Mohsen Abdelmoumen: Can you explain us the term « domination culture »?
Dr. Riane Eisler: Many people today believe that elections will lead to freedom and equality. But people often vote for regressive leaders – as dramatically illustrated by the recent election as U.S. President of a man who promised strong- man rule, condoned violence, degraded women, and stoked fear and scapegoating.
To understand, and change, this, we need new thinking. Psychological linguists have found that the terms available to us channel our thinking. So new thinking requires new language.
Our traditional social categories – such as ancient vs. modern, technologically developed vs. undeveloped, capitalist vs. socialist, Eastern vs. Western, and religious vs. secular – fragment our thinking. Each describes only a particular aspect of a social system. And all fail to take into account findings from psychology and neuroscience showing that what children experience and observe impacts how their brains develop – and hence their beliefs, feelings, and actions, including how they vote.
Although people can, and do, change throughout life, early experiences and relations are critical. If children observe that one kind of person (females) is considered inferior, to be dominated and to serve another kind (males), the acquire a mental map for equating all differences – be they based on race, religion, ethnicity, and so forth – with superiority or inferiority, dominating or being dominated, being served or serving. If children see in their families that violence from those who are more powerful toward those who are less powerful is an acceptable way of dealing with conflicts and/or problems, they learn to accept this. They learn that it is very painful to question orders, no matter how brutal or unjust. They learn to identify with those in control and to deflect their pain and anger to “out-groups.”
Fortunately, some people reject these teachings. But unfortunately many replicate them, not only in their intimate relations but in all relations – including international ones. This manifests itself in how people vote, including election of “strong-man” leaders and voting for policies in which there is always money for weapons, prisons, and wars, but no money for policies that in domination systems are associated with the soft or feminine, such as caring for people, starting in early childhood.
The new social categories of the domination system and the partnership system take these findings into account. They describe social configurations that are not visible through the lenses of our old social categories.
These new categories explain why for Hitler a top priority was getting women back into their “traditional” place in a “traditional” family – code words for a top-down, male-dominated, authoritarian family. This was also a priority for Stalin in the former Soviet Union, Khomeini in Iran, and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Indeed, it is a top priority for all so-called religious fundamentalists today – both Eastern and Western – who, not coincidentally, also back “holy wars” and top-down theocratic rule as divinely ordained.
We see these connections cross-culturally and throughout history. Societies adhering closely to the domination system – be they secular like Nazi Germany in the West and Kim Jong Un’s North Korea in the East or religious like ISIS in the Middle East and Boco Haram in Africa – have the following core configuration: 1.Authoritarian rule in both the family and state or tribe, with rigid hierarchies of domination; 2. Ranking of the male half of humanity over the female half, and highly valuing so-called “hard” or “masculine” traits and activities like domination and violence; 3. A high degree of institutionalized or built-in violence, from wife and child beating to war and terrorism, since fear and force ultimately maintain hierarchies of domination – be it man over man, man over woman, race over race, religion over religion, and so forth; 4.Normative stories that present domination and violence as divinely or naturally ordained.
Once we understand these social configurations, we can develop the integrated progressive agenda needed to build what we need: societies that orient to the partnership rather than domination end of the social scale.
Can you tell us about the antagonism between « Partnership Society » and « Domination culture »?
In societies that orient to the partnership system – be they ancient like Catal Huyuk and other prehistoric Neolithic cultures or modern like Sweden, Norway, and Finland – we see a different configuration: 1. A more caring and democratic organization in both the family and state or tribe, with hierarchies of actualization where power is used to empower rather than disempower; 2. Both halves of humanity are equally valued, and so-called “feminine” or “soft” values such as caring and nonviolence (which are considered « unmanly » in domination systems) are highly regarded, whether in women or men; 3. A less violent way of living, since violence is not needed to maintain rigid rankings of domination, be it in families or the family of nations; 4. Beliefs that present relations of mutual respect, accountability, and benefit as natural, and support hierarchies of actualization, where accountability and respect flow both ways rather than only from the bottom up, as in hierarchies of domination.
No society is a pure partnership or domination system. But looking at human history through the lens of the partnership-domination social scale we see patterns that are not visible through the lenses of conventional social categories such as right vs. left, religious vs. secular, Eastern vs. Western, ancient vs. modern, and so forth. We see that throughout both history and prehistory the partnership system and the domination system have been two underlying social possibilities.
We also see something else of critical importance. Those pushing us back to a more autocratic, violent, and unjust social system uniformly work to maintain or impose rigid rankings of domination in gender and parent-child relations.
