Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hate Campaigns Only Make It Worse

The Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” about dolphin slaughter in Taiji in Japan has drawn worldwide attention to the practice of killing dolphins. I don’t think that the Grindadráp practice - the pilot whaling in the Faroe Islands - can be compared to the dolphin slaughter in Japan. But many people do compare it. There is no doubt that the documentary "The Cove" will bring attention to the Faroese practice of Grindadráp also – perhaps raise and international outrage against it, once again. 

I can see it coming. In many ways it is already happening. The Faroese are quite defenseless against a massive international outrage, because they are so few – only 48.000 – against millions of people who really don’t know much about how people in arctic regions like the Faroes live and survive. But I'm not sure that such an outrage will have any significant effect in regard to saving the pilot whales in the sea surrounding the Faroes.

"Wipe them off the face of the earth"
The Faroese will stop eating whales anyway – probably very soon. Most people in the Faroes have already stopped. But they will stop killing pilot whales because of the contamination of the whale meat – not because of international anti-whaling petition campaigns or boycotts.

Earlier campaigns seem only to have postponed solutions because most of them have described the practice of Grindadráp and judged the people in the Faroe Islands in a way the Faroese could not identify with, at all. Thus the Faroese were not open to influence. The only thing that the anti-whaling campaigns so far have seemed to do is just to condemn and dehumanize the people of the Faroes – all of them, also the people living in the Faroes who do not kill or eat whales.

Many people in the world have come to hate the Faroese because of these aggressive campaigns. So much so that they wouldn't care if a nuclear bomb made a big crater on the islands and killed everyone there. We see such arguments all the time. As a Faroese myself, it is very hard to hear people say such things. And I understand why some Faroese get sad and angry because they feel that this hostile attitude is so unfair.

I’m afraid that any new campaigns caused by this new interest in the issue now launched by “The Cove” will hit the people in the Faroe Islands hard. That would, perhaps, be okay if it could make a positive difference. But I’m afraid that it will not make any difference – not for the good anyway.

A Hollywood-like world
I have not seen "The Cove" documentary yet, but I have an impression of it because I've read about it and seen trailers. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm afraid that it might be like so many other anti-whaling campaign films - just made made more professionally.

I have, unfortunately, seen too many anti-whaling campaign films using Hollywood‘s narrative techniques to emphasize a particular position – i.e. dramatizing emotionally manipulative effects, typically a set-up with protagonists and antagonists: "the good people" (or "the heroes") against "the evil people” – not giving the other side a chance to argue their position. These films might be excellent pieces of artworks but do not give a fair, accurate or nuanced portrait of reality as it is.

"The Cove” has obviously fascinated a lot of people in the world, and I am sure it is a masterpiece seen from a film narrative perspective. But from experience I’m a little afraid that it's angle might be too unilateral – like in so many other films with the same message. There are so many agitating propaganda-like videos, circulating the net – many about pilot whaling in the Faroe Island – often full of overly dramatized, misunderstood and incorrect claims about the Faroese people and their whaling practice - not focusing on creating understanding between people, but mostly on finding villains or scapegoats to put the blame on for the problems in the world - as if the world were a place of Hollywood fiction.

You can't reason with people who have already made up their minds
It's not that I don't sympathize with people who love animals and want to protect them. I just don’t agree with them when their love turns into so much hatred that it overshadows their sound reasoning.  

To be fair: A few anti-whaling campaigns are fair enough in their claims, but I have experienced that a great deal of these campaigns don't respect facts. They’re very emotional and almost entirely built on non-confirmed rumors – and they don’t acknowledge that there might another just as valid view on the matter. The "other side" is just portrayed as pure evil. Many of the anti-whaling film-clips, YouTube is so full of, are examples of this.

The people who make these films are not interested in listening to the other side. They have made up their mind in advance about people like the Faroese, and they will believe anything they hear that confirms what they already think. They don’t bother to check, if the information they get is right or wrong.

The goal justifies the means... or does it?
So many of the claims in these films or petition campaigns are simply not true. Some of the people behind them – or people that spread and distribute them all over in social media and elsewhere - say that they don’t care about these ‘insignificant details’ because the whale slaughter is cruel and wrong no matter what. They feel that they are in war against animal cruelty. And in a war the goal justifies the means. Even trespassing ethical borders. So it doesn’t matter to them if the claims in these films might not be quite accurate, as long as the films serve the purpose, to help stop whale killing practices.

