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Indybay Feature

The selfishness virus

by Leila Christa Dregger
Wétiko could be cured. The afflicted man was given warmth, contact and enough to eat; he was given services to the sick and the elderly and to be with children, always in the midst of the community. And at some point he knew again what life was about and who he actually was: part of a social fabric, child of the earth.
The selfishness virus

The term "wétiko" refers to the disease of insatiable greed among North American Indians and can be cured.

The Canadian Cree Indians use the word Wétiko to describe the disease of the "white man": greed, hunger for power, lack of compassion, as well as the inability to think for the next generations. Philosophers and indigenous people from different cultures propose cures. Paul Levy's book "Wétiko" was published in German by Neue Erde in March.

by Leila Christa Dregger

[This article posted on 5/11/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.manova.news/artikel/das-egoismus-virus.]

The Cree in the north of Turtle Island - today's USA - knew a rare abnormality: After long winters of hunger, it could happen that a person developed an insatiable greed. He then did not care about the welfare of others; he no longer felt primarily part of the tribe, but separate. Whatever edible he found: he took it without asking. Even at the expense of others. Yes, there were even cases of greed for human flesh. For the Cree, this was such extraordinary behavior that they believed an evil spirit was terrorizing man and making his soul sick. They called him Wétiko.

Wétiko could be cured. The afflicted man was given warmth, contact and enough to eat; he was given services to the sick and the elderly and to be with children, always in the midst of the community. And at some point he knew again what life was about and who he actually was: part of a social fabric, child of the earth.

When the Cree encountered the first white people - hunters and fur trappers, later traders and missionaries in the vastness of Canada - they had to think of the Wétiko disease:

All these strange, clumsy people seemed to be afflicted with it! They behaved as if they were separated from each other and from Mother Earth. Everyone wanted as much as possible for themselves.

They were able to hurt others without feeling their pain. And the earth itself, brother animal and sister plant treated them like soulless things, leaving a trail of destruction and violence. What kind of people were they? Did they have a soul at all? Were they perhaps outcast Wétiko infestations of an alien tribe?

Soon the Cree were to be taught a tragic lesson: What was considered a disease among them was normal among the whites. Their whole society was based on greed, selfishness, competitiveness, lies and fear of each other. Wétiko proved to be a highly contagious epidemic. Even the Cree and other primitive peoples could not protect themselves from it in the long run. Marginalized, they were faced with a decision after a few decades: adapt or perish.

Native American historian and writer Jack D. Forbes seized on the word Wétiko to analyze today's mainstream culture:

"Modern man cares little for the suffering, exploitation and extinction his consumption inflicts on so many beings. This is true cannibalism: the exploitation of the earth, of living beings, and also of people and their homes."

That's certainly one way to look at it: As part of our modern world, we are all carriers of the Wétiko virus. Whether we like it or not, whether we even notice it or not, it determines not only our own actions and thinking, but the actions and thinking of all members and institutions of modern society. We carry it with us like a shadow - until we turn the light of our consciousness on it.

Whether in business, education, or health, despite knowing better, we promote stress, fear, competition, and separation. Empathy and compassion are trained away. Under the influence of Wétiko, we permanently act against our own vital interests, against future generations and against the Earth. At its core, wétiko is the absence of connectedness. Wétiko basically means separation: we no longer feel the suffering or joy of fellow human beings.

Wétiko in everyday life

Easy to identify is the virus with money. Healthy economic activity would always be aimed at balance and profit for all. Not so the monetary system. Money apparently opens the door to everything we desire. Logically, we desire enough of it. But there is no enough in the money and interest system, only an always-more. Thus was born an economy that must always grow. "Only when the last tree is cleared, the last river poisoned, the last fish caught, will people realize that money cannot be eaten." This is Wétiko.

It is as if humanity has forgotten that it belongs to a whole. But what happens to an organism whose organs fight with each other?

Where lungs, heart, kidney and brain rob each other of oxygen or withhold messengers to gain advantage for themselves? He is dying. This is the threat, these are the deep causes of environmental and climate crisis. Forbes wrote:

"Wétiko's actions have come to such a head that its environmental and social consequences threaten life on Earth itself. Our greed for wealth, power, advantage is destroying our home planet."

Is there a cure?

Author Paul Levy writes in his book "Wétiko":

"Each of us can put up barriers of defense, strengthen our psychological immune system to avoid being infected by selfishness."

Our psychological immune system, Lévy says, is based on conscious awareness. His advice: recognize wétiko, understand and overcome its logic, and rediscover our innate capacity for life without wétiko.

Wétiko in medicine

Real healing is always holistic and involves the environment that made us sick. But in the Wétiko health system, it is different: when body or soul become ill due to Wétiko loneliness or stress, we go to the doctor or therapist, get treated and - return to our lives. And thus back to the very environment that made us sick: This is also Wétiko.

People with living indigenous roots can offer orientation there. Ladonna Bravebull Allard, a Lakota ambassador from the Standing Rock reservation:

"As Indigenous people, we understand that there is a connection between us and the earth and everything that surrounds us. We have an obligation to remind others how precious water is and that the fire and air we breathe are needed for us to live on the earth. Therefore, we must respect them, honor them and care for them."

For Tiokasin Ghosthorse, a member of the Dakota River Nation, Wétiko therapy is about becoming aware of our language:

"By respecting indigenous cultures again, we get to know the 'original instructions' again. Lakota is not just a language, it is a concept of thought focused on unity and connectedness. The Lakota language has no nouns, only verbs. Things are an activity. Instead of tree, we say: that which trees. In this way, the world with all its objects becomes very alive and aware. There is no 'I' or 'mine' in Lakota - because we are not separate individuals, but part of the whole. The earth is not 'our' mother in Lakota either - she is mother, and that is also doing."

Wétiko in School

Every person has an inner curriculum. Every child wants to learn and can learn if he or she is excited about something or the teacher. Free learning uses curiosity, desire and enthusiasm. But in the Wétiko school system it is different. There, one must learn at the time and in the way that an external plan dictates. Learning happens under the pressure of stress, anxiety, and competitiveness: again, Wétiko.

Meanwhile, entire countries have tried to change their strategy: "Buen Vivir" (Spanish for "good life"), for example, has been enshrined in the constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia. It is the traditional concept of life from the Andes, based on indigenous values and experiences and adapted to modern conditions. It includes community work, sustainable agriculture, barter, and a philosophy of unity. Another example is Gross National Happiness (BNG), which is more important to the Kingdom of Bhutan in Asia as a measure of success than gross national product.

There is certainly a long way to go before Wétiko-free thinking takes hold in major economies as well. But in many remote places, indigenous consciousness is having a healing effect that is also having an impact on us.

Ati Quigua, a leader of the Arhuaco tribe of northern Colombia, begins every meeting with this prayer:

"We are one with the water, with the earth, with the air, with the sun, with the thoughts, with the heart, with the mind, with the body. We are one with the plants, the animals, the minerals, and the diversity of humanity."

This mantra, thought or spoken several times a day, is an effective cure for the Wétiko virus.

Editorial note: This article first appeared under the title "Wétiko - the white man's selfishness epidemic and its cure" in the Zeitpunkt.


Leila Christa Dregger is a journalist and book author on the topics of peace, men and women, and ecology. She lives largely in the healing biotope 1 Tamera in Portugal. Currently she is building a network and an internet platform for Terra Nova thoughts. If you would like to participate or learn more about it, please contact leila.dregger [at] tamera.org
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