In the 1990s an unusual encounter took place in the Ecuadorian Amazon. In plant rituals, shamans of the Achuar, a tribe living in pristine forest that had never been in touch with Western civilization, received the warning that the “white man” would try to invade their lands, cut down the forest and exploit the resources. Deeply shaken, they called out to the Spirits for help.
Soon after white people did approach them, coming to them however with supportive intentions – a group of activists from the United States, searching for ways to protect Indigenous Peoples from the oil industry. The Westerners found a deeply interconnected tribal society living in profound symbiosis with the Earth. Seeing the bulldozers coming closer and closer, they asked the Elders of the tribe how they could survive. Their answer was surprising and straightforward: “Don’t try to help us here. Go back to your own culture and change the dream of the modern world! It is because of this dream that we are perishing.”[i]
This experience gave rise to the Pachamama Alliance, an international educational network dedicated to changing the dream of the Western world.
Disease of the White Man
What is the dream of the Western world? When asked, most young people say: A perfect partner, a beautiful house, successful career, lots of money and travel to exotic places. Amplified a million times a day by Hollywood and the advertisement industry, promoted by parents, self-help gurus, schools and fairytales, this lifestyle became the central motif of our collective longing, the blueprint of globalized society.
Fulfillment became a matter of possession, of how much wealth, fame, power and sex we earned for ourselves. Rewarding people with profit and status for the most competitive and destructive behavior, worshiping the golden calf of maximal economic growth, capitalism has effectively manufactured and then exploited people’s dream image. Humanity’s general ethical decline is the result of this collective corruption.
First Nation tribes from North America coined a term to describe the ‘disease of the white man’ – wetiko. In their understanding, wetiko consists of two essential characteristics: chronic inability for empathy and an egoistic fixation on ones own personal benefit and profit. The First Peoples used this word specifically because they could not fathom any other explanation for the behavior of the European colonialists. While often declared as unchangeable psychological features of humanity, greed, selfishness and violent impulses may in fact not be our “human nature” as many claim, but rather the outcome of our alienation under capitalist conditions.
Marx said, “Social being determines consciousness.”[ii] According to epigenetic research, our genetic programming contains undiesmany different possibilities of existence. Whether wetiko takes holds of our psyche or we become compassionate strongly depends on the social structures we live in. We only consider egoism, hatred and brutality to be “normal” because over the past few thousand years our civilization has been conditioned in this way – basing its economy on war, its social organization on domination and conformity, its religion on punishment, damnation and sin, its education on coercion, its security on the elimination of the supposed enemy, its very image of love on fear of loss.
Exiting the Patriarchal Matrix
Patriarchal conditioning – carried out worldwide, generation after generation, with the most aggressive means – has created a cultural matrix of violence and fear, which at present nearly all of humanity more or less unconsciously follows. This matrix, or more accurately ‘patrix’, steers the global processes of politics and economics in similar ways as people’s interpersonal relationships, families and love lives. As psychoanalyst Dieter Duhm writes, “Automatic, usually unconscious, habits of thinking stand behind our daily misery.”[iii]
Duhm started out as a leading Marxist writer during the anti-imperialist struggles of the 1960s and 70s in Germany, when he asked himself how it could be that billions of people comply with and obey the rules of society without being forced to do so. Shaken by the horrors of the Vietnam War, he needed to find a credible answer for how to overcome the imperialist system causing these atrocities. Working as a psychoanalyst, he faced the same basic structure in all his patients – no matter whether they suffered depression, heartache or schizophrenia – deep-rooted existential fear.
The further he inquired, the more he realized this fear is not only in the “mentally ill,” but also appears in the “sane” as fear of what others could think of them, as speech anxiety, as fear of authorities and institutions, fear before and after intercourse, fear of the future, of getting sick and so on. “This inconspicuous, socially omnipresent and ‘normal,’ fear is neurotic,” he writes. “Fear is not only the product of capitalism, but part of its foundation, an element without which this entire system would collapse.”[iv]
A New Matrix of Trust
For Duhm, the consequence was clear: If we want to escape from the wetiko disease of our current capitalist culture, we need a credible concept for a new nonviolent global society and for transforming the old matrix of fear and violence into a new matrix of trust, compassion and cooperation. Healing wetiko would be nothing short of reinventing our entire civilization and basing human existence on new social, ethical, spiritual and sexual foundations allowing profound trust between people as well as between humans and animals.
In 1978 Duhm started out with a group of people to engage in an interdisciplinary research project for social and ecological sustainability to develop precisely such a concept. Having witnessed the failure of countless communes in the 1970s, most due to unresolved interpersonal conflicts around money, power and sex (i.e. the inability of the groups to resolve wetiko among one another), the project focused its cultural experiment on creating new social structures able to resolve the psychological substratum of fear.
They knew the answer could not be found in therapies, spiritual exercises and rituals alone, as helpful and healing as they may be – but that a whole new way of communitarian coexistence would have to be developed, from which one would no longer need to retreat in order to become human. Rather, it would be designed in a way that would foster compassion, solidarity and cooperation.
The development of such a society would need to begin with initial models researching its basic structures and demonstrating its viability. Thereby, an adventurous research project began, establishing functioning communities of trust. The deeper they went the more they realized they needed to work on all basic areas of human existence: starting with the intimate questions of sexuality, love and partnership, questions of raising children, coexistence with animals, self-sufficiency in water, energy and food systems. From this experiment, the peace research center, Tamera, came into life along with the vision of creating “Healing Biotopes” as catalysts for planetary system change.
For much of the last million years, human beings have lived in communities; in fact, the era in which we have not is only a tiny fraction in the entirety of human history. In order to subjugate people under their systems of dominance, patriarchal rulers systematically destroyed tribal communities, thereby inflicting a profound collective trauma onto humanity.
Humanity thereby lost its spiritual, social and ethical anchor, drifting off in a self-destructive frenzy of atomization, self-interest and othering. As we are reaching the pinnacle of a culture of global wetiko, the last throes of late-stage capitalism, healing our collective trauma, re-establishing functioning communities based on trust, and making our human existence compatible with the biosphere and nature again, may well be our only opportunity to secure ourselves and our children a future worth living on Spaceship Earth.
Feature Image: Mural at Ramona Gardens, featuring a portrayal of Toypurina, made by Raul Gonzalez, Joseph Montalvo, and Ricardo Estrada.