Partnership v. Domination Patterns

Notes by Dr. Jan Garrett

Last revised date: February 5, 2010

A partial bibliography of writings by Riane Eisler and George Lakoff is provided below.

This webpage contains lecture notes corresponding to the first group of lectures presented by Dr. Garrett in PHIL 320 during Spring 2010 semester.

I. The basic patterns of human relationships

Riane Eisler has described the basic patterns in terms of four dimensions (Eisler 2002). They are: Social Structure; Gender Relations; the Emotional Dimension (Fear vs. Hope and Trust); Value beliefs.

As Table 1 in your handout explains, in the domination model, social relations are typically characterized by hierarchies of domination, rankings that sharply distinguish between those who are controlled and those who control. In the partnership model, relationships tend to be egalitarian; hierarchies exist but they are what Eisler calls hierarchies of actualization. Another word for actualization is empowerment. More experienced, wiser, and skilled persons, through their educational interaction, with others can help less experienced and skilled persons acquire capacities they initially lack.

In the domination model, usually, the male half of humanity is ranked over the female half. Traits and activities such as control and conquest are highly valued and associated with masculinity. Gender inequality is taught at an early age and becomes the basic model of other inequalities, expressed in terms of, say, religious or racial rankings. In the partnership model, males and females are ranked equally. Traits such as empathy, nonviolent interaction, and caregiving are valued in women and men and expressed in social policy.

In the domination model the emotion of fear is prominent; violence is expected and to some extent encouraged, at least towards persons and groups considered to be inferior. In extreme forms, we see it in physical and emotional forms of spouse abuse and child abuse, and in abuse at work by superiors and even supposed peers. In the partnership model, trust is fostered, as is hope (not mentioned in Eisler's chart); there is little emphasis on fear and little acceptance of violence against individuals or groups.

In the domination model, relations of control/domination are presented as good. In the partnership model, relations of partnership, mutual respect, and processes of negotiation are presented as good.

Table 2, on interactive dynamics, sketches the ways in which these four aspects of each model reinforce each other. So there is a dynamic in which the four features of the partnership model tend to reinforce each other; and a contrary dynamic in which the four features of the domination model tend to reinforce each other.

Eisler not only distinguishes these two models of social relationships; she argues that they can be found at several levels

1. The relationship of a person to him or herself— do you beat yourself up when you fall short of some ideal or do you work with your existing habits and tendencies and try to improve them gradually?

2. The relationship of persons with family members and potential spouses—intimate relations. (She gives this a sort of primacy, for reasons that will become clear.)

3. The relationships within work settings and the local community.

4. The relationships between citizens and the national community/national government. International relationships.

5. Finally, the relationship between human beings and nonhuman nature (the planet as an ecological community including nonhuman species).

6. Even our relationship with the divine, with God or the Great Spirit, can be interpreted using this partnership vs. domination lens.

She discusses these in her important book, The Power of Partnership.

Eisler is generally identified as a social systems theorist. George Lakoff agrees with Eisler on many points, although he approaches the issue primarily through a scientific and linguistic perspective. (He is a cognitive scientist, in particular a cognitive linguist.) Like Eisler, Lakoff sees that the family that raises us in our early years is in some sense the primary location and source of our ideas about these relationships, although he would not deny the influence that political policy and religious ideas have on family relationships. The reason that such family relations are primary is that the family is the first community of which we become aware after we come into the world, the first community that affects the way our brains develop and the values we acquire. So Lakoff has a lot to say about the basic possibilities in family relationships and the ways in which we think and describe them. It turns out that he recognizes two basic models of the family, and it will be easy to see how they align with Eisler's models. They are called the Strict Father Model and the Nurturant Parent model. (These are Lakoff's technical terms, not political slogans.)

II. The Experiential Basis of the Partnership and Domination Perspectives

Lakoff points out that there are common stories associated with each of these models; we all know these stories; we have picked them up just by growing up in a human society. (The following is an extended quote from Lakoff 1995; see Bibliography.)

The Strict Father Model. A traditional nuclear family with the father having primary responsibility for the well-being of the household. The mother has day-to-day responsibility for the care of the house and details of raising the children. But the father has primary responsibility for setting overall family policy, and the mother's job is to be supportive of the father and to help carry out the father's views on what should be done. Ideally, she respects his views and supports them.

Life is seen as fundamentally difficult and the world as fundamentally dangerous. Evil is conceptualized as a force in the world, and it is the father's job to support his family and protect it from evils — both external and internal. External evils include enemies, hardships, and temptations. Internal evils come in the form of uncontrolled desires and are as threatening as external ones. The father embodies the values needed to make one's way in the world and to support a family: he is morally strong, self-disciplined, frugal, temperate, and restrained. He sets an example by holding himself to high standards. He insists on his moral authority, commands obedience, and when he doesn't get it, metes out retribution as fairly and justly as he knows how. It is his job to protect and support his family, and he believes that safety comes out of strength.

