Monday, March 15, 2010

My quest for understanding hits a dead end, or, 'Good Book, Bad Ending'

I loooooove a good book about how hunting relates us to our essential humanity. That's been the focus of my quest for understanding since I got past the first stage of hunting - hit the bird! - and moved on to the obvious question: Why do I love hunting so much?

But dang, when I got to the end of the latest book on my reading list, The Tender Carnivore & the Sacred Game by Paul Shepard, not only did my quest hit a dead end, but there was a gang of thugs waiting for me with baseball bats and switchblades when I got there.

These are not the words I thought I'd be writing when I started reading this book. I was pretty excited about it because it continued a theme I'd been exploring with Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, the story of the Fall from Paradise, and the notion that hunting connects us to that paradise. (Or at least that's how I saw it; in reality, The Tender Carnivore, published in 1973, predates Ishmael by nearly 20 years.)

From the first day I opened this book, I began doing to it what I do to all thought-provoking books that I love:

I know. Blasphemy to book lovers, but that's how I have a conversation with my books. They're friends, not museum pieces.

Anyway, there are a lot of fascinating ideas in here, which is not surprising, given the accolades Shepard has received for his environmental philosophy. The nut of it is that while most of us consider our species to be at its apex now - incredibly intelligent, technologically advanced, blah blah blah - Shepard contends that we were far more human when we were hunter gatherers, and that the path we've taken since leaving that life behind is leading to destruction.

And what quotable quotes!

"Culture is not gilt-edged exemption from nature."

"It is typical of the ideological approach to life to suppose that by political action we can make the human organism whatever we want it to be." (Take that, vegan animal rights nuts!)

"The loss from our culture of the hunter's attitude of the sacredness of eating is perhaps one reason that we have mistakenly come to think of killing animals as shameful."

And this one, which has a long lead-in: "Although it has long been fashionable to describe it so, the world of the hunting and gathering peoples is not a vale of constant demonic threat and untold fears. It is a life of risk gladly taken, of very few wants, leisurely and communal, intellectual in ways that are simultaneously practical and aesthetic, of solitude and human sparseness, in which men do not become a disease on their environment but live in harmony with each other and with nature. The ways of the hunters are beginning to show us how we are failing as human beings and as organisms in a world beset by a 'success' that hunters never wanted."

A success hunters never wanted. I like that. These are all notions that help me get to the root of why hunting speaks to me so deeply.

Then I got to the end of the book.

In Quinn's Ishmael (which I blogged about here), the author doesn't touch the subject of how humanity can return to a less destructive state along the lines of the hunter-gatherers. It's left in the hands of the protagonist, whom Ishmael, a gorilla, has educated about the problem. (Trust me, you get over the ridiculousness of that idea pretty quickly.)

But Paul Shepard goes there, and it's not pretty. He starts with a notion that microbes can produce a great deal of food for us, which reminds me of that scene in the Matrix where the humans are on the Nebuchadnezzar eating their synthetic glop and Dozer explains that it contains all the essential nutrients.

Wrong direction! my brain screamed. And I nearly fainted when I read this blasphemy: "Synthetic fats or margarines indistinguishable from butter can also be made from petroleum." I'm sorry, nothing is indistinguishable from butter. Shepard was clearly watching too many Chiffon margarine ads when he wrote that.

OK, it was 1973, perhaps the man could be forgiven such a statement.

Then he got to animals: "Domestic animals would no longer be kept, while private gardens with their domestic plants could be retained. ... Gardening is a health-giving form of human activity. Keeping domestic animals and pets is not. Plants are seldom seen as surrogate people, and there is little danger of the kind of projection and transference to them that are so familiar in psychiatric medicine. The essential otherness of plants is readily perceived and respected, however much they may be altered by domestication."

Whaaa? OK, Shepard's book, like Ishmael, is an indictment of 10,000 years of agriculture, but dogs have been domestic companions and hunting partners for a good 20,000 years, so I'm not sure why we have to be separated to get in touch with our inner hunter-gatherer. End factory farming, yes, it's disgusting. But ending mutually beneficial companionship? I'm not down with that.