But I believe that you should never trespass ethical borders, no matter what, because then you become part of the problem yourself. I believe these films in fact do more damage than good because they dig ditches and incite people against each other. Of course they do. Nobody accepts it if other people throw accusations at them based on inaccurate or incorrect rumors accusing them of being brutal beasts. Not the best way to create grounds for listening, I would say….

Postponing instead of accelerating solutions
So it is necessary to get the facts right and to be accurate and truthful. And it is crucial to make an effort to understand why people do what they do – come to the bottom of the matter and not just condemn it as evil acts, even though it might seem so on the surface. People might have reasons to do what they do that you just don’t comprehend…. yet.

I'm afraid that unilateral propaganda is not opening a dialog and promoting understanding both ways – it's just creating enemies and making everyone more fixed and determined that they should hold firmly on to their opinion. Consequently it brings the situation to a standstill instead of clearing the way for dialog and a positive development. It just pushes the goal further ahead and postpones solutions that perhaps could have been reached much earlier if people chose to communicate with each other more respectfully and with a will to find out and understand each other.

A Right To Eat What Is Available

If you are opposed to Faroese food traditions, consequently, you will also have to question if the Faroese even have the right to inhabit their remote islands any more. In fact you will have to question whether any people should live in arctic areas! Because how can people live such places if the rules of metropolitan people should apply?

The people in arctic areas can’t grow vegetables because of the scarce sun and the harsh climate. And they can’t live off the natural resources at hand because people elsewhere don’t want them to maintain their traditional ways of supplying food by hunting. And they can’t import their food because the food transportation pollutes the environment too much. The agricultural products they have to import might also have been produced unsustainably. Also there is no guarantee that the imported meat comes from animals treated more humanely than the whales. … How can these people even live in these areas then…?

Would it be fair to ask the Faroese just to move somewhere else? Where to? Or… should they perhaps be allowed to continue to do what is least damaging to the world’s ecological balance and eat what is available to them locally? But… even that option is ruled out now, because much of the food provided this way has become too polluted. What option is left to them then?

Alienated urban people
The Faroese are quite unhappy and sad about the fact that the old traditional and sustainable ways of utilizing the natural resources at hand are in imminent danger of being exterminated. Increasing centralization and urbanization - with more and more people living in big cities – has alienated humans from their true origin – nature itself.

When people see animals today, they don’t connect them any longer to what’s on their dinner table. Animals are something we have for pets or see on TV or in Zoos. People have very little knowledge of where their food really comes from and how it is processed because they’re not part of that process personally anymore.

People have so little contact now with most animals that the animals have in fact become almost completely alien to them. In order to feel comfortable with animals – and perhaps their own bad consciousness – people have begun to humanize the animals. They project them selves into the animals to identify with them. The mass media and the entertainment industry have "disney'fied" our relation to animals – especially people in urban areas who live relatively protected lives and never have to deal with being directly or personally responsible for providing and killing their own food.

An artificial world
It might be an unpleasant discomforting fact, but it is nonetheless true that most people are meat eaters – and thus in fact predators who need to have animals killed to meet those needs whether they like that fact or not.

But having grown up with Disney's way of portraying animals – not least Flipper in TV and Kelkoo (the Orca) in the cinema - it is difficult to face this truth about ourselves and much easier to displace the facts and just let somebody else do "the dirty work" somewhere where we don't have to watch it happen, so we can forget all about it – forget that every meat eater actually eats sentient beings. You could say: in that sense no meat eater is better than any Faroe Islander - they're just being hypocrites living in an artificial, fake world, as some Faroese would put it.

I think, actually, that the Faroese might have a point there that other people should take into consideration. They don't have to agree with the Faroese – just understand why the Faroese think and behave like they do and that they’re not doing it because they're evil people. They are just doing it, because they live in a place where hunting has been the most natural way of providing food for more than a thousand years - it still is.