In addition to support and protection, the father's primary duty is tell his children what is right and wrong, punish them when they do wrong, and to bring them up to be self-disciplined and self-reliant. Through self-denial, the children can build strength against internal evils. In this way, he teaches his children to be self-disciplined, industrious, polite, trustworthy, and respectful of authority.

The strict father provides nurturance and expresses his devotion to his family by supporting and protecting them, but just as importantly by setting and enforcing strict moral bounds and by inculcating self-discipline and self-reliance through hard work and self-denial. This builds character. For the strict father, strictness is a form of nurturance and love — tough love.

The strict father is restrained in showing affection and emotion overtly, and prefers the appearance of strength and calm. He gives to charity as an expression of compassion for those less fortunate than he and as an expression of gratitude for his own good fortune.

Once his children are grown — once they have become self-disciplined and self-reliant — they are on their own and must succeed or fail by themselves; he does not meddle in their lives, just as he doesn't want any external authority meddling in his life.

The Nurturant Parent Model. The family is of either one or two parents. Two are generally preferable, but not always possible.

The primal experience behind this model is one of being cared for and cared about, having one's desires for loving interactions met, living as happily as possible, and deriving meaning from one's community and from caring for and about others.

People are realized in and through their "secure attachments": through their positive relationships to others, through their contribution to their community, and through the ways in which they develop their potential and find joy in life. Work is a means toward these ends, and it is through work that these forms of meaning are realized. All of this requires strength and self-discipline, which are fostered by the constant support of, and attachment to, those who love and care about you.

Protection is a form of caring, and protection from external dangers takes up a significant part of the nurturant parent's attention. The world is filled with evils that can harm a child, and it is the nurturant parent's duty to be ward them off. Crime and drugs are, of course, significant, but so are less obvious dangers: cigarettes, cars without seat belts, dangerous toys, inflammable clothing, pollution, asbestos, lead paint, pesticides in food, diseases, unscrupulous businessmen, and so on. Protection of innocent and helpless children from such evils is a major part of a nurturant parent's job.

Children are taught self-discipline in the service of nurturance: to take care of themselves, to deal with existing hardships, to be responsible to others, and to realize their potential. Children are also taught self-nurturance: the intrinsic value of emotional connection with others, of health, of education, of art, of communion with the natural world, and of being able to take care of oneself. In addition to learning the discipline required for responsibility and self-nurturance, it is important that children have a childhood, that they learn to develop their imaginations, and that they just plain have fun.

Through empathizing and interacting positively with their children, parents develop close bonds with children and teach them empathy and responsibility towards others and toward society. Nurturant parents view the family as a community in which children have commitments and responsibilities that grow out of empathy for others. The obedience of children comes out of love and respect for parents, not out of fear of punishment. When children do wrong, nurturant parents choose restitution over retribution whenever possible as a form of justice. Retribution is reserved for those who harm their children.

The pursuit of self-interest is shaped by these values: anything inconsistent with these values is not in one's self-interest. Pursuing self-interest, so understood, is a means for fulfilling the values of the model.

III. The metaphorical mapping of family onto larger groups

Lakoff explains the ways in which we think about relationships within organizations other than the family by use of an important theory of metaphorical concepts that he and his coworkers have discovered. There are Strict Father and Nurturant Parent political philosophies in addition to SF and NP families. In fact, there are SF and NP religions too. Since religions typically teach a set of moral ideas, it will not be surprising that moral ideas often fit nicely within a SF or NP way of relating to other people.

Metaphors have the following general structure, which parallels connections in our brains that were formed when we learned them.

[Source Domain Concept] —> [Target Domain Concept]

For instance,

The literal Strict Father (in the family) —> Political Leader (in conservative politics)

The literal Strict Father (in the family) —> God (in religiously conservative perspective]

In fact, according to Lakoff's study, our ideas about national politics rest upon a key metaphor that allows us to use concepts that pertain to family life in order to understand national politics.

[The Family] —> [The Nation]

or The Nation as Family Metaphor

Another important metaphor important for moral (and religious) thinking is:

[The Family] —> [Humanity]

or Humanity as Family (aka the Human Family) metaphor

It is especially this last metaphor that is important when we consider universal moral relationships, i.e., relationships between people who are not citizens in the same country or members of the same community of some other sort (church, province, professional association, fraternity, club, trade union, university, etc.)

