Patriarchy literally means the rule of fathers.  In more ways than we imagine, we live in a patriarchal society despite the trappings of what we call democracy.  One way this is evident, for instance, is in the desire of so many people around us to be “patriotic.”  That is, people who are patriotic declare their support in the most literal sense for the fatherland.

There are so many directions to go with this discussion, but let me start here on one path.  Patriarchy, I hope it should be obvious, is – like all forms of rule – illegitimate.  Nothing inherent in being a father logically entails the conclusion, “Therefore, you are right to rule over others.”  The thought of trying to prove the conclusion from the premise is laughable.  I provided sperm; sperm is a creative force from which you would not exist; therefore, your existence would not be if not for me.  Those who provide a service are owed a debt, and therefore you owe a debt to your fathers to serve them. 

You’ll note the additional premise connecting service with debt, which is a premise concocted out of thin air.  Yet, it is a premise on which the practical applications of patriarchy surely rest.  I provided the start up money for this company, and therefore I own and have a lien on your production forever.  I created this idea, and therefore my copyright or patent is inviolable.  I planted this land first, and therefore it is mine forever.  The seed of patriarchy that roots from nothing more than a single cell is used in tandem with an invented premise to assert a right of rule over everything that came into existence because of that seed.  We normally do not call this seed sperm; no one would be dignified to think that all of patriarchy arises from the messy, smelly scent of semen.  Instead, we talk of labor, capital investments, improving property, and all the rights and privileges that supposedly come from that.

Obviously, we miss the obvious fact in patriarchy that it takes two to tango.  Women and their eggs have often been left entirely out of the equation – the egg seen as a passive receiver, the earth as that which is there for the labor of man, the worker being the mere tool of the entrepreneur.  In recent years, there is an attempt to correct that and to provide women equal rights.  Something is missed, though.  The logic of domination is still essentially patriarchal.  Rather than resist the fallacy of the concept of rule, we simply choose to make patriarchs out of women, too.  Or, we cleverly try to use terms like matriarchs or democrats or some new way to hide up the fact that we are still living with what are essentially patriarchal premises.  That is, there is a creative force which brings a thing into existence, a debt is owed, and rule arises from the debt that needs repaying.

It is not hard to see, then, how property rights are tools of patriarchy.  The property owner is he who plants his seed through the sweat of his brow (the metaphorical semen) and creates wealth for which he is owed payment.  The property is his.  It is his to defend and even expand upon if someone leaves his land barren and childless.  Wars quickly arise among the fathers and their fatherlands.  Peace activists stupidly say often that “peace is patriotic.”  That’s nonsense.  There is nothing more patriarchal and therefore patriotic than war.  The line of reasoning should be obvious.

We also see patriarchy clearly in the way we conceive of our relationships.  Men have been conceived of as better than women, of course.  However, humans have been better than non-humans.  Some would say that whites have been better than non-whites, though they would eventually be smacked down for not understanding the right arbitrary lines for patriarchy’s slippery slope.  Being a father is to be a ruler of families.  Yet, outside of the obvious hierarchy within the family itself, we begin to see each unit of society as a fiefdom of itself.  Rather than see our fellow beings in our world as a community, they are competitors for what is rightly ours.  We live in fenced off little lands earning our wage and not feeling any sense of responsibility for our neighbors.  We live a life of tyranny driven by jealousy – our sex lives, our intellectual lives, our emotional lives are monopolized by our insular family units.  If we break out of them, we are often considered to be doing something wrong.  So, there’s a whole underground world of adultery, for instance.  People feel constrained by their captive lives, and many inevitably reach out for something beyond their ball and chains.  Yet, such things often become simply about sex.  It’s convenient that the larger constraints of patriarchy are not exposed because many acts of desperate fleeing from the cages of life strike us as cliché and otherwise morally bankrupt.

That may sound extreme.  People surely forge all kinds of friendships outside the home and all kinds of relationships within the larger community.  Of course they do!  The question, though, are the boundaries of those interactions.  I cannot go off to a different country and simply expect to be a welcome member of the community.  I am owned in my case by the United States of America.  I can visit, carry on trade, or perhaps be involved with military or business escapades in the country.  I cannot very easily fall in love and leave without going through a harrowing amount of red tape.  This is as true in the interpersonal level, where we’ve created in many cases all kinds of boundaries that tie us so resolutely to our various fatherlands.  Tell me how many of your children would be allowed to meet another child and then live with them on their own choice for months at a time.  How many of your significant others could venture off the reservation for more than an hour or two – particularly with a close friend (dare we say of the opposite sex) – without seedy things being wondered at, things that violate the private property contracts that really govern our relationships whether most of us are willing to admit it.

