Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why I Fail To See The Purpose Of Typical Anti Whaling Rhetoric

I have in former blog posts tried to explain the Faroese tradition of pilot whaling. Let me state right away: The main purpose of this blog post is not to defend pilot whaling. It is to question the rhetoric of extreme anti-whaling activists.

I'd like to give you an example of a claim, very typical for many anti-whaling activists. This is part of an argument I read in a debate forum about whaling:

"Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that lowbrow, knuckledraggers like you exist and are being vocal about your "right" to slaughter marine mammals. I suppose it never occurred to you that every creature on this planet did not evolve for the sole purpose of being killed or exploited by man.  It truly amazes me that anyone would even consider killing anything as magnificent as a whale, or any other creature for that matter. You would think, or at least hope, that mankind would have evolved beyond the Neanderthal urge to bash everything it sees over the head and drag it back to the cave. Apparently, and you are a testament to this, that is not the case. I guess those of us who are more enlightened and actually give a damn about the other creatures we share this planet with can only hope that your primitive, ape-like kind will soon reach the extinction that is long overdue and leave the rest of Earth's inhabitants alone!"

It's obvious that this man (could be a woman, but lets' say it's a man) feels very strongly about this issue. He starts by saying:

"Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that lowbrow, knuckledraggers like you exist and are being vocal about your "right" to slaughter marine mammals."

I get it… People in favor of killing whales are so primitive that they must have a Neanderthal-like look…  He's probably referring to the 'stupidity' of these primitive people. Funny comparison, perhaps, but if this had been said about Afro-Americans, for instance - jokingly or not - one could rightly accuse this man of being a rabid racist.

He goes on claiming that people who do not think like him, might not think at all – or as he puts it himself:

"I suppose it never occurred to you that every creature on this planet did not evolve for the sole purpose of being killed or exploited by man."

This is a statement, which should be followed by a more detailed explanation, because it raises more questions than it answers. The main questions might, for example, be: If not every animal is evolved for the sole purpose of being killed or exploited by man, which animals are? And why is it that these animals are more suitable for exploitation than others? And why is it that others are not? Clearly, in this man's view, the whales are not... but why? I guess he is trying to explain that in the next sentence:

"It truly amazes me that anyone would even consider killing anything as magnificent as a whale, or any other creature for that matter."

This shows that this man has attached himself emotionally to animals as a whole, but especially to whales. To him whales are a symbol of something ‘magnificent’, almost sacred, which – in his view obviously – has the right to be untouched by man. As sympathetic as this might seem, it is not a rational claim. It is based on emotions and belief.

Many whaling activists claim that whales are so highly developed and so intelligent that they might even be superior to humans in intelligence. But he forgets to mention that many of these intelligent whales he allegedly wants to protect are meat eaters themselves, and thus kill other creatures – sometimes including humans. I guess we have no other option than to accept that fact. But why is it okay for highly super-developed animals like whales to kill other animals, if it’s not okay for humans?

This man is of course entitled to believe what he likes, but then he goes on:

"You would think, or at least hope, that mankind would have evolved beyond the Neanderthal urge to bash everything it sees over the head and drag it back to the cave."

To me this is a peculiar claim, because mankind has probably never in history killed more animals than it does today. Furthermore, I fail to see any logic in this argument, because ancient food providing methods were probably much more humane than today's highly evolved modern industrial ways of providing food, which include mass breeding of domestic animals. In comparison with the cruelty, revealed in slaughterhouses all over the world, where massacres occur everyday, hunting of wild animals seems almost insignificant, unrelated and irrelevant – at least when we talk about sustainable hunting of not endangered species.

Note, that I do not in any way endorse killings of endangered species, but I really can't see why sustainable hunting should be much worse than the industrial way of mass-killing animals, which to me seems much more torturous and holocaust-like than killing and hunting free animals in the wild has ever been. But anyway...

