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12/21 – Nurturing our Humanity with Riane Eisler

Eric Reynolds

Eric Reynolds

Eric Reynolds
Riane Eisler

Biography and Background

Eric:  Hello Riane! Thank you so much for joining me. I was wondering if we could start with you giving a brief background of how you came to being who you are, I guess, and the work that you do?

Riane:  That’s an interesting question, because my life has been like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together. Each piece seemed disparate. You know, my having to flee as a child refugee from the Nazis, and my mother’s spiritual courage in standing up to them and gaining my father’s release on Crystal Night, which was miraculous, because so many people were killed that night. Yet somehow, she managed. Then growing up in the industrial slums of Havana, which was traumatic in itself, and then coming to the United States, and always being an outsider. I think that being an outsider has been very important for me because it made it possible for me to take a different look at the world we live in and at my place in it.

  Regarding my professional background, my first job was at an offshoot of the Rand Corporation before anybody ever thought of systems. It was the first time I came into contact with that approach, and that was way back in the ’50s.

Something else I always carry with me is going to law school and becoming an attorney. Again, we don’t think of it that way, but really, you have to do systems thinking as a lawyer. You have to do pattern recognition, because people don’t come to you and say, “Apply section 1222 of this or that Code to my case. You have to figure out what is the applicable law.

Then there was being a homemaker, and going a little crazy in the suburbs, and then the 1960’s.

Eric:  Right.

Riane:  I really woke up as if from a long-drugged sleep in the ’60’s. The fact is that being born Jewish almost cost me my life. But I realized at that time that having been born female had also fundamentally influenced my life, my life options. And I became aware of something that was rather shocking: that in all my years of “higher education,” there had been so little by, about, or for people like me: women. And that profoundly affected my research.

My research came out of my very early traumas. Out of questions like, does it really have to be this way? Does there have to be so much cruelty and violence, and insensitivity? Is it really, as we’re so often told, just human nature? Whether it’s original sin, or selfish genes, while they fight each other,  it’s the same story, isn’t it?

Eric:  It certainly is.

Riane:  We’re told we are bad. That’s inherent in us, so we have to be rigidly controlled by those on top. My research’s main question was, are there alternatives?” And the answer from my research was a resounding “Yes!”

Linguistic psychologists have long told us that the categories, especially social categories, provided by a culture’s language channel our thinking. And our conventional social categories, they don’t look at the whole picture. Given my background in systems thinking, I became aware of this. Also, when I started this research, it became quickly evident that conventional studies, which are quite aptly called the Study of Man, not only do they leave out the female half of our species, but actually the majority of humanity, because they also pay scant if any attention to children.

Eric:  What struck me as I was reading your new book and the difference between reading it and when I first read Chalice and the Blade, is that there has been so much research at this point in these areas that you’re talking about. As your book says, of the importance of love and child-rearing and formative experiences and environment and so on, and so the question that comes up for me is how has that progression been for you? Have you seen there being more acceptance in academia, or in society?

Riane:  Well, the academy as you know is so fragmented. It is so siloed. And, as I write in Nurturing Our Humanity, out of 1,600 years of so-called modern, western science, it’s only in the last 50 years that we even had women’s studies, men’s studies, gender studies, queer studies, and they’re still completely marginalized.

  As for child development, there’s been an explosion of information and much of it is in Nurturing Our Humanity, from neuroscience, from studies like the ACEs studies, from data from all over the world. So we know today, as you said, that what children experience and observe, impacts nothing less than how our brains develop. I mean 85% of our brain architecture is formed in the first five years. But that information too is basically ignored or marginalized in our universities.

  To simply ignore this is lunatic, but it’s very understandable, since science basically ignored women and children. So child development is also still siloed. It’s in a few psychology courses. It should be part of sociology, political science, economics, because it’s so influences how people think, feel and act, including how they vote.

Eric:  Indeed.

Riane:  It is not easy to get people to get out of their comfort zones. And this is particularly true, I think, of the academy and of progressives in general, who as a rule, have gone through the academic education, many of them, and they’re indoctrinated in this very siloed, fragmented thinking.

Eric:  Yes.

Riane:  So, people who feel it in their gut insist that we have to return to what they call the “traditional family”, right? Which is code for an authoritarian, rigidly male dominated, highly punitive family as a foundation for the kind of domination system they want to impose economically, socially, religiously, etc. But for many progressives, anything to do with women, children, families, is secondary. And this is reflected in our conventional social categories, which a friend of mine calls weapons of mass distraction.

Eric:  Absolutely.

