Culture has numerous positive connotations. The term “a cultured person” is often used to describe someone of refinement and sophistication. A person’s culture is seen as their rich heritage that is part of what forms them. I am not a fan of culture. It has the consequence that past deeds are re-performed into perpetuity without reviewing their merit, simply because it is part of a culture.
Let us draw an analogy with an individual. Being self aware involves constantly observing and analyzing your thoughts, actions and deeds to detect where you are weak or are acting in a manner that is unsuitable given your state of development. According to yoga philosophy, anything that is a regression from your standard of development is undesirable, and anything in line with your steps towards personal growth and improvement is desirable. So you need to constantly critically examine each component of your behavior and personality, and be honest and admit where an area needs to improve. You are realistic that it cannot all be done immediately and is a process, yet you are determined to work this process however long it takes. As such, nothing about you is accepted the way that it is. Yes, you accept yourself in your current state, because that is who you are, and you have to accept and love yourself. You are a work in progress and have already come an incredible distance just to be here in human form, but still have a way to go. If you accept yourself exactly as you are with a view of “I am never going to change”, well then, you may as well be dead. I say that because this life is nothing but an opportunity for you to grow and unfold and with that kind of stagnant outlook your growth will be negligible if anything. So, for example, I should accept that I am impatient but realize it as a fault and consciously try to improve my reaction to frustrating events and circumstances. When I am impatient and act in a manner that is inappropriate I need to be aware of it, watch myself doing it, be embarrassed and strengthen my resolve not to do it again.
There is that saying that goes along the lines of: When you change an action you create a habit, when you create a habit you shape your character. The yogis teach us that we are a culmination of our lifestyle practices and habits, and that we should be aware of each habit and its consequence on us. “I watch TV after dinner.” “I have a drink after work.” “I don’t eat vegetables.” These are common habits that people have without analyzing why they got stuck in it and what the consequence of this habit is on their lives. Does it contribute to their development, or improve the world around them? If not, why are they doing it? It is also surprisingly easy to change a habit – it comes down to changing that one activity at a time. Not buying that chocolate in the afternoon on this particular Tuesday afternoon is one action that can change a habit and change you.
So what does all of this have to do with culture? People perpetrate activities for the sole reason that it is part of their culture, without analyzing why did their culture have this activity and is it still relevant? Things have changed in 100’s of years and so must our actions. Some actions that may have been acceptable in the past, are no longer tolerable. Such an activity is the eating of shark-fin soup, and shark-finning.
Shark-finning is the despicable practice of taking a shark, “finning” it by cutting off its fins, and throwing the live shark overboard to die an excruciating death. It just sinks like a bleeding torpedo to the bottom and lies there, trying to swim but unable to move without its fins. Because only the fins are kept on board, and don’t take much space, countless thousands of sharks are slaughtered and stored on each ship.
I saw video footage of this ghastly and hateful practice on the incredible “Oceans” Blu-ray (not the censored Disney one, the French full version). It was the most disturbing thing that I have ever seen on the screen. Watching this splendid animal sinking to the bottom of the ocean after an Asian fisherman sliced off its fins, unable to swim and lying at the bottom bleeding grotesquely to death while it tried to move, unable to utter a sound. This image shocked me. Then I realized that this twisted and sadistic murder was not one special dramatic event, this was exactly what happened to thousands of sharks daily. All that had happened here was that I got a close up view. So I looked up how many sharks this is being done to. It is a truly horrific number. 140, 000 a day.
50 MILLION SHARKS A YEAR ARE BEING SLAUGHTERED LIKE THIS.
It is impossible for shark populations to stand up to this scale of mass slaughter. They are being decimated. For absolutely no purpose. Environmental degradation is always painful, but you can understand where it is coming from when there is a human need being satisfied. So when mines are built or grazing land made, it is sometimes wrong but you can understand the argument behind it. For example, in the Amazon we want the rainforest to exist but a poor family sees it differently if they see a chance to graze animals there or extract other resources.
Yet with Sharkfin soup, the reason is pathetic. The fin itself is tasteless cartilage. What shocked me is that it is not a fin or two in the soup, it is a bowl full of fins. Each serving is a massacre. I watched a documentary and read what I could find to try and understand it better. The senselessness is appalling. The only argument to support it, is that it is part of the Chinese culture, and that if you have a guest you must serve them sharkfin soup. It is a status symbol. Now that millions of Chinese are moving to Middle Class, the demand for shark fins has exploded. There is absolutely no thought of the damage incurred and the consequences thereof. It is a simple “it is our culture” without examining if it is a good practice. That is what initiated my rant against Culture. So sharks are being decimated so people can try to impress others.
Here is an actual quote from the documentary, “People say it is not humane what we do. But the shark is not humane, it eats the other fish, and kills them.”
Most of us accept that life will be harvested by humans, in the form of animal life and plant life being killed and used. The sickening part about sharkfinning is the waste. By throwing bodies overboard they can pack a ship high with only shark fins. I will use an example of Egypt. Egyptian fishermen never caught much sharks because they did not get a lot for a shark carcass. Then Chinese buyers taught them to just keep the fin and throw the shark overboard, and now sharks in that area are in the process of being wiped out. You don’t have to be brilliant to know that if you lose the top of the food chain, you are going to find some serious imbalances falling through.
The sharks are caught with long lines – the ocean is filled with lines with huge hooks that the sharks swim into and are hauled up and the fins sliced off and the bodies thrown in. Pure slaughter. The rate is truly alarming, and if we don’t do something soon, sharks will be gone because of the most stupid reason in the world.
I had the great privilege of diving with Sharks in Kwazulu Natal, reef sharks. I will return there to dive with the Tigers when it is warm enough for them to move, and am planning dives with 7-gill sharks and pelagic sharks. These are dives without a cage, just naturally seeing them in their element. You can not dive with them and not be moved by the experience. They are magnificent, powerful, perfectly designed creatures with a great dignity about them. This is what makes their mutilation so disgusting to me. See the link here to the photos of the sharks.
photos of sharks
I need to ask my Asian friends what it is with Asian people. There is so much of value in their philosophy, but the 4 most awful injustices being wreaked on animals in the world at the moment are due to beliefs and views that can only be described as fucking stupid.
1)Sharks being destroyed for shark fin soup to prove status
2)Rhinos being destroyed and their horns taken so little penises can try become erect. There are so many natural ways to achieve this – ginseng, guarana, etc.
3)Dolphins and whales being destroyed for meat that is high in lead and not needed by anyone – just to prove a point?
4)Seahorses being destroyed and dried and crushed so that the idiot eating it can try and get some of its magical properties
I am of the view that we should be taking a radical stance. Have you seen “The Cove”? Instead of a few hippies watching the fishermen, if a thousand people went there and beat the living daylights out of every fisherman that tried to kill a dolphin, it would stop.
Sea Shepherds should not stand and talk over the microphone. They should board ships where finning is done and slice off the right hand of everyone there. Do that across the world and I am sure that finning would stop.
I was seeing a client in the Cape Town harbour who was in the fishing industry. He told me that right there a few meters from us in the harbour was a ship piled with shark fins. Dogs were guarding it, and the local South African Harbour Police did not go there because the Chinese Mafia was too strong. This is just plain not acceptable, society should not be tolerating this. We should not be tolerating this.
We are the custodians of the planet, and I am ashamed to be human when I look at the disgraceful way that we are handling this responsibility. Scientists who expose global warming get death threats. Animal populations are destroyed for a quick buck with not one shred of care or compassion. We each have a role to play, and I pray that I find a way to play an effective role that makes a change in this planet and how we treat our fellow occupants of it.