Dr. Riane Eisler is the author of The Chalice and the Blade, hailed by Princeton anthropologist Ashley Montagu as "the most important book since Darwin's Origin of Species.Her other books, drawing from her research as a cultural historian and systems theorist, include Sacred Pleasure, The Partnership Way, Women, Men, and the Global Quality of Life. She is co-director of the Center for Partnership Studies, keynotes conferences worldwide, and consults for business and government on applying the partnership model and cultural transformation theory to all aspects of life - from the family and business to education, politics and the environment. In this article, adapted from her contribution to the May/June 1998 issue of Tikkun, she describes what she sees as the key pillars of a fairer and better world.
When I was a child and my parents and I had to flee Nazi Europe, I wanted to know why there is so much brutality and cruelty. Later, in my research, I asked deeper questions. Why don't we have a more equitable and peaceful world when we humans have such a profound yearning for love, beauty, and justice? What are the obstacles? What are the most effective interventions?
My work deconstructs much about our past and present that has been considered "just the way things are." It moves beyond conventional categories such as capitalism versus communism or religious versus secular to a new understanding of beliefs and institutions - from families, workplaces, and schools to political, religious, and economic systems - that support or impede caring and equitable relations. But my emphasis is not on deconstruction. It is primarily on reconstruction: on the shift from what I have called a dominator to a partnership society.
This new approach connects politics in the sense it is generally used with what I call the politics of the body. It pays particular attention to our intimate parent-child and gender relations because it is in these relations that we learn to accept either chronic violations of human rights or respect for human rights as normal. It is action oriented. It shows that fundamental change is possible if the entire spectrum of relations in both the so-called private and pubic spheres is understood and addressed.
Organized Challenges to Traditions of Domination
If we look at the last 300 years of history from this larger perspective, we see that the upheavals brought first by the industrial revolution and now by the rapid introduction of postindustrial electronic, nuclear, and biochemical technologies have provided the opportunity for challenges to entrenched traditions of domination. These challenges were initiated by small, unpopular, often persecuted minorities conscious that we humans have alternatives: that man's domination of nature, women, and "lesser" men is neither divinely nor biologically ordained.
As this consciousness spread, there sprang up mass movements challenging the supposedly divinely ordained right of kings to rule their "subjects," of men to rule women and children in the "castles" of their homes, of "superior" races to rule "inferior" ones, and of warlike tribes and nations to "heroically" conquer more peaceful ones. More recently, we have seen challenges to long-standing traditions of intimate violence, to adages such as spare the rod and spoil the child that were once likewise considered divinely ordained, along with male violence against women. We have also seen challenges to our species' supposedly divinely ordained "dominion over every living thing that moveth upon the earth," and with this, to our species' right to overpopulate and despoil and pollute our planetary habitat through ever more powerful technologies.
These challenges - and the organized movements for social and cultural change that sprang up around them - are not random or disconnected. Neither is the resistance to them, or the periodic regressions to more violence and inequity. Underneath the currents and countercurrents of human history lies the dynamic tension between the two basic possibilities for human culture represented by the partnership and dominator models. This tension has been constant throughout human history. But it is during periods of great disequilibrium such as ours that a shift from one of these models to the other is possible. However, we can only succeed in this transformation if we pay attention to the foundations that support either partnership or dominator oriented societies. This requires looking at matters that are not conventionally perceived as connected.
Looking at the Larger Picture
If we look at only part of a picture, we cannot see patterns. In my work I draw from a larger database than most studies of human society. This database includes the whole of society (both its so-called private and public spheres), the whole of humanity (both its female and male halves), and the whole of history (including prehistory). Looking at this larger picture made it possible to see patterns or connections that were not visible before. It shows that underlying the many differences in societies, both cross-culturally and through human history, are two basic social configurations. Since there were no names for them, I called these configurations the dominator model and the partnership model
In societies adhering closely to the dominator model, we find the following configuration: top-down authoritarianism (strong-man rule), the subordination of one half of humanity to the other, and a high degree of institutionalized or built-in violence, whether in the form of wife and child beating or in the form of warfare. Moving toward the partnership side of the spectrum - and it is always a matter of degree - we see a different configuration. First, we see a more democratic organization, economically as well as politically. Second, both halves of humanity are equally valued, and stereotypically feminine values such as caring and nonviolence (which are considered "unmanly" in the dominator model) are highly regarded, whether they are embodied in women or men. Third, we see a less violent way of living. (We see this most highly developed today in the Scandinavian world, but there are trends in this direction worldwide.)
