Cargo cults

I thought I had written about cargo cults before, but when searching through my archive I found nothing. Apparently I have only talked about it…

Cargo cult is an expression that is sometimes used to describe how we act, when we don’t know, and certainly don’t understand, the causality of an event; but we hope that if we repeat our actions the same event will occur.

If you work with modern day computers, you will have some cargo cult acts; the systems are so complex that even us professionals are sometimes flummoxed.

The important thing is to be aware of when you are acting this way so you don’t fall into the trap of actually believing that you know the cause-and-effect.

Cargo cult as an expression has a long history and was for some time used in a derogatory way to talk about “backwards” cultures, especially in Melanesia. On the Pacific islands, during WWII, some islanders observed how the American troops arrived on their island, cleared an area for a runway and then transport planes would arrive with supplies. After the Americans moved on, the islanders tried get more supplies by copying the behaviour of the American troops.

Cargo cults are more generally the belief that if you adhere to a certain ritual, a more technological advanced society will deliver goods.

But of course, the history of cargo cults is long and complex.

In our daily lives we do however act in much the same way, and I don’t think the islanders were stupid. It really is just variation on Arthur C. Clarke’s “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”












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