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Domination vs Collaboration

Photo by BS Thurner Hof, Gladiator-BärenkampfCC BY-SA 3.0

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Domination is the incisive descriptor of the attitude that seeks to dominate and subdue nature, as well as other people — domination of the other, in general –  applied by Riane Eisler (1987) in her articulation of Cultural Transformation theory.

Eisler’s Cultural Transformation theory proposes that the root of all our environmental and cultural conflicts arises from the long dominance of the dominator paradigm.

Eisler traces the history of this paradigm, contrasting it with artifacts of an earlier time marked by nature and mother-goddess spirituality.  Metaphors for the contrast are the chalice versus the blade – the earlier use of metal for ritual art and jewelry, supplanted by the dominators’ use of metal for weaponry.   She specifically based her work on the findings of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas.  

Marija Gimbutas (Lithuanian: Marija Gimbutienė; January 23, 1921 – February 2, 1994), was a Lithuanian-American archaeologist known for her research into the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of “Old Europe” and for her Kurgan hypothesis, which located the Proto-Indo-European homeland in the Pontic Steppe.  (Wikipedia)

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The Kurgan hypothesis envisions successive waves, during the 4th and 3rd millennia BCE, of nomadic warriors who’d mastered horsemanship, migrating outward from the steppe regions of modern Ukraine, gradually supplanting previous, peaceful, matristic, egalitarian cultures around the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, among other locations.  These Kurgan peoples are proposed as the root of Proto-Indo-European languages.

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Eisler emphasized that this gradual Kurgan seizure of power and “paradigm shift” was not a simple issue of patriarchy vs matriarchy, but rather of the dominator vs partnership models of relationship.

This theory that I have called Cultural Transformation theory, proposes that underlying the great surface diversity of human culture are two basic models of Society.


The first, which I call the dominator model, is what is popularly termed either patriarchy or matriarchy — the ranking of one half of humanity over the other.  The second, in which social relations are primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking, may best be described as the partnership model.  In this model — beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species, between male and female — diversity is not equated with either inferiority or superiority.  

       (Eisler 1987)

But Eisler’s term “partnership” hits some adversely, so “collaboration” is preferred here.  The word seems inherently more ecological and especially befitting many contexts within Rainfall to Groundwater.

Linking is indeed the preferred relationship.

Muriel Pécastaing-Boissière pour Cédric BoissièreDancing NymphsCC BY-SA 3.0
The dominator model has brought us engineering hydrology – apologies to some particularly holistic hydrologists and ecohydrologists among that cohort.

This is the paradigm that seeks to bend water to our will, move it exactly where we want it to go and to go nowhere else.  

But water doesn’t bend, it flows . . .

And while modern engineering has figured some things accurately, water never ceases to surprise us, especially in the context of climate change – an emergent property of ecohydrological systems.  Civil engineering, at least, has yet to accommodate emergent properties.

Moreover, this dominator attitude toward hydrological systems has proven quite costly.  

When you start engineering part of a hydrological system, you impact the functioning of the entire system, requiring yet more (costly) serial engineering to “fix” it.

And engineered systems always require ongoing maintenance, extending the costs over the life of the project.

Alternatively, within the collaborative framework of Rainfall to Groundwater we may better discern ways to support the ecohydrological system in order that it better support us – in ways that are exponentially less costly to establish and especially to maintain over time than engineered systems.

Living systems, once established, take care of themselves.

See Collaboration & Play

Further Reading:

Eisler, R. 1987. The chalice and the blade: our history, our future. Harper San Francisco, San Francisco.