The Government Cargo Cult

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When I was preparing for my research among the Yebámasa Indians of the Piraparaná in Colombia in 1977, I was given a research permit by the Colombian Government for the Curripaco Indians of the Comisaría del Vichada. My first step was to fly to the jungle town Mitú to speak with the Apostolic Missionaries and to find out from them who else was doing research in Vichada.

When I mentioned the “Curripaco Indians” the missionaries fell silent as if I had touched on a taboo. “Not a place you want to go,” one of them warned. It took a bit of poking and goosing but I finally found out why they were so apprehensive.

There was a civil war going on among the Curripaco Indians of the Vichada. They were killing each other, the missionaries, anthropologists, and white Colombians; and the situation was one of violence, chaos, and mayhem. I asked what had caused the Curripaco Indians, who were known to be quite peaceful, to suddenly become so aggressive and violent and was told the following story:

In 1975, a missionary from the New Tribes Mission by the name of Doña Sophia Muller had begun to missionize among the Curripacos. She told them that they should stop planting and sowing, hunting and fishing, and keeping farm animals for food because “the Lord will provide”.

Much like in the Melanesian Cargo Cults, where the natives expect the goods of the white people to be transported to them in airplanes sent by the gods, the Curripacos shut down their normal lives. They stopped performing any productive work and went around chanting, praying, dancing, and singing in expectation of the promised food to be sent to them by the Lord.

But the food never came. When their children began to starve and there was still no heavenly food in sight, the short tropical planting season was over. Typically, the Indians in the tropical rain forest areas and surrounding llanos have a so-called subsistence economy – they produce just enough food for their own consumption, but they do not produce surplus food that they could sell or trade. Accordingly, the neighboring tribes had just about enough food for themselves but not enough to give or sell any to the Curripacos.

The result was a severe famine and a general uprising of the angry starving Curripaco Indians, who now not only tried to steal food from the neighboring tribes through warfare but were also seeking revenge on the missionaries, in particular Doña Muller, whose teachings had caused them to end up in this dire misery. Many Curripaco Indians died, mainly children. The true numbers were never reported.

I cannot find any compelling texts in the Old Testament that suggests that Jehovah wanted humans to be idle and lazy and wait to be fed and taken care of. In fact, Adam and Eve were thrown out of Paradise and told that from now on they would have to sweat and toil and work hard to make a living and earn their daily bread.

Jehovah did not provide their sustenance. He provided the environment and the opportunity for humans to survive as a result of their own hard work. And he did not seem to mind if they succeed. Abraham was exceedingly rich and so was Job.

Jesus was not particularly fond of rich people and spoke out against them on various occasions. Mathew 19:23-24: “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again, I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The eye of the needle was a city gate of Jerusalem that was too small for camels.

But he also contended that people must not be idle and waste their God-given talents. In the parable of the talents (Matthew, chapter 25, verses 14-30) the Lord provides opportunity, not handouts. His highest praise is for the slave who invests the five talents he was given and returns with ten. That is an ROI of 100%. Apparently, Jesus was not against turning a profit.

However, the term “talent” has two meanings: a currency unit and a human capability. The Lord provides chances and options, not equity of outcome. The Lord provides the capital. The human must do the investing. I believe that Doña Muller had not quite understood that.

In today’s world, socialism has become a secular religion and its atheistic philosophy has replaced God with government and group think. Its vocal missionaries are telling us that we should just sit back and relax and let the government take care of everything.

The belief in the capability and duty of Governments to provide all material and spiritual goods of happiness resembles the Melanesian Cargo Cults. Cargo Cult followers were convinced that their gods or sometime even the Christian God would send them all those wonderful goods the Europeans possessed by airplane. They built makeshift airports and waited for the cargo planes to arrive, praying and chanting. When the planes failed to come, they often turned aggressive in their frustration and disappointment and became violent.

Today’s believers in the Government Cargo Cult expect the government to provide all the goods and services to meet all their needs, wants, and desires. Free food, free housing, free transportation, free clothing, free education, free medical care, free everything.

Of course, all that free stuff is not really free. Unlike God, the government is not a creator of anything. It can only give, what it has first taken away from somebody else. For example, when the government says “healthcare is free”, it really means that those who benefit will not have to pay for it. Instead, other people, who do not benefit from the government service, will have to pay for it.

Government does not even work like an insurance company. Under an insurance agreement, all insured pay into the pot, but not all get something out of the pot. With the government, however, only a small number of people pay nearly all of the taxes (or the brunt of them) and a large number of people pay little or no taxes and get most of the freebees. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, 20% of taxable citizens in the USA paid 66.5% of all taxes in 2019.

The Government Cargo Cult model has been tried in the former Soviet Union, in China, in Cuba, and North Korea – to name a few – and it ended every time with a privileged nomenklatura exploiting and oppressing the rest of the population. None of the socialist experiments undertaken so far produced a society and an economy that lifted more people out of misery and granted them more liberty than true free market capitalism, which is ultimately based on individual initiative, creativity, innovation, productivity, competition and, yes, self-enrichment, which itself is an outflow from self-preservation.

Our current socialist elites attempt to use indoctrination (misnamed education) of our youth to eliminate all these dynamic character traits for the sake of equity and diversity. As Mr. Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum put it: “By 2030 you will own nothing. You will live in pods. You will eat bugs and you will be happy.”

It’s of course all to save the climate and the environment. My hunch is that, when the people wake up to the reality of the Government Cargo Cult, they may be just as disappointed and angry as the Curripacos were, when they realized that Doña Muller’s prophesies did not come true. Thank God, I won’t be around when that happens.

Tanna Islanders sit on their self-made landing strip and control tower waiting for the cargo plane and paradise on earth to arrive.

A metaphor of our own cultural situation?

Featured photo credit.

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