It’s Hard to Be Ethically Consistent While Tap-Dancing on Eggshells

Over the weekend I received the following question, which I’ll attempt to answer below…


Dear Mr. Robertson,

I was wondering your opinion on the subject of animal rights vs. the rights of indigenous people. What do you think about hunting by Native American tribes, or the hunting of seals by the Inuit? Also, of course, the various other tribes around the world that have their culture based off of hunting. What do you think about their participation in hunting, trapping, etc?


Hmmm, one of those questions…one of those I-wouldn’t-touch-that-with-a-ten-foot-pole kind of questions. Do I risk being called a hypocrite, or “culturally elite?” I could spend all day tip-toeing around this—tap-dancing on egg shells—but here’s an answer just off the top of my head:

My objection to hunting, trapping and seal clubbing is colorblind as well as culture-blind. I oppose cruelty to animals, no matter who is doing the shooting, trapping or clubbing. A victim doesn’t suffer any less because of the ethnicity or cultural beliefs of their executioner. An animal’s right to a life, free from harm, trumps anyone’s right to exploit or kill them (unless someone is literally starving to death and has no other options, which is not the case for most who hunt, trap, club seals, harpoon whales or trade in bushmeat).

Why oppose the Japanese or the Faeroese for slaughtering dolphins or pilot whales and not the Makah for killing grey whales, or even the Inuit for hunting bowhead whales? We’re all part of the species, Homo sapiens, and our ancestors all used to live by hunting and trapping. For better or worse, we’re all moving forward technologically, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t all move forward in our treatment of non-human animals.

That’s my humble opinion, anyway. It might not be popular, but it’s ethically consistent.

Text and Wildlife Photography© Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography© Jim Robertson

20 thoughts on “It’s Hard to Be Ethically Consistent While Tap-Dancing on Eggshells

  1. Funny – I received the very same question, most likely from the very same person. My answer was that any custom or tradition that requires violence and killing is better off falling into extinction (regardless of the culture practicing them), just as the traditions of foot binding, slavery, selling one’s daughter into marriage and hurling virgins into volcanoes have vanished from existence. I further said that it’s time for humans to become a more peaceful species and evolve beyond the violent traditions of the past.

    They will no doubt try to pick apart our comments and call us racist, but there’s no racism involved – our opposition to speciesism is what drives us.

  2. I think you are right on the money here, Jim. While it would be hard to condemn a person living in an agriculturally impossible region like the arctic for killing a non-human animal if the alternative were starvation, most of these indigenous communities fail to see the incongruity of using high technology items (motor boats, snowmobiles, shot guns, high power rifles, fish finders, metal leg-hold traps) in furtherance of their purportedly traditional practices. Not one of these “native” communities could manufacture any one of these products of industrial society, even the simplest, on their own. Once you start chasing whales in motorized boats, shooting at them with rifles, pulling them ashore with motorized winches and then going home to watch HBO while snacking on micorwaved blubber, you’ve given up any pretense of a subsistence life-style. Furthermore, these indigenous types rarely seem adverse to selling off their “subsistence” catch, whether walrus ivory or whale meat or harp seal fur, to the highest bidder from the “developed” world.

    While acknowledging that many indigenous peoples are unfortunately mired in poverty, there is just so much sympathy to go around and I, personally, am saving it for the non-human animals
    who have been persecuted and victimized by human predators to the point where they are literally facing extinction.

    • Not even I can argue with that statement. Many so called “substance” “hunters” shot themselves in the foot when I seem them on Discovery channel (which I now dispise) with housing, power, various material possesions including: electronics, snowboards, atvs, snowmobiles, etc. That violates my view on true survival. If it where up to me, men could hunt what ever they wanted, but the catch is you can only use your bare hands like real preadtors (no cheating).

  3. Geoff, your comment about commercial enterprise is an important factor beyond the ethical one. Here in Washington, as Jim knows, some of the salmon netted by treaty agreement in Puget Sound sell to big grocery chains, and the fisheries issue is consistently contentious based on some of these ambiguous delineations.

  4. No doubt the animals suffered but some tribes in Africa etc. don’t live if they don’t hunt. This is where hunting originated from. The need to survive. I am completely against hunting for sport and slaughter houses.

  5. I had a “stepmother” of sorts who was of the opinion she “loved” “her” dogs but fully understood and supported people who cage, slaughter and eat dogs because, as she sat back reclining smugly in her easy chair and said, “It’s their culture and who are we to judge?” I hoped for her to end up as the main course in a cannibals’ culture with her having no room to judge. She’d have been screaming loud enough to be heard round the world from that giant stew pot. I of course agree with you Jim, culture is no excuse, not when we have fertile land to grow crops, and world trade, and when we want compassion and peace for ourselves. A saying I got from Klimatik on youtube: Eliminate Excuses… Not Animals.

  6. Lawmaker accuses federal agency of ‘stonewalling’ attempts to investigate alleged coyote torture

    Finally, Wildlife Services (WY) is getting the attention it deserves. The man responsible for this is not alone – it is strongly suspected the agency is riddled with many of his ilk. If anyone is interested in emailing the Representatives (CA – Campbell and OR – DeFazio) who are calling for this investigation I’ve taken the liberty of providing their contact info:
    CA Rep. John Campbell (email ctc)
    OR Rep. Peter DeFazio

  7. Pingback: Commercial Whalers, Slave Traders…and Wolf Hunters | Exposing the Big Game

  8. I found this on

    I want to Press this issue.

    Five Freedoms for Animals:

    Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
    Freedom from Discomfort
    Freedom from Pain, Injury, or Disease
    Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour
    Freedom from Fear and Distress

    The Five Freedoms are from the New Zealand Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
    We’re not from New Zealand, but we agree with each of these Freedoms, and have added a sixth below:

    Freedom to Love and Be Loved.

    Please Press this :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s