Black Inc., 2014, 274 pages, $29.99 (pb)
Review by Phil Shannon
Industrial-scale whaling, writes Sam Vincent in Blood & Guts, had picked clean the world’s oceans until only the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary remained, protected by the icy remoteness of Antarctica and a worldwide ban on commercial whaling. A convenient loophole allowing lethal whaling for ‘scientific research’, however, was exploited by Japan, resulting in many thousands of gory whale deaths – until the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society began physically disrupting, on the high seas, Japan’s annual hunt.
The “bad-ass do-gooders” of Sea Shepherd come with the blessings of the nine out of ten Australians (including former Greens leader, Bob Brown) who support the organisation’s direct action campaign. Vincent, a journalist for the Australian establishment media, has, however, some disillusioning news for what he derisively calls the “whale-huggers”.
During his time with Sea Shepherd in 2013, Vincent uncovers, behind the donor-friendly, charismatic image of the Sea Shepherd leader, Paul Watson, a domineering, “megalomaniacal misanthrope” who harbours, amongst his whale-loving crew, like-minded “human-haters” who care more about whales than the plight of refugees in Australia or homosexuals in Africa.
Racism, too, Vincent discovers, is an “integral part of Australia’s whale advocacy”. Norway and Iceland kill more whales than Japan but it is only the latter that draws condemnation because, he says, it is easier to demonise Orientals as barbaric, especially Australia’s old war-time enemy.
Vincent also disparages Sea Shepherd as an example of cost-free environmental activism, its feel-good whale-saving theatrics allowing us to ignore the greater threats to whales from pollution, overfishing and climate change with their attendant demand for changes in personal consumption behaviour.
Vincent’s killer blow against Sea Shepherd is to blame it for the continuation of Japanese whaling. If only the anti-whaling zealots in Sea Shepherd (and Canberra) would back off, he says, then Tokyo would have no pretext to play the nationalist card in defence of a bogus ‘tradition’ against ‘Western cultural imperialism’, leaving market forces to bury an antiquated industry kept alive only by a large government subsidy.
Vincent’s lack of awareness that irrational and uneconomic government policies can well continue because of their domestic political benefits is on a par with the rest of his obsessive fault-finding crusade against Sea Shepherd.
Yes, Watson is personally and ideologically fallible but he is extremely good at what he does – disrupting the whale-hunt to financially cripple a terrible industry. Yes, a proportion of Sea Shepherd’s popularity does come from anti-Japanese racial prejudice but this layer of support is an aberration.
And, yes, whilst there are other issues deserving attention, the whale slaughter, which, for Australians, takes place in Australia’s own backyard/ocean, raises a philosophically profound environmental issue ripe for political generalisation - is Nature simply a resource to be ruinously exploited or are we hominids part of a mutually inter-dependent biosphere, a part, moreover, with a unique responsibility to mind our technologically oversized ecological footprint.
Vincent, however, is exercised by a different question. Because whaling is “so miniscule in every respect – whales killed, money made, cultural importance”, Sea Shepherd’s fixation on it must be about something other than whales, he reasons, nominating Watson’s “Gaddafi-size ego” and vegan fanatics using whale conservation to aggressively promote their extremist (to the “no moral qualms” carnivore Vincent) creed of animal rights.
This is too cynical, by half. Saving whales can serve as a symbolic entrée to the necessary revolution in thinking from anthropocentrism to biocentrism. Life on planet Earth is not all about us, especially not the profit-crazed elite who literally make a killing out of exploiting the natural world which is our one and only home.