Some people think the vision of a more equitable, less violent future is merely a utopian dream. A goal of my work has been showing it can be a viable model for transformative change and that the key components of such a model can be identified through cross-cultural and historical research.
Like everything we do, my research was influenced by my life experiences. Salient among these were my parents’ flight with me as a small child from Austria (where I was born) after its takeover by the Nazis, my later childhood and adolescence in Havana (where I experienced not only living in a different culture, but in much poorer circumstances), and our subsequent immigration to the United States (where upon our arrival in Florida we were shocked by the racist segregation then still lawful). This early exposure to three different cultures led to the consciousness that what is considered “just the way things are” is not the same everywhere.
Another major influence was growing up feeling an outsider — and only later becoming conscious that a major reason for this was not just that I was a foreigner and Jewish but, even more fundamentally, that I was female. Gradually I became aware that I was indeed an outsider in a world where just about everything I was taught as important “knowledge” was by and about those who happened to have been born male …
I was also profoundly influenced by my mother, who risked her life to save my father when the Nazis came to take him away during Crystal Night in Vienna. She modeled for me spiritual courage: not the courage to kill out of hate for an “enemy,” but the courage to stand up against unjust authority out of love. Both my mother and father also provided during the years of immigration a model of perseverance in the face of adversity.
There were other personal experiences that were also as important in developing my thinking as my academic education — which (like my research) is multidisciplinary, ranging from formal training in sociology, anthropology, and law to an extensive, and continuing, self-education in fields ranging from history, archaeology, religion, myth, economics, and political science to feminist studies, chaos theory, nonlinear dynamics, and systems self-organization theory. One of these experiences was marrying and having children (two daughters from whom I continue to learn important lessons about life and love) and later remarrying an extraordinary man who, for almost twenty years, has given me enormous emotional support and intellectual nurturance: my partner in life and work, the social psychologist and futurist David Loye.
There were many other influences: for example, the social psychologist Kurt Lewin (who proposed “action research” as a legitimate scientific pursuit) and women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who in 1848 (the same year that Marx and Engels published their highly publicized communist manifesto) promulgated a feminist manifesto, and Tahirih, the 19th century Iranian woman who, at a time that the masses were in the grip of a fanatical Muslim clergy, courageously proclaimed before her execution, “You may kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.” I have also been influenced by men working for humanizing social change; for example, the futurist Robert Jungk, to whom I owe a particular debt, since it was he who during discussions of my cultural transformation theory insisted that the models I proposed needed accessible descriptive terms — inspiring David and me to come up with the terms partnership and dominator models.
Unlike most studies of human society, my work pays particular attention to how the roles and relations between the two halves of humanity — women and men — are structured. It shows that this is a key component in the social construction of all institutions, from the family and religion to politics and economics, as well as profoundly influencing a society’s system of operational values. The first book in my trilogy on cultural transformation theory was The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future (Harper 1987). It proposed that underlying the great variety of human societies both crossculturally and historically are two basic possibilities: the partnership and dominator models, each with a characteristic social and ideological configuration in which the structure of gender relations plays a critical part. The second book was Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body (Harper 1995), which focuses on the social construction of intimate relations, particularly sexual and parent-child relations, and how the construction of a more equitable future requires leaving behind traditions of domination in both. The third book I am now starting, tentatively called Partnership Economics: Beyond Communism and Capitalism, will analyze economics (as well as technology) from the perspective of cultural transformation theory. Foreshadowing this work is a book published in 1995 by the Center for Partnership Studies entitled Women, Men, and the Global Quality of Life, which reports a three year study based on data from eighty-nine nations which I conducted together with David Loye and the sociologist Kari Norgaard.
I have also during the past two decades worked on other projects. One was support for the formation in 1990 (after The Chalice and The Blade was published in Chinese) of the Chinese Partnership Research Group at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. This group in 1995 published The Chalice and The Blade in Chinese Culture, tracing the same general developments in Chinese culture I studied in the West: an earlier more partnership-oriented cultural direction, a shift to a dominator model during a period of intense disequilibrium, and the struggle during our time of intense disequilibrium to shift from domination to partnership.
