Monday, May 16, 2011

When a hunter thinks like a vegan

Hunting has been, for me, two parallel journeys.

One is obvious: Acquiring gear, learning how to use it, learning how to hunt. That I began this journey at age 41 has been sheer delight. I enjoy stretching my brain, and revel in the fact that I didn't leave behind learning when I finished my degree 22 years ago.

The second journey - a journey of the mind - has been equally thrilling. Until recently.

This journey has its roots in this blog, which I started on Nov. 4, 2007 - one year to the day after the first time I pulled the trigger on a shotgun.

I quickly became enamored with writing not just about hunting, but in defense of hunting. Hank would call it "the zeal of a convert," but to me, it was just a natural response to discovering that hunters, and hunting, weren't what I'd thought they'd been. At all.

When you make it your personal mission to defend hunting, one thing you quickly find out is there's one aspect of what we do that is incredibly hard to explain, satisfactorily, to non-hunters: We deeply love an act that culminates (on good days) in taking another creature's life.


Interestingly enough, while most hunters will never articulate the reason as well as Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, every hunter I know says hunting provides a connection to nature. (This oversimplified answer, of course, prompts a predictable response from non-hunters: Can't you enjoy nature without killing it?)

But why? I kept asking myself. Why do we crave this connection?

I did a little introspection and became interested in the notion of Eden. Having been raised by atheists, I did not accept the Bible's explanation for why we left Eden, but I knew Eden once existed: It was the remnant of our past that I touched every time I went hunting.

Why was I so hungry for this?

I scoured other hunters' reading lists and Amazon for things that might help me understand, and I devoured a lot of books:

Ishmael, a novel that calls into question our 10,000-year-old assumption that the way we used to live was terrifying and awful.

The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game, a book about restoring that way of life (albeit with some deeply flawed visions of the future).

The Other Side of Eden: Hunters, Farmers, and the Shaping of the World, a book about the tension between us civilized folk and some of the last remaining hunter-gatherers.

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, a scathing indictment of the precepts of vegetarianism that damns the agricultural revolution in the process.

Health and the Rise of Civilization, a detailed look at the deteriorating health that accompanied every transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural lifestyles.

Slowly, the why emerged and grew, and it led to an amusing discovery: I actually have something in common with anti-hunting vegans:

Vegans are ashamed of what we are - an omnivorous species that's built its bodies and brains in no small part on the flesh of fellow animals. They want to run away from that, as fast and as far as possible. They want to evolve into something else, so they have built for themselves a diet that reflects not their bodies' needs, but the moral construct through which they view the world.

I, on the other hand, am ashamed of what our species has become: an organism relentless in its quest to dominate and control nature, at the expense of plants and animals that have every bit as much right to be here as we do. I want to run away from that - to discard 10,000 years of agriculture and embrace the very lifestyle denigrated, quite unfairly, by the agriculturalists.

In one way, this is a righteous statement: I accept the terms and conditions under which nature operates. Life feeds life. It isn't always pretty for the individual (be it plant, animal or human), but hot damn, it works really well as a system when you don't eff with it.

It is also, of course, a perfect explanation of why hunting is not only acceptable, but essential, in the grand scheme of things. Individually, you can do it or not do it, but on the whole, it is vital. It is the very stuff of life. Vegans can entertain whatever fantasies they like about how nature should work in a "moral" world, but the reality will remain the same.

The problem, though, is this: At its core, this is is still a worldview rooted in self-loathing, and that, my friends, is unhealthy.

When you really examine the concept of what it means to control and manipulate nature the way we do, you see demons everywhere. Every disposable coffee cup looks like an unconscionable waste of resources. Every car, an obscene destroyer of air and land. Every subdivision, an unnecessarily large usurpation of habitat.

I mean, seriously, can anyone argue that these are good things? Convenient, yes, but good? I think not.

Of course, I use all of these things. I try to minimize my environmental footprint: I can and do use travel mugs and canvas shopping bags. I drive a four-cylinder car. I have a back yard in which a substantial chunk is allowed to go wild, providing habitat for little creatures.

But I am undeniably a member of a destructive species that, when given the chance, is shamefully wasteful.