I wonder why he expects the human race to have evolved significantly in such a short span, which a million years is in the big perspective. Just because we've developed very fast in a technological sense the last 200-300 years, it doesn’t mean that basic human nature as such has changed much since the time of the Neanderthals, who, by the way, were extinct 30.000 years ago. We're not even related to them, since we’re a whole other different species called Homo Sapiens. Anyway, as he rightly states:

"Apparently, and you are a testament to this, that is not the case."

This is true. We have not evolved much - emotionally. But what makes him believe that he himself and his allies are any 'better'? As he then goes on to state:

"I guess those of us who are more enlightened and actually give a damn about the other creatures we share this planet with can only hope that your primitive, ape-like kind will soon reach the extinction that is long overdue and leave the rest of Earth's inhabitants alone!"

Take a good look at this sentence. This man is obviously so angry that he's lost sense of what he really is saying. The first thing you notice is, that this man holds himself and his allies in such high esteem that he assumes that he and they are "more enlightened" and, thus, the only ones who care about this planet and about those who inhabit it – while others who disagree with his views about animal killings are labeled as "ape-like" - i.e. lesser evolved – and should not be allowed even to exist! He’ can’t think much of apes, since he compares these atrocious human beings to apes.

But when it comes to ethics or moral standards, are we humans, basically, really so different from animals, aside from our technological advancement? Does history prove that we have evolved much beyond other species in that field? Just to mention an obvious example. Is intelligence any guarantee of higher moral standards?

My point is: Isn't it self-exalting megalomania beyond any rationale to believe that humans are any better than animals? And to believe that whales are almost humanlike – at least when it comes to intelligence – and therefore better than any other animals?

What about the intelligent animals that happen to 'think' that it is okay to kill other animals? Should they be wiped out too? Do whales never attack other creatures – including human beings? How can we convince them to stop killing other creatures? Maybe we should suggest that it would be a good idea for them to become vegetarians…  Joking aside. Whales are mostly kind creatures like many other creatures, but do whales have moral standards that exceed moral standards of other creatures – including humans?

Why do some people think that whales are superior to other animals? What about all the stupid animals? Is it okay to kill them just because they are stupid? And why would we want to rank animals like that? Or humans for that matter… How would we do that? I mean: Which criteria would we have to use?

If we should follow this man’s logic – and fulfill them, it could have disastrous consequences… So what is this really about? I don't say that this man is wrong in everything he believes, but what really is disturbing to me is, that he obviously hates people who happen to disagree with him, so much so, that he wishes to wipe them all off the face of the earth!

Let me quote our anti-whaling activist again: "(We) ...  can only hope that your primitive, ape-like kind will soon reach the extinction that is long overdue and leave the rest of Earth's inhabitants alone."

It runs shivers down my spine when I hear such claims because they remind me – in  an eerie, familiar way – of what a certain person, which rose to great power for a while in the past century, consistently claimed year after year until he made enough people believe in him and all hell of World War II broke loose. This man was also known for having a quite sentimental love for children and animals.

The hatred, which is revealed in this last sentence, is not in any way consistent with this man's claim that he loves all creatures on this planet. After all, some obviously don’t qualify to fall into the category of those worthy of this man’s love…. The inconsistencies in this man's claims are so obvious. But still, he fails to see the inconsistencies himself.

The problem is always that the self-righteous are too self-righteous to notice their self-righteousness.... What exposes their self-righteousness, though, is their firm conviction, which almost always is based on emotion and beliefs rather than on facts.

I couldn’t say if this is true for this man, but ignorance and insecurity does often turn people into irrational fanatics. The more insecure you are, the more you need to hold firmly on to something to believe in… And the more firmly you hold on to something you believe in, the more you attach yourself emotionally to your beliefs – so much so that you’re unable to accept anything that contradicts your belief. And thus you become: a fanatic.

