When the corona virus first hit, my reaction was that it was going to provoke tremendous social change. Diseases spread when populations are treated as disposable production units not living beings. I was sure that the pandemic was going to expose long-standing inhumane working and living conditions. But it took radical widespread protests for the media to admit that people in prisons, people working at meat packing plants and people living in poor neighborhoods are the hardest struck by the corona virus.
The media does like to emphasize tragedy and conflict. It has taken enormous pressure for them to acknowledge that the majority of the people affected by the corona virus are people of color. But what has impressed me most about the demonstrations now is how many of those participating have refused to internalize the values of their oppressors and react with violence despite the provocation of the current administration.
Insisting on framing our society’s problem differently is essential to genuine enduring change. A vaccine for the corona virus is not going to prevent the next pandemic. It is not going to prevent the circumstances in which such diseases incubate and spread.
In my experience, the need to elevate yourself by putting someone else down and the compulsion to take satisfaction in another’s suffering is utterly impervious to thoughtful discourse. My father argued that the need to dominate, devour and demonize other people and the world that sustains us is a severe and deadly dysfunction of the human psyche. He even went so far as to claim that Western Civilization is the White Man’s Disease.
The Greek myth of Erisycthon tells the tale of the first person stricken by the White Man’s Disease. Although the ancient Greeks did not use the same words we now use, he displayed all the symptoms of the physical diseases we now call cancer, all the symptoms of the emotional diseases of addiction and all the symptoms of the psychological diseases of dark trait personality disorders.
The myth tells us that Erisychon offended the Goddess by chopping down the Tree of Life. In her rage, she cursed him with a hunger that could never be satisfied. In the end, his insatiable hunger devoured even his own body.
But first, he devoured all of the foods and resources he controlled. Then he forced his daughter to shape-shift to reflect her suitor’s desires. She became the first prostitute, as he would sell her to the highest bidder so he could devour her dowry. Then she would return to him and her own shape, and he would repeat the process.
Participating in the National Geographic’s DNA testing project last spring showed that my particular mtDNA mutation occurred about four thousand years ago. That was right about the time that the bronze Age agricultural civilizations of the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia we displaced by the peoples of the Iron Age. I have had to consider the possibility that my mtDNA mutation is not only associated with individual sociopathic personality disorders but with the morphogenic fields that sustains the social and cultural narcissism plaguing our modern times.
My own mother’s dark-core sociopathic personality disorder included anhedonia, a neurological disorder whose name literally means the inability to perceive pleasure. In practice, it was not just pleasure that she did not feel. All of her senses were dulled.
My mother was adamant that something alien within her forced her to feed on other beings’ misery. Evidence that there actually is alien DNA among my matri-lineal ancestors was found in skeletal remains of that first wave of warlords that tore across Eurasia. They carried the bubonic plague with them.
Their disease was a direct result of their urban agricultural civilization that grew and stored enormous amounts of grain. That surplus of food allowed not only an abnormally dense human population to grow, but also an abnormally dense population of rodents. Those rodents carried bubonic plague and eventually the pathogen began infecting people as well.
Four thousand years ago, peaceful farmers suddenly erupted into a raging storm of fire and blood that quickly spread across Eurasia. Now there is proof that agriculture, warfare and bubonic plague were associated. The influence of microorganisms on our immune system, our brain function and our behavior is poorly understood, but profound. And the consequences of an irritable immune system can be drastic.
The Greeks recognized the disease and even pointed out the cause. Their myth tells us that cutting down the multifaceted ecosystem of the forest to grow and hoard single species crops of grain causes multiple and severe problems. But, the Greeks did not offer a cure and our culture appears to have forgotten the cause.
All of Erisycthon’s diseases run in my family. Besides narcissistic sociopathic personality disorders and addictions, my ancestors passed on a physiological inability to recognize healthy tissue. My family of origin has a history of numerous and varied autoimmune disorders including lupus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. That disordered immune system also creates disabling allergic reactions including asthma and irritable bowel syndrome.
Yet the immune system I inherited is unable to recognize abnormal cells, as there is also a long and varied history of self-devouring cancers. Persuading my immune system to protect my own healthy cells, recognize and eliminate abnormal cancerous cells and moderate its reactions to allergens meant I had to focus its attention on invasive pathogens. My default position, the stance that keeps me alive is refocusing my own attention on truly knowing who I am, down to the most essential cellular level of my immune system.
My mother was adamant that something alien within her forced her to feed on other beings’ misery. Since the symptoms of the White Man’s Disease are accompanied by a single-celled pathogen, I have to consider the possibility that my mother may not have been speaking metaphorically. My mother also told me that her extremes of behavior were driven by a frantic need to feel something, to feel anything at all.
Her dark traits personality disorder included anhedonia, a neurological disorder whose name literally means the inability to perceive pleasure. In practice, it was not just pleasure that she did not feel. All of her senses were dulled. Perhaps my ancestors, including my mother, were incapable of empathy because their ability to perceive, recognize and respond to any kind of sensory input at all was severely blunted by disease.
The compulsion to reduce land, plants, animals and people to objects that can be bought, sold and discarded is an acute symptom of the White Man’s Disease You can call the disease malignant ego-phrenia or rampant narcissistic personality disorders or dark-core personality traits. But regardless of what you call it, we need to find ways to recognize, quarantine, treat and cure the White Man’s Disease, no matter what color of skin the people affected by it have.
To prevent pandemics of physical diseases, we need to recognize the root causes of this global sickness of the human psyche that makes such fertile ground for them to spread. After four thousand years, it should be obvious that there is no quick and easy solution. If we are to survive as a species, all of us need to recognize, confront and contain the symptoms of the White Man’s Disease.
Some four thousand years ago, those first afflicted by the White Man’s Disease left a swath of killing fields behind them. The effects of that disease are still devastating our planet. But we are now past the tipping point of destruction and climate change is full upon us.
The global change we so desperately need comes when we ALL seek ways to help ourselves and others become healthy whole human beings in a whole healthy diverse and complex ecosystem. Perhaps the corona virus is the kick in the pants we humans need to change our behavior.