Cargo cults

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Picture this: flight control towers, satellite dishes, head phones, radios, and even planes, made entirely out of bamboo and grass!

This is not some strange amusement park, this was the response of indigenous people in the South Pacific after the abandonment of western military bases at the end of WWII.

If you build it, they will come

Although there are previous of reports of Cargo cults prior to WWII, the rising of cults following WWII is the most widely documented. At the heart of this phenomenon is the interaction of one culture with a more technologically advanced culture. When the US (and the Japanese) arrived in the South Pacific, their appearance signaled a rapid and dramatic change in lifestyle and societal structure for the indigenous cultures. First and foremost was the sudden appearance of western goods or “cargo” being dropped with regular occurrence by planes. To the locals, these regular cargo drop-offs were akin to a supernatural occurrence.

When the war ended and the military bases were abandoned, the regular cargo drop-offs ended. In response to this sudden stop in cargo, charismatic leaders arose, promising that more deliveries would come. Thus, began the cargo cults. Leaders promised that more cargo would arrive if the cults beginning to mimic the day-to-day behaviour of the US military. Hence, the elaborate bamboo airstrips, control towers and planes being contructed in an effort to promote the appearance of cargo.

 

 

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The religion of material objects

Religious dogma was cobbled together consisting of beliefs that the foreigners were linked to the gods, hence the miraculous deliveries from the sky and the incorporation of western culture into their religious practice, as well as the building of the bamboo airstrips. The leaders promised that the “western objects” could be obtained by supernatural means.

Scholars and theorists argue that the cargo cults are actually apocalyptic cults, where the end of the western goods signalled the apocalypse or end of times. Others argue that the cults are in fact a religion centered around object worshipping. This based on the fact that objects carry a self-concept-based meaning i.e. high religious value is placed in an object, where the sudden change in the availability of the object can change the meaning of life for individuals. For example,  the beginning of the end of days or of a new millennium.

A new era of cargo cults

In my research for this post, it became clear that there is a new era of cargo cults. One of the first new age cargo cults mentioned was Burning Man. The association of Burning Man with a cargo cult is based on the fact that Burning Man centres around a bartering system of objects and goods, and thus despite being touted as a festival of inclusion and decommodification, it is in fact a place of object worshipping where giant wooden effigies are erected and symbolically burnt.

The second new age cargo cults mentioned were those of the clean eating and (obsessive) lifestyle/fitness movements. These movements have a core belief that is almost doomsday-ish or end-of days-ish in its fanaticism. Devotees believe that if you don’t follow the practices i.e. are vegan, or only eat raw food, don’t consume sugar and so on, you are only consuming toxins, will become sick, and basically are signing your death certificate! Whilst not like the popular image of a doomsday cult, nor the South Pacific cargo cults, these movements have a core element of object worshipping and end-of days mentality that put these movements directly into the court of cargo cults.

Final thought:

To me, it seems that there are cargo cults everywhere, with object worshipping working its way into our daily lives.

At the heart of the South Pacific cargo cults was a charismatic leader making promises that more cargo would come if they changed their culture/lives. In a similar manner, in modern western society, we are promised by charasmatic sales people, inventors or personalities that buying a (new phone, shoes, TV, computer, car etc) object, or adopting certain practices will change our lives, stave off unhappiness or alter our position in society.

Isn’t this similar to the cargo cults??

Sources:

For an interesting article around cargo cults and science, read here.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/42584916/bad_endings.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1510408550&Signature=VzVcms3t4diPdqdpsD%2FGQ9C8%2F68%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DBAD_ENDINGS_American_Apocalypsis.pdf

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Eric_Arnould/publication/247560620_My_Favorite_Things_A_Cross-Cultural_Inquiry_into_Object_Attachment_Possessiveness_and_Social_Linkage/links/00b49530f30aca7923000000/My-Favorite-Things-A-Cross-Cultural-Inquiry-into-Object-Attachment-Possessiveness-and-Social-Linkage.pdf

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The fork in the road

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Sorry everyone! There has been a gap between posts due to the fact that I had a big decision to make……

It continues on from my earlier post on grieving for your career, and the article in Nature Blogs. I finally found a job, not as a researcher but as a medical writer. A good job utilising my hard-wrought skills from my time as a researcher and PhD.

