Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Master's Tools

One of the ways that Audre Lorde revolutionized many people's thinking about the white male heterosexual patriarchy was with statements like this:

For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.

She expounded on that in her book Sister Outsider.

As Paulo Freire shows so well in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, and which knows only the oppressor's tactics, the oppressor's relationships.

It strikes me that over the years I've been trying to broadly identify the master's tools that have been "planted deep within each of us" and keep us from bringing about genuine change. I'd suspect that this process will continue throughout my lifetime. But perhaps its time to take a moment to reflect on my thoughts to date. So here are some of the master's tools I've identified in my own life.


For centuries now most of us have been taught that the world is ordered by hierarchy and that dominance over others is the only form of power. It was initially the writings about women's spirituality that opened my eyes to this one - particularly the work of Riane Eisler.

Underneath all the complex and seemingly random currents and crosscurrents, is the struggle between two very different ways of relating, of viewing our world and living in it. It is the struggle between two underlying possibilities for relations: the partnership model and the domination model.

I've written before about how a truly feminist movement could lead the way in understanding a world based on the power of partnership rather than hierarchy and dominance.


The person who brought this one to my attention was Derrick Jensen in his book The Culture of Make Believe when he relayed a conversation he had with a friend about the similarities between hate groups and corporations.

He said, "They're cousins."

I just listened.

"Nobody talks about this," he said, "but they're branches from the same tree, different forms of the same cultural imperative..."

"Which is?"

"To rob the world of its subjectivity."

"Wait - " I said.

"Or to put this another way," he continued, " to turn everyone and everything into objects."

Robbing the world of its subjectivity means removing empathy and our feelings of mutuality. It means creating distance between "us" and "them." It is also what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was referring to when he said this:

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.


While the first two tools I've talked about relate mostly to our relationships with others, this one is rooted in how we see ourselves first - and then how we treat others. It has been nowhere better expressed than by Marianne Williamson (although often attributed to Nelson Mandela).

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Lynne Twist has also written powerfully about the concept of insufficiency/scarcity in her book titled The Soul of Money.

Whether we live in resource-poor circumstances or resource-rich ones, even if we're loaded with more money or goods or everything you could possibly dream of wanting or needing, we live with scarcity as an underlying assumption. It is an unquestioned, sometimes even unspoken, defining condition of life. It is not even that we necessarily experience a lack of something, but that scarcity as a chronic sense of inadequacy about life becomes the very place from which we think and act and live in the world. It shapes our deepest sense of ourselves, and becomes the lens through which we experience life...

This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life, and it is deeply embedded in our relationship with money.

Twist also talks about the antidote...a sense of sufficiency.

We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind-set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don't mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn't two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn't a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn't an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, and a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough...

When we live in the context of sufficiency, we find a natural freedom and integrity. We engage in life from a sense of our own wholeness rather than a desperate longing to be complete...

When we let go of the chase for more, and consciously examine and experience the resources we already have, we discover our resources are deeper than we knew or imagined.

And so now I'll continue my journey to see and understand the master's tools at work in myself. But in the meantime, I'm convinced that if we promoted a sense of partnership, if we recognized our common mutuality, and if we embraced our own adequacy/sufficiency, we'd be well on our way towards the genuine revolutionary change Lorde talked about.


  1. Excellent. I think the transformation of this time is about healing our own pains and thoughts of limitation. When we do that we don't need to change outer conditions in order to feel better. We make the changes because they are right for us and on the path we want to walk.

  2. We've got an uphill battle. I'll tell a quick story. I remember seeing Boy George on tv when I was 6. The first thought when I saw him was "what the hell is wrong with him." I didn't grow up in a Fred Phelps kind of household. My parents were "normal." But they did demonstrate how a man and woman ought to act. This was reinforced outside of the house as well. I renounced sexism a while ago(I know, I should get a medal or at least a happy star). But, there is the problem of the world outside of my mind that's not only sexist but rewards it handsomely. What compounds the problem is that too many women are patriarchs in their thinking(what you said in your blog). I'm not expecting anyone to be Judith Butler(radical philosopher that writes extra long sentences). I remember hearing a woman say that she wouldn't vote for a woman president because she'd be too emotional. We've got a long way to go.

    I've got a few ideas as far as what we can do but that would be a whole new essay by itself. I won't try the reader's patience any more than I already have.