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Nov 02 2010

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Are The Faroese People Caught In A Conflictive Time-warp?

HvannasundThis is a response to a comment made by an anonymous reader to my blog post: “The Global Disney World” (http://elinbrimheimheinesen.blogspot.com/2010/09/global-disney-world.html).

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks for a thoughtful reply. I appreciate your reflections to my blog post “The Global Disney World”. I’d like to make some comments to your thoughts – and ask you some questions, because I’m not sure that I’m quite getting what you are trying to say exactly. Let’s start with the beginning.

You say: “The Faroese people today are caught in a conflictive time-warp, from which many other societies have since evolved. There is nothing unusual or exceptional in any society’s resistance to change. In terms of “human nature” it is far more familiar and comforting to cling to a traditional lifestyle than to venture into the new and unknown.”

From what you are saying, it seems that you have the impression that the Faroese are somewhat untimely backwards in their way of thinking, because they have preserved some old traditions. You and others might perceive these traditions as conflicting with a more ‘modern’ mindset, but the Faroese don’t. Between the lines I read a – slightly patronizing – attitude. What is it exactly you’d like the Faroese to evolve into? Do you believe everything ‘old’ is dispensable, just because it is old?

Since you choose to be anonymous and I have no way of knowing who you are, where you come from, or what relation you have to the Faroes, and why you’re concerned with the Faroese, I don’t know how much knowledge you have about life in the Faroes either. But from what you are saying, you seem not to be fully aware of the fact that the Faroese society is very modern in most matters, although the Faroese have preserved some of the old methods of survival.

Yes, the Faroese have been able to hold on to some old traditions, but they have not at all been reluctant to change as a whole. For the last 150 years the Faroese have been very eager to evolve and to adapt to the industrial world as far as it was possible in this relatively remote area with it’s limited resources. The Faroese have in fact been very successful at this, which today’s high standard of living in the Faroes proves.

But this evolvement is not always for the good. Like so many others, the Faroese have been seduced by the modern life’s luxury and amenities. They are also infected by the western world’s material greed. In many ways they live as people in other Western countries, on first class. But by entering into the modern industrial world, the Faroese have made themselves vulnerable, like all others who also depend on the one thing, that drives western economy the most: fossile fuels.

We see how the Faroese currently are fighting fiercely with others about ocean resources in order to be able to catch enough fish to maintain the high living standards they have achieved and keep their fishing industry going – often on the brink of what is sustainable. As a Faroese I’m not too proud of the latest development in our fishing industry.  I think that in the long run the Faroese would have been much better of if they rather stuck to the admirable qualities in their lifestyle and principles from the old days, which were all about social responsibility and sustainability.

I acknowledge that the Faroese have the same obligation as everyone else on earth to take part in the efforts to save this planet from destruction. And we do not do that well if we’re exploiting nature in an unsustainable manner. Unfortunately, when it comes to fishing (not pilot whaling, though!) some Faroese (not all) seem to be getting a little off the sustainable course for the time being. But I have to say that this greedy way of dealing with nature is not the way the Faroese used to deal with nature in the past. It seems to be the modern world’s ways of dealing with business, which urges some Faroese to adapt to unsustainable practices, very common elsewhere.

I do not think that the Faroese are any better than anyone else, as human beings, I mean. But in the past they found a very fine balance they are about to overturn, which is sad. At the same time – in spite of the fact that the Faroese live this modern life on the industrial world’s terms, very similar to how people live in other Nordic countries, which has brought them great wealth – many of them have still managed to preserve parts of their old knowledge of how to live a simple life on nature’s terms in a sustainable way and survive in solidarity with each other.

They have not done this merely because of some kind of nostalgia – as you seem to believe – but primarily because the Faroese homogenous economy, almost entirely based on fishing, has shown to be very vulnerable. Some years everything goes really well – oil prices are low, fish prices are up – and people get relatively much money on their hands, which they often choose to invest in improving the conditions in the society – for instance the infrastructure, of which we can enjoy the benefits in harder times. At other times a combination of unfortunate factors tip the economic stability with dire consequences for many Faroese, who have lost everything during these periods. The deceitful modern monetary system seems to further increase the severity of these crises.