Riane:  These categories of right/left, religious/secular, eastern/western, northern/southern cannot guide us in a more humane and sustainable direction. Think about it, there have been horribly oppressive, repressive, violent societies in every one of these categories. And none of these categories make it possible to see the relationship between our foundational human relations, our childhood and gender relations, and politics, economics, religion, etc.

Relational Dynamics

Eric:  And that’s what you’d term relational dynamics?

Riane:  The study of relational dynamics, as I write in Nurturing Our Humanity, is a different approach for studying human society and human evolution. For one thing, it focuses on what kinds of relations does a particular society support: top down hierarchies of domination or the more equitable hierarchies of actualization and linking. I had to coin new language, terms such as domination system and partnership system, as well as others.

  I’m going to take a little sidebar here, because we often think of hierarchy as being the problem. But we all need parents and teachers and managers and leaders. So, I had to make a distinction between a hierarchy of domination, which we all are familiar with: You better obey or else, whether it’s in the family, on the job, in a rigid domination regime. But there is another kind of hierarchy: a hierarchy of actualization, where, as in the title of my first book, The Chalice and the Blade, power is conceptualized not as power over, but as power to and power with, where there is accountability and respect. That we increasingly find references to this kind of power is a partnership trend.

There have in fact been many trends towards partnership over the last few centuries, but of course, there also have been terrible regressions. I was born into one and we are living through a period of regression right now, worldwide.

Eric:  Absolutely.

Riane:  A regression to the domination side of the partnership/domination social scale can take many forms. It can be religious, like so-called religious fundamentalism, which is really domination fundamentalism. Religion is part of it, but that’s not what it’s about. Or, it can be secular, whether it’s a Hitler on the right, or a Kim Jong Un on the left, or a Stalin on the left, or whether it’s ISIS or the Taliban or the direction the United States has been going in the last years, this cannot be understood in terms of the old thinking. But it becomes very understandable from a perspective which is a holistic and, if you will, an integral and integrated perspective, as in Nurturing our Humanity.

The Four Cornerstones of a Partnership Future

Eric:  In having this perspective of the historical rise and fall of openness to partnership ways of being, where do you see the hope? Where is the work for those of us who do see these patterns?

Riane:  We write of building four cornerstones as foundational to a partnership future in in the closing chapterof Nurturing our Humanity. These cornerstones are foundations for either a domination system or a partnership system. They are Childhood, Gender, Economics, and Narratives and Language.

Childhood is the first cornerstone, for obvious reasons. Neuroscience shows what psychology has long been telling us. And you’re quite right, since I wrote Chalice, in the intervening 30 years — I’ve been working on Nurturing Our Humanity for 10 years, by the way — there’s been a lot of new information since then. Neuroscience shows the missing links, if you will, between my theories and how our brains develop, and hence behaviors and policies. I would like to see this book used in universities, in sociology, psychology, political science, economics, etc. Because what we so need… Einstein said it, you can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created them.

And yet, as I said, progressives are very difficult to move forward. We are so fragmented. A lot of things are happening that are movement towards partnership, but what’s lacking for us is that coherent frame. That’s what this work provides.

 But there is hope. First of all, of course, movement is taking place. There is change in consciousness.

About four years ago, I asked the anthropologist, Douglas P. Fry, to be my co-author in this book, and that’s because he brings what I described in The Chalice and the Blade back millennia, to our foraging days — completely debunking the so-called scientific evolutionary story that we’ve been fed, and are still being fed, of so-called evolutionary imperatives that claim that it’s too bad, but rape, war, they’re just in our genes. That’s the story we have been taught.

Eric:  Right.

Riane:  Well, it’s nonsense. For millennia we now know, studying contemporary foraging societies, like Doug has, and from many, many other scholars that are cited and quoted in Nurturing Our Humanity that, in reality, that story is completely wrong. Doug calls  foraging societies, which is how we lived for millennia, the original partnership societies.

I want to add that some people think partnership is just cooperation. That’s absolutely not so. People cooperate all the time in domination systems. Terrorists cooperate, invading armies cooperate, cartels cooperate, criminal gangs cooperate. What partnership system means is a social configuration.

Think about it.  If you don’t include in a social configuration the situation of the majority of humanity, you don’t see the whole social system.  Because how can you connect the dots, if you leave these huge dots — childhood and gender — out?

Eric:  That, as well as speaking of those foraging societies, of nature and that partnership that’s so necessary of knowing your environment, knowing that forest and knowing what is safe and what is not.

Riane:  That’s right. It’s all of one piece. I spoke at the United Nations General Assembly at a session organized by the State of Bolivia on harmony with nature, and I made the point that you can’t just tack on harmony with nature to a fundamentally imbalanced system.

