Michaëlle Jean eats seal heart, makes a dishonest point

Yes, I’m sure I could eat raw heart too, and I imagine it would taste much like sushi – i.e. like not much at all. Fresh as it is, I’m sure just a few bites would contain your RDA in iron and B12 vitamin, in addition to all that good animal protein and blood. Probably chewy too; good for the teeth. You’re not risking much, eating fresh heart muscle – apart from the brain, it’s one of the most sterile organs you can find in the body.

OK, enough with the nutrition lesson. Yesterday in Nunavut, Michaëlle Jean recently proved that she can not only eat heart, but also bond with Northern communities over seal hunting - and I don’t really have much of a problem with that. The problem is when she (implicitly) uses that occasion as a support for the commercial seal hunt, and to protest the European ban of two weeks ago on seal fur and other products derived from seals hunted commercially.

Equating traditional seal hunting with the commercial hunt is somewhat like comparing a person who builds her own home out of wood she has cut herself from the forest using handsaws and axes, and Domtar doing a clear-cut of an entire forest stand, and shipping the timber down to the United States to build a suburb of cheap houses. You just can’t compare the two and retain a sense of honesty.

In much the same way, pro-commercial seal hunters will insist that there are no baby seals killed in the hunt. That is another dishonest argument, because seals can be killed from the age of 14 days, when they start to lose the pure white colour from their coat. They are still “babies” in my books.

And again, people will trot out the old argument that hunt protesters and the European ban itself is based on “emotion” rather than on “fact”. But it is a fact that the idea of mass seal slaughter is upsetting to a lot of people. Other people are upset at the attack on (a portion of) their livelihood. I see emotions and facts on both sides – the question is: whose emotions, and whose facts are more important?

From the seals’ point of view, I’d like to think that while they might object to being slaughtered in any kind of way, it may very well be that they adapted along with humans over a few thousand years to a small-scale slaughter that doesn’t cause them mass terror at a predictable moment every year – right when their young are at their most vulnerable. This mass commercial slaughter is not sustainable – it is simply too much, too often. And that is regardless of how a person might feel about the human-animal bond and the ethics of seal slaughter.

People complain that we treat animals like objects, but in fact we treat them as prisoners of war….We had a war once against the animals, which we called hunting, though in fact war and hunting are the same thing (Aristotle saw it clearly). That war went on for millions of years. We won it definitively only a few hundred years ago, when we invented guns. It is only since victory became absolute that we have been able to afford to cultivate compassion. But our compassion is very thinly spread. Beneath it is a more primitive attitude. The prisoner of war does not belong to our tribe. We can do what we want with him. We can sacrifice him to our gods. We can cut his throat, tear out his heart, throw him on the fire. There are no laws when it comes to prisoners of war.

(from Elizabeth Costello, by J.M. Coetzee, p.104 – hardcover version, Random House)

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18 Comments on “Michaëlle Jean eats seal heart, makes a dishonest point”

  1. SimbaK2K Says:

    This makes me soooo angry.

    Please will someone club michaelle jean over the head, maybe she’ll know how it feels then.

  2. dirk Says:

    …”Please will someone club michaelle jean over the head, maybe she’ll know how it feels then”…

    gawd please… enough with the theatrical & emotional nonsense.

  3. deBeauxOs Says:

    SimbaK2K – why club only Michaëlle Jean, why stop there, why not club every person who has not yet understood, rationally and compassionately, the arguments against the seal as presented by brebis and others?

  4. brebis noire Says:

    SimbaK2K, this is kind of like a few years ago when my kids would hit each other, and I DIDN’T hit them to make the point that hitting is wrong.
    I know you’re probably just making a cheap point, but the way things work is that humans usually don’t learn empathy when suffering is deliberately inflicted upon them. We’re much like animals that way.