Then he gets to the hunting. Finally, the good stuff!

Though his Utopian humans would all live in big cities, we'd all still be deeply connected to nature, which would be conveniently located at the back door of cities. Here's how it'd work:

"All hunting would be done by groups of men, preceded and followed by" blah blah blah blah blah. Are you serious?

"Meat not consumed in the field will be carried back to the city, sometimes with the help of women and older children, who also should participate in the cutting up of the game and the reverence felt for the dead animal."

Oh, so we can't hunt, but we can help butcher the meat? Yeah, I'd be happy to butcher your meat.

Then: "Girls will not participate in the hunting of large mammals, but they will spend as much time in the great wilderness as the boys. So long as human populations are overly large the woman's normal role of the gatherer and provider cannot be fulfilled."

Whoa. He didn't say anything about human populations being so large that the man's hunter role can't be fulfilled. Hmm.

I read to the end in disgust, wishing he'd kept his Utopia to himself, because he seemed so brilliant until he started painting that picture.

Was he just a man of his era?

It was just a couple years ago that an archeologist in Jordan found a tool kit that seemed to indicate that its owner had been both hunting and gathering, casting some doubt on the theory that only men were hunters and only women were gatherers.

And Mary Zeiss Stange debunked the enduring myth of "Man the Hunter" in her book Woman the Hunter, which wasn't published until 1997, but she wrote in that book that Shepard had reason to know better when he wrote his book 24 years earlier.

"What accounts for the fact that a thinker as perceptive and as sensitive as he, despite evidence before his eyes, could yet cling so tenaciously to the fundamental gender ideals of Man the Hunter and Woman the Gatherer?" she asked. "Perhaps in the face of massive environmental degradation and social upheaval, he sensed the only way forward to be the way back. The frontier is closing, he seems to be saying, and we must live to learn within these boundaries."

I think that's charitable. All I can conclude is that while Shepard - who died in 1996 - could brilliantly analyze our origins and our past, he fundamentally misunderstood the notion of free will and its effect on our future (on many counts, not just the ones I've highlighted here). His notion of the better future would be about as appealing to most people as Communism to a successful capitalist.

Personally, I'm with him on the core principle that the planet would be way better off if the human population were much smaller and still operating in tribal hunter-gatherer bands. I believe we'd be better off, too - happier, less driven by work, focused on things that matter most, connected to our environment, not working at cross-purposes with it. Even if that meant no Internet.

But I just don't see us going there willingly; it's going to take a cataclysm - one that few people short of Ted Kaczynski would wish on anyone.

That's getting ahead of things a bit, though. For now, I'm just trying to figure out how I reconcile Shepard's brilliance with his bizarre lunacy. I think I'll just stick to my hunting magazines tonight.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


hodgeman said...

Where ever do you find this stuff? Excellent write up, I'd like to introduce him to some of my Athabascan friends and let them tell him all about women hunters.

Interesting food for thought though and it somewhat reflects some of the Utopian thoughts of his day. It was the 70s and I'm thinking a little pot might have been involved...
How to seperate brillance and baffling lunatic ravings- they frequently go hand in hand.

Hubert Hubert said...

It's very nice to read such a thoughtful review. I think you're right to invoke Mr. Kaczynski here; he hovers over utopian road maps to the pre-industrial 'good life' as a helpful reminder of just how murderously crazy those 'shining paths' can get.

If it were less indecent to use the word about his acts, I'd be tempted to say that it was ironic that he took his ethically disastrous road for reasons that were just as popular (and just as deadly) in the ancient civilisations as they are today. I think he tried to build a tower to the sun, in other words.

Jacques Lacan said (in the punning cod-etymology that he was so fond of) that 'domesticated' animals share something of our own condition, something d'homme, precisely because they have taken something of the word inside them.

