Roots to Renewal

Episode Twelve: Gary Lamb on Ethical Technology

June 29, 2022 Hawthorne Valley Season 1 Episode 12
Roots to Renewal
Episode Twelve: Gary Lamb on Ethical Technology
Show Notes Transcript

Sponsored by Tierra Farm; Music by Aaron Dessner

This is our twelfth episode of the podcast and this time Martin interviewed one of Hawthorne Valley’s longest standing coworkers, Gary Lamb. Gary is currently the director of the Hawthorne Valley Center for Social Research and its Ethical Technology Initiative. Over his 36 years of employment at Hawthorne Valley, Gary also served the Farm Store manager, school development and admissions director, and high school economics teacher. His professional background includes a degree in civil technology and mathematics, and employment in the fields of building construction, medical technology, and manufacturing. His most recent publication, A Road to Sacred Creation: Rudolf Steiner’s Perspectives on Technology, Volume 1, was released in August 2021 by SteinerBooks. 

From an explanation of Steiner’s idea of social three-folding, to the impact of technology on education and the future of humanity itself, to a discussion about the ultimate uniting social force needed to allow humanity to benefit from technological advances, this episode is sure to leave you with much to consider.

Learn more about The Center for Social Research at Hawthorne Valley and its Ethical Technology initiative here
Make a donation
Purchase A Road to Sacred Creation: Rudolf Steiner's Perspectives on Technology, Volume 1

More About Gary Lamb
Prior to editing A Road to Sacred Creation: Rudolf Steiner’s Perspectives on Technology, Volume 1, which was released in August 2021 by SteinerBooks, Gary edited Steinerian Economics with Sarah Hearn (Mecca), a compendium of Rudolf Steiner’s views on economics published by Adonis Press. He also authored books on Waldorf education and associative economics—Social Mission of Waldorf Education, Wellsprings of the Spirit, and Associative Economics—published by AWSNA Publications (now Waldorf Publications). Gary was also the managing editor of The Threefold Review, a journal based on Rudolf Steiner’s ideas about a threefold social organism. 

Thanks for listening to Hawthorne Valley’s Roots to Renewal podcast. We are an association comprised of a variety of interconnected initiatives that work collectively to meet our mission. You can learn more about our work by visiting our website at

Hawthorne Valley is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization, and we rely on the generosity of people like you to make our work a reality. Please consider making a donation to support us today. If you’d like to help us in other ways, please help us spread the word about this podcast by sharing it with your friends, and leaving us a rating and review.

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Heather Gibbons (00:14):

Hi, I'm Heather Gibbons, and this is Hawthorne Valley's 50th anniversary podcast, Roots to Renewal. We started this podcast more than a year ago as a new way to share Hawthorne Valley's story and engage in conversation with friends from around the world who dedicate their lives to meeting the ecological, social, and spiritual needs of our time. We are thankful to Tierra Farm, a family-owned environmentally conscious manufacturer and distributor of organic dried fruits and nuts for their generous support. This is our 12th episode of the podcast, and this time Martin interviewed one of Hawthorne Valley's longest standing coworkers Gary Lamb. Gary is currently the director of the Hawthorne Valley Center for Social Research at its Ethical Technology initiative over his 36 years of employment at Hawthorne Valley. Gary also served as the Farm Store manager, school development and admissions director, and high school economics teacher. His professional background includes a degree in civil technology and mathematics, and employment in the fields of building construction, medical technology, and manufacturing. His most recent publication A Road to Sacred Creation, Rudolph Steiner's Perspectives on Technology Volume One was released in August, 2021 by Steinerbooks, From an explanation of Steiner's idea of social three folding, to the impact of technology on education and the future of humanity itself, to a discussion about the ultimate uniting social force needed to allow humanity to benefit from technological advances, this episode is sure to leave you with much to consider.

Martin Ping (02:00):

Good afternoon, Gary Lamb. Great to have you on our Roots to Renewal podcast as we celebrate Hawthorne Valley's 50th. I think you've been here for more than 36 of those 50 years. If I have my math, correct. This is that right?

Gary Lamb (02:16):

That's correct. Yes. As far as I can calculate

Martin Ping (02:20):

<laugh> and in, in your early days here, you, you was your first role actually Farm Store manager.

Gary Lamb (02:28):

Yes. I came here in 1986 March and I became the Farm Store manager under Christoph Meier and David Griffins.

