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Shock and awe—too much God—not enough love
What do Ariel Sharon’s violent crushing of the Palestinian reprise of Israel’s own origins, al-Qaeda’s merciless appropriation of the Hollywood disaster movie and the relentless Christian righteousness of the Bush/Blair policy on Iraq have in common? They are all the poisoned fruits of cultures of domination.

A culture of domination is a collection of actions and institutions deriving from a belief that the possession of overwhelming force carries the right, even, some would say the duty, to ‘lead’, ‘police’, ‘develop’, ‘liberate’, or ‘liberalize’ people, communities or nations seen as inadequate, corrupt or disagreeable—imposing demands or conditions, and using sanctions, punishments, threats, coercion, or bullying to enforce compliance.

Cultures of domination, may be macro as in national disputes, or micro as in how we live together, how we relate to ourselves. Look for people who talk ‘security’ while instilling a climate of fear. Look for loyalty oaths, ‘are you with us or against us’? Look for imprisonment, executions, gun culture, child abuse, racism, discrimination, bullying, abuse of power, conformity, ‘defense’ industries, monocultures of the mind, monopolies, the suppression of dissent and pollution. Look for violence and damage. Look for language like this: “UK’s No. 1 one film BLOWS AWAY THE COMPETITION” (ad for Bond film ‘Die another Day’) “Drawn, quartered, hung” art-world insiders choose pictures (G2 01.11.01) “A political heavyweight looking for a fight”, The Times 25.10.02 p5, “Blair pushes his big guns up to the front line”, The Times 25.10.02 p1,”Blair feels heat in war of words - Cabinet comes out fighting after huge march”, Daily Telegraph 17.02.03 p1 “Blair in the firing line”, Daily Mail 17.02.03 p1 ”After the Battle for Baghdad, the War for contracts”, The Business 16/17. 03.03

The attack on Iraq and the bubble and hiss of debates and quarrels arising from it calls into question, as the feminist tradition has long insisted, the belief that cultures of domination are ‘natural’ or inevitable. Are they now redundant? Relics of human evolution? Can they and should they be consigned to the dustbin of history?

Capacities for alarm and mobilization are built into us; a threat to our personal survival will trigger a galaxy of bodily fight and or flight reactions. But even naming them ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ plays into the beliefs that sustain cultures of domination. Just because some people become skilled in how to speak, stand, talk or move in ways that trigger fear/alarm responses in us doesn’t make this either ‘natural’ nor ‘inevitable’. Since none of us want to feel fear it is tempting to get into the habit of deference and avoidance, of keeping our heads down. By contrast, confronting people who seek to manipulate or victimize us through fear is scary. To quote the title of an excellent book, it means that we have to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.

In the disputes between currently active cultures of domination, for example al-Qaeda and the Anglo-Saxon capitalism that it despises—the airspace given to ‘national security’ has evoked a palpable climate of fear. Such strategies may help marshal support for state violence but they are nonetheless hypnotic mass-trance inductions, an especially virulent form of domination culture. The attack on the World Trade Center killed 3000+ people causing appalling damage, and legitimate shock, grief and anger. Minds less entranced by ‘national insecurity’ might have been more able to hold it in perspective with other, routine, ‘national insecurities’ due to indigenous cultures of domination, for example the 20,000 people who are murdered in the US each year or the 50,000 killed there annually on the roads—and been less desperate for revenge.

While the mailed fists of cultures of domination are commonly concealed inside the velvet gloves of diplomacy, ‘spin’, public relations ‘campaigns’, news blackouts and censorship, the hugely increased access to global information exchange of the last 10 years has enabled a step change in our ability to evaluate the quality of government actions on our behalf. 600 million Internet connections facilitate a new and intense form of vigilance on public policy that makes bullying, coercion and manipulation more evident. Many people have taken a look at corporate and governmental arm-twisting—for example over GM foods, or pre-emptive strikes, as in Iraq and said loudly—‘not in my name’.