I think that the members of PeTA have decided on the way they feel human society should act in order to get back to the garden, to get back to that sinless place before the barrier of language fell between human and divine life. I guess I think that having eaten that particular apple there's just no way of going back; I think we fell for good (for evil too, come to that) and we have no choice now but to try and find a way to deal somehow with life amidst the babble of our crowded and conflicted world.

So, for the same reason, I'm afraid I don't think that hunting as such - any more than trashing vivisection labs - allows us to 're-connect' with our life in Eden; I think that's gone; I think we've swallowed the 'word' whole and for good; we're 'speaking beings' and if paradise appeals to us it's because we imagine that it might be quieter there - with less of this endless confusion of tongues. The garden strikes us a place where we wouldn't have to deal with all the damn talking that we have to do.

Sadly, the path to the paradisal idyll can easily end up with us trying to impose silence on the chattering and dissenting world in inhumanly brutal ways: Mr. Kaczynski's route.


Tovar Cerulli said...

Nice post, Holly. I agree: I find much of Shepard's work intriguing and eye-opening, but his handling of gender roles is, as you say, bizarre.

This would be interesting to discuss with David Petersen. As he makes clear in *Heartsblood*, he's a huge fan of Shepard's and he's also very supportive of female hunters.

SimplyOutdoors said...

Man, Holly. You just keep the excellent and thought-provoking posts rolling.

Anyone who's ever watched "A Beautiful Mind" knows there can be a fine line between brilliant and crazy.

Maybe Shepard fit that role? Or, maybe, as Hodgman already pointed out, it was the 70's, so maybe a little reefer did play a part. Maybe the whole "feel good" attitude of the day brought out his true feelings about the role of women. Who knows.

It was a little disheartening for me, though. I was so impressed with the quotes at the beginning of the post, but immediately was turned off in the end. I love women hunters, and welcome all of them into any hunting or fishing camp I inhabit. And I hope that my daughter becomes one someday as well.

I am interested to hear, though, as Tovar pointed out, what David Petersen's views on this particular subject are.

Great stuff, Holly.

Tovar Cerulli said...

Petersen does tangle with these things in *Heartsblood* in the chapter "Women and Hunting: A Man's View."

On p. 208, he writes "In league with Paul Shepard, I base my biological views of gender roles, in hunting and elsewhere, primarily on personal observation and logical deduction...Traditionally--with and without cultural conditioning--hunting has always been overwhelmingly a male passion...Yet male domination of hunting should never be enforced...Happily, more women of late are saying to heck with that and daring to 'cross the line' and take up hunting. And I say: More power to them."

Two pages later, Petersen writes that "the 'tradition' of hunting as an exclusively male endeavor is largely a myth based, not on deep-time history, but on postagricultural paternalistic convention. Shepard observes: 'Hunting in primal foraging societies has never excluded women. Their lives are as absorbed in the encounter with animals, alive and dead, as are the men's...Traditionally the large, dangerous animals are usually hunted by men, but it has never been claimed that women only pluck and men only kill...Paleolithic female figures occur in sanctuaries where the walls are painted with hunted game.'"

What are we to make of all that? I'm not sure.

Walter Bruning said...

Holly, et. al., Greetings!

Tovar has pointed out:

"Two pages later, Petersen writes that "the 'tradition' of hunting as an exclusively male endeavor is largely a myth based, not on deep-time history, but on postagricultural paternalistic convention. Shepard observes: 'Hunting in primal foraging societies has never excluded women. Their lives are as absorbed in the encounter with animals, alive and dead, as are the men's...Traditionally the large, dangerous animals are usually hunted by men, but it has never been claimed that women only pluck and men only kill...Paleolithic female figures occur in sanctuaries where the walls are painted with hunted game.'"
What are we to make of all that? I'm not sure."

Whenever I get unclear about hunting I just return the to the most thoughtful treatise of Jose' Ortega y Gasset, "Meditations on Hunting." It was brought to my attention many years ago in a little book written by Vance Bourjaily, "The Unnatural Enemy."

