Seeing Wetiko

On Capitalism, mind viruses, and antidotes for a world in transition.


| Winter 2016



Greed

It was, after all, European projects—from the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution, to colonialism, imperialism, and slavery—that developed the technology that opened up the channels that facilitated the spread of wetiko culture all around the world.

Photo by Casey Hugelfink/Flickr

It’s delicate confronting these priests of the golden bull
They preach from the pulpit of the bottom line
Their minds rustle with million dollar bills
You say Silver burns a hole in your pocket
And Gold burns a hole in your soul
Well, uranium burns a hole in forever
It just gets out of control.
– Buffy Sainte-Marie, “The Priests of the Golden Bull”

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? What if we then told you that this ‘mind virus’ can be described as a form of cannibalism. Yes, cannibalism. Not necessarily in the literal flesh-eating sense but rather the idea of consuming others—human and non-human—as a means of securing personal wealth and supremacy.

You may dismiss this line of thinking as New Age woo-woo or, worse, a lefty conspiracy theory. But this approach of viewing the transmission of ideas as a key determinant of the emergent reality is increasingly validated by various branches of science, including evolutionary theory, quantum physics, cognitive linguistics, and epigenetics.

The history of this infection is long, strange, and dark. But it leads to hope.

Viruses of the Mind

The New World fell not to a sword but to a meme.
~ Daniel Quinn

One of the most well-accepted scientific theories that helps explain the power of idea-spreading is memetics.