That is why ranking is such a top priority for people who think a domination system of authoritarian, top-down rule in both the family and the state, is right. Especially the rigid gender stereotypes, and the ranking of men over women, the male form over the female form, and then ranking anything stereotypically associated with “real masculinity” such as domination and violence, over anything stereotypically associated with the feminine, like caring, caregiving, non-violence, etc.

 Why do these people always have returning to a “traditional” male dominated, punitive family as a top priority? Whether it was Hitler in Germany, Khomeini in Iran, it doesn’t really matter. It’s because children in these families learn two fundamental lessons: one, they learn to equate difference, beginning with the fundamental visible difference in form between male and female in our species, with either superiority or inferiority, dominating or being dominated, being served or serving. They learn this, not only before their brains are fully developed, but before their critical faculties have kicked in at all.

 So they have this template for in-group versus out-group thinking, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s racism in the United States, or Shia versus Sunni, or Sunni versus Shia in the Middle East, it’s always this in-group versus out-group thinking.

And in these families children learn another basic lesson to fit into domination systems, which is why childrearing is so punitive. They learn that it is very, very painful to not obey orders, no matter how unjust, no matter how capricious.

And they learn denial, because they’re dependent on the people who take care of them and who also cause them pain. So, they deflect their rage onto an out-group that some authority figure, whether it’s a Hitler, or a Trump, tells them is to blame. They have rigid thinking. Rigid sexual stereotypes, gender stereotypes.

We’re finding out from neuroscience, as we report in this book, in Nurturing Our Humanity, that this actually affects our brains. The part of our brain that helps us change when reality changes is often stuck in people who come out of domination backgrounds. So, no wonder there’s such tremendous susceptibility to climate change denial. When an authority that they believe tells them, this is just fake news, right?

Eric:  Yes, and the weather is still working…

Riane:  Yes, so they can deny the reality around them. The fields are burning, the droughts, the higher temperatures. No, it’s not happening. But we need to understand this. And we also need to understand that it’s wonderful that  gender is becoming part of the mainstream media conversation. Like the MeToo Movement, sexual harassment, sexual assault. That’s very important because what it gets to, I don’t like the term toxic masculinity, because that’s what men are taught, but the truth of the matter is the “traditional socialization” for men is never, never to be like a woman. In other words, the only emotions men get are contempt and anger. But to be real men, they can’t have the soft emotions. You know, vulnerability and the behaviors of caring. But there are many men now who are diapering and feeding babies.

Eric:  One of the things I’ve found interesting in the book about the research in the feedback loop between male caregivers and the reduction of testosterone.

Riane:  Yes. Isn’t that fascinating?

Eric:  Indeed. It goes both ways.

Riane:  Well, and you know something else. It’s not only what you mention, but that actually men get so much pleasure from caregiving just like women and that this is reflected in hormonal levels, not only the testosterone, but oxytocin. This book is a wonderful introduction to people, not only to think a different way and therefore to be able to identify what are the most important interventions, but also it’s empowering.

Because if you are fragmented, it does seem hopeless. But it isn’t if we see that we can change from domination to partnership. For example, nations like Sweden, Finland and Norway. These were dirt poor countries at the beginning of the 20th Century, and today, they always not only have the lowest gender gaps according to the World Economic Forum, but they also, according to the World Economic Forum, always rank high in the Global Competitiveness Reports.

And they’re not socialist nations. People define socialism any way that pleases them. Socialism is actually a term Hitler used. It means that the government is involved in the economic system. It could be for terrible things or for good. These nations have a very healthy market economy, but they also have caring social and economic policies.

The study of relational dynamics identifies the key elements, the core components of social systems that reinforce each other to maintain the system. And once you understand that, then you can identify the core interventions, the cornerstones of childhood and gender, because gender socialization is really socializing us for what it means to be human, right?

Eric:  Right.

Riane:  For both boys and girls.

Eric:  Yeah, taking away our multidimensional choices we have and polarizing them to this or that.

Riane:  Exactly. The movement today towards greater gender fluidity is movement towards partnership, but again, it’s siloed. People think that is what’s going to make the difference, but it’s not enough. There’s also childhood and economics and there’s language and narratives or stories. Those are the four cornerstones.

I’ve written another book, as you know, which I think you’d really like, The Real Wealth of Nations on economics. Of course we also deal with economics in Nurturing Our Humanity. And at the Center for Partnership Studies we’re working on new metrics: the Social Wealth Economic Indicators we launched in 2014 are now being updated and condensed into an Index. I keynoted the Bretton Woods 75 Conference, and out of it came a powerful working group to develop this Social Wealth index. You might want to look at all this on our website, centerforpartnership.org.