But even though I was ready for a change and I was excited to start on a new path, I still felt guilt, and shame. Why, you ask? I felt that I was giving up on trying to maintain a research career, that I had failed as a post doc or as a career researcher. This is despite the fact that I have been at the bench for more than 15 years! I felt that people who were still in research, successful researchers and academics, would look down upon me and judge me, or view my change in career as selling out…

To make matters worse, after I had started my new job, I got offered a senior researcher position at a good institute, in a good lab…Now what was I going to do?

I spent more than two weeks agonising over the decision. Do I move back to my country of birth, but to another city? Do I start all over again, setting myself up, making new friends? The project was so appealing, and it would my project, one that I could grow with.

What was the catch, you ask? It came down to the insecurity of funding in research, and the length of the contracts. Faced with the permanent position that I had just accepted, in an industry that also has a lot of potential for growth, a short-term contract paled in comparison. Oh, but it was a tough decision! I love being at the bench, and I love Australia, but I love writing and communication, and I love Paris…Finally, I ended up talking to a therapist to help me work through the decision.

This was actually more beneficial than I thought. The therapist identified patterns in what I said and thought about myself, regarding my identity and where I fit in the world. I have always seen myself as a scientist, and getting the PhD made me feel like I was part of an elite group. Deciding to change careers made me feel like I was losing a part of myself, and that maybe I wasn’t ‘special’ anymore. But, I am and will always be a scientist. The therapist pointed out that the way I think, and the way that I approach problems is because of my time as a scientist. He commented that my identity won’t change just because I am not at the bench…!

My new job is very science-heavy. I do just as much writing and literature searches as before, except I am not at the bench.

It seems to me that researchers and scientists often forget that there are alternate careers that utilise our skills. Junior researchers, PhD students and post docs are more than aware of it, but moving into an alternate career requires mentoring. something that often, albeit not always, is lacking. This is why when we are unemployed, we have no idea how to find these other careers. Leaving research is often not considered, and sometimes feels like it is not encouraged unless it is because a lab head thinks you ‘won’t make it‘.

There is that toxic phrase again!

Final Thought

So what is the moral of this rambling prose? Buried deep in the writing, somewhere, is the thought that we scientists should not feel ashamed or guilty for leaving research to pursue other careers! whether we realise it or not, we have been shaped by our time in research, and this is what makes us desirable candidates for many jobs.

I’m not saying these jobs are easy to find. It took me 6 months, a lot stress and internet searches to find my job, but there are other options. It is about time that there was more support for helping people leave research without making them feel embarrassed or like failures.

End of rambling prose.

The fork in the road

2394723984

Sorry everyone! There has been a gap between posts due to the fact that I had a big decision to make……

It continues on from my earlier post on grieving for your career, and the article in Nature Blogs. I finally found a job, not as a researcher but as a medical writer. A good job utilising my hard-wrought skills from my time as a researcher and PhD.

But even though I was ready for a change and I was excited to start on a new path, I still felt guilt, and shame. Why, you ask? I felt that I was giving up on trying to maintain a research career, that I had failed as a post doc or as a career researcher. This is despite the fact that I have been at the bench for more than 15 years! I felt that people who were still in research, successful researchers and academics, would look down upon me and judge me, or view my change in career as selling out…

To make matters worse, after I had started my new job, I got offered a senior researcher position at a good institute, in a good lab…Now what was I going to do?

I spent more than two weeks agonising over the decision. Do I move back to my country of birth, but to another city? Do I start all over again, setting myself up, making new friends? The project was so appealing, and it would my project, one that I could grow with.

What was the catch, you ask? It came down to the insecurity of funding in research, and the length of the contracts. Faced with the permanent position that I had just accepted, in an industry that also has a lot of potential for growth, a short-term contract paled in comparison. Oh, but it was a tough decision! I love being at the bench, and I love Australia, but I love writing and communication, and I love Paris…Finally, I ended up talking to a therapist to help me work through the decision.

