Trans-generational Amnesia, part 3

Share This Post

We have admired monarch butterflies for the amazing trans-generational memory they have. This memory is shared by 4 -generations, and it ensures their survival by natural selection as they do a life&death relayrace from Mexico to Canada every year.

We have observed that Fukushima meltdowns were caused, not by a tsunami; they were caused by trans-generational amnesia. For the last hundred or so years, the Japanese people forgot that their ancestors had marked out the crestline of the tsunamis and warned them not to build below the markers. (Some Japanese people did remember the markers, and on that terrible day climbed up above them—learning that “Collective memory, as much as science and engineering, may save your life.”)

The Japanese would not have built nuclear reactors next to the ocean, of course, unless the USA had encouraged them to do so. Those were General Electric reactors that melted down—same model as the VT Yankee.

The USA, as a culture, suffers from a severe case of trans-generational amnesia.

Our amnesia is perhaps the most distinctive trait of our culture, and it arises because we are colonizing immigrants. (Before one protests that I forget about Native Americans, let’s acknowledge that even to this day we non-Natives do not view ourselves as committers, or beneficiaries, of officially-sanctioned genocide. If we did, we would refuse to acknowledge much less traffic in “real estate.” There was a different way our immigrant ancestors could have related to Native Americans—they could have made babies together: this reproductive union and joining of families being the moving spirit of evolution by natural selection. Intermarriage did not occur on large enough a scale to prevent the genocide and the erasure of names and understandings Native Americans had for their living sacred land.) Our amnesia is forced upon us by our means of subsistence, ie, by our industrial capitalist economy that cannot value land as being sacred, and therefore unownable.

The Japanese, like Native Americans, view their land as sacred; and the extent to which they continue to do so, is the extent to which they resist the Americanization of their cultures.

I am thinking now about how I visited a Shinto temple at the headwaters of Kyoto, overlooking the wide V-shaped Kamogawa valley that only a few generations ago was primarily agricultural. A priest kindly showed my family some of the grounds, and from him we learned that the temple was sited where (basically) the earth goddess had sex with the sky god and gave birth to a son who was the guardian spirit of Kyoto (and thus Japan). This temple is considered one of the most important Shinto temples because, since the beginning of history, its priests have divined and sanctified the annual rice crop, which itself was the gift of these gods, these spirits of place. We looked over the industrial valley, and imagined it green instead of grey.

“What do you sanctify now that there is no rice grown here?” I asked.

“Corporations,” he said; “See the sake casks over there? The writing on them is prayers for Mitsubishi, Honda, Sony etc.”

“Holy shitake,” I said silently in my head. Out loud I responded, “So you continue to sanctify the source of life for the people of Kyoto. The rice once fed everybody; now the corporations do?”

“Yes,” he said, clearly discomfited, “It is not as we would wish it to be, but Shintoism must evolve and serve the Japanese people or become a relic.”

Our exchange occurred exactly one year before the Fukushima meltdowns.

I think of it often—and when I do, I think of something Aldo Leopold published in 1947, the year we dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima & Nagasaki: “We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry.”

Notice that Leopold used the word “forgetting.” He referred to trans-generational amnesia—a very gaijin character trait!

More To Explore