I used to believe that we are capable of doing better. Back in the 1990s, I used to play a computer game called SimEarth. It was super fun: You get a planet with a bunch of types of animals - primates, reptiles, fish, etc. - and you tinker with conditions that will determine which becomes the dominant "higher" life form. You can change the tilt of the earth's axis, change how much light is reflected from the planet, and after a civilization has emerged, alter the balance of investment in art, philosophy and science.

The game follows clear patterns: Your dominant species grows too large, wages wars, wrecks the planet and implodes in an epidemic of disease and/or destruction. If you're really good, though, you can maintain a small outpost of highly advanced civilization that has learned to live in non-destructive harmony with the planet.

I used to believe that humanity might be capable of reaching such an apex of civilization. But now I'm not so sure.

It was that last book that killed my hope - Health and the Rise of Civilization. I used to think the hunter-gatherers lived right, in harmony with other plants and animals. But that book showed me that all of human history has been marked by the same drive to expand beyond the bounds of our habitat.

When we needed to grow, we pushed into new territories. When there were no new territories left to fill, we pushed our hunter-gatherer diet, adding less nutritious foods like grains. When that was no longer enough, we invented agriculture - the ultimate control of fellow plants and animals. When that was no longer enough, we invented ever more clever means of extracting what we could from the plants and animals around us.

The trajectory of more more more has always been there, though it was far less noticeable before the agricultural revolution.

I had been, at the time I read that book, working up the courage to write a book of my own, about the intellectual journey that hunting had sparked in me. But the journey was taking me to such a dark place that I couldn't bear the thought of going through with it. Even if I could write it, I couldn't imagine who would want to read such a depressing tome, besides the people who think the world is coming to an end on May 21.

I became deeply depressed, so I abandoned the book. I immersed myself in work, which was, at the time, blissfully busy. I went on gun-less hikes and fruitless turkey hunts. I started to feel better.

It has taken me more than a month just to feel ready to write this blog post, and still with every new paragraph I spew out, I contemplate hitting the "delete" button.

If I actually hit "publish," I almost feel sorry anyone who reads this far. I'm not the kind of writer who enjoys wallowing in her depression. I find depression insufferable, particularly when it's my own.

But I'm looking for something.

Just as most of you have gone through the same stages of hunter development that I've been going through, I'm thinking you may have been down these intellectual roads as well.

So tell me, please: Once you discover the beauty of what we used to be, how do you gracefully accept what we've become? Because if this is just one of those stages in my parallel intellectual journey, I'm quite ready to move on.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Anonymous said...

We cannot accept what we've become, we must strive to be better than what we've become.

DarrenM said...

I was having a similar conversation with my Physical Therapist the other day. I was explaining how much I hated solar and wind energy projects because they destroy perfectly good habit and displace animals. His question was along the lines of "So let me get this straight... you want nuclear power so that you can go to the desert mountains to kill poor harmless animals that would otherwise we killed by clean power?". Yup, that's right.

I have long preferred the term "outdoorsman" to "sportsman" or hunter. It encompasses a lot of the "vegan-esque" qualities you talk about here: minimalism, respect, appreciation, etc.

Matt Ames said...

Jesus H. Christ, Holly! I'm glad you didn't delete this post. I'm sorry you're falling victim to this weather that we in California are NOT SUPPOSED TO F'ING HAVE IN MAY!!! Anyway, I'll share with you exactly what I've done to "gracefully accept what we've become". I HAVE ACCEPTED IT IN ANY WAY! I believe that the human race is a virus that has, is, and will destroy everything good about this planet. I love hunting, gardening, fishing, hiking, and foraging. But I can't help wasting serious amounts of time worrying about the apocalypse and what I'll do to survive when, and if that time comes. Fact of the matter is that it probably won't happen in my lifetime. Things on the planet are getting really weird right now, but I suppose that's the way it's been forever. It's all relative. Everything is so extreme. There is rarely a live and let live attitude anymore. Everyone's pissed off at everyone else. Vegan's are pissed off at us hunters / carnivores for harming their precious fish and mammals. We're pissed off at the vegans for being pissed off at us. Extremist Muslims are pissed off at right westerners for being from the west, and the right wing Fox news watching Christians are pissed off at the extremist Muslims because they get a million virgins when they blow themselves up under a backpack filled with explosives while in the presence of a bunch of Christians. Eskimos are pissed off at the Japanese because their snowmobiles keep breaking down in the middle of the tundra. It's all a friggin travesty, and here we are in the middle of California doing nothing about because all we want to have peace in our minds. It's up or down with this or that, and it's an expectations of a world that has become dominated by a civilizations lead by narcissists that weren't loved enough by their mommies and daddies. I think that the only real life name that can be trusted anymore to do what is true and right for society is Giorgio Tsoukalos! That's right, I said it! Giorgio Tsoukalos. Who couldn't trust a face like that who wears a head of hair the way he has the balls to wear. I'm just sayin'.

