Sunday, December 19, 2010


By © Elin Brimheim Heinesen, Head of Media and Development Department in Kringvarp Føroya, Faroese National Radio & Television.

The Faroese build their livelihood
mostly on available resources in the
ocean - including pilot whales.
Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd activists, as well as others have declared war against the Faroese whalers and announced that they will be present in the Faroes in the summer 2011 to stop any attempt to drive or kill pilot whales.

The Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” about dolphin slaughter in Taiji in Japan, has also brought attention to the pilot whale slaughter in the Faroe Islands. Many accuse the Faroese of being "sick in the head." But the Faroese believe that their practice is perfectly environmentally sound, and that it is the world out there, which has gone mad. In their opinion the world needs to learn from the Faroese much more than the other way round, if it wants to save itself from catastrophe.

Denmark's little brother in the North Atlantic, Faroe Islands, has now for a long time been at odds with a number of environmental and animal protection organizations, which fight against whaling – including the killing of pilot whales. But when the Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen visited the Faroes this summer, he said that, personally, he had nothing against pilot whaling. Lars Løkke Rasmussen believes that the Danish Kingdom should support the Faroese, despite the many international protests, because, as far as he can see, pilot whales are killed in an appropriate way. As husband to a Faroese wife, Lars Løkke Rasmussen knows the Faroese position from the inside better than most. But there were many around the world, who were outraged by the Prime Minister expressing such an opinion.

Why does the Faroese pilot whale killings incite so much anger around the world? And what on earth makes the Danish Prime Minister support the pilot whale catch? Faroese people say that an important part of their identity is lost if they were forced to abandon the pilot whaling. But why is pilot whaling so important for the Faroese identity? Why do the Faroese stubbornly stick to this practice, although it obviously damages their reputation, not least their most important exports, which is the export of fish?

Faroese In Conflict With The Outside World
It is a fact that Faroese actions are no longer visible only to themselves. What they do is not only their own business any more. Just think of the current situation where fishing nations around the North Atlantic have been unable to agree on the distribution of mackerel quotas why the Faroese Fisheries Ministry has awarded the Faroese fishing vessels with quotas, which the others consider too big. It has made Scottish and Norwegian fishermen furious. At the moment they try to prevent the Faroese fishing vessels from landing mackerel in their ports.

In a world where resources are getting scarce, the Faroese can no longer be completely indifferent to what others think about their actions – no matter whether they themselves believe that they have the right on their side and the others are wrong.

Identity Evident In Cultural Divide
A controversy on mackerel quotas is perhaps not so much about identity and identity differences. But opposing attitudes to pilot whaling are an example of a conflict between the Faroese and others, which illustrates a very interesting issue, where the Faroese – at least the older generation – currently experiences a huge cultural gap between themselves and the outside world. This is something that definitely is about identity and identity differences.

The sense of identity occurs right there – in the breach of surfaces, where it becomes most obvious that we’re not like the others – in the differences between the ways to act and express ourselves. That is where we feel we have an own identity. What is it exactly that makes the Faroese identity distinct from other national identities? What is it, for instance, the Faroese do, which is totally alien to others. The pilot whaling is a very good example.

International Abhorrence Against The Faroe Islands
The Faroese have lived relatively isolated on these North Atlantic islands for one and a half millennium - and have never really been in conflict or have never provoked anyone outside the Faroe Islands (except from the Danes a few times in national community affairs, perhaps).

This was largely how things were until the 80s when the first pictures of the bloody pilot whale slaughter were shown in some major newspapers in England – after which there emerged an angry roar of unprecedented dimensions in the world against the Faroese, who suddenly became known as the worst scum, you could imagine.

All of a sudden it became evident to the Faroese – in a very direct manner, that there are other people in this world who have an entirely different worldview than they have. Suddenly, they were deluged with protests from people throughout the world. Suddenly they had to be accountable to others and explain themselves about something, which to them had been quite natural for at least 1200 years.

There are still thousands of protests pouring in through the mail slots in the Faroese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Tourism Board. Also the Danish Government gets its share. People from all corners of the world express, very passionately, how shocked they are about the killing of pilot whales in the Faroes. In their eyes, this is an outdated, cruel and brutal way of killing wonderful, innocent and intelligent animals, which in no way should be accepted in the modern world today. In return, the Faroese should be punished by boycotts and exclusion from the international community until they have learned to behave.

