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Slavery is traditional, too

Letter from John Walker

Hunting – November 1994 – Colorado Central Magazine


Although slavery is one of humanity’s oldest activities, it’s condemned by many modern people. This shocking statement, simplistic in its evocation of ancient tradition to rationalize a practice that is rightfully fading into the evolutionary mists of human history, assumes a high level of credibility when the word “hunting” is substituted for “slavery,” according to Chas Clifton, author of the essay “The Nature of the Hunt.” (published in the October ’94 edition of Colorado Central).

Clifton’s attempt to “look at hunting’s place in the modern world” is replete with errors, contradictions, and the sort of elemental propagandizing characteristic of an amoral public relations specialist.

Among the most basic techniques of the propagandist is the effort to discredit by association, even where the linkage is unsubstantiated. To this end, Clifton likens contemporary opponents to the sport of hunting to Manich├Žism, an old-world religion that he describes in a shallow and superficial way while failing to mention that it disappeared 800 years ago. He couples this with a description of two people who get squeamish when watching PBS nature programs.

A discussion of such parallels would be incomplete without reference to the large body of psychological literature that has documented the way in which serial killers and other sociopaths have frequently nurtured their violent behavior by engaging in the more socially acceptable behavior of hunting, sometimes as a disguise for sexually related animal abuse.

Pulling back from the extreme sociopath is a 1987 study from the University of New Hampshire on teen homicide linking legal violence with criminal violence. More recently, a study in New York found that child sexual assault was more likely to occur in counties with higher than average participation in hunting, again suggesting a possible correlation between a climate of licensed violence and unlawful criminal violence.

It is worth noting that this association does not rely on isolated examples or comparisons to a long-vanished religious cult.

Clifton also attempts to lay bare the “New Age” hypocrisy of admiring primitive cultures while being repulsed by “the act of killing and eating an deer.” Yet he is quite comfortable in aligning himself with those same primitive cultures while living comfortably as a member of what anthropologist John H. Bodley calls the “dominant industrial culture” responsible for “the continuing destruction of tribal peoples.” Old sayings about glass houses and stones come immediately to mind.

WHILE THE SCOURGE of ethical vegetarianism, in Clifton’s view, threatens to replace “wild animals” with “monocultural fields of soybeans to feed the tofu market,” the facts again interfere with his limited vision. More than ninety percent of the soybean crop is used to feed livestock. Since only one-seventh of the protein in soy or grains survives the conversion to beef, the unnecessary loss of wetlands and other valuable wildlife habitat in the conversion to farmland has more to do with meat consumption than any other factor. Does Mr. Clifton’s ethic demand that every steak and hamburger he consumes come directly and exclusively from range-fed beef?

Finally, the often-cited role of licensed sport hunting in the protection of natural resources, while not without merit, is generally overrated. Most wildlife management funds are expended for two objectives. First is the protection of the wildlife resource from one group of hunters (poachers) for the benefit of another (licensed) group of hunters. The second objective is the manipulation of resources to produce as many hunting experiences as possible. To this end, forest habitat is fragmented to produce edge species like deer, predators are routinely killed — as in the serial gunning of Alaskan wolves to insure targets for sport hunters, and overhunting frequently occurs in order to maintain levels of license sales revenue.

Ultimately, the flaws in the moral persuasion of Clifton and a host of other writers are to be found at the root. Having been taught to hunt by his father, he and others seek to justify an activity in which they are predisposed to engage. It is difficult to present an argument in a cogent, factual, and scientific manner when you work backwards from the conclusion, all the while discarding unpleasant and unsupportive facts. Far more convincing is the person who is willing to change lifestyle and deviate from the cultural norm as a result of informed inquiry.

John Walker