Meet The Mind-Virus: Wetiko

11 min readJun 17, 2024


Photo by Luis Domenech on Unsplash

It all started with writing post after post on how the “energy transition” is nothing but a fairy tale we tell ourselves to avoid facing reality; and how we need a psychological transition into adulthood — not a material one into oblivion. Then an entirely new branch of the rabbit hole has been opened up for me as I discovered the work of psychiatrist, neuroscience researcher and philosopher Iain McGilchrist; through the work of whom I could finally put an odd piece of the puzzle into place. I’ve been reading about wetiko on Erik Michaels’ blog for some time now, but so far I could not find the words to explain it. After hearing McGilchrist’s talk about our civilizational malaise, however, it suddenly all started to make sense… The predicaments we face today have much deeper roots, it seems, than what could be explained away with ‘capitalism bad’ or ‘fossil fuels bad’.

In a nutshell, and as a quick recap, McGilchrist discovered how our brain’s left hemisphere — originally the emissary of the right — went into overdrive, took over and turned our societies upside down and inside out. How it waged, and continues to wage, war on life itself, and how it over-complicated how we do things from science to everyday life; turning the world it sought to govern into a Kafkaesque nightmare. Driven by the left’s quenchless thirst for abstraction, everything in our infinitely complex, living and animated world has been slowly turned into a set of inanimate polygons, signs, trend-lines and numbers. A static map, which our “civilized” brains now increasingly confuse with reality.

Needless to say such a dreary world — devoid of mystery, meaning and context — is not a terribly inviting one to live in; in fact it’s quite a horrifying one. Is it any wonder then that people try to escape it by indulging in shopping, social media, computer games, drinking or other forms of substance use…? Or that said substances are made increasingly legal to facilitate the process? Something is sorely amiss with our societies — especially in the West. Is it possible then that this ever growing imbalance between the two hemispheres has led not only to a mental but also a spiritual disease, something plaguing us since the time of ancient civilizations?

Let’s start from perhaps a somewhat odd perspective: the role capitalism and colonialism played in these unfolding series of events. (And no, not from the ‘money can’t buy you happiness’ viewpoint.) I’m talking about one of the core concepts behind these systems of wealth extraction, setting off the chain of events with the establishment of commodity markets. The idea itself, of course, is nothing new: a crude early form of such an exchange had its origins in Mesopotamia, between 4500 BC and 4000 BC. Sumerians first used clay tokens sealed in a clay vessel, then clay writing tablets to represent the amount of goods (for example, the number of goats) to be delivered, in lieu of presenting the actual merchandise itself. These promises of time and date of delivery eerily resembled what us, “modern” humans, would call a “futures contract” six millennia later.

The important element to grasp here is the act of abstraction — ripping something (a herd of goats or a bushel of grain) out of its context. Destroying its qualities, its origin, its history, the way it was grown, the place it belonged to and so on, and replacing an infinitely complex living creature with a few symbols on a clay tablet, a few scribbles on a piece of paper, or more recently: with bits and bytes. The goat, the bushel of grain, or the sack of flour is thus turned into a mere number with no smell, taste or any emotion attached to it. Just as the left hemisphere likes to think of things: simplified, inanimate, abstract. You know: signs and numbers.

Fast forward into the 16th century AD. As we have seen there was nothing new in the act of creating and trading with commodities. Systems were long in place for colonization to begin, even banks and financing have been with us since the Babylonians. The process, however, was turbocharged by the discovery of the Americas. Goods (commodities) have started to flow into Europe like never before, all there was to do is to hide the pain and suffering caused by harvesting them. The blood staining Aztec jewelry was thus purposefully washed away as the intricate pieces of metalwork were melted and shaped into uniform gold coins and ingots. The sweat and tears of slaves working on plantations were erased from memory as soon as the sugar and cotton they produced was poured into uniform sacks. Just like in Babylon six millennia before, everything robbed and extracted from the “New World” has been turned into neat little units of goods without any prior history.

