Recent events in Charlottesville paint a searing picture of what a domination system looks like. Aggression, intimidation, and violence are primary markers of domination, and they were very much in evidence during the rally organized by a group of white nationalist groups that ended in violence, chaos, and death.
Authoritarianism is easy to spot in the public space, but it can also loom large in private behind closed doors. Domination systems can be found in family and gender relations.
Looking at Charlottesville through the partnership/domination lens reveals the interaction between our public and private worlds. The insights that result shows us how partnership practices can make vital change at both levels.
A system of domination uses top down, authoritarian control to establish a rigid hierarchy. It requires division between genders, races, ethnicities, religious groups, or any other characteristic that can be used to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’.
Partnership systems offer much more and better serve families, economies, and nations. Partnership creates a foundation that promotes the optimal realization of human potential by fulfilling irreducible human needs for mutual respect, care, nurture, opportunity, and security.
Our current public sphere bears the characteristics of a domination system. We’ve inherited a legacy of discrimination, enslavement, income inequality, gender disparity. a political system comprised of more white men than all other demographic groups combined. And while we have made some progress, we are in the midst of a massive regression to domination.
Intimidation and coercion are used to maintain the status quo. In spite of the promise of the American Dream that you will be fairly rewarded based on your individual merits and talents, we know that to whom we are born, the zip code we grow up in, our gender, and the color of our skin all influence our status in the social and economic ladder. In both public and private institutions women possess less power and influence than white men. Anything regarded as ‘soft’ or ‘caring’ or ‘traditionally feminine’ is devalued. Physical strength and violence are valorized.
Supporters of authoritarian systems, willing to sacrifice personal freedom and ignore the rights of others in favor of security, have scored high marks on measures of racism and sexism. They prefer traditional gender roles and relationships. When questioned about their parenting preferences, they value obedience over self-reliance in their children. Respect for elders is deemed more important than independence, good manners over curiosity, and good behavior over consideration for others. Moving outside the assigned role can result in punishment and humiliation.
Consequently, domination is learned very early in life at home, within the family. The practice of submitting to external power figures, following orders, and prioritizing authority and control over personal freedom and the rights of others is internalized, and becomes set as a baseline guide for all other human interactions, within the family and the larger tribe or nation. Domination has permeated our politics and civil discourse and may engulf our long-cherished public institutions.
Charlottesville’s ‘Unite the Right’ rally was an uprising against shifting gender roles, changing demographics, and the transition from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge/service economy. Rally goers came together against a perceived threat to their conventional values, traditional social structures, and economic displacement. They blame the rise of feminism, civil marriage, and cultural and political pluralism. The alt-right is in denial of climate change; seeks to preserve and retain the traditional distribution of social and economic power; and feels entitled to use violence and enforce submission to a ‘strongman’ to achieve their ends.
By contrast, partnership systems use the inherent power of connection between our dependence on the planet and each other as its strength. Partnership systems value caring and non-violence and women as well as men. They do not rely on fear, violence and coercion, and have a more fluid and mobile social order. Partnership undergirds stronger democracies and expanding economic opportunity in a way that domination never can. It makes visible the immediate and critical relationship between economic success and care, that care makes this possible by producing its most basic component: human capacity development. Providers of care, be they unpaid within families or paid in the marketplace, are valued and considered at every level of policy creation and implementation in keeping with their social and economic contributions.
Partnership leads to a caring economics that can help us meet the unprecedented challenges of our rapid move into a post-industrial age of automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. This system gives primary value to caring for people, starting in early childhood, and caring for nature. It is not only more humane, but is essential at this time when new economic thinking is urgently needed.
Charlottesville shows that domination leads to violence, chaos, and suffering. Authoritarianism is a failed method, but as it is often learned in childhood, we are slow to reject it. It rises particularly in times of stress, uncertainty, and fear, like ours.
Replacing domination with partnership will require attentive and focused effort in our lives, families, communities, and in our public interactions as well. But it is the alternative that can meet the challenges we face.
If you are interested in being an agent of change to secure the future of people and the planet, consider our free introductory webinar “Resistance is not enough. Become a leader in the caring revolution: Webinar Sept. 15 with Riane Eisler”. You can find more information about it here.
Dr. Eisler has written more expansively on the role of childhood relations as part of a larger vehicle for social change earlier this year. You can find her article here. Three other cornerstones are gender relations, economic relations, and language and narratives. All are relevant to what happened in Charlottesville, and the article may provide greater context for understanding.