Thursday, September 2, 2010
Killing for Fun
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.