Sunday, January 31, 2010

Question du jour: What's hunting got to do with respecting animals?

I did a radio interview last week with Radio Netherlands Worldwide about hunting as an alternative to buying factory-farmed meat, and after I left the studio, I couldn't stop thinking about this one word that I'd kept saying in reference to meat and animals: "respect."

In particular, I talked about how much more I respected animals since I started hunting. I've said that many times before, but in this interview, I also talked about how I grew up in a family that raised animals for meat.

Afterward, that left me wondering: Taking responsibility for killing animals that provide your meat increases your respect for the food they provide. But why was it that hunting increased my respect for the animals themselves? Read more...
I'd answered that question for myself before: When you hunt, you see animals at their full potential - most often doing their best to evade you, but also exhibiting playfulness, resourcefulness and - in the event you wound one - sheer will to live. Sometimes you win. More often than not, they do. Wild animals are not the defenseless, cowering Bambis so many non-hunters think them to be.

So why the hell hadn't I respected animals when I raised them for food? Suddenly, the dots connected: Those animals weren't free. They could be playful, or even manipulative, but they rarely showed resourcefulness or cunning because they didn't have to. They simply waited to be fed every day. Or milked. Or slaughtered.

I didn't respect them because they weren't free to be what they really are meant to be. They were just slaves.

This was an interesting little revelation in light of the fact that I also mentioned during this interview that hunting connects me to what I truly am - what my species and its antecedents have been for 2 million years. What I am meant to be.

And the more I hunt, the more I look at non-hunting people around me and feel sorry for them, because they don't even know what they've lost.

This revelation also struck me because one defense I have heard from some people who eat meat but hate hunting is that domestic animals were meant to be eaten while the wild animals I shoot would be running around happy as a clam if I just didn't pull the trigger.

That defense has always pissed me off because it sounded so much like one of the rationalizations for for black slavery in America: They're meant to be slaves. They're born into it. So it's OK to eat captive animals. But wild animals weren't born for that. It's not OK to eat them.

Of course, the fact is, we're all destined to become food for something else, whether we're eaten by sharks or mountain lions or we merely feed grass and trees and mushrooms wherever we're buried. And I have no problem eating animals, wild or domestic.

But it bothers me that people - some people, at least - value captive meat animals so much less than wild ones. I believe it's why we have allowed some of the more grotesque practices of factory farming to take place - crowding, mutilation, genetic manipulation. And now I'm thinking the reason for that is that we see them as nothing more than slaves.

This discussion could go a hundred different directions from here - Hutch, I can already hear your fingers tapping on the keys. So have at it, folks. I'm interested in hearing what you think.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


hutchinson said...

Funny. I waited until the end of that paragraph before I started my actual tapping. So you may have heard me thinking of tapping.

This is an interesting observation, Holly, and a thought-provoking post. Years ago I read Visions of Caliban by Jane Goodall and Dale Peterson. The book addresses the human-chimpanzee relationship and how humans have abused chimps across the spectrum. It draws metaphorically on literature's Prospero and Caliban -- a master-slave relationship -- and concludes with the idea that in as much as we enslave others, in this case animals, we enslave ourselves. Liberating ourselves entails also liberating our enslaved.

I think there's a lot of validity to what you write in this post. I also think that mechanization is a significant factor in this detachment, combined with the natural enmity that ensues from master-slave inequity. Commodification of animals mixed with a false and ignorant sense of superiority is a lethal and tragic combination.

I don't know if you ever saw the Fritz Lang film "Metropolis" -- part of that canon of post-industrial works which demonized mechanization as a dehumanizing and isolating influence. My favorite quote on this subject comes from Andree Collard:

"Alienated, fragmented and possessed, modern man is as rootless as a plant 'grown' in sterile soil -- and often just as lifeless. Human dependency on nature's processes has been replaced by dependency on man-made, insane products -- products developed and manufactured at the cost of plant and animal pain, and at the cost of human decency."

I'm loathe to rely on quoted passages to make my point. But I've never come up with a quote of my own that better represents that idea. I agree with Collard.

The one area where I diverge from you is in the necessity of hunting to achieve this end. You knew this was coming, right? I think I've written here before, and I continue to maintain, that it's being genuinely immersed in nature, with animals, that rejoins us from this disconnected state. Or keeps us from becoming disconnected in the first place.

The people with whom I work and play, all have this sense of respect, awe and intimate understanding of animals and their behavior, without ever raising a gun or a bow. We live it. We know it as much as any hunter, sometimes more because we're not actually altering the behavior by inserting ourselves into the equation. (I realize this is a hot button for arguments between hunters and non-hunters. I say it only to suggest that when you are a field observer, if you manage to remain unseen or innocuous, you have far greater and longer opportunities to observe and learn, than if you're interacting as predator.)

My personal belief is that some of the emotional power of hunting for many derives from its associations. You have said previously that until you began hunting, you didn't have any dawns with the sky blackened by snow geese. Or hours on end in the silence, watching a doe and a fawn play and interact.

It's impossible to know, but I would venture that had these profound experiences occurred with me, out in the field, without one shot fired, you would feel just as connected and bound to the cycles of life as you are now with gun in hand. Same holds true for the first times we encounter wildlife, wilderness and nature as children.

Aren't ya glad to have me back?

SimplyOutdoors said...

Well said, Holly. I'm always a little torn when it comes to the factory-farmed animal question, because I definitely think it has its place under the right circumstances.

But I agree completely with the rest of your thoughts, and that hunting a wary adversary, and seeing what they can and will do to outsmart us and survive, definitely helps us to build a deep respect for them; their uncanny ability to know their environment has made me smile from a treestand and ground blind many times.

I do have to disagree with Hutch, though. I see how nature lovers, or people who spend time in nature, can feel a deep connection with her without drawing a bow, or firing a gun. But I also think - to truly respect life and death, and the animals we consume - you need to have your hands immersed in their blood and have a hand in the death of the animal you consume.

There is simply no other, more productive way to truly appreciate what you eat, and the ground that provided it.

And you can't experience it just my watching; you have to be involved.

native said...

I will have to agree with all of you in regards to the Mechanization of our society, and how this has greatly influenced our obvious detachment involving death and pain in general.

And after making that statement, the respect (or lack of) respect which we humans show concerning farm raised animals or wild animals really lies upon the shoulders of the Disney type movie makers.

And, that blame also falls upon the food industry as well. All the way from the farm to slaughter and then to market where the meat is neatly cellophane wrapped all nice and pretty, and then spotlighted in the refrigerated section of your local grocer.

The burger joints are responsible too for this detached mentality we see so much of these days, as when is the last time that you saw a fast food commercial showing happy cows peacefully grazing right before slaughter?
We only see neat little patties beautifully spruced up with bun's and garnishment, and slickly produced commercials selling that product.

If we all had to have a hands on experience with slaughtering a farm animal or venturing out into the woods to make a kill for our meat, then we would "all" find a new and deeper respect for the animal which gave its life so that we humans may live another day healthy, happy and disease free.

But, as far as a master/slave relationship goes, even Ant's will keep Termites and feed them certain foods to sweeten the milk, which they later extract and helps to feed the colony.

Josh said...

Very interesting. I completely understand and agree with the respect for wild animals that comes with hunting. For me, I would add that it also comes because of a relationship that develops in hunting, and that includes place. I know a place, I know my prey, and I know myself and my capabilities; I know I belong as a part of that relationship, just like the other animals.

About farmed animals, though, I still respect them, and I don't think that, just because they don't behave the same way as wild animals, that they get any less of my respect. We have traded, for species, certain traits for certain others, and these traits, at times, I find fascinating (a dog that will point, flush on purpose, a bird away from it, then pick it up in its mouth and bring it back to somebody else), all the way to repulsive (a cornish cross is biologically old after 8 weeks or so, and many laying hens can't brood). But, I see these traits as extensions of ourselves, not as the animals' own. And I may admire or despise traits, but I never respect them. Life, however, I respect.

Come to think of it, I have a parallel attitude to wild creatures' traits, too. Some I find fascinating (say, antlers re-growing every year), others are repulsive (the parasite that eats fishes' tongues and then takes its place). But I respect and revere the lives.

sure loves cake said...

Delurking because I've been thinking a lot lately whether hunting is something I am capable of doing. Intellectually I completely agree that anyone who eats meat needs to understand that a life has been taken to provide that meat. And, I think that the only way to truly understand that is to do the killing yourself or at the least be a first-hand witness to it. At least once. This is a journey I am on, but I am not there yet.

Anyway, back to my point. Holly, you mention that humans are meant to be hunters. What I've been thinking about lately is...if hunting is an ideal way of obtaining meat for consumption then it follows that everyone (or at least every family) should hunt. Is there enough game to support that? Or to be more realistic, is there enough game to support even 50% of the population feeding itself from hunting? I realize that humans have hunted sustainably for thousands of years, but I'm talking about here, now, with the current population density. Is it possible?

