something new

Did you know about the cargo cult?

Was reading a BS editorial by Devanghsu Datta just now. He talks about “Cargo cult democracies”.

The cargo cult democracy is a political system that imitates the forms and rituals of democracies. There are elections; legislatures pass laws; judges give decrees. However, the foundation of democracy — that individuals have fundamental rights — are ignored.

Devanghsu Datta, BS – 01 Aug 2020

But more than Cargo cult democracy, the idea of “Cargo cults” itself is pretty fascinating to me – I wasn’t aware of it till now. Were you?

So basically during World War II, both US and Japan built military bases on many islands. The native islanders were hired as labours for jungle clearance / construction work. And with this, for the first time in their lives they got exposed to technologies like electricity, motorboats, radio, canned food and many other exciting things flown in by planes landing on airstrips they had built.

But then eventually the war ended. The military bases were abandoned. The islanders had no clue about what was really going on. In their head the “military rituals” that they had seen, were probably responsible for all the technological marvels. So when no planes came for a long time, what did they do? They built replica bamboo planes themselves!

They mimicked the soldiers, wearing cast-off uniforms, marching with wooden replica rifles and waving signal flags. They carved wooden earphones and muttered mumbo-jumbo.

By imitation of military ritual, the cultists hoped to attract new planes with cargo. Of course, as with all cults, the leading lights were scamsters, who made fortunes lying to followers.

Devanghsu Datta, BS – 01 Aug 2020

I found a Youtube video that shows one such group of island-dwellers. It’s just fascinating.

That’s all, I thought I’d share it here.

Of course Devanghsu Datta’s article is more about comparing some forms of democracies with the Cargo cult thing – how just having elections is not enough for a country to be ‘democratic’. The article may be behind paywall, but if it’s not, read it – his take makes sense. I also like how he never actually mentions the present Indian Govt. 🙂