Martin Ping (02:39):

When you left the farm store, you founded the earlier version of what is now the Center for Social Research. Is that accurate?

Gary Lamb (02:49):

Yeah, uh, it was called the Center for Environmental and Social Responsibility, uh, at that time. And that went on for, I don't know, seven, eight years also. And the main work had to do with education issues, educational freedom, uh, funding of education. That's when I got into editing some books on Steiner, on educational freedom, three fold social organism, and whole question at that time and still is now, how are we going to fund, uh, independent education going into the future?

Martin Ping (03:27):

And you also were editing something called the Threefold Review around the time if I remember correctly.

Gary Lamb (03:34):

Yeah, that was, um, when I was the Farm Store manager, that's when it was started, it focused on Steiner's social ideas, trying to clarify them for the reader and also interpret current events, social events in relation to those ideas.

Martin Ping (03:50):

When we used the term threefold, social organism, just ideas, three folding, what does that actually mean?

Gary Lamb (03:57):

It's generally recognized now that there are three sectors, main sectors in social life and that's the starting point for Steiner. Um, but he goes a lot farther and deeper into how those sectors, which are sometimes called economy, the political realm and cultural life, including education. The question is how should they relate to each other? And what's the appropriate healthiest dynamics within each one of those sectors. So one of the key ideas that Steiner brought forward as far as the three sectors is that no one of them is more important than the other. They're all equally important. They're vital to the social life. And, um, what we have now are, you know, just to give you some examples, we have a situation say in under private capitalism where the economy dominates the political life, and then both of them dominate culture, including education. And then if you go to socialism, you have the political realm dominating the other two.

Gary Lamb (05:08):

And then when you go to fundamentalism cultural life, either fundamentalist, religion, or you could even say materialistic science, um, heavily influences the other two. So the question is how do you find that healthy balance that they're all there supporting each other in the appropriate way? Um, that's one aspect and then what's the, then what's the internal dynamics, the ideal, uh, uh, internal dynamics with, um, economics, uh, Steiner maintains that instead of self-interest, uh, profit motive, uh, egotism that the motivation should be concerned for others concerned for the community, uh, social interest, uh, so socially responsible economy and then political realm, nobody theoretically would agree that it, uh, should be based on equality because the, like the economy dominates political life and ends up being a reflection of economic interests, as far as what the economic arena thinks is most important for its wellbeing. But because if it dominates the political realm, then it will, our laws will reflect economic interest.

Gary Lamb (06:28):

And in many cases eliminates, uh, true equality and human rights and then cultural life Steiner maintains that in order for the whole social organism to be the healthiest it's to the advantage of all of social life. If every child being educated is the main focus is to, uh, liberate all the innate qualities of every child, rather than trying to fit them into the existing order and the existing order, the economy determines what qualities that should be developed in the child, rather than focusing on educators, looking at each child saying, okay, what is uh, what is the latent capacities in this child? And how do we enable that child in essence, to educate itself?

Martin Ping (07:25):

Can you point to living examples of where this idea of a threefold social Commonwealth there's, three full social organism is adhering to the principles that you've just described, uh, and able to still be functioning.

Gary Lamb (07:42):

I can't point to, let's say a large region of the earth that lives out of those principles, but I think a lot of elements in, uh, Steiner's perspectives on each one of those spheres. Um, we can see examples of those, let's say with, uh, ethical banking. Um, and then there's the, within the anthroposophical world, there's Camp Hill communities that, um, work on a communal basis that, uh, no one's paid for their labor. They're supported to be able to work on behalf of the community and take care of, um, people with disabilities. And then one of the, I think the most developed, um, models is in Egypt community called SEKEM. And that's probably the model that's most developed as far as I know. And then the question of cultural life and freedom, that's an ongoing battle in the sense that, uh, Steiner, I, you could maybe call it a controversial, uh, position is that he said, actually state run education is outdated.

Gary Lamb (08:52):

There's appropriate. Let's say for the, you know, the education to be under the religious aspect of life and the state to take over for a period of time, when now in order to have this full development of each child, the administration of the education realm of culture should be actually run by and headed by educators themselves rather than politicians or corporate owners having a heavy influence. So you depend on the people who have the most direct access to the education process. So it's not as if there's no administration right now, the government's the administration, ideally education should have its own administration based on educators, parent involvement also. So that's a tough one. There's, uh, not too many examples. As far as the political realm, I read this book, Empowering Public Wisdom by Tom Atlee and he has the Co-intelligence Institute and he focuses on what's called citizen deliberation councils, where people come together, uh, and focus on controversial issues. And they have a method of, uh, people reviewing all those methods together. And I think this is a very good step towards coming to a situation where, uh, in a democratic society, all sides are heard and then decisions are made right now. We don't really have any process where issues can be brought for by the, through the people, to the people and in an objective way discussed and opinions, uh, shared and all taken in to consideration before, um, voting on something. So that's a challenge.

