Albert Bates: On “wetiko” and peak civilization

If you haven’t heard the term “wetiko” yet, it will carve out a space in your mind to mirror the dark hole of separation from natural systems that is currently infecting our so-called civilization. If you’re like me, then being able to name things, to call them out for what they really are, keeps me sane. On the other hand, I need to watch my own tendency to thereby crystallize or direct a dynamically evolving process into stuckness of one kind or other, just by giving it a name! For example, with any bodily condition, why let the medical industrial complex name it?  To do so is to invite in Big Pharma at the very least, and possibly hospitals, surgery, and so on. No thank you! So this business of how our language not only mirrors but shapes reality is tricky and we need to stay awake to how we are so often fooled in one way or another.

 

Wetiko

March 19, 2017

by Albert Bates

peaksurfer.blogspot.com

Coming to Los Angeles we had the sensation of slipping into a cultural fogbank. We could not say whether we were actually being bombarded by messages from microwave ovens or watched by cameras concealed in television screens, but the sense was that we had departed from reality.

Frankly we consider ourselves a citizen of the world and find it discomforting to experience provincialism whether upon re-entry to the United States or having conversations in some distant back country hostel. We are not speaking of localization or bioregionalism — all well and good. Rather, what we encountered in Los Angeles was the absence of a fact-grounded worldview across a broad spectrum of the population. Had we been gone that long?

The media has cannibalized the minds of millions — drawing their mental attention toward the issues that are bounced around in these information echo chambers and syphoning it away from the deep, systemic threats humanity is now confronted with. The Algonquin Tribe of North America has a name for this phenomenon; they call it Wetiko. It is a mind virus that endlessly consumes the life energies of people (in this case, the emotional energy given to feed this media monster) while neglecting the life-supports that would heal and protect the living things of this world.

We are blessed to be able to be with a diverse cross-section of people who truly get the big picture, to and to have exchanges and strategy sessions in beautiful centers like London, Paris, Marrakech and Tulum. We offset that travel and our other activity with our personal forest, bamboo groves, and keylined biochar tea applications.  We recognize not everyone can have that luxury so we enter into these conversations with humility, gratitude and purpose. Whatever we take away we apply immediately, directly and with good effect.

Fog moves in over the Pacific, Malibu, March 2017

In Los Angeles we experienced that many people are uninformed about climate change, the Deep State, or even elemental biophysical economics. Moreover, most people we encountered did not want to know. This is not something that more education, a trending app or a blockbuster film will fix. Even if they were engaged in admirable pursuits like provisioning food kitchens in the massive and growing tent cities of the homeless, or seeding green rooftops, verges and balconies that might contribute some of that much-needed food, they were, in other profound ways, making the more overarching problems far worse in ways they were blissfully ignorant of. Here we use ignorant at its root — willfully ignoring. The wetiko mind virus had infected them.

And for us, this perception cut to the quick of who we are and what we do. Do we really want to spend our life saving places like Los Angeles? It isn’t merely that they may be undeserving of salvation, although they may. It is that most of their inhabitants, even the well-intentioned, are actively pursuing an agenda that is antithetical to survival. They are the drowning swimmer who tries to drown the rescuing lifeguard.

The severance of a society from reality, as ours has been severed from collective recognition of the severity of climate change and the fatal consequences of empire and deindustrialization, leaves it without the intellectual and institutional mechanisms to confront its impending mortality. It exists in a state of self-induced hypnosis and self-delusion. It seeks momentary euphoria and meaning in tawdry entertainment and acts of violence and destruction, including against people who are demonized and blamed for society’s demise. It hastens its self-immolation while holding up the supposed inevitability of a glorious national resurgence. Idiots and charlatans, the handmaidens of death, lure us into the abyss.

— Chris Hedges, The Dance of Death 
Low Income Housing, Los Angeles

When we began this series we posted a chapter called “Three Pillars” that used some new terms coined by Naffiz Ahmed to describe civilization’s plight. In his lecture at the Global Sustainability Institute of Anglia Ruskin University that subsequently became a full throated exposé of the Deep State, published on February 10, 2017, Ahmed made the salient point that what is playing out in the Trump presidency is a battle of world views, with no possible winner.

Neither side truly understands that they both remain locked into the old, dying industrial neoliberal paradigm. That both the conventional Republican and Democrat strategies have failed. And that if they continue to ignore and overlook the reality of the global systemic crisis and its escalating symptoms, they will both become increasingly disrupted and irrelevant to large sectors of the American population.

In that scenario, politics will become increasingly polarized, not less so. Republicans will seek to shore up their white nationalist support base while Democrats will continue to lose credibility as a genuine critical voice due to their establishment myopia.

Ahmed says that ultimately this will lead to even more violence:

Both pro- and anti-Trump factions of the Deep State are in denial of the fact that this escalating crisis is due, fundamentally, to the global net energy decline of the world’s fossil fuel resource base.

In a time of fundamental systemic crisis, the existing bedrock of norms and values a group normally holds onto maybe shaken to the core. This can lead a group to attempt to reconstruct a new set of norms and values — but if the group doesn’t understand the systemic crisis, the new construct, if it diagnoses the crisis incorrectly, can end up blaming the wrong issues, leading to Otherization.

***

For every degree to which Trump upscales aggression, America’s real national security will be downgraded. And like any good despot, Trump’s failures will become food for his own propaganda, to be conveniently blamed on the myriad of Others who, in the small minds of the Trump faction, are preventing America from becoming ‘great again.’

Erebus Wong, Lau Kin Chi, Sit Tsui and Wen Tiejun, writing for the independent socialist Monthly Review,  observe that China’s industrial strength comes not from the sprinkling of some magic fairy dust or the discovery of oil superfields but from the inherent power of rural farmers grounded in nature. The Chinese countryside, they note, “has become the source of a vast ‘labor reserve,’ allowing the state to rely on sannong—the so-called ‘three rurals’ of peasants, villages, and agriculture — as the foundation of China’s turbulent but continuous modernization over the last sixty years.”

Brickwork on million-dollar Malibu home

Chinese rural society has been able to absorb the risks of this modernization because of the strength of its relation to nature, an advantage that has never been adequately acknowledged. Chinese agricultural society has been formed on the basis of common needs, such as irrigation and disaster prevention. This interdependence creates a collective rationality, with community, rather than the individual peasant or family, as the basic unit in the distribution and sharing of social resources. This focus on collective needs runs directly counter to the Western emphasis on individual interests. Over thousands of years, Chinese agricultural society has become organically integrated with the diversity of nature, giving rise to an endogenous religion of polytheism. As it plans and promotes its vision of sustainable development and peaceful trade, China should look inward, to these age-old social structures, as a guide to the future.

What the authors describe as “collective rationality” is actually a description of the rationality of natural systems. Rural peoples live within, and allied with, those rational patterns. When we visited Los Angeles, what we were seeing was not so much a collective neurosis as a collective separation from underlying rationality.

Sure, there are elements of earth-restoration, ecocity design and city repair within Los Angeles, but even those seemed to us largely divorced from the realization that the city’s food comes from fossil energy, not deepening soil, the city’s water comes from disappearing aquifers and vanishing snow melt, and that the fracked gas that heats their buildings and lights their streets is upsetting the balance of nature upon which those other things depend.

Rescuing Angelinos, or any megalopolis inhabitants (the Chinese included) from their almost certain fate will be a serious challenge, and one we will explore in our continuing installments in this series.

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This post is part of an ongoing series we’re calling The Power Zone Manifesto. We post to The Great Change on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page.

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