Incompatible Concepts Of Nature
It is possible that the Faroese were shaken at their foundation – at least initially, but it was not enough for them to stop killing whales. They keep holding on to their practice, despite continuing protests from the outside world. So why do the Faroese whalers not agree with the world out there? Are they just heartless, thick-headed idiots? How can it be that in this modern age, these people still choose to perform so-called "medieval atrocities"?

This conflict is something that has helped to force the Faroese to become more aware of who they are and why they do what they do – or at least what some of them do. The Faroese have, for example, learned that there seems to be a huge gap between – on the one hand those who live directly by and use nature – and then on the other hand, those who want to preserve nature completely untouched, but not always live in this very nature...

For those who protest against whale killing, whales are an almost holy symbol of the unspoiled, promised nature, which the terrible human race is about to eradicate – and what will be the end of us all together when the last whale is killed? While to the Faroese the pilot whaling is a living symbol of an – unspoiled – old hunting culture, which related to nature in a practical and pragmatic – and somewhat less romantic - way and utilized it in a sustainable manner – something, which the new world seems not to understand at all.

Shock Tactics Get Media Attention
If everyone tried to cool down a bit, perhaps they would find out that this conflict is something that everyone can learn something from – not just the Faroese, but also everyone else – about themselves and how to survive in the world on nature’s terms.

But this is not the way the piano plays. It's hard to get heard in a world where people are heavily bombarded with media stories all the time. The media are competing fiercely and mercilessly with each other on who can tell the most incredible, most sensational, most tearful stories. Many are therefore tempted to use emotionally manipulative shock tactics and excessive, showy rhetoric to get the attention they need. And the media swallow it raw.

This is undoubtedly one reason why, for example, anti-whaling activists use such methods when they want to 'sell' their message. But the activist’s eagerness to paint with a cruel brush results too often in stories full of factual errors. They can only appreciate that so few media ever bother to look carefully for the holes in their stories.

The Faroese have at least learned how much nonsense the media bring and how manipulative media can be. They have learned about the incredible power and influence media have in this world; how the most powerful media determine what people think – and how hard it is to do something about it. They have learned that there is a media created reality. They're just not yet as familiar with the mechanisms of the media world as others because they are novices and rough diamonds in this area vs. others. Just think about the fact that television first made its entry in the Faroe Islands in the early 80s!

Reality Fictionalized
It is therefore not an easy task for the Faroese having to behave in a world where increasing numbers of people form their worldview almost entirely through the media and entertainment industry. Most people are now exposed to a constant, massive flow of media sensations, in which reality is fictionalized and fiction becomes 'reality'. Many seem gradually to be almost more familiar with the media created 'reality' than with the real reality, if I may say so. The reality, as presented in media becomes normal, and it seems increasingly difficult for many to distinguish between reality and fiction. In such an alienated world, dramatic stories – eg. about a “cruel massacre of innocent dolphins “ – resound perfectly in many ears. People 'buy' the story right away, so to speak, and 'forget' to call into question what it is they see or hear.

Most people never get to hear the other side. Faroe Islands is a very small country, which cannot afford to get its message across. Anti-whaling activists allegations will therefore stand unchallenged.

Activists Need To Point Out Scapegoats
Many people are scared and frustrated with the development in our ailing world. Especially those who live in the western world, who deep down know that their extravagant lifestyle greatly contributes to the destruction of mother earth. But it is something that many probably prefer not to think too much about. It’s part of human nature that we do not like to blame ourselves for problems. People need a vent for frustrations and they need to soothe their guilty conscience. So they like to contribute to "save the world" with a signature to petitions, for example, so they at least have the feeling that they do something to support – apparently – good causes like campaigns against the “cruel slaughter of innocent pilot whales”. This will buy a little indulgence to ease their conscience.

It's this kind of mechanisms in the human psychology, activists can take advantage of – and the fact that so many people know so little about this small group of people, who live in a remote place in the North Atlantic, and who happen to eat pilot whales. Who does such a thing in the 21st century! It is very easy for activists to make this small group of people into the world's scapegoats. It also helps a lot that most people in the world aren’t allowed any longer to see what happens to animals in enormous farm factories and slaughter houses where meat is produced in huge masses to satisfy the insatiable market for meat products. There's a reason to why the industry tries to keep this practice a deep secret. Meanwhile the Faroese – naively perhaps – perform their bloody pilot whale slaughter in the open for everyone to see, who cares to look.