  5. dirk Says:

    …”Equating traditional seal hunting with the commercial hunt is somewhat like comparing a person who builds her own home out of wood she has cut herself from the forest using handsaws and axes, and Domtar doing a clear-cut of an entire forest stand”…

    Your argument is a tempest,what if Inuit people wanted to trade in seal meat or products,would that be wrong or non-”traditional” ? And let’s clear up on point right off the hop,seals are not endangered.Most of the outrage over seal hunting is due to the clubbing of baby seals for their fur period.

  6. brebis noire Says:

    I did not say seals were endangered. On the other hand, nobody was saying that Atlantic cod were disappearing, until they did: due to overfishing.

    Part of the opposition to the seal hunt may be due to the clubbing of baby seals, but what exactly is the problem with being outraged over clubbing young animals that cannot escape? The opposition to the seal hunt is not just about the seal hunt either: it is a part of the growing opposition to the way we treat all other animals.

    The commercial seal hunt is not the traditional hunt. Let’s be clear about that – in terms of numbers, purpose, waste, and methods. I am not taking a stand either way on the morality or specifics of the traditional hunt.

  7. rww Says:

    Age never had anything to do with it – cuteness did. That is why people were upset with white coats being hunted, not because they are young but because they are cute. that is why they still propagate the lie that white coats are hunted and use images of them in their propaganda and why they do not picket abattoirs where ugly cows are killed.

    Kudos to Jean for standing up for Canadians.

  8. pale Says:

    Correction. Some Canadians. Not me…And not these folks either it seems…

    An Ipsos Reid poll from April 2008 found that 52% of Canadians opposed the seal hunt (33% strongly, 19% somewhat, uncorrected figures). Available at http://www.ipsosna.
    com/news/pressrelease.cfm?id=3889

    Oh, and
    72% of Canadians agreed that using government funds to support and promote Canada’s commercial seal hunt is a waste of tax dollars.

    Zactly.

  9. Saskboy Says:

    According to the coverage I saw, the media entirely took it in the context of support for the seal hunt, and she didn’t deny it because she probably at that moment felt it was a good opportunity to show a backbone having lacked one late last year. She probably only set out to share an authentic Canadian experience with Canadian subjects.

  10. Ben Hicks Says:

    I can think of several billion cows, sheep and chickens who wish that they could get this kind of attention from the bleeding heart hippy crowd. Sadly, their young are not nearly as cute and their deaths (taking place in slaughterhouses instead of iceflows) are much less photogenic.


  11. I saw that on the news and it bothered me. When Inuit hunted seal as part of their traditional culture there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity to eat vegetables up there. They ate what they needed. The situation of Inuit in Canada is awful. But I don’t think it’s going to be redressed by commercial seal hunting. On the other hand, I don’t see that the commercial treatment of other animals raised for food is humane either. The beauty of seals as opposed to cows or pigs gets celebrities involved (plus celebrities can do without a fur coat, but perhaps not without a burger?). In my book the meat industry should be equally protested. Anyway Brebis, I always enjoy reading your posts, and this one as always has brought up a number of thought provoking and insightful points.

  12. brebis noire Says:

    saskboy, you’re right. I don’t think she explicitly set out to make this about the commercial seal hunt, but on the other hand, it’s a shout-out to the commercial industry. I’ve always liked Michaëlle, and I’d probably even be open to sharing some raw seal heart if I were up North too. Like Lilian, I have a lot of respect for the rigours of life in the North, and for the way people have evolved and adapted to a diet that includes a lot of animal meat and fat – including livers that contain a lot of vitamin D that they wouldn’t be getting from the sunshine half of the year. However, it is a subsistence diet, a fragile ecosystem, and a harsh climate – and to turn a simple act of sharing into a pro-commerical seal hunt message is just wrong.

  13. brebis noire Says:

    “I can think of several billion cows, sheep and chickens who wish that they could get this kind of attention from the bleeding heart hippy crowd.”

    Funny, I don’t what’s wrong with bleeding from the heart from time to time, and furthermore I’m too young and well-groomed to be a hippy.