Aggressive campaigns make matters worse
Shouting 'bastards', 'murderers', 'nuke'em' and other more or less hateful obscenities at the Faroese as if they are the worst scum of the earth will never make the Faroese understand the campaigners view or make them change their way of thinking.

The ‘tragic irony’ of it all, some would say, is that if the campaigners succeed in their effort to blacklist the Faroese people, getting large crowds of people outside the Faroes – or even countries – to boycott Faroese products or to refrain from traveling to the islands; this will isolate the Faroese people even more, making them less susceptible to other ways of thinking that could change their minds, and it might very likely cause an economic crisis in the Faroes which, consequently, will force the Faroese to continue living off what is at hand in their own environment more extensively – e.g. killing pilot whales... despite of the fact that the meat is contaminated. Simply because they might not have any other option. So maybe it is a much better idea to back off a little and not be so aggressive with the Faroese if one really wants to save the whales… and the Faroese children from contaminated food.

Save the world - not only the whales
We need to stop condemning each other and be more understanding in order to achieve peace and tolerance, which in my view is absolutely essential – and crucial – if we want to find fast and effective solutions to all the extremely serious problems we face in this world – first and foremost pollution and not least the problem of how to provide healthy and sustainable food to the world’s increasing population, wherever they live on the planet. We need to think thoroughly about how we are going to feed the 6-7 billion people on earth in a less polluting and more sustainable way in the future. We really need to focus on and address the problems that are the real threats to everyone's lives – humans as well as animals.

I understand the deep and sincere wish to protect the whales, but if one really wants to protect wildlife and the habitat in which it lives, it is perhaps not the most efficient way to do that by agitating and creating hatred against a very small population of only 48.000 people, which beforehand are relatively isolated, quite vulnerable and just trying to survive in their own way like they've always done, for instance by killing a few pilot whales a year, already very much aware of the problems and on their way to stop eating the contaminated whale meat.

Alas, it is not enough to put all one’s efforts into saving only the whales just by making life intolerable for the whalers. It is much more necessary for more people to put their full effort into stopping pollution and humankind’s damaging behavior to save, not only the whales, but all animals, ourselves and our environment as a whole.

An Old Life Style Near Extinction

The Faroese are in a crisis in these times because a very important part of their meat supply has been declared unfit for human consumption; namely pilot whale meat. Even though they have been warned not to eat pilot whale meat, they are still afraid to give up on the skills of pilot whaling because they’re accustomed to provide food this way. They can’t imagine living without this traditional food. If they stop pilot whaling completely, they will also be much more dependent on expensive imports, which creates other problems - also environmental problems.

Why don't they just stop?
If you were told that it might be hazardous for you to eat something you have always considered normal and have been eating regularly – with pleasure – since childhood, wouldn’t it be difficult for you too to stop eating it?

It’s very common in the world as a whole that people don’t always listen to warnings. Which is why we have so many people literally dying of obesity and heart diseases. It’s not that they don’t know it is unhealthy for them to eat what they eat, the way they do. They’re just used to eat stuff like that in this way. And it is just very difficult to change what you’re accustomed to, even though you might be confronted with the fact that it is ‘wrong’ or even dangerous for you.

When the Faroese heard that they could not eat pilot whale meat anymore, it was just as shocking for them as it would be shocking for most people in the world if they suddenly were told to stop eating burgers - because meat from cattle for some reason would be declared unfit for human consumption. The Faroese are trying to deal with this situation now. But it is not easy. Because what is the alternative…? What should they put on their plates instead?

It would seem a little hypocritical to ask the Faroese to replace whale meat and start importing more industrially produced meat from other animals – maybe treated less humanely than the whales, all considered.

To ask the Faroese just to become vegetarians, for instance, might be difficult, considering that the Faroese can't grow fruits and vegetables, and how expensive it is to buy fruits and vegetables in the Faroes because of the long distance freight costs.

Adapting a new modern life-style
You can grow a few… very few potatoes, some kind of roots and rhubarbs, for instance. But far from enough to cover the population’s need for fruit and vegetables and the essential vitamins that go with them. The Faroese have imported fruit and vegetables at least since the 50’s by freight ships only. The population has doubled since then and this import has slowly increased to quite substantial amounts today.

