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 Ben Roberts on May 25, 2012 at 4:33pm

I noticed the other day that I didn't have a good word for the alternative to patriarchy that I would like to support.  "Anarchy" didn't occur to me, and still doesn't resonate as I read your post, Jim, even though I applaud your overall analysis wholeheartedly.  My instant reaction to the term "anarchy" is fear and resistance.  

Peter Block has offered "stewardship" as an alternative (and wrote a whole book on the subject).  But that term didn't come up for me at the time either.  I just thought, "hmmm.  We don't have a good word for this."

One day after I was wondering just what a good term might be, I was talking with Michael Harris to plan this past Monday's Vital Conversation, and he told me about the word "gylany." Wiktionary defines it as

A partnership social system based on equality of men and women, where inherent individuals and systems progress toward higher, more evolved and more complex levels of function, as opposed to hierarchical systems of human ranking where one gender dominates the other via force or threat of force, inhibiting higher function of the overall social system and individuals within.

The word was coined by Riane Eisler in her book The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future.  Turns out, by the way, that Eisler is also involved in a New Economy initiative of her own too.

Comment by Jim Macdonald on May 25, 2012 at 5:33pm

Well anarchy simply means no rulers; the connotations associated with it are problems of history (and patriarchal oppression to practitioners of the idea.)  I think we have to be careful to reject language on the basis of connotation for the reason that we might miss being able to look at our own prejudice. 

I am not sure that "resistance" is a bad connotation, though.  But, that's a whole other discussion.

I don't particularly see anything in the word "gylany" that isn't - given the definition given here - that isn't entailed by anarchy.  Anarchy may also be a broader term; however, in that while patriarchy manifests itself in a gender hierarchy, it's forms include many other types of hierarchy.  Anarchy is the antithesis of hierarchical rule, and so I fully embrace the term and the challenge of overcoming over a century of repression and mischaracterization.  If I have one criticism of "anarchy" is that it is somewhat abstract.  I have a native friend who read the essay who has been trying to express a different conception of "matriarchy" that isn't a simple notion of replacement of one gender power for another, though I admit I still don't understand what he's driving at - it still strikes me as too essentialist (namely, that women have particular natures not shared by men - but I may be misunderstanding his point).

Comment by Ben Roberts on May 26, 2012 at 9:42am

Yes, Jim, I get that your conception of anarchy might be essentially the same as what Eisler means by gylany.  And while anarchy as a term comes with a ton of baggage, gylany will always evoke a response of "huh?" which may not be any better.

Still, there is perhaps something else at play here on at least two levels.

  1. "No rulers" is awfully close to "no leaders" and this is something Occupy has struggled with.  To me it is obvious that the movement has--and needs-- leaders.  Indeed, as Peggy Holman suggested in our 12/19 Vital Conversation, we might want to think of this as a "leaderful" rather than a leaderless movement.  What we want to let go of is the idea of "command and control" (rigid and extreme hierarchies) but we don't have to throw out the idea of leadership with it, or even of hierarchy.
  2. If we see ourselves as participating in the launch of a meme, as Beth Lamont so passionately urged us to do in this recent OC blog post, the words matter.  A lot.  Memes need to self-replicate based on their broad and inherent appeal.  "We are the 99%" is a great example, although it too has its limits (as will anything).  So if a huge percentage of the world is turned off (or even terrified) by "anarchy," that's a big issue in my book.  If we want to expand the global conversation about replacing patriarchy with something new, we need a framing that has global appeal.  "Gylany" may not be it either, I suppose.

This raises one of the core challenges we face on many levels--a pattern I see over and over.  A vision of the future we seek to create isn't deeply embedded in the global consciousness yet, or even in our own, and for good reason.  We are in an "emergent" stage (to channel Holman once again) and by definition we are unsure what the new iteration of social and economic organization we seek might look like.  We have many different models and ideas and experiments to play with.  But only by going through the process will the destination reveal itself fully.  Attempts to pre-define where we are going too rigidly are just another form of the failed approach of command and control, i.e. patriarchy, that got us here in the first place!

It's hard to imagine a new paradigm when you're in the midst of the shift.  On a recent Cafe Call, someone noted that around the turn of the last century, it was thought that the population of Manhattan couldn't grow any further because it would drown in horse manure as a result.  Automobiles already existed, but it was still impossible for most people to imagine a city filled with them, where horses were antique relics kept around for tourists and a few rich kids to ride in Central Park.

Comment by Mark E. Smith on May 26, 2012 at 2:02pm

Ben, I too shied away from the word anarchy. Until I began to study the literature.

Sometimes our beliefs, even if they are false beliefs, can stand in the way of our education.

If we talk about material prosperity, we'll appeal to the large numbers of materialistic people in our capitalist society, but we'll forfeit the opportunity to lead people out of the rat race and into freedom.

