Dust-up in the Faroes

STU anthropology alumnus Josh Green, currently undertaking his MA fieldwork in the Faroe Islands, is attracting some attention from Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (the folks who confront Japanese industrial whalers in the Great Southern Ocean). An essay that Josh wrote on anti-whaling protests in the Faroes has generated an interesting Facebook discussion (same paper as above, so scroll down to the comments), with Watson himself weighing in. Sadly, Mr. Watson seems to be reluctant to actually read the essay in question. Oh well…

This seems to be an example of what I have come to think of as “the conflict of leftist causes,” whereby people on the political left (and I am one of them) can get themselves tied into knots when one cause to be supported or celebrated conflicts with another…like opposing whaling, on the one hand, and supporting traditional cultures on the other. Let’s not forget, though, that environmentalism, human rights, and many other important causes are, nevertheless, mainstream Western constructs, and the imposition of those constructs on other peoples may indeed be usefully thought of through the framework of cultural imperialism.

You pick your poison. A blanket ban on, say, the hunting of marine turtles would put in jeopardy traditional Yolngu subsistence practices (which include species management practices anyway). At any rate, what Mr. Watson may be overlooking are the differences between large-scale, industrial, “scientific” whaling by Japan, and relatively small-scale, traditional whaling in the Faroes. What is the appropriate balance between environmentalism, animals rights, and cultural survival?


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