    And as pale pointed out, a lot of us non-hippies are working on getting the message out about cows, sheep and chickens – all of them animals that I have learned to love and respect. I’m not racist, and I’m not speciesist either – all animal species deserve respect and understanding. And I have nothing against hippies.

  14. rww Says:

    I wonder how many of these ant-meat eaters are Christians and how they reconcile their beliefs with the fact that god made us omnivores (according to their beliefs).

  15. Ben Hicks Says:

    “And as pale pointed out, a lot of us non-hippies are working on getting the message out about cows, sheep and chickens – all of them animals that I have learned to love and respect. I’m not racist, and I’m not speciesist either – all animal species deserve respect and understanding.”

    Interesting. Would you also, say, be willing to oppose the senseless slaughter of innocent mice via mousetraps? The genocidal use of bug spray against our brothren the mosquitos?

    In nature there’s this thing called a “food chain” which commonly doesn’t leave much room for interspecies “respect and understanding”. Seals, for instance, and carnivores. They shed no tears over the fish, birds and other smaller animals they eat. And if a small child went up to one of these fully grown beasts, it would cheerfully bite his face off.

  16. mouthyorange Says:

    Marvellous post, brebis. I agree with every point you made, which makes it hard for me to offer a substantial comment! And I love your handling of the anti-hippy baiting comment. It was as though you were grounding lightning.

    I discussed this topic with a friend this morning before I read your post. Taking it into account with the decision she made last Autumn when she disempowered one of the most important check and balance mechanisms our parliamentary system had, we propose that although Jean has charm and grace she appears to be superficial and so lacks the depth that the GG needs to have to handle the issues and events that someone in that position must deal with. And so has said and done things without fully understanding the implications or effects they will have, or knowing how to handle them more carefully. In other words, in spite of knowing how to move gracefully throughout the world, there is still a naîveté. (Did I spell that right? Not in my French dictionary.)

    Which raises for me the philosophical — or perhaps psychological — question of what is dishonesty. If Jean was being dishonest in the way you suggest, do you think it was a conscious kind of dishonesty? That would be one thing. If it was not conscious and instead has to do with dealing with political events in a superficial way, I wonder whether her handling of this event (and the earlier one, as well) reflects a lack of awareness (not yet awakened), or rather a suppressed awareness (denial). And I wonder whether we can even know.

    What do you think, brebis?

  17. mouthyorange Says:

    I mean, “Taking the way she handled the seal thing into account with the decision she made last Autumn …”

  18. brebis noire Says:

    “Would you also, say, be willing to oppose the senseless slaughter of innocent mice via mousetraps? The genocidal use of bug spray against our brothren the mosquitos?”

    Hm, typical bad-faith and irrational argument to obscure the fact that we are treating our domestic animals very poorly indeed, and destroying many wild species and their habitats with bad policies and lack of real science. (And I do have to deal with mice in my house – I keep cats partly for that reason. Poison and traps are not fun to deal with. As for insects, I almost never use bug spray and I appreciate spiders, birds and bats for their power to control bug populations.)

    Moving right along…Very interesting points, mouthyorange – I am grateful for your insight and comments. I don’t really know what the GG thinks about these things, maybe she has a public and a private take on them, and constantly finds herself in positions where she has to balance politics with personal views, I don’t know. Of course, if a person rises to the position of GG, it seems to me almost necessary that she will have to make compromises on her political views and personal feelings. I think she’s maybe even done so with regard to Quebec nationalism – she has endured fierce criticism, even from family members on that score.

    I don’t envy her position, and as I said, I would’ve probably eaten seal heart myself if I were on an official visit to the North – I don’t really have any objection to that, and in some ways it even seems like a mystical, atavistic connection with nature and hunting. Very far removed from commercial hunts.

    Why ever do we want to shove unwanted seal products and furs down the throats of unwilling Europeans is what I want to know.


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