of the Human Family
The State of the World 2013 by Worldwatch Institute poses a very timely question: "is sustainability still possible?" Noting that much of the current sustainability discourse is little more than "sustainababble," the report is a carefully documented compilation of current trends toward irreversible ecological deterioration of the human habitat. The sequel, State of the World 2014, to be released 15 April 2014, goes on to consider the urgency of "governing for sustainability" in order to reverse, or at least mitigate, the impending ecological crisis. However, in reviewing the outline in the publisher's website, it is surprising that there is nothing on the family as a universal institution that needs to overcome the patriarchal model of governance. Since all known structures of governance (both secular and religious) are modeled after the patriarchal family, it is hard to envision a "post-patriarchal world" with some viable form of "governing for sustainability" unless the patriarchal order of male hegemony is superseded.
Perhaps even more surprising, the pivotal role of the family as an agent of sustainable development is not mentioned in the program for the forthcoming meeting on "Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility" at the Vatican, 2-6 May 2014. This meeting, sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, somehow will attempt to examine human responsibilities in the Anthropocene without explicitly considering family responsibilities. This is hard to understand, since the family is "the primary cell of human society" (Pacem in Terris) and the church understands that "as the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live" (Familiaris Consortio). Hopefully, the role of the family in sustainable development will be considered in the Synod on the Family scheduled for October 2014.
For sustainable development of the human family to become a reality, the family as a universal institution must be liberated from the constraints of the patriarchal order of male hegemony. Sustainable development is defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (Our Common Future). Since "human development, if not engendered, is endangered," fostering gender solidarity in families is a top priority. For sustainable development, what is needed is nothing less than a cultural evolution from patriarchy to solidarity. As the "domestic school" in which young people learn how to function in life, the family must be the primary agent for moving beyond patriarchy.
The Human Family
"How do we build a more equitable world? If you want a formula from me, I would say first: ensure there is gender equality" (Desmond Tutu). But gender solidarity in the world requires gender solidarity in the family. In our globalized cultural milieu, the family, as a universal institution rooted in the fundamental human need for experiencing love and nurturing life, must evolve out of the patriarchal bubble to become a more egalitarian "domestic community." Then, and only then, will the path be assured toward sustainable development of the entire community of creation, including the entire human family. All social and political institutions, and all religious institutions, are structured in imitation of the family structure. When the prevalent family structure ceases to be patriarchal, all the other institutions will cease to be patriarchal as well. Mother Nature will not fail to provide incentives to replace male hegemony with a balanced sharing of authority and responsibility in the family and the community of nations.
But human collaboration would be helpful. Humans must come to terms with the impossibility of infinite growth in a finite planet, and the absurdity of pursuing happiness by extravagant consumption, abuse of power, and cheap honors that bring about all manner of violence (including domestic violence), horrible wars, and extreme poverty for millions. Every human being is part of the problem, and must be part of the solution. Few are those with the capacity to influence the course of events globally, nationally, or even locally. But everyone can and must contribute within his or her own family. Practicing gender solidarity in the family, with a reasonable balance of authority and responsibility between husbands and wives, parents and children, is the way going forward. When this happens, quality of life improves for everyone and radiates outward to other communities in which the family is embedded; and the path toward a new civilization of solidarity and sustainability becomes visible.
In many families worldwide the evolutionary process to "move beyond patriarchy" is already underway, but it would be helpful for other institutions to collaborate by, at the very least, removing obstacles rooted in the patriarchal mindset of control and domination. Institutions of governance at all levels, both secular are religious, have especial responsibility. Some institutions, such as the United Nations, are in the forefront of gender equality initiatives. Most non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in sustainable development agree that gender equality is key to make it happen. Many national and local governments, and many corporations and other business entities, are coming on board with regard to practicing gender equality, if nothing else for practical reasons of efficiency and profitability. But religious institutions are notorious for procrastinating when it comes to examining issues of human sexuality, even in cases where basic human rights are clearly being violated, by adducing that they must safeguard ancient "traditions" rooted in patriarchal ideology.
