A Watt steam engine. The steam engine, fueled primarily by coal, propelled the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain and the world.
Patriarchy is about 10,000 years old, and terminally ill. Since it became the prevalent culture after the agricultural revolution, the patriarchal mindset of domination and control has been taken for granted as if it were "the natural order of things." The
industrial revolution and cheap fossil fuels extended the longevity of the patriarchal order of things, but the signs of the times are clear that, like anything else with an earthly beginning, it also has an earthly end; and the end is in sight for anyone with eyes willing to see the current state of humanity and the planet, aptly summarized as follows:
- "7 billion people on earth, with 2.7 billion scraping by on less than $2 per day
- "394 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, threatening to destabilize the global climate
- "$15 trillion of public debt in the United States, an unfathomable sum of money to be paid back by the next generation
- "2 percent of adults owing more than half of all the household wealth in the world
- "400 ocean zones devoid of life, with the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico estimated to cover almost as much area as the U.S. state of New Jersey"
Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources
Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013
The recitation of calamities unprecedented in global scale could be much longer: millions of abortions, human traffic, cynical attitudes, unethical business practices, alarmingly increasing incidence of mental illness, utter lack of political will to foster the common good, people lacking spiritual support even within the context of religious institutions, some of which appear to be more interested in preserving patriarchal idols than in saving souls.
But there are also signs of hope. The transition from patriarchal cultures to a more advanced culture of solidarity and sustainability is already happening, even though institutional obstacles of various kinds are prolonging the agony. Various forms of finger pointing (such as blaming the poor for being lazy, blaming young people for lack of morals, and blaming women for gender violence) may be convenient distractions at the service of some wealthy and powerful groups, but only to their shame as they use all manner of scapegoating tricks to divert attention from the root cause of social and ecological dysfunction.
The poor are not the problem. Young people are not the problem. Women and vulnerable minorities are not the problem. Democracy and religion are not the problem either. Patriarchy is the problem. Any form of human relations, and any form of governance, becomes part of the problem when contaminated by patriarchy. Since patriarchy is terminally ill, and increasingly dysfunctional as a culture, the future of human civilization requires the emergence of a new culture. It is hereby proposed that such cultural evolution must include, inter alia, radical improvement in matters of social solidarity and ecological sustainability.
PATRIARCHAL ROOTS OF THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS
It is well known that the fundamental patriarchal mindset of "big fish eats little fish" became normative as humans transitioned from nomadic hunting to a more sedentary lifestyle sustained by cultivation of the land. The detailed sequence of events that led to patriarchy becoming prevalent in human relations is lost in time immemorial, but certainly pre-dates the foundation of all the wisdom traditions and all the major world religions as we know them today. Therefore, it should be no surprise that Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and other religious traditions, were contaminated by patriarchy right from the beginning, and remain patriarchal to this day in varying degrees both in theory (doctrines) and in practice (rituals).
That this patriarchal mindset had been absorbed by biblical writers is made self-evident by the texts themselves. It is by now well established that the Bible is based on historical facts but is not a history book, let alone a science book. Rather, it is a collection of theological reflections, often written as symbolic stories, about the ongoing relationship between humans and God. Patriarchal violence is a constant throughout the Bible, albeit with a progression toward less violence over time -- as the critical-historical analysis of René Girard has shown rather convincingly -- until the revelation finally breaks through, in Jesus of Nazareth, that God is love. Believers should know better than confusing biblical patriarchy, and biblical violence, with revealed truth.
Even though the exact details are unknown, the patriarchal roots of the current crisis impacting all dimensions of human civilization might be better understood by reconsidering the accounts of the creation and early human history in the Book of Genesis. It is clear that, in the very beginning, patriarchy was not "the natural order of things." Innocence is the natural order of things. Original innocence, and the original unity of man and woman, were destroyed when humans tried to become gods, a silly and catastrophic pretension that many of the Homo sapiens species continue to indulge in. The ensuing corruption ("original sin") of human innocence and unity led to the most fundamental form of disunity, patriarchal disunity; a disunity that soon led to many other forms of disunity and violence, including murder.
There was also an original unity between humans and the human habitat, and we are now experiencing ("sin has a long tail") the consequences of abusing the creation that many of us believe was entrusted to our care. Like other forms of anthropogenic pollution, patriarchy has no borders. Thus the ecological crisis we now face can be traced directly to the same, nefarious patriarchal hegemony that has corrupted so many human relationships and is now getting to the point of corrupting the human habitat as well. However, those of us who belong to the Judeo-Christian tradition believe in the promise of the proto-evangelium and St. Paul's insight that, in due time, good things can come out of the current ecological predicament. Amen!
ANOTHER IMPERATIVE: GENDER EQUALITY
Since gender violence (physical and/or psychological and/or "spiritual") is arguably the most fundamental and pervasive form of violence, and inexorably leads to other forms of violence including abusive hegemony over nature, fostering gender equality and nonviolence is another imperative for a civilized transition from patriarchy to solidarity and sustainability. This is not to suggest that this transition requires a total restoration of original innocence in humans. But it is suggested that the transition requires an internalized -- and institutionalized -- recognition that gender violence and inequality is morally wrong, even if this means deconstructing many false idols in both society and religion. Human trafficking and slavery still exist in some forms, but at least there is, in most civilized countries, an official recognition that slavery is morally wrong and legally criminal. So it must happen with regard to full and unconditional equality across the entire gender continuum, dispensing with all phallocentric misconceptions about gender differences.