Well, Holly, you need to come over and have a drink with me and Andrea. We miss you.

Matt Ames said...

Correction... I have not accepted it in any way.

Anthony Lynn said...

It seems that the rise and subsequent fall of a dominant species also falls under those same terms and conditions under which nature operates. Consequently, our species finds itself in a situation that is disheartening and overwhelming, but I find some consolation in the fact that there are individuals wrestling with and expressing these sorts of ideas, searching for a loophole. I also take some, albeit small, consolation in the tenacity of nature and - though it may be a bit of wishful thinking on my part - the idea that it will carry on just fine without us.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Anonymous: But can we do it? Is it right for me to condemn as fantasy the vegan moral construct - which vegans view as a noble and worthwhile goal - and simultaneously indulge in my own version of hope for humanity to overcome what I see as its key flaws - not the fact that we eat meat, but rather our general rape of nature?

Darren: I'm not with you on nuke power, though I see what you appreciate about it. My (depressed) thinking is that when we learn to get by with NO engineered power whatsoever, we will have arrived.

Matt: LOL, I'm so glad you're glad I didn't delete this post. (I actually did delete a first incarnation a couple weeks ago.) But, how do I get past not accepting how effed up we are without being depressed?

Funny thing is that I don't worry about apocalypse at all, whether it's this Saturday or millenia from now. To me, that would be nature restoring balance. Should it happen during my life, I think I've learned enough that I would be better off than 90 percent of Americans. Or perhaps I'll get eaten by a bear on the first day.

Anthony: Thank you for saying this, because I almost put this in the blog post, and it's worth adding now: What my late dad used to say, when grumbling about environmentalists, was perhaps we as a species are actually doing what we're meant to be doing so we should just deal.

And we may not be the only ones: Ants are an amazing animal with extremely high-level social organization, and one particular species - leafcutter ants, I believe - has created problems similar to our own: They intensively farm a particular crop and they're starting to see the pitfalls of monoculture farming, in terms of vulnerability to disease. (I'm dying to read a great book about ants, "Adventures Among Ants" by Mark W. Moffett, who writes about this stuff in some detail.)

I agree, though, and I don't think it's wishful thinking, that nature - while it will never be what it was before our rise - will pick up right where it left off, should we either disappear or start to behave.

ingrid said...

Holly, what an interesting post, thanks very much for writing it. As you know I struggle with these same questions from a different part of the philosophical spectrum, as a non-hunter and an animal advocate. And I have no answers for anyone else, only my personal points of view.

I do disagree that a food choice like veganism, undertaken to benefit animals, necessarily stems from self-loathing and dissociation from our natural condition. For some, perhaps, in the same way that Victorians and religious ascetics throughout time were striving for the spiritual by abdicating the physical.

But in general, I don't see an inherent conflict between proactively choosing a diet you believe promotes more peace and less violence in this world, and being human in the flesh. I think there's an element of genuine optimism, not naivete, in suggesting we might be capable of more than just our physical longings. That we can be here to make life just a bit better for our fellow people and creatures.

That, of course, speaks to a philosophical position that not all will share with me. But I wouldn't go characterizing veganism as unnatural. I respect anyone's effort to reduce, by way of lifestyle, the very harm you cite in this article. I do believe in the validity of a persons' intent, in the Buddhist vein, and doesn't intent flow from our nature as humans?