 Developing a Social Wealth Index is very important. As miserable and as inaccurate and as crazy as GDP is, it’s one number. So, we want to have two numbers as an index, rather than the 24 numbers that we now have for the Social wealth Economic Indicators. These new metrics support a new economics that goes beyond both capitalism and socialism, neither of which recognized the importance of caring for people starting in early childhood and caring for nature.

So, this is a very important change, especially in our post-industrial change when human capacity is the key, isn’t it, to economic success?

Eric:  Yes. The irony, and the golden nugget for me, is that given the state of the world and the state of things, there is a lot of value to be added by going into partnership and taking care of the planet and taking care of each other. There’s money in it.

Riane:  Yes. There’s money in it. We have to show this to not only the people who want a more just and caring and sustainable world, but to the people who control the resources. That is why I introduced a new economic paradigm I call partnerism or a caring economics. It recognizes that we need a markets as well as enlightened government policies, but it goes beyond both capitalism and socialism and is informed by a different set of guiding values.

Because both Smith and Marx considered caring for people just women’s work, raising children just women’s work. As for caring for nature, nature was there to be exploited for both of them. Caring economics recognizes that we need policies that actually reward caring for people, whether it’s in the market economy or in the family or household economy. And we must care for our natural life support systems.

There are signs of hope. The fact that the Governor of California is pushing for accessible high quality, early childhood education. The fact is that there is more recognition now of the importance of gender relations, which are normative for all relations.

Eric:  Yes. As I said, I’m a father of two, tween daughters, 11 and 12, and we have this ongoing conversation about what all these stereotypes and norms that are being forced on them are about, and how to respond to them and then trying to find the middle ground.

Riane:  It is very hard because of the peer and the commercial pressure, and the male entitlement mentality, which we know today is behind some of the mass shootings. We have to have a clearer understanding of not just symptoms, but what are the things we have to address, the roots of our problems? Because otherwise, we’re going to keep having regressions.

I wrote an op-ed in 2007, and I said take a look at what’s been happening. The people pushing us back, the so-called rightist fundamentalist alliance in the U.S., it came together to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment – a “women’s issue.”. That’s how it first started. They have put in enormous energy, money, and time into pushing the normative ideal for women, men, and families back. So much so, that when people were asked do you agree that “the father is the master of the house” the percentage of people over a 10-year span increased massively in saying yes. So we progressives have to also pay attention to family and gender. But progressives have marginalized or  ignored this.

Eric:  Well, that would crumble their power structures as well in some ways as well.

Riane:  We’re not talking about building a utopia. But we are talking about a system that is simply not sustainable right now. When you say it will crumble their power structures, I think we’re at a time when we urgently, need this new way of thinking.

Eric:  Absolutely.

Riane:  Because this is not just a critique of what is, which is what so much of “progressive activity” is. It’s Bernie Sanders, “I’m angry. I’m going to take down the system…,” It is understanding how we got here and what we need to do, not only in the short term but in the long term, so that we don’t keep replicating the same thing. And that starts in childhood.

Eric:  When speaking to that idea of hope, and to me, what comes up there and what needs to be is the idea that in a domination system, basically all of humanity is traumatized.

Riane:  Yes.

Eric:  And the work that needs to be done of coming into partnership and caring for the planet, has been proven to be very healing work in terms of the healing arts. So, what we need to do is what science says needs to be done for us to, as you say, nurture our humanity.

Riane:  Yes. Recently the American Psychological Association finally came out with a statement saying spanking is not only ineffective as a means of discipline, but harmful. But consider the nations that have moved most closely to the partnership side pioneered this in the ’70s. The first laws saying that it’s against the law to physically discipline children were enacted in Sweden. Now, 50 nations have followed suit. Not the United States, of course. But we need to follow suit.

We need to show people that it’s in their best interests to change and that gender stereotypes, as you said, deprive both women and men of their full humanity. I always believe in showing the benefits of change.

Eric:  That sounds like a good place to wrap up on, actually. Focusing on the benefits of change!

Biography and Background

Eric: Hello Riane! Thank you so much for joining me. I was wondering if we could start with you giving a brief background of how you came to being who you are, I guess, and the work that you do?

