Seeing wetiko creative brief

“Tragically, the history of the world for the past 2,000 years is, in great part, the story of the epidemiology of the wetiko disease.”

Jack D Forbes

An invitation

Calling all painters, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, dancers, graffiti artists, fine art students, animators, sculptors, designers, actors, advertisers, poets, writers, illustrators, tech specialists, crafters and anyone with a passion for creating, wed love to hear from you.

We invite you to join us in Seeing Wetiko for two weeks this July.

We are pleased to offer 8 gifts of $500 to support the development of the most exciting and engaging concepts.

/The Rules can help you explore the concept of wetiko, and will then work to place your work in mainstream spaces, including online and traditional media; specifically, those places where people think and talk about global poverty, inequality and climate change.

About /The Rules

/The Rules (/TR) is a global network of activists, organizers, designers, coders, researchers, writers and others dedicated to changing the rules that create inequality and poverty around the world.

Our mission is to expose the chief means by which power elites create and perpetuate inequality, poverty and climate change, inspiring systemic public dissonance through the constant presentation of two contradictory views of reality. /TR intends to break the memetic ice cap of neoliberal capitalism as “the only option”, allowing for the countless alternatives to sprout through and take hold in the public imagination.

Why wetiko?

All over the world, there is a feeling that something is deeply wrong. It is often felt more than seen, an unnamed darkness that keeps millions (even billions) of people disconnected from the reality of authentic life-affirming experience. Too many of our so-called leaders are asleep at the wheel—they talk about economic growth-at-all-costs as the only viable solution to mass poverty, wealth inequality, the climate crisis, and other planetary-scale crises humanity must confront in the 21st Century.

Those with a spiritual bent might say that a shadowy presence has shrouded much of the Earth. People are sleeping through the same nightmare, unable to awaken within the dream.

Wetiko is an Algonquin word for a cannibalistic spirit that is driven by greed, excess and selfish consumption (in Ojibwa it is windingo, wintiko in Powhatan). It deludes its host into believing that cannibalizing the life-force of others (others in the broad sense, including animals and other forms of Gaian life) is a logical and morally upright way to live.

Wetiko short-circuits the individual’s ability to see itself as an enmeshed and interdependent part of a balanced environment and raises the self-serving ego to supremacy. It is this false separation of self from nature that makes this cannibalism, rather than simple murder. It allows, indeed commands, the infected entity to consume far more than it needs in a blind, murderous daze of self-aggrandizement. Author Paul Levy, in an attempt to find language accessible for Western audiences, describes it as “malignant egophrenia” – the ego unchained from reason and limits, acting with the malevolent logic of the cancer cell. We use the term wetiko, because it is the original and can act as a reminder for the world of the wisdom to be found in Indigenous cultures, for those who have the ears to hear.

Wetiko can describe both the infection and the body infected; a person can be infected by wetiko”, or, in cases where the infection is very advanced, can personify the disease; “a wetiko”. This holds true for cultures and systems; all can be described as “being wetiko” if they routinely manifest these traits.

Wetiko can be seen in the blind pursuit of money by those whose actions destroy the life-giving capacities of the Earth. It is whispered in the deep recesses of minds told there is something fundamentally wrong with them—an insecurity hole in their soul that can only be filled through excessive consumption of trendy products. It is the numbness of pornography replacing the erotic connection between human beings as one uses the other for carnal pleasure while giving nothing in return. And it is in the psychopathic behavior of corporations that put profit above all else as the sacred purpose guiding CEOs and investors.

– Every time someone is seen justifying the destruction of life for profit—it is wetiko.
– Every time compassion is vitally missing during a time of suffering—it is wetiko.
– Every time a privileged person uses another as a “throw away” toy—it is wetiko.
– Every time fear or disgust is used to manipulate for personal gain—it is wetiko.

At /The Rules, we strive to reveal the hidden conceptual patterns that give rise to poverty, inequality, and ecological destruction. Using a combination of linguistic analysis and economic policy studies, we are beginning to see wetiko all around us in the mechanisms that create these conditions in the rules that guide the creation of trade agreements, financial policies, employment contracts, and other concrete applications.

For example, if we connect the dots well enough it becomes possible to see that:

Resource extraction is only possible when nature is treated as dead and worthless on its own. Thus it is possible to mindlessly consume forests and soils, deplete fish stocks, pour pollution into the oceans, and burn fossil fuels into the atmosphere.

Human labour is consumed as a “resource” that cannibalizes time, effort, and enthusiasm. This is why so many of us are stuck in bullshit jobs while the Earth (and our local communities) are begging for meaningful service and a purposeful well-lived life.

