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Douglas C-47 Cargo Plane

Not all cargo cults have to do with South Seas islanders and US supply planes. The West has its own peculiar cargo cults. (Image: public domain)

We have all heard of the South Seas islanders who belong to bizarre cargo cults. The cults got started shortly after WW II when the Americans pulled out of their many military bases scattered across the Pacific. It was cheaper to leave large quantities of supplies and gear behind than to transport them home so, as is so often the case with the Americans, they generously donated the materiel to the inhabitants of the islands. Having seen all this abundance arrive in airplanes, but not understanding where it came from, the less sophisticated natives decided they could get more of this cargo (and thus secure eternal peace and happiness) by simply luring passing planes from the sky. All they had to do was clear a rough runway, build a wooden plane for a decoy, and set up some homemade landing lights by making fires lined up in neat parallel rows.

This sounds completely stupid to Western ears, yet we ourselves are, in fact, guilty of similar practices. Our airplanes loaded with free cargo are none other than our own unconscious minds. We have numerous ways in which to get the “cargo.” The power of positive thinking is perhaps the best known. In this variation, all you have to do is decide what you want, make a clear statement of what you have decided, and then “hold that thought” while believing completely in the mystical power of the unconscious mind to “attract” or “engineer” the desired outcome. You can get money, a sexy mate, a new car, a better job. You can even stay young. All you have to do is visualize and think positive thoughts. What’s not to love?

Another variant is the automatic writing caper. In this one the practitioner sits down in a chair, grabs a pencil or a pen, lays their hand on a piece of paper, and just lets the words flow out from their unconscious mind with no conscious effort required. That is the important part: no effort required. You will be a wonderful writer in no time flat without breaking a sweat or cracking a single how-to-write book. Perhaps a great, but dead (well hopefully), author will channel through your unconscious and you can turn out prose like Charles Dickens reborn.

These ideas are vivid examples of the ludicrous overestimation of the unconscious mind increasingly prevalent in the West. The unconscious has become the source of all good things, the locus of psychic powers, the place where numinosity is found (and must be carefully preserved), the home of God in the human psyche, our link to the cosmos or universal mind.

The trick in properly dealing with the unconscious is not to overvalue it in this way. The unconscious is nothing more than a natural part of our minds, the part that just happens to be below the threshold of conscious awareness. It is entirely human in scale and scope. It contains memories and repressed thoughts, desires, and character traits. It is home to the set of emotionally important ideas we call the self and is therefore the source of will. It processes our sensory inputs. Nothing in the unconscious is mystical or supernatural. No human being has superhuman powers.

A realistic view of the unconscious has considerable benefits. Such a view averts unnecessary fear, inappropriate worship, and foolish cargo cults where people believe a near magical unconscious can, if they line up their fires and decoys properly, get them anything they want.