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Nationalism is Simply a Mask for Abstract Collective Guilt

By March 31, 2015March 14th, 2022No Comments

Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson


Harp seal near the Farley Mowat Photo: Sea Shepherd / Greg Hager

Nationalism is a type of insanity where artificial boundaries replace compassion and common sense.

All of my life, with every campaign that I have organized, I have been called a racist or a bigot for opposing each and every atrocity I have encountered. Our campaigns against whaling have been against whalers in Japan, Norway, Iceland, Spain, Australia, Denmark, Canada, South Africa, Russia and the USA. Our campaigns against sealing have been against sealers in Canada, Russia, Norway, and Namibia. Our campaigns against shark finning and shark killing have been against shark killers in Costa Rica, Australia, China, Spain, Brazil, and many other countries. Our campaigns against illegal tuna fishing have been against illegal fishing in Malta, Spain, France and Japan. Our campaigns against the slaughter of dolphins have been against such killers in Japan, the Faroe Islands, Canada, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico and many other countries.

Name any country and there is an atrocity against some animal or animals taking place there, somewhere by someone.

And many of these atrocities are justified in the name of some national culture – be it foie gras in France, bullfighting in Spain, badger killing and fox hunting in England, kangaroo shooting in Australia, dolphin killing in Japan, the seal slaughter in Canada, the killing of wolves in Norway or the USA, and so on.

I have never opposed an atrocity based on the nationality of the person or persons committing that atrocity. It just so happens that when I oppose an atrocity in any place, there tends to be a backlash from offended people based on their nationality, which breaks down into those who defend the atrocity for cultural reasons, and those who defend their nation and oppose the atrocity but take offense at their nation being cited within the overall criticism.

That’s the problem with national identification. People who take pride in their flag and their country tend to be defensive when an atrocity is cited within the borders of their country, and this often leads to such people defending the atrocity for no other reason than national pride.

I was born a Canadian and I am a citizen of both the USA and Canada. All of my life I have opposed the cruel and despicable slaughter of seals in Canada and I’ve defended wolves, caribou, salmon and other species ruthlessly exploited in Canada. I have defended whales, seals, wolves, bears, sea lions and many other species in the USA. I do not get offended by people in Europe condemning the slaughter of seals in Canada. In fact, I appreciate them doing so.

You see, the seals in Canada represent what Canada is more than the red and white piece of cloth that is used to justify the killing of seals when the government of Canada condemns those who defend seals, and lauds the seal killers as being “real” Canadians who defend a Canadian cultural practice.

My Canadianism is the forests, the mountains, the rivers and all those native species that live upon the land and the sea. The same goes for my Americanism. It is the land and the sea, the forests and the valleys that I love and respect.

Some Japanese people cry racism when we oppose the killing of dolphins and whales. Some people in Spain cry bigotry when we oppose the bullfight or the killing of the Galgos. Some people in Australia get offended when we oppose the shooting of kangaroos and some people in Namibia get upset because defending seals is, in their eyes, a form of racism.

I don’t believe in nationalism. When I see a picture of Earth from space, I don’t see any flags or borders. Flags mean little to me, other than pieces of cloth that people rally around like football colors in their need for some sort of tribal identification.

I do not see nationalities. I see a species of primate hominid called Homo sapiens. And what I see is a species that shares the same virtues and the same vices.

There is not a nation on this planet where cruelty and violence cannot be found. There is not a nation on this planet where one group of people are different than any other group from any other nation.

I recognize that culture and tradition are important to different groups and I respect that, but I do not respect any culture or tradition that practices cruelty or slaughter.

Are Canadians all sadistic people because of the seal slaughter? Are Spaniards all ruthless barbarians because of the bullfight? Are Faroese all vicious monsters for the killing of pilot whales?

The answer is of course they are not. All people cannot be judged by the cruelty of a group within the larger group. Unless of course they openly support such slaughter and justify cruelty, misery and death in the name of their culture.

There is only one race and that is the human race, and the evidence is clear that humanity as a race is ecologically ignorant. Overall we are extremely arrogant in our general collective view of other species – so much so that practically every anthropocentric religion places humans in the center of creation as all important.

People are sometimes confused when they ask me my citizenship and I answer by saying, “I am an Earthling.”

My immediate family is somewhat of a United Nations that includes the following nationalities: French and English Canadian, American, Russian, Kazakhstan, Turkish, French, Danish, Scottish, Irish, German, Iranian, Dutch and Chinese. My ships have had crews from at least more than 50 nations. And what I have long realized is that within any group or nationality can be found a diversity of opinions, prejudices, vices, virtues and beliefs.

And I firmly believe that no group has any superiority over any other group. I do however believe that there is one thing that must not be tolerated, and that is the deliberate infliction of pain, suffering, death and inequality upon any human or any other animal in the name of patriotism, culture or tradition.

The matador who kills the bull, the American big-game hunter who kills the elephant, the Namibian sealer, the African poacher who kills the rhino, the Faroese pilot-whale killer, the Taiji dolphin murderer, and the Canadian sealer are all the same, united in their shared perversity of inflicting pain, suffering and death.

Yet at the same time the citizens of Spain who oppose the bullfight, the Australians who oppose the killing of kangaroos, the Africans who oppose the slaughter of rhinos, and the Faroese and the Japanese who oppose the slaughter of dolphins are also united by a bond of compassion.

I often get messages like, “I support you saving whales but the bullfight is part of our tradition,” or “I support your efforts to save seals but you have no right to criticize my eating foie gras.”

All of my positions are dictated against an atrocity or a threat to an eco-system and not against the nationality of the people involved.

Are all Faroese evil? No, but in my opinion all Faroese whale-killers are bad because whaling is evil.

Are all Spaniards evil because of illegal fishing, the bullfight and the killing of the Galgos? No, but the Spaniards involved in the illegal fishing, the bullfight or the killing of Galgos are involved in an evil that I have dedicated my life to opposing.

The dilemma is, how can you oppose the killing of dolphins in Japan by human beings who happen to be Japanese without stating that the killers are Japanese? You can’t, but we do try to point out that not all Japanese are involved or support the slaughter. But this is complicated by the fact that all Japanese vote for and are responsible for the elected government that represents them, and when that government supports the slaughter of whales and dolphins it implicates the entire nation.

It is not easy to say the least, and people are going to believe what they choose to believe and to justify what they choose to justify.

All that I can do is to be consistent in my policy of viewing all humans equally and judging not on nationality, but on actions.

If the people are Faroese and kill pilot whales and dolphins, I oppose and condemn them for that action. It the people are Faroese and do not kill pilot whales and dolphins but support the killing, I disagree and oppose them. If people are Faroese and oppose the killing of pilot whales and dolphins, I applaud and support them.

It is as simple as that. It is the actions of people that we support or condemn and not the nationality of the person involved.

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