READER REPORT:

Whaling: What's the problem?

ROSS MCKERRAS
Last updated 06:30 03/04/2014
Whaling
REUTERS

WHALING: Short-finned pilot whales seen on the deck of a whaling ship at Taiji Port in Japan's oldest whaling village of Taiji.

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I have difficulty understanding the obsessive determination some people have developed to stop Japan whaling. 

The nearest thing to a reason I have seen stated is that whales are sentient beings. 

But what does that mean? 

'Able to perceive or feel things', says the dictionary. But cows, and cockroaches, and everything in between 'feel things'. 

So why the big fuss about whales in particular?

You have to wonder if there's an element of racism in it. There isn't nearly the same level of strident protest about the hunting of deer and the trapping of possums in NZ, even though deer and possums are also 'sentient beings'. 

And what about raising cows and sheep in captivity simply for ultimate slaughter? At least in the hunt the animal has a chance.

Whaling is a custom that can be traced back at least 400 years in Japan, so we are talking about a long-established part of Japanese culture. 

And it has been a most practical and useful part of their culture: after World War II whale meat saved thousands of Japanese people from starvation. The whales hunted today are the abundant minke whales, so there is no issue of any species being threatened with extinction.

So I come again to the question, why are the protesters so determined to stop it? The following two reasons are the best I can come up with.

The first is related to the 'sentient beings' mantra. These words on examination are shown to have no significant or relevant semantic content, so it's clear they are simply an attempt to justify the real (non)-reason: muddle-headed mysticism.

The second is that some people are in search of a cause where they can define themselves as the heroic crusaders, against another group of people who are the villains.

People of a different race have always made the best villains. 

In other words, the activists feel that saving a whale gives them moral brownie-points. 

Not only do these make the self-appointed 'crusaders' feel good, but they also make up for their own transgressions, which they would rather not have to think about or deal with. 

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