due to an inherent idiosyncrasy, it also numbs and distracts people in their search for the spirit with its Americanisms.
–Rudolf Steiner, Lecture in Ulm, 30 April 1918.
Amazing, that Steiner thought this way before the advent of television, computers, Britney Spears, or any other thing the US has foisted on the world. Of course, I say foisted knowing that most of the world has in general opened up and said aaahh to all we have to offer.
The other thing to realize about this quote is that Steiner wasn’t trying to say that the material realm is an inherently bad thing. On the contrary, he believed that we need to be here on the Earth, materially corporeal, in order to work through our karma and advance spiritually. And in using the word “task,” he is pointing out the fact that (in his cosmology) each major world culture has had/will have something to contribute to human development, despite its respective shadow side.
I’ll never forget something one of my teachers said to me during my Foundation Year at Rudolf Steiner College: we should in some sense feel pity for the angels and the other hierarchies above ours, because in many ways they have no freedom.
That’s right, we’re lucky to be here, surrounded and benumbed by all this materialistic Western culture. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration. There’s nothing about being benumbed that helps us advance. But without our material existence we would never be able to choose our “cultural narcotic” du jour, or choose to strengthen our powers of perception or thinking.
Fighting against this numbness is something that Anthropapa and I have been struggling with for a long time. Back in the late 90’s, we realized that TV was sucking away not only hours of each day, but our brain cells as well. And we didn’t talk to each other enough. So, we ditched the TV completely for several years.
We don’t watch TV any more, but now we have a wireless internet connection. Today, it’s NaBloPoMo. Tomorrow morning, a little Facebook. Tomorrow night, perhaps something from Netflix.
I often seem to be trying to become comfortably numb. It’s a lot easier than working on my karma.