By Michael Goldstein
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By Sarah Fenske
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By LA Weekly
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At this point, Loye passes through the room, and Eisler asks, "Darling, could you make me a cup of tea with lemon?" He cheerfully trots off to prepare her tea. "We are so blessed to have found each other," she says of Loye, a noted scholar in his own right who devotes much of his energy to facilitating her work.
"Legislation plays a huge role in changing the collective consciousness, and changes in legislatures can't happen without campaign-finance reform," continues Eisler, who plans to write a book on economics after completing her current project, Human Possibilities, which she describes as her theory book. "Mass marketing through television has made the electoral process extremely dysfunctional. However, I don't blame capitalism. Feudalism was worse. Still, we don't have free enterprise when we're living under the influence of five mega-corporations, all with the same agenda. We haven't seen this kind of centralized control since the church in the Middle Ages, and the people running those corporations are so difficult to get to it's as if they're hermetically sealed.
"So, you try to find the people within the organization who are amenable to change, and make them understand they're in a first-class cabin on a sinking ship. I haven't had a conventional job for more than 30 years," adds Eisler, who devotes a chapter of her new book to office politics, "but I know there are partnership-oriented companies that are thriving. Companies where people get fired for being abusive, that offer good health care, and encourage people to work sensible hours and take vacations -- there's a strong grassroots movement in this direction."
At this point Loye returns with Eisler's tea, along with a cup of coffee he'd previously promised me, and Eisler furrows her brow. "We don't drink coffee in this room," she declares. "I'm very peculiar. I can't afford to replace these rugs, so we'll have coffee in the kitchen. Neatness is very important to me. I have to have an aesthetic environment, especially because of all the ugliness I saw."
WE REPAIR TO THE KITCHEN, WHERE the story of Eisler's life begins to unfold. Born in Vienna in 1931, Eisler, along with her family, left Europe in 1939, shortly after Kristallnacht. She has vivid memories of her father being roughed up by the Gestapo, and has wrestled with intense feelings of fear ever since. Fleeing to Cuba, Eisler and her parents spent seven years there under the Batista regime.
"We'd lost everything, and we landed in a cockroach-infested tenement. The Nazis had whipped up an enormous wave of anti-Semitism in Cuba, and I looked like I didn't belong, so I was terrified of the local street children," recalls Eisler, who clearly has her own reasons for needing to believe the world can be brought to order.
Eisler's family was admitted to the United States in 1946, and bounced from Miami to New York to Chicago before putting down roots in Los Angeles. "We lived near Hancock Park, and my father went into the building business. My mother worked with him, but of course he got all the credit," she says. "My parents didn't have an equal partnership, and my mother simultaneously chafed against her position and submitted to it. I didn't respect the way my father treated her, yet I adored my father, who was a charming man and something of a womanizer. In a male-dominated culture, it's enormously important for a woman to be liked by her father -- it's much more important than having the mother's approval, because of the male-dominated nature of the culture.
"I was 14 when my family arrived in Los Angeles, and at that point I lost a lot of my ambition because I began to see how cultures work. Everything I studied was about men, by men, for men -- it never occurred to me to challenge that, however, because my main ambition then was to belong," says Eisler, who lived with her parents during her first two years of college, then left home in 1951 for a year at UC Berkeley.
"It was my first time away from home, and I went a little wild," recalls Eisler, who contracted mononucleosis several months later and returned to L.A. to recover. She graduated with a B.A. in sociology, started law school in 1952, and the following year met computer scientist George Eisler, whom she married in 1953. Law school was put on the back burner when she and her husband moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she took a job as a social worker. Several months later, the couple left the country to spend a year in Europe and Israel.
"Judaism wasn't central to the house I grew up in, but I am a Jew, and Israel was the first place I'd ever been that I didn't feel like an outsider," she recalls. "I started to learn about Judaism, and during those years I read everything I could about the Holocaust."
The couple returned to America in 1956, and Eisler took a job with Systems Development Corp., which was a division of the Rand Corp. "By that point my marriage wasn't working, but being an alienated homemaker in the '50s was important in my development," says Eisler, who gave birth to her first daughter in 1959, and a second in 1961. By the late '50s she was sinking into a depression, and she spent several years in Freudian analysis, which she describes as "a complete waste of time. Freud made some tremendous contributions, but he also made huge mistakes, and his whole view of the human psyche is just a rehash of original sin. The poor man was stuck in the very religious mythology he dismissed as ancient superstition!"
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