I no longer look at the possibilities for our future from the conventional perspectives of capitalism versus communism, East versus West, South versus North, high technology versus low technology, religious versus secular, etc. I see the underlying dynamic of modern history as a powerful movement (which in the West began with the 18th century enlightenment) challenging entrenched traditions of domination (be it kings over “subjects,” men over women, race over race, nation over nation, or “man” over nature) countered by powerful dominator systems resistance and periodic regressions. I see over the next thirty years an intensifying struggle between the grassroots movement to complete the shift from a dominator to a partnership form of social and ideological organization. This is coming to a head over the question of whether those of us who refuse to accept that injustice and violence are either divinely or genetically ordained can fashion an integrated politics of partnership that no longer splits off the “private sphere” from the “public sphere” or “women’s rights” and “children’s rights” from “human rights.”
From this perspective, rhetoric about “strengthening the family” and “family values” can be refocused by asking what kind of family do we want to strengthen and value. Is it a family based on rankings of domination in which a male head of household “calls the shots”? Or is it a partnership-oriented family in which both halves of humanity are given equal value — a family in which children learn early on to recognize human rights violations as not “just the way things are,” and to instead expect human relations based on respect for everyone’s human rights?
Or, regarding the contemporary rhetoric about religious values, rather than seeing the struggle for our future as between religious and secular values, we look at what kind of religious values. For example, the so-called American Christian right reflects very few of the values taught by Jesus. These were stereotypically feminine values, such as caring, empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. By contrast, the leaders of the Christian right focus on hate-mongering, scapegoating, sexual control over women, violent discipline of children, and so forth — all designed for dominator systems maintenance.
But I want to emphasize that what we are here dealing with is not something inherent in women or men. Rather, it is a matter of the gender-specific socialization required to maintain a system in which — beginning with the ranking of one half of humanity over the other — the primary principle of social organization is one of rankings of domination ultimately backed up by fear of pain or force.
The world I envision for our future is one where — beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species, the difference between the female and male halves of humanity — diversity is not automatically equated with inferiority or superiority, but can instead truly be valued.
I believe this is realizable, but only if there is a new integrated partnership politics that factors in matters that have been largely ignored in most analyses of how to move to a humane future.
First, this means paying attention to the hidden subtext of dominator gender stereotypes: to how “real” masculinity has been associated with domination and violence (including chronic warfare) and how, because of the higher valuation of men and “masculinity,” stereotypical “women’s work” (such as feeding children, caring for people’s health, and maintaining a clean environment) could not be given social and economic priority.
Second, it means recognizing that changes in intimate relations are equally, and in some respects more, important than changes in international relations — that there is an interconnection between terror in the home (or domestic violence) and international terrorism and warfare.
Third, it means showing that a partnership model of human relations is a viable alternative — that it is not only emerging in bits and pieces today, but there is evidence indicating it represented the original direction of civilization.
We humans are very creative. But as long as we believe that something is impossible, we are not likely to create it. This is why one of the most important tasks for futurists is to provide data showing that a better future is not a utopia (no place), but a pragmatopia (a possible place).
Riane Eisler is the author of The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future (1987) and Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body (1995). She is President of the Center for Partnership Studies, has taught at UCLA and Immaculate Heart College, and her earlier books include Dissolution (1977) and The Equal Rights Handbook (1978). She has contributed to many anthologies and other publications, including the first World Encyclopedia of Peace and journals ranging from Political Psychology, The Human Rights Quarterly, and Humanities in Society to The International Journal of Women’s Studies, Futures, and Behavioral Science.
Riane Eisler, “Creating Partnership Futures: My Life, Work and Vision of the Future” by Sohail Inayatullah and Paul Wildman, Futures Studies: Methods, Emerging Issues and Civilizational Visions – A Multimedia Reader. Brisbane, Prosperity Press,1998.
For more information on this CD ROM, please e-mail Paul Wildman.