Riane: That’s an interesting question, because my life has been like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together. Each piece seemed disparate. You know, my having to flee as a child refugee from the Nazis, and my mother’s spiritual courage in standing up to them and gaining my father’s release on Crystal Night, which was miraculous, because so many people were killed that night. Yet somehow, she managed. Then growing up in the industrial slums of Havana, which was traumatic in itself, and then coming to the United States, and always being an outsider. I think that being an outsider has been very important for me because it made it possible for me to take a different look at the world we live in and at my place in it.

Regarding my professional background, my first job was at an offshoot of the Rand Corporation before anybody ever thought of systems. It was the first time I came into contact with that approach, and that was way back in the ’50s.

Something else I always carry with me is going to law school and becoming an attorney. Again, we don’t think of it that way, but really, you have to do systems thinking as a lawyer. You have to do pattern recognition, because people don’t come to you and say, “Apply section 1222 of this or that Code to my case. You have to figure out what is the applicable law.

Then there was being a homemaker, and going a little crazy in the suburbs, and then the 1960’s.

Eric: Right.

Riane: I really woke up as if from a long-drugged sleep in the ’60’s. The fact is that being born Jewish almost cost me my life. But I realized at that time that having been born female had also fundamentally influenced my life, my life options. And I became aware of something that was rather shocking: that in all my years of “higher education,” there had been so little by, about, or for people like me: women. And that profoundly affected my research.

My research came out of my very early traumas. Out of questions like, does it really have to be this way? Does there have to be so much cruelty and violence, and insensitivity? Is it really, as we’re so often told, just human nature? Whether it’s original sin, or selfish genes, while they fight each other,  it’s the same story, isn’t it?

Eric:  It certainly is.

Riane:  We’re told we are bad. That’s inherent in us, so we have to be rigidly controlled by those on top. My research’s main question was, are there alternatives?” And the answer from my research was a resounding “Yes!”

Linguistic psychologists have long told us that the categories, especially social categories, provided by a culture’s language channel our thinking. And our conventional social categories, they don’t look at the whole picture. Given my background in systems thinking, I became aware of this. Also, when I started this research, it became quickly evident that conventional studies, which are quite aptly called the Study of Man, not only do they leave out the female half of our species, but actually the majority of humanity, because they also pay scant if any attention to children.

Eric:  What struck me as I was reading your new book and the difference between reading it and when I first read Chalice and the Blade, is that there has been so much research at this point in these areas that you’re talking about. As your book says, of the importance of love and child-rearing and formative experiences and environment and so on, and so the question that comes up for me is how has that progression been for you? Have you seen there being more acceptance in academia, or in society?

Riane:  Well, the academy as you know is so fragmented. It is so siloed. And, as I write in Nurturing Our Humanity, out of 1,600 years of so-called modern, western science, it’s only in the last 50 years that we even had women’s studies, men’s studies, gender studies, queer studies, and they’re still completely marginalized.

As for child development, there’s been an explosion of information and much of it is in Nurturing Our Humanity, from neuroscience, from studies like the ACEs studies, from data from all over the world. So we know today, as you said, that what children experience and observe, impacts nothing less than how our brains develop. I mean 85% of our brain architecture is formed in the first five years. But that information too is basically ignored or marginalized in our universities.

To simply ignore this is lunatic, but it’s very understandable, since science basically ignored women and children. So child development is also still siloed. It’s in a few psychology courses. It should be part of sociology, political science, economics, because it’s so influences how people think, feel and act, including how they vote.

Eric:  Indeed.

Riane:  It is not easy to get people to get out of their comfort zones. And this is particularly true, I think, of the academy and of progressives in general, who as a rule, have gone through the academic education, many of them, and they’re indoctrinated in this very siloed, fragmented thinking.

Eric:  Yes.

Riane:  So, people who feel it in their gut insist that we have to return to what they call the “traditional family”, right? Which is code for an authoritarian, rigidly male dominated, highly punitive family as a foundation for the kind of domination system they want to impose economically, socially, religiously, etc. But for many progressives, anything to do with women, children, families, is secondary. And this is reflected in our conventional social categories, which a friend of mine calls weapons of mass distraction.

Eric:   Absolutely.

Riane:   These categories of right/left, religious/secular, eastern/western, northern/southern cannot guide us in a more humane and sustainable direction. Think about it, there have been horribly oppressive, repressive, violent societies in every one of these categories. And none of these categories make it possible to see the relationship between our foundational human relations, our childhood and gender relations, and politics, economics, religion, etc.

Relational Dynamics

Eric:   And that’s what you’d term relational dynamics?

Riane:  The study of relational dynamics, as I write in Nurturing Our Humanity, is a different approach for studying human society and human evolution. For one thing, it focuses on what kinds of relations does a particular society support: top down hierarchies of domination or the more equitable hierarchies of actualization and linking. I had to coin new language, terms such as domination system and partnership system, as well as others.

