Today I had an interesting conversation with one of my students, a well-off heiress the same age as me, who has devoted most of her adult life to searching for a meaning in life (in lieu of getting an actual job). She told me that she is planning to go whale-watching in August, and that she is very excited about it. She also told me a lot of other stuff, such as that she is convinced that dolphins are as intelligent as humans (not that I regard that as any great thing, frankly) and that are capable of communicating their thoughts to us. Recently many middle-class people in urban Japan seem to hold a similarly reverential attitude towards dolphins and whales, in stark contrast to their rural seaside counterparts who traditionally have depended upon killing them for their very livelihoods, much in the same way as Western farmers depend upon the raising and slaughter of cows, sheep, and pigs to get by … although, to the best of my knowledge there is no such thing as a genetically modified whale. Yet.
All this makes me think that the dolphin/whale killing issue is far more of a class thing, than a cultural thing. In other words, only (relatively) wealthy people can afford to be sympathetic to the plight of livestock animals, sympathetic enough to spare their lives, and to carry on as self-righteously smug Birkenstock-wearing vegetarians (a perfect description of the afore-mentioned student) who live in no fear of starving to death.
What do you think? And more to the point, what would the dolphins say?