I am not arguing that we do not have responsibilities with regard to each other.  That is misconstruing and debasing my argument.  What I am arguing is that our current relationships are rooted in a patriarchal fallacy about rule.  Since that rule is fully illegitimate, we need a revolutionary approach to re-conceiving these things.  Nevertheless, it would be ridiculous to think that we should therefore just go run off, have an affair, or drop out of society, move to Alaska, and die in a magic bus.  Why?  The negation of a falsehood does not necessarily produce a truth.  If I were to say that 2 + 3 does not equal 6, it does not mean I should go out and assert that 7 is the truth because it is not 6.  We have to be careful how we go about unshackling ourselves that we do not replace someone’s illegitimate patriarchy with someone else’s illegitimate matriarchy.  Ultimately, you can guess from this essay – if you have never read anything else about me – that I am urging anarchy.  Yet, what is anarchy in practice?  Does that not depend upon a careful study of our nature?  Are we really prepared to take on that study?

Thus, I’d urge that to undo patriarchy at the macro and micro levels, we need to have real conversations about our nature, and about the nature of reality itself.  Such an act is in some sense defiance against patriarchy, as it puts the onus on us rather than someone else to figure out answers for us.  And, rather than urge more specific answers, I’d call on people to engage the question honestly and seek to root out patriarchy from our lives and own up how it infects each of us (certainly in the case of men like me, but in all humans).  I know I have so very far to go, which is no doubt a large part of what motivates me to write this.

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Comment by Christopher Wroth on May 30, 2012 at 12:14pm

And maybe we are at the start of a revolution and also evolving at the same time.  Economic evolution, not economic revolution, may bring about economic justice for most people.  Challenges are big and time is short.  I hope that revolution can quicken evolution.

Comment by Mark E. Smith on May 30, 2012 at 1:24pm

I have a friend, Gary Ghirardi, who I've written about many times. He grew up here in San Diego but now lives in Caracas, Venezuela. He visits here every few years because his mom and one grown son live here, and he has another grown son living in London, so he could live here or in England if he wanted to, but he prefers Venezuela. Venezuela, according to a recent survey, is the 5th happiest country in the world and Gary is the happiest guy I've ever met in my entire life. He and his wife live in a nice house in an affluent neighborhood in Caracas, and they jokingly refer to themselves and their neighbors as "the Bolivariarn bourgeoisie." They support the Bolivarian revolution and it makes them feel more comfortable being affluent to know that they're not harming the poor and their government has almost entirely eliminated poverty. The last time Gary visited he was shocked at how many homeless people are living in the streets here, because that's not the case in Venezuela.

For me, talking with Gary is like talking with someone from an unimaginable utopian future where the revolution is over and we won. The Venezuelan Bolivarian socialist revolution is about 13 years old now, and they did win. What I can't imagine is everyday commonplace reality for Gary. Not only is a better world possible, in some places it already exists. It isn't perfect, but it is a heck of a lot better than what we have.

When Hugo Chavez was elected, he wanted to avoid becoming corrupted by power and he wanted to listen to the people. So he surrounded himself with wise women as cabinet officials and advisers, often indigenous elders, to the extent that Venezuelans, instead of calling him The Father of the Revolution, called him The Grandmother of the Revolution. If you want to be certain that you won't become corrupt, you don't surround yourself with your friends and buddies or with corrupt rich people, you bring in mothers, grandmothers, and nosy old lady neighbors, because they'll keep a wary eye on everything you do and let you know in no uncertain terms if you're not doing the right thing. The way to overcome patriarchy is not through matriarchy, but through equality, by ensuring equality for everyone. That way everyone is happier. Chavez didn't have to install a woman President, he simply had to allow women to have power in Venezuela's government. Not women like Margaret Thatcher, Madeleine Albright, Condoleeza Rice, and Hillary Clinton, who are just puppets of patriarchy and warmongers in the service of capitalist imperialism, but ordinary women, particularly poor women, who care about their children, grandchildren, neighbors, villages, and country. Many men will spend the family's food money on whiskey, gambling, or prostitutes, but most women will go hungry themselves if they need to in order to ensure that their children have enough to eat. Who should be in charge of food policy? It's a no-brainer.

Both evolution and revolution involve moving away from patriarchy and towards dignity, equality, respect, and justice for all. That, and not material things, is the real pursuit of happiness.

Comment by Mark E. Smith on June 12, 2012 at 12:53am

Patriarchy, being hierarchical, is divisive, and divisiveness always leads to loneliness. 

Patriarchy assigns us gender roles and tells us that we need other people in order to fulfill our assigned gender roles. If we believe that, then we try to find others who will play their assigned roles so as to help us to fulfill our assigned roles. I believe that the reason 50% of marriages end in divorce is because people are role-playing, relating to others in the ways they believe that they are supposed to in order to fulfill their assigned roles, instead of relating to each other directly as equals without synthetic roles. 