I've always admire Harriet Tubman who spoke of freeing a thousand slaves but regretted not being able to free thousands more because they didn't understand that they were slaves. In truth, they did know they were slaves, but they feared change and the uncertainty of the unknown. Freedom wasn't an unknown to Tubman and Tubman had such great love of freedom and of people that when there was no other way to do it, Tubman led fearful people to freedom at gunpoint. I don't have that great love of freedom and of people--I won't pick up a gun and threaten to shoot somebody if they prefer slavery to freedom. I can't. I don't have it in me.

But I do think it is possible to educate people. At least some people. If I was able to set aside my prejudices and learn what anarchy really is, others can also. Heck, when I was a kid, for some reason I didn't like tomatoes and wouldn't eat them. Then somebody I respected and admired was eating tomatoes and saying how delicious they were, so I decided to give them another try. I found out that I like tomatoes. Leadership can be by example rather than at gunpoint.

No rulers is not at all the same thing as no leaders. Leading by example, or leading by obeying the will of the people as the Zapatista leaders do, is quite different from leading by imposing authority from above the way that rulers do. Where there is no hierarchy (no patriarchy OR matriarchy) there will always be leaders, people who figure out better ways of doing things that others will follow. But as Jim said, they don't get to own the process, the product, or the labor of those who use their process. When something is freely given and freely shared, the reward is in being a valued member of the community and in strengthening the community.

We don't have to limit ourselves to sound-bites. We have the luxury of being able to communicate with each other in depth and at length. I think it is a mistake to think of Occupy the way that Ad-Busters does, as a mass marketing scheme. I think the Small Group approach is much more effective. We're not selling something, we're creating new ways, better ways of doing things. Better mousetraps don't have to be sold because they sell themselves. Even mass-marketers have found that if they can reach a few opinion-makers, it can be more effective than spending millions on ads.

There's no need to reinvent the wheel. If tomatoes are nutritious and delicious, but people are prejudiced against tomatoes, we don't have to rename them, we just have to get people to see that their prejudices have been depriving them of something they would enjoy. Calling tomatoes "juicies" or "tasties" would not have gotten me to eat them, because I'd still have looked at them and seen tomatoes. But seeing someone whose opinions I respected enjoying tomatoes, did what rebranding couldn't have done.

Comment by Christopher Wroth on May 27, 2012 at 1:06am

Yes, no need to reinvent the wheel.  But we do need to stand it up correctly so that it will roll.  To do that we need to stop listening to the minions and dupes of the 1%.  They tell us it should work just laying there on it's side in the mud where we are all mucking around.

Comment by Jim Macdonald on May 27, 2012 at 1:54am

Mark, that is well said.

Leaders of all kinds arise naturally.  All one really means in these cases is that there is something that someone does better.  When an anarchist criticizes hierarchy, she is not denying facts of nature.  What she is denying is that there is an additional lien that is owed this ability.  If I take some land and grow a crop, does that make the land now mine - in service to me?  Possession and use does not therefore entail a proprietary right (that was Proudhon's argument when he famously said that "property is theft." 

My essay extends Proudhon to the family - to the patriarchal constructions within our personal relationships.

If you are smarter, a better organizer, stronger, a better hunter ... nothing in an anarchist world discourages people from using their skills to the best of their hilt.  What it denies is that there is any further power or obligation that comes associated with that.  If you produced more food, you are not due more food.  If you are a better organizer of people, you don't therefore have the right to rule over them - indeed, the organizer (the leader in this respect) is in a very dangerous position, as there can be great temptation to use power this way.  Ultimately, though, it's all based in a fallacious leap in logic.  A society steeped in an anarchist mindset, though, would better be able to resist the challenges of hierarchy that arise.

I ultimately don't care, though, what word is used or whether a new vocabulary emerges, or whether we adopt even older vocabulary.  What matters ultimately is that we deconstruct the fallacy that has been part of patriarchal society since the rise of civilization (ultimately a very small span in the history of humanity) and pursue a course that takes the question of nature more seriously.  In that sense, anarchy is a resistance movement against thousands of years of abuse; in another sense, it is simply a movement that seeks to restore humanity to a place within the natural world - where the anarchist argues humans find the greatest degree of freedom (one might say, then, that anarchism isn't terribly different than classical stoicism).

Comment by Christopher Wroth on May 27, 2012 at 2:24pm

I am new to OccupyCafe and don't want to be critical of others.  That said, I am disappointed.  There seems to be a lot of ruminating & opinion-expressing going on - but not a lot of analysis.  In example, two "obstacles" before us in recent OccupyCafe discussions are "bad government" and "patriarchy".  It is suggested that we need to move toward anarchy and away from patriarchal attitudes.  Simple analysis indicates that "bad government" and "patriarchy" are "bad" because we did previous analysis of government operations and patriarchal attitudes and concluded these were "bad".  These beliefs became operational assumptions.  Among OCCUPY supporters, maybe 90% accept these assumptions.  A much smaller percentage within OCCUPY will support the suggested remedy (anarchy & matriarchy).  Many will say, "Philosophy is a luxury of the well-fed, we need practical solutions that can work right now."  I confess that I am one of those.   

