I have been a marriage and family therapist for more than fifty years. I help men and women address two areas that most everyone must deal with these days—Our love lives and our work lives. Sigmund Freud recognized the importance of these two areas many years ago when he famously said,
Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.
Over the years I have been in practice I have learned that we can’t heal individual lives without addressing issues that impact couples. Further, I have come to see that we can’t heal couples relationship without addressing family dynamics, including our wounding in our families of origin. We know, too, that families don’t exist in isolation, but are members of communities, countries, and members of the community of all life on planet Earth.
I believe that all people, with the exception of those who refuse to accept the realities of life in today’s world, would agree that humans are out of balance with life on Earth. Existential problems such as the climate crisis, the loss of biodiversity, an economic system that is dependent on exponential growth, and the continuing threat of wars that could kill us all, are not being adequately addressed.
We all have experienced two forces working in each of us. One force is based on love, trust, and a belief that we can solve our problems. The other force is based on fear, anger, and a belief that nothing we do will succeed and we might as well just give up.
The beginning of a solution to our dilemma comes from a Native American story that has many variations. It is a story of the two wolves and is an ancient tale that has been a part of traditional wisdom stories for generations. Historians typically attribute the tale to the Cherokee or the Lenape people.
The story features two characters: a grandfather and his grandson. The grandfather says, “I have a fight going on in me between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, regret, and sorrow. The other one is good—he is joy, peace, hope, and love.
The grandson takes a moment to reflect on this. At last, he looks up at his grandfather and asks, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee grandfather gives a simple reply. “The one you feed.”
Domination and Partnership: Which One Will We Feed?
I first met Riane Eisler in 1987 shortly after the publication of her book, The Chalice & the Blade: Our History, Our Future. I was moved by their simplicity, vision, and truth:
Underlying the great surface diversity of human culture are two basic models of society. The first, which I call the dominator model, is what is popularly termed either patriarchy or matriarchy—the ranking of one half of humanity over the other. The second, in which social relations are primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking, may best be described as the partnership model. In this model—beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species, between male and female—diversity is not equated with either inferiority or superiority.
Eisler has written numerous books that have expanded on these ideas including her most recent, written with anthropologist, Douglas P. Fry, Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future. In their chapter, “The Original Partnership Societies,” they recognize that the roots of our partnership lives go back nearly two-million years to a time when we were all hunter-gatherers.
Nomadic foragers—also called nomadic hunter-gatherers—constitute the oldest form of human social organization,” say Eisler and Fry, “predating by far the agricultural revolution of about 10,000 years ago as well as the rise of pastoralists, tribal horticulturalists, chiefdoms, kingdoms, and ancient states.
They go on to explore the reasons humanity shifted away from partnership towards a domination model.
There are a number of theories about how and why domination systems originated,
say Eisler and Fry.
One theory, which recently seems to have received some support from DNA studies of prehistoric European populations, is based on the proposal of archeologist Marija Gimbutas that in Europe the shift was due to incursions of Indo-European pastoralists originating in the Eurasian steppes who brought with them strongman rule, male dominance, and warfare.
This theory is consistent with the work of historian and natural scientist, Dr. James DeMeo, whose research indicates that the origin of our disconnection and resulting alienation occurred 6,000 years ago in the Middle East.
The Original Dominator Societies Emerged in Middle-East as a Result of Environmental Trauma
In his well-researched treatise, Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence in the Deserts of the Old World, Dr. DeMeo says,
My research confirmed the existence of an ancient, worldwide period of relatively peaceful social conditions, where warfare, male domination, and destructive aggression were either absent, or at extremely minimal levels. Moreover, it has become possible to pinpoint both the exact times and places on Earth where human culture first transformed from peaceful, democratic, egalitarian conditions, to violent, warlike, despotic conditions.
Dr. DeMeo found that the trauma resulting from
repeated drought and desertification, which promotes famine, starvation, and mass migrations among subsistence-level cultures, must have been a crucial factor
in changing the way we related to the Earth and each other from one of partnership to one of domination.