But the fact is, that it is expensive to buy fruit and vegetables in the Faroes in comparison with much cheaper prices on the European mainland. Furthermore, the Faroese do not get them as fresh as they are in European supermarkets. Until recently it was regarded unfamiliar and strange – and for most some kind of a luxury to eat fruits and vegetables. In recent years, though, prices have come down to a level where most people can afford to buy fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, though it’s still relatively expensive.

It was, until recently, much easier and cheaper to cover the need for proteins and vitamins by eating pilot whale meat – a diet the Faroese are much more accustomed to than eating fruit and vegetables. But people are aware now of the dangers eating contaminated whale meat. Consequently, today most people in the Faroes – especially in the bigger villages and the capital – have gone through some kind of a transition period where people eat more and more fruit and vegetables – adapting to a more European-like life style.

Well, this might be the only alternative for the Faroese now that the whale meat has become too contaminated. But is it really a better solution?

Which life-style is the most destructive?
As I said earlier, all of this food has to be imported and transported over long distances. The food comes in heavily polluting freight vessels that damage the habitat of all living creatures living in and off the ocean – including the whales. This transport contributes severely to the contamination and in fact, in the end, also the extinction of whales and many other animals... So in a way it doesn't solve the problem. It just moves the problem somewhere else.

Many Faroese think that people who care about the whales should rather try to understand who's the real 'sinner' here when it comes to endangering the whales as well as the natural balance in this world – and put their attention and efforts into solving that problem rather than leading hate campaigns against a small number of people in the North Atlantic who are already victims of one of the biggest problems in the world – namely pollution and all the side effects that come with that.

Instead of living off what our close natural environment provides, like the Faroese did for a long time, people of the world – also the Faroese – have become increasingly dependent on the modern world's farm factory food providing systems. These systems are basically built on a heavily polluting agriculture, an extensive not less polluting transport system and a destructive mass industry that utilizes domestic animals, often in a torture-like way, exploits and pollutes nature, exhausts the soil and contaminates meat, including whale meat.

(To know more about this, watch, for instance, the documentary film “Food Inc.” or read, the book: “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer, and you will know what I mean. Watch interviews with the author Foer here and here.)

Old sustainable ways of living near extinction
It is difficult for many Faroese to understand this: What gives people outside the Faroes the right to impose this kind of modern life style onto them? Why should they buy products produced by an industry that is much more dangerous to life on earth than their own survival methods are? Is the modern world’s industrial way of providing food really a better alternative? Is it less cruel? Less dangerous? More life-sustaining? More nature-friendly? Aren't pigs, cattle and chickens cute too? Aren't they also sentient beings? Aren’t some of these animal species as social and intelligent as pilot whales? What is the difference? Why is it more 'natural' and 'humane' to breed and kill these animals in enormous farm factories? Where is the natural boundary to, which animals are okay to exploit and which not?

The Faroese therefore ask: Why should we completely adapt a modern life style, which – seen in the big picture – in fact is much more destructive than our own old ways of living and supplying food were? Is it people like us living in arctic regions who are just trying to live off their surrounding nature respectfully in a sustainable way, keeping nature's balance intact, who are the real threat to the whales – or to the world – here?

The Faroese have – as some of the very few people in the western world – been trying to keep their old ways alive until this day because it is a tradition that in their understanding represents survival in solidarity and a well tested, sustainable and basically much more balanced and more life-sustaining lifestyle with much less impact on the world's ecological balance – at least up until this day if it hadn't been for the pollution.

So they ask: Is it right to condemn people like us more than other people? Why are we made into the scapegoats of the world more so than so many others? Why don't the people of the world boycott Italy also for killing the near extinct tuna and condemn all Italians? (The tuna fish is in fact also an intelligent and a very social animal). Why don't they condemn and boycott all Canadians for killing the seals? Icelanders for the whales, Spaniards for the bullfights? These people might, perhaps, have much less reason to preserve their traditions than the Faroese have. So why is there so much anger directed specifically against the Faroese? This is very difficult for the Faroese to understand.

Holy Cows Of Today Or A Food Source?