Ortega y Gasset was a renowned Spanish philosopher and in my view, he got it right. I would humbly suggest that any of you who want to sharpen your perceptions on hunting and the "Why?" of it get his little book. Though the argument is aligned with the history of men, in no way does it exclude women and were he alive today I believe he would agree that women so inclined make fine hunters and would applaud their actions.

What is even more important about the book is the centrality of hunting to the human race and the sobering conclusions he reached, most of which seem to be coming true today, as hunting is devalued and demonized by intellectual elites and utopian frauds.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Well, guys, lets keep in mind that pot in the '70s wasn't the potent mind-altering drug that it is today, so I don't think we can blame that. Then again, I do believe that the LSD tended to be much purer...

But seriously, I turned 8 the year he wrote this book, and while I know my own concept of what I could do as a girl was unlimited, I can't speak for the grown-ups of the time. I think Shepard took what he saw as history and used it to write a literal prescription for our future. I just think he was tone-deaf about it. On all points, including the microbial food and pets, not just women.

Hodgeman, you're right - this is a common problem, sorting the brilliant from the insane when they're often so close together. I just need to accept that I can take the parts I like and leave the parts I don't. It's just so hard when one dislikes the entire conclusion.

Hubert Hubert, I have a more secular interpretation of Paradise as a place where, very simply, all our needs were met by what was around us, and we didn't feel the need to "improve" on nature - the absence of language is not part of my picture. So when I hunt, I really do feel connected to that Paradise. It's very simply the awareness that food is around me and I have the instincts to go get it - and that what I get out there beats the hell out of anything in stores.

It's not gone entirely - there are still a few lucky tribes that live that way - but I agree with you that we probably aren't going to return to it. With most of the nearly 7 billion people on earth vested in the system we have (wow, 7 billion, a population double what it was when Shepard's book came out), I don't see a voluntary return. I can tell you that I have 50 students who will not under any circumstances give up their iPhones.

But we do love to fantasize about an Eden where we can have it all - technology and connection to earth - as you so articulately noted in your Saturday post about Avatar.

Tovar, I've read Heartsblood and while I didn't remember that passage, I distinctly remember that gender wasn't the topic in his book that irritated the hell out of me. I'm guessing most modern authors on this topic embrace women's role in hunting, with the possible exception of Randall Eaton, who seems to draw very strongly from Shepard's philosophy, not to the point of excluding women, but to the point of saying how vital hunting is for boys and men. Eaton's been on my reading list for a while, but I haven't gotten his "From Boys to Men of Heart" yet, in no small part because I expect to be irritated by it. That and the fact that it's obviously not written for me, as a woman.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Walter, thanks for bringing up Ortega y Gasset. "Meditations on Hunting" was the first serious book on hunting that I ever read. I enjoyed it, but I had not yet begun the intellectual journey I'm on now. "The Tender Carnivore" has a section that quotes Ortega y Gasset extensively and comments on his writing quite thoughtfully. That was one of the sections I enjoyed most, and it reminded me that I need to re-read Ortega y Gasset so I can get more out of it.

Sadly, the copy of that book in our house is Hank's, and Hank will not indulge my penchant for dog-earring pages and underlining and commenting on the text, so I have to go out and buy my own copy.

Tovar Cerulli said...

I have to ask, Holly: What did irritate the hell out of you in Heartsblood?

Speaking of which, my first encounter with Ortega y Gasset could be summed up that way, too: "extreme irritation." But that's a longer story.

I dog-ear my poor books, too. :-)

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Great work as every Holly

"Synthetic fats or margarines indistinguishable from butter can also be made from petroleum."

How i laughed, now your man is indistinguishable from a lackwit.

Hubert, nah man were not falling we're rising, its just that we're rising very slowly due the weight of lackwits holding us down ;-)

Keep well guys

NorCal Cazadora said...

