(Blogging will be very light until early next week — Thanksgiving's a-coming, and I'm going to enjoy my family!)
There's an interesting article in Equestrian Today that includes a rebuttal to the frequent AR refrain that "animals kill only for food." Though the article is mainly about fox hunting with dogs in the UK and is well worth reading in total:
The new hunting season has started and in its wake is a spate of for and against letters as a paper chase of opinion is laid.
"Hunting is nature's way," says one author. "Animals only kill for food," says another. "Accept the days of chasing foxes are over," says the top spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports, all in the Letters to the Editor page of the Yorkshire Post.
Are both sides implacable? Perhaps. When I whipped in, I met a complete cross section of antis. Some of them held a deep-seated, and, I believe, honest, abhorrence to hunting. How could man control hounds to chase one of God's creatures to possible destruction?
I think the term "antis" refers to people who are anti-hunting. That would be a category that includes Animal Rights activists, but includes others as well.
Others had their opinions conditioned by propaganda without actually seeing what went on. Most of those held the view that they didn't have to see bear-baiting to know it was wrong.
Yet some of them marvelled at hounds strong on a scent and not a few of them changed sides.
Others just came out for the day to take the mickey out of the toffs. And a menacing section of antis seemed to have the ruin of the State on their agenda, moving from the hunting fields to protest against anything they could get a gang together to jeer at.
"Mickey out of the toffs" is slang that means in this case, roughly, laughing at the pretensions of the upper class.
I have to be honest to say that many horse people hunt to ride, so they would be happy with a drag line. They may eventually discover that it costs much more to insure a horse for drag hunting than even for eventing, though that skirts the moral issue. Do animals only hunt for food? Tell that to the pigeon loft owner when a mink gets in, kills everything and takes one bird. Or the keeper seeing a Sparrow Hawk kill poult after poult and then take just one away.
Or the fascinating and beautiful owl family, many of whom will kill young pheasant apparently for the fun of it, leaving their carcasses behind.
And Charlie? Keep a few chickens for free range eggs and you may lose them one by one to a fox. That seems natural enough, he is hungry, you provide a fast food outlet. Natural until the night he kills all the survivors and takes but one.
And take the biggest, and most efficient killer in Britain, the humble house cat. Does it really need that song bird to enhance a diet of Cattomeat ?
Clearly, animals don't kill only for food: all you need to do is watch a house cat play with a helpless mouse, vole or sparrow to know that the felid finds something pleasurable about the activity, an activity that would be characterized as "ruthless" were a human to do it.
Nature is replete with examples of such things. For example, in a pack of African wild dogs, the dominant male and female breed, and if a subordinate female gives birth, the dominant male may kill the offspring. Similar not-for-food killing occurs in some non-human primate species: "According to Scott and Lockard (1999), female transfer decisions [of Mountain Gorillas] depend on the quality of the dominant silverback since they provide protection against infanticide by other males. Other silverback males will kill offspring known not to be theirs in order to eliminate competition."
So non-humans kill for several reasons, one of which is to eat, another is evidently for pleasure (or something else, but not for food), and a third is to protect their individual contribution to the gene pool.
All of which are excused by the fact that it is the nature of the bird or beast.
Well, yeah . . . that's true of some antis, those who acknowledge that animals do kill for reasons other than to eat.
But there are still those who contend that non-humans "only kill for food," even though such a claim is demonstrably false and widely known to be so.
So what's going on with these people?
I think most of them know that some animals kill for reasons other than food, but I don't think those people are lying when they assert otherwise.
I think they've taken the fact of animals killing for reasons other than food, and placed it somewhere in their memory banks where it continues to exist but is subconsciously ignored when it comes to arguing for their cause. I think this may well be an example of ideological blindness rather than a deliberate attempt to deceive. I believe that such blindness is an example of what Anthony Pratkanis was getting at in his seminal article on persuasion and self-persuasion when he wrote:
2. Set a Rationalization Trap
The rationalization trap is based on the premise: Get the person committed to the cause as soon as possible. Once a commitment is made, the nature of thought changes. The committed heart is not so much interested in a careful evaluation of the merits of a course of action but in proving that he or she is right. . . .
I think for people who are strongly committed to any cause, including anti-hunting and Animal Rights, there is a very strong tendency to misplace in one's mind facts that are not consistent with the beliefs underlying the commitment.
Back to the equestrian article.
Many believe that man's nature is a hunter. Sublimated to merchant banking, aggressive politics, making that first million, getting that promotion, feeling that collar. Exhaulted by riding to hounds across some beautiful country.
There is no question about that "hunter" is a part of H. sapiens' nature. We have only to look at the fossil record to prove that hunting has existed for hundreds of thousands of years if not a few million; to look at modern hunter-gatherer peoples to appreciate how high a value they place on meat eating; and to look at 40 years of observations that Chimpanzees, human-kind's closest living relatives, will hunt and eat meat (they show predatory behavior).
One can claim, mistakenly in my mind, that hunting is always and inevitably wrong, but one cannot claim that it is not a part man's nature.
And when a former head of the RSPCA says that foxes will be worse off now because shooting them does not always kill cleanly and that, like it or not, hounds do not wound, they either kill the fox or it escapes, the moral maze twists on.
It is no time for those against our rural pursuits to crow. They may eat crow in a pie in the future when the new law is found unworkable.
Most of the anti-hunting people, and all Animal Rights extremists (violent or not), share the idea that the pleasure hunters derive from hunting, an activity in which the quarry's death is a goal if not an inevitability, is what makes hunting immoral enough to advocate its ban.
So it's not the killing per se that's immoral. Indeed, in the US, PeTA justifies killing most of the animals that they take into their shelter on the grounds that euthanasia is a compassionate solution to the problem of animal overpopulation. (Note: All AR groups, including PeTA, are based squarely on the premise that the life of an animal and that of a human are of equal value. For PeTA to kill animals is therefore a major breach of their ideology unless they are willing to kill humans for the same reasons they do animals. I discuss the implications of the AR point of view here.)
But killing that reduces suffering isn't enough to satisfy the antis, either. As the former RSPCA official pointed out, controlling the fox population by hunters with dogs produces less suffering than controlling them by shooting alone. And in the US, deer hunters prevent a great deal of suffering by keeping deer herd numbers in check. In both instances, humans deliberately killing animals reduces suffering.
So what does determine whether killing is moral or immoral, and what determines whether reducing suffering is moral or immoral? The answer is simple: the ideology, the motivation and the inner emotions of the one doing the killing.
So to most anti-hunters, and to all Animal Rights activists, the thoughts and emotions of the one doing the killing are of greater moral relevance than whether or not killing happens, or whether or not the killing reduces suffering.