Just as South Africans are ambivalent about Jan van Riebeeck, so Christopher Columbus is an enigma for America. For some, both are heroic explorers who brought civilisation to benighted continents. But for the native inhabitants of Africa and America these “civilisations” also brought a form of disease that turned us into cannibals. That is the theory of the late Jack D. Forbes, former professor of Native American Studies of the University of California at Davis.
In his book, “Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism and Terrorism”, Forbes argued that Europeans brought a mind virus which Native Americans already knew and had named “Wétiko”.
Those infected by Wétiko manifest attitudes where, “Brutality knows no boundaries, Greed knows no limits. Perversion knows no borders. Arrogance knows no frontiers. Deceit knows no edges.” It is the opposite of what Africans call Ubuntu. In Xhosa it is Umoya omdaka (Bad spirits).
As one who doesn’t believe in the reality of a physical being called Satan, or in evil spirits, I find the notion of a mind virus intriguing. Even more so when I read the work of Paul Levy who builds on Forbes’ work in his book “Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the curse of evil.” (2013). Drawing his insights from Jungian psychology, shamanism, alchemy, spiritual wisdom traditions, and personal experience at the hands of traditional psychiatry, Levy shows that hidden within the venom of wetiko is its own antidote, which once recognised can help us wake up and bring sanity back to our society.
Levy translates wetiko as “malignant egophrenia” (ME). The acronym “me” is not coincidental because the disease causes psychic vision to focus on “me” rather than on the needs of anyone else. This is not mere narcissism or self absorption either. Malignant egophrenia is the disease of industrial civilisation, an economic, political, and social arrangement which requires violence to maintain itself. Every inhabitant of industrial civilisation is infected with the ME disease, but Levy notes that “full blown” Wetikos “are not in touch with their own humanity and therefore can’t see the humanity in others.”
The disease propagates through the ego’s self preservation system which projects its own darkness onto others and then destroys them with sexism, racism, xenophobia, tribalism… the list is endless. And while it is important to name evil as it manifests, its eradication begins with ourselves. We need to become intimately acquainted with our own shadow and the difference between what Jung called the daemon (guardian angel or muse) in us and the demon.
“The daemonic,” says Levy, “is the urge in every human being to affirm itself, assert itself, and perpetuate itself; it is the voice of the generative process within an individual.” Loving our creativity and nurturing it is an enormous asset in transforming both internal and external darkness. But our fears of imagined threats from others stifle us from allowing the daemon to lead us and instead we become the demons of destruction in the lives of others.