Hollywood-style Media Stories
The activists have been adept at getting attention, and they are much better and more trained than the Faroese in telling captivating media stories. By this they can win supporters and earn money, so they can get even more space in the media and entertainment industry. But in reality they do not make much difference to the cause they supposedly work for ... perhaps rather the opposite: There is much to suggest that the intrusive and often rude and disrespectful attitude of the activists, only intensify conflicts, slow the process down and defer solutions.

If the activists really were interested in making a difference and change the Faroese attitude to eating pilot whale meat, they might have more success by trying harder to talk sense to the Faroese – for example, make enlightening films about pilot whales, perhaps in Faroese language, showing respect for Faroese intelligence – rather than making a lot of noise throughout the world, moving people’s attention to their own role and highlight their own so-called 'heroic deeds', whereas the Faroese are presented as 'barbarians' and dehumanized. How much positive responsiveness from the Faroese can they expect to get out of that? What is the purpose of trying to portray the Faroese, as if they deliberately want to insult the whole world with their actions, while in fact they’re only providing food for themselves the way they’ve always done?

The Faroese have never made a secret of what they do in the Faroes and they certainly do not reject a respectful dialogue with others about how to improve their methods, if it’s possible to further improve it. But some activists just turn out to be more interested in keeping distance than to approach the Faroese. They probably need the Faroese to be their enemies to maintain and strengthen their own hero-image and to keep alive the stories about themselves in the best Hollywood-style, for instance, as "under-cover" agents "revealing the atrocities committed in the Faroe Islands" in imminent danger of being discovered and attacked by the "brutal whalers."

Such dramatic imaginative stories provide much greater resonance in the media world. Most media do no longer respect the principle of presenting the world as objectively as possible. They will rather worship hero figures fighting against evil, because such stories, based on Hollywood's narrative principles, sell a lot better.

Balance vs. Exponential Growth
The Faroese themselves see the pilot whaling as one of the few reminiscences left in the world after an old and artless way of life, well-tested through more than a millennium, where survival is based on local self-reliance, shared responsibility and solidarity, natural balance and sustainability. It is possible that this is a hard – and sometimes apparently cynical – life. It has its hardships and victims. But it’s necessary, if you want to live on what is available in your close neighbourhood, the Faroese say. This is indeed some of the principles, which experts all over the world say we need to restore, if humanity wishes to have a future.

Why should the Faroese be forced to let go of this way of life completely and go all the way and implement a modern lifestyle, which implies 100% dependence on an unstable, unsustainable system, which rewards greed because it’s based on the illusion of infinite exponential financial growth? The catastrophic consequences of such a system are – as we have seen already – that resources become extremely unevenly distributed and are used up, while the ground, the seas and the air become polluted and poisoned with accelerating speed, and sentient animals are tailored into consumer products by the billions and treated no different than exactly that: products among other products. This system is basically life-threatening and exposes us all too serious danger in the long run – not just humans but all living creatures on earth – including whales.

Isn’t this much more horrifying than the pilot whale slaughter as such? Shouldn’t all these activists, who claim that they are so much in favour of environmental and nature conservation, rather spend their energy on reversing this deadly progress and do something serious about the system that creates this development?

Can One Escape The Media Web?
But who cares? How many media bother to concern anyone with such issues and put them on the agenda? Simple and easily digestible stories about heroes, who save poor innocent whales from malicious people, are much more interesting and manageable. That other stuff is too confusing, so let’s close our eyes, so we can lull ourselves into a much more comfortable false sense of security. This is the reality the Faroese – and everyone else is up against ...

How should the Faroese relate to this reality created by the entertainment industry, which is so predominant in today's world? How can they stick to themselves and their identity, when the foreign media waves wash over the islands like tsunamis and threaten to wipe out their identity? How to tackle the fact that activists and the media out there use them to create lucrative sensational stories designating them as the villains? How to tackle the risk they face of sudden exclusion from the global community unless they start to behave like 'all others'?

What should the Faroese make of the fact that they live in a world where a global financial crisis rages because of an illusory monetary system based on false trust, while oil resources are running out, and where they – most likely – suddenly might find themselves isolated out in the North Atlantic, only able to survive by means of renewable energy, available on site – water, wind, currents, waves, their own muscle power, using skiffs and sailboats and the plants and animals that live there - on land, in the air and in the sea ... yes, whales not least ...

