from Riane Eisler
on a conversation with Pamela Gerloff
Eisler, J.D., is a cultural historian and evolutionary theorist.
She has authored numerous articles and books, including the
The Chalice and The Blade: Our
History, Our Future
(Harper & Row, 1987),
Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education for the 21st
(Westview Press, 2000), and the award-winning
Power of Partnership: Seven Relationships That Will Change
(New World Library, 2002). She cofounded, with
Nobel Peace Laureate Betty Williams, the Spiritual Alliance
to Stop Intimate Violence. She also founded the Alliance for
a Caring Economy and is president of the Center for Partnership
Studies. Dr. Eisler was included as the only woman and living
theorist among 20 great thinkers, including Hegel, Spengler,
Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Arnold Toynbee, and Teilhard de Chardin
to be featured in
Macrohistory and Macrohistorians: Perspectives
on Individual, Social, and Civilizational Change
by Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah, Praeger Publishers,
a child, Riane Eisler was nearly a victim of Nazi genocide.
In an effort to make sense of her family's experiences during
the Holocaust, she embarked upon a lifelong study of humanity's
capacity to act inhumanely. Her extensive, multidisciplinary
study of cultures throughout history led her to formulate
a new conceptual framework for understanding the social
systems that create and maintain cultures of violence. She
concluded that underlying the many differences among societies
are two basic social configurations, which she calls the
dominator model and the partnership model. Here, Riane Eisler
discusses the implications of the dominator/partnership
model in terms of money and community.
Imperative to Think Globally
When we talk about "community," many people tend to think
of local community. I don't. Certainly we want to invest in
our local communities, but today I think we need to look at
community on a global scale. We live in a technologically
interconnected world. Given the development of nuclear and
biological weaponry and our capacity for global destruction,
there is no longer any denying that we're all in this together.
Money and Economics in Dominator and
For many years I have been developing an understanding of
economics as something that arises out of the larger culture
in which it is embedded. We're used to thinking about cultures
in fragmented ways,
, religious/secular, right/left,
eastern/western, economically sophisticated/ unsophisticated,
or capitalist/ socialist. These classifications don't describe
whole cultures: beliefs and institutions -from the family,
education, and religion to politics and economics. These
fragmented ways of thinking can't help us solve our collective
problems and find ways to create a safe and fulfilling future
and a better life for us all.
After years of empirical cross-cultural
and historical research, I formulated a different means
of classifying cultures. It's a conceptual framework that
allows us to identify and examine qualitative differences
in the types of relationships present in any culture-in
families, local communities, organizations, groups, or societies.
The framework distinguishes between relationships based
on domination or control (the dominator model) and relationships
based on mutual benefit or accountability (the partnership
model). The framework allows us to recognize that most cultures
are not located at the extreme ends of the spectrum but
fall somewhere along a continuum, and at any given time,
are likely to be moving toward one end of the continuum
Economics in the two models look very different.
Economic systems in societies oriented toward the dominator
model chronically create scarcity. In developed countries,
scarcity is built into the economy by the money system itself.
Another way scarcity is artificially created in dominator
societies is through the misdistribution of resources. Money
in such societies is supposed to trickle down from top to
bottom, but in actuality it accumulates at the top. Investment
is in social policies that support domination and control.
More money is spent, for example, on weapons, armies, and
prisons than on schools, healthcare, and libraries. This
funneling of financial resources not only destroys people
and physical resources, it also siphons off financial and
human resources that could otherwise be used to meet human
needs. It results in a scarcity of resources to invest in
human capital, such as childrearing and education.
If we're serious about creating a more prosperous
world, the most important investment we can make is in human
potential. I believe that an economic system rooted in a
dominator model is no longer sustainable, and is in fact
becoming increasingly dangerous and ineffective in our global
In a society oriented toward the partnership
model, the major economic investment is not in punishment
and control (which are forms of domination) but in people.
The society invests in social policies that support the
development of human potential-in economic terms, high quality
human capital. Because such investments are essential for
post-industrial economies, the partnership model is a more
realistic choice than the dominator model for countries
that want to thrive economically in our era.
Prosperity, Women's Status, and Quality of Life
Dominator and Partnership Models Dominator Model
In a dominator-oriented society, relationships tend
to be hierarchical, authoritarian, and based on domination
or control. Typically, one gender is subordinate to
the other, and there is a high degree of institutionalized
or built-in violence (e.g., child abuse, warfare).
In a partnership-oriented society, relationships
are based on mutual benefit and accountability.
Hierarchies may exist, but they are "hierarchies
of actualization." People at the top use their rank
and authority to empower, rather than disempower,
those lower in the hierarchy. Both genders are equally
valued, and values such as caring and nonviolence
are highly regarded, whether they are embodied in
men or women. Orientation to each model is a matter
of degree; societies and groups seldom conform entirely
to either model, but instead are oriented toward
one or the other end of the dominator/partnership
continuum. Currently, the partnership model is most
highly developed in the Nordic world, but there
are trends toward partnership worldwide.
The Center for Partnership Studies, the organization I direct,
does research on practical applications of the partnership
model. For example, we did a study using statistical data
from 89 nations and compared measures of the status of women
with measures of quality of life, such as infant mortality,
human rights ratings, and percentage of the population with
access to health care. We found that the status of women can
be a better predictor of quality of life than Gross Domestic
Product (GDP). Kuwait and France, for example, had identical
GDPs, but quality of life indicators were much more positive
in France, where the status of women is higher than in Kuwait.