I know this is off topic, so if this issue has been discussed elsewhere feel free to just point me in that direction.

This is so obvious to me but I'll mention it anyway - I don't support factory farming as a way to obtain meat for consumption.

Holly Heyser said...

Hutch, it's the fact that I heard you typing before I'd published my post that I think is so amazing!

But seriously: My point here is not that you need to hunt to respect wild animals, so I'm not going to go down that road. My point is that when you turn animals into slaves and welfare bums, you lose some of the respect you might otherwise have for them. At least that was the case with me. But I'm guessing it is with a lot of other people as well, though no one really seems to think about it this way.

I agree mechanization is an issue (and yes, I've seen Metropolis - in a college art class, where the prof was in love with the powerful black and white imagery), but I still think reducing animals to dependents, even in the most caring way, reduces our respect for them. Why? Because I raised animals in a caring, completely unmechanized way, and it wasn't until I hunted animals - in other words, interacted with truly free animals - that my respect for them grew.

What other explanation could there be for the belief of so many people that animals are helpless and defenseless? For 10,000 years, most people's interactions and associations have been with animals in a dependent state, be they pets or food animals.

Simply: I suspect people like Hutch can be pretty thoroughly immersed in nature without pulling a trigger. But I do think that pulling the trigger immerses you in a different way that non-hunters will never quite fathom, because you just don't know until you've done it.

Native: Regarding other animals farming, I'm glad you went there. I almost started to say in this post that despite my little revelations here, I still don't advocate the end of farming. Part of the reason is that I'm always looking to nature for cues - because nature works - and we're not the only ones who do it. Ants are astonishing - they farm aphids too. But part of the reason is, hell, we've just got a lot of people to feed, and short of advocating a massive thinning of the human herd, something's gotta give. (Of course, the thinning of the herd will happen eventually anyway - history tells us that.)

Josh: Thank you so much. When I wake up screaming in the middle of the night after a nightmare about a parasite replacing your tongue, just remember that I have your cell phone number and I know where you live.

Seriously, though, I definitely see your point on respecting farm/dependent animals. But I still think they've lost something that would make us respect them more if they had it. Of course, it's impossible to give back what they've lost while continuing to farm them.

Sure Loves Cake (nice name, btw): Nope, hunting is not sustainable for our entire population. When I say hunting is what we're meant to do, I mean it's what we're meant to do biologically. Some people say we can't all hunt because we'd wipe out species. But if we all hunted in accordance with the North American Wildlife Conservation Model - which has been enormously successful - limits would be based on what would leave sustainable populations of wild animals, which means we'd all be allowed to hunt maybe once every five or ten years, which would not be worth the investment. So, yeah, not practical.

That's part of why I feel sorry for people who aren't part of what we do. They really can't all be part of it.

sure loves cake said...

Thanks, that's exactly the kind of info I was looking for!

jryoung said...

Whether "hunting" by bow, rifle, shotgun, camera, binoculars or eyeballs I think the respect for animals far more similar between hunters and non-hunters than most hunters and non-hunters would care to admit. Sadly, it is these divides between our similarities that fail to bring us together for worth cause.
I think part of the biggest problem with the anti-hunters argument is that they believe that hunters are always in the woods seeking to harvest game. I spend far more time each year hiking in the wilderness sans weapon seeking that same connection with nature that non-hunters do, and that same connection I get when hunting. Whether I'm hiking over Vogelsang Pass in Yosemite armed with a Canon (not cannon), or stalking a pig armed with a Remington my respect for nature and its creatures is equal.
Both hunters and non-hunters would agree that habitat must be maintained and nurtured for future generations; both groups dedicate time and money to expand those efforts but the effort could be so much greater if we could set aside our differences for the greater cause.
I think where the respect level differs is when I get to harvest game, and consume it for nourishment. It is at that point I can remember my efforts, my time in the woods, and appreciate the life that I had taken for my survival. Never do I feel that same respect with a store bought steak because I have been disconnected from the entire process other than making effort to buy a grass fed free range animal.

hutchinson said...

jryoung, yes, I agree. And we've talked about that here before -- that our commonality is in the stakes. We all stand to lose if we decimate our habitat and leave nothing for the other earthlings with whom we exist.

Holly, just two things in response to your response.

I mentioned that non-hunters can have the connection because originally you had written, "And the more I hunt, the more I look at non-hunting people around me and feel sorry for them, because they don't even know what they've lost."

I should have specified that I was responding to that. Wasn't trying to start a whole new argument.

And, you also said, "I suspect people like Hutch can be pretty thoroughly immersed in nature without pulling a trigger. But I do think that pulling the trigger immerses you in a different way that non-hunters will never quite fathom, because you just don't know until you've done it."

I would also say that you and the other hunters here have no idea what it's like to be on the life/death end in a wildlife hospital or rescuing a horribly infected or injured animal out in the field. If you think people like me have no true grasp on life and death simply because we choose not to kill when we can help it, that's a point of contention I probably can't win.

I think it would be arrogant of you or me to suggest that either one of our connections to nature and the cycles of life is more profound or real. If I can help it, I will never fire a gun at an animal, so I can never truly be inside your skin. But you will also probably never been in the operating theater, witnessing pellets or darts being pulled from a suffering animal.

I don't think either of those two experiences is more "real" than the other. They both connect the individual to mortality in different ways. Yes, different to be sure. But one can't make generalizations about how we all experience life (or death) based on an exclusive experience. We all come to similar conclusions in the end, I think. We're all corporeal beings and have to face that. I certainly do. I've seen a helluva lot of human and animal death.

Josh said...

Hutch, I won't speak for Holly, but I would like to add that, first, some of us hunters have been and continue to be on the animal-saving side of the equation, yet we still hunt.

Also, as for me, what Holly has spoken about, regarding a new respect, isn't a value judgment about death, it is a sincere feeling towards people who won't/can't have the experience of hunting, specifically. Not death, though that is a part of it, but of hunting - the intimate, profound experiences that occur during this particular endeavour.

This, for me, isn't about believing that one way is superior (though it may be); this is about having a sincere, deep, experience, and sincerely feeling it, and then wanting to share that with others, but knowing that hunting is singular and experiential, and that many just won't or can't participate in it.

Sure Loves Cake and Holly: The amount of hunters in the field, especially the respectful ones, would change the arithmetic for carrying capacity in ways that would fundamentally alter carrying capacity numbers.

I work as an environmental advocate, and part of my role in life has been to get the idea across to many environmentalists that we DO want people in the outdoors, if for the selfish fact that outdoorspeople care about the environment, and being outdoors fosters a care about the environment.

If we quadrupled our hunters' numbers, and we fostered in their hunting a respect for the environment, their prey and habitat, then we would have a strong force fighting for stricter environmental protections. We would also have an army of people outdoors, with on-the-ground experiences and wisdom about particular places, threats, &etc. We would also have a far better funded Fish & Wildlife Service, and depts. of Fish & Game throughout the country. These impacts would greatly increase the amount and quality of game animals.

Holly Heyser said...

Hutch: The preceding paragraph was this: This was an interesting little revelation in light of the fact that I also mentioned during this interview that hunting connects me to what I truly am - what my species and its antecedents have been for 2 million years. What I am meant to be, and that's what I was referring to. I don't deny that you have a real and valid connection to and respect for wildlife. It just so happens that I connected to wildlife through hunting.

But as a non-hunter, you do not have a connection to what our species and its antecedents have done for 2 million years. I respect your choice and would not force my choice on you, but it's undeniable that you're missing an experience deeply rooted in our history.

Josh, I agree with your points about how wildlife would benefit with a fourfold increase in hunting. Of course, if we went from less than 6 percent of the nation hunting to 100 percent, it wouldn't work because there is absolutely nothing sustainable about a population this obscenely large. But if 24-ish percent hunted, that would be enough to feed 100 percent of meat eaters, if we could somehow have enough animals for them to hunt. But that would start looking more and more like agriculture, don't you think? But it'd be fun to rip out some houses and malls and Walmarts to restore habitat :-)

And selfishly, I'm thinking I'd never get on at Delevan if there were four times as many duck hunters out there...

Josh said...

Holly, I actually thought about how incomplete my comments were on the numbers case. Please allow me to explain...

I won't pretend that everybody could hunt in such a way as to provide all their meat for in the U.S. (U.S. hunters don't do that now, even). But, I do believe that a dramatic increase in the number of responsible and respectful hunters would dramatically increase protections and the availability of huntable habitat. So, perhaps you couldn't get on Delevan, as is, if you had to compete with more hunters; but, with that many engaged hunters, "Delevan" would be far larger, and may incorporate lands that can also be farmed.

There is a sense of self-preservation that outdoorspeople fall into, myself included, which hobbles protections and access issues in the long run. Many park planning folks I've worked with have had a similar attitude. They ask: Why increase visitation? It's just more boots on the ground, more impact. Better to just not advertise, and let the hard-core find it for themselves.

