I have no idea how true the stories are, but legend has it that when supplies were dropped on some Melanesian islands during WWII, some locals took to replicating runway signs in order to further please the “gods” that were dropping them. They reportedly thought that making landing strips caused laden airplanes to visit. Richard Feynman later turned this into a metaphor about scientific theory – that if you don’t understand what you’re doing deeply, you may be fooling yourself.
I’d like to be a little bit more forgiving of adherents of technological cargo cults. Because the world around us is very complicated, we often just take things as they are rather than understanding them deeply, because there’s simply only so deep you can go into so many fields.
Is someone who doesn’t know the i386 machine language cargo-culting their way through a job as a web backend developer? Probably not. But from the perspective of an assembly-language programmer, any of us who write in compiled or interpreted programming languages are cargo-culting coding. You don’t need to understand a cell phone to dial home, but can you really say that you understand everything about how one works? Or are you just going through the motions?
So while some reliance on metaphor and “well, it worked last time” is perfectly normal, I think noticing when you cargo-cult is also healthy. It should also be a warning sign, or at least a flag to remind yourself that there may be dragons here. Or maybe just a buried learning opportunity, the X that marks the spot where digging deeper might be productive.