The phrase ‘cargo cult’ is well known here in Vanuatu, and probably better understood than anywhere else in the world. Pop anthropologists, TV crews and trivia hounds love to belittle the ‘silly’ idea that performing the proper rituals will result in good things happening. They snicker at the uniformed, marching figures in Tanna, wondering what kind of person could believe such a simple tale.
The fact is, we are all, to some degree or other, members of a cargo culture.
Magical Thinking is the term applied to the kind of behaviour that assigns more importance to a sequence of events than to actual causation. We indulge in this kind of behaviour when we put on a ‘lucky’ shirt on important days, or avoid stepping on spiders for fear of bringing the rain. It’s in our daily horoscope and a significant number of expressions that we use everyday.
We use Magical Thinking when we touch wood, say ‘God bless’ to someone who sneezes, keep a rabbit’s foot on our key chain, or sing a certain song to ward off bad luck. We also use a certain degree of Magical Thinking when we smoke a cigarette, drink too much or practice unsafe sex. We assume that certain rituals can make good things happen or keep bad things at bay.
We also use a fair amount of magical thinking when we start our computers in the morning, when we make a phone call or send an email.