Patriarchy is always telling us who we are, what we need, and even who we need. The more enlightened forms of spirituality tell us to rid ourselves of desire so that we can be free (or something like that). Anyway, it's true. Role-playing within a patriarchal system almost always leads to violence. Trying to be who we were told we're supposed to be, prove that we are what the system wants us to be, and to force others to recognize our roles and play complimentary roles, is a sure road to conflict and to evil. Almost all the good people I know, have tried to support Occupy, not because it is Occupy, but because there are many of us who will always try to support anything that is good or has the possibility of bringing about more goodness in the world. The nobility, where it exists, is in our hearts.

One of the seven ancient wisdoms is that "Most men are bad." It isn't an inherent bad, it is the system of patriarchy that makes most men bad, and most women too, for that matter. Being good within a hierarchical system, a system based on the subjugation of some to others, that is, a system of direct or modified slavery, is a luxury that very few people can afford. The easiest way to be able to afford it, of course, is to simply take a vow of poverty and drop out of the rat race. But within capitalist societies, poverty itself is criminalized and there are very few cloisters or collectives where people without money can survive. And even there hierarchy can raise ugly conflicts.

Anybody who isn't sad, hasn't been paying attention to what's going on in the world. We're at another of the cyclical population peaks that patriarchy, by removing our ability to regulate our reproductive rate in accordance with available resources, forced on us. During overpopulation peaks, which always precede large die-offs, life becomes cheap, genocides become unremarkable common everyday events, and the environment can no longer handle the excessive burden of toxic wastes. To know that, thanks to patriarchy, we are not a viable species and are therefore doomed to extinction (unless there is some way to eliminate patriarchy and establish equality), and not be sad, would be to lack any sensitivity at all.

Comment by Ben Roberts on June 12, 2012 at 7:40am

Oscar Miro-Quesada, a Peruvian shaman who was part of a Birth2012 gathering I participated in two Sundays ago, gave us each a black stone for our left hands and a white one for our right, and said that in order to be effective "Agents of Consciuos Evolution," we must "hold catastrophe in one hand and 'benestrophe' in the other.

I too wish that there wasn't so much sadness. And I also agree that to not be sad is to lack sensitivity to what is going down.  As Patric Roberts (and many others) have suggested, it is through a full expression from those who have been marginalized of their pain, deeply heard by those of us who have been far more fortunate, that this can all unwind and heal.

Comment by Ben Roberts on June 13, 2012 at 5:58am
It does seem that the more we learn, the more we appreciate how little we truly understand. I had a conversation with a group of Atheist activists on Sunday (I consider myself an atheist too) who insisted tha Reason was the answer to our problems and that we were, through science, able to conquer all mystery.

That notion seemed rather quaint to me! There is ancient wisdom, as you say, C.A., that goes deep, and does not come, metaphorically speaking, from the head. Indeed, the dominance of Reason can be seen as the root of our problems today, and as emblematic of Patriarchy.

By the way that bit about the Chinese characters for "crisis" is not true, although we hear it repeated all the time! Google it and you'll see.
Comment by Mark E. Smith on June 13, 2012 at 3:07pm

Yes, I agree, Ben, that the dominance of reason is emblematic of patriarchy and the cause of many problems.

But neither mind nor heart alone can solve everything, both must work together.

Just as getting beyond patriarchy doesn't mean getting rid of men but helping free everyone, women and men both, of the constrictions and consequences of patriarchy, getting beyond the dominance of reason doesn't mean getting rid of reason but of freeing ourselves from the constrictions and consequences of relying on reason alone.

I think those atheist activists you were talking with haven't given it enough thought. ;)

Comment by Mark E. Smith on June 14, 2012 at 12:17am

Last I heard, Margaret Thatcher, Madeleine Albright, and Hillary Clinton were women. Women like that are the sine qua non of modern warfare, in which more than 85% of the casualties, I believe, are women, children, elderly, disabled, or otherwise unable to get out from under smart bombs, some of which may be directly dropped or remotely guided by women.

Neither men nor women are the problem. Patriarchy is a hierarchical system and it shapes a mind set and actions that are common to anyone who is a part of that system. To avoid the immoral actions required by an immoral system, individuals have to challenge and resist the system. S. Brian Willson, Scott Olsen, and many Veterans for Peace are men who are doing more to try to end war than most women. Patriarchy has nothing to do with sex or gender roles, it has everything to do with hierarchy, empowering some (male or female) and subjugating others (male or female). It started out by mostly subjugating females, but even back then it also subjugated some males (slaves).

On Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, two big gangs had a fight and the winning gang killed off all the members of the losing gang except for those who agreed to become "wifeys." Wifeys had to take female names, wear female clothes, and become household and sex slaves. That's how patriarchy functions, by violently subjugating some people to others, and it really doesn't matter if those others are women, people of a different skin color, ethnicity, or belief, or just people exactly like the ones who conquered them, except for having been conquered.

Economic fairness requires equality for everyone without regard to race, age, sex, ethnicity, or any other factor that has historically been used for purposes of discrimination. At some General Assemblies, people are asked their names, the pronouns they prefer to be addressed by, and a brief statement of their specific interests and activities. They don't have to disrobe so that everyone can check their genital status. We need to know how people want to be addressed and referred to, what they are doing, and what they want to do in the interests of social and economic justice.

Some years back there was a guy in an online forum who was a fervent feminist. He took it upon himself to render an old sexist text into what he considered nonsexist terms. Wherever it said "he," he wrote, "he and she." Wherever it said "men," he wrote, "men and women." Wherever it said, "fathers," he wrote "fathers and mothers," and wherever it said "sons," he corrected it to "sons and daughters."

I said that I didn't think that was nonsexist, that I considered it bisexist. A nonsexist rendition would change "he" to "they," change "men" to "people," change "fathers" to "parents," and change "sons" to "children." Sexism is indeed patriarchal and it is perpetuated by bisexism, which retains unnecessary sex and gender role distinctions even when they are unnecessary and divisive.

Patriarchy is so deeply ingrained in us that we treat individuals differently from birth, based on their perceived sex. In one psychological experiment, a male or female volunteer in a room with 1-way glass so they could be observed, was handed an infant by the psychologist who said they had an emergency call and would be right back. The infants were wearing diapers and had no clothing or other markers to indicate their sex. Since the voluteers couldn't tell if the infant was male or female, they didn't know whether to tell the baby what a big strong boy it was or what a sweet pretty girl it was, so they'd hold the child awkwardly for a while, and then try to look under the baby's diaper so they'd know what to say to it. These were ordinary people, not child molesters.

Other "scientists" tried to prove male/female differences by measuring parts of the brain. Had they been extraterrestrials who'd landed in pre-revolutionary China, they'd have "proven" that the feet of human males are much larger than the feet of human females in relation to overall body size. Only if they'd stuck around long enough to learn about footbinding, would they have known better. But even then, since it was women who actually carried out the footbinding of young girls, the aliens might have chalked it up to matriarchy.  ;)

Patriarchy is a complex subject. Looking to females to take a nurturing, pacifist role is actually sexist and patriarchal. While most females will conform to the gender role they were assigned, there are female boxers, female psychopaths, and female warmongers, like the ones I mentioned in my first paragraph, who do not. We don't need good men or good women, we only need good people. Even a Small Group of committed people can change the world and what matters is not their personal or physical characteristics, but that they want to make the world a better place.

Comment by Ben Roberts on June 15, 2012 at 9:30am

Thanks, C.A. I appreciate Eisler's coinage more after reading that, although I have not gotten great responses from others in general when proposing the adoption of this term.  The point about natural hierarchies of systems within systems seems very significant too.  We should not be allergic to hierarchy in any form, merely in its misuse to create "power over" as opposed to "power with."

Comment by Mark E. Smith on June 15, 2012 at 10:52am

I disagree, Ben.

In a hierarchical arrangement, some people are above others, such as a superior and their subordinates in a corporation or in the military. Hierarchy is "power over" by definition. "Power with," where power is shared equally, is not hierarchy. For example, if we set up a government or corporation with a President, Vice-President, and various offices subordinate to them, we establish a hierarchy. If we create an organization where everyone has equal power and there are rotating facilitators or chairs when needed, we do not have a hierarchy.

A tyranny is a form of hierarchy with a tyrant at the top and everyone else underneath them. There can be benevolent tyrants, and then it would be called a benevolent tyranny, but it is still a hierarchy. A so-called leaderless movement can still have leaders, but as with the Zapatistas, they "lead by obeying," by listening to the people and carrying out the will of the people, so they are not hierarchically above the people, they are public servants.

"Power with," is not hierarchy. Only "power over" is hierarchy, and I think we should indeed be allergic to it because power corrupts.

I'm not sure what you mean by natural hierarchies. Can you give an example of one so that I could understand what you mean by natural hierarchies?

Comment by Mark E. Smith on June 15, 2012 at 10:48pm

C.A., while the world's biggest capitalist imperialist predators are EuroAmericans, you are a white male and Condoleeza Rice is a black female. Neither sex nor skin color would enable anyone to guess which of you is a global predator.


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