Yet for many people who consider themselves progressives, women’s rights and children’s rights are “just” women’s and children’s issues.” While regressives have had an integrated domination agenda, progressives have not had an integrated partnership agenda.
Progressives have focused on dismantling the top of the domination pyramid: political and economic injustice and domination. But they have paid far less attention to injustice and domination in gender and parent-child relations – the relations from which children first learn what is considered normal or abnormal, possible or impossible, moral or immoral. Consequently, the base on which the domination pyramid rests has kept rebuilding itself in different forms – be they religious or secular, Eastern or Western, Northern or Southern.
Until progressive make leaving behind traditions of domination, injustice, and violence in our primary human relations a priority, we will lack the solid foundations for a more equitable, peaceful, and caring world. Building these foundations requires an integrated progressive agenda.
The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future is a iconic book, it is the quintessence of the human reflection. If you allow me, where did you find the inspiration of this major work?
The book reports the results of multidisciplinary, cross-cultural, trans-historical research over many decades. I embarked on this research to try to answer a question deeply rooted in my very early life experiences. I was a child refugee from a vicious domination regime. My parents and I had to flee my native Vienna from the Nazis. We fled at night, with no more than what we could carry, and were fortunate to obtain an entry permit from Cuba. We got there on one of the last ships before the St. Luis, a ship carrying 1,000 Jewish refugees from Europe that was turned back, not only by the Cuban government but by all countries in the Western Hemisphere. That was the Nazi’s test case, and they learned that no nation cared what happened to Jews. So they proceeded with their “final solution” and murdered 6 million Jews, including my grandparents and most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. All this led me to questions that haunted me: How can there be so much cruelty, injustice, and violence? Is it inevitable? Or are there alternatives — and if so, what are they?
These were the questions that eventually led to my research re-examining the long span of human cultural evolution. There were other early experiences that motivated me, such as growing up in the industrial slums of Havana, where I experienced dire poverty along with many others, an experience that also tied into the questions about human possibilities that animated my research and led me to write The Chalice and the Blade, then Sacred Pleasure, and after that, other more action-oriented books, such as Tomorrow’s Children on partnership education and The Real Wealth of Nations on a new economics.
You are the President of the Center for Partnership Studies. Can you tell us about this organization and what is its impact?
The Center for Partnership Studies (CPS) is a non-profit tax-exempt organization that was founded because of the groundswell response to The Chalice and the Blade — so many people wanted to come together to learn more and work together to build a more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable future.
The Center has been in existence now for 30 years, and for the last several years its main program has been the Caring Economy Campaign (CEC), inspired by The Real Wealth of Nations. A major component of this program has been the development of Social Wealth Economic Indicators (SWEIs) documenting the enormous economic benefits of investing in care, and the dismal consequences of devaluing it.
SWEIs go beyond GDP as well as most “GDP alternatives.” They show that the United States is way behind other developed nations in investing in family care, health care, early education, and environmental stewardship – and must catch up, for human, environmental, and economic reasons.
The CEC provides online trainings for change-agents worldwide, preparing participants to be effective advocates for government and business policies that help people move out of poverty and the stress of trying to balance family and employment. In the longer terms, the program’s goal is changing the uncaring values driving present economic systems, which requires a shift from domination to partnership systems.
CPS therefore also offers online courses such as my “Changing Our Story, Changing Our Lives.” Now we are also offering consulting services to people and organizations who want to develop and implement and integrated progressive agenda, focusing on four cornerstones: childhood, gender, economics, and narratives/language. These are foundational to building a more caring, sustainable, less stressful way of living and making a living. Politics will follow, since politics are very different depending on the degree to which a time or place orients to the partnership or domination end of the social scale.
We offer many resources for this foundational work, from the books I mentioned earlier to a wealth of online resources at www.centerforpartnership.org.
In 2007, you wrote The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics.This book is against the flow of what assert the ultraliberal theses and it was written before the financial crisis of 2008. Did you feel coming this crisis?
Yes, because I could see that current economic systems are not sustainable. I also saw that there are deep problems, unprecedented technological, economic, environmental, and social challenges that neither capitalism nor socialism can solve.
Both capitalism and socialism came out of early industrial times centuries ago, and we are not well into the post-industrial age. Even beyond this, both came out of times when the domination system was still more firmly entrenched. So neither Adam Smith nor Karl Marx considered caring for people, starting in early childhood, and caring for our natural environment “productive work.” We have inherited this distorted system of values!
