Creating a More Just World Through Story

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Eminent social scientist Riane Eisler says changing our stories can shift us from a violent to a loving society, and help us create a better world right now.

By Riane Eisler

Religious stories about “original sin” and secular stories about “evolutionary imperatives” claim that humans are innately sinful and violent—and therefore must be rigidly controlled. These stories ignore findings from neuroscience, which demonstrate that while we humans have the capacity for cruelty, oppression, and violence, we are actually “wired” more for empathic, mutually beneficial, caring relationships. For example, studies show that the so-called pleasure centers in our brains light up more when we share than when we win.

Other common narratives teach us that dominating or being dominated are our only alternatives—that this is how it has always been and always will be. These stories ignore the fact that for most of prehistory the majority of cultures oriented more to the partnership side of the social scale. As detailed in my books The Chalice and the Blade and Sacred Pleasure, and other works, there are no signs of warfare in the archeological record until a few thousand years ago; houses and burials do not reflect large gaps between haves and have-nots, and, as archeologist Ian Hodder notes, these earlier societies were neither patriarchies nor matriarchies but cultures where women and men were equally valued.

Archeology and myths also reveal signs of a major cultural shift toward the domination system during a period of great disequilibrium in our prehistory—a shift that we have been trying to reverse, especially during the last several centuries, when one progressive social movement after another has been challenging traditions of domination.

However, this movement toward partnership has been fiercely resisted and punctuated by periodic regressions—and we are in a time of such regression today. This is why we need to focus on replacing the foundations on which domination systems have kept rebuilding themselves in different forms.

This requires new thinking made possible by the new language of the partnership system and domination system. We must show that the struggle for our future is not between religion and secularism, right and left, East and West, or capitalism and socialism. It is within all these societies—between traditions of domination and a partnership way of life.

These changes in language and stories have enormous implications for every aspect of our lives, not only families, politics, and economics but also for spirituality and morality. Rather than being used to coerce and dominate, morality in partnership systems is imbued with caring and love. And spirituality is no longer an escape to otherworldly realms from the suffering inherent in a domination world, but an active engagement in creating a better world right here on Earth.