Healing Our Collective Sickness
In these uncertain, crazy, polarizing and scary times we live in, one thing I think everyone can agree on is this: if viewed as a single macro-organism, humanity has fallen ill. With the ascension of Donald Trump onto the highest throne of political power on planet earth, some of us might feel that the sickness is finally going to be called out, illumined and healed, while others feel that Trump and his administration are themselves the current purveyors, lineage holders and embodiments of the sickness. Either way, the fact that humanity is not well—afflicted with some sort of disorder—is something that I think we can all agree upon; this might be a good starting point for our inquiry. The obvious question: What is the nature of this deeper sickness that is pulsing through the veins of humanity?
In contemplating this very question, philosopher John McMurtry, author of the brilliant book The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, refers to the “Great Sickness” that pervades our modern day capitalist system as having all of the hallmark qualities of cancer. Using a whole systems approach, he is pointing out that the diagnosis of cancer precisely maps onto a macro-analysis of our current body politic, which is to say that what is happening collectively in our world can be recognized to be a form of cancer.
In diagnosing our global disorder as being cancerous, Professor McMurtry is not speaking metaphorically, but rather, is offering an explanatory model. What other disease exponentially metastasizes so as to increasingly capture the resources of the life-host it is invading so as to foster its own proliferation? It is as if cancer, a disease that typically happens within an individual body has changed channels and is materializing in, as and through the global body politic.
If humanity and the biosphere as a whole are seen as a single organism, this carcinogenic seeming-entity continually degrades our social and natural life-support systems, depredating the productive life of societies at every level, while it itself is devoid of any productive life-function, other than to create ever-more wealth for the already unthinkably wealthy – a process that McMurtry describes as “incarnate evil.”
The cancer sponsors a never-ending attack on the public sector, which it is continually trying to defund, dismantle and privatize. Public treasuries are hollowed out on all levels, which generate the direct blood flow to the cancer system. The cancer infiltrates and subjugates more and more public resources to privatize them so as to financialize them, i.e., turning them into money. The entire carcinogenic process is financed by and paid for by the public. To the extent we are unaware of the cancer and think and act as if everything is normal, we are buying into and colluding with its growth.
The key to succumbing to cancer is the immune-system’s failure to recognize and respond to the rogue code of what is attacking it. McMurtry writes that “the ultimate problem is that the disorder has not been recognized for what it is.” The carcinogenic invasive agent avoids detection, as it suppresses, disables and eventually hijacks the immune system of the host. Official policies keep feeding the cancer, even while the system is in the process of bankrupting (i.e., killing) itself, which is the tell-tale sign of life-host capture by the carcinogen. The fact that the immune system is compromised to the point that the disease isn’t even recognized is showing us that one of the fundamental arenas of the cancer’s operations is the human psyche.
Whereas McMurtry refers to the great sickness, scholar Jack Forbes, author of Columbus and Other Cannibals, refers to “the greatest epidemic sickness known to humanity” - what the Native Americans call wetiko disease. Wetiko can be conceived of as an immaterial, formless cancer of the human psyche, as the psyche is both its source as well as the medium through which the disorder covertly operates and propagates itself throughout the human family (Inspired by Forbes’ work on wetiko, I have written a book on the subject - Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil).
By whatever name we call it, McMurtry and Forbes are both pointing at what seem to be interrelated aspects of the same deeper underlying sickness. As best as I can tell, McMurtry’s great sickness is a full-bodied, incarnate manifestation of wetiko acting itself out in the social, political and economic realms. In other words, McMurtry’s cancer appears to be an expression and creation of a wetiko-ized collective psyche writ large on the world stage.
The built-in, unquestioned highest value of our capitalist system is money-value, as compared to and distinct from life-value, which is to say our economic system values profits over everything else, including living beings and the environment. From this point of view, it makes no difference if the cost of doing business is wrecking economies, making people homeless, dispossessing formerly sovereign governments or destroying the environment. According to the prevailing logic of our current capitalist system, it is rational to maximize one’s private interests in money-value terms at the expense of everything else. The corollary to this is that it is good and justifiable to override all public protections and regulations which are barriers to optimizing one’s profits. From this perspective, for example, environmentalism obstructs business, as it gets in the way of corporations’ “opportunity to profit.”
The cancer spreads not only without any regulators to stop it, but with continual deregulation of the rules that could stop it; it makes sure to remove all existing defenses against it. This is to say that the forces behind deregulation—be they Big Oil, the financial industry, the military-industrial complex or any number of other private interests—are all facets of the disease. The cancer always wants more, which is to say it becomes addicted to ever-increasing growth and never-ending consumption as an end in itself. Over time this entity requires ever-more resources from the life-host in order to spread; if not accurately diagnosed and properly treated, the prognosis is always fatal.
It is noteworthy that the system’s response to the disease are calls for “more growth,” which demand ever-more public resources to feed the very pathological dynamic which is animating the disease in the first place. To quote McMurtry, “the programme is insane to the extent that it seeks always to resolve the problems it causes by more pervasive implementation of the economic policies that generate them.” McMurtry’s point should be highlighted – the underlying program that structures how we do business with each other is insane.