If we reexamine the critique of capitalism as unjust and exploitive from the perspective of the partnership-domination continuum, we see that it is actually a critique of domination economics — be it ancient or modern, Western or Eastern, feudal, monarchic, or totalitarian. Long before capitalist billionaires amassed fortunes, Egyptian pharaohs and Chinese emperors hoarded their nations’ wealth. Indian potentates received tributes of silver and gold, while lower castes lived in abject poverty. Middle Eastern warlords pillaged, plundered, and terrorized their people. European feudal lords killed their neighbors and oppressed their subjects. Today’s “trickle-down economics” is a replay of earlier traditions where those on the bottom must content themselves with the scraps dropping from the opulent tables of those on top.
To understand, and change, current economic systems, we have to understand, and change, the domination social context from which they, and the theories that support them, derive. This does not mean leaving everything from capitalism and socialism behind. It means discarding their domination elements and preserving their partnership elements – and going beyond both to create a new economic model that recognizes that the most important human work is caring for people and nature.
The Caring Economics or Partnerism introduced in The Real Wealth of Nations is a new economic paradigm that gives visibility and value in its metrics, policies, and practices to the essential work of caring for people and our Earth.
Adequately rewarding this work is essential to cut through cycles of poverty. This is not only because children need good care and early education to develop their potentials, but because the disproportionate poverty of women and children worldwide is largely due to the fact that women still do the bulk of caregiving for very low wages in the market and for free in homes.
It makes no sense to talk of ending poverty in generalities when the mass of the world’s poor and the poorest of the poor are women and children. Even in the rich United States, women over the age of 65 are, according to U.S. Census statistics, twice as likely to be poor as men over 65. A major reason is that most of these women are, or were, caregivers.
And there is more. We are now in the post-industrial era, when economists tell us that the most important capital is what they call “high quality human capital. And we today know that whether of not this is developed largely hinges on the quality of care and education children receive early on.
Education is at the center of your action and commitment. Can you tell us about that?
We humans are not born with our beliefs and habits, they are learned. So yes, education, both formal and informal, is key to what kinds of people we become. This is why I wrote my book Tomorrow’s Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education in the 21st Century, which starts with the need for parenting education and goes on to describe what education should look like if we are to help young people not only navigate through our difficult times but become active creators of a more equitable, peaceful, and sustainable world.
I am happy that the book is being used in many nations, including Pakistan (it was translated into Urdu, as well as German, Chinese, and other languages). But I would like to see it used much more widely, especially as a text for teacher education.
Of course, education is not just what is taught in schools and universities, as important as that is. Families educate through both modeling and the stories they select for children – and these stories still include fairy tales such as “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Sheherazade,” which not only normalize the division between “common people” and rulers (in “Sheherazade” a monarch who is a serial sex killer and does not get punished for his crimes), but also indoctrinate rigid gender stereotypes into children’s minds before their brains, including their critical faculties, are developed. Fortunately there are today new children’s stories that are more partnership oriented. But the mass media still normalize violence, “family comedies” presenting bullying and humiliation as funny, and video games teach boys and men that it is fun to kill.
We have a lot of work ahead of us in changing these narratives from domination to partnership, and helping people look at the world through the lenses of the partnership and domination configuration. I invite our readers to become leaders in this essential work!
Personalities of your stature, listened in the United Nations, the State Department, in the foreign parliaments, etc. can influence to improve things.In your opinion, can the voices of progress such as yours, together with others, weigh on the balance of power and change the world?
Yes, I firmly believe this. Human agency is the key to change.
It is human agency that made it possible to leave behind many traditions of domination and violence that were just a few centuries ago, in the European Middle Ages, considered divinely ordained.
If we look at modern history through the lens of the partnership-domination social scale, we see that over the last few hundred years one progressive movement after another has challenged traditions of domination. These range from challenges to the “divinely-ordained” right of despotic kings to rule their “subjects,” the “divinely-ordained” right of men to rule the women and children in the “castles” of their homes, and the “divinely-ordained” right of one race or nation to rule over another, all the way to today’s challenges to man’s “divinely ordained” right to dominate and conquer nature.
Even though these movements were fiercely resisted, there were obviously major changes: we left the Inquisition, Crusades, and witch-burnings of the Middle Ages behind and new concept like human rights were introduced. But even after gains were made, there were regressions to more rigid domination systems – from the Nazi and Soviet totalitarian regimes to religious fundamentalists, who are actually domination fundamentalists pushing us back to a time when most men and all women did not question their subordinate place under those in control.
These regressive regimes and would-be regimes, as I noted earlier, uniformly work to maintain or impose rigid rankings of domination in gender and parent-child relations. This is why we progressives must focus on these foundational relations, and make leaving behind traditions of domination, injustice, and violence in them a priority. Then we will have solid foundations for a more equitable and peaceful world.