IV. More about important moral metaphors

Not only is metaphorical thinking at work when we think about relationships—duties—between members of metaphorical families such as nations and humanity as a whole, it is also at work in the creation of the basic stories associated with the literal or primary family, which will usually take the strict father or the nurturant parent form.

We can help ourselves understand the considerable coherence of these two family types by exploring the metaphors that seem to be important in the SF or Domination model of the Family, the metaphors important in the NP or Partnership model, and Metaphors important in both but interpreted differently when placed in the context of other values.

1. Primary Metaphors in the SF model

a. moral order (based on Folk Theory of the Natural Order)

b. moral authority (obedience is a virtue)

c. moral discipline (will v. passion)

d. morality as boundaries—preference for inclusion/exclusion

e. moral purity, moral cleanliness

2. Primary Metaphors in the NP model

a. caring

b. empathy

c. healing

d. empowerment

e. social ties

f. preference for connection

g. moral sensitivity

For more on these, see Lakoff's writings, including Lakoff 1995 (web article), and his books Moral Politics (1996; 2002), Whose Freedom? (2006), The Political Mind (2008), and Philosophy in the Flesh (1999), chapter 14. My lecture notes (see Garrett 2005 in the Bibliography) on Lakoff's Moral Politics contain elaboration of what Lakoff says about the main metaphors behind the SF Model and the NP Model as well as the Moral Accounting metaphors briefly touched on below. (Compared to those notes, the treatment of those issues in this web page is just an outline.)

3. contested concepts

a. justice — as pure procedure (Dominator); as procedure blended with moral sensitivity (Partnership)

b. response to wrong-doing — retribution, imposition of pain (Dominator); restraint and restitution (Partnership)

c. freedom — to be left alone or to be ruler of one's domain (Dominator); associated with capabilities to do and be . . . (Partnership) Lakoff 2006 is an exploration of the various understandings of freedom.

d. equality — formal equality (among those judged sufficiently devoted to superior values--Domination; substantive equality (equality in capabilities, with allowance for response to wrong-doing --Partnership)

e. responsibility — for one's own actions that violate or respect the rules of the dominator model; for appropriate protection and care for those for whom one is responsible in the caring model and one's partners in the partnership model

f. moral strength — the virtues of actual and potential caring partners and nurturers (Partnership) vs. the virtues of self-sufficient leaders (Domination). In his most recent writings Lakoff (e.g., in Lakoff 2008) has realized that moral strength is important not only for the SF perspective but also for the NP perspective; however, it is interpreted differently by SF model and NP model moral agents.

g. Even concepts generally associated with one of the two views can often be reframed (reinterpreted) to fit within the other view. (For instance, caring people will sometimes need to "draw the line" and set a limit to the amount of caring they can give an apparently needy person, perhaps because they have other caring obligations that practically conflict with continued giving to the apparently needy person.)

4. Moral accounting
These metaphors operate between individuals who are regarded initially as, in some sense, equal. They understand being well-off (well-being) metaphorically as money:
[Money] —> [That which adds to well-being]
They understand favors and injuries are metaphorically as transfers of money:
An injury is (metaphorically conceived as) a taking of money from the person or social unit injured.

A favor ("boon") is (metaphorically conceived as) a transfer of money to a person or social unit.

An obligation is (metaphorically conceived as) a debt.

To inflict pain is (metaphorically conceived as) receiving money; to receive pain (or lose liberty) is (metaphorically conceived as) losing money, which can lower or remove a debt.

Where a (metaphorical) debt exists, to provide services is to remove, or lower, a debt.

For more on this see web article (Lakoff 1995), the books and chapters by Lakoff, and Garrett 2005 (data and links below).

Partial Bibliography of Writings by or about Eisler and Lakoff

See also Partnership Links.

Riane Eisler

Eisler, Riane, 1987. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. New York: Harper-SanFrancisco.

Eisler, Riane, 1996. Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Mystery, and the Politics of the Body. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

Eisler, Riane, 2000. Tomorrow's Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education in the 21st Century. Boulder CO: Westview Press.

Eisler, Riane, 2002. The Power of Partnership: Seven Relations that Will Change Your Life. New World Library: Novato CA.

Eisler, Riane, 2007. The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

George Lakoff

Garrett, J., 2005. The Metaphorical Basis of Folk Morality. This website.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson, 1980. Metaphors We Live By. University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George, 1995. Metaphor, Morality, and Politics.

Lakoff, George, 1996. Moral Politics. University of Chicago Press. 2nd edition, 2002.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson, 1999. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenges to Western Thought. Basic Books.

Lakoff, George, 2004. Try Not to Think of an Elephant. Chelsea Green.

Lakoff, George, 2006. Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea. New York: Picador.

Lakoff, George, 2008. The Political Mind. New York: Viking.