Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The School for Violence: A Conversation with Riane Eisler

Including terror and its uses, you mean.

Precisely. Terror and hate have a context. My research shows that underneath conventional classifications - religious versus secular, tribal versus industrial, right versus left, capitalist versus communist - are two underlying ways of structuring relations. They're actually two opposite poles, with a continuum in between. At one end of this continuum is the dominator society. Dominator societies have existed throughout history and have the same basic plan, whether it's Attila's Huns, Hitler's Germany or the Taliban's Afghanistan. These societies consist of rigid top-down rankings, of "superiors" over "inferiors," men over women, adults over children, "in-groups" over "out-groups" - rankings backed up by force and the threat of force in homes, in society, and between societies in chronic wars. Terror is built into the dominator system, and these bombings are the latest manifestation of that fact. Muslim fundamentalists are extremely dominator, in a bizarrely feudal way. It's as if they have one foot in the Middle Ages and another in our postmodern world with its powerful technologies of communication and destruction.

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Do they think bin Laden cares if any Christian God is worshipped?

You see how the dominator mindset works. What they call the cure, I call a central problem - I, and every person who truly values freedom and democracy.

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We were talking about the feudal family and terrorism.

Yes. Because in rigid dominator families, whether in the Muslim world or elsewhere, you learn from childhood that it's okay to impose your will by force on those weaker than you - women and children - that it's your God-given right to do so. And you learn never to express your anger or resentment against those who cause you pain, for fear of more pain. So you have a lot of stored rage that can be redirected toward "out-groups," in pogroms and lynchings and "holy wars."

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But you can't think that family is the only factor here. You're no Freudian.

No, of course not. The family and society are profoundly interconnected. A mark of where a nation is on the dominator/partnership scale is how it treats women and children. Even if your family is less authoritarian, in a Muslim fundamentalist context, you still live in a culture where, for example, women get acid thrown in their face because they aren't wearing a burka, or get killed by members of their own family because they exhibit sexual independence. You live in a culture that worships strong-arm rule and male violence.

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I've never heard this argument before. There are real grievances about oil, territory and multinational corporations, but you think the hate and violence mask another agenda.

I do. Where dictators or repressive mullahs rule, they cultivate hatred of the U.S., and the West in general, for two reasons. One is fear of our cultural influence - freedom for women, the undermining of traditional authority, and Western democracy, as imperfect as it is. They see the threat this poses to their domination, and to a system based on rigid rankings. The other reason is that fanning hatred against the West deflects anger and rebellion from themselves. That keeps the people from turning against the elites, who benefit enormously from their ties to the West, while few if any of these benefits go to the average Arab.

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So what's your solution to terrorism? How do we fight it?

There's a short-term strategy and a long-term strategy - and they have to be simultaneous. In the short term, I'm afraid that military response against terrorist bases in nations that fund and support terrorism is necessary.

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You've shocked me. The New Age community, the Dalai Lama, are calling for peace and love. I associate you with them philosophically.

The pure "peace and love" response is the flip side of the "kill and hate" response. Neither is realistic, and both ignore the psychosocial dynamics of terrorism we've been talking about. Unfortunately, failure to respond will encourage more terrorism. In the dominator mind, there are only those who dominate and those who are dominated. Nonviolence is equated with women, with what's despised, what's controlled and is legitimately, and easily, terrorized into submission.

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But violence only breeds violence, you said it yourself.

If you've got a psychopath lunging at you with a knife, that's not the time to talk about peace and love. It's the time to defend yourself to save your life. The time to talk about peace and love, and to put them into action, is before that person becomes a psychopath. If we're to effectively address the festering problems that breed terrorism, we have to deal with the foundations of violence. We have to think of the long term. Any war on terrorism is doomed to fail, just like the war on drugs, unless we address the deepest historical, cultural, social, economic, political and psychic forces that produce terrorism. This is urgent in our high-technology age.

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