This man is far from alone. Claims like his are seen in many, many forums on the net. Many are far more hateful and aggressive. And weirdly, other people admire the viewpoint this man and others express. They encourage it and think these activists are heroes, because they stand up for the poor whales’ rights. Which confirms to this man and his allies in the extreme wings of the anti-whaling movement that they really ARE more ‘highly evolved’ and better persons than others.

He doesn't like the fact that people kill animals for food – or not for any reason. It gives him the impression that he must love nature and animals more than other people who happen to think that humans need to kill animals for food, as they’ve done for millions and millions of years. It’s easy for an anti-whaling activist to jump to such conclusions about themselves. Those, who aren't as opposed to the killing of animals as this man is, are – in this man’s view – emotionally handicapped, and therefore they’re labeled inhumane primitive ‘knuckledraggers’.

As a result of the fact that the activists really believe they them selves are more ‘humane’ than others, they think they have the right to tell others – the primitive monstrous people – how to behave.

But this seems to be extremely naïve and reveals very little understanding of the fact that life is not just black and white. The man I've cited above obviously lives in an almost childlike universe, where good and bad is split up. He seems - just like a child – to be so convinced that he represents all that is good in this universe, while all bad things are being projected onto other human beings who do not share his beliefs. He even dreams of an Utopia where he can be freed from all evil - including the bad, bad whalers.

This clearly shows that he and his allies have become so alienated to the true nature in themselves – which includes both good and bad, as it does for everyone living on earth – that they seem to have lost any sense of reality.

It's only when man is incapable of seeing and acknowledging the bad in himself that he is truly capable of committing evil things. It's eerie that he and many others fail to see this.

I can’t see how this man's belief is any different from other religious beliefs – and as we know: fanatic religious beliefs is perhaps the most dangerous phenomena on earth. Religious beliefs have lead to wars that killed more people than any other phenomena – including natural disasters – in mankind's known history, because people really believed that their cause was SO right and unquestionable – and SO important that it gave them the right to rise above others and, in the name of God (read: good), actually kill other people. Believing in one's own pure goodness is to take the direct route to pure evil...! 9/11 is just one example in a very long row. History shows – again and again – what self-righteousness can lead to.

One can of course discuss back and forth, whether pilot whaling has a significant or severe impact on the pilot whale population or not - or whether it is right or wrong what a few whalers in the Faroe Islands, for instance, do to a small number of a not endangered whale species as part of a traditional way of providing food - a sustainable tradition, which has been taking place for more than a thousand years, perhaps even longer. In fact it is not much different from the Indian tradition of killing buffalos on the American prairie in the old days - a hunting method, which had been done sustainably for thousands of years before guns and rifles where introduced by the white man, which, consequently, lead to the extinction of almost the whole buffalo population, which you hardly can blame the Indians for. The pilot whale population is not so unlucky yet, though the increasing levels of methyl mercury and PCB in whales causes great concern for the health of the animals and those who eat them. But are the Faroese to blame for that?

Regardless of that discussion, the obvious self-righteousness and lack of doubt expressed in this, quite typical anti-whaling activist’s arguments cited above, is what disturbs me the most, because such rhetoric does not solve any problems – it just increases the gap between the two sides, entrenches rigid positions, and creates frustrations and even hatred. If one really is concerned about the whales and wants to reach actual results in favor of the whales, why on earth would one choose to express oneself in such a confrontational, unconstructive way? Which is why I don't get the rhetoric of extreme anti-whaling activists...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Are The Faroese People Caught In A Conflictive Time-warp?

This is a response to a comment made by an anonymous reader to my blog post: "The Global Disney World" (

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks for a thoughtful reply. I appreciate your reflections to my blog post "The Global Disney World". I'd like to make some comments to your thoughts – and ask some questions, because I'm not sure that I'm quite getting what exactly you are trying to say. It puzzles me. Let’s start with the beginning. You say:

"The Faroese people today are caught in a conflictive time-warp, from which many other societies have since evolved. There is nothing unusual or exceptional in any society's resistance to change. In terms of "human nature" it is far more familiar and comforting to cling to a traditional lifestyle than to venture into the new and unknown."

