It has been eight years since I posted a piece on the issue of whaling. I have read it again and decided to rewrite it for posting now in conjunction with a recent incident of a “dolphin show” in Japan. Read the Guardian’s piece “Japan apologises for captive dolphin show during Olympic sailing test run” and you will know what I am talking about.
I was in England for about six months in 2010 with my wife who attended a college to learn about animal behaviour. What did I do? Nothing. I was just there. One day Miyako and I were invited for dinner by a young couple next door.
The after-dinner conversation somehow was turned to the subject of “whaling in Japan”. I was asked by the wife whether I ate whale meat. She somehow knew that the Japanese “killed” whales and wanted to know whether I myself ate whale meat. My answer was No. She looked (to me) rather relaxed. I imagined that she was thinking, “Thank God, I don’t have to be with a whale-eating barbarian.” I should have changed the subject right there. I didn’t.
I found myself saying to the couple, “I don’t eat whale meat, but it is not because whales are at the danger of extinction as many of the animal welfare people claim. It is just that whale meats are not as easily available in Japan as they used to be some 60 years ago…” I did not (and do not) really know whether I would in fact eat the meat if it was more readily available. If I don’t, it is most probably because I do not like it： nothing to do with animal welfare.
The English couple looked shocked but kept quietly listening. Decent people indeed. I then found myself going further to talk about a conversation I had had in Tokyo with an Australian diplomat a couple of years before.
The Australian insisted that it was morally wrong to catch whales as they were in danger of extinction. I said something to the effect that nobody had the right to decide which animals should be protected and which ones could be slaughtered. I insisted that it was an animal discrimination and a double standard hypocrisy to say that killing chicken was OK because they were not at extinction but that killing whales was unforgivable because they were disappearing from the earth．The Australian said nothing. He just looked at me with disgust and disbelief (I thought).
Now back to the dinner in England. When my talk ended the English man said quite clearly and firmly, “Protecting animals at the danger of extinction is our duty as custodians of animals.” “But who said that you were custodians?”, I asked. “The Bible says so,” the English man said. I said, “Oh…” and finally decided to be silent.
Then the English man said something extraordinary: he said that although he believed in the moral duty as an animal custodian he did not mind at all cutting wild grass and trees. I was shocked and said, “What? You feel nothing about cutting plants as you want to while you have a sense of duty to protect animals at extinction?! Isn’t that a double standard?” He then explained that it was OK to cut plants because they are not animals with four legs!!
The conversation finally ended.
No, this is not the end of the story. About two weeks after the dinner I had an opportunity to meet in Oxford an English language teacher from Norway. Norway was, as you know, a whaling nation as Japan and Iceland were. I was curious to know what he might think about the discussion I had had with the English couple.
Because he was a citizen of the whaling nation I half-expected him to say how silly the English couple were to say that they were animal custodians. I was wrong. He plainly said, “I agree with your English friends. People should be custodians of animals. That’s what the Bible says. I am a Christian.”
Feeling slightly puzzled, I said “Oh…so, you don’t eat whale meat even if Norway is a whaling nation, do you?”
And I was totally confused to hear the Norwegian say, “Of course I do. I do eat whale meat and like it. Great thing about whale meat is that it is not as heavy and stodgy as beef, chicken and pork are. The only problem is that it is a bit expensive.”
I did not know what to say. And he went on to say, “You do eat whale in Japan, don’t you? You have no restaurants where you can eat the meat? What about supermarkets? Can you not buy it there?” I explained that it was difficult to find whale-meat restaurants and that supermarkets did not sell whale meat in Japan as far as I knew.
So, I now knew that there were three different views on the issue of whaling.
- The English couple: they seemed to believe firmly that people had moral duty to protect animals at extinction and therefore that whaling must be banned. Eating whale meat is out of question.
- The Norwegian teacher agreed with the English couple that people were custodians of animals at extinction but saw nothing wrong about whaling and eating its meat because whales were not at extinction.
- The Japanese old man (Jiro): people were not custodians of animals and therefore not in a position to decide which animals should/could be protected/slaughtered. It did not matter whether whales are in fact at extinction. If you want to eat its meat nobody should stop you from doing so. But when you do eat it you should feel just a small amount of sense of remorse so that you will not over-consume it.
Of these three views, I must admit that mine is the least persuasive. You can eat it but should feel guilty and hesitant? That does not make sense, does it? If you feel guilty for doing something, you should not do that something in the first place. To that, I would say “people sometimes make no sense. That’s what human being is all about…people are irrational and unreasonable”. To that, Christians (British or Norwegian) would say, “Jiro, try to make sense. Try to do the right thing. That’s how human being ought to be and you are a human!”
I am and will be silent to my Christian friends. I would not bother to remind them of so many wars and conflicts in the human history that have led to the destruction of people’s and animal’s lives, not to mention the plants’. No, I would not trouble to remind them that at lease some of the miseries had taken place because of (not despite) their sense of “justice”. Why would I not do so? Why should I even try to speak if I knew that I would not be listened to?