9/2/10

Killing for Fun

So I have a book about hunting in my hands, courtesy of a publisher, and I'm trying to decide whether to blog about it.  It's a philosophical examination of hunting, but it's written for hunters, and largely by hunters.  So there is a great deal of jocularity about the whole business. The presupposition of most of the articles seems to be "we are all hunters here."   There's a lot of good ol' boys and girls clowning around. That's (to put it mildly) off-putting.

I am not an ignoramus about hunting.  I regularly have hunters in my Animal Rights class, and I give them plenty of opportunity to explain hunting and defend it.  My class has heard from several students whose parents own and operate Texas hunting ranches. I've heard blow-by-blow accounts of how canned hunting works.  Another student showed the class a video about Safari hunting in Africa, complete with a scene of hunters blowing a crocodile's head off (and saying "cool!")  We've heard from environmentally responsible duck hunters and people who hunt with bows and arrows in Colorado. One semester we heard from a guy who shoots squirrels with BB guns just for the hell of it.  He also explained how much fun it is to sit on the back of a truck and take shots at armadillos. 

I can concede a lot:  as far as harm to animals goes, a lot of hunting is no worse than factory farming, and in fact much better.  There is also an honesty to hunting that appeals to me.  While most people don't want to think about the killing behind the cellophane, the hunter directly confronts it.  It's also true that all hunting is not alike, and some hunters think carefully about how they hunt.  In the end, though, I just can't get past one critical thing:  hunters kill for fun.

It takes a little care to say how and when killing can be coupled with fun.  Rewind 500 years. You're a native American hunter just trying to provide protein, clothing, and building materials, for yourself and your tribe.  While hunting, may you enjoy yourself?  Of course.  And I can perfectly understand how that might be.  But if you did enjoy yourself, you still wouldn't be killing for fun.  

I suspect today's most conscientious hunters would like nothing more than to be that native American subsistence hunter.  I suspect they play-act themselves into that role, pretending that they're hunting for necessities, not for fun. But how can that really be true, if they obtain meat from the grocery store 99% of the time, and their hunting fills leisure time just like hiking, climbing, and going to art museums do for other people?

The native American hunter was hunting in order to acquire necessities --with fun as an expected byproduct; but the recreational hunter is hunting in order to acquire fun--with necessities as an expected byproduct.  (Let's assume meat is a necessity, just for the sake of argument.)  It's a subtle difference, but a big difference.  Imagine a surgeon who enjoys her work.  She goes to work anticipating having fun in the operating room.  If she cuts people open in order to have fun, that's troubling.  If she cuts people open in order to help them, and only expects to have fun, that's completely different.

Killing for fun seems bizarre and unwholesome, so hunters tend to wax poetic.  Substitute whatever words you like, there's still the same problem.  If hunters are trying to acquire super-profound personal gratification--a sense of oneness with nature, whatever--it still seems obvious one shouldn't kill for personal gratification.

The tricky question is: does it matter?  If the surgeon does cut to have fun, should we worry about her? Censure her? Stop her? Call her behavior wrong, as opposed to just questioning her motives?  The same questions arise about the hunter:  if hunters harm animals less than average meat eaters, should we be less concerned about them, morally? Or is their killing for fun a reason for concern? What kind of concern?  Should we charge them with moral errors, or just be repulsed?

This is the set of questions I'd like to see explored in the hunting book. And explored forthrightly.  We'll...see.

8 comments:

Matthew Pianalto said...

Yes, I have concerns about "fun" in this context, too, though I also agree that for many hunters, it isn't really about fun. In fact, in Tennessee and Kentucky, it's not just about fun, but is, claim advocates, a heritage, a tradition, and a way of life. And they are organizing to enact constitutional amendments guaranteeing a "right to hunt and fish." I introduce and discuss this here. (I'd be interested in your thoughts.)

Lukeroelofs said...

We might think of this in terms of excuses. Is your action morally wrong in some objective sense (causing needless death or suffering, for instance)? If not, then your motivation is largely beyond moral censure - at worse it might be creepy or unsettling.

But if the action is morally wrong, then the sort of blame or censure you get is heavily influenced by the psychology of why you did it - if you couldn't have known about the result that's a complete excuse, if you had good intentions but ignored relevant information, that's a partial excuse, if you feel guilty, remorseful, or ashamed that's a mitigating factor, etc.

The upshot would be that the surgeon who cuts for fun is, as long as she ensures that she only performs beneficial operations, not open to moral blame; an average meat-eater is doing something wrong, but it's mildly mitigated insofar as she evidences a (possibly semiconscious) awareness that it's wrong in trying to block out or depersonalise its effects; and a hunter, even if her action isn't objectively worse, lacks that mitigation insofar as they revel in the destruction they inflict.

Aeolus said...

For hunters in the mould of Ortega y Gasset (Meditations on Hunting), killing is necessary to complete the union with nature. Ortega says that "one does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted."

Some pro-hunt writers argue that insofar as hunters face up to and take responsibility for their role in the cycle of life and death, hunting promotes human flourishing and is a virtuous activity. To the contrary, I would argue that hunters who in this manner derive satisfaction from, and even revel in, being bringers of death are vicious in a way that most supermarket meat-eaters are not. Those meat-eaters who stick their heads in the sand and refuse to confront their involvement in the unnecessary suffering and death of the innocent are moral cowards. But their cowardice reveals them to have a core of decency: it is because they still have the capacity to be horrified by certain actions that they would rather not think about them.

(Yes, there's a potential philosophy paper here: "In Praise of Moral Cowardice".)

Matthew Pianalto said...

Aoleus: I didn't see an argument in support of the viciousness of hunters, just an assertion. FWIW, I'm on the fence on this one, but I also think that there are various activities that go by the name "hunting" but differ in character, and it may be an oversimplification to cut all of these practices down with a single broad judgment.

amos said...

In line with what Aeolus says, let's say there's a vicious imperialist war supported by the great mayority of the country, because the war ensures them a supply of cheap oil.

There's a large group of people who support the war, given that oil prices are cheap, and close their eyes to the fact that the armed forces are torturing, bombing civilians, destroying the environment of the occupied nation.

Then there are special forces who volunteer for military service, who torture, burn villages, etc.

I would say that the moral cowardice of the first group is an ethical plus of sorts.

Better still of course, would be to oppose the war.

Paul said...

Hypothetical Question: You are on a small plane in Alaska that crashes and you are the only survivor. Youe are a hundred miles from the nearest island of humanity. You have a pistol with six bullets. You are without food or water. What do you do to survive ? There is a caribou within sight . Do you shoot it ?

Jean Kazez said...

I just wanted to quickly say to Paul (in case he crashes in Alaska later today)--yes, by all means, you shoot it. But that's hunting for necessities, not hunting for fun.

Will join the rest of the conversation later today when I have more time!

Paul said...

Jean I neither hunt nor do I own a gun and killing anything (animals included) is anatheme to me !