BeyondChron Interview: Author Riane Eisler Talks about “The Real Wealth of Nations”

by Lainey Feingold on July 11, 2007

Ed. Note: Riane Eisler will be making two appearances in San Francisco next week – Tuesday night, July 17 at Book Passage in the Ferry Building and Thursday night at the Commonwealth Club. Join her for a fascinating dose of hope in these troubled times and to hear her vision for economic and social transformation. BeyondChron spoke with Riane from her home in Carmel, California about her newest book, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics.

BC: You have written about archaeology, ancient civilizations, sex and religion, and in your latest book, the need for a radical restructuring of economic policy. Is there a unifying thread to the vast diversity of your work?

RE: All my work has been an effort to answer a basic question: “Does there have to be so much cruelty in the world? I simply could not, and cannot, accept the notion that “the way things are” is simply “human nature”, because I know that humans have a large capacity for caring.

BC: When did you first become interested in such a profound issue?

RE: I was born in Austria at the time of the rise of Nazism. In 1938, when I was seven, I saw my father pushed down the stairs when my family home was ransacked during Kristallnacht – a night of pillage and rampage against Jews across Germany and Austria.

That night I saw evil, but I also saw my mother demonstrate what I call “Spiritual Courage” — the courage to stand up to injustice out of love. My mother recognized one of the intruders as a local shop boy. She yelled at that boy and asked how dare he come so violently into our home. That night was a very formative experience for me.

BC: Your family escaped to pre-Castro Cuba, where you lived for seven years. Do experiences from that part of your life carry over into your work today?

RE: Yes. By a miracle we escaped to Cuba, and experiencing the deep economic gap in pre-Castro Cuba was a very formative experience for me. I was living in the industrial slums, but my parents had saved enough money for me to go to a fancy school in the affluent suburbs. Every day I experienced culture shock going to and from that school.

That experience, and many others in my life, have taught me that things that people consider “the way things are” are not the same everywhere. And that means that things can change.

BC: Speaking of change — you have described your work as being about “fundamental transformational change.” The change from dominator to partnership society. How do you keep yourself hopeful in the face of such a daunting task?

RE: Because I know history. Every change we take for granted once seemed impossible. When I was involved in women’s movement in the late 60s, the earlier nineteenth century women’s movement had been erased from consciousness. Think of how far we’ve come from that time – a time when there were still segregated want ads for men’s and women’s jobs. And that was less than 40 years ago.

And don’t forget, the right takes a long view of history. Their whole rightist “family values” campaign began when we were fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment. Unfortunately for us, their success proves the importance of a long view.

I take the long view of history – and believe we need to build a sustainable movement toward partnership. There are things we all can, and need to, do in the short run to get us there.

BC: That might gets to the heart of what many BeyondChron readers are interested in: what can be done now to help bring about the more caring, partnership based society you are advocating in your book?

RE: There are lots of things all of us can do every day, both as individuals and as members of social change organizations. I detail some of these ways in The Real Wealth of Nations, and there is also a lot of information on my websites.

Becoming familiar with the “Caring Family Policy Agenda” that I talk about in my book and on my website is a good start. The Agenda addresses core values such as workplace rights, housing rights, the rights of children to an education focused on individual needs and the rights of women to be free from violence. These are foundational issues.

BC: Are there any specific candidates or legislative proposals you are supporting right now?

RE: I recommend generally that we try to elect leaders that back caring values. And some of us need to run for office ourselves. There are Nordic countries where women comprise 40% of the national legislature that have economic policies that help create a society with strong partnership tendencies.

In general, I feel that many progressives and current candidates have missed the boat by not having a strong family policy to counter the so called “family values” of the right. And too many of our candidates continue to marginalize key issues as “women’s issues.” But history shows us that the change in the status of women is foundational. If a society can accept 1000 men stoning a young girl to death for behaving contrary to so called sexual mores, what else can that society accept?

As for something very specific, I point to Marin County Congress member Lynn Woolsey just introduced bill that addresses a lot of issues in caring economics.

BC: What other types of things can people do to advance a caring agenda?:

RE: One this we all can do is simply to start talking about caring policies – the components of a “caring economics” that I discuss in my book. Simply putting those two words – caring and economics – together in same breath is radical. Change requires persistence. And talking about policies [such as environmental protections, paid family leave, health care, money for our schools, etc] as “caring policies” is a useful antidote to the knee jerk reaction in U.S. that these policies are socialist.

BC: How can you change the dialogue given the strength of the corporate media?

RE: With difficulty. But really, in our day, there are many avenues. For one, the Internet is very helpful. I submit op-eds to the alternative on-line press, including Common Dreams and AlterNet, but occasionally, they get published in mainstream press.

There are blogs, other internet channels, call-in radio. All are open to us and we should be using them. One person, one group cannot do it all. But if enough of us begin to change the conversation, change is possible.

BC: I notice you have a significant internet presence.

RE: Yes, there is now a blog for my book for people to share ideas for building more caring, sustainable economic policies. www.rianeeisler.com has information about my books and speaking engagements, and www.partnershipway.org/ is the web presence for the Center for Partnership Studies that explores partnership work around the country and the globe.

BC: The concepts of “partnership” and “dominator” are central to your new book, and to all your writings. As a closing comment, can you give us a quick definition of what I know are very complex terms?

RE: Yes. In a domination system, as I describe in The Real Wealth of Nations, there area only two alternatives in any relationship: dominating or being dominated. This shows up in families, workplaces, governments, nature, or society as a whole. Think male over female; race over race; person dominating nature. In comparison, a partnership system allows for mutually respectful and caring relations. Human needs can be met through cooperation.

Partnership and domination are social categories that make it possible to see the whole picture. That make it possible to see the openings for change that can have cascading effect.

But partnership doesn’t mean a free for all with no responsibility. There are still hierarchies in partnership entities, but not of domination. Instead, there are what I call “hierarchies of actualization”, which embrace creativity, input from all levels, and accountability. Partnership allows for realization of our highest human potential, and as I show in my book, economic policies can help lead a society from domination to partnership. Not all at once of course! But if we take the long view, history shows we will get there.

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