Compare this Reuters video clip with this BBC report. Note that Reuters tells the story from an exclusively Australian perspective, while BBC is evenhanded. Reuters has edited the video in a way that leaves the impression that the Japanese side has not refuted the Sea Shepherd’s claims. The Australian media, if news reports are correct, basically toe the Labor government line. Or is it the other way around? It all seems to make sense, when you remember that BBC has hitched a ride on the Greenpeace boat. And Greenpeace does not see eye to eye with the Sea Shepherd.
If you look past the cultural and racial undertones of the Anglo-Saxon drumbeat, though, whaling does raise an important existential question; namely: How do we define humanity*? If you think that the word “humanity” is confusingly metaphorical, let me put it this way: Where do “we” end and “they” begin? We grapple with this question in many ways, on many levels, in many different situations. Sometimes, little more than a nod, a handshake is at stake. In other cases, it’s literally a matter of life and death. In that sense, whaling is in the same category as genocide, eugenics, abortion, stem cell research, and all the way out to wholesale carnivorism**.
Having said that, it raises my hackles when I see Australia use its unilateral territorial claims over Antarctica to pull off a legal stunt like this. I’m somewhat sympathetic to whales － it’s not an easy call when you think about it － so it doesn’t make me want to kill one just to spite them. But I just might go over there and whack a kangaroo. That should make the Australians upset, shouldn’t it?
* This recent piece by Steven Pinker does not address the issue directly but illuminates the ways in which we deal with the questions as well as their consequences.
** Some definitions of “us” can cause communities to reject carnivorism. Jainism requires its followers to be vegetarian. The Japanese became a substantially vegetarian nation as they became Buddhists. The concurrent fall in the average height of the Japanese population is arguably attributed to the switch to a largely vegetarian diet.