This was actually more beneficial than I thought. The therapist identified patterns in what I said and thought about myself, regarding my identity and where I fit in the world. I have always seen myself as a scientist, and getting the PhD made me feel like I was part of an elite group. Deciding to change careers made me feel like I was losing a part of myself, and that maybe I wasn’t ‘special’ anymore. But, I am and will always be a scientist. The therapist pointed out that the way I think, and the way that I approach problems is because of my time as a scientist. He commented that my identity won’t change just because I am not at the bench…!

My new job is very science-heavy. I do just as much writing and literature searches as before, except I am not at the bench.

It seems to me that researchers and scientists often forget that there are alternate careers that utilise our skills. Junior researchers, PhD students and post docs are more than aware of it, but moving into an alternate career requires mentoring. something that often, albeit not always, is lacking. This is why when we are unemployed, we have no idea how to find these other careers. Leaving research is often not considered, and sometimes feels like it is not encouraged unless it is because a lab head thinks you ‘won’t make it‘.

There is that toxic phrase again!

Final Thought

So what is the moral of this rambling prose? Buried deep in the writing, somewhere, is the thought that we scientists should not feel ashamed or guilty for leaving research to pursue other careers! whether we realise it or not, we have been shaped by our time in research, and this is what makes us desirable candidates for many jobs.

I’m not saying these jobs are easy to find. It took me 6 months, a lot stress and internet searches to find my job, but there are other options. It is about time that there was more support for helping people leave research without making them feel embarrassed or like failures.

End of rambling prose.

Hair today, gone tomorrow*

*sorry, I can’t miss the opportunity for a good pun!

shaving-razor

Recently I decided to make an effort to reduce my plastic consumption and waste. To this end, I decided to ditch the (relatively) expensive plastic razors and research re-useable safety razors. In doing so, I stumbled upon the obvious truth that there is absolutely no difference between men and women’s razors, and that it is the result of a very successful marketing campaign.

King of his domain

History states that King Camp Gillette (his real name!) developed the first disposable safety razor. Whilst it was not the first safety razor on the market, it was the first ever with blades that could be removed and changed. This change revolutionised the industry, as well as reducing the price of the razors.

 The other half

As these razors were no longer restricted to the elite, meaning that shaving was no longer a sign of class status amongst men, Gillette decided to target an untapped market, women.

The marketing campaigns coincided with a drastic change in women’s fashion, and it is discussed that it was likely a circular effect of fashion dictating women’s hair removal, and women’s hair removal dictating fashion.

 Fashion dictates fashion

During the Victorian era, women’s clothing had covered both arms and legs, thus body hair was neither a concern nor noticed. However, the evolution of more daring clothing revealed the arms, shoulders, and, (gasp) armpits. This is where the clever marketing campaigns began. Prior to the 1900s, advertisements involved describing a product rather than telling a person as to why they need to buy it.

Securing a market 101: target insecurities

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But the marketing campaigns surrounding women’s hair removal centred on promoting disgust and repulsion about body hair. These campaigns preyed on the desire of women to be ‘on trend’, as well as focusing on the loneliness of unmarried or single women. In 1915, Gillette launched its Milady Razor, and thus began the market of women-specific razors.

In the 1940s and 1950s, dresses became longer again due to a shortage of nylon. As a result, sales of razors slowed. Rather than promoting shaving as an ‘on trend’ fashion necessity, they started throwing words into the campaigns such as “unsightly”, “unwanted”, “embarrassing” and, “unhygienic”. Thereby cementing the idea that if you had body hair, you were unclean.

A change of focus

Later marketing ploys targeted the idea of femininity and women’s empowerment. The 1960s saw the Scaredy Kit, a shaving kit aimed at women who were reluctant to shave (possibly due to a fear of razors).

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Also around this time, campaigns used phrases such as “smooth like a child”, promoting the idea that being brought back to a pre-pubescent state was somehow the ultimate form of femininity.

The irony of these campaigns is the image of teenage girls shaving to show their maturity, while bringing themselves back to a pre-pubescent, childlike state.

Particularly distasteful when we look at the current marketing campaigns that focus on sexuality and desirability!

Final Thought

So what have we learnt from this? One, the fact that men’s and women’s razors exist is simply from a desire to corner every aspect of the market, and two, the marketing campaigns targeting women were morally questionable!

Full disclosure: I’m still buying a safety razor!