In the Neighborhood

Ben Beesley and Riane Eisler met through Carmel Neighbors, which continues matching people who need help (about 20 currently) with volunteers (about 30) who offer help.

Before Covid-19, Riane Eisler’s world was big, really big. Best known for her 1987 book The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future, the social scientist/futurist/attorney/thinker/writer has made a career of traveling the globe, attending conferences and speaking. Her books are blurbed by the likes of Isabel Allende, Jane Goodall, Desmond Tutu and former Icelandic president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. She coined the term “human infrastructure” that’s now the center of politics and President Joe Biden’s plans. “I don’t mind not being credited, I just want to change the culture,” Eisler says.

In the past 35 years since Chalice was released, Eisler has kept a relatively low profile locally. But when the pandemic hit last year, her world suddenly became her Carmel home. And Eisler and her 96-year-old husband, David Loye, realized they needed help. Through Carmel Neighbors, a mutual aid group founded by five Carmel residents “to make sure that no one fell through the cracks during this time of shelter-in-place,” Eisler and Loye got paired up with Ben Beesley, a local real estate broker. It began with a two-cart-long grocery list of what Eisler needed at Trader Joe’s; Beesley left the groceries at her door, she reimbursed him, they exchanged pleasantries. It went on like this for months. “I had no idea who Riane was or what I was jumping into, or the blessings that would come into my life,” Beesley recalls.

A year-and-a-half later, the two are friends, and Beesley has gotten a crash course in Eisler’s scholarship. During a time of political drama, violence and upheaval in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, her ideas help frame things. Her most recent book, 2019’s Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future, lays out a general concept for different ways of modeling society and being in the world. On the one hand there’s a top-down domination model, one based on power and subjugation. On the other is a partnership model, one that is egalitarian for all genders, values nature in our economic models, and embraces childhood as a time for exploration and growth.

The inquiry that led Eisler to write this book is rooted in questions of her own childhood, she says. Specifically: “Does there have to be so much cruelty?” Eisler was born in Vienna during the Nazi occupation, and fled with her family to Cuba, where she was raised in a Havana slum until age 14, when she moved to the U.S.

“I have always been an outsider, which has served me well in my research,” she says. “It made it possible for me to get beyond conventional thinking. It isn’t left or right, North or South, East or West, Capitalist or Marxist.” Instead, Eisler is interested in finding (and even inventing) a new telling of our stories and our history that enables partnerism as a way of being.

It’s a framing that helped Beesley, who met Eisler as the helper, get through dark times.

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“Every single time I talk to Riane, I feel like there’s a little bit of hope,” Beesley says.

And she’s perpetually hopeful – “I’ve been called a ‘practical visionary,’” she says. “I have an existential commitment to doing this work. If I didn’t have some hope for the future, I wouldn’t do it.”

Meanwhile, the list of helping tasks keeps getting longer – getting documents notarized, delivering Loye’s dentures to the dentist to repair a broken tooth, fixing a sprinkler. “It’s a joy,” Beesley says, “because she’s so gracious about it.”

But of course she is – Eisler’s life’s work, in a way, is all about examining these kinds of interdependent relationships, and understanding that to rely on each other is not a sign of weakness (in a domination configuration, it would be) but a manifestation of living in partnerism.

“The story about us is a story about our true human nature,” Eisler says. “Being able to ask for help, and getting help. Relating to one another as humans, and finding out more about each other.”

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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