For the past 6,000 years, ever since the dawn of patriarchy, humanity has been running on a specific psychological paradigm—the Patriarchal Operating System.
What do I mean by ‘running’? I mean breathing, feeling, thinking, eating, working, loving, screwing and absolutely anything else we do, say, think or feel.
The Patriarchal Operating System affects every single aspect of all of our lives. This means it is both everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. Everywhere, because it’s inside each of us. Nowhere, because it’s so widespread that it’s become normalised into invisibility.
Patriarchy isn’t fundamentally a social system. It’s fundamentally a psychological paradigm—the Patriarchal Operating System.
Because it’s our ‘normal’, we consider our way of life to be sane.
But is it sane? Look at the news. Do you see a world of sanity, or a world of growing insanity and detachment from reality? Look at Donald Trump’s response to losing the 2020 US election. Look at the senseless reactions to Covid-19. These are all signs of the Patriarchal Operating System reaching the end of its life.
Before describing this system, I’m going to describe why we have it. Knowing the ‘why’ of the Patriarchal Operating System allows us to understand why it does what it does. Nothing in this system is random; everything is meaningful.
Why do we have a Patriarchal Operating System?
That’s simple: for survival.
Some six thousand years ago, a catastrophe happened. The biggest catastrophe in human history—yet, paradoxically, one whose extent is only now becoming evident.
In Saharasia, geographer James DeMeo documents how long-term drought in the Sahara, the Middle East and Central Asia led to desertification, famine and fighting for resources. The Sahara—once a savannah like modern-day Kenya—turned to sand.
This event, which spanned several thousand years, is recorded in the Bible as ‘The Fall’. Analysis of stalagmites from Kuna Ba cave in northern Iraq by Professor Ashish Sinha of California State University reveals a ‘mega-drought’ as recently as 675-550 BC.
“From sanity to madness”
Psychology lecturer Steve Taylor writes: “The main event in human history is a sudden, massive regression—a dramatic shift from harmony to chaos, from peace to war, from life-affirmation to gloom, or from sanity to madness.”
The impact of this shift—environmental stress (or eco-anxiety)—was immense. People who lived in close connection with nature became traumatized as once-fertile land dried up, and food and water sources vanished.
The need for violence to secure survival created a new social paradigm—patriarchy. Psychologically, patriarchy consists of unconscious loops that keep us locked into the acquisition of power, wealth and status, excessive consumption, exploitation of those we consider ‘other’, and lack of long-term sustainability.
Taylor writes that the Sumerians, one of the earliest patriarchies, “possessed a recognisably ‘modern’ lust for material goods and wealth, which was completely alien to the non-possessiveness of [the preceding] hunter-gatherer peoples.”
That lust is the drive to ensure that we—as both individuals and social groups—have enough resources when push comes to shove and starvation looms.
The Patriarchal Operating System spread by means of epigenetic inheritance—the transfer of post-traumatic stress from one generation to another—as violent patriarchy conquered the world and became the global default social structure.
With a global population now over 7 billion, all propelled (to some degree) by the same survival fears as the Sumerians, our planet has reached the brink of environmental, economic, and—above all—emotional unsustainability.
Our only sustainable future lies in deinstalling the Patriarchal Operating System. To do that we must understand its component ‘modules’.
What is the Patriarchal Operating System?
This system affects us at the mental, emotional and physical levels.
It consists primarily of a number of interlinked psychological components that collectively create what we inaccurately think of as our personality:
- Hemispheric dominance
- Unconscious shame
- The 3 Laws of Patriarchy
- The victim/victimizer dynamic
- Emotional unavailability
- Arrested development
- The ‘false self’
- Life energy binding
- The mother wound
What they in fact create is a version of us that is conditioned to survive in the highly conditioned, emotionally hostile environment of patriarchy.
All of these pieces emerged simultaneously in response to the trauma of famine and the emerging dog-eat-dog landscape. Each piece reinforced the others as well as feeding off the others.
Let’s look at the key ‘modules’ of the Patriarchal Operating System in turn.
1. Hemispheric dominance
Neuropsychologist Roger W. Sperry first proposed the theory of hemispheric dominance in 1960. In my own simplistic terms, hemispheric dominance boils down to three interlocking principles:
- Brain functions are specialised between the left and right hemispheres
- Intellectual processing occurs in the left brain
- Most people are left-brain dominant
Hemispheric dominance (also known as hemispheric lateralization) explains how humanity has ended up with a society that is highly intelligent yet at the same time environmentally destructive and woefully lacking in wellbeing.
There are other ways of describing this lateralization. The left hemisphere is ‘yes or no’; the right is ‘maybe’. Mathematically, the left hemisphere divides while the right one adds. The left is the hemisphere of time, the right that of space. The left cultivates intelligence, the right wisdom.
This means the left hemisphere is great for logical problem solving (-), while the right is great for community building (+). A society with balanced left-right brain functioning draws on each quality as required.
Famine traumatizes people so severely that their brain functioning shifts from a balance of left and right modes to a skewed, left-brain dominant paradigm where all forms of abuse and violence are normalised and emotional responsiveness is de-normalised.