From what you are saying, it seems that you have the impression that the Faroese are somewhat untimely backwards or ‘old-fashioned’ in their way of thinking, because they have preserved some old traditions. You and others might perceive these traditions as conflicting with a more ‘modern’ mindset, but the Faroese don’t. Correct me if I’m wrong, but between the lines I read a – slightly patronizing – attitude, as if you’re really saying to the Faroese: Hey, you’re in the 21st century. Why don’t you wake up to reality and evolve, just like the rest of us…

But what is it exactly you’d like the Faroese to evolve into? Do you believe everything ‘old’ is dispensable, just because it is old?

Since you choose to be anonymous and I have no way of knowing who you are, where you come from, or what relation you have to the Faroes, and why you're concerned with the Faroese, I don't know either how much knowledge you have about life in the Faroes. But from what you are saying, you seem not to be quite familiar with life in the Faroes – or aware of that the Faroe Islands is, in fact, a very modern society in most matters.

Although the Faroese have been able to hold on to some old traditions, they have not at all been reluctant to change as a whole. For the last 150 years the Faroese have been very eager to evolve and to adapt to the industrial world as far as it was possible in this relatively remote area with it's limited resources. The Faroese have in fact been very successful at this, which today's high standard of living in the Faroes proves.

But this evolvement is not always for the good. As I state in my blog: "It’s true that the Faroese have, like so many others, been seduced by the modern life’s luxury and amenities. It is true, that they are also infected by the western world's material greed. And it’s true that they in many ways live as people in other Western countries, first class. But by entering into the modern industrial world, the Faroese have made themselves vulnerable, like all others who also depend on oil. We see how the Faroese currently are fighting fiercely with others about ocean resources in order to get enough fish to be able to afford buying oil for their fishing vessels and maintain the living standards they have achieved."

As a Faroese I'm not too proud of the latest development in our fishing industry.  I think that in the long run the Faroese would be much better of if they rather stuck to the admirable qualities in their lifestyle from the old days, which are all about social responsibility and sustainability.

I acknowledge that the Faroese have the same obligation as everyone else on earth to take part in the efforts to save this planet from destruction. And we do not do that well if we're exploiting nature in an unsustainable manner. Unfortunately, when it comes to fishing (not pilot whaling!) some Faroese are getting a little off course for the time being.

But I have to say that this greedy way of dealing with nature is not the way the Faroese used to deal with nature in the past. It seems to be the modern world's ways of dealing with business, which urges some Faroese to adapt to unsustainable practices, very common elsewhere.

I do not think that the Faroese are any better than anyone else… I mean: as human beings. But they had found a very fine balance which they are about to overturn, which is sad.

At the same time as the Faroese live this modern life – very similar to life in other Nordic countries – on the industrial world's terms, which also has brought them wealth, they have still managed to preserve parts of their old knowledge of how to live a simple life and survive in solidarity with each other on nature's terms in a sustainable way.

They have not done this merely because of some kind of nostalgia – as you seem to believe – but primarily because the Faroese homogenous economy, almost entirely based on fishing, has shown to be very vulnerable. Some years everything goes really well – oil prices are low, fish prices are up – and people get relatively much money on their hands, which they often choose to invest in improving the conditions in the society – for instance the infrastructure, of which we can enjoy the benefits in harder times. At other times a combination of unfortunate factors tip the economic stability with dire consequences for many Faroese, who have lost everything during these periods. The deceitful modern monetary system seems to further increase the severity of these crises.