Looking at societies from this perspective clears up many things; for example, that it does not help to talk about cooperation versus competition. Dominators often cooperate with each other to achieve their goals, whether it is to launch a war of conquest, clear-cut a rainforest, or maintain economic domination and exploitation. Partnership-oriented societies - or business organizations, or families - can also have a place for competition. But here competition is configured differently. It is not the "dog-eat-dog" competition of the dominator model; it is achievement-oriented, competing against standards of excellence, and more empathic.
Caring is the key to partnership - not only on the individual level, but on the level of social and economic rules and practices. I have identified four cornerstones that we need to put in place to support partnership rather than dominator relations.
The First Cornerstone: Childhood Relations
The first cornerstone for whether a society adheres primarily to a dominator or partnership model is early childhood relations. We are learning that the physical structure of the brain - including the neural pathways that will determine not only intelligence, but creativity, predisposition to violent or nonviolent behaviors, empathy or insensitivity, venturesomeness or overconformity, as well as other critical behavioral developments - are not set at birth. They are largely determined during the early childhood years, particularly the first three years. We are also learning that coercive, inequitable, and violent childrearing - what I call dominator childrearing - is foundational to the imposition and maintenance of a coercive, inequitable, and chronically violent social and cultural organization: the kind of social organization that closely conforms to the dominator rather than partnership configuration.
This knowledge has enormous implications for social policy. It is through our intimate relations that we learn habits of feeling, thinking, and behavior in all human relations, be they personal or political. If these relations are violent, children learn early on that violence from those who are more powerful toward those who are less powerful is acceptable as a means of dealing with conflicts and/or problems. Moreover, if relations based on chronic violations of human rights are culturally considered normal and desirable in these formative intimate relations, they provide mental models for condoning such violations in other relations.
A global campaign against violence and abuse in childhood relations is needed. This has a number of core elements. The first is education: raising awareness of the consequences - personal and global - of either dominator or partnership childhood relations, as well as education providing both women and men the knowledge and skills necessary for empathic, sensitive, nonviolent, and equitable childrearing. The second component is legal: the enactment and enforcement of laws criminalizing child abuse as well as legislation funding education for nonviolent, empathic, and equitable childrearing. The third component relates to changing the mass media: raising consciousness of the constant representation of violence as a means of resolving conflicts and of the presentation in so-called comedies of situations in which family members abuse and humiliates each other.
The Second Cornerstone: Gender Relations
How a society constructs the roles and relations of the two halves of humanity - women and men - is central to the construction of every social institution, from the family and religion to politics and economics as well as to the society's guiding systems of values
Despite myriads of philosophical and religious pronouncements that values such as caring, compassion, and nonviolence should govern human relations, in practice these values will remain subordinate and excluded from social governance as long as the half of humanity with which they are primarily associated - the female half - remains subordinate and excluded from social governance.
This is not a matter of women against men or of something inherent in women rather than men. Stereotypically feminine traits, such as caring and nonviolence, and stereotypical women's work, such as caring for a family's health and maintaining a clean and healthy environment, can be found in both women and men. However, in societies adhering closely to the dominator model these activities are considered appropriate only for women and inappropriate for "real men." By contrast, in societies that orient more to the partnership model, masculinity does not have to be equated with domination and conquest - be it of people or of nature - and both women and men can identify with the values and activities needed for a more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable future.
A sign of hope is that there is today strong movement towards real partnership in all spheres of life between women and men, along with a blurring of rigid gender stereotypes. Men are nurturing babies and women are entering positions of leadership. But this movement is still slow and localized, and is in some cultures and subcultures fiercely, even violently, opposed; for example, by so-called religious fundamentalist leaders. (Opposition to women's education and property rights as well as advocating violence against women is not a matter of religious but of dominator fundamentalism and contradicts the teachings of peace and love at the core of all the world's humanistic religious traditions.)
What is needed is for the world's progressive leaders to give policy and fiscal priority to a global campaign for equitable and nonviolent gender relations as a cornerstone for a more equitable and nonviolent society.
The giving of priority to such so-called "women's issues" has enormous implications for the environment, peace, population, economic equity, and political democracy. For example, as long as housekeeping (and by extension cleaning up the environment) is still considered only "women's work," and hence devalued, how can we expect adequate funding for the environmental housekeeping necessary to deal with our mounting ecological crisis? As long as boys and men continue to be socialized to equate "real masculinity" with violence and control - be it through "heroic" epics or war toys such as toy swords, guns, or violent and brutal television shows, films, and computer games - how can we realistically expect to end the arms build-ups that are today bankrupting our world as well as the terrorism and aggressive warfare that in our age of nuclear and chemical warfare threaten our species' survival?
