The Consciousness Question

Nature, nurture, and the hundred billion neurons in between

Animals and Hunting

Hunting for ‘sport’ is basically another way to describe the thrill of killing.

Quoting from Emily Anthes in the New York Times of Monday, February 4, 2013:

In December, wolf 832F ventured out of her territory in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley. As soon as she left the park, she lost its protections, and the wolf, a 6-year old alpha female, was shot and killed by a hunter.

It’s rare for the death of an animal to make the news, but wolf 8323F was a bona fide celebrity – one of Yellowstone’s most visible and popular wolves – and her death led to a public outpouring of grief. Making her death even more tragic was the fact that she had been wearing an expensive GPS tracking collar, which allowed scientists to follow her every move and gain crucial insight into the lives of gray wolves.’

A few months ago, during the closing months of the last Presidential election, a photograph appeared in a leading journal of a politician – hunting rifle held proudly upright in his right hand – standing behind the dead body of a magnificent adult deer (or elk) which lay pathetically at his feet. A macho image: head held high, eyes looking imperiously at the camera, mouth set in a smirk of a smile, the great hunter telegraphing his fearlessness to the world.

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Was he hungry? He certainly didn’t look underfed. Yet the caption declared that he always went through the formality of skinning and eviscerating his kill. Which brings the question to mind as to who was in most need of sustenance– the animal or the hunter? It doesn’t really matter, does it? After all, hunting is a sport, is it not? You know…. ‘the thrill of the chase’: stalking your prey; facing the danger of ‘the charge’ that might take your life… your only defense a high-powered rifle that can kill a deer or elk 100 yards away.

In Botswana, on the fringes of the Kalahari Desert, I met an American hunter who had paid the Botswana government almost $10,000 for a license to shoot three lions – maximum number allowed – and ship their heads back home as trophies to adorn his house. A little more dangerous than ‘hunting’ in Wisconsin, but after all he did have a native ‘bearer’ alongside to back him up should he miss; both with multi-magazine rifles. Hungry lion. Well-fed hunters – (two of them). ‘Great sport…’ as the American hunter in Botswana said. .

If one is not killing in self-defense, or because one is starving, then I would say that hunting for ‘sport’ nowadays is basically a socially acceptable way to describe the ‘thrill’ of killing for its own sake. (In my next blog I will relate why it is surmised that the seemingly narcissistic exhilaration that impels the compulsive hunter nowadays, was not the psychological attitude that drove the Paleolithic hunter.) For myself… I would have to be in dire peril to put a bullet between the eyes of any animal wandering purposefully along in its natural surroundings, especially those possessed of a natural grace and beauty, not to mention being a biological phenomenon significant in its own right. And certainly I could never go out deliberately to search for, and kill, the wildest of animals in order to cut off its ‘trophy’ parts.

Any reader who has a devoted dog in their charge will know what I am talking about.

The following words written by Henry Beston in The Outermost House express far more eloquently the sentiments I have expressed here:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.’

And from The Souls of Animals by Gary Kowalski:

No longer can we discount the lives of sensitive and intelligent creatures merely because they assume nonhuman form. The things that make life most precious and blest – courage and daring, conscience and compassion, imagination and originality, fantasy and play – do not belong to our kind alone.

There is a wonderful poem called The House Dog’s Grave by Robinson Jeffers, which I was permitted to use in my most recent book, ‘What the Hell Are the Neurons Up To’. It reveals the extraordinary strength of the bond that can exist between a man and his dog: between a human being and an animal.

 

Graham Collier, author of What The Hell Are The Neurons Up To?, is an exhibiting landscape and portrait artist in Britain, an artist-philosopher in America, and a frequent Antarctic voyager. more...

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