Enviros. did that for years, and now we have kids who are indoors all the time, and their parents who don't give a good-Gosh-darn about the environment, and so our budgets and regulations suffer. But, these lands won't be overlooked by other interests.

The only thing keeping El Capitan from becoming the largest granite quarry on Earth, and General Sherman tree from becoming a few hundred houses, is the love of millions of people. If nobody gets out there to see and appreciate them for being, they will be used for something else.

Another inevitable problem for land managers is revenue. Could Delevan quadruple its entry fees right now without a serious drop in visitation? Without a general care for these places from a large enough population of users, general funds from tax bases shrivel, and managers have to consider using supply and demand to impact their bottom line. This will further weed out the general populace, until folks just don't care anymore and the whole thing gets scrapped for "highest and best" use.

As you well know from first-hand observation of my hunting prowess, I don't live exclusively off of what I kill in the wild. But, my time in the wild is for more than meat, more than berries and nettles. To paraphrase a guy I admire, I don't live on bread alone. The hunt and the kill are my respectful reminders, my thanks and my soul-replenishing time, my time to be with like-minded, good people. I think others can have that experience, too.

Holly Heyser said...

Of course, we are engaging in hypotheticals here, because I think we're a hell of a long way away from even doubling the number of hunters. I'd be happy just to turn around the decline.

I share your concern about the mindset that causes some in officialdom to make these resources hard to find. Two weeks ago I FINALLY found the access point to a place I'd been wanting to hunt. Not only was there no sign pointing to it, but you can't even see the street sign that would allow you to get there if you'd taken the trouble to consult a map first. I literally had to look up satellite photos to make sense of it. (But I'm not going to tell you the place I'm talking about because more people might go there! LOL).

Thanks for the reminder that Hank and I are fairly unusual in the very high proportion of our meat that we kill or catch ourselves. I know we're oddballs. But we're healthy, happy oddballs.

scott f. said...

Hello, I just started following the blog (btw: something good came from the booth babe comments..I expect more out of my girls than being cute marketing tools)

I'm not sure if I agree with the dissention between commercial animals and wild ones. One was selected by man to do a job and therefore is dependant on him for it's wellbeing 24-7. The other is not. Apples and oranges.

When I hunt I can let my guard down and be more observant and philosophical - that's one reason why I'm doing it. It's romantic. I got out and provided food for my family by my own wits and resourcefulness. It makes me feel more connected to my environment.

When you are taking care of a production animal it can be a chore if it's your day-in-day out livelihood. It's not romantic and the economic, not recreational value of the situation drives what happens. If you HAD to kill the game to eat... would the relationship you are talking about change ?

We happen to be a society that likes cheap food. In that sense, yes we have unfairly diminshed the value of a domestic animal. If you had to pay more for the animal or got some great satisfaction raising it... it would nearly equal going out and hunting.

I feel that I'm having a hard time explaining my position, but I hope you can glean something from this gibberish


Holly Heyser said...

Welcome, Scott! And your comment is not gibberish - I really welcome the discussion here.

As for the animals: I don't blame domestic/captive animals for their state of dependence - hell, we imposed it on them. (Though I should note that there are some who believe that certain animals and plants wanted to be domesticated, but that's another topic.) To me, it's just an explanation for why I respect the wild ones more - they are what the captive ones can never be. I never saw domestic animals be what they could really be. Just like I never saw what I could really be, as a fellow animal, until I started hunting.

You raise good questions about whether the relationship would be different if hunting was my only means of acquiring meat, rather than something I choose to do. I do know that many people who grew up in the Depression eating wild game have very unpleasant memories of it - they were so grateful when they could get the fat, tender (i.e., muscles barely used) domestic meat, which is exactly what I've begun to loathe about domestic meat. That doesn't address the respect-the-animal issue, but it does speak to how our opinions are shaped in part by whether something we do is necessity or choice.

Thanks for stopping by!

scott f. said...

I suppose I'll give you a little background. I'm a commercial plant breeder (corn). So I make my living doing selection. I'm puzzled why to think that being in a "wild state" is necessarily better place for the individual. I tend to look at things as a distribution of events rather than a more discrete way.

I usually think of most wildlife as a population that is comprised of a mixture of animals interacting with their environments.. not all of them are being all they can be... maximizing their "wildness". Is a deer in south Texas eating out of a game feeder more wild than a cow doing the same ? I plant food at my duck club... am I taking away from the inherent "wildness" of the waterfowl that fly by and eat or am I just selecting for more wildness by killing the ducks that happen to get close to my blind. I think this has to do a lot more about how we feel than how it actually is. If you are ever in the midwest (IL), you are welcome in my duck blind with me, my girls and my dog.

Holly Heyser said...

Well, that's an interesting point that really speaks to the fact that there is pretty much zero wildlife that is NOT affected by humans anymore - it's really just a matter of degree how much we manipulate their lives and habitats. The ducks I kill live in food-rich habitats created to attract them (initially for the benefit of farmers who complained about being ravaged by our then-more abundant ducks).

But I still think that a life in captivity alters behavior in a substantial way. Compare a wild duck to a domestic duck and I can tell you I'm going to respect the survival skills of a wild duck MUCH more.

And utterly irrelevant: How was your duck season this year? Ours was really, really weird.

smf said...

Duck season here wasn't good at all. Lots of rain, warm temperatures and plenty of standing crops north of here kept the birds very diffuse until right at the end of the season when everything froze up in 3 days. I did have a great week in MT shooting sharptails and huns with a couple of good friends.

When the time is right for you, do try to get a dog. Have a nice evening.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Great post, Holly! Sorry to be so late to the discussion.

Rather than repeat what's already been said, I'll just throw one other strand into the mix, tying onto threads that others have suggested. If you take the view that Michael Pollan has suggested in The Botany of Desire and other books, did we domesticate cows and corn? Or did they domesticate us?

Holly Heyser said...

I haven't read that book yet, though that's what I was referring to in a previous comment (Boyfriend has read it and we've talked about it).

Guess what you believe depends on whether you think animals are biologically driven to protect inviduals or to perpetuate their species. I think a lot of science would say the latter; but I have also personally seen strong individual will to live among animals.

So... no clue on that one! Yet. But it's an interesting argument.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Yeah, interesting.

I abhor factory farming, which subjects animals to atrocious conditions and devastates the ecosystem. But put those same animals on pasture and such and I feel a lot differently about it.

Another angle: Is it really wild animals that you respect so much more than domestic ones? Or is it the qualities inherent in your relationship with them?

Holly Heyser said...

Tovar, I think those two things are inseparable because when I see wild animals, they have a relationship with me: They are the prey that elude me with cleverness or end up in my freezer because of fatal errors.

But I do think it's their inherent qualities too. I think it's common sense that we respect creatures that work hard for a living more than creatures who wait for the handout, be they human or not.

But keep asking questions like this. I like 'em!

hutchinson said...

Holly writes:

But as a non-hunter, you do not have a connection to what our species and its antecedents have done for 2 million years. I respect your choice and would not force my choice on you, but it's undeniable that you're missing an experience deeply rooted in our history.

I can't argue that. By not hunting, you're right. I will never be connected to the hunters who preceded this current generation of hunters.

I am, however, historically connected to those humans throughout history, going back to the ancients, in fact, who've looked askance upon violence toward humans and non-humans alike, and have chosen a less violent way to coexist wherever possible.

So, I could say that you are also "missing an experience deeply rooted in our history." A different experience and as fundamentally "human" as yours. :)

I sometimes think there must be two distinct genetic predispositions in humans, Because most hunters cannot imagine not hunting and killing and engaging life and death in this way.

And most of us who've chosen the other way cannot conceive of enjoying our undeniable ability cause death and pain.

I've known enough people who did try hunting at some point in their lives, and who were so traumatized by the harm they caused -- it suggests to me that we really are two different animals. I believe there are those of us who would never be able to feel energized or adrenalized by wielding power to this end. So that supports your original contention that individuals like me will always be missing out on one facet of human behavior.

I will add that there are many experiences deeply rooted in our history that I'm happy to be disconnected from. Because something is historical and traditional, as you know, doesn't necessarily imply it is noble, just or compassionate. I'm referring, of course, to myriad behaviors exhibited by humans across the board, throughout time. There are quite a few things Neanderthals are alleged to have done that I'm quite happy to have evolved away from, if I could be construed as in any way "evolved."

Laurie Smith said...

Hey Holly,

Reading your blog I was thunderstruck and the answer to your frustration became crystal clear. Society (especially in the Sacramento area) has over the years become increasingly domesticated;analogous to farm animals (sheep). It has become P.C. not to hunt. Those of us who do choose to hunt are just using our god given natural innate tendency to be self reliant, resourceful and wild! There's nothing more satisfying than being able to obtain your own dinner. Societal sheep would never understand this or have the tenacity, heart, and dedication to do so. It's easier for the public at large to go to the supermarket, or fast food chain, get dinner and return home to play video games.
The respect comes from understanding what it takes to outsmart wild game. The beauty and grace displayed by game while avoiding hunters is truly remarkable! Don't fret over the feckless huey espoused by hunter-haters,they have simply lost their natural tendencies or been domesticated.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Hi Hutch -

I think you're right on the money with many of your comments. Your questioning and avoidance of violence do connect you to a important part of human history. They're the same ones I drew on, and felt vitally connected to, in my decade as a vegetarian.

