Last night my son watched Whale Wars on Animal Planet as I stepped into the back bedroom. “Hello children,” I said in my best South Park imitation of Issac Hayes’s Chef’s voice. Suddenly from under the book case appeared four little mewing kittens who leapt onto my lap as I sat on the floor.
I’ve lived my entire life with animals, and while my political labels have changed over the years my interest and care for them has never abated. Now as I push the envelope into libertarianism I find myself comparing the evolution of my political beliefs with my innate ones as a kind of reality. If I find myself espousing causes that conflict with these ideals, I know that it’s time to back-off and reassess the situation. Doing this I’ve successfully steered myself away from extremes on both the left and right, pursuing a middle path that in retrospect is uniquely my own.
Whale Wars chronicles the attempts of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to shut down the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctica using “direct action” – actively intervening to stop the whaling ships using tactics that push the legal line. Reviews of the show tend to fall along typical political lines with the New York Times and other liberal media outlets praising the show and the right-leaning Wall Street Journal criticizing it.
Most of the large scale whaling that is still conducted in the world is done by the Japanese. Japan’s whaling is based on a cultural argument that whaling is essential to Japanese culture. “Asking Japan to abandon this part of its culture would compare to Australians being asked to stop eating meat pies, Americans being asked to stop eating hamburgers and the English being asked to go without fish and chips.”
As Greenpeace Japan notes, this is a load of whale crap. Whale meat played a minor role in the Japanese diet until after World War 2 when it overtook all other protein sources, its consumption peaking in 1962. This was by necessity since Japan could not afford to import other protein sources and lacked a domestic meat industry that could supply its booming population. Since then Japan has developed internal poultry and pork industries and secured beef imports from the US, Australia and South American.
As a result whale meat has been in decline, even after a concerted effort by the Japanese government to encourage its consumption. The Japanese government has a poor record of encouraging the public to eat what it doesn’t want to eat. In the 1990’s the Japanese government, under pressure from trading partners, allowed the import of rice which the Japanese shunned. The Japanese consumers viewed domestically produced rice as much more fundamental to their culture than whale meat and avoided it, leading the Japanese government to give away the imported rice to North Korea and other nations as food aid.
In short Japan’s population doesn’t need to eat whale meat today because there are cheaper and more sustainable alternatives. In fact surveys show that the Japanese public does not want to eat whale meat no matter how much its government promotes it. Without the support of the Japanese government Japanese whaling companies would go bankrupt. In the end a free market would end a practice faster than shipfuls of pissed off “whale lovers” throwing urine bombs. But given continued government sponsorship of whaling, the actions by those “whale lovers”can be justifiably condoned.
Yet the argument that whaling is uneconomic without government support is a weak one. All it would take is a whale meat fad to sweep Japan and the whaling ships would take to the oceans again. Karl Marx believed that all human activity could be explained by economic theory – particularly his own version of economic history, so it’s important for conservatives to avoid making the same mistakes Marx made when justifying our beliefs.
In his book “Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy,” Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush makes the conservative case for animal rights. The basis for Scully’s case is stewardship, that we have a moral duty towards animals to treat them with respect and as humanely as possible. This perspective differs from the “animal rights” groups which view the rights of animals as intrinsic to animals. “What the PETA crowd doesn’t understand,” Jonah Goldberg wrote, “or what it deliberately confuses, is that human compassion toward animals is an obligation of humans, not an entitlement for animals.”
The idea that animal stewardship derives from humans rankles animal rights groups on one hand, but on the other hand threatens the industries built on animal exploitation. America’s animal shelters are overrun with unwanted dogs and cats, yet there is an entire industry devoted to breeding these animals. The annual celebration of this industry, the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship is even hosted on Animal Planet.
Animal Stewardship does not make one a vegan. Apes have evolved an omnivorous diet over tens of millions of years. We can’t deny our own biological heritage just because it’s inconvenient to our ideals, but some will try. They may choose to attempt to pursue a vegan lifestyle; personally I have no problem with tearing into a steak. But I want to see the animal that I eat treated well and killed mercifully. This puts me at odds with the beef, pork and poultry industries in the USA that cram chickens and cows into cages just as much as it disgusts the vegans who throw paint on people wearing fur or torch mountain resorts.
I have no problems with hunters who eat what they kill. I do have a problem with men who shoot up the countryside on a weekend bender – drunks with guns. Life is precious and should be treated as such, and I have no respect for a man who shoots something for “sport” and leaves it to rot. If conservatives don’t conserve life, what do we conserve?
So I find myself to the right of PETA and to the left of BeefUSA thanks to my inner compass and my kittens. In case you are wondering their mother has an appointment to be spayed after they are weaned. In the meantime their litterboxes get cleaned, they are fed twice daily and treated with the care that my responsibility for them demands.