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Shaun Monson

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Legitimate Animal Activism

Posted: 06/30/09 04:50 PM ET

In light of Mr. Spilman's blog, "Whale Wars - Eco Terrorism as Reality TV," I am compelled to ask what he would consider to be legitimate activism? In his opinion, I wonder if there is such a thing. Because to label the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society "terrorists" is a very bold statement, and a reckless one at that. After all, it is a curious terrorist organization that hasn't actually killed anybody. So perhaps we can dispense with these exaggerations?

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is credited with saying there are Three Stages of Truth: first, ridicule; second, violent opposition; and third, acceptance. This was certainly true for the abolitionists, who were told that to abolish slavery would threaten the entire economy of the United States. Indeed they were ridiculed and violently opposed long before there was any acceptance. We look back now at human slavery as one of the darkest periods in American history. Women seeking the right to vote, known as the suffragettes, experienced a similar fate. They too were ridiculed, and violently opposed, until finally, after long grief and pain, they were accepted.

You could say there is a parallel today with animal activists, who are often ridiculed and violently opposed. Therefore, what is legitimate activism? Mr. Spilman suggests we stop illegal whaling by observing, documenting and taking the perpetrators to court. Obviously, Sea Shepherd is observing and documenting, but the courts aren't interested. Furthermore, Mr. Spilman concluded his piece by saying "Whale Wars...has nothing meaningful to do with saving the whales." That's another bold statement. After all, what more should Sea Shepherd do than place themselves between the harpoons and the whales? And on top of that, produce a show that raises awareness of the issue, and documents the events. Is this not legitimate activism? I couldn't help but wonder if Mr. Spilman would accuse the Boston Tea Party of "Eco-Terrorism."

So before we condemn shows like "Whale Wars" as "nothing less than eco-terrorism," we might ask ourselves: what is its meaning? And in order to arrive at meaning, one has to look at the content as well as the context. For example, was the Boston Tea Party nothing more than an event -- they simply dumped tea in the ocean, and that's it? No, it's not just about tea, or taxation without representation, (that's the context). This was a protest! They felt they were being treated unfairly, (that's the content). And now we have arrived at meaning.

As it turns out, I know a thing or two about content and context when it comes to the treatment of animals by human beings, both on land and sea. Between 1999 and 2005 I labored on a documentary on the subject entitled Earthlings, a film which I wrote, produced, directed and edited. Not only did I shoot footage myself, but I also spent a great deal of time acquiring material from around the world -- hours and hours and hours of horrific footage showing unspeakable cruelty to animals raised as pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and for scientific research. We call this research "traumatic knowledge" because much of it is difficult to stomach. However, the research allowed me to concentrate on this issue for a period of years. Therefore, I know something about it.

So I do hope you'll pardon me, Mr. Spilman, because I truly mean no disrespect, but I can say with some authority that your blog was reckless. It was nothing more than personal opinions publicly expressed, which you are entitled to, (after all, such is the nature of blogging). But that doesn't make it true, my friend. Arriving at truth should be our primary focus, as opposed to being right and proving others wrong.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who collaborated with me on Earthlings and whose members I know personally, are a group of dedicated individuals that spend months at sea, freezing their butts off, quite frankly, way out there in the middle of nowhere, and they have been doing so for the past 30 years. In short, "Whale Wars" is the culmination of all that experience, and is therefore much more than another flashy, new reality program, which you so readily dismissed as "eco-terrorism." "Whale Wars" has the benefit of a long history at sea, decades in the making. It is a history of wisdom and traumatic knowledge, I'm sorry to say, which Animal Planet has now seen fit to broadcast. I applaud them both, for their bravery in the face of whalers, and strong opinions like yours, which shoots them down as nothing more than "terrorists."

One final point: just remember that it wasn't the government who set out to end slavery -- the abolitionists did. And it wasn't the government who fought to grant women the right to vote -- the suffragettes did. And it isn't the governments of the world today striving to protect animals -- the animal activists are. All of this, which we call "direct action," has been undertaken by individuals and groups such as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. In other words, what you are witnessing is a modern day Boston Tea Party, my friend. Perhaps you could try to see it that way.