Reflexive Human Behavior
After millennia of patriarchal conditioning, it would be naive to think that patriarchal structures can be dismantled in short order. Most men still relish being "head of the family" and exercising authority as such, whether or not they are willing to assume responsibility for making and enforcing their solo decisions. Resistance to change is a ubiquitous human phenomenon, and patriarchal resistance to change even more so after taking root in the human psyche for such a long time and practically everywhere. In prehistorical times, it was a matter of brute force: the physically stronger dominating the weaker. The agricultural revolution reinforced male hegemony by making it stationary and perpetual in human settlements. The industrial revolution added the power of fossil energy to the means of subjugation and control -- of women by men, of nature by humans. But this is not as it was in the beginning, and restoring the original unity of man and woman before the "end of the world" is not only possible but inevitable: gender solidarity, and all derivative forms of solidarity in human relations, is the necessary and sufficient catalyst for the transition from patriarchy to sustainability.
In all human institutions, males being in command has become ingrained and is manifested as reflexive human behavior. Modern psychology provides some understanding of the driving power of this conditioning: Carl Jung's collective unconscious archetypes of human experience, and Irving Janis' groupthink analysis of rationalized conformity, are tested examples of this well-known phenomenon. John Bargh provides a good overview of the accumulated scientific evidence. So the patriarchal propensity of people and institutions to use and abuse power is understandable, and pointing fingers is both useless and ridiculous: we are all sinners, and let no one dare to throw the first stone. But we must keep pushing for change, keeping what is good but letting go of what is bad; and we know that patriarchy is bad and solidarity is good and is, in fact, becoming indispensable for the viability of human civilization.
At the moment, the Anthropocene seems to be shaping up as an epoch of domestic, social, and ecological violence. Overcoming patriarchal "groupthink" will not be easy, and both patience and perseverance will be needed by those who want to make a contribution to a civilized transition. But the "signs of the times" are clear, that the old order is dying and a new order is being born. Creation is pregnant. Humanity is pregnant. It is time to make a choice. Some are willing to sell their souls to vested financial interests, and would have the baby aborted. It is time to make a decision for life, new life, better life for us here and now, and better life for our children and grandchildren in years to come.
Current Cultural Evolution
The dawn of the post-patriarchal age is already discernible in the signs of the times. The suffragettes fighting for the right to vote were like birds singing in the middle of the night. Other brave birds, like Malala Yousafzai, must still sing from within the darkness of cultures that deny girls the right to an education and refuse to recognize the full personhood of women. As we enter the 21st century, cases of barbaric rape, gendercide and sex-selective abortion continue to happen with disgusting frequency; but now they are reported as newsworthy, whereas not long ago such events would be swept under the rug and even considered to be part of "the natural order of things." The evolution toward gender equality, and gender balance in all dimensions of human relations, is gaining momentum everywhere.
Gender violence in the domestic sphere is increasingly recognized and rejected as an aberration of phallocracy and as a crime that may be prosecutable under the laws of many nations. Most nations have by now signed the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 18 December 1979). Women are becoming more active in politics. We are not yet at the point in which men (and institutions) that discriminate against women are reprimanded (even ridiculed) by all people of conscience, as it should be. But many people are beginning to sense that, as Mary Daly has pointed out, "mind/spirit/body pollution [is] inflicted through patriarchal myth and language on all levels" and "phallic myth and language generate, legitimate, and mask the material pollution that threatens to terminate all sentient life on this planet." Phallocracy leads to gender violence, which in turn leads to both social and ecological violence and many forms of injustice.