The world has come off balance to such an extent today that our survival is threatened. We have good reasons to fear the consequences if mankind goes on using nature’s resources the way we do now. Many people have this feeling that our world has become more and more artificial and that we are destroying all that is natural and pure, which in the end destroys ourselves also.

Whales have somehow become the primary symbol of natural purity and wonder. Many people feel a close emotional relationship to whales. They are such impressive grandiose creatures – the largest mammals ever to inhabit the planet. They are very likeable because they are social and relatively intelligent animals – and also mysterious because they live in an environment, which is alien to us humans. We admire them and fear their extinction. If the whales were gone it would somehow mean that the world is coming to an end.

It is as if people have come to identify with the whales and their struggle for survival so much so that the whales have become the ‘holy cows’ of the 21. century, worshipped by many people in the world. The practice of killing such magnificent creatures is so alien to whale worshippers that it is very difficult for them to understand – and even harder to accept – that some people in the world still see the same animals first and foremost as a food source.

A statement
Let me state right away, before i go further: I think that restoration and maintenance of the world’s ecological balance is of utmost importance – it’s absolutely crucial if mankind wants to survive in the future. I’m for protection of wildlife. I’m against killing of any animal species near extinction. I find whales to be wonderful, fascinating creatures that we should protect as best possible. I’m against commercial whaling. I’m against animal suffering – whether it is cruel treatment of livestock or the practice of killing whales in an unnecessary cruel fashion.

I wish people would be less dependent on farm factory meat production, because most of this industry is far from sustainable; it creates an unnatural, artificial and inhumane environment for it’s livestock, it decreases natural diversity and it pollutes and damages the environment all humans and animals inhabit, which, consequently, might kill us all.

That said, let me also state that I’m from the Faroe Islands where people still regard pilot whales as a food source. The Faroese have for a long time been killing pilot whales in a way that quite a lot of people outside the Faroes find disturbing. Personally, I don’t find this practice – locally called the Grindadráp – as appalling as people outside the Faroes do. You might ask: How can I say that, if I really mean what I said first? Well, this is exactly what I will try to explain in this blog.

What kind of 'tradition' is that?
I understand perfectly why people outside the Faroes find pilot whaling quite disturbing – even shocking, if it has been presented to them only in form of very graphic pictures, perhaps followed by often quite exaggerated, angry claims accompanied by dramatic music. There are a whole lot of rumors and hoaxes wandering around the net about Grindadráp. People outside the Faroes have this misconception of the Grindadráp that it is a “tradition” in the sense that the Faroese uphold it only because it is kind of a traditional ritual – like some kind of a “carnival” or a celebration of the coming of age of young men or a worshipping of killing and inflicting pain for it’s own sake – not because it is a necessity to these people.  People also believe that pilot whales are near extinction. That is not true. Pilot whales are some of the most common whale species in all the oceans of the world.

Of course, the Grindadráp must seem absolutely insensitive and meaningless to people, if they have this conception of the practice. If it was a ‘tradition’ in this sense – and the whales were near extinction, it could never justify this practice – or the violence and the bloodiness of the kill. And because of this misunderstanding people tend to judge it as mere cruelty and barbarism and as an absurdity that should not be allowed to take place in a modern society today.

In other parts of the world it is normal – or in other words: a ‘tradition’ – to kill turkeys, for instance, so people can have them for a traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner (even though they have the option of choosing a vegetarian meal instead, if the wanted to). To the Faroese, their whaling practice is just as ‘normal’ and just as much a ‘tradition’ in this sense. The practice of Grindadráp is regarded by the Faroese not only as an important part of their inherited skills, their history and culture, but indeed also as a necessity – an important way of supplying food and a key to their survival, also today.

Livelihood in arctic regions
There are a few things many people outside the Faroes don't realize. Just like people in many other scarcely populated arctic regions, where natural resources in form of plants are very scarce, the Faroese have developed a hunting tradition in order to survive. You can’t grow vegetables in the Faroe Islands because of the harsh climate, not in a scale that could bread feed the whole population. To the Faroese – as for most people in arctic regions – it has therefore always been necessary to utilize the few natural resources at hand on land and in the sea to be able to provide food enough.

