Monday, March 12, 2012

What are anniversaries for?

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown.  This event is considered to be one of the two worst nuclear power plant accidents in history, both now classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale.  If you neglected to observe or commemorate this major catastrophe, another equally important anniversary is coming up fast. Next month on April 26 is the 26th anniversary of an even more catastrophic event: at 1:23 am on the 26th of April 1986 in Chernobyl, Ukraine, a failed reactor test resulted in the world's worst nuclear disaster, subsequently displacing hundreds of thousands of people, immediately killing many, causing malformations for generations of humans and other living creatures, and affecting directly and indirectly most of the countries and lifeforms of Western USSR and Europe. The ecosystem most immediately affected, with a radius of about 30 km around the nuclear plant, is still in the process of recovering, a process which has been greatly aided by the evacuation of most humans from that area. But plants, animals, fish, insects, have all been forever altered.

You may be thinking: " I'm an optimist. What's the point of commemorating a disaster?" Well, as those who have followed this blog from its inception in December of 2011 well know, my framework is evolutionary aesthetics. My mission is best quality of live for all living creatures, requiring biodiversity, restoration, renewable energy, and informed ecological practices. Evolutionary aesthetics is based on a framework of what has been proven good and beautiful over evolutionary time.

The observance of anniversaries is a behavior that has been selected for. That means that this behavior has tended to support the survival, mating, and reproduction of members and species who embody that feature, considered an adaptaton when it is genetically reproducible. Cultures are included in the category of entities evolvable. Why should the observance of anniversaries be a behavior that is selected for by Evolution?

Anniversaries are events that emerge from the tapestry of daily life and arrest us for an instant: we take note, briefly or longer, we remember, assess importance, possibly consider what we have learned, what is fuzzy, degrees of awareness and how the event plays into our fabric of values. We cognitively mark the event for future reference, and move on. Our families and cultures either reinforce and enhance new learning or not.

Embedded is the principle that cognitive species can learn from their mistakes.

 As individuals we each can tap into two main memory banks: collective and personal. Forgetting has also been selected for, so there is a dynamic tension between what we remember and what we forget. As a species and as a member of a culture, remembering and practicing which values and behaviors maintain the culture and the species are key to the survival of both. (Perhaps equally important is understanding behaviors inimical to survival.)

Chernobyl and Fukushima are both examples of a failure to observe the precautionary principle,  meaning where we are uncertain about the probability of harmful outcomes likely to follow an anthropogenically constructed event and object, we should err on the side of caution. In both cases safety precautions were significantly ignored.