What is happening in our world is a systemic devastation of all life-support systems on our planet without historical precedent. This is to say that the cancer that McMurtry is pointing at presents a greater danger than any prior threat to the human species in all of our history. Jung writes, “Everything could be left undisturbed did not the new way demand to be discovered, and did it not visit humanity with all the plagues of Egypt until it finally is discovered.”
More and more analyses have recognized that something is undeniably amiss in our world, but it is rare to see an analysis that searches for the common cause. McMurtry writes that no analysis “connects the degenerate trends across ecological, social and organic life-support systems, nor defines the underlying disorder driving them.” Speaking about “the underlying common cause of the world’s greatest cause of disease and death,” McMurtry writes that it “remains blinkered out.” It is as if the disease itself sponsors a taboo in recognizing, thinking or talking about it. This is to say that the life-blind logic of the reigning economic model remains un-decoded – the inner logic is presupposed, not reflected upon.A system contaminated by the disease loses the ability to recognize its own disordered state, a blindness that continually feeds the disease’s genesis. The disease cannot correct itself, it needs outside intervention – this is where we come in.
Not recognizing the cancer nourishes it; the disease feeds off of our unawareness of it. Being that the cancer promotes—and is an expression of—our blindness, its antidote and cure involves healing our blindness – i.e., seeing the cancer. Becoming conscious of the cancer— i.e., recognizing that this mysterious disease is the deeper fundamental process that is informing and giving shape to our myriad world crises—takes away its food, and ultimately, its seeming power over us.
Merely recognizing the disease isn’t enough, however; we have to activate our collective immune system response in the world. Seeing without action is a partial and incomplete response. These two avenues – recognizing the cancer (an inner process) and taking action (an outer process) are not separate, but rather, are complementary and necessary aspects of a whole systems response.
To extend the cancer metaphor one step further, once we recognize the threat that the disease poses, our realization deputizes us to become active agents of the collective immune system’s response. When a living body is invaded by cancer it sends out “killer T-cells” which isolate, surround and dismantle the pathogen. As if stepping into a role that evolution has been preparing us for from time immemorial, we are being asked to become living human T-cells—anti-psychotic agents—in the greater body politic of humanity. As anti-cancer T-cells, we can come together so as to create the necessary external structures to contain the carcinogen, keeping it from going rogue and becoming out of control.
Connecting with each other through our shared lucidity, we can collaboratively help each other to stabilize and deepen our mutual awakening. Our life-force energy that was continually getting unconsciously sucked into feeding the cancerous black hole can then be re-circulated into nourishing the creative spirit within us, enabling us to create a world more in alignment with our true nature as interconnected beings who depend upon each other for our well-being. How this would look in our collective body politic as we wake up together we can only imagine.
The destructive cancerous forces that we see at work in our world today are—just like a dream—a symbolic outer reflection of the darkness of the unconscious emerging within us. Psychologically speaking, when we don’t recognize and consciously relate to manifestations of the unconscious psyche, we are unwittingly ensuring that these contents will shape our destiny and constellate negatively, i.e., get acted out externally in destructive ways. It is as if we, as a species, have collectively dreamed up our unconscious process into full-bodied materialization on the world stage so as to—in true quantum style, potentially—awaken to the part of ourselves that has been in the dark.
This is to say that the cancer is a revelation of something within us. The cancer is not an independently existing, objective entity that is attacking us from outside of ourselves (however convincingly this seems to be the case); to think this way (a thought-form inspired by the cancer), is to cultivate fear and a sense of victimization, which simply feeds the disease. Not separate from us in one iota, the cancer is an expression of an unknown part of ourselves that is announcing itself to us in projected form - via the psyche’s influence and connection to the outside world. Like a quantum entity, how the cancer manifests—taking us down or waking us up—is a function of our observation, i.e., it depends upon whether or not we recognize what it is revealing to us about ourselves.
Once this realization occurs, the cancer shows its other—and hidden—face: because we would not have woken up without the cancer’s help, it can be recognized to be the very catalyst for the evolution of our species. It is as if concealed and encoded within the seeming poison of the cancer is the necessary ingredient that spurs the dynamics of our individual and collective individuation.
How amazing: the very cancer that is potentially killing us is teaching us how to heal it - and as an added bonus is waking us up in the process.
A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. He is the author of Awakened by Darkness: When Evil Becomes Your Father(Awaken in the Dream Publishing, 2015), Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013) and The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis (Authorhouse, 2006). He is the founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, Oregon. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over thirty years. He is the coordinator for the Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center. Please visit Paul’s website www.awakeninthedream.com. You can contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org; he looks forward to your reflections.
 I choose my words carefully. I write “seeming-entity” because although we subjectively experience the carcinogenic agent as if it is an actual entity outside of us, ultimately (as I point out in my book Dispelling Wetiko), it has no independent, objective existence separate from our own consciousness. The mystery is that although this entity doesn’t objectively exist, it can potentially destroy our species. This points to the incredible untapped creative (or destructive) power that exists within our unconscious.
 McMurtry, The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, p. 4.
 Ibid., p. 108.
 Jung, The Development of Personality, CW 17, para. 323.
 McMurtry, The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, p. 10.
 Ibid., 34.
 I call this sacred form of activism “Spiritually-Informed Political Activism.”