Philosophy of Hunting...for Hunters

I'm always on the lookout for good reading about hunting.  I regularly have hunters in my animal rights class, and usually cover the topic, but I have trouble finding reading on the subject.  So I welcomed the copy of Hunting: Philosophy for Everyone that recently came my way, courtesy of the good guys at Wiley-Blackwell.

The anthology is written as a hunter's companion, not as a balanced presentation of the debate about hunting.  All of the books in this series are like that.  The book on fatherhood is for fathers, the book on climbing is for climbers.  I think the series is ingenious, and I can see why the editors decided to include hunting as one of the topics.

The editor of the volume, Nathan Kowalsky, starts his introduction with reminiscences of hunting with his father as a kid. Dad sometimes picks him up at school with a deer in the back of his van.  Cool, he thinks, but "they were never my deer."  "My deer" because you killed it?  What's apparent from page 1 is that the world looks different to hunters.

Anyway, at 14 Kowalsky finally gets to go deer hunting, and has a buck in his sights, but can't pull the trigger.  "Not because I didn't want to kill him, but because I wasn't confident I'd kill him well."   Killing him well. That notion sets the tone for much of the book.  It's not about "whether," it's about "how."

To make sure the deer is killed well, Dad takes the shot, and the deer falls to the ground. Kowalksy recollects--
There was only one thing that mattered to me: that the buck was okay. And by okay I meant that he was well dead.  Death was always in the cards, but it had to be good.  Weird, huh?  I loved that buck, that one, right there. he deserved the right kind of death. And then I cried!  I guess 14-year-old boys are allowed to.  It's always odd to consider why one cries. We cry when we're happy, when we're sad, when we're relieved, and when we're frustrated.  We cry when we see beauty, and when we see horror. And yet neither of these things truly captured what I felt. I don't know of any words that really could.  But it was good to cry, and it was good that the buck died as he did.  (Dad was a good shot.)
I'm afraid I just found this story troubling.  It troubles me that the boy cried--should we really kill in front of kids, and teach them to kill?  It troubles me even more how the obvious seems to be unspeakable.  The deer was shot dead--he lost his life.  How could that not be distressing?

In the first article, by Jesus Ilundain-Agurruza, philosophy itself is huntified with a billion metaphors.  Again, a hunter's sensibilities just aren't everyone's.  I can't warm up to light-hearted banter about the accoutrements of suffering and death.  In the first half of the chapter, he explains Singer's principle of equal consideration of interests;  no hunting is allowed, for the sake of trivial interests.  What's the serious interest served by recreational hunting? The article switches muses in mid-stream: it gives a "virtue ethics" defense of hunting.  The justification for hunting lies in the hunter's attitude.  "A central aspect of this superior kind of hunting is the ritual of honoring the kill and paying homage to it." But wait, isn't the thing itself--killing for recreation--non-virtuous?   The article just doesn't explain how to get around that (apparent) problem.

I confess, when the next chapter started with a description of black bear hunting, I was kind of tuckered out. There had already been so much killing.  I was cold, my feet were wet, and I just wanted to go home.   The fact is, I simply find the whole idea of recreational killing extremely strange  I'm definitely not the intended audience for this book.

But then, I've got all these hunting students, and I really want to understand what's on their minds. So no doubt I will persevere next time I cover this topic in my class.  There's an article by Roger Scruton ("The Sacred Pursuit") that looks like required reading.  I'm going to have to tackle the essay about the vegan-turned-hunter, even though I overdosed on that type of narrative when I read The Vegetarian Myth last year.  Yes, there are are also articles calling into question hunting (Lisa Kretz) and articles on neutral themes (J. R. King), but on the whole, this is a book that will speak to hunters, not critics of hunting.

See here for a much more thorough review of the book.

1 comment:

Wayne said...

Hmm. Interesting.

I'm not sure what the moral problem is killing. Its not inherent to killing, since we all kill, from washing ourselves to eating our veggies. So the hunter philosophy has at least some of it right, that its about the how of killing, as much as the why. Teaching someone to kill with a deep respect for an animal, might be a way to seriously initiate a deep respect for animals in general. Their pain matters. And isn't that a serious interest? (I'm not suggesting that this is the only way to achieve this end.)

Singer is, after all, willing to recite Bible verses to get people to give more money to charity, and willing to defend a staunch veganism position, and at the same time defend a compassionate omnivorism. Could this be another way that we could convey to people that animals welfare is important?

But I understand that killing is also disturbing on an existential level. It makes us aware of our own mortality. Maybe that is why he was crying?

"Dad was a good shot." Makes me wonder how long it took him to be a good shot, and if he practiced on animals. : /