Seeing Wetiko: An interview with Alnoor Ladha

From Gaia Foundation: Alnoor Ladha, a founding member of the activist platform The Rules, which tries to “connect the dots between the various issues that are happening in the world to reveal the underlying antagonist: the economic operating system itself.” Here, he speaks on culture, technology and the cannibalistic economic system consuming life on Earth.

Gaia Foundation

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work with The Rules?

We (The Rules) try to connect the dots between the various issues that are happening in the world to reveal the underlying antagonist: the economic operating system itself. We work to help popularise more radical ideas into the mainstream, and make them feel like common sense. We also work directly with social movements in a supporting role. By focusing on both the meta worldview and local struggles, it helps us better see how we are not just fighting a land rights struggle in India, or tax justice struggle in Kenya, or a pipeline in North Dakota; but rather, we are fighting the logic of neoliberal capitalism itself.

How do you see digital technology fitting into that logic? Is it more part of the problem, or is it a solution?

The moral question we must ask ourselves is what do we want our relationship with technology to be: individually, as a community, and at a societal level? Do I believe technology is out of control and a huge part of the problem? Yes. Of course. However, it is unfeasible to think we can return to a society without technology. At least before collapse.

It’s always a good idea to start with a Terence McKenna quote: “culture is not your friend” he reminded us. Culture is a set of calcified beliefs that are ratified by our complacency to challenge these norms. Are we going to examine our privilege? Are we going to try to comprehend or feel the destruction which is being reaped on our planet? This destruction is directly proportionate to the benefits received by those countries (and pre-nation state geographies) that have had a 5000-year head-start in totalitarian agriculture, 1000 years of colonialism, imperialism, slavery and genocide. We are the heirs of that legacy. As Thomas Pogge points out, how can we reap the fruits of our ancestor’s sins but not inherent any of the responsibility?

Once we have come to the conclusion that we do not want to make this bargain, we become critical of the culture that has incubated our ignorance. The moral position around technology is then not ‘how do I walk away from technology’, but rather ‘how do we become less dependent on- and synthesise the best aspects of it to build transition infrastructure to post-capitalist worlds?”

The Rules has used the concept of the ‘Wetkio’ virus as a means of describing the way destructive cultures emerge, operate and, perhaps, develop technologies, Could you describe what the Wetiko virus is? 

Wetiko is an ancient concept coming from various First Nations’ traditions in North America. Wetiko was a word that existed before the term cannibalism. When there was famine among tribes or a tribe member found themselves alone in the wilderness and ended up eating another person’s flesh, the result was the Wetiko disease. There were two main outcomes of Wetiko: one was the unnatural desire to continue to eat more flesh even when there was an abundance of food, and the other was an icy heart and lack of empathy. Something shifts in you once you taste the flesh of your brethren for the first time. The mind-virus of capitalism is the logical outcome and heir of Wetiko.

We went from trusting the bounty of our Mother when were hunter-gatherers to becoming sedentary extractors of the land and seeing it as a resource rather than the source of all life. At this moment we become the ungrateful, cannibalistic children of Gaia

Technology is an aspect of a culture that is born out of the Wetiko virus. Technology is a subservient subset of the economic system. And the operating system is dependent on its prime directive of growth. Economists and politicians tell us the global economy must grow by 3% a year just to stay afloat. At this rate the global economy doubles in size every 20 years, which is of course, unfathomable. And yet the system straight-jackets us into believing there is no other option. We are paralysed. Our economic system is a form of distributed fascism where we have all become carriers of Wetiko.

How can we free ourselves of this destructive virus?

The first step is to dis-identify with your host culture. Patriotism, nationalism and all forms of rigid ideology play a brutal role in our indoctrination and complicity with the system. One of the potential antidotes is to start becoming self-aware of the true history of humanity, Western culture and technology. The great leaps in progress that we have observed did not happen independent of great plunder, destruction, war, violence and rape. One has to start asking first principle questions such as: What is the role of technology in serving its master, Capital? What is the logic of the market economy? The answer is all around us. The logic of capitalism is short-termist, greedy, extractive and life-destroying.

