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.


  1. Hello Elin,

    My friend Lanis just forwarded me your blog. Thanks for your level-headed broaching of a currently polarized topic! Your perspective is much needed to help people get past the 'us versus them' mentality.

    I'm a cetacean (and human)-lover, I bring groups of people to swim with wild dolphins and whales in different parts of the world, and I advocate global human/cetacean harmony from a place of respect and education.

    It is in the atmosphere of mutual respect that these situations productively evolve. Thank you for your level-headed contribution to the dialog!

    I have posted some videos and hosted radio shows about how to bring healing and integration to this process, and welcome a dialog with you to further the process!


    Joe Noonan - One of many YouTube videos advocating a respectful (and spiritual) path of integration.