Steven Rinella returns, Bonaparte-steez, to the pages of the NYT, and comes off much better than last time. I have a weakness for an argument that points out functional similarities between culturally inimical groups -- pissing both groups off in the process -- and Rinella manages to do just that by claiming the locovore mantle for himself and his hunting buddies. Not surprisingly, comments are flying as thick and fast as whitetails in Ft. Lee, at NYT, and at spots like SE that mentioned the piece.* There are two themes that come up in the reactions to the piece that seem worth pushing on a little bit. One is "sport" and the other is "pleasure."
One consistent theme of the criticism of the piece is that it is disingenuous, because Rinella is doing something he enjoys, so claiming the righteousness of managing a booming deer population is not legit. Viz:
Probably, but so what? Is the social utility of an act erased if it is not a burden for the person who performs it? The pleasure that Rinella & co. take from hunting leads to the question of "sport," as in "killing for sport." This word carries a lot of different kinds of ideological baggage. Many hunters describe themselves as "sportsmen," and a category exists in the world of guns of "sporting firearms" -- those designed for dropping mallards out of the sky, rather than, say holding up bodegas.*** On the other hand, "killing for sport" is a bad thing -- as in "the polar bear is the only animal -- besides man -- who kills for sport.**** An NYT comment sums up this line of argument:
I notice that Mr. Rinella does not mention, let alone address, the question of the seemliness of killing animals for sport. For sport. We will not improve our understanding of the hunting phenomenon until we grapple with that dark area of the human mind.
The rhetoric is a bit warm here, but it does raise the question of just what "for sport" means. Hunting is a sport, like golf, in that there is pleasure in doing it well, and frustration in doing it not well. I'd argue that killing for the sake of killing is a different business than eating what you kill. If killing for sport also encompasses hunting that involves eating the animals, then what is killing for sport? The question then returns to that of pleasure. People hunt because they enjoy it. For the sake of argument, let's assume they enjoy the whole process -- being in the woods, stalking, etc, rather than the a joy distinctly located in the act of taking an animal's life. (If it were the latter, a job at IBP operating a captive bolt gun would seem to offer more frisson, for less trouble.) In human evolution, the very notion of hunting for sport is a relatively recent introduction. Prior to an agricultural market in meat, hunting was serious business, not a sport. Setting aside the why eat meat at all question. Does commercially available meat change the ethical dimension of hunting? Rinella, et al, engage in an atavistic practice which is no longer necessary, because of feedlots and supermarkets, but do feedlots and supermarkets make it less ok to hunt? I have a hard time seeing how.
The illustrations for this post come from a book that I saw at the Power House, and will have to go back and buy. Buck Shots documents the uneasy relation between humans and deer, and shows the effed up places they end up, because of how we have effed up their world. Ultimately, the questions this book raises may be more important than the question of whether it's cool to think of hunters as locovores.
*Grub St., on the other hand, is not having it. If Rinella reads Grub St. brace for a definite PTP/SMP moment.
**The comment continues thus, suggesting that there is more here than meets the eye:
Every year I have hunters tear down my fence and put their tree stands up in my trees to harvest deer in my woods. Which I purchased. Which I pay taxes on. Where I have lived for 14 years. Where I am afraid to walk from my home to my car or to let my dogs outside to relieve themselves during 'hunting season' because I'm never quite sure what the beer soused hunters will attempt to harvest. As far as Steve's romantic notion that the meat is 'humanely slaughtered' I'm not quite sure I'd call writhing for several days (that's usually how long it takes to get the DNR to come out to end the suffering) with an arrow in the belly, or a shattered limb from a misaimed shot humane.
The notion that hunters are drunk and indiscriminate is one of the consistent refrains of rural non-hunters. To be sure, there are drunk and irresponsible hunters, but the folks in the Mossy Oak have no monopoly on drunk and irresponsible operation of guns or other lethal weapons.
***The astute reader will notice that class pops up in this conversation like a wack-a-mole.
****No idea if this is true, but I have heard it more than once.