Fwd: A conversation with Riane Eisler

From: Wade T.Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Date: Thu Oct 04 2001 - 02:54:56 BST

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    This is nicely put together with Tony Blair's speech the other night.

    - Wade


    The School for Violence

    A conversation with Riane Eisler

    by Helen Knode


    Riane Eisler is a macro-historian; systems and cultural-transformation
    theorist; international activist for peace, human rights and the
    environment; and president of the Center for Partnership Studies. In The
    Chalice and the Blade (1987), an international best-seller, she reviewed
    Western history in a radical new way, and introduced the models of
    domination and partnership as two underlying possibilities for human
    organization. In Sacred Pleasure (1995), she applied these models to the
    erotic; in Tomorrowıs Children (2000), she applied them to child
    development and education. Her next book, The Power of Partnership, due
    in spring 2002, is a wildly original self-help book. We canıt help
    ourselves, she says, outside the complex web of our relationships ‹ from
    family, to nation, to the Earth. She devotes a chapter to international
    relations, and the subject of terrorism comes up again and again. Eisler
    discusses terrorism and transformation with novelist and former L.A.
    Weekly staff writer Helen Knode.

    RIANE EISLER: Look, this is not about the U.S. and the Arabs. It goes
    much deeper ‹ and we need to understand this to deal with the long-range
    implications of post-industrial terrorism. We need to distinguish between
    what lies behind anti-American sentiment and what lies behind these acts
    of terrorism. I ask myself two questions. Whatıs at the bottom of these
    virulent acts against the U.S.? And what kind of family produces a person
    willing to fly an airplane into a building full of people heıs never met,
    who arenıt armed, whoıve never done anything to hurt him directly?


    HELEN KNODE: Family? Discussions of the Middle East donıt usually start

    But itıs where I start, because gender relations and parent-child
    relations are the critical, formative relations. This is where we first
    learn whatıs normal and moral, where we learn values and behaviors.


    Including terror and its uses, you mean.

    Precisely. Terror and hate have a context. My research shows that
    underneath conventional classifications ‹ religious versus secular,
    tribal versus industrial, right versus left, capitalist versus communist
    ‹ are two underlying ways of structuring relations. Theyıre actually two
    opposite poles, with a continuum in between. At one end of this continuum
    is the dominator society. Dominator societies have existed throughout
    history and have the same basic plan, whether itıs Attilaıs Huns,
    Hitlerıs Germany or the Talibanıs Afghanistan. These societies consist of
    rigid top-down rankings, of ³superiors² over ³inferiors,² men over women,
    adults over children, ³in-groups² over ³out-groups² ‹ rankings backed up
    by force and the threat of force in homes, in society, and between
    societies in chronic wars.

    Terror is built into the dominator system, and these bombings are the
    latest manifestation of that fact. Muslim fundamentalists are extremely
    dominator, in a bizarrely feudal way. Itıs as if they have one foot in
    the Middle Ages and another in our postmodern world with its powerful
    technologies of communication and destruction.


    Youıre saying that their family structure is feudal, too.

    Yes, but first I want to be clear that this isnıt an anti-Muslim
    diatribe. There are dominator elements in every country, and weıve seen a
    worldwide dominator regression in recent years. We see it in
    multinational sweatshops, environmental rollbacks, the widening gap
    between haves and have-nots, the IMFıs structural-adjustment policies.
    And we see it in resurgent religious fundamentalism, in the East and
    West, aimed at putting women back in ³their place² and reinstating the
    absolute authority of the father.


    Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson call submissive women the cure ‹ free
    women anger God, and weıre being punished.

    Yes, their initial response to this horrible tragedy was to use it to
    incite more hate and persecution of the groups theyıre after ‹ feminists,
    secularists, abortionists, gays, lesbians, even People for the American
    Way. Itıs grotesque. I know Falwell apologized under pressure. But
    unfortunately itıs not surprising that our own fundamentalists have
    introduced the first divisive note into a cataclysm that, above all,
    requires unity and sanity.


    Do they think bin Laden cares if any Christian God is worshipped?

    You see how the dominator mindset works. What they call the cure, I call
    a central problem ‹ I, and every person who truly values freedom and


    We were talking about the feudal family and terrorism.

    Yes. Because in rigid dominator families, whether in the Muslim world or
    elsewhere, you learn from childhood that itıs okay to impose your will by
    force on those weaker than you ‹ women and children ‹ that itıs your
    God-given right to do so. And you learn never to express your anger or
    resentment against those who cause you pain, for fear of more pain. So
    you have a lot of stored rage that can be redirected toward ³out-groups,²
    in pogroms and lynchings and ³holy wars.²


    But you canıt think that family is the only factor here? Youıre no

    No, of course not. The family and society are profoundly interconnected.
    A mark of where a nation is on the dominator/partnership scale is how it
    treats women and children. Even if your family is less authoritarian, in
    a Muslim fundamentalist context, you still live in a culture where, for
    example, women get acid thrown in their face because they arenıt wearing
    a burka, or get killed by members of their own family because they
    exhibit sexual independence. You live in a culture that worships
    strong-arm rule and male violence.


    ³I and the public know, what all schoolchildren learn. Those to whom evil
    is done, do evil in return.²

    Auden is right. My research shows a definite link between intimate
    violence and international violence. People in dominator societies learn
    to accept control from the top, gross inequities in living standards, a
    high degree of violence and fear in day-to-day life. The basic model for
    domination is the punitive parent, specifically the punitive male head of
    household. And since you canıt go against this powerful figure, you learn
    to project onto ³evil enemies.²


    Although the U.S. isnıt an entirely innocent victim. There are reasons
    why weıre perceived as an enemy.