The Faroese have relatively often experienced periods, not so far apart, where they could not rely solely on their usual lifelines – the fishing industry. The crises set in, in a quicker, more dramatic manner than most people on the European mainland are used to in their countries. The Faroese have grown accustomed to this fluctuating economy and the risks that follow. For instance, during World War II all connections to the ‘mother country’ Denmark were cut. There was a severe bank crisis in the mid 50′ties. Then again we had the oil and fishing crisis in the mid 70′ies. But also in modern times in the 90′ies a bank crisis forced the Faroese to their knees once again. And now again we have a world crisis which started in 2008, which of course has affected the Faroese severely too. One of our two main banks just crashed recently – and we haven’t yet seen all the severe consequences, which surely will follow after this crash.

As I have explained already in the aforementioned blog post, our old local survival kit, if I may say so, has come in very handy in these periods of hardships. This is the main reason why the Faroese still partly rely on old ways of surviving – including pilot whaling. Note that my primary goal here is not to defend the continuation of pilot whaling as such, but simply to explain the circumstances and the reasons, why it still exists. Bottom line, I guess the Faroese fail to see that they really have any better alternative, because other options seem – from their viewpoint – much more hazardous.

You write: “Presently, change is upon us all. Nature governs our existence, and nature is, as always in a constant state of change. Unfortunately, through no fault of the Faroese, eco-systems and the very bio-diversity of our planet has been adversely affected in recent history by mankind’s greed and disrespect of nature through commercial and industrial exploitation and greed.”

This is exactly my point in my blog. Couldn’t agree more. My point is, that nature has always governed human kinds existence. Some humans have just been more aware of that than others, which is why they have been better at taking care of nature than others. I happen to believe that the Faroese have done just that with their way of living off of what was available in their own environment – and in a sustainable manner. This is what I’m talking about, when I say that perhaps the world could learn something from the Faroese.

You say: “The destruction of our oceans and its limited resources must be addressed globally. In a time of new environmental awareness and our unprecedented ability to communicate beyond man-made borders, the message to your shores is one in the same for all mankind.”

Yes, of course… and it should be. Agree. Of course the Faroese should still take care of nature in a responsible way. They have done so in the past. So they should do that now too, instead of adapting to the most destructive ways of the modern industrial world.

You write: “If we continue to live as we have in the past, the depletion of our ocean’s resources is inevitable.”

Yes, it’s true – given that “we” means “people living in the industrial world”. But I’d like you to clarify: When you say “we”, do you include the Faroese? I ask, because the old ways of the Faroese do not in any way endanger nature as much as the lifestyle of the people in the industrial world does. Modern life is a far bigger destroyer of nature. So, seen in this light, it doesn’t seem to be a very good idea to ‘force’ the Faroese to adapt completely to the modern, industrial exploitative ways of today and thus endorse them to make the same mistakes as everyone else. Which by the way, actually is about to happen as we speak, unfortunately.

You write: “It will be virtually impossible to resort back to survival techniques of the past when the ocean’s resources are gone.”

Very true again… on the other hand: I believe that if it comes so far – or close to it – every man will try to do what ever it takes to survive. Everyone will forget about doing what is best for our future, because nobody will have enough energy to think about anything else but the here and now, I’m afraid. Everyone will have too much to do struggling for their own lives as best as the can. The Faroese will perhaps be no better than anyone else in that regard. I assume it will not be pretty, anywhere…! But survival techniques of the past may be the least damaging ways of trying to cope.

Furthermore, given the fact that there are a little less than 50.000 people living in the Faroes – a number which hasn’t increased for the last 20 years – I’d say, seen in the big picture: How big a threat can these people really be to the world’s resources in comparison with the masses in the rest of the world? Not to take any responsibility away from the Faroese, but shouldn’t we try to view things in this perspective also?

You write: “It may sound dramatic but the international scientific community is predicting dire consequences as our global population increases while unsustainable food sources have and continue to decline at an alarming rate. Overfishing and pollution as well as climate change are now of global concern.”

Agree again totally. This is very much a concern of mine too, as I have stated in my last blog post as well as in former blogs posts, which I am sure you must have read… or?

You say: “Warning signs in nature are evident, as in the Faroes we see the very pilot whale meat that sustained your people’s existence through countless generations, now poisons and threatens the health and survival of your future generations.”

Which is why I, in several of my blog posts, urge everyone – also outside the Faroes – to take a look at the sustainability in their own behavior. Because the modern ways of life contribute much more severely to this alarming development than the Faroese pilot whaling as such has ever done.