Once so anchored into social institutions, the new draught-and feminine-derived behavior patterns reproduce themselves in each new generation, irrespective of subsequent turns in climate towards wetter conditions,
Once the domination system is introduced, it spreads. Violence begets violence. As social scientist, Andrew Bard Schmooker reminds us in his prophetic book, The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution,
Power is like a contaminant, a disease, which once introduced will gradually yet inexorably become universal in the system of competing societies.
That is certainly what we have seen as Indigenous, partnership cultures, throughout the world have been wiped by the power of what we euphemistically refer to as “civilization.” Schmooker said it simply and powerfully:
Civilized society in general has been like a rabid dog. Its bite infects the healthy even though it contains the germ of its own destruction.
Similar views have been voiced by geography professor Jared Diamond and historian Yuval Noah Harari.
Restoring Our Partnership Future: Indigenous Wisdom and Worldview Can Guide Us
Drawing on their own research and the wisdom of Indigenous people from around the world, Wahinkpe Tope (Four Arrows) and Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D, have written an important book, Restoring the Kinship Worldview: Indigenous Voices Introduce 28 Precepts for Rebalancing Life on Planet Earth.
In the book’s introduction, they draw on the experience of environmentalist and author Paul Shepard who said,
When we grasp fully that the best expressions of our humanity were not invented by civilization but by cultures that preceded it, that the natural world is not only a set of constraints but of contexts within which we can more fully realize our dreams, we will be on the way to a long overdue reconciliation between opposites which are of our own making.
In Restoring The Kinship Worldview, Wahinkpe Tope and Darcia Narvaez share a chart by Wahinkpe Tope, originally published in The Red Road (chunku luta): Linking Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives to Indigenous Worldview. He contrasts what he calls the “Common Dominant Worldview Manifestation” and the “Common Indigenous Worldview Manifestation” which are very similar to the contrasts Riane Eisler describes between Dominator and Partnership systems and James DeMeo describes as Armored Patrist and Unarmored Matrist behaviors, attitudes, and social institutions.
Winkpe Tope’s original chart had forty contrasting manifestations. I list the ones I feel are most relevant to this discussion:
Only the Partnership/Indigenous Worldview Can Save Humanity
Thomas Berry was a priest, a “geologian,” and a historian of religions. He spoke eloquently to our connection to the Earth and the consequences of our failure to remember that our survival depends on accepting our place as one member, among many, in the community of life.
We never knew enough. Nor were we sufficiently intimate with all our cousins in the great family of the earth. Nor could we listen to the various creatures of the earth, each telling its own story. The time has now come, however, when we will listen or we will die.
Our only way forward, I believe, is the Partnership/Indigenous pathway. Native Americans have long understood the destructive nature of the Dominator system that has infected our Dominant worldview. According to Native American scholar Jack D. Forbes, in his book, Columbus and other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism,
For several thousands of years human beings have suffered from a plague, a disease worse than leprosy, a sickness worse than malaria, a malady much more terrible than smallpox.
Native peoples call the disease Wetiko and Forbes describes it as the cult of aggression.
“Indians are murdered,” he says, “in order to force impoverished mixed-Indians to gather rubber in the forest under conditions that doom the rubber-hunters themselves to miserable deaths. Small countries are invaded so that an entire people and their resources can be exploited. Human beings of all colors are seized or insnared in debts and are forced to live out their brief lives as slaves or serfs. Boys are raised to obey orders and serve as cannon-fodder, while girls are raised to give their children over to armies, factories or plantations.”
Forbes says it is an insidious disease that has become so pervasive it is seen as normal.
I call it cannibalism…but whatever we call it, this disease, this wetiko psychosis, is the greatest epidemic sickness known to man.
Indigenous peoples refuse to be wiped out. Their communities and the Indigenous wisdom, and worldview they embrace, may well be the hope for all humanity. As Thomas Berry reminds us, we will listen, learn, and act on that wisdom, or we will die.
This post was previously published on menalive.com and is republished on Medium.
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