When the US declined to sign up to the International Criminal Court, withdrew from the Kyoto Climate Change Protocol and on issue after issue—missile defence, biological weapons verification, comprehensive test ban treaty, money laundering—either got its way or walked away—we could hardly fail to notice the tip of a dominance iceberg adrift in international waters. The Bush administration’s Afghanistan response to the 9/11 events and especially the Iraq Spring, both unashamedly naked examples of the ‘full spectrum dominance’ that Washington hawks have been talking up since the mid 1990s, have lifted the whole dominance culture iceberg out of the water so that we can see it for what it is.

What do we make of this huge block of human history suspended for the moment in front of us? In a frozen simulation of Mount Whitmore we recognize familiar faces carved in the iceberg, icons of domination—President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Ariel Sharon, Chairman Arafat, Robert Mugabe. Yes, they undoubtedly seem to be domineering bullies, people for whom, their only tool being a hammer, the whole of creation consists of nails—but what of the rest of the huge bulk of the iceberg dripping in front of us? What do we make of that? Can we see, less comfortably perhaps, that this iceberg belongs to us, is made from our ocean? Can we see ourselves as inhabitating, supporting and promoting cultures of domination in our working lives, or in our personal lives? Of domination being threaded through how we relate to ourselves, how we relate to others and how our institutions are formed? Can we see how, whatever our political persuasion, so far as we believe in and live from dominance, we get a leadership to match?

What else does this Iraq Spring iceberg reveal? It tells us that the millions of people who gathered together silently and entirely peacefully on London’s streets and elsewhere in the world are no longer committed believers in cultures of domination as the way to conduct either personal or international affairs. For them this iceberg, though still able to ‘shock and awe’, is melting.

Lastly, with well-founded alarm, we wait for the anti-gravity effects of American imperial hubris to fail and for this particular iceberg to fall back into the water, generating political and economic tidal waves that are likely to transmit damage to much of the rest of the planet.

Apparently as psychologically naive and ignorant of these perspectives as they are of the ‘terrorist’ dragon's teeth they daily sow—Bush, Blair, Powell, Rumsfeld, Pearle et al deny a deepening but increasingly clear global reality—that the fruits of our cultures of domination and especially that of American hyperpuissance are personal, social, economic and environmental damage—damage so extensive that it is now within sight of undermining the sustainability of life for everyone on our planet.

This dissociation between coercion and bullying and the long-term damage that it causes to individuals and communities is intrinsic to cultures of domination. It is equivalent to a failure to understand that sex and child-bearing are intrinsically connected.

Cultures of domination put us into perpetual fight or flight. Insisting, demanding, that your order, be brought to my chaos, or imposing new order by inventing new forms of disorder—leaves us with either/or options—fight and have our resistance treated as ‘rebellion’ or ‘terrorism’—or flight in the shape of avoidance, denial, and seeking refuge or respite through depression, illness, or addiction. Either way the result is some form of damage.

By contrast creating our order requires patience, tolerance of diversity, negotiation, respect, cooperation and the belief, still embryonic, that sufficient attention to process, to how we do what we do, leads to substance, new and more humanly caring ways of being with each other. An unfashionable but cogent example of the latter is the European Community, which continues to patiently stitch together a new and unprecedented coalition of those countries willing to create institutions able to match humane social policy with deepening global integration. Another is the cooperatively owned Touchstone electricity utilities that supply 19 million, mainly rural, customers in the US.

However, even a twenty-year perspective reveals a considerable erosion of the former airtight seal that kept cultures of domination out of public awareness. The feminist tradition, though muted, continues to diffuse into family, couple and working life; heritage religions that embody domination age and atrophy by the minute; Royalty grows daily more tragically farcical; child abuse is high on most parents teachers and carers agendas; discrimination on the basis of race, gender or disability, even if still prevalent, is illegal.

Making the connection between our continuing toleration of cultures of domination and the damage that they inflict, is a first essential step in ridding ourselves of them; the second is to identify them in ourselves, our surroundings and our politics and to contradict, interrupt and disallow them; the third is to create institutions that actively enable participation and cooperation, that support individual and community flourishing—to make the shift from fear to generosity—less God and more Love.
Except where otherwise indicated, these screens are edited, maintained and © 2003 Denis Postle. All rights reserved.
Last updated 27th November 2003