The second step is to start seeing technology as the offspring of culture. If we see technology as a by-product of culture and capitalism, then we can shift the way we interact with technology.

Perhaps we will start asking who is actually deciding what technology is created and what are the priorities of research? As David Graeber reminds us, we thought we would have flying cars by now, but in fact the height of our technological prowess has brought us 140 characters on Twitter. Who decided that our collective resources, endowments and skills would be directed in this way?

The third step is an enquiry around the concomitant effects of technology. When we created the automobile we didn’t realise that it would also create the modern city, the motorized highway system, the two-garaged house, our fossil fuel addiction, the wars in the Middle East, and in some ways the hippy revolution. In the same way, we have no idea what the effects of artificial intelligence or virtual reality will be in 5 or 10 or 20 years. Part of this line of enquiry is to hold a very big self-reflective question as a generation and a civilization: given our relationship with technology, what kind of ancestors do we want to be? And even more pertinently, what kind of ancestors are we already becoming?

Digital technology has been shown to  amplify existing inequalities of access to the power that comes from ‘connection’. Is there a simple solution to this inequality or do we need to address the system as a whole?

 This is a difficult conundrum. 70% of the global population now lives in the southern hemisphere, half of which are under the age of 30. We have the youngest, most southern population in the history of humanity so in some sense the revolution can and will happen from the global South.

People are benefiting short-term from the access to knowledge that comes with the Internet or mobile telephony or tools such as Wikipedia. But in some ways we must understand that this culture best serves those who built it. The desire to assimilate the majority world into cyborgs can be seen as a corollary to the idea of financial inclusion which tries to convert free people into consumptive capitalists, ultimately trapping us all within the debt-based neoliberal economy. And at the same time, we should use the masters tools, and any means necessary, to free ourselves from capitalism and create the new infrastructures and the new stories. 

Earthing, the practice of walking barefoot, is one way we’re being advised to physically reconnect with Earth. What is the importance these kind of practices?

There is a physical aspect to reconnection, but my approach starts from the idea that we must de-program ourselves from modern culture in a more holistic way. Anything one can do to shake the dominant culture’s norming and socialisation is critical and necessary. Whether that is walking barefoot in Nature, gifting something to a stranger, boundary dissolving through the use of psychedelics or other shamanic initiations – we must do everything in our power to remove ourselves from the shackles of identification with the death-machine of modernity.

 The last thing I want to say is that we should not underestimate the powers that we are up against. There is a W.H Auden line from The Age of Anxiety that says:

“We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.”

This is the motto of the power elites, of the 1%. They would rather destroy the entire planet than let their delusions die. We must uphold, refine, amplify and cultivate a sophisticated critique of power, culture and technology, because ultimately, they are products of a psychotic, kamikaze establishment that will hoard and consume its way to our collective demise. We have to return to the primacy of Mother Earth, of our bodies, our plant teachers and allies, our communities, our Indigenous Wisdoms, our connection to the web of Life, and our forgotten abilities to enter the presence of the eternal now.


Seeing Wetiko: On capitalism, mind viruses, and antidotes for a world in transition
Kosmos Journal
What if we told you that humanity is being driven to the brink of extinction by an illness? That all the poverty, the climate devastation, the perpetual war, and consumption fetishism all around us have roots in a mass psychological infection? What if this infection is not just highly communicable but also self-replicating?

Adivasi economics may be the only hope for India’s future
Felix Padel
India’s Tribal communities are under extreme pressure, right from big dams and mines to violent insurgencies and militarisation engulfing their lands. In 25 years, will these communities cease to exist? Or, will they represent thriving, revitalised models of egalitarian sustainability that the rest of the world has come to recognise and is learning from?