The Faroese have relatively often experienced periods, not so far apart, where they could not rely on their usual lifelines. The crises set in, in a quicker, more dramatic manner than most people on the European mainland are used to in their countries. The Faroese have grown accustomed to this fluctuating economy and the risks that follow. For instance, during World War II all connections to the 'mother country' Denmark were cut. There was a severe bank crisis in the mid 50'ties. Then again we had the oil and fishing crisis in the mid 70'ies. But also in modern times in the 90'ies where a bank crisis forced the Faroese to their knees once again. And now again we have a world crisis which started in 2008, which of course has affected the Faroese severely too. One of our two main banks just crashed recently – and we haven’t yet seen all the severe consequences, which surely will follow after this crash.

As I have explained already in my blog, our old local survival kit, if I may say so, has come in very handy in these periods of hardships. This is the main reason to why the Faroese still partly rely on old ways of surviving – including pilot whale hunting.

Note that my primary goal is not to defend the continuation of pilot whaling as such, but simply to explain the circumstances and the reasons, why it still exists. Bottom line, I guess the Faroese fail to see that they really have any better alternative, because other options seem – from their viewpoint – scarier and even more hazardous.

"Presently, change is upon us all. Nature governs our existence, and nature is, as always in a constant state of change. Unfortunately, through no fault of the Faroese, eco-systems and the very bio-diversity of our planet has been adversely affected in recent history by mankind's greed and disrespect of nature through commercial and industrial exploitation and greed."

This is exactly my point in my blog. Couldn't agree more. My point is, that nature has always governed human kinds existence. Some humans have just been more aware of that than others, which is why they have been better at taking care of nature than others. I happen to believe that the Faroese have done just that with their way of living with and off what was available in their own environment in a sustainable manner. This is what I'm talking about, when I say that perhaps the world could learn something from the Faroese.

You say: "The destruction of our oceans and it's limited resources must be addressed globally. In a time of new environmental awareness and our unprecedented ability to communicate beyond man-made borders, the message to your shores is one in the same for all mankind."

Yes, of course... and it should be. Agree. Of course the Faroese should still take care of nature in a responsible way. They have done so in the past. So they should do that now too, instead of adapting to the destructive ways of the modern world.

"If we continue to live as we have in the past, the depletion of our ocean's resources is inevitable."

Yes, it’s true – given that “we” means “people living in the industrialized world”. But I’d like you to clarify: When you say “we”, do you include the Faroese? I ask, because the way the Faroese have been living ‘in the past’ has not endangered nature as much as the way people in the industrial world have lived. Very far from it.  So it doesn’t seem to be a very good idea to ‘force’ the Faroese to adapt to modern, industrial exploitative ways of today completely and thus endorse them to make the same mistakes as everyone else. Which by the way, actually is about to happen, ‘as we speak’, unfortunately.

"It will be virtually impossible to resort back to survival techniques of the past when the ocean's resources are gone."

Very true again... on the other hand: I believe that if it comes so far – or close to it – every man will try to do what ever it takes to survive, and forget about the future, because nobody will have enough energy to think about what's best for the future, I'm afraid. They will have too much to do, struggling for their own lives here and now. The Faroese will perhaps be no better than anyone else. I assume it will not be pretty, anywhere...!

But given the fact that there are only 48.000 people living in the Faroes – a number which hasn’t increased for the last 20 years - I'd say, seen in the big picture: How big a threat can they really be to the world’s resources in comparison with the masses in the rest of the world? Not to take the responsibility away from the Faroese, but shouldn't we try to view things in the right perspective? 

"It may sound dramatic but the international scientific community is predicting dire consequences as our global population increases while unsustainable food sources have and continue to decline at an alarming rate. Overfishing and pollution as well as climate change are now of global concern."

Agree again. This is very much a concern of mine too, as I have stated in my last blog post as well as in former blogs posts, which I am sure you must have read… or?

"Warning signs in nature are evident, as in the Faroes we see the very pilot whale meat that sustained your people's existence through countless generations, now poisons and threatens the health and survival of your future generations."

Which is why I, in several of my blog posts, urge everyone – also outside the Faroes – to take a look at their own behavior. Because the modern way of life contributes much more severely to this alarming development than the Faroese pilot whaling as such has ever done.

