The “harvest” of harp and hood seals is one of the most difficult problems I have dealt with in the last several years.
It defies both logic and sentiment, making it particularly wearing.
Seventy-one per cent of all Canadians, including 60 per cent of Atlantic Canadians, support banning the seal hunt.
Fishermen get only four per cent of their income from the hunt. Seals receive less than five per cent of their diet from eating cod.
Veterinarians estimate more than 40 per cent of the seals were still alive when they were skinned.
In and of themselves these numbers are damning.
They are certainly sufficient to bring about moral outrage.
But the real clincher for me: 100 per cent of our predilection toward self-reliance is rooted not in our need to be self-sufficient (which is the only justifiable argument fishermen may have in this matter) but rather on our need for self-respect.
The senseless killing of these seals is demeaning to those who engage in it.
It is shameful to those who condone it. And, most importantly, it is corrupting to those who do nothing to prevent it.
Let me be more specific if I can.
While there may be many languages spoken on this Earth, all of them use expressions of the natural world to form the laws, logic, and ideas through which we shape our culture, our families and our communities.
It is this deep integration with nature — including seals and their offspring — that helps us communicate that least understood psychological characteristic we have come to know as self-respect.
We feel good (or bad) about who we are to the degree we feel connected to others — including other humans (mothers, fathers, children, lovers) animals, streams, valleys, villages, cities and, believe it or not, economies.
As both natural and cultural citizens we have never been able — and thank goodness for this — to pinpoint just where “me” begins and ends and “other” begins and ends.
There is a continuum to being alive in which everything touches everything.
This is why watching seal pups being clubbed to death and skinned alive hits all of us so directly.
Because all of life is continuous we are both enlarged and diminished in both character and spirit through the acts of others.
We may not like this, may not even be willing to acknowledge it, but it is true and we have to live with this knowledge.
Through being connected we learn to respect — and indeed love — others and ourselves. No one expressed this any better than Freud: “A man who is in love declares that ‘I’ and ‘you’ are one, and is prepared to behave as if it were a fact.”
Going beyond the notion of self-respect, it is corrupting to our national heritage to allow something as deeply troubling as the seal harvest to continue without taking direct action to stop it.
As a matter of national heritage, direct action supports neither a conservative nor liberal point of view. Rather it supports a natural one, a humanitarian one and a sovereign one.
We must understand that problems of ecology are problems of economy.
We have only to watch a bloody seal pup crawl helplessly toward her mother to come face to face with the notion that nature and culture both move to principles of economy.
Both must replenish themselves in order to sustain themselves.
The humanitarian principles at issue in this slaughter are equally important though not as straightforward.
To be more human — a full-fledged humanitarian as it were — hinges on our willingness to admit we are living imperfectly. In other words, we must believe there is room for improvement.
What we can improve on is finding ecological and economical alternatives.
There are alternatives to a bottom-line economy in which some of us must become substantially poorer in order for others of us to become considerably richer.
Trying to sustain an economy in which we must pollute, overfish and heat up the ocean in order to prosper is a grand gesture we must forego.
The lack of sympathy we demonstrate to the world by permitting the shooting of seal calves and the bludgeoning of their young has an impact on Canadian sovereignty.
The rightness or wrongness (and thereby the effectiveness) of a nation is tied directly to the existence of a political system whereby people have the power to change.
Atlantic fisherman no longer need to harvest seals in the manner and in the quantity they are now doing.
Consumers no longer need to consume meat and seal skins to the extent they currently do.
In order to acknowledge this the Canadian government must immediately move to halt the seal hunt.
By supporting over 70 per cent of its citizens, this government can demonstrate the real path to individual and collective self-respect.