Tovar, you can read a slightly more thorough discussion of Petersen here (scroll down for it), but in a nutshell, Petersen often comes off as a guy who lives in the wilderness and disdains everyone who doesn't hunt like he does, and I just don't appreciate that. Not all of us are lucky enough to live in the wilderness. Not all of use are lucky enough to have work schedules that allow us to go out on grueling elk hunts. I just think it's arrogant to impose "authentic hunting" standards on a world in which that's just not possible for most of us. But I really like a lot of the rest of his writing, and I still recommend his book to people.

I might recommend "The Tender Carnivore," but it'll definitely be with an asterisk.

And SBW, that line drove me insane, in part because I was actually raised on margarine and didn't eat real butter until we were so desperately poor that we qualified for government cheese and butter. Even government butter is better than margarine.

Tovar Cerulli said...

Thanks for the link to the older post, Holly. I hear what you're saying there. Great list of books, by the way; if I made a similar list, most of those would be on it, plus Nelson's *Heart and Blood*.

Don't get me started on the evils of margarine...

David J Blackburn said...

Holly, have you ever considered a Bible study on hunting? Understanding hunting requires understanding human nature. The killing of an animal happened first because we needed clothes. We didn't even eat the meat, it was wasted. The killing of most animals happened next in what could be termed a near-miss mass extinction event, because we could not find it in ourselves to love. Up till the time when the water receded, all of the sanctioned killing of animals that happened God did. Then suddenly animals were afraid if humans, and God said we could eat them. Suddenly, we got our hearts desire and 'we were like God.' Hunting represents acceptance that something wrong has happened; it is a messy horrible ugly chore that is only necessary because we were naked, loveless and, ultimately, hungry. Something innocent has to take the weight of our shortcomings for us to live. That's what I think about in the tree stand.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

I remember the 70's, era of margarine, we too were flat broke and exposed to all kinds of 'money saving innovations' there was another - this stuff called '5 pints' it was basically some kind of dried milk, tasted nothing like milk at all.

It really was the era of weird packet food - over here always sold as being the latest 'american' idea. My Ex grew up in LA and came to england as a seven year old, she can still remember being amazed at how horrid the orange juice was, and how often she'd be told something shaken out of a packet was great because it was 'american' and therefore in some way connected to the space race.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Actually, I recently read Genesis from start to finish for the first time (sorry to all my God-fearing friends, but I was raised atheist) and it did not offer the level of detail on this subject that I was hoping for.

Given my background, I'm not in a great position to debate matters of Judeo-Christian faith (I personally know that Hubert Hubert and Walter are far better qualified than I). But what I took from Genesis was that agriculture represents that something wrong has happened: We ate the fruit, and suddenly we had to live by the toil of our labors in the field. But again, my reading on this subject is limited.

One of two books on my shelf awaiting attention now is "The Dominion of Love - Animal Rights According to the Bible." I want to read it because I know it's a huge influence on a certain segment of the animal rights set. I'll be interested to see what it adds to my body of knowledge.

sportingdays said...

I think you should draw on all your considerable teaching talent and university connections and put together some kind of class on all of this at Sac State or UC Davis extension? "Humans and Hunting" perhaps? It'd be a helluva interesting reading list and I'd be tempted to sign up for it. You could explore the historical, the philosophical, the practical, tie it into the current food movement, trends, etc.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Sportingdays: It'll be years, if not decades, before we start adding new classes to the curriculum in this budget climate. But it does sound like a very interesting class.

SBW: I apologize for all the "advances" we tried to inflict on you! Margarine was actually the rare evil in my house - Mom cooked almost entirely from scratch, and for most of my life, much of what we ate came from our garden or our animals (primarily chickens, rabbits, pigs). We all disdained packet food.

David J Blackburn said...

Bible reading is good! But 'meat' and 'hunting' must be studied! The details are missed if you don't study. For instance, the word normally used for 'meat' is used referring to people for a few sentences right before the flood story. The word doesn't change in the English, so the casual reader would never know.