Your suggestion about distinct "predispositions" in humans is an interesting one. There may be something to it.

I'm not sure, though, what you mean by hunters feeling "energized or adrenalized by wielding power to this end." I, for one, do experience very intense feelings when I kill. But in no way are they happy-let's-whoop-and-holler feelings. I do not "enjoy our undeniable ability to cause death," let alone pain. (Admittedly, I get the sense that some hunters do truly enjoy the harming and killing. They aren't people I'd want to hunt with.)

For many years I could not conceive of intentionally killing. I saw myself as living in the venerable tradition of compassionate non-violence.

Now I do kill, though my compassion remains very much alive. I'm not sure where I'd fit in your proposed scheme of predispositions!

Holly Heyser said...

Laurie, excellent point on the domestication of humans. I see it pretty much the same way you do. Most people have no idea that they're captives ... whoa ... this is getting very Matrix...

Tovar, thanks for making those points - I was off responding to trolls on another website. Hutch, it is important to know that for most of us, the exhilaration is NOT about power. A gun or bow is not the One True Ring. Exhilaration is about what is usually hard work culminating in success. I do whoop and holler sometimes, but it's not "Ha, I killed you, you powerless little bastard!" It's about being successful - which is NEVER guaranteed on a hunt.

Anonymous said...

Holly you left out what happens after "you" retrieve and dispatch (if needed)your duck (I've seen it). There is a type of joy in hunting but there is also sadness, respect and even fondness for the game we hunt.

Holly Heyser said...

You thinking of that pintail hen on Saturday, Charlie? All of the above, definitely. I kinda envy the animal predators because they don't seem to run through those emotions about their prey. But I suppose I could be wrong about that.

Anonymous said...

Yes the pintail also the first widgeon and several others in the last few weeks. Not to sure about the animal predators ever see the video of the Orca putting the baby seal on the beach or the one of the lion smelling the baby bush buck and walking away then chasing the pride away from it, not exactlly self prevision or cold blooded behavor. They are exceptions to the rule but has to make you wonder.


Holly Heyser said...

I have not seen that video, but I have seen one of animals taking care of babies from other species, including predators taking care of prey species (click here).

hutchinson said...

We (as a species) like to attribute a lot of non-human behavior to "instinct" while reserving more sophisticated attributes for ourselves. But the truth is, quite a bit of predatory behavior in non-humans is taught, just as it is in humans. If you take baby animals of a variety of species, remove them from the pack or parent who would teach them how to hunt or kill, many live in what seems like odd symbiosis with their natural predator or prey. Not all. But that's also consistent with my respect for animals as individuals with personalities and feelings.

Of course, we all know that behavior does vary from animal to animal within each species. I have known cats, for instance, who would not kill a bird or a mouse if you put it in front of them. And I've seen dogs in clear distress after playing and accidentally harming another animal then realizing something is wrong. Pit bulls are perfect examples of genetics manipulated through training, rather than actions born of instinct. I'll stress as I always do (and I believe Holly agrees), it's not anthropomorphism to say these things. It's rightfully applying characteristics to animals that they do, indeed, possess. Some of which are similar to our own.

Tovar, I don't know if there's any validity whatsoever to my supposition about humans. I tend to think that most of us are acting through filters we've acquired throughout our lives. Or, alternatively, in opposition to the filters we know we'd like to expunge from our lives.

I came from a family of war refugees and saw much strife at a young age. That's clearly a filter that could explain my pacifistic tendencies. Pain in others is a trigger point for me and I'm well aware of that. Remember the scene in The Deer Hunter where he just couldn't shoot the deer after his experiences of war? Some people react that way.

btw: As far as adrenaline, I apologize for making that blanket assessment. I meant to suggest that I firmly believe there is a high level of adrenaline associated with hunting for various reasons. And I do think those physiological effects make certain pursuits compelling to humans.

I get an adrenaline rush from rescuing animals in the field. It's similar to hunting but the end result is dramatically different. Still, you have to observe, stalk, make your move in comparable ways. I don't really enjoy having to do it (especially at 1am or 4am) and would love it if I never had to do this again for any poor animal. So enjoyment isn't the right term, you're right. But when I've managed to net, for instance, an animal with a dart in its chest (as I did a few weeks ago) I won't deny there's a rush in having accomplished that.

You sure you guys haven't picked the wrong field? You can have the same rush. :) I know -- that would mean not having meat to eat in the process. If meat didn't entail suffering and dying of another being for my pleasure . . . well, I do understand why meat is appealing for those who do eat it. There's the immediate gratification of taste. Me personally, I just can't -- having worked with so many animals -- ever conceive of turning these beautiful and complex, sentient lives I've known, into a 30-minute meal. It does not compute for me.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Hutch, your comments are excellent, as always.

I, too, find the instinct/training question an interesting one, in both human animals and non-human animals. On the other hand, lions are not going to lie down with the lambs all the time; if they did, we'd have a lot of starving predators and—soon—ecological havoc.

I agree with you about the filters we perceive and live and act through, and about how adrenaline and such can be compelling—even addicting—for people. (As a deer hunter where deer are few and far between, though, the vast majority of my time in the woods is, shall we say, “very low adrenaline.”)

I can easily imagine doing what you do for wildlife. It “computes” for me. And I’d feel good about it. If I find an injured animal—even a chickadee that’s ricocheted off the house window—I do everything I can to help it. When a deer recently leapt at the side of my car and then trotted off, I came back hours later to check and be sure she’d made it (I put up a blog post on this, called “kinds of harm”).

I know a number of hunters who are extraordinarily compassionate toward animals and will go out of their way to avoid hurting them and to help them…just like the predators who sometimes treat prey species gently. (And, yes, I’ve met other hunters—and plenty of non-hunters—who seem like sadistic bastards.) This echoes Josh’s comment above, from a couple days ago: “some of us hunters have been and continue to be on the animal-saving side of the equation, yet we still hunt.” It’s a topic that fascinates me.

Incidentally, the “gratification of taste” over a 30-minute meal, as you put it, has virtually nothing to do with why I hunt. My return from vegetarianism to omnivory had nothing to do with missing the flavor of flesh.

I resonate completely with your description of animals as having “beautiful and complex, sentient lives.”

Laurie Smith said...


I have to respectfully disagree with your truth:"quite a bit of predatory behavior in non-humans is taught, just as it is in humans". The examples you quote involve taking predatory infants out of their natural environment; in essence domesticating them. Humans and animals will revert to instinct (behavior not taught) when primal needs require it. I base this statement on my own experiences and observations. Case in point: I worked for a cattle rancher just out of college who ran his herd on 15,000 acres during the winter months between Mill Creek and Deer Creek just N.E. of Los Molinos. Over the years (this rancher was 3rd generation) some of the cattle would be missed on spring round-up. These cattle became wild. They actually migrated with the deer back and forth to the mountains. I personally saw them. Every once in a while on subsequent spring round-ups, we would have a couple join the herd and make the trip down to ranch head-quarters. Let me tell you, you didn't dare get near one of these wild bovines with your horse, as they would take you out!Some would actually make it into the corral. The next morning, these cattle were gone. They would jump the fence and disappear. Several talented cowboys have gone into this area and actually rounded up some of these cattle, only to fail miserably at trying to load them onto any kind of livestock transport. I like this example because it exemplifies instinct. Here you have domesticated farm animals reverting to being wild, (people have trouble with this story, you have to experience being around cattle gone wild to believe it!)the antithesis of all that has been discussed so far, regarding domesticated animals.
In another instance, I observed a Cow and Calf standing in the middle of the Feather River (above Chester), fighting off a pack of Coyotes. Instinctively, the Cow the knew the pack's chances in water were zero. This Cow would have died defending her calf.
I was in the beef cattle business for a number of years,and developed a deep respect for the animals under my care.I have seen these domesticated animals show an unbelievable will to live. We had a calf that had both forelegs shattered when the Vet pulled the calf (wound up being a C-section). This calf should have died. He refused. I made PVC casts, and doctered this calf for months. The same Vet even did orthopedic surgery on this calf and he became an 1100 pound pet.
I went on two survival trips in my youth, 5 nights and 6 days each time. We were dumped in the Wilderness with one blanket, a fishing line,hook, and one package of trail mix. We had to hike 10-20 miles each day to a check point, a total of 100 miles in six days.I cant believe what I could turn into in six days time! After two days, we all started dreaming about nothing but food. We ate unbelievable things, and yes even stole a package of spaghetti from an unsuspecting camper (definitely not learned behavior.. my parents would be mortified).
My Mother is from Holland, barely survived the German occupation. Her stories of behaviors resorted to in order to survive are off the charts. Behaviors that would have got them all shot, had they been caught by the German soldiers.
I apologize for my rambling, I felt compelled to share some real life experiences. My point being, both humans and non-humans are born with instincts. When push comes to shove, non-learned behavior based on instincts,will surface. I sure it would even happen to you. Your examples of behavior being taught rather than based on instinct, (respectfully) are very filtered. People who hunt,choose to develop an instinct. It takes an incredible amount of study, dedication, sacrifice, and work to be a successful hunter, which naturally develops a deep respect for your prey (Holly's point). The satisfaction from a successful hunt is the culmination of a lot of hard work. In addition,it fosters confidence that if push comes to shove, I'll be fine without going to the supermarket. Thanks for your comments,look forward to hearing from you.