Because of its inability to deal with anything instinctive, irrational, non-linear and non-binary, left-brain hemispheric dominance makes people (and their societies) fundamentally anti-feminine, anti-child, anti-sexual and anti-nature.
Read more: What is hemispheric dominance?
2. Unconscious shame
In left-brain hemispheric dominant situations, everything associated with right-brain functioning is stigmatized, suppressed, and subjected to rules and taboos. In other words, it becomes shamed.
To avoid persecution—and in particular to avoid shaming one’s family—over time, the shaming of all things feminine turned suppression into repression. People internalised the taboos and prohibitions imposed on all displays of emotions and sexuality, creating society-wide unconscious shame.
This shame has three principal components:
- Emotional shame—the shame of having feelings in a patriarchal society that has traditionally despised, denied, suppressed, repressed and punished emotional expression
- Body shame—the shame of physical appearance (e.g. not beautiful enough) and the shame of bodily functions (urinating, defecating, menstruating, etc.)
- Sexual shame—the shame of having genitals and having sexual feelings, wanted or otherwise, in a society that has traditionally despised, denied, suppressed, repressed and punished sexual expression
These three types of shame are separate yet inseparable. In Healing the Hurt Within, self-harm therapist Jan Sutton describes how a self-harmer hated the region between their genitals and their breasts. They wished that part of their body did not exist. All three forms of shame are present in this hatred, yet they can be teased out into their separate components.
The shaming of all things feminine automatically creates a split between what is and isn’t socially acceptable.
Writing in The Journey toward Complete Recovery, Michael Picucci describes the sexual-spiritual split as “a deep psychic schism within almost everyone in our culture which prohibits enduring, loving relationships to form, which at the same time can remain sexually alive and growing.”
Picucci gives the origin of this split as “early religious and cultural training, which teaches that God, love, and family are good while sex is dirty, bad and perverse.”
Because of the ubiquity of the Patriarchal Operating System, we all have the sexual-spiritual split regardless of whether we were subjected to such training.
3. The 3 laws of patriarchy
The combination of hemispheric dominance and the shaming of all that the left brain considers undesirable gave rise to a several core psychological dynamics that still affect us today. I call these the ‘3 laws of patriarchy’.
The Law of Masculinity states that the masculine rules the feminine.
Wikipedia describes patriarchy as “a social system in which men hold primary power”. While this is superficially true, it’s actually the masculine aspects of the human condition that dominate the feminine aspects. In other words, women can dominate others just as much as men by drawing on their masculine qualities.
The Wikipedia definition is lacking in that patriarchy isn’t fundamentally a social system. It’s fundamentally a psychological paradigm—the Patriarchal Operating System—that manifests as a social system. We don’t recognise this is because of our unconscious shame.
The Law of Victimization states that the stronger can victimize the weaker to the extent that they can get away with it.
This such an important—and so little understood—law that I describe it in more detail below.
The Law of Otherness states that those who are ‘other’ can be victimized to the extent of their otherness.
Race and gender are the two most distinctive forms of otherness. There are many others: culture, language, religion, dress, politics, class/caste, geography, sexuality, sports. Any kind of affiliation can be used to define otherness.
The more ‘other’ another group or person is perceived to be, the more the victimizer considers it acceptable to victimize them.
- The 3 laws of patriarchy
- The opposite of a patriarchy is not a matriarchy
- Traumatization of the feminine created patriarchy, not the other way round
4. The victim/victimizer dynamic
Generally thought of as the dominion of men over women, patriarchy is more accurately the dominion of the (masculine) victimizer over the (feminine) victim. The victim/victimizer dynamic is one of our ancient traumas.
Historically, this has played out in every household in the ‘battle of the sexes’. As a society we’ve made great strides but the underlying dynamic is still there—and rarely recognised.
Both men and women can be victimizers. As well as victimizing women, men victimized other men violently, economically and at times sexually. Ruling class women victimized their servants and slaves, male and female alike, sometimes more cruelly than their men did. It was King Herod’s daughter who requested that John the Baptist’s head be served on a platter.
Every civilization since the rise of patriarchy has victimized to the greatest extent that it could: Assyria, Rome, the Muslim Caliphate, Genghis Khan, the empires of Spain, Russia, Britain and Japan. All our laws and civil institutions are attempts to contain and control victimization.
The urge to victimize clouds our collective madness. In The Politics of Experience R.D. Laing wrote that, “Long before a thermonuclear war can come about, we have had to lay waste our own sanity.”
The right to victimize manifests at the macro level in actual or financial wars. But it also manifests in society at a micro level within each of us. Leonard Cohen nails it in ‘Democracy’: “From the homicidal bitchin’ / That goes down in every kitchen / To determine who will serve and who will eat.”
- “Pleased to meet you, don’t you know my name?” It’s the right to victimize
- The Alien inside us – the lower masculine victimizer
- Ghislaine Maxwell and the victim/victimizer dynamic
5. Emotional unavailability
The net result of all this ferocious psychological struggle is emotional unavailability. The most wounded parts of ourselves are walled off behind the sexual-spiritual split where we can’t access them.
