The Peacebuilding Podcast : From Conflict To Common Ground

Ep 41: Riane Eisler & Douglas P. Fry: Nurturing Our Humanity

October 16, 2019

Probably a deep reason I went into the field of conflict resolution long ago is that growing up as a girl in the heart of an affluent, male-dominated, Wall Street kind of culture meant that I had to reconcile deep love for the members of my family -- especially my powerful Dad -- and my resistance toward many of their views and behaviors.  In my fierce college days, I framed things as, my Dad was a “capitalist” whose clients supported the coup in Chile (they did), and  I --  deeply influenced by the raging American war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, my new awareness of the hundreds of times the U.S. had intervened militarily into Latin America, and women’s studies -- declared myself a “radical socialist feminist”.

Now after many years of growing, ripening and getting tossed around by the currents of our human existence -- seeing the contradictions in lots of things and people -- I am less interested in polarities and much more interested in finding common ground, deeper dialogue, genuine contact between people, in spite of difference.

So, I would say now that perhaps I am part “capitalist” – a lover of innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity, part “socialist”, a firm believer in taking care of people’s basic needs and our planet, and the rest of me, well just rogue goddess -- wanting to move beyond what my next guest calls models of domination to those of true partnership.

Riane Eisler is well into her later years and is still generating unsurpassed insight and contribution into how we can live well together on this planet. I interviewed her first in Episode 28 (please give a listen), and said then and repeat now that she is one of the brightest lights and most innovative social thinkers out there.

What I have always liked the most is that she transcends the polarities of right v. left, capitalist v. socialist, religious v. secular, north v. south, -- “it’s useless”, she says, “because there have been repressive violent regimes in every one of these categories.”

Instead, her frame is models of partnership v. domination and a special emphasis on how gender shows up in both.

In my 20’s, when I first read her book, The Chalice and the Blade, it was such eureka moment that was then reinforced by Harvard social anthropologist William Ury in his book, Getting to Peace to learn that humans have not always been in a state of war and violence -- that, in fact, the vast majority of human existence on earth is characterized much more by what Riane calls models of partnership v. domination, or what Ury articulated as  2,500,000 years of possible coexistence to 10,000 years of coercion.

So many smart people that I talk to believe humans have always been violent, and that there has always been war. But, there’s a lot of evidence that this is just not true. And there is also plenty of evidence that during those times, men and women lived together as equals and that, in many societies, the Divine was often a revered goddess, and maybe even a super sexy one.

What Riane so clearly adds to this discussion is that all domination systems, whether they are left or right, are always characterized by rigid gender stereotypes.

“It's not coincidental”, she says, “that whether it was Hitler in Germany, or ISIS in the Middle East today, secular Western, religious Eastern, or the rightist fundamentalist alliance in the US, that a top priority is always getting back to this quote, ‘traditional family’. It's a code isn't it?” she says, “for authoritarian, rigidly male dominated, and highly punitive family.”  

Impetus for this current episode is Riane’s new book, Nurturing our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape our Brains, Lives and Future which she has written with Douglas Fry. It’s a delight to get to know Doug through this episode. I knew of his work as an anthropologist, documenting earlier partnership societies and the gender balance within them.

Doug has a very special voice and perspective and I found his calm demeanor made me feel better and more hopeful about the world.

A couple of ideas they share that I especially like. . .

  • That gender is a key component to domination systems and is connected to the ranking of any human being over other groups whether it’s about  race, religion, sexual orientation. . . In other words, you get rid of gender ranking and you get rid of a lot of “isms”,

  • That as the status of women rises, men no longer find it such a threat to their status, masculinity or role to also embrace caring values like universal health care, generous paid parental leave and have the freedom to be more fully themselves . .

  • That in the partnership societies that Riane and Doug explore in the book:

    • there are the narrowest gender gaps

    • there is an investment in people starting from early childhood

    • there’s no homelessness

    • no violence (although certainly people lose is from time to time)

    • military budgets are just a few percentages of government spending (compared to $.57 on the dollar in the US)

    • they are always in the highest ranks of the global competitiveness indices

    • AND, perhaps the most important of all, people are the happiest!!

Go figure.

Hope you get a chance to listen to Riane and Doug. Tell us what you think below and please follow us on Podbean.