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Riane Eisler Proves That "Ideas Are Contagious"

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Waging peace in the nuclear age

We drove from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara this past November to honor one of the most important women I know: Riane Eisler.

Dr. Riane Eisler was one of the 2009 recipients of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Distinguished Peace Leadership Award. The NAPF has been recognizing "peace mongers" for 26 years. Not only is Eisler a peace advocate, she's also a social scientist, lawyer and author of many books, including the bestseller "The Chalice and The Blade" and the more recent "The Real Wealth of Nations". Unlike Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations", Eisler's book delves into the real market costs of economic structures that are basically temples of worship in support of patriarchal and warrior cultures. The so-called feminine "soft values" of peace-making, nurturing, educating and creativity are often taken for granted, not valued with real financial support.

Although Riane Eisler isn't specifically known for her activism against nuclear proliferation, peace is a vision that naturally occurs from her view of the world. Basically, she asserts that it is the gross imbalance between so-called masculine and feminine values that is at the source of much of the world's suffering. That's a simplistic way to put it, and one of my great pleasures and the source of inspiration is to hear world leaders like Eisler talk about her work so much more eloquently than I can put it.

There's a bumper sticker that reads, "It will be a great day when the military has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." Essentially, that's a pop culture way to express a key premise of "The Real Wealth of Nations". You can determine what a society cares about by simply looking at its expenditures. Values are correlate with budgets: that sounds so simplistic but it's true. We have huge military budgets and yet our schools are falling apart. You can tell what an individual, family or society cares about by looking at its expenses.

In some ways, it feels like a late-night college conversation to fantasize about turning our military budget into a fund for peace. Many people agree that spending on schools could turn a developing country around, and yet it would take enormous courage to do so. What if they shoot us while we're building schools? War begets war and peace begets peace, but it takes true valor to be the side to lay down arms and teach girls to read instead. An educated mother will not give her blessing to a potential suicide bomber.

Gender is rarely discussed when people talk war and peace. The reason why is mind-boggling to many of the intellectuals in the "gender" fields. In her Women of Peace acceptance speech, Dr. Eisler addressed the obvious war values in domination-based cultures, like the Nazis or the Taliban -- both of which idealize the "traditional family," which is code for males as dominant and superior to women and children. She said, "Now this is not coincidental. Nor is it coincidental that these kinds of societies idealize warfare, and even consider it holy. Neither is it coincidental that in these kinds of cultures masculinity -- male identity -- is equated with domination and violence, while at the same time women and anything stereotypically considered "soft" or feminine -- such as caring and nonviolence -- is devalued."

Perhaps the most important paradigm to engage in the war/peace conversation is gender. She continued, "This takes us directly to women for peace. Because if we are to build cultures of peace, we have to start talking about something that still makes many people uncomfortable: gender. We might as well put that on the table; people don't want to talk about gender, do they? But let's also remember what the great sociologist Louis Wirth said: that the most important things about a society are those that people are uncomfortable talking about. We saw that with race, and only as we started to talk about it did we begin to move forward. And we're beginning to talk more about gender, and starting to move forward, but much too slowly.

This is important for many reasons, including the fact that it is through dominator norms for gender that children learn another important lesson: to equate difference -- beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species between female and male -- with superiority or inferiority, with dominating or being dominated, with being served or serving. And they acquire this mental and emotional map before their brains are fully developed (we know today that our brains don't fully develop until our twenties), so they then can automatically apply it to any other difference, be it a different race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

This is why we urgently need a systemic approach if we are to move to a better world, a nuclear-free world. Because only then will we have the foundations on which to build this more peaceful world."

You can listen to Dr. Eisler's complete speech, or read it in full, here. I hope you do, as I can't begin to do her speech justice.

Eisler is a well-loved but under-utilized international treasure in our midst. Dare I say this without being able to "prove" it? Oh sure, what the heck: If Eisler were a man, she'd be a household name because her thinking and ideas are so compelling and inspiring.

Which then brings me around to the fundamental question: How do you promulgate a radical view that would result in transforming the current system... within the current system? It's no coincidence that Eisler's views aren't more well known. Right now, there's no wealth to be made by gender equality or waging peace, at least in the short term. Of course, in the long term, we will all benefit by partnership models and promoting peace. Duh, right? We all, female and male, have it in our best interest as a species to survive our own bigotry and violence.

What we can do then is to go back to our bookshelves and re-read "The Chalice and the Blade", and if you don't have a copy of "The Real Wealth of Nations", go to your local community bookstore and buy it or order it.

As a closing note, Dr. Eisler is one of the authors I can point to in my own personal transformation. I read her book and a piece that had been missing from my education dropped into place. Later, I had the great honor to become Dr. Eisler's friend. If I could do anything to nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize I would. She touches and changes lives. Share her work with others. It makes a difference.