Infant mortality was twice as high in Kuwait, even though
GDP was the same.
authoritarian (dominator) cultures are also associated with
high levels of built-in, socially condoned violence, such
as rape, pogroms, lynchings, and aggressive wars. Political
terrorism is strong in cultures where women and children
are terrorized into submission, as this behavior models
using violence to impose one's will on others.
found a positive correlation between economic prosperity
and measures of women's status. For example, the social
policies of Nordic nations such as Sweden, Norway, and Finland,
where the status of women is higher (for instance, women
compose 30-40 percent of legislatures), orient more to the
partnership model. Here, stereotypically "feminine" activities
of caregiving are supported by universal health care, childcare
allowances, and paid parental leave. These nations also
invest more in nonviolence: they pioneered the first peace
studies programs, passed laws prohibiting violence against
children in families, and have a strong men's movement to
disentangle "masculinity" from domination and violence.
These nations show that the partnership model is not only
more humane; it is economically effective. The Nordic nations
consistently rate at the top of United Nations Development
Reports. Not only that, but in 2003, Finland was second
only to the much larger and wealthier United States in global
economic competitiveness ratings.
we see that when nations invest in human capital, they become
more prosperous. Norway is a good example. In the early
20th century, Norway's infant mortality rate was high. That
changed as the country began to shift to a more nurturing
economy, investing in child care (not only in day care,
but in childcare allowances for families), family planning,
paid parental leave, health care, and elder care with dignity
(not a handout). Like other Nordic nations, Norway, whose
economy is a mix of central planning and free enterprise,
pioneered economic inventions that invest in nurturing.
None of this was coincidental; it was part of the move toward
the partnership model.
data indicate that we need to move beyond conventional economic
categories and models, and take into account the entire
culture if we are to build foundations for a more generally
prosperous, equitable, and sustainable future.
in Leverage Points
Although we in the West have made
enormous strides in the last century toward the partnership
model-through such efforts as the civil rights, social and
economic justice, and women's movements -we are currently
in a period of regression worldwide. There is a widening
gap between haves and have-nots. Religious fundamentalism
is on the rise. Institutionalized violence, such as war
and terrorism, is widespread. These are signals of a move
toward the dominator end of the continuum. At this critical
point in history, the most important investment we can make
is in helping to accelerate the movement toward partnership.
To do this, we need to ask ourselves: What are our values?
And we need to invest in those areas that leverage change
in alignment with those values-areas that will have a cascade
of systemic effects, influencing many levels of the culture.
changes in economic measurements of productivity (which
today don't include the socially and economically essential
work of caring and caregiving in the informal economy) and
developing new partnership economic models, one of the most
powerful leverage points for accelerating the global shift
to partnership is changing beliefs, laws, and practices
that promote violence in families and other intimate relationships.
If we are serious about creating a peaceful world, we need
to start with our primary relations.
Link between Intimate and International Violence
It is in our intimate relationships that we learn either
to respect the human rights of others or to consider human
rights violations to be just the way things are. Environments
where intimate violence occurs become training grounds where
people learn to use force to impose their will. We know
from neuroscience that we're not born with a fully formed
brain. The neurochemical pathways that become habitual for
us are largely formed only after we're born. So, whether
we are exposed to dominator or partnership models of behavior
affects our neurochemical pathways. We have data clearly
showing the negative effects on children when there is violence
dominator model requires fear and force to maintain domination.
In such a system, the only alternatives are to dominate
or be dominated. Dominator systems keep us fixated at the
lower levels of psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy
of needs. We remain focused on what Maslow called our "defense"
or survival needs, rather than on our "growth" and actualization
in dominator systems, people don't survive very long if
they don't learn never to question orders, bringing up children
with fear is adaptive to those systems. But it is maladaptive
in terms of realizing our enormous human potential.
parenting is very different from domination parenting. Parents
can be authoritative without being authoritarian. In a partnership
model of parenting, children can experience consequences
for inappropriate behavior, but violence is not part of
it. We need to change laws and customs that condone physical
punishment against children in families, as some Nordic
nations have already done. (In the United States, corporal
punishment in families is legal in all 50 states and in
schools in 22 states.)
in efforts to facilitate partnership parenting and help
stop intimate violence, we can help facilitate the global
shift toward partnership.
Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence
One example of such an effort is a program of the Center
for Partnership Studies with which I am deeply involved:
the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence. We emphasize
the link between international and intimate violence. We
offer materials for the prevention of violence, focusing
on partnership parenting models in the home. We also provide
similar tools for communities; and we work with religious
and spiritual leaders, enlisting them to take a strong stand
for partnership relations and against violence in intimate
it is not only what we do in our own families, it is also
what culturally supported that affects violence worldwide--and
changing traditions of intimate violence is a largely ignored
piece of public policy. Making changes in the family arena
can make huge difference.
of this is exciting, systemic work, with tremendous implications
for how we use our resources, including money. It is also
critical for our survival at this time in history. That's
why I am investing so much of my time, energy, money, and
love in this work. The way I see it, we have to invest in
the larger community if our grandchildren are to have safe,
sane, and wonderful future.
The Power of Partnership: Seven Relationships That Will
Change Your Life
By Riane Eisler
(New World Library, 2002)
This handbook for personal, economic, and social transformation
received the Nautilus award for the best self-help book of
2002. Its thesis is that the individual self cannot be helped
in isolation from the larger web of relationships around us.
The book discusses seven relationships, including relationship
with oneself; intimate relations; work and community relationships;
and relationships with one's national community, the international
community, and nature and spirituality.
Center for Partnership Studies The Center
for Partnership Studies is an educational and research institute
formed to apply Dr. Riane Eisler's cultural transformation
theory to the general project of building a better world.
The Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate
Violence is a public service project of the Center for Partnership
Studies. It promotes change in cultural patterns and public
policies that perpetuate intimate violence.
Editor's Note: See "Creating a Giving Culture: An Interview
with Bernard Lietaer" by Pamela Gerloff in
More Than Money
, Issue 34, Fall 2003.
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