The global network of tax havens is a vampire-like web that siphons the life-flow of human labour into the coffers of the super rich. As a result, the money supply becomes like blood that has been withdrawn from a living body.

Debt-repayment programs extract wealth from “developing”’ societies, dishonestly exploiting the morality of social responsibility so that they can hoard massive wealth. Poverty is created and environments destroyed—at an accelerating pace—to keep this financial cannibal alive.

This debt-poverty disease inflicts “developed” nations as well. It can be seen in exploding credit card and student loan debt, whereby people feel forced to serve money instead of pursuing their real passions.

We invite you to help us tell stories like these and reveal the ways that wetiko.

How does “seeing wetiko” help?

A key lesson from the healing arts (psychotherapy, restorative justice, etc.) is that when we are conscious of the narratives that shape our lives and culture we are less likely to replicate them blindly. Conscious awareness is the beginning of an antidote, like green shoots through concrete.

Therefore, one of the starting points for healing is the simple act of “seeing wetiko”, in ourselves, in others, and in our cultural infrastructure. And once we see it we can name it, which is critical because words and language are a central battleground in the fight for a better future. To quote Terrence McKenna:

The world is not made of quarks, electromagnetic wave packets, or the thoughts of God. The world is made of language . . . Earth is a place where language has literally become alive. Language has invested matter; it is replicating and defining and building itself. And it is in us.[1]

His last line is critical for exploring our own agency in the replication of wetiko. We are all entangled in the unfolding of reality that is happening both to us and through us. In place of traditional certainties and linear cause-and-effect logic, we can recast ourselves “as spontaneously responsive, moving, embodied living beings—within a reality of continuously intermingling, flowing lines or strands of unfolding, agential activity, in which nothing (no thing) exists in separation from anything else, a reality within which we are immersed both as participant agencies and to which we also owe significant aspects of our own natures”[2].

If wetiko exists, it is because it exists within us. It is also entangled with the broader superstructure, relationships and choice architecture that we are confronted with as we live out our lives within a neoliberal system on the brink of collapse.

Once we are in the mode of seeing wetiko, we can hack the cultural systems that perpetuate its logic.

What is a starburst?

Our intention is to create a fruitful ‘starburst’ of expression around the idea of ‘Seeing wetiko’. We’ll support a group of inventive, diverse, creative minds to put their artistic energy and vision into making ‘Seeing wetiko’ come alive, in whatever form or medium you prefer. The only requirement is that we’re able to share it with other online and/or in print, either directly (animations, videos, images, photographs) or with photographs (sculptures, in-situ art installations, street art etc).

Together, as a collective, we’ll embody ‘Seeing wetiko’ and the narratives and stories around it for a short period of two weeks, in an explosion of activity, colour and creativity (much like a starburst) that will ripple out into and infect the mainstream.

Prompting questions

These question may help you explore how you might see wetiko in your creations:

– What does wetiko look like to you? What colours, sounds, music captures it?
– How does it feel to be infected with wetiko?
– How does wetiko show up in your life, and in the life of the people around you?
– Where is wetiko most powerfully felt in the political arenas or rules you know best?
– What do you think happens when you first start to see wetiko?
– What physical spaces would wetiko inhabit?
– What would someone infected with wetiko look like?
– What does Mother Earth look like at the mercy of wetiko?
– How is wetiko felt emotionally and spiritually?
– What are some of the words and actions we can associate with wetiko?
– How does wetiko relate to climate chage?

How to submit a concept

We have 8 x $500 awards to distribute to help people develop their ideas into physical reality.

If you are interested in accepting the invitation and applying for one of these awards, please send a short description (and perhaps a simple sketch/recording/film, if it helps you to communicate it) of your concept to before May 20th 2016.

We’ll then assess all the contributions we receive and select the 8 ideas we think best meet the following criteria to receive the $500 funding:

– Does it represent a clear and personal way of seeing wetiko?
– Do we believe we can get it placed in the mainstream conversation on poverty, inequality and climate change[3]?
– Can the work be produced, ready to be sold into the media by June 30th?


[1] McKenna, T. The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess, and the End of History. Harper Collins (1992).

[2] John Shotter, ‘Agential realism, social constructionism, and our living relations to our surroundings: Sensing similarities rather than seeing patterns’, Theory and Psychology, 2014.

[3] This may be the obvious places like news-oriented print or digital news outlets, or it may be more niche creative media where political and social issues are explored.