This unavailability manifests most powerfully in our intimate relationships.
Despite our desire for complete transparency and honesty, we exclude our deepest emotional and sexual feelings from each other for fear of ‘pressing each other’s buttons’ and being rejected. A friend of mine terms this the ‘zone of mutually agreed non-negotiation’.
Read more: What is emotional unavailability?
6. Arrested development
In addition to all this damage, the Patriarchal Operating System impacts our ability to develop healthily right from birth. This is called arrested development.
The Medical Dictionary defines ‘developmental tasks’ as:
Fundamental achievements that must be accomplished at each stage of life, arising at or near critical stages in the maturation of an individual; successful attainment leads to a healthy self-image and success with later tasks. Failure to achieve developmental tasks at one stage leads to unhappiness in the individual, disapproval of society, and difficulty in accomplishing later developmental tasks.
The presence of arrested development in society can be inferred from the endemic presence of the next part of the Patriarchal Operating System.
- How shame affects arrested development
- Trump’s post-election tantrum consistent with arrested development
7. The ‘false self’
The concept of the ‘false self’ emerged in psychoanalysis in the 1960s. Known by a variety of terms (e.g. the ‘fake personality’), it’s attributed to Donald Winnicott.
Winnicott argues that we all have a true self—the part of us that feels safe, alive and able to express ourselves spontaneously—and a false self, an emotionally frozen façade we present to the world to paper over our survival fears.
Winnicott attributes the false self to ‘not good enough’ parenting. Due to excessive projection of parental fears and anxieties, the child replaces its natural behaviours with artificial ones to elicit a less painful response from its carers:
“Other people’s expectations can become of overriding importance, overlaying or contradicting the original sense of self, the one connected to the very roots of one’s being… through this false self, the infant builds up a false set of relationships, and by means of introjections even attains a show of being real.”
Our whole society is “a show of being real.” Yet even this fake personality isn’t the end of the damage that patriarchy inflicts on us.
Read more: What is the ‘false self’?
8. Life energy binding
The Patriarchal Operating System impedes our access to life energy. What is life energy?
Basically, we don’t know. Wikipedia says that, “There is currently no consensus regarding the definition of life.”
One person who tried to answer this question was Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). He left behind a body of work, including The Function of the Orgasm, which significantly advances our understanding of life energy and how it relates to sexual shame. Reich wrote:
“The character structure of modern man, who reproduces a six-thousand-year-old patriarchal authoritarian culture, is typified by… armouring against his inner nature and against the social misery which surrounds him. This… armouring is the basis of isolation… fear of responsibility, mystic longing, sexual misery, and neurotically impotent rebelliousness… It is not found in the stages of human history prior to the development of patriarchy.”
The key phrase here is “armouring against his inner nature.”
Reich’s understanding of “the identity between bioelectric and sexual energy” led him to represent this dynamic in the following diagram.
Socially acceptable masculine energy is diverted away from productive work capacity and enjoyable social activity. Instead it’s used to suffocate or stymy the unacceptable, shameful feminine energies.
In psychoanalytical parlance, this is termed ‘bound’ energy. Reich notes with some bitterness that, “Genital energy was bound, concealed, and disguised in many places and in myriad ways.”
The result is twofold. Firstly, the emotional, sexual and physical rigidity Reich identified. The physical rigidity is maintained through tension in the muscular structure. This tension quickly becomes repressed; the individual can’t feel that they’re consuming physical energy to rigidify their own body.
Read more: How shame affects life energy
9. The mother wound
The most damaging impact of famine is that it breaks the mother-child bond.
In Saharasia, James DeMeo describes the psychological impact of the East African droughts of the 1970s and 80s: “[Famine produces] a general intolerance and anxious aggressivity [sic] towards the basic biological expressions of… touching and body contact…”
This intolerance for basic biological processes extended to breastfeeding. In Sex in Prehistory, Timothy Taylor writes:
“Warrior societies… often withheld colostrum from a newborn infant and give him or her water instead. The infant is understandably angry about the fact, except that it lacks the cognitive abilities to understand anger, so the event becomes an unconscious focus for aggression in later life.”
This is the template for the entire Patriarchal Operating System.
The same separation that occurred at the micro level between mothers and infants repeated at the macro level between nature and humanity—to an infant, its mother is nature. From being something that was revered, nature became distrusted, unruly and alien.
These macro and micro separations—nature-human and mother-child—fractured on both physical and emotional levels, giving rise to six fragments:
At its heart, the mother wound causes a failure of nurturing that prevents our inner child—the pure, playful, joyful, fully connected part of ourselves—from developing into our adult self.
- What is the mother wound?
- The mother wound = lack of emotional nurturing
- The mother wound – “The dreadful has already happened”
I wish I could say that this was the extent of the Patriarchal Operating System. It isn’t. It’s just the key features, the parts accessible from the main menu. Follow the links in this article and you’ll discover its insidious effect on every aspect of human existence.
The Patriarchal Operating System changed humanity so it was able to create the technology to transcend survival consciousness. However, to survive, we now need to transcend this increasingly obsolete operating system.