Josh said...

Hutch writes:
"You sure you guys haven't picked the wrong field? You can have the same rush. :) I know -- that would mean not having meat to eat in the process. If meat didn't entail suffering and dying of another being for my pleasure . . . well, I do understand why meat is appealing for those who do eat it. There's the immediate gratification of taste. Me personally, I just can't -- having worked with so many animals -- ever conceive of turning these beautiful and complex, sentient lives I've known, into a 30-minute meal. It does not compute for me."

Hutch, your vegetarianism does not excuse you from things dying and suffering for your sustenance.

Do you eat grains? Then you support the killing and maiming of untold thousands of rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, birds, etc. You just don't eat what gets killed for you.

I would love it if we could go through the world without things dying, my family members first. But, we cannot. The world thrives on the dead. We are in the world, and cannot escape it.

Albert A Rasch said...

Greetings from Afghanistan!

I miss you all! Totally awesome stuff going on and the commentaries are fabulous! I can't stay on the net I have accessed for long, but I wanted y'all to know I am always thinking about you! Stay safe and keep on Blogging!

Sucking Dust and Loving Life!

Holly Heyser said...

Albert, great to hear from you - and even better to hear you're loving life! Not an easy task in Afghanistan.

I miss you! Can't wait to hear some of the stories you'll have to tell... And I hope your internet connection lasts long enough to check out all the cool discussions going on. Be sure to check out Tovar - he's the cool new kid on the block :-).

hutchinson said...

Hi, Laurie --

I'm not denying instinct. I'm one who believes humans do, in fact, operate more from instinct that we're willing to admit. And that non-humans have more elective or individual behavior than we're often willing to admit. Watch a multitude of animal mating behaviors and tell me a happy-hour meat-market bar isn't the same.

What I am saying, however, is that a genetic predisposition doesn't imply the skills or even the desire for a certain behavior. There are ample cases of animals removed from their environment at a young age and never learning the supposed instinctive behaviors that drive their species. They may be anomalies if you look at the actual numbers, but I was answering Holly's point about cases where animal predators did not operate as we would expect them to.

And yes, I know all of us have an inner drive to survive at often unexpected costs. And like the cow in the water, some of us will instinctively do things to escape predators or find food when we're starving. But the fact that we, as humans, have some capacity to revert to these base instincts, just like non humans, could suggest that non-humans also carry the individual capacity to choose certain actions, more than we assume they do -- given circumstances where they weren't in a constant fight for survival. I don't think we can equate ourselves with non-humans by saying, I only hunt (or do whatever) because it's natural, it's instinct, part of the cycle of life. But then deny non-humans the capacity do also do as we do in non-instinctive capacities. That's a flawed syllogism.

You mention your mother's war experience and as I wrote, my entire family is war refugees -- well, the ones of us who survived, that is. One grand and non-elective survival trip. I, myself, have known genuine starvation. I do understand the imperatives involved in survival. '

Josh, I've responded to that point many times in Holly's blog so I'm loathe to address it once again. If you search for me here, you can probably find some of those thoughts. In short, I understand the inherent harm we do just by existing as humans. I'm very fortunate in that I have hyper-local sources of food which helps reduce my impact by not supporting large plowing operations and so forth. Although I'd be a food to deny that my life is harm free. I continue to maintain that it's a distraction to critique those of us who really have endeavored to reduce our footprint. And I've argued that hunters, by virtue of patronizing both large food systems and creating environmental impact in their recreational hunting activities, are actually contributing more harm.

Tovar, you and I share similar philosophical backgrounds and I appreciate your thoughts since you started visiting Holly's blog. Don't worry -- I'm not like a virus. I won't infect your blog with non-hunter commentary. :)

I read your Kinds of Harm post and I agree wholeheartedly! I lived near a windmill farm known locally as "Cuisinart Alley." We saw the most dastardly injuries to raptors who survive an encounter with windmills. It is NOT easier to abide than a deliberate act of harm. But I will say that the harm I have the most difficulty reconciling comes from wild animals' encounters with humans. Primarily because those incidents are so huge in numbers. They say 400 million killed by cars in the U.S. each year? About half that by hunters. Even more birds hitting windows, windmills, etc. There is no natural system that would create this type of impact. So I, for myself, would generalize by saying that the human impacts (deliberate and unintentional) are by far the toughest. We can make changes, as humans, that we don't. And that's often very hard to stomach.

hutchinson said...

A note for Tovar . . . since our discussion began here, I thought I'd keep it here (like Vegas).

I just read your essay "Full Circle." You're a beautiful writer and a genuine credit to blogging. I'm glad you've joined the ranks of the also erudite NorcalCazadora.

I found your essay interesting because your forays into vegetarianism actually seemed to counteract your natural and early inclinations toward hunting, fishing and shooting (although I know you didn't stalk game at a young age).

I wonder if this doesn't point to our earlier discussion on two classes of humans. Maybe we humans really are divided, as wild animals are, into classes of predator and prey. Your earliest instincts drew you to the bow, the guns, your uncle who hunted. Mine were exactly the opposite. Even though I grew up in an environment where the death of animals (and many humans) was prevalent, I couldn't be coerced to harm one. I caught my first fish as a child and cried for days -- before I was old enough to even have cogent thoughts on the whys of the process.

So maybe some of us clearly are driven by predatory behavior, and other more identify with prey. Has anyone ever explored this dichotomy intellectually?

Many people I know who work with animals often have identical experiences to mine. And it seems many hunters have similar, early indications that they will, in fact, take to hunting.

I've known countless animal workers who came to the work precisely because they were forced to kill an animal (farm, hunting father, etc). And it went against every instinct in their bodies. In your case, it almost seems like you adopted vegetarianism in response to someone else's values, then returned to your more natural state of mind. For me, my more natural state of mind was moving away from the constant strife of my childhood, the violence, the death and living more attuned to my own nature.

I wish I was in school. I'd be starting a new thesis.

p.s. Those of you who are omnivores, I do understand, believe it or not. A friend of mine is allergic to almost all non-meat sources of protein but simply cannot force herself to eat meat. And it's a struggle. There are gray areas in life. The type of hunting Holly and you and others here do is a far cry from the types of behaviors I see in the field which inspire much ire. You all hunt with one another and share similar ethics and belief systems. So you're not hanging out with the guys I often see. It's easy to create black-and-white scenarios when you see so much pain and suffering at the hands of humans, particularly the unscrupulous ones. But I have said to Holly and Phillip and others here, that if more hunters were like them, people like me wouldn't even be finding themselves arguing these points on hunting blogs.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Thanks for your kind words, Hutch.

Would you mind re-posting some version of your comment about “Kinds of harm” over on that post on my blog? My blog could, frankly, use a bit more cross-pollination by non-hunters and anti-hunters.

Likewise, I’d really appreciate it if you’d be willing to re-post some version of your comments on “Full Circle” to my site—perhaps as a comment on the hunting/anti-hunting post I just put up, “Hunters and other whackos”. I have a few minor thoughts in response and would prefer to post them over there.

Don’t worry. I don’t expect you to become a regular over on my blog, too; I can see you’ve got your hands full with Holly and company already. But I’d enjoy having you make a cameo appearance.

Josh said...

Hutch, I know that I've brought this topic up before, but I haven't seen you address it as directly as you attempted here.

I'm glad that you acknowledge that your life isn't harm-free. I have two questions, then:

1) How can you reconcile the harm that others do for you? That is, how can you feel that your current actions, in which someone maims an animal for a transaction with you, are more ethical than you taking the responsibility for yourself?

2) What if a meat-eating lifestyle would actually contribute to lower instances of harm to creatures as a total biomass, as total individual creatures, and in habitat restoration? Would you then consider eating meat, in order to lessen your impact?

Pretend you are talking to a person who also buys local/forages/buys humane, but who also hunts, to throw out the extreme case of the "slob" hunter.

hutchinson said...