Martin Ping (10:47):

The idea of everybody being heard in this <laugh> current climate is discouraging. The, what I would call the lack of deep listening, that seems to be making the notion of coming together and hearing each other and allowing the highest, ideal to emerge out of that deep listening process. It, it seems as though as a species we've, we're sort of losing our touch there, at least currently it feels that way in, in, uh, here in the United States.

Gary Lamb (11:19):

Uh, I agree with that a hundred percent. And I think everybody knows that, um, social media is not the greatest, uh, vehicle for facilitating those kinds of conversations. So I feel quite strongly that the starting point is actually, uh, face to face human interactions to build it up. You know, technology can augment, uh, human relations, but it can't replace it. Um, so the starting point I feel is if we're gonna build something up from the ground up is with people meeting each other in person and experimenting with these type of deliberation councils. That's, that's the, to me, that's the starting point.

Martin Ping (12:04):

You bring up technology as like, thanks for letting that genie out of the bottle. Now <laugh>, your restart of the Center for Social Research has really evolved to focus at the moment solely on this question of the ethical application of technology. And I, I wonder if you could maybe say what led you to this idea to focus on technology at this time.

Gary Lamb (12:31):

Yeah. Well, let me just address the issue of focus. Technology is embedded in every aspect of life. So you really can't be isolated focusing on technology, uh, because it brings you into question of, you know, our business models in our question of how we're educating our children, how I became interested in it. It goes back a few years to the, um, Center for Social Research at Hawthorne Valley collaborated with the Research Institute for Waldorf Education. And our idea was to bring together people from all backgrounds in relation to education in a way working towards these citizen deliberation councils, but in a cultural realm, our goal was to bring together people focusing on key issues in education and try to do it in such a way that we could enable everyone to share their experiences and learn from each other. I became aware in relation to education, the effort to transform, uh, education into basically, uh, a computerized system.

Gary Lamb (13:42):

And I remember seeing this mapping of it's called in 2035, the future of education. It was a, a mapping that showed the old aspects of education from early childhood to a great age. And so basically all of a life would be a part of the education system, and it would be all computer based and algorithms and, you know, all these different aspects. It really shocked me and horrified me of this was how a great number of think tanks and major foundations in the United States and around the world, we're seeing the future of education based on technology based education. So that soon led me into the whole issue of education itself, how it's funded it's business model. Um, and yeah, so it was a quick, quick transfer from focusing on technology and education to the whole issue.

Martin Ping (14:44):

You showed me that map once, and if I'm remembering it correctly, there was essentially, it was replacing the I the whole concept of teachers with screens. Like you wouldn't need, teachers would become obsolete, cuz all the content could be delivered and the same content could be delivered much more efficiently and less extensively without the messiness of the intermediaries, uh, teachers. Am I remembering the map correctly.

Gary Lamb (15:11):

Yes, that's correct. A key element of is, is that you have to have goals and standards in education because if you're not, if everybody's not headed in the same direction, then you can't link up where education should be with the data in the past. So you, uh, so you can't have any, you can't utilize algorithms or formulas to move from the past into the future. And so you have to have universal goals in education. That's why, uh, it's not a good thing. If you're want computerized education that let's say every school has its own goals and standards or every state you want everybody, uh, having the same marching orders and headed towards the same goals. And of course in the reform years, starting in 83, the Nation at Risk Report all the way up to the current state, it's been the collaboration between corporate America and the United States and federal and state governments to come up with these common goals. And it was only after they really formulated that the educators and the parents were brought into the picture. So this is kind of the opposite. It was Steiner was suggesting that the goals and standards should rise out of the field of education and the educators in collaboration with the parents first.

