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Nov 24 2013

Melissa Bachman, hunting and the ethics of outrage

In my latest for The Guardian, I examine the backlash against hunter Melissa Bachman who killed a lion then posted a picture of her successful kill on social media. The backlash, more than the kill itself, worries me. That doesn’t mean I support hunting – I still don’t know my moral position on it – but it does confirm my worry over pile-ons, hate and indications of sexism that poisons much discussion of women on the Internet. The comments as always are the most interesting. Most are using the section as an outlet to express the very anger and hatred I’m targeting; others question how I can approve of something she did “for fun”; and of course more nuanced engagements about hunting.

The point is, I could be shown that hunting is wrong – in this or that case – but it won’t be done out of mere disgust or hatred of an individual. Further, even if the law must be changed due to the immorality of hunting, it should be changed because of rational argument premised on evidence, not outrage. If laws were made by levels of outrage, my country would not have legalised abortions or equal marriage.

Finally, many people seem to have a problem with Bachman taking pleasure out of her hunt. Some don’t appear to mind hunting for food, but hunting for fun is problematic. Motivations are morally problematic areas. For example, we wouldn’t consider a surgeon who saves lives to be doing something wrong just because she enjoys cutting and accomplishing puzzles more than saving lives; yet that’s the standard being proposed here (The show House, MD is basically all about this).

Hunting, as I say in the post, could actually be more beneficial legalised or even in itself (as in, hunters support the environment, too, etc.). Thus whether Bachman enjoyed her hunt is not the point: it’s whether hunting is good or harmful. Questioning and disliking her motivations and attitude is irrelevant.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I’m glad you posted about this. I did also, a few days ago.

    I oppose murdering animals, humans included.

    Motivations are morally problematic areas. For example, we wouldn’t consider a surgeon who saves lives to be doing something wrong just because she enjoys cutting and accomplishing puzzles more than saving lives; yet that’s the standard being proposed here

    Huh? This is about taking pleasure in stalking and killing. If people talked about stalking and killing humans like this, we would (rightly) think it monstrous.

  2. 2
    John Morales

    I endorse what SC wrote above.

    Thus whether Bachman enjoyed her hunt is not the point: it’s whether hunting is good or harmful. Questioning and disliking her motivations and attitude is irrelevant.

    Hm. This, after your reference to a surgeon’s purpose (saving lives) above when (say) performing a resection?

    Were you not claiming that it’s the purpose of the activity that’s of significance, in that case?

    (If so, then what was the purpose of this hunt, other than personal satisfaction?)

  3. 3
    Lukas

    If the surgeon cut random people open even if they didn’t need surgery, you’d probably not like that, either. So motivation matters if you do something *only* for your own pleasure, at the expense of another living, feeling being. If she was actually hungry and had to kill the lion to survive, *then* it wouldn’t matter if she also liked doing it.

  4. 4
    dickspringer

    People who inflict pain or death for fun are sadists. And nothing is more predictive of adult criminality that cruelty to animals by children.

    I recognize that some animal populations have to be limited to protect ecosytems and controlled hunts can achieve this.

  5. 5
    0508

    My perspective, having grown up in a rural area where hunting is very common (granted, a lot of unpleasant things are very common in rural areas), is that to say “people who inflict pain or death for fun are sadists” with the implication being that all sport hunters are sadists is inaccurate. True, I’ve known some hunters who are most definitely sadists, who get a kick out of watching the animal suffer and die, but I’d say a considerable portion, probably a majority, are not. It sounds strange, since the end result of hunting (well, successful hunting, anyway) is the killing of an animal. But a lot of people who, while they enjoy the act of hunting, are actually averse to the act of killing itself, and try to dispatch the animal as quickly as possible. So while it may be perfectly reasonable to disagree with hunting, to charge that all hunters must be sadists just isn’t correct by any conventional definition of sadism. Additionally, the issue is muddied somewhat by those hunters who aren’t necessarily sadists, but are simply callous to the suffering of animals (which I think is mostly a cultural thing – they learn to disregard the suffering of animals the same way various sorts of tribalism teach people to disregard the suffering ‘other’ people) and don’t care if the animals suffers or not. Anyway, just my observations on the matter.

  6. 6
    Nepenthe

    I also grew up, and still live in, a rural area where hunting is very popular, including in my family. I observe that most sport hunters consider the game animal an object and aren’t concerned with its suffering one way or another. Yet still, the point of hunting is to go and kill an animal, usually in an extremely painful, possibly slow way. (When bow hunting large animals, for example, the animal is killed by penetrating the lungs, leaving it to drown in its own blood.) If you’re not killing an animal, it’s called hiking or birdwatching or sunbathing. Pleasure hunters may not all be sadists, but they have all passed up other outdoor sports in lieu of killing things.

  7. 7
    Schlumbumbi

    The backlash, more than the kill itself, worries me.

    Are you a psychopath or has your ideological socialisation just fubared your perception of priorities ?

    Don’t mind the detractors, we’re not talking about someone who kills reasonably. To eat. To fight a threat. To protect the environment. These are non-issues. We’re talking about someone who kills just for the fun of it.

    If you’re actually serious about your moral relatitivsm, you wouldn’t have anything against humans killing other humans for the heck of it. But you do, don’t you ?

  8. 8
    Tauriq Moosa

    >> “Are you a psychopath or has your ideological socialisation just fubared your perception of priorities ?”

    That’s not very nice. If you’re not nice, you won’t get a platform. Also way to set up a false dichotomy.

    >> “If you’re actually serious about your moral relatitivsm, you wouldn’t have anything against humans killing other humans for the heck of it. ”

    Moral relativism? So because I’m uncertain about my moral position, I’m a relativist? This is related to your false dichotomy above. Just because I’m undecided about whether hunting – even trophy hunting – is wrong doesn’t make me in favour of it or of anything.

    I’m not asking you to agree with me – you can be critical but civil and respectful, as I’m being to you = but a comment asking whether someone is a psychopath is clearly one more interested in getting a raise than in getting a discussion going. Please refrain from the former.

  9. 9
    Tenebras

    I grew up around a lot of hunters too, and I pretty much agree with 0508 up there. I also hate hunting solely for trophies, it just seems like a very shallow and pointless reason to end a life. It’s one thing to hunt for food. Rural communities tend to be poor, and meat can get expensive. A good sized deer can feed a family for long while for a lot cheaper than going to the supermarket, especially when multiple families get together to pool for money for hunting licenses for a handful of top hunters. On top of that, deer get horribly overpopulated since their non-human natural predators are almost non-existent where I live… And frankly I think a bullet in the head or the heart would be preferable to starvation if I was a deer.

    But she didn’t kill a deer for meat, she killed a lion to put it’s head on a wall (if that). Granted the money and the meat goes to the locals who no doubt desperately need it, but I have a feeling there are better ways to support struggling African economies than trophy hunting. Especially considering lions are a threatened species. If that male lion she shot was the head of a pride, the next male that takes over will kill all the pride’s cubs. That’s not doing the species any favors. An expensive camera safari would pay the locals just as well as a dead lion, without having a dead lion. Legal or not, this was not a beneficial hunt.

    But I agree with you about the backlash. Ignorant, hateful, stupid, and misogynistic. Not terribly surprising for the internet. :P

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