Principles of the American Cargo Cult

Published by @veng on 2019-12-31

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Principles of the American Cargo Cult

I wrote these principles after reflecting on the content of contemporary newspapers and broadcast media and why that content disquieted me. I saw that I was not disturbed so much by what was written or said as I was by what is not. The tacit assumptions underlying most popular content reflect a worldview that is orthogonal to reality in many ways. By reflecting this skewed weltanschauung, the media reinforces and propagates it.

I call this worldview the American Cargo Cult, after the real New Guinea cargo cults that arose after the second world war. There are four main points, each of which has several elaborating assumptions. I really think that most Americans believe these things at a deep level.

Ignorance is a virtue

 Complicated explanations are suspect
      The world is simple, and there must be a simple explanation for everything.

 Certainty is strength, doubt is weakness
      Admitting alternatives is undermining one's own belief.
      Changing one's mind means one has wasted the time spent holding the prior opinion.

 Your opinion matters as much as anyone else's
      When a person has studied a topic, he has no more real knowledge than you do, just a hidden agenda.

 The thoughtful lemming get trampled
      Popular beliefs must be true.
      No bad idea can survive.
      People are generally smart.
      Even if a popular belief doesn't pan out, at least you'll be in the same boat as everyone else.

Causality is a choice

 All interconnection is apparent
      Otherwise, complicated explanations would be necessary.

 The end supports the explanation of the means
      A successful person's explanation of the means of his success is highly credible by the very fact of his success.

 Emulate the purported behavior of successful people
      This is the key to the cargo cult.  To enjoy the success of another, just mimic his rituals.

It’s not your fault

 If it's good for you, it's good
      Society is everyone else.

 Good intentions suffice
      You can always apologize.

 There is no long term
      Don't miss an opportunity.

 Consequences are things that happen to others
      Only you can hold yourself accountable.  Don't let others make you do that.
      If somebody starts the blame game, you can still win it.
      There are evil people and institutions, and surely one of them is more responsible than you are.

 You are not the problem
      An ugly image means a bad mirror.

 You have a right to your share
      You get to define your share.
      Your share is the least you will accept.
      Celebrate getting more than your share.

Death is unnatural

 You're special
      Bad things shouldn't happen to you.

 Pain is wrong
      It is a Whiffle World.  Life should not hurt.

 Tragedy is a synonym for calamity
      Bad things are never consequences of one's own action or inaction.

 There will be justice
      Bad people get punished.
      You, however, will be forgiven.