Since the Faroese came to these islands more than 1200 years ago, they have had to live off their livestock – like sheep and a smaller amount of cattle – that could feed on the grass and the few plants that can grow there - only edible for animals. But this was not enough to get essential proteins and vitamins. Fishing and hunting wild animals was also necessary – also cute and perhaps intelligent animals. And sometimes it had to be in a violent way, because it could not be done otherwise.

The Faroese feel that there is no question that they still have the ‘natural right’ to use pilot whales as a food supply (as long as the pilot whales are not an endangered species), because they have had this practice for at least more than a thousand years. Just like other people feel they have the ‘natural right’ to kill turkeys, chicken, pigs or cattle because the have done so traditionally for God knows how long.

The only difference is that in most other places they have taken the step further than the Faroese and have made their food supply into an industry – the animals they want to eat are bred in enormous amounts for the sole purpose to kill them for food.

Which tradition is better?
One can always argue which tradition is better than the other – and people do. People discuss, for instance, which tradition is crueler. People discuss whether one method is more or less sustainable than the other. And people discuss whether it is more right to breed the animals first and keep them captive for their whole lives feeding them edible but unnatural altered substances to make them grow unnaturally fast, before you kill them and eat them rather than let them live a free and healthy life as wild animals before you kill them and eat them.

Many believe that the pilot whales are killed in an unnecessary cruel and inhumane way, but the Faroese say that the killing looks more violent than it actually is; that it is not crueler than what goes on in most farm factories and slaughterhouses, and that there is no faster way to do it.

There’s no doubt that the Grindadráp practice evokes strong feelings on both sides.  So how can people in the Faroes and outside the Faroes reach a common understanding? Is it possible?

How can people, living in metropolitan areas surrounded by areas with highly developed agricultures, understand the conditions of people living in poorly populated arctic places with harsh climate – like the Faroes. While many people outside the Faroes claim, that it is not necessary to use ancient hunting methods any more to get your food supply, because you can import industrially produced food, the Faroese argue that if they are not able to use the natural resources they have access to, they will be much more dependent on expensive imports, which creates other problems. They need to be able to hunt in order to be less dependent. I will get back to this issue and discuss it in my next blog.

Cruelty or pragmatism?
The truth of the matter is, that in the eyes of the Faroese, you still have to have a pragmatic, fatalistic view on life – at least in places high up north like the Faroes. Not least in these times of crisis and climate change where you’ll never know when you suddenly might have to take personal responsibility for providing your own food. Most people in the modern world’s metropolitan areas have never experienced this: not to have any other option than to kill an animal in order to survive – cruel in the eyes of others, but necessary. But with an increasing worldwide food crisis already taking place these harsh living conditions, which have been normal to arctic people, might soon become very real to all of us.

The Faroese have never chosen to kill pilot whales because they had intentions of being cruel. Of course not. They just didn’t have any other option in the past. They have just kept doing what they’ve always done for food. They still live in a relatively vulnerable area. They still build their livelihood on very few natural resources. They're always under the threat of being struck by new crises. Which means that they might very soon be left with not many other options again than to hunt for food.

They don’t consider themselves any crueler than any butcher, working in a slaughterhouse providing food for people, which is considered a normal job in most countries. To the Faroese it is just as normal that some people provide pilot whale meat to their community, as it is normal for butchers in other countries to kill and slaughter cattle so others can eat the meat.

A philosophy of sharing versus self enrichment
I won’t go into the discussion whether one or the other way is right or wrong – or which method is better or crueler. I just want to say that people who eat meat because they’ve done so traditionally ‘for ever’ should probably hesitate and think about it before they judge the Faroese.

What I’m trying to say is that basically the Faroese are not more barbarians than any meat eater is. They have been living peacefully in these islands for more than a thousand years and they have maintained nature’s balance all this time out of respect for nature and each other – obviously because they were utterly dependent on both to be able to survive in this arctic area.

After a whale kill they share the whale meat for free in the community as they’ve always done. They have never turned the whaling into an industry or a commercial, unsustainable practice to gain profit to them selves. To them it was a question of helping each other to survive. So this is not – and has never been – an act of cruelty, but an act of solidarity and a necessity to secure survival.

In my next blog I will discuss, which options are left for the Faroese – if they stop killing pilot whales.