Underlying slavery, racism and capitalism is the Riane Eisler has termed the Dominator paradigm. In short, the dominator paradigm is the mentality of a bully where the modus operandi is to use all power available to manipulate others to get what you want. Understanding the dominator paradigm is critical for social justice because I believe we can reframe many efforts as the undoing of the dominator paradigm and the ascension of the partnership paradigm. The complete embodiment of the dominator paradigm by police in the United States is what makes reform impossible.
The challenge is that the dominator paradigm is a self-reinforcing mental illness. It is a complex brought on by the trauma of being raised in a culture of cruelty and being taught to inflict cruelty on others, and maintained by the fear that if they lose power they will have the same cruelty inflicted on them. Escaping the dominator paradigm is a gauntlet of challenges for the infected- from the pressure of peers and family to maintain the oppression to the fear of not knowing how to relate to people outside abusive relationships. Helping people escape this cycle of self-imposed abuse is fastest way to bring peace and justice.
Let’s look deeper at the dynamics of the dominator mentality. People who are in the dominator paradigm are constantly trying to bully other people – often in all aspects of their lives. Eventually bullies run into other bullies who are also in the dominator paradigm and they have to battle them. This might play out between business competitors or just getting robbed on the street.
Since we have a civil society with laws and police, dominators are restricted in the kinds of tactics that they can use. For example, it’s theoretically illegal to go to someone’s house with a gun and tell them they are giving you their valuable possessions or you will shoot them. So the challenge is then that bullies in our society are running into other bullies which leads them to believe they are hunted too. Of course they are hunted too because capitalism is vicious – the difference is that rich white men go war to deepen their privilege while most Americans battle to survive.
The way rich white men experience this dynamic is if they are running a business, they are competitive with other business managers. Some parties will do whatever they can to get increase revenue, whether it’s legal, illegal yet unlikely to be punished or even be willing to be fined if its less than the gain. Of course none of the parties act this way because they are bad people – they do it because they are seeking comfort and security for their families. The illness of domination compels them justify the destruction as necessary.
In the end, the dominator recreates the ruthless world they are raised taught about. Inevitably this leads to projecting that ruthlessness onto everyone. But the crazy part is, despite their ruthlessness, they still experience a feeling of depravity. They still feel like they are getting less than they deserve because they’re fighting so hard because they are trying to manipulate everyone around them. They use lies, abuse, and threats of abandonment in order to dominate people and extract more from them than they give back.
The challenge is when you present to them with the idea of a peaceful existence of working in partnership they will have difficulty imagining it. Their instinct tells them if they relax their grip, the people they oppressed are going to come after them because they themselves are the people trying to exploit other people. Because deepening privilege in a white supremacist society is brutal work no matter how many Ayn Rand books one reads.
To bridge that gap requires a bootstrap of the imagination in the mind of the dominator and an opening of a heart hardened from battle. One must grasp the benefit of the partnership system and learn to believe that the people who are being exploited, which is most people, are going to be partners under a new system and not oppress the dominator themselves. Being in the role of the dominator disconnects a person from their humanity in a way that enslaves them to a life of brutality. It is an illness of the heart and mind.
Please don’t misunderstand the goal of this article; this is not a time for idiot compassion and accepting dominator culture. It’s an appeal to cultivate understanding of our oppressors to more effectively engage them. The most entrenched white supremacists will generally be immune to rational engagement but many of the unwitting adherents are ready to make the leap. They feel the burning in their souls but are lost in the illusions of the white supremacy. They are ill and want to be well. The challenge is figuring out how to reach them.