I've come to the conclusion everyone needs a rabbi.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Yes, Dave Peterson was/is a friend of Paul and Flo Shepard, but he does not buy the whole package, e.g., Shepard's habit of referring to domesticated animals as "goofies."

And he guides women hunters and owns dogs.

His books are worth reading.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Ah yes, "goofies." Of course, in the case of my beloved kitty Giblet, the title is probably correct - she's a silly little scaredy cat who'd never make it outside.

Another thing I didn't refer to here was Shepard's virulent disdain of peasants. It's pretty striking. Since I don't aspire to be a peasant, it didn't bother me as much. But I think at the time he wrote the book, the commune movement was pretty strong, and he was pretty adamant that aspiring to that peasant life was not what we should be doing.

I agree that Petersen is definitely worth reading, even with the parts I dislike - I recommend him all the time. And I hope I can reach that point with respect to Shepard because a lot of his thinking is truly beautiful.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hey everyone, Galen Geer at the Thinking Hunter blog has an interesting post today about hunting and spirituality - perhaps y'all would be interested in joining the conversation over there.

Galen Geer said...

Holly, Great post and there have been a lot of great responses. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I don't care much for Shepard's writing becuase he is misleading. A writer who attempts to spood feed the reader what the writer "knows" what the reader "wants" to read and then offeres the reader a conclusion that is outside the reader's experience with that text has nullified the arguments at both ends of the text. If I take a section of the early parts of his text and use it as a reference or a building block to an argument for hunting then a person who is equally well read and is familiar with Shepard's work will block my argument by saying (for example) "but in the end of his book Shepard states that man must return to a semi-tribal condition that is confined to the coastal regions and he advocates the re-establishment of seperation of roles by gender." My argument may not be completely destroyed but it is certainly weakened.

True, Shepard makes valid cases for hunting, explores the spirituality of th ehunter and offers other valuable insights into nature and hunting and we should give him careful consideration BUT NOT as final evidence of the validity of our argument because his argument is nullified. All we can do with Shepard is use his work as a springboard to other ideas, concepts and points to validate our arguments by other means.

I believe this book is the autobiographical accounting of his mental wandering. As he began to explore greater depths of nature, trying to reconcile the anthropological with assumptions about religious practices and hunting he began to drift into the "man as virus" camp. He does not go so far as some of these groups as to advocate that anyone who is not producing more good for the environment than they consume must die, but it is pretty darn close.

When humans became curious and began to have cognitive thoughts that include "how" then humans began to move away from instinct response as the the only principle guiding their existence and with that the speices began the climb to the apex. Humanity cannot turn back with anything short of a cataclysmic even. But even with that humans have established levels of sophistication that insure their survival and return as a dominate species unless nature prevents it.

Writers (thinkers, philosophers, whatever) who advocate that humanity must return to a primitive level of existence, usually at or near tribal, to save Mother Earth, are ignoring the fact that humanity has long passed the point of no return. It is far better for us to be thinking about how to remap ourselves within nature so that by using what we now have and can develop in the near future humanity's position is secured "within" nature so that both "our" nature and humanity survive.

I guess that attacking Shepard will get me kicked off some Christmas lists--eh?

Again, good post and comments.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I don't know that it's going to get you kicked off of anything around here!

I see your point, that someone well-versed in Shepard would attack any argument based on his writing.

But one reason I read books like this is to add to my growing body of knowledge and philosophy about hunting. I did not acquire it from a single book; I've built it from the ground up, based on my experience, soul-searching, debates (with hunters and anti-hunters) that forced me to question my own assumptions, and finally the snippets of wisdom and insight I can draw from friends, writers and philosophers (including some people who are all three).

Sometimes the snippets I remember from books are so far from the authors' main conclusions that I'm sure the authors would be stunned to find those are the parts I remember. The most memorable thing I learned from Woman the Hunter, for example, was something about how most hunter-gatherer cultures view birds and mammals as "us" and fish as "other" - something that helped me understand why hunting has changed how I view animals. I'm sure that's not what Mary Zeiss Stange would want to hear, but that's the truth. That was the bit of knowledge that filled a hole in my understanding of the world at just the time I'd become aware of the hole.

