Ronald G. Pittenger
“Any technology sufficiently advanced from the observer’s point of view is magic.”
~ attributed to Sir Arthur C. Clarke.
The past few years, and especially the recent fight over raising the national debt limit has exposed a glaring disconnect between the goals of two major parties. One wants to stop the increase in federal spending (and reduce it if possible); the other wants to continue to borrow more to increase spending. One party wants people to be largely responsible for themselves; the other wants the government to provide guidance and support in all things to all people at all times for their own good. One wants to maximize freedom for each individual so each can reach his/her greatest individual potential; the other wants to create special exceptions for favored groups of individuals at the cost of other, less favored groups of individuals. Both parties claim to act for the greatest good of all.
A little confusing, isn’t it? Everyone tries to control their world. Perhaps a book nearly 60 years old can explain it.
In 1964, an anthropologist named Peter Lawrence wrote a book called Rot Bilong Kako (Road Belong Cargo) that explained the beliefs of
Melanesian Island tribes living in . The stone age Melanesians had very limited contact with “Europeans” starting around 1870. Most of the “Europeans” they met were western missionaries bringing them Christianity, but “yellow European” fishermen from Japan and China also came through now and then, as did “black European” ships and seamen. This changed dramatically at the beginning of World War II. First, there was a flood of Japanese, then, after terrible battles, Americans and Allied forces. Papua, New Guinea
Right from the beginning, the islanders noticed all the great variety of good things these Europeans had access to. Mirrors, guns, matchsticks, fine cloth, material wealth beyond their stone age comprehension. It all came as Cargo on ships and later, on airplanes as well. Although they had no technology beyond stone, they weren’t stupid. They knew that since no human could make such marvels as buttons or bass drums, all the Cargo had to be gifts from the Gods. So, they quickly embraced the new religion that was offered, but with their own little twists. The islanders were sure the Gods loved them best, so where was their cargo? They prayed devoutly, and, every now and then, a ship would come and leave some Cargo.
As the war ramped up, there was more and more Cargo arriving. Then the Allies came with lightning from the sky and thunder from the sea. The Yellow Europeans died or went away, but the White Europeans brought more cargo than the islanders had known existed. It arrived by both air and sea, and roads were built to move it swiftly to where it needed to be. The islanders were instructed to stay off the roads because the roads belonged to the Cargo. Clearly, the Europeans of all colors—but, especially the white ones—had found some way to hijack or steal the Cargo intended by the Gods for the islanders.
This belief persisted after the war, even after some of the islander’s young men had gone to
and seen the factories that made things that became Cargo. Their world-view simply wouldn’t allow for humans to make such fine things as canned Spam and Coca-Cola. Australia
So sure of it were they that they built fake runways lit by torches, complete with a grass shack for a control tower, to lure the Cargo. So, our world-view largely accounts for not only how we see the world, but how we try to control it.
People who see the mass of humanity as ignorant savages that need to be controlled will try to control them. People who see others pursuing happiness in ways they don’t approve of will make laws restricting things that others can see, read, think, eat, drink, or breathe. Since “the Gods love only them,” anything the rest of us has was surely gotten by tricking the Gods into giving it to us instead; they truly believe anyone else’s good luck came only at their expense. They have no real conception of where wealth comes from, how, or why; thus they give no value to those who create it—especially if they think they can get the wealth by trickery or force. Since only they can be right, anything they want to call us is justified, no punishment is too severe for the kind of disobedience and disrespect we show them. We are never merely wrong, we’re the worst sort of sinners, apostates really, who should be burned at the stake.
We’ve taught them to walk and talk, wear clothes and mostly be polite. We’ve taught them to drive cars, talk on phones, and write text messages. For 235 years, we’ve allowed them the freedom of our country. We even let them vote and hold office when they can con enough others into voting for them. But, make no mistake: they’re only one step away from living in a cave and fighting with clubs. They see the world as a place of magic. And, they want their Cargo. Just look at