Monday, April 09, 2007

Hunting and Honesty

Over at Daily Kos, there's a discussion about the current intra-Republican infighting over who's a hunter and who's not.

A few of the comments over there were of the standard-issue "Bambi-murderer" sort, and many of them were of the "Republicans Hunt; Democrats Don't" sort.

Here's my take:

There is certainly more than a grain of truth in what artofstarving says about the strange space that hunting occupies in American politics, and in the American psyche, but it's a complicated subject.

I can't begin to sort out all of the pathologies involved with the political implications of who is and is not a hunter, who's killed what, what weapons were used, etc. Most of that stuff is deserving of every bit of contempt and condescension that's heaped on it.

However, I want to defend the concept of hunting as a social Good.

There are several facets to this argument.

One is purely based on crass political reality. Like it or not, there are lots of hunters in this country, and they don't particularly like being characterized as bloodthirsty apes or anachronistic knuckleheads. Many of these folks are highly sensitive to environmental issues that affect their hobby, and they could be allies, if they thought their priorities were respected by Democratic politicians. On this point, I would refer you to Ducks Unlimited, which is a hunting-oriented group that is a real power player in wetland habitat conservation (and REPUBLICAN politics). There are many other interest groups of a similar bent. By any rational measure, these constituencies should be heavily Democratic, but we insist on driving them away, because they carry guns and shoot little animals.

Another is Range Management. There are exactly zero ecosystems in the lower 48 that closely resemble a pre-Columbian state. We simply don't have the predators that once balanced the reproduction rates of the prey species. If hunting were outlawed, populations of such game species as deer would find a new equilibrium, but it would be at the expense of massive starvation, disease, and habitat destruction, and the effects on non-game species would also be profoundly undesirable. Ask a biologist.

The last point I want to address goes to the motivation of the hunter. I know for a fact that there are some who just want to kill, want to see something bleed and die. We can agree that that's a sickness, and it should be condemned. However, I don't think that's the motivation of many hunters. If it were, there would be a business in the recreational operation of the apparatus that kills steers at slaughterhouses. Instead, I think that people hunt because they want to be connected to the natural cycle of life and death. There is no number of Big Macs that can prepare you for the impact that choosing to kill a free being - to be the agent of its death - has on your apprehension of your imprint on the world.

Legend has it that Native Americans gave thanks to their prey for giving its life that they could live. The reality of that connection for the hunter's survival is long gone, but the sense of honoring the wheel of Life, and taking personal responsibility for your part in it, is still very real.

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