Humans have a huge capacity for imagining new realities; however, that capacity is limited by what we are taught is possible or impossible. To overcome this obstacle requires going beyond conventional social categories. Linguistic psychologists note that the categories a culture provides channel our thinking, so it is often impossible to imagine other alternatives.
The categories our languages provide for classifying societies, such as right/left, religious/secular, Eastern/Western, Northern/Southern, or capitalist/socialist, do not tell us how to imagine or create societies that support our capacities for consciousness, caring, and sensitivity, rather than for insensitivity, cruelty, and destructiveness. There are, and have been, violent and repressive societies in every conventional category; moreover, all marginalize or ignore the majority of humanity: women and children.
In my interdisciplinary study of human societies, I discovered social configurations that repeat themselves cross-culturally and historically that transcend conventional categories: the partnership system and the domination system. These categories are based on what we today know from biological and social science. They show that when children grow up in cultures or subcultures orienting to the domination side of the partnership-domination social scale, as mediated through authoritarian, rigidly male dominated, highly punitive families, their capacities to imagine a partnership social system are severely constricted. (Please see Riane Eisler & Douglas Fry, Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future (Oxford University Press, 2019).
Applying the partnership/domination bio-cultural lens to the long span of human history, including our prehistory, also shows that for many thousands of years we humans lived in more equitable, gender balanced, and peaceful societies, rather than those based on top-down rankings.
Once we look at our past, present, and possibilities for our future through the partnership-domination lens, we can use our imagination to create a more equitable, sustainable, and caring future.
Riane Eisler, JD, PhD(h) is the President of Center for Partnership Systems, Editor in Chief of Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies, and author of The Chalice and the Blade, The Real Wealth of Nations, and Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future (with Douglas P. Fry).