Hi, Josh -- If you look at Holly's recent post about Cripples (ducks), I did answer your question there when you asked it previously. I don't want to repeat myself, so if it's not exactly what you were looking for in a response, let me know. Your other questions:

1) I can't reconcile it entirely. If you knew me, you'd know that my life is a never-ending balancing act between staying positive about outcomes in this world, and simultaneously recognizing the great suffering, including incidental suffering caused by our very existence. I don't know that I will ever fully come to terms with this, to the day I die, despite people of nearly every denomination and spiritual practice giving me lovely reassurances along my path. I just focus on the things I CAN control. And there's quite a lot that most people can do -- but don't. Again, my own private Hippocratic promise is "first do no harm." I do my best to avoid deliberate harm, then let it trickle from there, reassessing my lifestyle to see if it's in accordance to what I believe and what's best for others around me. I'm no saint, but as you might imagine, these types of questions are often leveled at vegetarians by hunters and I'd just as soon walk my talk.

My lifestyle is such that I live sometimes at -- what some would consider -- inconvenience, to avoid as much as possible, this very thing. I'm not saying I can do it. But, for instance, I don't often buy new things, particularly things which are manufactured in such a way that they dramatically pollute or contribute to social injustice in the workers. I can't think of the last time I bought new clothes, even though I'd love to look swell in Armani. (I don't look like a slob, btw. But I try to buy fewer things and make them last longer. I avoid most toxins in my life where I can (pesticides, etc.) I haven't yet had the money to put solar panels on a house (let alone buy the house) so I contribute to some harm by being part of the electric grid. But again, all in all, I believe, in all humility, that my footprint is a lot less than most. And to suggest that hunters are doing less harm than someone like me, is, I think a red herring. Most hunters I know also contribute to the very industries you're singling out for me and other vegetarians. I don't even participate in most of those (fast food, grain eating/production, soy, etc.)

2) That's an interesting and, as you know, complex philosophical question. That is, if it were true, does one then sacrifice the good of an individual for the good of the many? I will say that, personally, I could not kill an animal to satisfy myself. And I do believe in that old vegetarian adage, that if you can't kill your own meat, you probably shouldn't be eating it. So for me, it goes beyond even my ecological footprint. If this were true, I would look for all possible alternatives to reduce my impact by going even more hyper-local and avoiding those food system hazards that produce this kind of harm.

Do you have particular situations in mind where this is true?

Tovar, notes taken under advisement. Will travel across the bounds of blogs to check out your latest post.

Josh said...

Hutch, I'll stop on the first question, then. Thank you.

As for the second question, I do have a situation like that. Grass-fed buffalo provides tremendous habitat and watershed restoration, it helps re-establish a rare animal, with its habitat, to regions where it once numbered in the millions. It creates a long-term, locally sustainable option for farmers, in that they don't have to purchase sterile seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, etc., to make a living. The animals and plant life that disappeared with buffalo would have a place to return to, and would often be encouraged to return. The amount of land that would need to be restored would be very large, if industry demand were to grow. And buffalo lands would replace and restore, in large part, huge tracts of GMO corn.

That is only one example.

Alligator is another example, whose industry helped return an animal from the brink of extinction. There are many wild alligators who owe their lives to the alligator hide and meat industry.

This isn't a panacea for everything or everybody, but these are very striking examples where eating meat creates more and better lives, and lessens one's total impact.

In a larger sense, it is unnatural for farms to operate without animals. Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, and many others realize this: farming systems, to really be sustainable, need animals in the system. Fertilizer, pest control, watershed protection, aesthetic (even) all benefit from the combination. Berry says, "look at how nature farms." Nature needs animals to be a part of the system, and if we are going to be part of the system, then we need animals, too.

Also, don't let that notion that if you are to eat meat, you have to be willing to kill it. I used to think that, too. But consider this, where if A=B=C, then A=C. If A=killing animals to harvest food, B=harvesting food for sale, and C=eating harvested food, then A=C; you've done it.

Perhaps, since killing isn't an evil act ("ought not" implies "can not"), but a sad act, nonetheless, the notion should be that you shouldn't eat unless you realize your impacts on the world, acknowledge the deaths that go into your life, and be sad and thankful to those who died for you.

I'll stop now, and respect your space. But, just as you cannot reconcile your belief in vegetarianism with our hunting, I must honestly admit that I cannot reconcile my belief in complete ecosystems with your vegetarianism. However, I am in love with your attempt to lessen your bad impacts on the world, and I appreciate that very, very much. I try, too. Thanks for being that light.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

That's beautifully and respectfully said, Josh. Thanks.

hutchinson said...

The problem, Josh, is that the questions you ask direct the conversation toward a narrow dimension of the disagreement between you and me. And as you know, the conflict between hunters and non-hunters incorporates so much more.

The thread started out with a theoretical supposition about our perceptions of animals and their place in our hierarchy. And it was to this concept of Holly's that I was responding.

Hunting isn't limited to the type of sustainable practice you suggest. Maybe my argument would change if your plan, above, were implemented as the only viable course. Would I hunt? No. Would I have as much of an issue with it? No.

In my experience, cruelty and waste abounds in wholly unsustainable hunting practices. Yes, it is a bit personal because I live with those repercussions in the end results: the abject suffering and injury in animals I've rescued (including animals that are used for shooting and live-bird training practice like pigeons). It's horrifying, what I've seen, and I can't help but envision those scenarios when you suggest the notion of "better lives." I challenge every hunter out there to examine his or her practices -- dining, lifestyle, purchases -- as much as I have. How are those practices even remotely "sustainable" or promoting better lives for all on this planet?

I'm not saying my lifestyle is better. I'm defending myself against your suggestion that my lifestyle is worse. I would say that if if you're going to pick on someone for their eco footprint, you might do better to scrutinize some of your fellow hunters who undoubtedly use many more resources in hunting, fossil fuels, leaving behind shotgun shells (yes, I've actually been on teams cleaning up shells), continuing to patronize pizza and burger joints in addition to hunting, purchasing goods made at slave labor wages, food grown with pesticides, etc and so forth. As I said, I think it's a red herring in this discussion.

The vegan has responsibility for the untoward death he or she causes. All humans do. But for the conscious vegan, who is aware of his or her sources, the harm is less than omnivores cause in the way of pain, unless, of course, they live wholly off hyper-local or homegrown food.

Being a vegan at least eliminates some of the deliberate harm I see in in practices like live-bird training, or the recently shot pigeons we rescued, varmint hunting and so forth. You might argue for the sustainability of shooting an animal like a Prairie Dogs (although I could argue that back, based on the prairie dog's ecosystem). But I would argue that our humanity, as a whole, is on a course for self-destruction in as much as we allow for such cases of inhumanity to persist. Especially inhumanity that speaks of such wanton waste and disregard. And that brings us full circle to Holly's post about respect for animals.

For me this discussion incorporates what is compassionate or cruel or necessary. I'm not a fool. I'm not naive. I've suggested my family's violent war background.

I'm suggesting that "sustainability" (for me) transcends what we eat or how much we use. Those elements are certainly a part of the the whole concept. But I extend the notion into the less tangible aspects of our survival, which include how we treat each other and our planetary cohabitants for long-term peace and coexistence, if that's even possible.

I have been at Holly's blog long enough to realize that most of you abide by a very strong environmental ethic and respect toward animals. But the problem is, that is not my experience with hunting in general. You tend to hunt with each other and I wonder how much of the rough and tumble you see among hunters who don't live the way you do. I, unfortunately, get to see a lot of that. Because I (and those like me) are just picking up the pieces wherever they land. And that's a very non-discriminatory place in terms of the types of hunting and harm I see.

Laurie Smith said...

Based your recent replies, I have two questions for you that if answered would probably clarify a lot for me. That is, regarding your positions on hunting and hierarchy.
1. "There are ample cases of animals removed from their environment at a young age and never learning the supposed instinctive behaviors that drive their species." Can I assume from this statement and others, that you believe instincts are learned behavior?

2. " I don't think we can equate ourselves with non-humans by saying, I only hunt (or do whatever) because it's natural, it's instinct, part of the cycle of life. But then deny non-humans the capacity to do also do as we do in non-instinctive capacities." Do you equate yourself with non-humans in the hierarchy of things?
Josh... Love reading your comments, as you do a great job explaining why hunters hunt; well said.

Holly Heyser said...

Hutch, here's one important thing to remember: You could easily be picking up after me when you rescue injured wildlife. Not varmints or prairie dogs - that's not the kind of hunting I do. But birds? Yes (though I eat pigeons - don't use 'em for target practice).

Here's the point: Just because you find a wounded animal left in some horrible state doesn't mean that tht hunter didn't care, didn't try to find it, didn't try to finish what he started.

Picking up a pile of shells left behind, yes, that's a hunter showing disregard for the environment. Trash? Probably yes, though sometimes it blows away from us, and sometimes we just forget a soda bottle that we've stashed away.

My point is that you can't presume to know what kind of hunters you're cleaning up after unless you watched them, and probably talked to them too. You just can't know what happened.

Josh said...

Hutch, like I said, I understand and love your attempt to lessen your bad impacts.

Now, can you address my comment about local, grass-fed buffalo being less of a negative impact than local vegetarianism? If it were true that the total number of maimings and deaths were lessened by your eating free-range buffalo, would you do it? If it meant that you were respecting more animals' space and habitat, and allowing more animals to get to have habitat and develop as they naturally should, would you eat buffalo?

hutchinson said...

