Mass psychological infection
What if we told you that humanity is being driven to the brink of extinction by an illness? That all the poverty, the climate devastation, the perpetual war, and consumption fetishism we see all around us have roots in a mass psychological infection? What if we went on to say that this infection is not just highly communicable but also self-replicating, according to the laws of cultural evolution, and that it remains so clandestine in our psyches that most hosts will, as a condition of their infected state, vehemently deny that they are infected?
Seeing Wetiko: On Capitalism, Mind Viruses, and Antidotes for a World in Transition
Wetiko is an Algonquin word for a cannibalistic spirit that is driven by greed, excess, and selfish consumption (in Ojibwa it is windigo, wintiko in Powhatan). It deludes its host into believing that cannibalizing the life-force of others (others in the broad sense, including animals and other forms of life) is a logical and morally upright way to live. Some have characterized it as a virus of the mind or thought-form virus that has embedded itself in our culture as a meme. And it has been a pervasive influence on our culture since hunter-gatherers became farmers. It certainly influenced European colonialism which spread this meme throughout the planet.
Wetiko short-circuits the individual’s ability to see itself as an enmeshed and interdependent part of a balanced environment and raises the self-serving ego to supremacy. It allows—indeed commands—the infected entity to consume far more than it needs in a blind, murderous daze of self-aggrandizement. Author Paul Levy, in an attempt to find language accessible for Western audiences, describes it as ‘malignant egophrenia’—the ego unchained from reason and limits, acting with the malevolent logic of the cancer cell. We will use the term wetiko as it is the original, and reminds us of the wisdom to be found in Indigenous cultures, for those who have the ears to hear.
So let’s discuss the wetiko nature of modern capitalism. Its insatiable hunger for finite resources; its disregard for the pain of groups and cultures it consumes; its belief in consumption as savior; its overriding obsession with its own material growth; and its viral spread across the surface of the planet. It is wholly accurate to describe neoliberal capitalism as cannibalizing life on this planet. It is not the only truth—capitalism has also facilitated an explosion of human life and ingenuity—but when taken as a whole, capitalism is certainly eating through the life-force of this planet in service of its own growth.
Wetiko’s Prime Directive requires that we increase capital, which allows the mindset that selfishness is rational and rationality is everything; therefore selfishness is everything. This sanctions the exploitation of indigenous people and natural resources.
This dictates that we all prioritize ourselves and maximize our own material wealth. We are pitted against each other in a form of distributed fascism where we cocoon ourselves in the immediate problems of our own circumstances and consume what we can. We then couch this behavior in the benign language of family matters, national interests, job creation, GDP growth, and other upstanding endeavors.
It’s easy to see why the corporate CEO or the banker who generates excess capital receives vast rewards and is labelled ‘productive’ and ‘successful,’ almost regardless of the damage s/he causes. Those who are less ‘successful’ at producing excess capital, meanwhile, are rewarded far less, regardless of the life-affirming good they may be doing. Nurses, mothers, teachers, journalists, activists, scientists—all receive far less reward because they are less efficient at obeying the Prime Directive and may even be countermanding the ‘self-interest’ operating principle. And as for those who are actually poor—well, they are effortlessly labelled as moral failures.
Plato believed that ideas are the ‘eyes of the soul.’ Now that the veils obscuring the wetiko virus are starting to be lifted, let us give birth to, and become, living antigens, embracing the polyculture of ideas that are challenging the monoculture of wetiko capitalism. Let us be pollinators of new memetic hives built on altruism, empathy, inter-connectedness, reverence, communality, and solidarity, defying the subject-object dualities of Cartesian/Newtonian/Enlightenment logic. Let us reclaim our birth right as sovereign entities, free of deluded beliefs in market systems, invisible hands, righteous greed, chosen ones, branded paraphernalia, techno utopianism and even the self-salvation of the New Age. Let us dance with thought-forms through a deeper understanding of ethics, knowing, and being, and the intimate awareness that our individual minds and bodies are a part of the collective battleground for the soul of humanity, and indeed, life on this planet. And let us re-embrace the ancient futures of our Indigenous ancestors that represent the only continuous line of living in symbiosis with Mother Nature. The dissolution of wetiko will be as much about remembering as it will be about creation.
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