As already stated, this does NOT take any responsibility away from the Faroese. They are also obliged to live in this world trying not to harm the overall balance, but the Faroese can only deal with their own lives first and foremost, and do what is within their own power. I can assure you that all this is very much subject to debate in the Faroes, so the Faroese are not a bunch of ignorant morons (not that you said that, but many seem to think so…) The truth is, that the Faroese are very much concerned – and that they are not blind to these warnings, even if it may seem so to some outsiders.

You say: “Nature’s reaction to man’s contribution of toxic waste can now be measured and has found it’s way to your shores. In 2008 your Dr Pal Weihe issued a gov’t advisory warning that pilotwhale meat was “unfit for human consumption”. His research conducted on Faroese test subjects found a high incidence of irreversible neurological impairment and other disablities attributed to the excessive PCBs and methylmercury levels found in pilotwhale meat. Yet, grindadrap continues.”

Yes, true. I have read the advisory warning. And the report. It has caused great concern here in the Faroes, as I said. I have stated in a former blog post that I, personally, am not for the continuation of the Grindadráp, regardless. It depends on the circumstances. I acknowledge that the pilot whaling must stop immediately if the pilot whale becomes endangered as species - AND not least, if there is evidence that proves beyond any doubt, that eating pilot whale meat is directly life-threatening – or severely damaging people’s health. The research, which has been done by Dr. Pál Weihe, should of course be taken very seriously.

However – though this particular scientific paper’s conclusion is that pilot whale meat ought to be regarded as unfit for human consumption – it is not perfectly clear on exactly HOW hazardous it is to eat pilot whale meat in comparison to other kinds of widespread available food.

Don’t be mistaken. I’m not saying that I don’t believe in Pál Weihe’s research, and I can assure you that people in the Faroes are very worried about this. But it is confusing to the Faroese, that there have been reports by other researchers which claim that not all scientists/doctors agree with the conclusions in the report made by Pál Weihe’s and others. There have been other scientific researches that contradict the conclusions in Pál Weihe’s report.

At the same time we are bombarded with information about all kinds of other hazardous foods. I am talking about common industrially produced  food products, which we all buy in the supermarket or at the burger or pizza chains, full of hormones and other questionable, health threatening, perhaps even poisonous additives. We remember cases of cow disease, for instance, and we are also worried about contaminated foods mostly caused by extreme monocultures in the agriculture industry. We’ve learned that if you eat only MacDonald burgers for a month or so, you could actually die of this unhealthy lifestyle. If you smoke you’re in extreme danger of getting cancer and all kinds of other diseases too. It doesn’t make many people stop smoking, though.

Therefore, people here believe that pilot whale meat is, after all, perhaps not the worst food to eat – if you only limit the intake and let children and pregnant women avoid it. It is still very nutritious food, despite the fact that there are too high levels of mercury and PCB in the meat.

You write: “This resistance to change at all cost is cause for worry and makes little or no sense to outsiders, many whose governments have officially classified dolphin meat as hazardous waste decades ago. Is it unfair to warn or advise the Faroese to stop this consumption from a humanitarian perspective?”

No, it is not unfair. Only if your motive is that you believe that the Faroese are not able to come to these conclusions by themselves. Because of course they can. I also have a little difficulty believing that the health of the Faroese people is the greatest concern of those who claim they worry about it. It seems more to me that this first and foremost is used as an excuse to try to get the Faroese to spare the whales. So why not call a spade a spade?

As I have stated earlier, Faroese people are not resistant to change – not if the change is for the better. They just fail to see if changing this particular tradition – the pilot whaling and everything that comes with it – really makes the lives any better for anyone. Go to www.whaling.fo to study this issue further, if you like.

You say: “Cruelty of the slaughter itself aside, as one Faroese friend once told me “nature can be cruel”… but as I see it, we must ALL acknowledge and adapt to these changes in nature before it’s cruel vengeance disallows us the opportunity.”

Well, I am sure that the Faroese will listen to arguments that make sense to them. I am also quite sure, that they will be much less reluctant to change their ways, and much more willing to do so than the global industry, the agriculture and the transport companies are. These are in fact the true dominators and destroyers of this world. Tell the multinational companies to stop polluting, because they in fact kill people and animals by doing that – perhaps in a subtle and slow, but still very cruel way. But will they listen?

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