Casting a critical eye toward our species and our behavior does not a self-hating human make. In fact, those thoughts are general the province of people who refuse to give up on humanity and who, in their own way, are trying to move collective consciousness incrementally in a more productive direction. A friend of mine teases me that I don't like humans but I love being around humans. I've corrected him by saying, look, I'm not happy about our species as a whole. But I have great respect and affection for individuals of our species, and I will continue to believe we can be better, even if my wishes are foiled by what you astutely recognize as this slug of mass consciousness and destruction.

As far as reconciling the reality of the planetary trajectory, I have to scream 'stop' inside my head consistently, to keep from going down that road. The depression and powerlessness that ensues is, I think, irreconcilable. But, I do believe in our power to control our own reactions and actions to the best ends. And although it may be simplistic, I do believe -- as the header at my blog says -- that we can "add our light to the sum of light" (Billy Kwan). Whenever I'm overwhelmed by the numbers of injured and maimed animals I find or hear about, I feel a similar despondency over the fact that nothing seems to change historically. But my mate always reminds me that my actions did, in fact, matter to that ONE person or that one bird or that one cat.

In an interview with Robert Kennedy, Jr., on his work with river pollution issues, he was asked how he maintains some semblance of hope in the face of constant antagonism by industrial polluters. His reply was, I can only control my own actions, not theirs. And I'm going down fighting for what I believe in. (paraphrased)

I think there's a hard-earned finesse in understanding the larger picture of calamity, while focusing on a more limited course of positive action. I haven't mastered it overall, but those days when I do, it all becomes palatable and workable.

(btw, it's interesting you and I are on a similar wavelength lately. I've been sitting on a blog post I wrote about a bird I found mangled by barbed wire, trying to find a way to express my angst over this human construct and harm, without, as you say, wallowing. Easy to say, not easy to do.)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Ingrid, I had a feeling you'd understand even while disagreeing with some parts.

My weird dissonance is that while I hate everything that civilization has done to the planet, I find civilization enormously entertaining. I like jazz, Manhattan, the internet, high-end cuisine and YouTube videos. Sometimes it's very hard not to be amused and delighted by our own cleverness.

But yes, I've been wallowing.

I made a conscious decision after I started hunting that I would not deny any of the emotion or sadness that accompanies the joyfulness of hunting, because to do so would seem dishonest, both to myself and to the outside world. I mean, how can I engage in an honest conversation with someone like you if I deny these things?

But I do believe I opened the floodgates a bit wider than is healthy, because I'm feeling everything a bit too much. While I have no problem reconciling a love of life with taking life to eat - it is, after all, the natural order of things - I'm having a real hard time dealing with the careless taking of life in the name of modern convenience.

And apropos of very little, if I could hunt ducks with nets, I'd do it in a heartbeat. The shotgun is a messy convenience indeed. If I could hunt everything without shattering the air with gun blasts, I would. I recognize that the weapons of modern hunting are not what nature had in mind.

NorCal Cazadora said...

And: I think it's definitely a sign of how freakin' weird I am that the two ads that I see underneath these comments are for "Healthy Vegetarian Eating" and "Canada's Hunting Hotspot."

Matt Ames said...

Depression is a tough one. It's all about puting too much thought into the past. You know what it is and I'm sure you know the ins and outs of the chemistry behind it, but I don't think that's what you're looking for at this moment. I could be wrong. Pills and therapy have been my answer. Excercise, etc... All that bullshit that everyone always says... bla bla bla. The list goes on.

Fact of the matter is, Holly, that have no fucking idea how to truly avoid getting depressed about what is going on with society. There are so many sources of really fucked up depressing shit today that it's almost unbelievable. And I really mean depressing, not just disapointing, but the real deal... The stay in bed, not shower, not eat, or over eat... You get the picture. Oh, and how the hell am I'm supposed to advise a journalism professor to stay away from "the news" because it's full of really really effed up depressing shit. The most depressing shit so far in our lifetime that's happened all at once. Not to mention the fact it's SNOWING IN MAY IN CALIFORNIA!!!!! Jimeny Christmas, if that aint enough cause some kind of chemical reaction in our brains, I don't know what is!

I'll tell you what all my peeps that have never experienced true major depression tell me. Take a walk. Snap out of it. Don't let it kick your ass. (I'm surprised I didn't slaughter them all for saying that) *disclaimer- I'm not a murderer, for all you that take every word on the internet literally, although I have killed many animals, fish, and crustaceans, I have never killed a human.