Where do you find so much energy to be in all these fights and to be present in all the organizations you are involved in, not only CPS but the World Futures Council, the Club of Rome, and so on, as well as all the teaching and speaking you do worldwide? How do you handle all these activities?
I have a great deal of passion for this work – not only through my research, writing, teaching, speaking, and organizing, but as a mother and grandmother deeply concerned, as so many of us are, about what kind of future our children will inherit. That passion sustains me, even though, as you note, I probably try to do too much. I also gain energy from the letters and emails I receive from all over the world, from women and men telling me that my work has transformed their lives. And I love teaching, speaking, and consulting. That too gives me energy.
I want people to use this work for both personal and cultural transformation. I would like to have more financial resources so I and the Center for Partnership Studies can reach more people and organizations.
This is ever more urgent. I have been called a practical visionary, and I like that. What my work describes as a partnership-oriented social system is not a “utopia” or impossible place. It is a “pragmatopia” – another new term I coined to describe a better world that we can create.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Riane Eisler?
Dr. Riane Eisler is a social and systems scientist, attorney, and author whose work on cultural transformation has inspired both scholars and social activists. Her groundbreaking research has impacted many fields, including history, economics, psychology, sociology, education, and healthcare. She has been a leader in the movement for peace, sustainability, and economic equity, and her pioneering work in human rights has expanded the focus of international organizations to include the rights of women and children. She is president of the Center for Partnership Studies (CPS), dedicated to research and education on social and economic transformation; co-founder of CPS’s Caring Economy Campaign and, with Nobel Peace laureate Betty Williams, of the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence (SAIV); and Editor in Chief of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies, an online peer-reviewed journal housed at the University of Minnesota that was inspired by Eisler’s work.
Dr. Eisler is internationally known for her bestseller The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future, now in 26 foreign editions, including most European languages and Chinese, Russian, Korean, Hebrew, Japanese, Urdu, and Arabic. Her book, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics – hailed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as “a template for the better world we have been so urgently seeking,” Peter Senge as “desperately needed,” Gloria Steinem as “revolutionary,” and Jane Goodall as “a call for action” – proposes a new economics that gives visibility and value to the most essential human work: the work of caring for people and nature. Her most recent book, Transforming Interprofessional Partnerships: A New Framework for Nursing and Partnership-Based Health Care, co-authored with nursing professor Teddie Potter, won an American Journal of Nursing award.
Dr. Eisler keynotes conferences and speaks at universities worldwide, and consults to business and government on applications of the partnership model introduced in her work. She has spoken at the United Nations General Assembly, and other venues have included Germany at the invitation of Prof. Rita Suessmuth, President of the Bundestag (the German Parliament) and Daniel Goeudevert (Chair of Volkswagen International); Colombia, invited by the Mayor of Bogota; and the Czech Republic, invited by Vaclav Havel (President of the Czech Republic).
She is a member of the Club of Rome and the Social Venture Network, a Councilor of the World Future Council, a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and World Business Academy, and a commissioner of the World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality, along with the Dalai Lama and other spiritual leaders.
Other books drawing from her multidisciplinary research include the award-winning The Power of Partnership and Tomorrow’s Children, as well as Sacred Pleasure, a daring reexamination of sexuality and spirituality, and Women, Men, and the Global Quality of Life documenting the key role of women’s status in a nation’s general quality of life. Her earlier books include Dissolution and The Equal Rights Handbook, widely used in the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Riane Eisler was born in Vienna, fled from the Nazis with her parents to Cuba, and later emigrated to the United States. She obtained degrees in sociology and law from the University of California, taught pioneering classes on women and the law at UCLA, and now teaches in the graduate Transformative Leadership Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Eisler has written over 400 articles in publications ranging from Behavioral Science, Futures, Political Psychology, The Christian Science Monitor, Challenge, and The UNESCO Courier to Brain and Mind, the Human Rights Quarterly, The International Journal of Women’s Studies, and the World Encyclopedia of Peace. She sits on editorial boards of both scholarly and popular journals.
Dr. Eisler is the only woman among 20 great thinkers including Hegel, Adam Smith, Marx, and Toynbee selected for inclusion in Macrohistory and Macrohistorians in recognition of the lasting importance of her work as a cultural historian and evolutionary theorist. She has received many honors, including honorary Ph.D. degrees, the Alice Paul ERA Education Award, and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2009 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award, and is included in the award-winning book Great Peacemakers as one of 20 leaders for world peace, along with Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King.
Dr. Eisler lives on the Monterey Peninsula of California with her husband, social psychologist and evolutionary scholar David Loye.
Published in American Herald Tribune, January 10, 2017: http://ahtribune.com/human-rights/1441-riane-eisler.html
In French in Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.110117.htm