I think Shepard might be like that for me, once I get over the ridiculousness of his conclusion. But I'm still waiting for my hackles to go down.

Hubert Hubert said...

When the original translator of Freud's work published the 'Standard Edition' in English he also made what amounted to a political and philosophical translation. (It may not seem obvious how this relates to the discussion above but bear with me.)

All through the dozen volumes of the 'Standard Edition', where Freud wrote about 'Drive', the translator substituted the word 'Instinct' for the German word 'Trieb'.

Now in German, the word 'Trieb' doesn't really mean 'Instinct'; the German language has the perfectly good word 'Instinkt' to use when it wants to talk about that.

When we say that something is 'instinctual' in English we tend nowadays to mean by and large that this part of our behaviour is 'hard-wired' from our biological or, if you like, 'animal' life; we mean that it's on a level whereby it's beyond the reach of culture or civilisation and so a part in some way of our essential and 'natural' being.

But 'Drive' - the word that Freud chose to use when writing about the motivating force behind the sexual and intellectual relations we have to objects in our world - has far fewer connotations of this sort. It doesn't so readily allow itself to be pulled into assumptions about the biologically determined nature of human experience.

If Freud had wanted to mean 'Instinkt' he'd have written 'Instinkt'. To assume that there must be widespread areas of human behaviour and aspiration that can be explained in terms of our supposedly foundational being as animals amounts, in a way, to a political act. So the translator made just this kind of decision when he pushed the whole of Freud's work for an English readership away from its original and rather pointedly neutral stance about this kind of assumption.

I'd argue that when we assume, like Freud's translator, that such-and-such a part of our experience relates to what is 'natural' or instinctual in us what we're actually doing is attempting to safeguard a set of political opinions by saying in effect, 'we would like to assert that this part of our platform is not open to discussion; it's natural, it's just the way we are and so let's hear no more talk about it'.

It sounds as though Shepard wished to ring-fence certain areas of his theoretical work in just such a way; he wanted to say that there are specific roles for men and for women and so asserted that the gender divisions he wished to see had a biologically determined, 'instinctual' nature. Like Freud's translator he made a decision to safeguard certain assumptions of his own by placing them in an area supposedly beyond the reach of discussion.

So I think that there's a real risk if you choose to support an attachment to hunting by use of the 'nature/instinct' argument that someone like Shepard will come along and say, 'ah yes, but the unpolluted life of our ancestors was clearly divided along gender lines, so therefore a 'return to the good life' must also mean that women belong in the kitchen'.


Matt Mullenix said...

Short note on similar experience with book, "A View to a Death in the Morning" by Matt Cartmill.


He had me going for quite a while, carefully debunking the notion of hunting as a metaphor for war. Only at the end does he reveal that hunting is actually a metaphor for rape.


Speaking of hunting and war, my feeling (as a hunter, not a warrior) is that strategy and humility, wherever they're learned, are valuable to both pursuits. If you haven't read Art of War in a while, pull it down and see if you don't agree.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Matt: Oh yeah, that was another thing I didn't like about the Shepard book - he does link war and hunting, though he calls war a replacement for hunting, a way for men to satisfy their hunting drive. He also gets into hunting as a metaphor for sex, which I also loathe.

I actually do see hunting being analagous to sex in one way, but I always hesitate to make the argument because it will be misconstrued immediately. But the drive to hunt is like the drive to have sex in that both, when successful, lead to propagation of the species, one by feeding us and one by directly reproducing us. Therefore it stands to reason that natural selection has favored those that enjoy both.

Hubert Hubert, I know what you mean about the danger of using instinct as a defense of hunting. I've done it before and of course I've immediately heard this: Yes, animals hunt, but animals also kill and rape each other from time to time - perfectly natural and instinctive behavior - but if everything that is natural and instinctive is good, does that mean I'm advocating legal rape and murder? Yep, that's a tough one to get around.

