Killing Dolphins and Killing People
Perhaps our insensitivity to killing is a result of thousands of years of cultural evolution
April 1, 2007
Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.
Economist

I was going to write about the killing of dolphins in Japan. Porpoises and dolphins are aquatic mammals of the suborder Odontoceti. (There are also fish called dolphins, which are entirely different animals.) Mammalian dolphins belong to the family Delphinidae, and porpoises belong to the family Phocoenidae. Both are highly intelligent social mammals. They like human beings and seldom harm people who swim with them.

I was going to deplore the slaughter of dolphins in Japan. Fishermen in Japan are killing dolphins and small whales. These intelligent social beings hear the screaming of other dolphins as they get butchered in shallow coves. One wonders how the Japanese people could be so cruel as to allow this atrocity. It is done with the approval of the Japanese government.

There is an international campaign to stop this dolphin slaughter, which the campaign calls “the largest and cruelest slaughter of dolphins in the world.” Thousands of people have signed a petition to stop this despicable practice.

That’s what I was going to write about, and then came the massacre at Virginia Tech. I taught economics at Virginia Tech during 1994-1995 as a visiting professor. One can now ask, how can I as an American deplore the Japanese for killing dolphins when dozens of human beings have been murdered in the USA?

The circumstances are much different, as in Japan, the government, and by implication the Japanese people, approve of the cruel killing of these beautiful and intelligent dolphins, while a single gunman killed the students and professors at Virginia Tech, shocking the whole nation. But while that murderer, who himself also died, bears full responsibility, some commentators have also spread the blame to American society and its laws and policies.

Many blame the American “gun culture” for this and other killings. Too many guns, too easy to get, they say. One can well examine whether semi-automatic guns and ammunition should be better controlled. But putting the blame on guns amounts to blaming effects rather than causes.

Virginia Tech had been declared a “gun free zone.” Such a declaration is vain without some way to enforce it. If we are to have a real gun-free zone, we need a fence around the zone and a gate with guards to check if guns are being brought in.

Unless one really keeps guns out by enforcing the ban, the designation “gun free” is counterproductive. Killers will have guns anyway, and those who obey the law will be defenseless. If guns were permitted, someone could have stopped the killer after the first shots.

Much has been written about the disturbed killer. There were many signs of his mental condition, and counseling, but he was left to come and go and kill. Perhaps we will now better appreciate the need to be more proactive in helping with those who signs of hostility and anti-social attitudes. Privacy laws should also be reconsidered. The personae at Virginia Tech are prohibited by federal law from discussing the council sessions of disturbed students with their parents.

Most Americans can be blamed for believing in and relishing violence. Much of the entertainment in the USA is violent, including video games that celebrate brutality. Of course this predilection for violence is shared by most of the world, as we have witnessed in Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur, and the Nazi death camps.

Americans should indeed examine their values. A one-second showing of a female breast on television brings a huge penalty, while cruel torture and murder are shown at all hours with no legal objection. This indulgence in violence is not a mere cultural taste, but a sign of a cultural malady. Perhaps it is a result of thousands of years of cultural evolution, where violent cultures have conquered and massacred peaceful cultures and therefore have become dominant.

The entire “civilized” human culture is twisted, corrupt, vile, and cruel. There is no single area of the earth where peaceful and honest human action is left unmolested. Everywhere there is cruelty to human and animal life. The slaughter of harmless human-loving dolphins in Japan is but an extreme symptom of this global affliction. Iraq is a good example. Remove the oppressive rule of a dictator, and the response of many has been to kill anyone not of your faith. Remove authority and there is spontaneous disorder.

I witnessed a tiny portion of our culture of hate when I was stopped by a police officer in Virginia because I had a California license plate and also a local parking permit. I was within the law, but a police officer stopped me, and instead of amicably seeking some explanation, this officer of the state immediately screamed at me like a mad dog, his eyes bulging with fury, while I answered calmly. I understood that had been trained to enforce the law by intimidation, to treat all citizens as enemies and prey. Thus in our violent culture, even minor traffic laws are enforced with hatred and conflict.

Much of the conflict and violence of the world is initiated by governments, by states. No government on earth fully respects human self-ownership. This is with the approval of most people. So indeed, we can blame the lone gunman for his crime, but we should also examine our own attitudes and think about why only a tiny minority of human beings seek complete peace and harmony.

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Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.
Economist

FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., is an economist and has been writing weekly editorials for Progress.org since 1997. Foldvary's commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He has taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and currently teaches at San Jose State University.

Foldvary is the author of The Soul of LibertyPublic Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary's areas of research include public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.

Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.