Bad Will Hunting

» November 9th, 2014

This post belongs in the “no, it’s not the Onion” section. I’m referring to a piece published in the Times about raising and releasing Chinese ring-necked pheasants into Utah for the purposes of ecological conservation through the fine art of hunting.

Yeah, I know, emphasis not necessary. But on reading the article, you’d think the writer, not to mention the entire state of Utah, not to mention the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, thought it was perfectly rational to have families raise pheasants from scratch, come to adore them, release them into the wild, and allow 13-year olds, followed adults, to chase them down and blow them to smithereens.

“It’s a little bit hard,” a woman said, as the birds were set free. “You’ve watched them grow, and they’re like part of the family now.”

Which led me to consider an interesting heuristic device to place this policy, as well as the article about it, in some sort of sane perspective. Try this: read the article while replacing every reference to pheasant with dog. You’d encounter sentences such as this:

“The family of six had been raising the [dogs] since they were fuzzy, brown, palm-size [pups], as part of a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources program designed to create a greater interest in wildlife conservation and habitat preservation and to promote the sport of upland game hunting, particularly to young and first-time hunters.”

Or this:

“People are also no longer dependent on game hunting of any kind to feed their families,” a wildlife guy said. “When I grew up hunting [dogs] in Pennsylvania in the 1960s, there were no computer games, organized sports were not nearly as involved, and most people lived in two-parent households. My dad could take a Saturday off to go hunting. That’s become more difficult now.”

Weird, right? I wonder what would have happened if the author had tried this experiment before writing this horrid piece? Might she have appreciated how arbitrary it was to nurture one sentient creature for slaughter while never even considering doing so for another? And might not this inconsistency have alerted her to the ethical atrocity that she was inadvertently endorsing by not questioning it?

Try it again with another animal, one we don’t even domesticate:

“Like many states where pheasant hunting is a beloved pastime, Utah stocks its public lands with [squirrels] each fall. For 2014, the state purchased 11,000 adult [squirrels] from commercial growers and released them on public land to stoke hunters’ enthusiasm — and odds of success.”

Weird, right? And worse.

3 Responses to Bad Will Hunting

  1. Ingrid says:

    Thanks for bringing attention to this particular form of cognitive dissonance. I agree … I think about that every time I encounter a deer, elk, coyote or duck hunt, hearing the rhetoric that surrounds the killing. The separation is obviously easier to achieve when you have no emotional connection to the species. Wild animals are by their very wildness, enigmatic to most people. Thus brutalizing them is easier to compartmentalize.

    Pieces like this not only sanitize and sentimentalize the reality of bloodsport, they also present an inaccurate view of conservation and how it relates to economic interests. That’s important because economics is the primary justification used to perpetuate these types of practices — like stocking pheasants, quail and other upland birds for easy pickings.

    In the big picture, the figures they cite don’t amount to a majority as proponents would like people to believe. The writer mentions the economic contribution of hunters, saying that 13.7 million or so Americans hunt. But she omits that there are 70+ million wildlife watchers in the U.S., and that 75 percent of visits and expenditures (for example) on National Wildlife Refuges come from those “non-consumptive” pursuits and dollars.

    This recent report (not yet formally published, as far as I know) up-ends some of the presumptions about who funds wildlife conservation in this country. It really is a case of follow the money or, rather, follow the presumed source of money. If more people understood the reality of this misrepresentation, it could be effectively countered:

  2. Elaine Brown says:

    Plain and simple, anyone who enjoys any kind of hunting is either very hungry, lacks empathy, or worse enjoys killing.

    Hunger brings out in us a certain amount of sympathy for the killer. Lack of empathy generates the urge to teach and to forgive. To kill for joy or harm any living thing for pleasure conjures up from tension to hatred.

    The real question is how do we reach that last group?

  3. John T. Maher says:

    We have seen this sort of rhetorical device before in either Herzog or Melanie Joy and it is useful.

    In terms of inverting the species hierarchal paradigm with regard to JMc’s transposition of words, mosquitoes, leopards and hippopotamii have killed the largest number humans over time. In terms of the intersectionality of trans species instrumental oppression Columbus used mastiffs in the Dominican Republic for his chase infernal, In terms of mixing metaphor, the Nazis termed their hunting down of a mass escape of concentration camp denizens the Celle “rabbit hunt”, a more palatable metaphor than saying the were going out to shoot Jews and Communists.

    So the effectiveness of the transpositive metaphor depends upon cultural norms and personal ethics. Americans are more concerned someone will take their television and fast food away than if a puppy is shot.

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