All over the world, the signs of the times are clear that gender violence is not to be tolerated much longer in civilized societies. However, many religious institutions are still trying to perpetuate a culture of gender inequality and violence by way of patriarchal doctrines as well as habitual practices and religious art. Let us pray that these institutions will come to recognize, sooner rather than later, the harm they are doing by their inordinate attachment to patriarchal traditions that have nothing to do with faith in a God who refrains from prepotency and desires only what is good for people. All forms of secular and/or religious violence in general, and gender violence in particular, are produced by human hands, not God's. Thank God, this is changing:
In a recent worldwide survey conducted by the Millennium Project on changes in gender stereotypes, the following conclusion is reached (page 69):
"If the perception of the respondents were to be considered as a reflection of the true state of stereotypes' evolution, then we could conclude that a slow but massive shift in gender stereotypes is to occur over the next few decades. Old views involving gender equity, women's rights, and restricted social roles for women are evolving toward much more liberal concepts."
CULTURAL REFORMATION REQUIREMENTS
Isn't it noteworthy that this "massive shift" is providentially occurring at a time when a transition to overcome the patriarchal culture of domination and control is needed if we are to attain a more viable culture of solidarity and sustainability? Many people think that the transition can be achieved by letting market forces sort out the impact of environmental degradation and technological breakthroughs incentivized by the profit motive. Indeed, to the extent that new technologies mitigate adverse impacts and buy time, we need them. But these will not be sufficient to cross the bridge, for it is well know that any technology can be used for good and bad. As long as patriarchy remains the normative paradigm in human behavior, and as long as only money matters as the basis for accumulating power and honors, new technologies will continue to be double edge swords. A radical dismantling of patriarchy will be required.
After going through the worldwide experience of communism being nothing but capitalism turned inside out, we should know better than trying to foster sustainable development by tweaking patriarchal institutions. A gradual (but relatively fast) evolution toward non-patriarchal forms of social relations will be required at all levels -- locally, nationally, globally -- between men and women, between developed and developing nations, between humanity and the entire community of creation. Given that EROI research has shown the improbability of clean technologies to deliver the massive amount of energy required to sustain current usage patterns, and given the way things are going in terms of biodiversity losses and climate change, it is clear that continued procrastination is not an option. Therefore, the transition will have to cut deep and proceed fast.
The following initiatives can effectively expedite the reformation process:
- CULTURAL REFORMATIONS
- Institutional gender equality - all humans are equally human (no exceptions)
- Institutional solidarity - only acting in solidarity is politically acceptable
- Institutional sustainability - only sustainable goals are politically acceptable
- Citizen demand for gender equality, solidarity, sustainability, and subsidiarity
- POLICY REFORMATIONS
Initiatives in these areas and urgently needed in all human institutions at all levels: local, national, regional, and international. Institutions that claim to be of divine origin are no exception, since God seems to be propense to act in human history but not before we have done everything we can do to resolve issues manufactured by human hands. Waiting for a divine intervention -- or waiting for explicit divine "permission" -- to overcome patriarchy is a cop out, plain and simple.
RESILIENCE OF PATRIARCHAL INSTITUTIONS
Dismantling patriarchy is a visceral issue, especially in the context of institutions governed by patriarchs who are heavily invested in a system of which they are themselves prisoners. It is not that patriarchs are bad persons; matriarchs would be as reluctant to let go if we had had matriarchy as the prevalent culture during the past 10,000 years. This is how long patriarchy has been taken for granted as "the natural order of things" in nuptial relations, other family relations, social relations, and public institutions both secular and religious. Most modern languages are patriarchal. The American Constitution (1787) had to be amended (1920) to allow women to vote. In a Christian context, imagine the text of the Nicene Creed (ca. 325 CE) being amended to recognize that the First Person of the Trinity is not exclusively male.
As the saying goes, "old habits die hard," and it would be unwise to underestimate the resilience of patriarchy. It will take a long time for it to be totally overcome, if the fact that slavery has yet to be totally overcome is any indication. Overcoming patriarchy is the greatest challenge facing humanity in the third millennium. It is not only a requirement to move toward a civilization of improved solidarity and sustainability; it is, without the slightest doubt, the next phase in the process of humans becoming more fully human. Escaping to Mars is not an option.
"55,000 years out of Africa and Mars doesn't want us."
Cartoon by Keith Nisbett, SPA
INTEGRAL HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
Human rights and the common good are like two sides of the same coin. Solidarity requires both, and sustainability requires both. Gender equality is intrinsic to both. As long as the patriarchal culture prevails institutionally, and as long as artificial inequalities persist along the gender continuum, there can be no further progress toward protecting human rights, or governing for the common good, or fostering integral human development. Bottom line: dismantling patriarchy is the indispensable catalyst for a new cultural synthesis to emerge.