The same process of forced separation and destruction of context has unfolded during the creation of plantations. Plant species, like sugarcane, were uprooted from their original habitats — together with slaves of African origin — and were placed into a sterilized environment stripped from their original inhabitants. There, they had no choice but to perform their task: yield a profit at minimal investment costs. The same process was repeated time after time: exploration, killing the inhabitants of the land, establishing a plantation or extracting a finite reserve of minerals, then moving on to the next great opportunity. Kill, destroy, replace, reap. Rinse and repeat. As one would expect, such a “successful” recipe couldn’t result in anything but exponential growth. It was just way too profitable to keep on plundering the planet, depleting one finite resource after the other. Land. Coal. Oil. Copper. Lithium. Limits be damned.

All this could have been only achieved in a rapacious state of mind. Should the arriving conquistadors had a more wholesome way of thinking, making them capable to see themselves as integral parts of a much bigger whole — the web of life — it would have been impossible for them to wreak such havoc on the Americas. The civilizational psychosis they brought along, called wetiko (‘an evil cannibalistic spirit’) by indigenous folks, however, has made them oblivious to their own madness, and compelled them to act even against their own best interests. This mental illness made them look at the world through a lens of separation and otherness; it is not themselves they were hurting, after all, but others: the unruly savages, who do not “deserve” the bounty they “possess”.

“Wetiko is a cannibalizing force driven by insatiable greed, appetite without satisfaction, consumption as an end in itself, and war for its own sake, against other tribes, species, and nature, and even against the individual’s own humanity.” — Paul Levy, author of Wetiko: Healing the Mind-Virus That Plagues Our World

This behavior is very much rooted in a tilted mental balance, a state in which one is unable to weigh the consequences of his deeds, or feel compassion to his victims. In this sense, one can argue, wetiko is not “just a spiritual entity”, but a very much real psychiatric condition. Using McGilchrist’s terminology: for such an increasingly delusional, left hemisphere dominated mind everything turns into just another inanimate object: be it a beautiful 5000 year old tree, or a rich indigenous culture. Something which stands in the way of getting from point A to point B on the map (or standing in-between the selfish individual and the reward).

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that in such a mental state everything gets eventually reduced to a commodity or a resource to be extracted then discarded, following the ages old recipe of turning living things and Earth’s minerals into numbers. Wood. Grain. Gold. Even humans themselves. If that reminds you how corporate CEO-s think nowadays, then you are not alone. Human resources, raw materials, inputs and outputs, revenues and profit all lose their origin; masked by supply chains and deep hierarchies spanning six continents. All that matters, are the numbers on the balance sheet. Alone.

According to this world view everything stands apart from every other thing, and removing one building block could not possibly have a negative side effect. Every information gets boxed into a neat package of knowledge, labelled then stored in a vast, dusty warehouse of objects. Everything is separate, and thus separable. This is how modern science was born: by separating objects and trying to describe the “laws” these objects obey. Think: Newton and his laws of motion. The deeper we went however — ultimately splitting protons and neutrons to their constituent quarks and gluons — everything started to lose meaning; until we have reached a point where not even physicists can tell for sure what matter actually is.

It is thus not hard to see, how we got from first level abstractions (clay tablets representing a herd of goats) to markets, then to further abstractions like money, laws, property rights; then abstractions of abstractions (stocks, bonds, derivatives) only to arrive at today’s infinitely complex world called a globalized world economy — an abstraction of an abstraction of an abstraction. A map vaguely resembling the terrain, devoid of complexity or interdependencies, let alone nuisances like resource depletion, accumulating pollution and ecosystem degradation.

“Yes, the planet got destroyed, but for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.”

Tom Toro

As I said before, the culture and social technologies (money, markets, finance — all based on creating abstractions) were already in place, well before Columbus set sail. Wetiko has been already ruling supreme in medieval Europe — all it needed was a fertile ground to fulfill its destiny. The ‘evil cannibalistic spirit’ too has been with us since the dawn of civilization. It has appeared in many sacred texts, and warnings were aplenty of the dangers it meant to society. It has appeared then resided as civilizations rose and collapsed. There were also lengthy periods, covering the lifetime of entire cultures (like that of Çatalhöyük), where there was no archeological evidence for exploitation, central governments, war and all what comes with it. Even the ‘Dark Ages’ weren’t as dark as we thought. These times were just erased from memory, especially during the recent outbreak of the mind-virus.