So to sum it up... I have no clue. I'll put you on the list of folks that'll get the memo when I figure it out. Shouldn't be long. Not more than a decade or three. In the meantime, Sam Adams brewery is still pumping out fine beverages daily!

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


"Pulvis et umbra sumus" - We are but dust and shadow.

and maybe acceptance doesn't have to be graceful to start?


Anonymous said...

As individuals, yes we can become better. As a group the greed factor will always be the biggest rapist, never to be conquered.
I feel great loss for the areas I have lost forever to summer homes and mines.
I regret the kill,and yet it will be replaced by another. The summer homes,strip mines and tree farms are forever. Or is it my forever and just a moment in time?

Phillip said...

At risk of coming off flip again, Holly, the best solution I've found is my own, agnostic version of the Serenity Prayer.

Just leave off the first word if you prefer, or replace it with the deity, spiritual guide, or idea that you choose. The power isn't so much in who you pray to, as it is in the simple concept of these short little phrases...

* The serenity to accept the things I cannot change
* The strength to change the things I can
* The wisdom to know the difference

Human life and our collective impact on the planet is not in your control. Nothing you can do will change that. Find your peace and embrace what you've got, because you'll only have it for a short while.

Steve Bodio said...

I like SW and Phillip's responses. For many reasons (life's experiences?) I am an utter fatalist and can only do as well as I can, live gracefully gratefully and lightly. Beyond that is out of my control-- life on the planet ebbs and flows and all is flux and flow-- to try to control it seems vain...

I also LIKE shotguns (and hawks and hounds) but that is another story for another time. Meanwhile live well-- as you do.

Shotgun Kat said...

Yay! I loved this post, and I will surely circulate it among my non-hunting, vegan and vegetarian friends. I think it's good to be conscious of our choices and trying to make sustainable ones (travel mugs, home gardens, canvas bags - although I think most of these are made in China, which isn't so sustainable), but at the end of teh day, we're the only species that constantly feels like it has to apologize for being superior. DO you think bears or cougars are like "oh sorry little bunny, sorry I have to eat you...grass sorry I have to trample you...blah blah" And the whole Vegan argument (or at least vegans that are also PETA members - many one in the same) they think the harvesting of animals is the same as torturing animals - and it's clearly not. People that mistreat or torture animals are sick individuals that should be put out of their own misery. I think to be a hunter, at least for me, in the 4 short years I have been hunting, you have to have a deep appreciation and respect for the animal. It's life's blood is giving you the power to go on. If ducks, turkeys, and pigs had trigger fingers, I'm sure they'd shoot back. Luckily for us, they don't.

Dorian said...

Yes. That. SO much of that. So, I do things like go to the Buckeye Gathering. I remind myself to live simply, or as simply as I can manage on any given day. I do what I can to make my own, grow my own, or find people on the local community that do. It's not an all-at-once fix, but it's how I live within our culture without losing my sanity ;)


NorCal Cazadora said...

Matt: Personally, I'm bathing my pain in Newcastle right now, because we had a skunked case and Hank didn't want it. I've made it my mission to finish it off before he gets back from this leg of his book tour. Won't be too hard.

SBW: Well, there's a thought. Come to think of it, no one's ever accused me of being graceful at anything...

Anonymous: Right and right - it is just a moment in time.

Phillip: That doesn't come off flip at all. In fact, you, more than anyone else, are the one who's kept me firmly grounded during all my flights of fancy. You know I appreciate that.

Steve: I used to be that way, but seem to have lost that grounding lately.

And don't get me wrong - I love my shotgun because it gives me food. But I wouldn't mind if my ducks weren't quite so perforated, and I'd love to have hunted in pre-gun America. I was really captivated by Ishi's description of how close he got to game before guns stained the soundscape.

And doves! Lord, now that I've trapped them for banding, I know how easy it would be to kill them without perforating them as well. (OK, DFG friends, don't freak out - I'm not eating my trapped babies.)

Kat: LOL, that's what Hank loves about pheasant hunting. Ducks are generally pretty sweet, but if pheasants were bigger than we are, he has no doubt they'd try to kill us first.