I’m going to take a little sidebar here, because we often think of hierarchy as being the problem. But we all need parents and teachers and managers and leaders. So, I had to make a distinction between a hierarchy of domination, which we all are familiar with: You better obey or else, whether it’s in the family, on the job, in a rigid domination regime. But there is another kind of hierarchy: a hierarchy of actualization, where, as in the title of my first book, The Chalice and the Blade, power is conceptualized not as power over, but as power to and power with, where there is accountability and respect.

That we increasingly find references to this kind of power is a partnership trend.

There have in fact been many trends towards partnership over the last few centuries, but of course, there also have been terrible regressions. I was born into one and we are living through a period of regression right now, worldwide.

Eric:  Absolutely.

Riane:   A regression to the domination side of the partnership/domination social scale can take many forms. It can be religious, like so-called religious fundamentalism, which is really domination fundamentalism. Religion is part of it, but that’s not what it’s about. Or, it can be secular, whether it’s a Hitler on the right, or a Kim Jong Un on the left, or a Stalin on the left, or whether it’s ISIS or the Taliban or the direction the United States has been going in the last years, this cannot be understood in terms of the old thinking. But it becomes very understandable from a perspective which is a holistic and, if you will, an integral and integrated perspective, as in Nurturing our Humanity.

The Four Cornerstones of a Partnership Future

Eric:  In having this perspective of the historical rise and fall of openness to partnership ways of being, where do you see the hope? Where is the work for those of us who do see these patterns?

Riane:  We write of building four cornerstones as foundational to a partnership future in in the closing chapterof Nurturing our Humanity. These cornerstones are foundations for either a domination system or a partnership system. They are Childhood, Gender, Economics, and Narratives and Language.

 Childhood is the first cornerstone, for obvious reasons. Neuroscience shows what psychology has long been telling us. And you’re quite right, since I wrote Chalice, in the intervening 30 years — I’ve been working on Nurturing Our Humanity for 10 years, by the way — there’s been a lot of new information since then. Neuroscience shows the missing links, if you will, between my theories and how our brains develop, and hence behaviors and policies. I would like to see this book used in universities, in sociology, psychology, political science, economics, etc. Because what we so need… Einstein said it, you can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created them.

And yet, as I said, progressives are very difficult to move forward. We are so fragmented. A lot of things are happening that are movement towards partnership, but what’s lacking for us is that coherent frame. That’s what this work provides.

 But there is hope. First of all, of course, movement is taking place. There is change in consciousness.

About four years ago, I asked the anthropologist, Douglas P. Fry, to be my co-author in this book, and that’s because he brings what I described in The Chalice and the Blade back millennia, to our foraging days — completely debunking the so-called scientific evolutionary story that we’ve been fed, and are still being fed, of so-called evolutionary imperatives that claim that it’s too bad, but rape, war, they’re just in our genes. That’s the story we have been taught.

Eric:  Right.

Riane:  Well, it’s nonsense. For millennia we now know, studying contemporary foraging societies, like Doug has, and from many, many other scholars that are cited and quoted in Nurturing Our Humanity that, in reality, that story is completely wrong. Doug calls  foraging societies, which is how we lived for millennia, the original partnership societies.

I want to add that some people think partnership is just cooperation. That’s absolutely not so. People cooperate all the time in domination systems. Terrorists cooperate, invading armies cooperate, cartels cooperate, criminal gangs cooperate. What partnership system means is a social configuration.

Think about it.  If you don’t include in a social configuration the situation of the majority of humanity, you don’t see the whole social system.  Because how can you connect the dots, if you leave these huge dots — childhood and gender — out?

Eric:  That, as well as speaking of those foraging societies, of nature and that partnership that’s so necessary of knowing your environment, knowing that forest and knowing what is safe and what is not.

Riane:  That’s right. It’s all of one piece. I spoke at the United Nations General Assembly at a session organized by the State of Bolivia on harmony with nature, and I made the point that you can’t just tack on harmony with nature to a fundamentally imbalanced system.

That is why ranking is such a top priority for people who think a domination system of authoritarian, top-down rule in both the family and the state, is right. Especially the rigid gender stereotypes, and the ranking of men over women, the male form over the female form, and then ranking anything stereotypically associated with “real masculinity” such as domination and violence, over anything stereotypically associated with the feminine, like caring, caregiving, non-violence, etc.

