Understanding Our Domination-based Society Allows Us To Move Toward A Partnership-based One

We can’t go somewhere new until we understand where we are

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I’m fascinated with the ways that our social system is built on hierarchy and the performance of domination in order to achieve and maintain place in the pecking order. This is what patriarchy actually is; not just the historical system of men overtly controlling women, although that dynamic is what sets the tone for all forms of stratification in the society. This pyramid-shaped domination-based system (patriarchy) isn’t “human nature” or something that is inevitable. Understanding it better is what will allow us to create something different — something more egalitarian and cooperative. This is why I write so much about this topic. I’m looking for answers and options; not just a way to describe what’s wrong.

Pervasive violence and aggressive as well as coercive domination are relatively new parts of human culture, only appearing in the last 6–9 thousand years when Proto-Indo-European tribes (Kurgans) overtook the “peaceful, matrilinear (hereditary through the female line), matrifocal, though egalitarian cultures of ‘Old Europe’, replacing it with a patriarchal warrior society.” For the vast majority of human history, we lived in much more cooperative and partnership-oriented societies with minimal social stratification. Violent domination and coercion were not central elements of those societies, as they are today.

In many of the stories that I’ve written about the shift from early partnership-based societies to that of patriarchy, I’ve referenced the role of the advent of agriculture. Although this is not incorrect, it’s not the entire story. My most recent research indicates that the so-called Kurgan Hypothesis, which I have referenced above, is the central aspect for a male-dominated warrior ethos overtaking the peaceful, egalitarian societies of the early agricultural period. It was their influence, and not only the advent of agriculture that brought about widespread patriarchal systems.

My interest in all of this is not only historical and academic but also because it speaks to what is possible for the future. If pervasive domination based systems are less than 10 thousand years old (less than 3% of human history), it means that they are not inevitable. Although it will take time and significant effort, I believe that with an understanding of the larger dynamics that are in play, we can begin to move our society in a more partnership-oriented direction.

There is already some evidence of this as business models that are less top-down become more widely adopted. In addition, new psychological guidelines have been issued for ways to assist men who have been harmed by the expectations of masculinity in a domination-based culture. Elite military groups like the Navy Seals find it more practical to operate with a much flatter hierarchy.

In special operations, the pace at which we must move, learn and even change moves far too quickly for a traditional hierarchy. The Naval Special Warfare community, where regular military rank of course exists, is still a much flatter organization. Senior leaders do the leading, while most of the important managerial tasks are delegated to the lower ranks. Junior team members are empowered with great deals of responsibility and the autonomy to make decisions. Is it always perfect? Of course not. But with a culture founded on trust and extreme levels of accountability, this teamwork mechanism works very well.

The same applies to today’s business organizations. Especially in highly competitive environments. Forbes

Brene Brown’s research work on shame and vulnerability has become hugely popular, and not just amongst women who watch Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday. Her TED talks and recent Netflix special have garnered a huge audience. Brown has also worked extensively with the US military, leaders in Silicon Valley, and various law enforcement entities, as well as organizations of all stripes. Her most recent book, Dare To Lead, is a how-to guide for more partnership-oriented leadership.

Leadership is not about titles, status, and wielding power. A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas, and has the courage to develop that potential.

When we dare to lead, we don’t pretend to have the right answers; we stay curious and ask the right questions. We don’t see power as finite and hoard it; we know that power becomes infinite when we share it with others. We don’t avoid difficult conversations and situations; we lean into vulnerability when it’s necessary to do good work.

Our society has a long way to go in order to move away from social hierarchies and domination-based systems as the underpinnings of our culture, but there are some significant movements afoot to help bring this about. Understanding what is really in play and how domination-based hierarchies play a significant role in all of our social ills is what gives us the knowledge to help to create something different. Below are links to some of my best thoughts about this topic.

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Image: The Center for Partnership Studies

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Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

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