Martin Ping (16:34):

I often wonder, are there people who are moving in this direction, uh, because they really believe it's the best thing for society or is it, is it all like a nefarious, profit driven plot? I don't always like to immediately go towards like the conspiratorial side of things, but then again, uh, having read Shoshana Zuboff, uh, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and, and realizing, uh, how much the use of our data now is solely the driving the engine of so many companies from a capitalist point of view, it's, it is quite alarming and it feels like it's hard to maintain an upper hand in that scenario.

Gary Lamb (17:17):

You're right. And as you've asked that question, I'm thinking, well, what if we removed the profit motive from, uh, the technology industry, how much interest would they have in education? If there was no profit to be made there. It's interesting with the education industry and I'm calling it an industry from an economic point of view, it's, I would say important for the technology industry. Uh, for two reasons, one it's a huge market. And two is one of the hugest markets. The largest markets for data technology is data driven. So by entering into the education field, you extract a lot of data through all the children being educated. It's a two way street. You're leading children in a certain direction education. And in the same, at the same time, you're extracting a huge amount of data on every single child that data becomes available to the technology industry.

Gary Lamb (18:15):

And that's a valuable product that I remember early on that you called data was the new oil or the data was the new gold, those, those, those are the terms that they were using when, um, this foray into, uh, technology and education started. If you remove the factor of money and profit, how much motivation would there be? Uh, and what would be that motivation to engage technology? That's not to say there's no use for technology. There are a lot of specific uses, you know, when people with disabilities and things like that. So the question is from a threefold point of view, how do you honor, first of all, the process of enabling every child to develop its full capacities, that's the goal of education? How do you honor that? Can technology support that activity or is it mainly used for mainly good at leading children and educators in a predetermined direction in predetermined goals? And if you don't have that predetermined direction and predetermined goals, it really limits, uh, the technology as far as I, uh, I can see

Martin Ping (19:30):

What's coming up for me. Um, is this again, the question and maybe a little bit of devil's advocate is that currently all sectors of society are not equal and there are communities that have more advantage than others. And one idea I think early on of, of the internet was, was going to democratize information and make things really like level the playing field, the hope and the promise was that by making this available across the board, you know, somehow it was going to leave less people behind. I don't know that it's playing out that way, but I'm just wrestling with, I think it's what you're saying. And I think it gets to the point of your, the ethical application. This isn't to say it's all good or all bad. Somehow it's a conscious choice of humanity. Are we using it in a way that's honoring and uplifting each human being and our overall humanity or profit motive or something else, that's a motivating factor,

Gary Lamb (20:25):

But people often appoint to the business model in social media in particular, whereby it's a business model that is based on advertising. And I would say individually targeted advertising, which want, so you want to have as much data on each individual as possible to maximize your ability to as to individuals. So this is an incentive, as we all know now that, uh, an incentive to keep people in the social medias as much as possible. It's interesting. This movie, Social Dilemma that's come out in there. There was this line that really struck me. One of the former leaders of one of the major companies we're describing how the social media was using behavior modification in order to keep people connected with the media as much as possible. And the way to do that basically create obsessions addictions. One of the leading CEOs of the major companies said, we knew what we were doing, but we did it anyway.

Gary Lamb (21:34):

They knew they were creating addictions in people, but they did it anyway. I put this back to the, kind of the basis of private capitalism, self interested behavior, egotism, profit motive. If that's the context in which the technology is being made and sold and marketed and used, then that ideal of bringing democracy through technology is not going to work. This gets back to one of the key ideas that brought by Steiner in relation to technology. One of the, um, ideas is that human beings are gonna merge more and more physically, even with technology. And Steiner also agreed with that idea that human beings are gonna become closer and merge more and more with, uh, technology, but the key issue for him that he presented. And I think this is a, uh, really important one is what is the motivation of the people who are creating and promoting and selling the technology?

Gary Lamb (22:43):

Is it for profit? Is it out of egotism? Is it out of profit or power or is it for the good of humanity? In addition, while taking into consideration the great goals of human evolution? I think this is the reason I have been spending the last few years, uh, researching Steiner's indication that technology is what is the spiritual perspective of the human being? What is the, um, spiritual perspective of human evolution and earth evolution? To me, those are crucial elements to take into consideration. In addition to addressing the issue of motivation, the motivation has to be out of a higher or more developed consciousness of who we are as human beings. And if you can have a altruistic motivation, that's done out of consciousness of who we are as human beings, where we're tending in earth and human evolution. That's the ideal at rock bottom. What's the motivation of the people who are creating our technology today,

Martin Ping (23:54):

