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