Monday, August 29, 2011

Vent Column: Sea Monsters

I'm not ashamed to say that I'm an Animal Rights Advocate (ARA. The last A also stands for "activist" for some people), and a vegan. They kind of go hand-in-hand, since you wouldn't try to save one kind of animal and then eat another. Being an ARA means you acknowledge the sentience and character, as well as the right to life, of all animals, human or non-human.

There are lots of organizations out there that operate as animal rights organizations, not to be confused with animal welfare organizations. The difference between the two is at once striking and vague, and would better be suited for a separate article. Do feel free to do your own research into the defining characteristics of both after reading this. Most, if not all, animal rights organizations follow a vegan philosophy, because again, why would you pet a dog, and then eat a pig? What makes one different from the other, outside of conditioning from your parents or society, which varies based on where you grew up and what culture you were raised in? It's an age old argument now that if you happened to be born in parts of Asia, you'd be brought up eating cats and dogs, or possibly revering cows as sacred beings. The tables would be completely turned and you'd still be left with your brainwashing upbringing as your moral guideline as far as what's food and what's a pet.

I've attended the major Animal Rights Conference created by FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) twice, and heard many great speakers, one of which is the world-infamous Captain Paul Watson, of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. If you don't know who they are, you don't have Animal Planet, because the reality TV show they created from their anti-whaling campaigns in the Southern Ocean is one of the biggest shows on the network as far as ratings. Paul speaks with such passion about the seas and about the whales, sharks, tuna, seals, and other marine wildlife that he and his crew of volunteers risk their lives to defend, year-round. Watching just a short segment of Whale Wars will give you the impression that these guys are hard-rolling animal warriors, looking to rid the seas of illegal poachers. I had known about SSCS for a few years, and the first time I heard Watson speak, it was at the AR Conference in Washington, D.C.. He was the surprise speaking guest that particular year, and part of his presentation was a short clip of Whale Wars, which had not yet been announced. It felt really great to be in the presence of such a pioneer. The man co-founded Greenpeace, and when they couldn't keep up with him, they kicked him out. That's actually kinda cool! Imagine that! You're so passionate about your cause that the group you helped to form can't even think and act as far ahead of themselves as you do. You're paving the way for a new breed of eco-warriors, willing to risk it all for a cause!

Since then, I'd been following members of the SSCS on Twitter and Facebook. This morning as I was getting ready for work, I did my usual website checking ritual, and when I logged into Twitter, I noticed a member of the SSCS checking in on Twitter, and his status said he was at McDonalds... Surely that had to be a mistake! Maybe in Australia (where he is from) it's a different company, or a typo, or something... Nope. I tweeted to him and said "Why would an Animal Rights Activist be at McDonalds?!?!"

Here is the rest of the conversation that sprang up after that first tweet:

“@DGPhotographer: @OmarSeaShepherd Why would an animal rights activist be at McDonalds!?!?”that ok with you

“@DGPhotographer: Why would an animal rights activist be at McDonalds?” as if maccers actually has any meat in their food.Anyway i got chips

@OmarSeaShepherd Shouldn't matter what you got, you're still supporting a place that makes huge profits from murdering animals.

@OmarSeaShepherd So much for "no compromise"

“@DGPhotographer: @OmarSeaShepherd So much for "no compromise"”Wake up m8, in the REAL world it small steps, to avoid all animal products is

@DGPhotographer impossible, who says all SSCS are vegans? Some want more balance, or some want to save whales, think big picture, if able

@OmarSeaShepherd So it's only a priority to save SOME animals? One would think to call yourself an ARA, you'd be vegan, then again

@OmarSeaShepherd hypocrisy is a widespread phenomenon both in and out of the AR movement.

@DGPhotographer Everyone measures their views and support differently, not everyone adheres your YOUR views. Its all a point of view.

@OmarSeaShepherd Being an ARA and a Vegan, to me, is not simply a point of view. It's a moral obligation and a step in evolution.

@DGPhotographer As u say, "to you". point of view from your perspective. its a grey world. we have layers in the org as well...

At that point I wasn't going to play this back and forth game all day, but it really got me pissed off. Why would an organization that claims they're willing to risk their lives for animals, consciously eat animals? Sure, it's hard to completely boycott any and all organizations or companies that profit from animals, but you do the best you can. Stopping in at a McDonald's, surely, wasn't a matter of survival, it was a matter of convenience. It's not impossible to avoid all animal products, and for people who have been dedicated to saving animals for longer than I've been vegetarian or vegan, one would think they'd be further along than me in their "small steps." What exactly is meant by, "Some want more balance, or some want to save whales"? I'm really very confused and angered by this. On the series premiere of Whale Wars, Paul Watson made it a point to mention that all meals served on any Sea Shepherd vessels would be vegan. You've got people on those boats who are indeed vegans and are signing up to save animals because they want to save all animals, not just particular animals.

So after some digging, I found this link and I find this excerpt to be particularly interesting:

"As the transcript verifies, Pete Bethune confirmed the Sea Shepherd crews must be vegan during voyages and this may encourage them to become vegan – or vegetarian – at other times. He makes it clear that veganism is regarded as a diet and not as a philosophy in the manner in which an animal rights advocate would regard it. When asked about animal rights, Bethune said:
Paul [Watson] makes it very clear; we are about conservation, not animal rights… I consider myself a conservationist more than anything. It is not just about whales. It is about our carbon footprint, our clothes, cars, transport, consumption, food, energy, houses – these all play a role.
He suggests Sea Shepherd’s not standing for animal rights is a matter of acceptance; Sea Shepherd wants “to have the average bloke or lady on the street support them;” that, since “animal rights people” are often regarded as extremists, SSCS is wary of being associated with the idea.
On ARZone I asked if the “eye fillet” story was genuine. Was it really the case that the first thing he did on release was to eat animal flesh, and I added, “if it is, what’s the point of eating one and saving another?” Bethune answered
Yes, I did eat eye fillet. I am not perfect. And, I ate three meals on the flight home. I couldn't help myself. Since then, I have gone back to vegetarian. But, it is not an absolute for me.
He also said he was in transition and believed he would turn vegan sometime in the future. He explained the difficulty being vegan as related to growing up in a situation in which family members were not vegan. While these points seemed perfectly acceptable to the SSCS supporters present at the ARZone chat, what Bethune said was understandably disconcerting for the animal rights advocates who take veganism to be their moral baseline position and something we owe nonhuman animals: something we do first and not last.
- Paul Watson states openly that it is not an animal rights operation."

So now it's out there from more than one member. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is strictly about conservation, not animal rights. There is also a passage in a book by Charles Bowden called Some of The Dead Are Still Breathing, in which he recalls working on a boat that Watson was the captain of. He doesn't flat out say it was Greenpeace or Sea Shepherd, but you could make your own assumptions by the large amount of details he includes instead. He talks about how, while out trying to save marine wildlife, Watson and his crew regularly dined on chicken. Bowden also mentions a time that Watson ordered his crew to ram a boat that belonged to a fleet of squid poachers. Moments before impact, a giant shark shows up in the net. He ended up killing that shark when it was caught between both ships and was crushed to death and ground into gore. Some conservationist... It's important for me to note that in this book, Bowden never mentions any of the crew, not even Paul Watson, by name, but anyone familiar enough with the way he looks, or the organizations he founded and has been a part of, would be able to put the finger right on him.

I do give SSCS much credit for their recent successes, but I do look at the crew and their leader in a brand new, terribly dark light.