Where might one go to find out some of this <laugh>

Gary Lamb (24:00):

Well up until August of 2021, you would have to, um, search through about 350, uh, volumes of Rudolf Steiner's works that this is where I came to, uh, you know, about four or five years ago, it came to the point. I go, well, if spiritual sciences has anything to contribute to the development technology, then we have to know what spiritual science has to say about it and what Rudolf Steiner has said about it. And his lectures and books, the realization was he wrote no books about technology. He gave no lecture cycles on technology, but what I found out, he spoke about it and wrote about it everywhere, but it's not in one place. We ended up with finding indications, uh, perspectives in 135 volumes or books by Steiner took about three years to track all that down. And, and then ultimately resulted in a book that I edited and annotated introduced called A Road to Sacred Creation, Rudolph Steiner's Perspectives on Technology, A Compendium Volume One.

Gary Lamb (25:13):

And that was published by Steinerbooks last August, since then, I've been giving talks to small groups of people let's say from 10 people to 45-50 people. And I've about spoke to about three, 400 people thus far, uh, in these small groups. And just trying to, uh, bring across, introduce them to what's in the book was in general ideas that Steiner spoke about and also enables me, uh, cuz I spent so much time tracking down all this information really didn't have much time to digest it. So by presenting the ideas to smallish large medium sized groups enables me to actually digest the material also to learn how to bring these ideas, which Steiner brought in the early 19 hundreds into modern language and show the connection to his ideas and insights to what's happening in modern life and technology now.

Martin Ping (26:18):

Where do you see it going now? I mean, what, what do you intimate could actually be a course of human action that might allow us to continue to benefit from the upside of our technological advances is while also keep it in service to humanity rather than the other way around

Gary Lamb (26:36):

One of the big problems right now, uh, getting back to Steiner's ideas of a threefold social organism, the economy, cultural life and political life are all equally important. The danger is, and this is the situation we're in now is that the economy, the technology-based economy is developing at a much more rapid pace than our political rights life and cultural life, ethical life can keep up with. So that's one of the key issues is how do we bring this and balance in? And also how do we rein in, uh, I would say the harmful effects of technology and pressure of economic life on these other two spheres. One of the key issues is how to bring legislation up to the point where we can actually protect human beings from being harmed and also have time to look at the ethical, moral issues of getting into creating new forms of life.

Gary Lamb (27:41):

One of the key issues is to not stop the economy from growing, but bring it in harmony too, with the development of our rights life and our cultural life. There are many, I would say hundreds, if not thousands of organizations that are trying to address the overreach of the technology industry into culture, education and our rights life, they're all doing good work. I guess one of the questions I have is can we create some kind of platform or way of bringing all those groups, organizations doing valiant efforts to protect children and humanity and keep technology within the appropriate bounds? Is there a way that we can align our efforts together in some way in order that we're not all doing good things, but in different directions, but we can actually move, march together and with some common goals in a common direction, that's kind of a, a big question, but it's kind of key to everything I'm thinking about right now. Selfless love is a moral force. Steiner actually indicated that in the future, that is meant to be the new basis for new forms of technology moving beyond electricity-based technology that we will find, uh, within the human being, the moral development, the moral forces, selfless love that will bring people together, but also will be kind of a resource to draw upon in developing new forms of technology.

Martin Ping (29:37):

Gary, thank you very much for making time today as you're doing all of this good work. Uh, and, and thank you very much for the good work it's, uh, I, I know how, uh, much you burn the candle at both ends out of your selfless love and care for this. So I just thank you for that.

Gary Lamb (29:55):

You are welcome. Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts.

Heather Gibbons (30:07):

If you'd like to learn more about Gary's work and the Ethical Technology Initiative at Hawthorne valley, visit CSR dot Hawthorne Valley dot org. Thanks for listening to Hawthorne Valley's Roots to Renewal podcast. We are an association comprised of a variety of interconnected initiatives that work collectively to meet our mission. You can learn more about our work by visiting our website Hawthorne valley is a registered 5 0 1 C3 nonprofit organization, and we rely on the generosity of people like you to make our work a reality. Please consider making a donation to support us today. If you'd like to help us in other ways, please help spread the word about this podcast by sharing it with your friends and leaving us a rating and review. Special thanks to our sponsor Tierra Farm, who makes this podcast possible. Thank you to Grammy award-winning artist, Aaron Dessner for providing our soundtrack and Aaron Ping for his editing expertise.