Josh, I believe I answered that. I realize this is a hypothetical, but I can't conceive of a situation where I couldn't alter my vegetarian lifestyle to match the sustainability ethic you describe. I eat from friends' veggie gardens (when I don't have my own, I travel a lot). And I don't eat those foods I know to be the most egregious in terms of environmental and biodiversity (soy, grains, etc.). If it came down to it, I'd subsist on whatever meager food I could, but I'd avoid killing that animal. As I wrote at length, my ideas of sustainability extend beyond the corporeal.

Laurie, If you re-read my statements on instinct, no, I don't believe this. I believe we all have instincts but I also believe there is some measure of choice involved when survival isn't at the root of our behavior.

And (2) I do believe all species are different. But I don't believe in a traditional, human-dominated paradigm like the one adopted by most western, theological and scientific traditions. I lean more toward a Buddhist ethic of Ahimsa as I mentioned earlier. A quote from Cesar Chavez (a vegetarian) best sums up why I don't believe in violence toward animals.

"Kindness and compassion towards all living beings is a mark of a civilized society. Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are all cut from the same defective fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves."

And Holly, yes, you're right. You make an excellent point. And I might say that's actually most disturbing of all. Because I feel like I know you through your writings, I know how much you care. I respect you, in spite of our differences and arguments at times. Perhaps because of them. But it shows that even the most responsible hunters with the best intentions, create untold numbers of cripples and injuries. When you take into account those that don't care, it's a heartbreaking scene all around. But you are correct in that I have no idea what kind of hunter inflicted that injury. I may have to reduce my angst toward the hunter when I encounter my next human-injured animal. But my antipathy toward the sport in general remains . . .mostly because I see the other side.

btw: I saw your latest post about future pigeon hunting. I know there is no season and no limit on pigeons. It's undoubtedly an incredible temptation for all hunters.

But humbly, knowing it may not make a difference, I still ask you to reconsider the recreational killing of these birds. I have in my possession a few rescued, injured pigeons as we speak. Two racing pigeons and one feral. They are among the most intelligent and sensitive birds I've had the privilege to rehab. They are incredible animals and when I see their wing feathers being pulled out for bird training -- or rescue them with gunshot wounds in their breast bones -- or hear people talking about shooting even at banded racers -- I cannot tell you how I wish people genuinely understood these misunderstood birds.

Pigeons have served humans since the beginning of human time, most notably in war. They mate for life and adapt to all of the horrors we humans inflict on them. They are self-aware (recognize themselves in mirrors, can detect subtle differences in famous works of art). They don't deserve our wrath. Some pigeon facts about these amazing birds for anyone who might think about changing their opinion on them:

Sorry to be on a bandwagon, but I've learned so much through working with these incredible animals. And I've seen what happens to them at the hands of humans.

Holly Heyser said...

Ah, Hutch, you've hit on it. It is actually more difficult when we realize our enemies are just as human as we are, not the demons we imagine them to be.

As for the pigeons, I hope you understood that I hunt pigeons for the same reason I hunt everything else: For food. Not for wrath. My personal standard is that I won't shoot anything that I won't eat unless it is a threat to me or my family (human or animal).

But you'd be surprised how little pigeons tempt hunters - though they have a long history as a food source here, they're way out of vogue, and most people think of urban rats-with-wings when they think of pigeons. Who'd want to eat those? That would be like eating urban humans. Yuck.

As for the mates-for-life thing? Same goes for ducks. Same goes for geese. I'll check out your link and it'll probably increase my respect for pigeons. But, as we know from how this whole discussion started, respecting animals and eating them go hand in hand with me.

You are a peach for enduring here. I'm glad you're kept posting comments - your perspective is an important one, even though I disagree with you on the key points of debate here.

Bobby Nations said...


I'm joining this thread late, but what did you mean WAYYY back up at the top when you said this?

(Of course, the thinning of the herd will happen eventually anyway - history tells us that.)

I ask because the historical record for man shows a long progression of ever increasing population. As bad as the occasional black plague or world war were, I don't think that they really had a material impact on the human population numbers as a whole. Or am I missing something really obvious?

hutchinson said...

Thanks, Holly. Nice to be a peach in at least one person's world.

You wrote: As for the pigeons, I hope you understood that I hunt pigeons for the same reason I hunt everything else: For food.

Yes, sorry I wasn't clear. I know you don't hunt frivolously. And you know I don't single out pigeons alone for compassion. It's just that pigeons are so unfairly harmed owing to absolutely no restrictions on how people can treat them. So you could say that in my interest to help the underdog, I had to put in a plug for these beautiful, undervalued birds.

I always knew they were bright but, as the link above suggests, they -- along with other intelligent birds like parrots -- exhibit qualities previously attributed only to humans and primates -- like recognizing faces and letters of the alphabet. The pigeons I'm rehabbing learn new things within minutes. It's incredible.

But you'd be surprised how little pigeons tempt hunters - though they have a long history as a food source here, they're way out of vogue, and most people think of urban rats-with-wings

Actually, I'm not that surprised people don't want to eat them, based on generally skewed perceptions of pigeons. (Obviously, many even non-hunters feel this way about pigeons and commit terrible acts against them, poison being the most egregious.) But that's why I feel their fate is among the most sad. I've seen literal PILES of pigeons, dying or dead, shot by people who have no interest whatsoever in eating them -- or poisoned by pest control companies. It's a travesty that these birds are not protected by some degree of law. Truly. They are living beings, no matter what false negatives humans have projected on to them.

As for the mates-for-life thing? Same goes for ducks. Same goes for geese.

Absolutely, and I've mentioned this fact at your blog myself. You had an incident this year with a drake staying by his dead or injured hen. A friend of mine who works in wildlife rescue up in Washington told me the story of a bear cub who literally had to be ripped from his dead mother's fur after a hunter shot the mother. (The cub was then taken to her facility.)

Two of the pigeons I'm caring for right now are a mated pair who dote on each other and who are the most gentle souls among birds. It stands to reason, given their family ties to doves. Well, they are rock doves, after all. One day, the male got out of the rehab enclosure temporarily and his mate went crazy, frantically looking for him. As I caught him, she was leaping against the fencing, not understanding that I wasn't going to harm him. There really is an emotional connection in bird pairs that a lot of people either ignore or deny.

I realize people are always going to hunt, even after witnessing such profound displays of emotion in animals. But what I appreciate about you is that at least you don't deny these facets exist in their lives. You wouldn't look at that cub and say, "it's just instinct, he doesn't feel anything." It's so easy to rationalize wretched behavior toward animals when you denude them of feeling. I thank you for never doing that. I wouldn't still be popping in here if you were that person.

I know it's been hard for me to comprehend how you can feel that way and still hunt. And I know you've tried to explain it. That will probably remain our point of contention. Based on what I've learned for my immersion in the lives of non-humans, my personal belief is that we can learn so from the very animals so many humans disparage as "lesser." You don't do that. You see your part in the life cycle as more of an equivalency than a lot of people, I realize. You are more thoughtful about these issues than the average person (among hunters and non-hunters). And you could say that I over-extend my welcome here, because underlying our distinct human manifestations, I believe we do share a common understanding.

Holly Heyser said...

Hutch: I too would be very upset to see piles of poisoned or shot (and unused) pigeons. It's just disrespectful.

As for how I can reconcile my acceptance that animals have emotions/intelligence/sentience with hunting them?

Intellectually, this is the order of things - I'm guessing most other predator animals eat other prey animals without denying their inherent worth. That to me is a product of agriculture (again, which is where this discussion started).

Historically, this is something I've written about before: I've read that all hunter gatherers tend to view all birds and mammals as "us" and only view fish as "other." Personally, I think that's unfair to fish, but I relate to it completely - I don't relate to fish. I relate to birds and mammals - we're all part of the same family. So my feelings have deep historical precedent.

Bobby: Think deep history. I've always had a fondness for archeology, which is often the study of collapsed civilizations through their remnants. Great civilizations collapse, whether due to extreme events (volcanoes, meteors), climate change (drought) or disease (always a risk with dense populations). And while we rebounded after Western Civilization's two bouts with the Black Plague, I'd say that disease thinned the herd pretty sharply!

But you're right - we always do rebound. But I do suspect we'll top out some day.

Holly Heyser said...

Just realized that might be unclear: I should say that denying animals' inherent worth is a product of agriculture. It looked like I'd written the opposite.

It's also worth emphasizing (as long as I'm here again) that denial of worth is a product of agriculture, and NOT of the much more historically deep-seated killing for food.

Josh said...

Holly, I'd like to humbly state that I think denying of worth is a product of our current agricultural practices. Many folks practice agriculture (like gardening, or raising three little laying ducks) to reconnect with the value, the worth inherent in the processes.

Josh said...