I think it is safe to say, though, that hunting instinct, strengthened through natural selection, is why I love to hunt, and talking about that instinct is a valuable tool for explaining to non-hunters why I enjoy an act that culminates in killing cute little critters that were doing me know harm.

And I think the fact that hunting is part of the natural order of things - something that's been part of our place in the food chain for millenia - is an important defense. But it's not perfect.

Then again, nor are all the arguments on the antis' side.

Matt Mullenix said...

Re. hunting and sex: I see your point on that, but I have always contended, and frankly relished, the fact that for me, hunting is in many ways the opposite of sex.

At least, sex is literally the last thing on my mind when I'm hunting. Maybe that's a specific experience of falconry (don't know what other guys think about in the long hours in a deer stand...).

For a healthy, normal male (this one, at least), a few hours without even a hint of sexual inuendo or desire is a kind of blessing. :-)

NorCal Cazadora said...

That was good for a belly laugh! Of course I totally agree with you (even though, as a female, I do not think about sex every 30 seconds).

Over the course of any season it's pretty normal for me to hunt with other guys far more than I do with Hank, and my non-hunting friends will ask me if Hank doesn't get suspicious. I tell them, "Are you kidding? When you're sweaty and filthy and covered in mud and blood in the marsh, pretty much the last think you're thinking about is sex."

The two just don't go together, which is another reason I don't trot out that linkage very often.

Shepard actually does, though, when he gets into the meaning of cave paintings - the "spear" and the "wound" and all. That stuff just didn't resonate with me one bit. Kinda creeped me out, actually.

Galen Geer said...

So much is being covered. I'm taking notes and thinking about the responses.
Holly, you should really try to put a class together. My goal was to put a survey of outdoor literature class togehter. Now I am not in a position to do that.

A great deal of my recent book reading has been on Africa and much of it is the autobiographical accounts of the lives of different profesional hunters. It is interesting that in every book I find two constant themse: 1. A near reverence for Africa's wildlife. 2. Total disdain for the post colonial governments because of the corruption that led to the destruction of so much wildlife. Africa is an interesting set of lessons.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Well, Sacramento wouldn't be the worst place to do it - L.A. or San Francisco would be far more hostile. But there is just such indifference to hunting here, which is better than hostility, but doesn't bode well for the kind of enrollments required to support new classes.

Then again, I am waiting for my first book to reveal itself to me. Perhaps the seeds are here. I'm sure I could sell at least 10 copies - 20 if everyone who commented here bought an extra copy for a friend or spouse. ;-)

Ryan Sabalow said...

One of the things that's been an eye opener for me about having a baby is how much my daughter is dependent on mom and how hard it is for my poor wife to leave the baby for more than a couple hours since my wife breastfeeds.

As much as I'd like to devolve into a more hunter gatherer-type society, living naturally off the land and it's animals, having an infant has shown me how tough it would be to have the gender equality we all now enjoy in such a world.

Screaming babies wanting to suckle don't make the best companions while sneaking up on a heard of mastodons.

In my mind, baby formula, refrigeration and breast pumps deserve as much credit for helping to break the glass ceiling as the entire woman's suffrage moment.

r. hurd said...

Great read. Funny Book. Let me know where I can get some petroleum based fats so that I don't have to wake up early anymore.

In the name of progress,


NorCal Cazadora said...

Ryan: You've hit on what I believe is a huge reason there aren't more women in the field, not just the fact that someone must always be there during an infant's helpless period, but also the fact that mothering tends to be all-consuming. My hunting girlfriends who have small children definitely have a harder time getting out into the field than I do (44 and childless).

If we all devolved into hunter-gatherer tribes, I'm confident there would be women hunters, but they'd probably be the young and the ones my age, because there's no getting around the issue of the care our young require.

R. Hurd: Why didn't I think of that? With margarine, I'll never have to set my alarm for 2 a.m. again! It's much better than duck fat!