Thursday 5 February 2009

An American Cargo Cult?

How, and what, do we witness against the world? Mass for St Agatha’s Day raises this interesting question, particularly significant, if we live in places people are free to be Christians, and the state is not out to get us, as such? What idols and oppressions do we protest, on a meta level, in our Western liberal democracies?

Peter Klausler is a Computer Scientist, Mathematician by background, who draws attention to what he calls “The American Cargo Cult” — a series of false, crazy, but near-universal, assumptions tacitly underlying public debate and what’s said and unsaid by the media, and how. He’s produced a thought-provoking hit list of worldly evils, summary below, which we may want to protest if we don’t want our brains to turn to Jell-o:
  1. Ignorance is innocence
    Complicated explanations are suspect
    Certainty is strength, doubt is weakness
    — admitting alternatives undermines one’s own position
    — Changing one’s mind means one was wasting one’s time formerly
    Anybody’s opinion matters as much as anybody else’s
    Follow the herd — contemplative lemmings get trampled

  2. Causality is selectable
    All interconnection is apparent, or you’d need complicated explanations, which you don’t. Ever.
    The End supports the explanation of the Means
    You can succeed by copying successful people: mimic their rituals and you will succeed, and if it all goes wrong it’s the idol’s fault not yours

  3. It’s not your Fault
    If it’s good for you, it’s good.
    Good intentions suffice — you can always apologise
    There is no long term
    Consequences are things that happen to others — only you can hold yourself truly accountable Whoever starts the blame game you can still win it. There are evil people and institutions out there, and surely one of them has to be more responsible than you could ever be.
    You are not the problem — an ugly image means a bad mirror

  4. Death is unnatural
    You’re special — and have a right not to have bad things happen to you
    Pain is wrong
    Tragedy is a synonym for calamity. Bad things are never consequences of anything I did or didn’t do.
    There is such a thing as justice, but... You, however, unlike anyone else, will always be forgiven



Ann said...

I wish people would use US when they mean United States instead of American -- there is north, south, and central america - all americans.
And I don't think this is "American" (that is only US) but a problem for many cultures.
Here endeth my rant.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Sorry, Ann. I take the point entirely. I think I was decoyed by Mr Klausler's usage... and I agree the problem is far broader than the US or "America" ...

Ann said...

He does have some good points to ponder tho.

Ann said...

One more thing along these lines - Derek Olsen's essay here.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Ann. I really liked the Derek Olsen piece, which gives a whole new dimension to the question by bringing in our old friend possessive individualism. Highly recommended!

Anonymous said...

Whether it's USA, American or cross-cultural, it sure sheds some light on my friends J Mark and Phil W Brewer's approach to doing business!!

Vinaigrette girl said...

Without checking Peter's dates for this, it is uncannily similar to almost everything Nick Davies published in his book, Flat Earth News, and which Ron Susking also discussed in The Way of the World. Definitely not USA-only; but there's no question that complex explanations and analyses used to be unpopular in the White House until recently.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Many thanks for the Nick Davies link — I am much impressed by Nick's thesis ( I'll check Ron Susking again. H. L. Mencken (I think) said, or at least should have said, years ago, "To almost every complex human predicament there is an answer that is simple, neat and wrong."

Vinaigrette girl said...

Sorry - Suskind, with a d - I keyboard, or type, terribly. you won't find a Susking with a book by that title (but do look it up, as it's a cracking and hopeful read, well-written). God bless.

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