Monique: That's what I'd been doing. But I think here's the problem (and this is why the comments are just as important as the post - because they tease out what's really going on): My research was leading me to believe that that hunting was taking me back to a state of existence that was better. And actually, I still believe that.

But it was our state that was better, not ourselves. The roots of our fundamental problem as a species - that we're never satisfied with what we've got - were there all along. We just hadn't effed things up spectacularly yet. And that has wounded my vanity (which is, perhaps, what needed to happen).

Anonymous said...

What follows is overly random thoughts:

Is life merely a function devised to speed up entropy? What if it is? We are so small. Even though we seem to dig big holes.

Let the universe figure itself out and accept your part. It doesn't make a whole lot of difference if you don't, but life is less pain that way.

Without cars, I would not know the poetry of the road. Without wars and death and pain, I would not have been born. My parents would not have met. How far do you take the wanting the pain to go away but you find it is replaced by more pain somewhere else. I am rather partial to this whole being born thing. I love my life. It has been amazing.

I like the fact I live in a time and place where I can mostly do what I want and not be considered a beast of burden based on my gender. Go read Fatu-Hiva for another look at paradise.

Rantings with the wind. Wallowing is for critters without pores and sweat.

As Sgt. Schultz would say, "I know nothing!"
I think I need to go find another job.


Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Holly - I have to offer one small correction to your post -- every hunter you know, except one, says hunting provides a connection to nature. For me, it doesn't. While I'm capable of enjoying the woods (or the water, if it's fishing), I don't feel any real relationship with nature. Which probably explains my take on your ideas about this.

I'm with Anthony Lynn. If we lay waste to our environment, it's us we're killing, not the planet. The earth will be here long after humans are gone, with some new kind of nature that may or may not look like the old kind. The planet will have the last laugh.

Pete Conrad said...

It’s an intellectual and philosophical journey that even those of us that aren’t vegans or hunters have embarked upon.

Some of the themes running through your post and the previous comments are in line with where this journey has led me to date:

1. Humans are part of the natural world, environment, and ecology. It’s in our nature to manipulate, which includes damaging, our environment. (I was glad to see the pristine myth debunked.) Our actions, much like beavers building a dam, result in both positive and negative outcomes for us and other species.

2. Everything has a cost associated with it. (As the economists say “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”) Whether the benefits, such as civilization as we know it, are worth the costs are a matter of subjective opinion and subject to revision as our perspective changes. So, is agriculture, an exploding human population, etc. an acceptable price to pay for written language, technology, etc.? Can you imagine never venturing more than a few miles (or even a few hundred) from where you were born?

3. We are creatures of a specific time and place. As I once heard it most eloquently expressed “What you are is where you were when.” Homo sapiens have only inhabited the Earth for an infinitesimal amount of time, agricultural society has only existed for 10 to 12 millennia, and western civilization for a mere 5 to 6 centuries. We suffer from a lack of perspective when attempting to evaluate our condition or the planet’s condition. From a cosmological perspective our species, our planet, and even our solar system are temporary and transient.

4. While we should explore our feelings and be thoughtful, there’s no need to be depressed over the environment or the human condition. It may seem trite, but “It is what it is.” Also, our self-awareness allows us to change both our own and civilization’s trajectory.

I do have a comment on the east v. west, Islam v. Jewish & Christianity conflagration that’s food related. Specifically, the Jewish and Muslim prohibition against eating pork, coupled with the Muslim prohibition against alcoholic beverages results in a lot of unhappy people. Everybody’s happy and gets along great when they’re enjoying good pork barbeque washed down with ice cold beer, so we just need find a way to popularize BBQ joints in the Middle East.

P.S. It was a pleasure meeting and talking with you and Hank at Grange last Saturday evening. I’ve ordered Hank’s book and Julianne and I are looking forward to the book signing and dinner on June 16.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Jean: Good lord, I haven't heard Sgt. Schultz's name invoked in a LONG time!

Tamar: That may well be true, but unless you've hunted a LOT more than you've written about, it may take a little more time for you to start to feel what I'm talking about. It was not by any means instant with me - not love at first sight.

