Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics
I was very happy to receive a comment on one of my live blogging threads, and I'm going to reproduce it up here at the top level. See the end of this item.
But it started making me think about something. Something that is kind of obvious, but I'd never quite realised it.
Is whaling really about culture?
This traditionally seems to be true, but there are many exceptions.
I am a New Zealander. I have been in Japan for almost 4 years now, but my culture is still very much that of New Zealand. Yet I fully support the rights of whaling peoples, inspite of my background.
Y/H-san who regularly posts here, is of Japanese culture. He passionately supports whaling, as we can tell by his strong words on the issue. Yet, on Japanese language discussion boards, some other Japanese people speak out against whaling.
isanatori-san is French. Another anti-whaling nation. Yet he too supports whaling.
The comment below is from a British person, but one who also supports whaling.
And some Maori people support whaling, whereas other Maori people seem not to.
I could go on.
So we see that in various different cultures, most people of that culture feel one way or the other, but there are always
exceptions. Thus while at first glance (and even second glance) it seems that whaling is about culture, it clearly isn't. The cultural model simply does not fit, because cultures are mutually exclusive, yet mutually exclusive views depending on culture is not what we observe in real life.
So how do we define this? Why do we support whaling, and why do people who don't, oppose?
Let's look to some recent voting patterns at the IWC for answers. Why is it that Japan failed to achieve a simple majority on the various proposals it put to the IWC, despite the later adoption of the St Kitts and Nevis resolution?
- Secret Ballots. Denmark, which voted for the St Kitts and Nevis declaration, voted against Japan on this issue. Denmark and other nations genuinely voted against it because they believe in transparency. Those that voted for it believe in the sanctity of the democratic vote, and the protection of nations from coercion. In civilised international forums, transparency should not be a problem, but for nations at the IWC who are the subject of threats, their viewpoint is understandably different.
- Japanese coastal whaling. Oman supported Japan on this proposal, but on no others. Oman supported Japan on this issue last year, as well. Oman evidently believes in the rights of traditional peoples. However, Japan still lost the vote as other nations did not support the fact that Japanese coastal whaling has commercial elements.
Now, looking at the St Kitts and Nevis Declaration
, we can make the observation that one underlying concept appears throughout no less than six times - the concept of sustainability
* * *
I suggest that whether a person supports whaling or not depends not on their culture, but on the degree to which that person supports the the notion of Sustainable Use.
person is one who makes decisions "based on or manifesting objectively defined standards of rightness or morality".
On the other hand, an unprincipled person is one who is "oblivious to or contemptuous of what is right or honorable".
Unprincipled people may decide that an activity may be acceptable for themselves, but from this we can not predict whether or not they would support another man's right to also partake in an activity. With principled people, however, we can.
We often see this with people standing up for the Principle of Free Speech. Such principled people will note: "I don't agree with what you say, but by god, I will defend your right to say it".
With regard to whaling, we support it even though it does not effect most of us, because we are principled - we believe in the Principle of Sustainable Use
. And we support the Principle of Sustainable Use above all other considerations.
* * *
The reason why the St Kitts and Nevis Declaration was able to galvinize support from a majority of nations was because it was a statement that, more than anything, affirmed the Principle of Sustainable Use. Sustainable Use was the focus, and this is something that a majority of IWC members now agree with so strongly that even nations who vote against whaling in various circumstances could join together as one.
So what of people who do not support whaling?
It is not possible to generalize. They really are an alphabet soup of various types. Oman supports coastal whaling peoples, whereas Denmark and the USA, both nations with coastal whaling peoples, voted against Japan's proposal because of the well-known commercial element of Japan's traditional whaling.
Stepping down to the level of individual people, some oppose whaling simply because they are selfish. Such people are simply unprincipled. There is little that we can say to them, other than to point out their selfishness, and to heap shame upon them. Thankfully, I believe that such stubbornly selfish people are the minority.
People such as Ann Novek oppose whaling based on a principle that says animals should not suffer. It will probably never be possible to guarantee an instantaneous death for all whales, so Ann will probably never accept whaling. We can all understand and respect Ann's position, although our priorities are different to hers. This is not to say that we are insenstive to the pain suffered by animals, only to say that we are not as sensitive to this issue as Ann.
Other people simply have no faith in the Principle of Sustainable Use. Greenpeace is just such an organization. They state that they do not believe that sustainable commercial whaling is possible. They are essentially a left wing anti-globalization body. The fact that commercial whaling would be regulated means that we are largely insensitive to such arguments.
Some groups believe in animal rights so strongly that they will not stop at any means to uphold this principle. Sea Shepherd for example, openly suggests that small developing nations should be bribed by the anti-whaling camp, resorts to terrorism, and makes incredibly offensive statements regarding people and nations that disagree with them. Good manners and standard human morality go out the door to make way for the notion that whales have an incredibly high level of rights.
Regarding such groups, we can not say anything that will change their beliefs, because fundamentally they follow different principles to us, or have different sensitivities to these different principles.
Fortunately, I believe that a majority of people are receptive to the Principle of Sustainable Use.
I believe that the reason that most people who do not support whaling feel that way is because they have been misinformed. It is not so much that they disagree with whaling - they just diagree with it right now, today. Years of commenting on various Internet discussion boards and forums has shown me this. After much practice, I feel that my arguments are well versed, supported by facts, and indeed, people have been kind enough to acknowledge this to me. And I see more and more people displaying a tolerance of whaling these days than ever before.
This is undoubtedly the power of the Principle of Sustainable Use at work. Appealing to this Princple is how the whaling peoples of the world can win the support of 75% IWC members, to gain a resumption of commercial whaling.
The argument that whaling can be sustainable has already been won. The next step is just to inform enough people receptive to the Principle of Sustainable Use of this fact.
Here's that comment I was talking about at the start. Ian talks about culture at the start - but if you look carefully, we can see that the reason he actually supports whaling is because he too supports the Principle of Sustainable Use:
I just found your blog linked from the Wikipedia page on the IWC. I was trying to find some information about the IWC vote on sustainable whaling, mentioned in tonights BBC news.
Many thanks for all the information! Just to let you know, not all British people have irrational and emotiionally-based attitudes to whaling. I've thought for some time that its irrational cultural prejudice to say that one can hunt and eat some animals, but not others (except where there is a genuine danger of extinction). Also a very little research into the history of the IWC showed the hypocrisy of allowing "indigenous" whaling, but being outraged when countries like Norway or Japan, which have hunted whales since at least the medieval period, wish to coninue their cultural tradition of using whale meat!
I hope soon to see that well-regulated, sensible hunting of whale species with adequate populations to sustain such hunting is entirely legal, under the auspices of an IWC once again fulfilling its original (and designed) function of overseeing and regulating sustainable whaling to ensure healthy whale stocks and prevent over-fishing. Until then...
Keep up the good work!
Ian B, UK