Hutch, I respect the religious convictions of your vegetarianism, which you hint at in your answer to my question. I understand, from your writing, that it is a religious precept to which you hold, regardless of its impact to particular systems and animals.

My decision to hunt was born of a love for the wild. My decision to eat meat is an ethical decision, not a religious one, and it is based on my relationships with other creatures and my desire for them flourish. I couldn't hunt them if I thought that it had a bad impact; and because I believe that it is a better impact than other activities, I also encourage others to try it.

Again, though, I will respect your religious conviction, even though I think it does a little more harm (if I thought it did offer more respect for animals and did less harm, then I would embrace it completely).

Holly Heyser said...

Josh, I agree that modern agriculture made it worse, but something has to change at the moment we go from coexisting with animals we eat to penning and controlling them.

Bobby Nations said...

But you're right - we always do rebound. But I do suspect we'll top out some day.

The herd thinning examples you give are interesting, but ultimately of little consequence when you step back to a global viewpoint. In overall terms, the black death or 1918 influenza epidemic or even various world wars represent noise in the signal of population growth which has trended upwards for all of history in relentless fashion.

To date, the only reliable brake on population growth have been when societies get rich and voluntarily choose not to reproduce -- as is happening all around the developed and developing world today. Of course, history also teaches that said societies eventually succumb to their younger, more dynamic neighbors whose population is still growing.

I'm no prophet when it comes to whether our numbers will top out or not, but the smart money has to be with the not side of that equation. If, that is, history is to be our guide. Count me with Faulkner on this one; I decline to accept the end of man. :-)

hutchinson said...

Josh, I didn't mean to confuse with the religious references. I sometimes draw upon spiritual traditions if they have beautiful teachings about compassion, particularly toward non-humans. But I'm not a religious person, actually. Don't intent to offend anyone butI have found very little in organized religion that embraces and respects nature and animals the way I do, as part of our own selves. To me, being out in nature is being connected to (as some would say) "the source." That's my religion.

The closest belief system to mine would probably be Buddhism where a reverence for all life precludes the taking of life wherever possible. Jainism as well. Or certain native cultures (including my own animistic, non-religious ancestors). But again, all thought "systems" are rife with human interpretation. I prefer to have my own relationship with the world and spirit around me, whatever form that takes.

So, no. My compassion is not born of doctrine or ideology -- easy though that would be to explain from your perspective.

As I've stated a few times, even in this thread, in my background, I saw much strife -- human and animal suffering both. My family is war refugees. There are those who are subjected to or witness violence who become violent themselves. And there are those who cannot abide by the suffering they see and move in precisely the opposite direction.

I believe I must have made an unconscious choice at a very young age that I wanted to help alleviate suffering wherever I could. It pained me beyond tolerance to witness it. Not change the world. I've been around the block (or woods?) long enough to realize that we are, ultimately -- in spite of debates, arguments, intentions -- only in control of our own actions. And in my own actions, I endeavor to help.

So -- I guess you could say that my work with animals and the environment is bred from an underlying belief I personally have (don't expect all of you to have it) that I'm here to help. Humans and non-humans, as I could. I remember from a very young age, never seeing a distinction between types of matter. Everything was alive to me and perhaps in that young, untethered state, we DO see more of the molecular and physics truth, which is that we are all of the same matter.

Perhaps that's my path in this lifetime because I had this conviction from a very young age. I was that person who caught one fish and was so traumatized, I could never do it again. I was the child who rescued field mice and birds and any living, injured thing that crossed my path. I always stood up for the underdog, even if I got the crap beaten out of me. But I was also broke most of my early existence, so it wasn't until I earned enough money to go back to school and pursue some of my interests at an older age, that I took on my work with genuine fervor. Okay, I'm still broke. But I love what I do. :)

As far as our impact on this planet, I've spent a lot of time answering your questions about my ecological footprint and sustenance. You haven't suggested what your lifestyle is that would be more sustainable than mine. How do you live your life in a way that actually reduces your environmental footprint more than the measures I'm taking? I'm not saying you don't. But I've been the one under the microscope and I think I could argue that I'm doing quite a bit more than most people. If you believe your lifestyle is more sustainable than mine, I'd love to know what you eat, how you transport yourself, what you buy and so forth. If you're aiming to convert me to your point of view, perhaps I will take a different look at your argument if I have more tangible things to work with.

No, I will not take up hunting, sorry. But I might be more open to your perspective if you can show me that you live a life that's more conscious and levels less of an impact on this ear.

hutchinson said...

or "earth." Doh.

Josh said...

Holly, point taken.

Hutch, first, we disagree on the definition of religion. That's okay. I mean no disrespect, nor do I even mean an organized church or community group when I mean religion. I suppose more people are comfortable with the contemporary term "worldview."

Second, I've not asked you about your life as a way to compare your impacts; you have held up your life as a way that is kinder to things than the hunting way, and to this, I respectfully disagree. In this context, then, I shall stay.

When you stated that you would not change your vegetarian ways even if you knew that doing so would lessen your harm to others, because of a spiritual reason, I saw no alternative to your decision beyond the doctrinal. If, ethically, you would hurt 3 animals by your vegetarianism, but only 1 animal by eating meat (plus you would offer those 3, plus the species from which you eat, the chance to live better lives), and you continue to choose vegetarianism, I am forced to look beyond ethics and respect for individual lives and habitats, in order to understand the decision.

Religion offers one path to understand your decision to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle at the expense of more animals than omnivory - that one cannot eat meat because one is commanded to not eat meat, for example (though that isn't the only example of religion, I know). But, when you acknowledged that vegetarianism is preferable to omnivory even if it has more negative impacts, then you seemed to have left the concept of respect for the Earth as a reason for vegetarianism.

I am not angry that you are a vegetarian - but I am surprised that you would continue to think vegetarianism offers more respect for animals, even when you admit that you wouldn't change your lifestyle out of respect for those animals.

As for my life: I do believe that my life as a hunter is more respectful of animals and the Earth than is a vegetarian lifestyle. If I thought differently, if I thought that vegetarianism had fewer bad impacts, then I would change. I'd like to think you would, too, even though you've said you wouldn't...

hutchinson said...


I ask you to re-read some of my comments because you've derived some ideas which are not mine.

First, you write: "When you stated that you would not change your vegetarian ways even if you knew that doing so would lessen your harm to others."

That is a misinterpretation of what I said. You were presenting a hypothetical . . . as in, what if it turns out that hunting in this precise, systematic way turns out to be better for everyone?

It was a hypothetical. And I responded by saying that if this were true, I would do everything in my power to change my lifestyle to match the even greater sustainability of the lifestyle you describe. I believe, knowing what I know about food sources, production and so forth, my life without meat would equal or be less harmful than the one you describe.

But, again, it's hypothetical. Am I making a choice between my vegetarianism, local eating, consumer choices-- and devastating the planet? I do not believe so. You have failed to show me how your lifestyle is less harmful than mine. Have at it and give me some examples of how you live.

If it was established that all of you were somehow manifesting a lesser footprint than I am, I would find ways to lower my footprint through action that did not require killing animals.

So show me how my lifestyle kills more animals than your lifestyle and I might be forced to consider your argument seriously. Right now, I believe to the best of my ability that the choices I am making are resulting in far fewer deaths and overall harm.

Would I eat meat if it resulted in fewer animals deaths? That is a spurious argument because you can't prove that would be true. I maintain that I would find a way to reduce my impact still, without killing animals.

You write: But, when you acknowledged that vegetarianism is preferable to omnivory even if it has more negative impacts, then you seemed to have left the concept of respect for the Earth as a reason for vegetarianism.

Oh please, I did not say this. See the above response.

You write: admit that you wouldn't change your lifestyle out of respect for those animals.

Again, misinterpreted.

And lastly, you say: As for my life: I do believe that my life as a hunter is more respectful of animals and the Earth than is a vegetarian lifestyle. If I thought differently, if I thought that vegetarianism had fewer bad impacts, then I would change. I'd like to think you would, too, even though you've said you wouldn't...

Again, I ask you to show me how that's true. I didn't say I wouldn't change. I said I couldn't conceive of a situation where your paradigm would actually be true. And if so, I would do everything in my power to change my lifestyle according to my "less harm" ethic.

One very silly hypothetical I'll throw at you, but it carries similar logic to yours:

IF you found that killing and eating other humans benefitted the planet -- you know, population reduction -- would you do it? I mean, if you knew that your animal-eating lifestyle was causing so much more harm than eating humans and keeping human population in check, would you change?

I have a sense you'd say no. If you say "yes" then I would suggest that you are operating from a purely mechanistic POV and that you and I are clearly in different camps.

I balance pragmatism against some semblance of compassion -- trying to do what is right for the planet while simultaneously trying not to engage in violence. I think anyone looking purely at numbers devoid of underlying pathos and ethos would sacrifice humanity and enlightenment for incremental gain.

In the end, if you believe in the validity of your claim, cough up at least some morsels of tangible evidence to support your claim -- the way you've asked me to do to defend mine.