Comment by Mark E. Smith on May 27, 2012 at 3:08pm

To the best of my understanding, Christopher, you can't have anarchy and matriarchy. A matriarchy is a form of hierarchy, like patriarchy, while anarchy requires equality instead of hierarchy.

Have you looked at the alternative economy topic ? The reconomy series on AlterNet that Ben linked discusses many practical solutions that are working right now for millions of people, including many people who are part of Occupy.

This thread is about thoughts, which means that it is philosophical. But other threads are about practical solutions. And if you don't find a discussion that you need, you can start one. 

I don't think that anybody made any assumptions about patriarchy or government being bad. Patriarchy establishes a hierarchy that disadvantages women and also disadvantages men who aren't at the top of the hierarchy. Hierarchies are oppressive, so people who oppose oppression tend to oppose hierarchies. As for the US government, its failures are what made Occupy necessary. If government power was being used for good, that is, to promote the general welfare, there'd be no need to protest. Instead the government is doing everything it can to promote wasteful, unnecessary, extremely costly, and very destructive wars, and bailouts for the rich instead of for the needy. Any serious analysis will demonstrate clearly that the US government, based on the Constitution rather than on the Declaration of Independence, is a plutocracy rather than a democracy or republic, and while it may be oversimplification to say that government of, by, and for the people is good, while government of, by, and for the rich, is bad, the latter is what we happen to have and the 99%, those who are not rich, aren't happy about it. Yet in attempting to exercise our unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, we tend to meet with severe and brutal government repression. Not good. ;)

Philosophy really isn't a luxury of the well-fed. Not everyone can afford food, shelter, housing, health care, education, etc., but everyone can think. I've been homeless and hungry, and I thought about whether it would be best to apply for food stamps, go to church soup kitchens, dumpster dive, steal food, beg, or if there were other options. I thought about the potential consequences of each option. Even when I was hungry, I retained the ability to think, to analyze--in short, to philosophize. If I chose one option over others, it was because I thought it was a better choice, at least for me. So I had a philosophy and was able to philosophize. Often I managed to find work, usually part-time, temporary, low-pay work, so that I could buy food, but the US economy was in better shape back in those days and that isn't always an option for people now. 

Comment by Occupy Cafe Stewards on May 28, 2012 at 11:54am

@Christopher: what are some "practical solutions" you are most inspired to explore?  

And thanks, Mark, for clarifying our intentions here in the Cafe!  Yes, we sometimes get philosophical.  Although I would argue that there is something quite practical about discussing the language we choose to use to express our desires for change, e.g. "anarchy," "gylany," etc.  In any case, we are certainly also interested in exploring what it is possible for us to create together to bring about "a future distinct from the past."  That may not be readily apparent to a new participant in our conversations, but it is indeed the case!

Comment by Jim Macdonald on May 28, 2012 at 12:04pm

I would add that many of us are indeed working on so called practical things in our community (though, I consider philosophy actually the most practical activity of all - and Mark does well to explain that; it really goes to the assumptions people have about our backgrounds to assume we all practice philosophy because we all must have more economic means - (I've been out of work for two months and spent a night homeless myself - but I'm about to start a job where I've made more money than I've ever made; either way, thinking is essential to a good life).

But as to practical stuff, I want to share what we are doing in Bozeman.  We have a big outdoor collaborative block party scheduled for July called "Here Is How" - see  The idea is that there are a lot of people actually doing work in our community on all kinds of things, but they function separately with little to no audience for their solutions.  Here Is How is an opportunity for groups to share their knowledge and skills in a unique way while building the collaborative relationships among diverse groups (most of whom do not self identify as "Occupy", though Occupy Bozeman is one of those groups) to take further action together.  The goal is to provide a solidarity network of support so that we can begin constructing alternative economic and cultural supports while living within the existing structure. 

This all relates to the philosophy, though.  We are aiming to take on patriarchy with new paradigms of action.  Instead of isolated organizing and competition, we are seeking collaborative relationships and greater consciousness of the need for decentralized and yet coordinated action.  We have a concrete plan of action.  But, it is not necessary that you be an anarchist or see this as anarchist (though it certainly is) to be involved.  It's not ostensibly political (though it actually is) to do this ... you are bringing energy together to function together first through a party and out of that through growing relationships.  If people are more interested in this idea, you should contact us.  (Here Is How was done last year in Denver and has had very positive outcomes there).  We'd love for this idea to spread - so that 99% actually is more indicative of 99% and yet is still built around some of the central motivations that gave rise to Occupy.


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