I’m a non-hunter and an environmentalist who grew up in Montana, where both these traits earn some pretty annoying attitude from many people. So Nikolas Kozloff’s CounterPunch article “Palin, Hunting and the American Psyche” resonated with me, and I appreciated your skewering of these lame politicians’ –- Romney and Clinton for example — posturing as wannabe hunters. Even so, I have a few critical comments.
Kozloff appeared to have a very negative view of hunting in general, though there are a number of separate but related issues bundled together in his article, so forgive me if I misread him. Among the bundled issues: hunting, which could be broken down further into food hunting versus recreational trophy and ‘varmint’ hunting; government ‘animal control’ programs; animal testing; and pathetic posing by politicians.
1) It’s a bad idea to lump all of these issues together. E.g. I see no moral equivalence between hunting for food (arguably morally superior to feedlot beef) and shooting gophers for entertainment, or government-sponsored slaughter of predator species because of outdated notions and administrative inertia. And just because there are a lot of idiots and jerks that hunt, or pretend they do when an election rolls around, doesn’t mean all hunters are idiots or jerks. Not that Kozloff says they are, but it might be taken as implied.
2) Kozloff writes, “with the entrance of Sarah Palin into the presidential race the country has the opportunity of holding a long overdue debate about hunting and animal rights in wider U.S. society.” Attacking hunting in general strikes me as igniting yet another ‘culture war’ that distracts us from burning, and more appropriately political, issues.
It may be that Americans and the human species as a whole need to evolve culturally toward vegetarianism. It’s certainly more healthy physically than the typical American diet, and probably spiritually as well. And it’s undoubtedly more environmentally benign. But such evolution would be better served by persuasion than political coercion. Humans have been hunting and eating meat for tens of thousands of years at a minimum. It’s not likely to change quickly.
For many hunters (if not most), hunting is a passion and their favorite activity. You’ll not only never get anywhere by attacking them for this, you’ll drive them into opposing political camps. Progressive politics has all but flatlined in the US; progressives would do well to focus on finding allies on crucial, winnable fights. ‘Hunting’ as a general issue is a fight that is neither crucial nor winnable.
Is it worth alienating millions of hunters, and millions more of their families and friends? It may be that if this issue is left alone, that many hunters may fall in the progressive camp (or be brought about) on issues that, brainwashing aside, are in their interest, such as decreasing the influence of the rich on our politics; restoring some semblance of civil liberties and constitutionality; demilitarizing and deimperializing the US; providing universal healthcare; etc. Heck, they might even be brought around on more narrowly focused wildlife issues like predator control and recreational ‘varmint’ killing, if they’re not demonized for all hunting, period.
Anecdotally, ‘animal rights activists’ and ‘environmentalists’ sometimes diverge in curious ways. For instance, I have heard that animal rights activists have opposed efforts to eliminate (i.e. kill) introduced foxes from Pacific Ocean islands, presumably because it is cruel to the foxes involved. Many environmentalists support these initiatives because the foxes are not native to the islands and may threaten nesting seabirds with extinction. The environmentalist takes the view that extinction is a far greater problem than the death of a few individuals of a non-native species not threatened by extinction. Live-trapping the foxes might be preferable from the standpoint of humane treatment of animals, but it may be so much more costly and difficult that it renders it financially or technically unfeasible.
Likewise, in highly human-altered, predator-deficient ecosystems some environmentalists consider hunting to be beneficial. E.g., without any predation pressure deer may overpopulate and overgraze forest understory plants, destroying the nesting habitat of songbirds (some of them endangered). Yes, restoration of a healthy ecosystem with predators would be preferable, but in some parts of the U.S. that may be pie-in-the-sky, at least in the short term.
GRADY HARPER can be reached at email@example.com