…and Compassion for All

Frédérik SisaThe Recreational Nihilist

[img]7|left|||no_popup[/img]In light of the outpouring of support towards victims of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, it is comforting to consider the human capacity for compassion and generosity. But if you’ll forgive the narcissism that comes with me quoting myself, compassion is only as meaningful as its consistent practice. Whether it’s Johnny Weir and his fox fur or the GOP filibustering a bill that would extend unemployment benefits to the jobless, that silver lining in the human condition comes with a cloud. After finally watching that most excellent documentary The Cove, the cloud is surely an angry black thing with thunder and lighting aplenty.
As a film, The Cove is a gem. It’s excellently directed by Louis Psihoyos, and presented in the style of a thriller. This documentation of brutal dolphin harvesting in the Japanese town of Taiji unfolds like a Mission Impossible led, not by Jim Phelps but by Jacques Cousteau. Only it’s not Jacques Cousteau but Ric O’Barry, the world’s foremost dolphin trainer — best known for his work behind the scenes of Flipper — and, in his view, the man who catalyzed a worldwide, billion-dollar industry of dolphin captivity, sickness and death. I could write an entire piece on the merits of the film in terms of presenting the problem — the slaughter of tens of thousands of dolphins by a secretive group of Japanese fishermen, the government cover-ups, the indifference of the International Whaling Commission, the dangers of mercury poisoning from eating dolphin meat — but you can see the film for yourself for that. What I’m getting at is the footage of the dolphin slaughter, secretly filmed, courtesy of high-tech military equipment and Hollywood special-effects know-how. The footage is harrowing. It brings tears to the eyes. It is excruciating to watch. The dolphins are corralled into a well-protected cove using long metal rods fishermen bang on with hammers – the resonating sound confuses the dolphins, who rely on sound to navigate, and sends them where the trap can be set. Then out come the harpoons and knives, imprecise stabs and jabs that tear at the dolphins and leave them swimming in their own blood, flapping about helplessly with no escape. The sound they make is an eerie, heart-wrenching high-pitched call of distress.
From hunters I’ve spoken with, I understand that the best hunting practices aim to minimize animal suffering. One shot, one kill – bam, quick and it’s over. As much as I abhor hunting, I can respect that. But what those Japanese did, and presumably still do, to those dolphins is nothing of the kind. It’s an orgy of sadism that makes one lose hope for the future.
I know, I know. That last sentence is a bit melodramatic. But how exactly does someone become so immune to suffering that mass killing is done without thought…and with a very weird joviality?
Even since going (b)vegan a couple of years ago, I periodically take stock of my rationale for giving up meat. In fact, I was reminded of it just the other day when going for lunch with co-workers. I opted for the only vegan option on the menu while someone else went for the meaty-meat option. “You’ll offset me,” he joked, to which I replied that it’s not a zero-sum game. I remembered how, long ago, I rationalized the suffering of food animals as being the unfortunate but necessary by-product of industrialized food production geared to feed millions of people. How wrong I was. The conditions in slaughterhouses, as revealed by undercover investigations from groups like, yes, PETA, are not different from the dolphin slaughter in Taiji. Questions arise from the flip side, then: Why subject animals to industrialized horror when we can switch to a diet that doesn’t involve consuming prodigious amounts of meat? Why subject animals to abuse when we can stop reproducing at a pestilential rate and thus better manage the world’s food needs? I suppose it boils down to the core attitude of whether you see humans as lords of the environment or an integral part of the environment. Above or within, if you will. The evidence is in, however, that our traditional superiority complex isn’t working for us and that by struggling to separate ourselves from our world only reinforces the deep connections we have with the life around us. Commoditizing animals and the environment is creating hardships not just for the planet, but for our own human character. All it takes is a step back, a bit of empathy, and movies like The Cove to make us take a long, hard look at who we are and what we do.

Frédérik invites you to visit his blog, www.inkandashes.net.