But I agree totally that the planet will have the last laugh.

Pete: Hey, thanks for stopping by!

Re No. 2: I can imagine it, because the question I throw back at you is this: Can you imagine intimately knowing every bit of land within, say, a 10-mile radius? Tradeoff: Seeing lots of places vs. seeing one place in its entirety.

Re No. 4: I believe we're capable of changing our trajectory. We are AMAZING animals, possible the most brilliant problem solvers ever. The joke is that most of the problems we're solving these days are the ones we've created. And the question is will we change our trajectory? I'm not so confident on that count.

Re pork, I vacillate between pitying the cultures that don't allow it and saying, "More for me!"

Great to meet you! said...

I found this article interesting; thought you might too. Haven't eaten squirrel yet but .....

Chris Lewis

Chas S. Clifton said...

I am coming late to this discussion, but I think that you are discovering what the Christians call Original Sin--that we are flawed no matter how we try--or what the Buddhists call the First Noble Truth--that even if you are rich, you cannot escape feeling and causing suffering. (The vegans are caught up in that one too.)

Philosophers like Nietzsche and Adorno talk about "tragic pessimism" -- which in the former's case, at least, means that the world is irrevocably broken but you embrace it anyway.

Or as a New Agey San Francisco shrink I once met said, unoriginally I am sure, "Everything's fucked, everything's perfect."

Yes, I think that's a bit glib, but maybe Nietzsche was on to something.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Good call Chas
A crazy pagan shrink/witchdoctor once put it
"Ah another shitty day in paradise"


NorCal Cazadora said...

Chas: Yeah, I know where I need to go. Still just working on reconciling caring deeply with not giving a shit (in every aspect of my life, not just my deep disappointment with humanity).

SBW: Oh, is that who did that bumper sticker...

Steve Bodio said...

Chas: great comment.

As a wise old Judeo- Buddhist poet says: "There's a crack in everything...
It lets the light shine in".
- Leonard Cohen

Swamp Thing said...

There's nothing graceful about it. We live a fitful existence and die, and regardless of what happens after that, we most certainly cease to experience the earth as touching, smelling, tasting human beings.

Shouldering the burden of humanity's failures is a heavy load. Reminding oneself of it sometimes heightens the value of our experiences. That's one reason I've always enjoyed urban hunting "listen to the rush hour traffic and the trains headed to the shipyard - they don't know what they're missing, right under their noses."

But as you've come to conclude, dwelling on it is futile. Some people will come around to your way of thinking because it is honest and true. And beyond your own enjoyment, that's a great thing to carry on your shoulder as well.

Jessica said...

Such a great post. I too am glad you did not click delete.

My two very best friends in the world are vegans. And they annoy pretty much everyone else in my life, because my social world is mostly comprised of a) hunters, b) foodies and c) people who care very much about a just world, but either don't put top prioritization on animal raising or haven't been able to remove themselves from the system enough to do anything meaningful about it, and thus find the vegans to be proverbial thorns in their sides.

But until the day I die, I will defend the vegans, mostly because they're my friends, but also because I truly respect their commitment.

And they would be the first to tell you that their individual eating choices don't make a lick of difference in the grand scheme of things. They do it anyway, which is more than I can say for myself. I just ate a thoroughly dehumanizing takeout chicken salad mostly because it was nearby.

Anyway, I'm sorry for the depression you're feeling. Intellectual depression sucks. It sounds like what you're feeling is this sense that we humans are good, but collectively, for whatever reason, we're on a path of--and for--destruction. And there's no way to determine where we, collectively, are going to end up.

I guess the only consolation I have is, at least you care. At least you feel the tension between who we are and what we've become. So what's underneath all our civilization--what is the real, true truth about us? That we're not meant to live out of harmony with nature?

If that's true, then every time you do something for the natural world, you're committing an act of beauty. And while it might not stop our human trajectory, it's still, well, beautiful. Maybe because it's so hopeful, and so selfless.

So you probably do beautiful things all the time, and encourage other people to think about who we really are as humans. And that's a good thing, right?


NorCal Cazadora said...

Wow, that's really nice - thank you so much!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hey all, I've written a follow-up to this post (and it's - I think - far less depressing). You can check it out here.