Resistance to change notwithstanding, the patriarchal order of things, in the family and in both secular and religious institutions, is driving itself out of existence as people come to recognize that technological fixes are a double-edge sword, and as they perceive that things are "getting better and better, and worse and worse, faster and faster" (Tom Atlee). Mother Earth is already complaining, and the realities of approaching the limits to growth are becoming apparent. Fortunately, there are no limits to learning. Learn we must, even if we must learn by making mistakes, but there is no going back to phallocracy. The currently emerging cultural evolution, moving toward a more humane global culture of solidarity and sustainability, is the only way to go; and family life is where this evolution can best be fostered in ways consonant with human dignity.
This will require a renewed appreciation of human dignity, based on an integral vision of the human person. Human beings -- men and women -- are more than just bodies. Surely, we all have bodies that need to be fed, clothed, and otherwise physically sustained. But we are not just objects. We are "body-persons," i.e., "body-subjects" with inner awareness of our needs, the needs of others, and the need to belong to something bigger than ourselves. In both society and religion, the objectification of human bodies (both male and female), rooted in the patriarchal ideology of domination, effectively negates the subjective dimension of the human person and leads to such absurdities as seeking "happiness" in superfluous consumption and irresponsible sensual gratification. There can be little progress in integral human development, and no further progress toward a new civilization of solidarity and sustainability, within this cultural box. The family -- each family, and the entire human race as a family -- must step out of the patriarchal box if sustainable development is to be attained.
Danger and Opportunity
As is well known, the Chinese word for "crisis" is made up of two symbols: the symbols for "danger" and "opportunity." The juxtaposition of these two symbols is very appropriate in the case of the ecological crisis. In particular, it is an apt characterization of the underlying transition from patriarchy to a post-patriarchal culture. One danger is that the integrity of the family might be thrown out with the patriarchal model of the family. But the ecological crisis is also a huge opportunity for positive cultural evolution toward a culture of solidarity and sustainability characterized by cooperation rather than competition, among humans and between humans and nature.
Humans cannot be fully human, let alone become more fully human, unless they nuptially experience and share the gift of love and the gift of life. Families are the place where love and life are experienced and shared in a responsible and socially positive manner. This is true of individual families, and even more so of the entire human family, which is the aggregation of all individual families worldwide. Families are formed in different ways according to diverse local cultures and traditions, some of which may need to be liberated from patriarchal biases. Most families are formed by the nuptial union of a man and a woman. Some families emerge from other nuptial unions, including religious families of consecrated men or women. But the family -- the tri-une "father, mother, child" family -- is the place from which the gifts of love and life can radiate outward to the extended family, the global human family, and the entire community of creation. Forms of "love" and "life" outside of a family context of responsibility and accountability are often but ways of seeking cheap and selfish gratification devoid of real love and real life; and social and ecological deterioration are the ensuing bad fruits.
In today's world, what is needed is nothing less than a massive cultural evolution from patriarchal families to families in which domination is replaced by cooperation, in mutual solidarity, in a sustainable manner. For Christians, this entails a new evangelization of global culture in accordance with the Golden Rule; a rule which, by the way, is common to many other religious traditions. This new evangelization is not a matter of persuading, let alone forcing people to embrace practices and doctrines peculiar to any given religious institution. Rather than proselytism, it must be focused on purifying all cultures from phallocracy and other kinds of hegemonic tendencies in human relations. This is a mission of cultural renewal in which all religious bodies can cooperate in order to advance human civilization, for the glory of God and the good of humanity, to the ends of the earth. This is the great opportunity that the ecological crisis is bringing about!
In brief, the current socio-ecological crisis may still turn out to be (with our cooperation) a blessing in disguise. Resistance to change, induced and reinforced by reflexive patriarchal behavior, will make cultural evolution difficult. But we know that gendercide and ecocide go hand in hand. The challenge is to overcome the dangers of gendercide and ecocide, and foster a cultural evolution pursuant to solidarity and sustainability. The most effective way is by balancing authority and responsibility in the family and all other institutions. The sustainable development of the human family must be worked out in each and every family, every local community, every ethnic community, every secular community, every religious community, and in the global family of all men and women of good will.
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