    Certainly. Our policies ‹ for example, insistence on cutbacks in social
    services and privatization by debtor nations, alliances with oppressive
    dictatorships ‹ have caused enormous suffering. But the goal of this
    terrorism is not justice or equity for the women, children and men who
    live in Arab countries. Osama bin Laden has enormous wealth, but does he
    do anything to help the hungry Afghan people? Do you realize how wealthy
    the Saudi elites are, in contrast to the mass of Arab people? No, this
    terrorism is about control and power through fear and force. They want to
    be the worldıs governing economic, religious and political power, and the
    West has that power.


    Iıve never heard this argument before. There are real grievances about
    oil, territory and multinational corporations, but you think the hate and
    violence mask another agenda.

    I do. Where dictators or repressive mullahs rule, they cultivate hatred
    of the U.S., and the West in general, for two reasons. One is fear of our
    cultural influence ‹ freedom for women, the undermining of traditional
    authority, and Western democracy, as imperfect as it is. They see the
    threat this poses to their domination, and to a system based on rigid
    rankings. The other reason is that fanning hatred against the West
    deflects anger and rebellion from themselves. That keeps the people from
    turning against the elites, who benefit enormously from their ties to the
    West, while few if any of these benefits go to the average Arab.


    So whatıs your solution to terrorism? How do we fight it?

    Thereıs a short-term strategy and a long-term strategy ‹ and they have to
    be simultaneous. In the short term, Iım afraid that military response
    against terrorist bases in nations that fund and support terrorism is


    Youıve shocked me. The New Age community, the Dalai Lama, are calling for
    peace and love. I associate you with them philosophically.

    The pure ³peace and love² response is the flip side of the ³kill and
    hate² response. Neither is realistic, and both ignore the psychosocial
    dynamics of terrorism weıve been talking about. Unfortunately, failure to
    respond will encourage more terrorism. In the dominator mind, there are
    only those who dominate and those who are dominated. Nonviolence is
    equated with women, with whatıs despised, whatıs controlled and is
    legitimately, and easily, terrorized into submission.


    But violence only breeds violence, you said it yourself.

    If youıve got a psychopath lunging at you with a knife, thatıs not the
    time to talk about peace and love. Itıs the time to defend yourself to
    save your life. The time to talk about peace and love, and to put them
    into action, is before that person becomes a psychopath. If weıre to
    effectively address the festering problems that breed terrorism, we have
    to deal with the foundations of violence. We have to think of the long
    term. Any war on terrorism is doomed to fail, just like the war on drugs,
    unless we address the deepest historical, cultural, social, economic,
    political and psychic forces that produce terrorism. This is urgent in
    our high-technology age.


    You know people argue that humans are naturally violent.

    This argument comes straight out of the dominator view of human nature.
    Evolutionary science shows we carry genes for both violence and caring.
    The decisive issue is our experiences, and particularly the influences of
    childhood. These experiences actually affect brain chemistry and synaptic
    development, and with that the propensity toward violence or caring.
    Weıll never eliminate violence completely, but we can eliminate
    structural violence, violence built into the system.


    So addressing the foundations of violence would entail what?

    Cultural transformation. I spoke of two underlying ways of structuring
    relations ‹ one is the dominator model, the other is what I call the
    partnership or respect model. Here power is nurturing and empowering,
    rather than fear-and-force-based and disempowering. The male and female
    halves of humanity are valued equally, and thereıs a high value placed on
    caregiving, empathy and nonviolence, qualities that are part of the
    biological repertoire of both men and women.

    The U.S. is divided between partnership and domination. It does awful
    things and wonderful things. Think of the NGOs spending billions to help
    people worldwide ‹ peace, human rights, feeding hunger. It behooves us to
    throw our resources into a shift toward partnership, at home and abroad.
    Did you know thereıs a new House bill to create a Department of Peace? We
    make a mistake to deal with dictatorships to protect our oil interests.
    Weıre safer in the long run to join with pro-democratic forces in the
    region. There are many people in the Muslim world who would welcome U.S.
    help. I know some of them. Theyıre working for religious freedom, the
    human rights of women and children, family planning ‹ real democracy, not
    just a vote.

    We have to stop exporting our violent media. We have to re-examine the
    values behind globalization. If itıs only to promote what we inaccurately
    call free enterprise, which primarily benefits the elites of the
    developing and developed world, then weıre actually strengthening the
    top-down socioeconomic structures integral to the dominator model from
    which violence inevitably comes. On the other hand, if we back an
    international campaign involving heads of state and clergy to end
    intimate violence, weıre dealing with foundational matters, with the
    school for violence. If we channel economic aid and training to the
    grassroots, if we channel health-care, nutrition and educational programs
    directly to women and children and make their implementation a keystone
    of globalization, weıre addressing foundational matters.


    Youıre thinking multilevel solutions for a multilevel phenomenon.

    Let us call it the partnership response to terrorism. We need a
    long-range plan, and we need to do this together with people all over the
    world. And if we only talk violent solutions, we fuel the dominator
    regression that will be fatal to everything we Americans yearn for and
    aspire to. We have to change the foundational dynamics of terrorism.
    Without this, weıll never have lasting peace or security.

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