Video: Aluna – A Warning from the Kogi of Sierra Madre
Charles Eisenstein,
In this film, the colonial gaze is turned back on the colonizers—sternly, imploringly, and with very great love. The Kogi tell us, “You mutilate the world because you don’t remember the Great Mother. If you don’t stop, the world will die.” Please believe us, they say. You must stop doing this. “Do you think we say these words for the sake of talking? We are speaking the truth.”

‘For us, the land is sacred’: on the road with the defenders of the world’s forests
The Guardian
Of the many thousands of participants at the Bonn climate conference which begins on 6 November, there will arguably be none who come with as much hope, courage and anger as the busload of indigenous leaders who have been criss-crossing Europe over the past two weeks, on their way to the former German capital. The 20 activists on the tour represent forest communities that have been marginalised over centuries but are now increasingly recognised as important actors against climate change through their protection of carbon sinks. One of them, Rivas, a quiet young man from Nicaragua, said, “All the death and destruction that came to our country came from Europe,” he said. “I sense people still have a superficial understanding of our message. What we want is to be able to continue our spiritual connection with the forest.”


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2 thoughts on “Seeing Wetiko: An interview with Alnoor Ladha

  1. To this day, possibly, the best comment on the destructive, dehumanizing impact of capitalism. Is it possible to dare asking if, from its very beginnings, capitalism was not a crime against humanity?

  2. My comment on this issue is this – the common men of any socio economic status are trapped in the so called modern development dreams of unlimited growth in a limited world. Whether it is the Modi government or the so called communist government, they have the same concept of development and the thinking that the whole universe is under the human control. It is this concept which needs a review at the individual level and we need administrative systems and procedures which influence the individual.

    People in Kerala are trapped in the thinking pattern that Modi is a representative of corporate culture while Pinarayi govt. is democratic. As a villager, who willingly accepted a simple life , I can see no differences in these two thoughts and both are the sides of the same coin. I am a person retired from Indian Navy, served in Shell group of companies in Gulf and now back in my village, who embraced a simple life with organic farming, protection of indigenous cows and street dogs. I can experience a different dimension to human life sharing my life with the other living beings on earth which is more worth living.

    It teaches me the true democratic values, the true sustainability while I knew only the human centered universe during all my previous life. I have seen that every single human being irrespective of religion , caste and political ideology follow the same unsustainable , human centered, undemocratic life pattern. The difference is only in the colour of their flags. I am a person who teach Industrial safety, health and environment to an international audience and the principle of ILO on decent working conditions have influenced me deeply. The so called revolutions so far have focused only on the living conditions of human beings only and unable to accept the democratic rights of other living beings who are also our fellow beings.

    To look at the world from this view, we need not the modern education but the ancient wisdom. I am able to feel that even a street dog has the same democratic rights on this earth as much as a human beings. But the current thought pattern of almost all human beings is city centered and therefore does not give space to others. Daliths are discussed in the politics not because they are valued human beings but they are vote banks. You do not value the life of an animal because they are not vote banks. It is simple to understand from my personal experience. Which modern education has helped us to recognise the whole universe as a single entity whose sustainability is important for the survival of mankind also? Our education and formal lifestyles do not teach us the interrelationships among all the living beings and such a concept has reached a crisis which can no more face the future complexities of survival.

    Instead of looking deep within, we are all unnecessarily trapped in the external noisy life which is not going to solve the problems ahead. When Modi makes a contract with a company, it is corporate culture and when Pinarayi does the same , it is not discussed. I do not understand why the people are trapped in the boundaries of limited political thoughts instead of thinking of the whole eco system. here comes the sensitivity – you lose your sensitivity when you live a life deprived of nature and your interconnections with all other living beings. There are no solutions for this crisis and complexity but only returning to village life at least at the time of retirement and identify our own individuality instead of being part of a senseless crowd. The present politics only need crowds and not sensitivity.

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