Why do these people always have returning to a “traditional” male dominated, punitive family as a top priority? Whether it was Hitler in Germany, Khomeini in Iran, it doesn’t really matter. It’s because children in these families learn two fundamental lessons: one, they learn to equate difference, beginning with the fundamental visible difference in form between male and female in our species, with either superiority or inferiority, dominating or being dominated, being served or serving. They learn this, not only before their brains are fully developed, but before their critical faculties have kicked in at all.

 So they have this template for in-group versus out-group thinking, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s racism in the United States, or Shia versus Sunni, or Sunni versus Shia in the Middle East, it’s always this in-group versus out-group thinking.

And in these families children learn another basic lesson to fit into domination systems, which is why childrearing is so punitive. They learn that it is very, very painful to not obey orders, no matter how unjust, no matter how capricious.

And they learn denial, because they’re dependent on the people who take care of them and who also cause them pain. So, they deflect their rage onto an out-group that some authority figure, whether it’s a Hitler, or a Trump, tells them is to blame. They have rigid thinking. Rigid sexual stereotypes, gender stereotypes.

We’re finding out from neuroscience, as we report in this book, in Nurturing Our Humanity, that this actually affects our brains. The part of our brain that helps us change when reality changes is often stuck in people who come out of domination backgrounds. So, no wonder there’s such tremendous susceptibility to climate change denial. When an authority that they believe tells them, this is just fake news, right?

Eric:  Yes, and the weather is still working…

Riane:  Yes, so they can deny the reality around them. The fields are burning, the droughts, the higher temperatures. No, it’s not happening. But we need to understand this. And we also need to understand that it’s wonderful that  gender is becoming part of the mainstream media conversation. Like the MeToo Movement, sexual harassment, sexual assault. That’s very important because what it gets to, I don’t like the term toxic masculinity, because that’s what men are taught, but the truth of the matter is the “traditional socialization” for men is never, never to be like a woman. In other words, the only emotions men get are contempt and anger. But to be real men, they can’t have the soft emotions. You know, vulnerability and the behaviors of caring. But there are many men now who are diapering and feeding babies.

Eric:  One of the things I’ve found interesting in the book about the research in the feedback loop between male caregivers and the reduction of testosterone.

Riane:   Yes. Isn’t that fascinating?

Eric:    Indeed. It goes both ways.

Riane:   Well, and you know something else. It’s not only what you mention, but that actually men get so much pleasure from caregiving just like women and that this is reflected in hormonal levels, not only the testosterone, but oxytocin. This book is a wonderful introduction to people, not only to think a different way and therefore to be able to identify what are the most important interventions, but also it’s empowering.

Because if you are fragmented, it does seem hopeless. But it isn’t if we see that we can change from domination to partnership. For example, nations like Sweden, Finland and Norway. These were dirt poor countries at the beginning of the 20th Century, and today, they always not only have the lowest gender gaps according to the World Economic Forum, but they also, according to the World Economic Forum, always rank high in the Global Competitiveness Reports.

And they’re not socialist nations. People define socialism any way that pleases them. Socialism is actually a term Hitler used. It means that the government is involved in the economic system. It could be for terrible things or for good. These nations have a very healthy market economy, but they also have caring social and economic policies.

The study of relational dynamics identifies the key elements, the core components of social systems that reinforce each other to maintain the system. And once you understand that, then you can identify the core interventions, the cornerstones of childhood and gender, because gender socialization is really socializing us for what it means to be human, right?

Eric:  Right.

Riane:  For both boys and girls.

Eric:   Yeah, taking away our multidimensional choices we have and polarizing them to this or that.

Riane:   Exactly. The movement today towards greater gender fluidity is movement towards partnership, but again, it’s siloed. People think that is what’s going to make the difference, but it’s not enough. There’s also childhood and economics and there’s language and narratives or stories. Those are the four cornerstones.

I’ve written another book, as you know, which I think you’d really like, The Real Wealth of Nations on economics. Of course we also deal with economics in Nurturing Our Humanity. And at the Center for Partnership Studies we’re working on new metrics: the Social Wealth Economic Indicators we launched in 2014 are now being updated and condensed into an Index. I keynoted the Bretton Woods 75 Conference, and out of it came a powerful working group to develop this Social Wealth index. You might want to look at all this on our website, centerforpartnership.org.

 Developing a Social Wealth Index is very important. As miserable and as inaccurate and as crazy as GDP is, it’s one number. So, we want to have two numbers as an index, rather than the 24 numbers that we now have for the Social wealth Economic Indicators. These new metrics support a new economics that goes beyond both capitalism and socialism, neither of which recognized the importance of caring for people starting in early childhood and caring for nature.