This does NOT take the responsibility away from the Faroese. They are also obliged to live in this world not harming the overall balance, but the Faroese can only deal with their own lives first and foremost, and do what is within their own power. I can assure you that all this is very much subject to debate in the Faroes, so the Faroese are not a bunch of ignorant morons (not that you said that, but many think so...) The truth is, that the Faroese are very much concerned – and that they are not blind to these warnings, even if it may seem so to an outsider.

"Nature's reaction to man's contribution of toxic waste can now be measured and has found it's way to your shores. In 2008 your Dr Pal Weihe issued a gov't advisory warning that pilotwhale meat was "unfit for human consumption". His research conducted on Faroese test subjects found a high incidence of irreversible neurological impairment and other disablities attributed to the excessive PCBs and methylmercury levels found in pilotwhale meat. Yet, grindadrap continues."

Yes, true. I have read the advisory warning. And the report. It has caused great concern here in the Faroes, as I said.

I have stated in a former blog post that, personally, I am not for the continuation of the Grindadráp, regardless. I acknowledge that it must stop if there is evidence that proves, beyond any doubt, that eating pilot whale meat is directly life threatening – or severely damaging people's health. The research, which has been done, should of course be taken very seriously. However – though this particular scientific paper's conclusion is that pilot whale meat ought to be regarded as unfit for human consumption – it is not perfectly clear on exactly HOW hazardous it is to eat pilot whale meat – for instance, in comparison with other kinds of widespread available food.

Don't be mistaken. I’m not saying that I don’t believe in Pál Weihe’s research, and I can assure you that people in the Faroes are very worried about this. But it is confusing to the Faroese, that there have been reports which claim that not all scientists/doctors agree with the conclusions in the report made by Pál Weihe's and others. There have been other scientific researches that contradict the conclusions in Pál Weihe's report.

At the same time we are bombarded with information about all kinds of other hazardous foods. I am talking about common industrially produced  food, which we all buy in the supermarket or at the burger or pizza chains, full of hormones and other questionable, health threatening, perhaps even poisonous additives. We remember cases of cow disease, for instance, and we are also worried about contaminated foods mostly caused by extreme monocultures in the agriculture industry. We’ve learned that if you eat only MacDonald burgers for a month or so, you could actually die. If you smoke you're in extreme danger of getting cancer and all kinds of diseases too. It doesn’t make people stop though.

Therefore people here believe that pilot whale meat is, after all, perhaps not the worst food to eat – if you only limit the intake and let children and pregnant women avoid it. It is still very nutritious food, despite the fact that there are too high levels of mercury and PCB in the meat.

"This resistance to change at all cost is cause for worry and makes little or no sense to outsiders, many whose governments have officially classified dolphin meat as hazardous waste decades ago. Is it unfair to warn or advise the Faroese to stop this consumption from a humanitarian perspective?"

No, it is not unfair. Not at all – but I have difficulties believing this is the greatest concern of most of the people who claim they worry about the Faroese. It seems more to me that this is first and foremost used as an excuse to try to get the people of the Faroes to spare the whales. So why not call a spade a spade?

As I have stated earlier, Faroese people are not resistant to change – not if the change is for the better. They just fail to see if changing this particular tradition – the pilot whaling and everything that comes with it – really makes their way of life any better for anyone. Go to to study this issue further, if you like.

“Cruelty of the slaughter itself aside, as one Faroese friend once told me "nature can be cruel"... but as I see it, we must ALL acknowledge and adapt to these changes in nature before it's cruel vengeance disallows us the opportunity."

Well, I am sure that the Faroese will listen to arguments, which make sense to them. I am also quite sure, that they will be much less reluctant to change their ways than the global industry, the agriculture and the transport companies are. These are in fact the true dominators and destroyers of this world. Tell the multinational companies to stop polluting, because they kill people and animals by doing that – perhaps in a subtle and slow, but still very cruel way. But will they listen?