Wetiko has become so widespread, and its roots go so deep in our culture (dating back to at least 4000 BCE in Mesopotamia), that it goes largely undetected. Such over-abstracting alienating and ultimately self-destructing behavior has become normal. We have become fully indoctrinated to treat it as such, and only now, at the tail end of the Colombian age, is when we realize how deeply infected as a society we have become. It is only now that at least some of us realize — despite the many warnings given by indigenous speakers — that this mindset is destroying the world, and none of the “revolutions” were truly aimed to change that.

Colonizing nations and their allies are responsible for 92% of the world’s excess carbon dioxide emissions and 74% of excess material use. It’s clear that the current ecological crisis is the responsibility of industrialised economies in general and the mindset running them in particular. In this sense “net zero” is but a last ditch attempt to maintain this unhealthy imbalance in power, and ultimately the rule of western corporate interests. Much of the wars around the globe today are a manifestation of this struggle for resources, or who gets to control the last batch of metals and fossil fuels. Materials, needed for the much vaunted “energy transition” — which never was.

Wetiko, however, has made us blind to the futility of the entire enterprise, together with the systemic feedback loops operating in the background. Just because our ruling caste confuses the map it uses (based on GDP and separate entities) with the terrain, reality will not give a damn. It really does not matter how one believes in “renewables”, when below a certain energy return on investment our oil based energy system starts to cannibalize itself. And this is exactly what is happening as we speak. We are about to hit an invisible rubber ceiling around 2025 in terms of how much net energy we can obtain by extracting petroleum. The Recalibration23 study, EROEI calculations (Delannoy et al. 2021), oil and gas investment patterns, not to mention estimates of a peak and fall in shale oil output, all indicate that we are just a year away from a brief plateau, and an ever accelerating decline of a net energy output from liquid hydrocarbons. This does not mean, that oil production en masse will peak and fall one year from now — it might be growing for a couple of more years — but it will do so by cannibalizing an increasing amount of other forms of energy, including “renewables”.

We should not be surprised then, that the system we have built will eventually turn on its population, as its resource base and energy supply wanes. Numbers are numbers, and they have to be met. At all costs. As long as everything, from raw material to labor, could have been extracted far away from the “bastions of democracy” at a decent profit, people at home were allowed to be free, but only as far as not to hurt business interests. As resources are growing thinner and thinner, yielding less and less profits, however, the system driven by an ‘evil cannibalistic spirit’ will start to show its real face.

Modern “democracies” across the planet have already started to morph into soft or inverted totalitarian states: a political arrangement in which corporations exert a subtle but substantial power over a system that superficially seems democratic. Think: corporate CEOs and billionaires nominated to government roles, campaign donors writing laws, politicians ending up in cushy jobs in a corporate funded think tank or among their board of managers. A complete take-over of the media and the civic discourse. Shutting down dissent and labeling everything but the mainstream narrative dangerous “misinformation”.

Freedom and democracy proved to be nothing but a brief anomaly in this inherently inhumane system arching back to the emergence of the first empires.

This is how the circle of destruction closes on itself: the snake bites its own tale. Just as it was explained in many indigenous stories, sacred texts, and re-discovered by modern scholars: history moves along in cycles. The most recent one, starting with the voyage of Columbus is approaching its end, as it burned through the resources of the Western hemisphere, then colonized much of the East. Driven by a rapacious spirit, wetiko — itself an offspring of a brain out of kilter — the cannibalizing force has finally turned against the modern societies it helped create.

I don’t think there is time left to save, or at least alter the course of this civilization. It just grew too big, too fast — obeying the maximum power principle — and now it’s approaching (and surpassing) its natural apex by its sheer momentum. Large civilizations, don’t crash and burn in a day though. They go through a multiple decade (if not a century) long decline, as people try to adapt and slow down the fall. It’s an ignominious end, I know, but if we manage to get through this coming long and winding road back to a much simpler life without setting the nuclear demons free, those coming out on the other side of the bottleneck might get another chance to start anew. This time, perhaps, without wetiko.

Until next time,


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