So, this is a very important change, especially in our post-industrial change when human capacity is the key, isn’t it, to economic success?

Eric:   Yes. The irony, and the golden nugget for me, is that given the state of the world and the state of things, there is a lot of value to be added by going into partnership and taking care of the planet and taking care of each other. There’s money in it.

Riane:  Yes. There’s money in it. We have to show this to not only the people who want a more just and caring and sustainable world, but to the people who control the resources. That is why I introduced a new economic paradigm I call partnerism or a caring economics. It recognizes that we need a markets as well as enlightened government policies, but it goes beyond both capitalism and socialism and is informed by a different set of guiding values.

Because both Smith and Marx considered caring for people just women’s work, raising children just women’s work. As for caring for nature, nature was there to be exploited for both of them. Caring economics recognizes that we need policies that actually reward caring for people, whether it’s in the market economy or in the family or household economy. And we must care for our natural life support systems.

 There are signs of hope. The fact that the Governor of California is pushing for accessible high quality, early childhood education. The fact is that there is more recognition now of the importance of gender relations, which are normative for all relations.

Eric:   Yes. As I said, I’m a father of two, tween daughters, 11 and 12, and we have this ongoing conversation about what all these stereotypes and norms that are being forced on them are about, and how to respond to them and then trying to find the middle ground.

Riane:   It is very hard because of the peer and the commercial pressure, and the male entitlement mentality, which we know today is behind some of the mass shootings. We have to have a clearer understanding of not just symptoms, but what are the things we have to address, the roots of our problems? Because otherwise, we’re going to keep having regressions.

 I wrote an op-ed in 2007, and I said take a look at what’s been happening. The people pushing us back, the so-called rightist fundamentalist alliance in the U.S., it came together to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment – a “women’s issue.”. That’s how it first started. They have put in enormous energy, money, and time into pushing the normative ideal for women, men, and families back. So much so, that when people were asked do you agree that “the father is the master of the house” the percentage of people over a 10-year span increased massively in saying yes. So we progressives have to also pay attention to family and gender. But progressives have marginalized or  ignored this.

Eric:   Well, that would crumble their power structures as well in some ways as well.

Riane:   We’re not talking about building a utopia. But we are talking about a system that is simply not sustainable right now. When you say it will crumble their power structures, I think we’re at a time when we urgently, need this new way of thinking.

Eric:   Absolutely.

Riane:   Because this is not just a critique of what is, which is what so much of “progressive activity” is. It’s Bernie Sanders, “I’m angry. I’m going to take down the system…,” It is understanding how we got here and what we need to do, not only in the short term but in the long term, so that we don’t keep replicating the same thing. And that starts in childhood.

Eric:    When speaking to that idea of hope, and to me, what comes up there and what needs to be is the idea that in a domination system, basically all of humanity is traumatized.

Riane:   Yes.

Eric:   And the work that needs to be done of coming into partnership and caring for the planet, has been proven to be very healing work in terms of the healing arts. So, what we need to do is what science says needs to be done for us to, as you say, nurture our humanity.

Riane:   Yes. Recently the American Psychological Association finally came out with a statement saying spanking is not only ineffective as a means of discipline, but harmful. But consider the nations that have moved most closely to the partnership side pioneered this in the ’70s. The first laws saying that it’s against the law to physically discipline children were enacted in Sweden. Now, 50 nations have followed suit. Not the United States, of course. But we need to follow suit.

We need to show people that it’s in their best interests to change and that gender stereotypes, as you said, deprive both women and men of their full humanity. I always believe in showing the benefits of change.

Eric:  That sounds like a good place to wrap up on, actually. Focusing on the benefits of change!

1 Comment

  1. Edward Berge on December 27, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    Speaking of creating new language to define a partnership society, I call it hier(an)archical synplexity to differentiate it from hierarchical complexity. From this piece:*

    “There is ample evidence that the collaborative commons is not only emerging but already has a solid foothold in the transition away from capitalism. It also seems to be growing organically via its peer to peer principles, changing the very ethos of what it means for a system to organize. It integrates hierarchy with heterarchy in a distributed, networked format that transcends capitalism’s dominant hierarchical, top-down structure. This format is where organizational levels no longer evolve in a strictly linear fashion of an ever-increasing complexity of growth but via the evolution of a folded, meshed, ecological sustainability, akin to what I’ve come to call hier(an)archical synplexity” (p. 90).

    From capitalism to the collaborative commons:
    http://integral-review.org/pdf-template-issue.php?pdfName=vol_15_no_1_berge_from_capitalism_to_the_collaborative_commons.pdf

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