The Third Cornerstone: Economic Relations
Present economic systems - both capitalist and communist - have proven incapable of successfully addressing our escalating global crises, from environmental pollution and exponential population growth to hunger, poverty, and growing social dislocation. In fact, many of these problems are exacerbated by contemporary economic models and rules.
Under present economic systems, both free market and centrally planned, the problems of underemployment, polarization of wealth, hardship and suffering (particularly for women and children), and violence stemming from "structural adjustments" and other so-called globalization economic policies, are escalating. Neither centrally planned nor free market economic models take into account the life-giving and sustaining processes of nature. Nor do they give value to the life-giving and sustaining activities that in dominator-oriented societies are expected to be performed for free by women in male-controlled households.
It makes no sense to talk of hunger and poverty in generalities when the mass of the world's poor and the poorest of the poor are women and children. Development policies need to shift their focus to women. Many studies show that in most regions of the developing world women allocate far more of their resources to their families than men do. We must include the work of caring and caretaking still performed primarily by women worldwide in the "informal" economy into national and international systems of economic measurement and accounting (since they are to date not included in either GDP or GNP).
We should encourage and reward economic and social inventions that give value to caring and caretaking work in both the market and non-market economic sectors. For example, we have national programs to train soldiers to effectively take life - and we have pensions for them. By contrast, we have no national programs for training women and men to effectively care for children - even though we have solid scientific knowledge about what is and is not effective and humane childcare. Similarly, we have no pensions (an economic invention that recognizes socially valued work) for these activities.
People need meaningful work. The negative income tax or guaranteed income for doing nothing is no solution. Clearly the most important and meaningful work is that of caring for other humans, particularly our children, and our natural environment.
Redefining productive work also imbues work with what it lacks in a dominator system - where it is primarily motivated by fear and the artificial creation of scarcities through wars and misallocations and misdistributions of resources. It gives work what we may call a spiritual dimension.
To accelerate the development of these economic inventions, the Center for Partnership Studies and the Global Futures Foundation, in partnership with the Social Venture Network, the Rainforest Action Network, Tikkun, and other organizations are forming an Alliance for a Caring Economy. This Alliance will collect information on what is already happening and provide a forum for new ideas and initiatives. It will offer education, organize focus groups and conferences, and provide a framework for testing and disseminating new programs and policies.
The Fourth Cornerstone: Spiritual Relations
We are not used to thinking of spirituality and biology together. However, despite myths that we humans are base, flawed by either original sin or selfish genes, the most profound human yearning rooted in our biological evolution is for caring connection. Despite our conditioning (which has now to varying degrees been going on for thousands of years) for dominator rather than partnership relations with one another and nature, we humans have an inherent capacity - indeed, an inherent drive - toward relations based on partnership rather than domination. Despite cultural beliefs and social institutions that have for millennia rewarded, and even (as in our "heroic" epics) idealized cruelty and violence, we humans have an enormous capacity for altruistic behaviors (for example, the women and men who during the Nazi era risked their lives and those of their families to save Jews). And despite myths that men naturally want to dominate women and women naturally want to be dominated, women and men worldwide have been moving to relations based on partnership. The consciousness of our interconnection with all forms of life on our planet is also beginning to reemerge.
These are signs of a major revolution in consciousness as well as of a major revolution in both spirituality and morality. The emergence in bits and pieces of the consciousness that a partnership way of structuring human society is a viable possibility has enormous implications for the reconstruction of spirituality. Spirituality becomes not only transcendent but immanent, not so much an escape to otherworldly realms, but an active engagement in creating a better world right here on Earth.
But to spread this consciousness will require what I have called spiritual courage: the courage of political, religious, educational, and business leaders to actively oppose injustice and cruelty in all spheres of life. It will take great courage to challenge domination and violence not only in international relations but in intimate relations, not only in the so-called public sphere of politics and business but in the so-called private sphere of parent-child, gender, and sexual relations. It may not be popular, and may even be dangerous to do so, since domination and violence in intimate and intergroup relations are encoded in some religious and ethnic traditions that are our heritage from a more rigid dominator past.
But if we do not address these cornerstones, we will not have the foundations for a more equitable, peaceful, and sustainable future and we will continue to see more and more violent dominator regressions. Only if we consciously and concertedly build these foundations can we construct a better world for ourselves, our children, and generations still to come.