Admission Ticket To A Good Lifeline
The above scenario is very likely the serious challenges ahead, which the Faroese (and others) face. But it’s, perhaps, very difficult for many to imagine that such a kind of reality might be waiting just around the corner, because we are indeed 'safe' here in our lavishly decorated lounges in our lifted end aboard the Titanic. The water has not reached up to our deck yet. The lights flicker maybe a little, but we are sitting in first class and the orchestra continues to play as if nothing is going on. And we cannot see what happens in the darkness out there.

But all probability calculations show us that water is rising faster and faster and may already have reached the point where the ship is floating so heavily that it will tip and then slide straight downward in a sharp curve, pulling the whole ship down with it, fast.

But ... maybe the Faroese have just a slight advantage, if or when the world's oil resources run out or the oil becomes so expensive that the global infrastructure collapses. Instead of having to cling to the sinking ship, the Faroese are fortunate to have access ticket to one of the rescue boards, which might prove one of the safest to sit on after the sinking.

Wisdom From Before The World Went Mad
The Faroese are in the relatively fortunate position that it’s not that long ago that they entered the modern age. 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. Alongside the modern life the Faroese have kept these old traditions alive. They have passed this old wisdom on generation after generation.

They have not held on to this life style merely because of some kind of nostalgia, 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 they 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 experienced several of these severe crises in modern times, which have forced many of them to live a very simple life from time to time. This means that many of them have not yet forgotten the old traditional self-sufficient way of life, based on other, more sustainable principles than the fraudulent system, which most of the world is relying on today.

The Faroese might therefore likely be able to "switch" back faster than most others, just because many of them have not forgotten how people survived back then, before the world went mad in an illusory oil adventure, wrapping itself into a pecuniary pyramid-scam carousel that spun the world out of control in a consumption celebration frenzy.

Are The Faroese Lesser "Evolved" Than Other People In The Western World?
Some believe that the Faroese are somewhat untimely backwards or ‘old-fashioned’ in their way of thinking, because they have preserved some old traditions, which others might perceive as conflicting with a more ‘modern’ mindset, but the Faroese don’t see it that way. Is everything ‘old’ dispensable, just because it is old?

It is a myth that the Faroese are lesser "evolved" than most other people in the Western world. 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.

The Faroese have the same obligation as everyone else on earth to take part in the efforts to save this planet from destruction. And they do not do that well if they'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 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.

The Faroese had found a very fine balance which they are about to overturn, which is sad. They have evolved, like so many others, by being seduced by the modern life’s luxury and amenities. 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, which demands a high level of consumption.

But by entering into the modern industrial world, the Faroese have made themselves dependent on oil, and thus 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.

Identity Strengthening Survival Strategies
But the Faroese have not commercialized the pilot whale catch. In this case they stick to the old tradition of communal sharing, so they have yet, still – unlike the rest of the world – preserved some kind of barter economy to some extent. Many of them get a portion of their food directly from nature's larder, and they still share food with each other – such as meat and blubber from pilot whales. This practice has proven to be of great advantage for them at a number of occasions when economy crises have hit them hard from time to time.

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 a bank crisis forced the Faroese to their knees once again. A lot of people were ruined and a fifth of the population was forced to emigrate. But already after eight years the Faroese fought themselves out of the crisis, had paid their debts and re-established their economy – something experts otherwise predicted would take at least 20 years.

And now again we have a world crisis which started in 2008, which of course has affected the Faroese severely too. One of their two main banks just crashed recently – and we haven’t yet seen all the severe consequences, which surely will follow after this crash.

Their 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.

When the crisis hit, the above principles and the Faroese supportive culture proved to be very effective. This is one of the main reasons, why everything up until now has turned out so relatively well, because people helped each other through the crisis by sharing available resources as much as possible and by providing each other services – without interfering money into it. By this, everyone got an increased opportunity to be able to survive with the skin on the nose. It's this kind of valuable survival strategy that have strengthened the Faroese common identity, which is the source of their courage and capacity to face challenges – also in the future.

Nature As A Pantry Or Zoo
People could perhaps learn something from this. But instead of thinking about how to save themselves, while the water rises deck by deck, threatening soon to engulf us all, they are much more keen on spending time and effort to put these "primitive savage islanders" in place out there in the middle of the ocean and get them to stop perceiving nature as a pantry.

Instead, the Faroese – and everyone else is forced to accustom themselves to just enjoy the sight of all the beautiful sceneries in nature and the cute, cuddly animals in it as pure pastime and entertainment. Welcome to the Global Disney World. But for how long can the human race afford this luxury? How long will it be able to survive that way?