Monday, December 03, 2007

On Hunting

We're in that time of year again when people pay for the privilege of killing animals they don't need to. When people who can go through their lives without harming things go out of their way to find animals to kill. When animal-lovers express their love with a gun.

I've never understood it.

I know hunters. Some people who hunt are people I respect despite their willingness to kill. But I don't get it. How do people find joy in death? How is the use of modern technology against herbivores considered--by anybody--a sport? I get that humans used to have to kill to survive, that this activity was necessary. But it isn't anymore. I'd like to think that our ability, as humans, as rational beings, to reflect and choose action would lead to better behavior, but it doesn't ever seem to.

I was following a FARK thread this afternoon about hunters in Iowa getting shot by their hunting buddies. I have to admit that I laugh every time I read one of those stories. I figure, "You reap what you sow, brother. At least you were armed."

One of the hunting advocates on the board posted a quote, in defense of hunting, by Jose Ortega y Gasset:

To the sportsman the death of the game is not what interests him; that is not his purpose. What interests him is everything that he had to do to achieve that death - that is, the hunt. Therefore what was before only a means to an end is now an end in itself. Death is essential because without it there is no authentic hunting: the killing of the animal is the natural end of the hunt and that goal of hunting itself, not of the hunter. The hunter seeks this death because it is no less than the sign of reality for the whole hunting process. To sum up, one does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.

- Jose Ortega y Gasset.


Upon reading this quote I was struck by how self-serving and romantic it was. There's nothing to qualify this as a defense of hunting--and it probably wasn't meant to be one--but it was used in such a way as to pretend to that role. Here's my quick dissection of the passage.

To the sportsman the death of the game is not what interests him; that is not his purpose.

But it is the result of a successful hunt, so whatever his purpose is, the death of an animal is an acceptable exchange for his . . . er, what? Pleasure? Satisfaction?

What interests him is everything that he had to do to achieve that death - that is, the hunt.

So his interest is important enough to accept the death of an animal. Interest. That’s compelling.

Therefore what was before only a means to an end is now an end in itself.

Because now that he has found a thrill in hunting, the death of the animal is justified. Kill something unnecessarily because it gives you an emotion. That’s your worthy end. Nice.

Death is essential because without it there is no authentic hunting: the killing of the animal is the natural end of the hunt and that goal of hunting itself, not of the hunter.

What a bunch of shit. Is there possibly a goal of the hunter that departs from that of hunting? That is, could there be some quality at the core of the activity that defines the participant that isn’t related to the participant’s participation in the activity? Good Criminy, is that a convoluted rationalization.

The hunter seeks this death because it is no less than the sign of reality for the whole hunting process.

So, in order to convince himself that the activity was real, the participant requires a token—even if that token is a corpse. Again—Nice.

To sum up, one does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.

Because to hunt just for the sake of killing would be bad, but to kill for the sake of remembering having participated in an activity—that’s sensible.

I know I'm snide about this. I know that there are probably nuances I'm missing, ignoring, whatever. But I wouldn't mind someone explaining this phenomenon in objective terms, because unless I'm misled, this is just an excuse for a bunch of people to indulge in the ultraviolence against an unarmed, safe opponent who won't complain.

2 comments:

M.Filly said...

Did you ever watch the show Northern Exposure? One of the characters on there was an ex-hunter. He changed his ways, however, and now goes out with a camera strapped to a hunk of wood shaped like a shotgun. When he pulls the trigger, instead of a kill, he gets a photo. That would give the hunt, and the token, without the corpse.

dchmielewski said...

I used to bird hunt when I lived up in the UP (partridge mostly). I really liked the walk through the woods in the fall, and the demonstration of skill (which I have very little of with a shotgun) was always kinda neat. I killed a few partridge and they are pretty good when prepared in the crockpot. But I think I kind of outgrew the idea of chasing birds through the woods to shoot them. Instead I watch them in the woods. Much more satisfying for me to leave the shotgun at home.

I wonder where fishing fits on this continuum. I really enjoy fishing (again, at least partly for the opportunity to be out on the water). But do I like to eat fish, and I am not shy about the necessity of removing their flesh in order to do so (no matter how much I really like and respect fish as neat creatures). I think fishing would be just as fun if I released everything (though some fish are always killed inadvertantly), just not as tasty.

A lot of people I know hunt animals. I no longer have any interest in doing so (birds or otherwise). I try not to be judgmental about it, but it will be difficult for me to explain to my son one day why people do hunt. I suppose the same argument could be extended to the hamburger I will eat tonight (I am sure a trip to the abattoir changes your perspective on every hamburger). I suppose everyone draws their line in a different location. Mine has fish on one side and deer/birds on the other. Sounds kind of arbitrary doesn't it?