There is an interesting series of posts going on at the Hog Blog started on The Thinking Hunter titled An Approach To The Hunter Ethic Problem. Due to the depth of the discussion they have decided to discuss it as a blog forum. To catch up please click on the above links and read the posts. It will be worth your time.
As the readers of this blog know the topic of ethical hunting and the concept of fair chase is at the core of the founding of Orion-The Hunters' Institute, founder Jim Posewitz's books and much of my work at VT Fish and Wildlife and with the IHEA.
Last winter Orion teamed up with the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and Colorado State University to host a think tank on hunting and how hunting could be framed so society would view it in a positive light in the 21st century. Participants included PhD's, state and federal folks, academics and a some NGO leaders. As many of these things go the discussion led to some very interesting but different than planned places. Copied below is an edited version of the report I put together following the retreat. Dr. James Tantillo is currently working on an in depth article as a follow up to our work.
Hunting Think Tank Report
16-18 January 2009
Why are our experiences and this discussion relevant?
The future of hunting is uncertain with hunter numbers on the decline and a big drop off coming as the baby boomers become too old to actively hunt. How we define ourselves will have an impact on this future. If the threshold of what is allowed, either legally or ethically, is set too low, people could decide not to try hunting because they don’t want to associate with folks they perceive to be behaving poorly. To offset this we could take the “elitist, yet democratically available notion” that narrowly defines hunting and makes all other practices illegal.
On the other hand, if the bar is set too high some people will be excluded and never get started. Taking an inclusive approach allows a diversity of philosophies, motivations, and behaviors and follows the Jeffersonian notion of live and let live.
What are the pros and cons of using a broad or narrow definition of hunting?
On the pro side, the higher numbers of hunters translates into financial and political support for agencies and conservation. However, this user-pays model is not viable now and will be less viable in the future, as more non-traditional wildlife users demand more services from Fish and Wildlife agencies.
More hunters also help with hunter recruitment (it takes a hunter to make a hunter has been the mantra).
On the con side, the attractiveness of hunting diminishes as it moves towards the lowest denominator. Non-hunters’ support for hunting in the context of hunter conduct, fair chase, utilization, etc. could and probably will erode if the definition is too inclusive.
Eric Nuse - Is sport an adequate term to explain hunting? It doesn’t seem to go quite far enough to justify the death of the animal. Should we coin a new word or find a better one to represent the context of what hunting represents? Words that come to mind are: the sacred sport or beyond sport, spirit of sport…
Should we come up with an adjective to describe hunting such as: responsible hunting, modern hunting, certified hunter…Or would it be better (although harder) to elevate the term hunting to where we feel it should be and debunk the negatives now attached to it by some?
What is recreational hunting: a conceptual model
Dr. Tantillo presented his research on hunting as a sport. Starting with play (unstructured or free, done for pure enjoyment) to games (rules, specific setting, goals, can be competitive, but done for its own sake) to sport (physical, written and unwritten rules, takes effort, competitive, done for the enjoyment).
Logically speaking, hunting as a voluntary leisure activity (play) has structure and rules that make it structured play (game) and a physical aspect that make it a physical game (sport). These relations are logically entwined whether we like the term 'sport' or not.
Why this matters is because the structure and rules of the game give rise to our concepts and beliefs about fair play and fair chase. Again, this is true whether we like the term 'sport' or not.
Some sports are a variation referred to as athletics. Here the goal is to get the prize, to beat the competition and win. The goal of sports like hunting is in the enjoyment, or recreation of the activity itself ---getting the deer is icing on the cake. The possibility of the kill is necessary but accomplishing it is not, because the joy is in the striving or the hunt.
J.W. Keating addresses this in his1964 article in the journal Ethics, "Sportsmanship as a Moral Category," where he writes about the "purpose" of sport: The primary purpose of sport is not to win the match, to catch the fish or kill the animal, but to derive pleasure from the attempt to do so and to afford pleasure to one's fellow participants in the process.
Tantillo thinks this gets the issue exactly right, and offers one reason why food-based justifications fail: they make hunting ALL about the results, meaning, all about the killing. A hunt is not successful unless it yields meat. The pleasure of the hunt is the hunt itself.
Understanding hunting as a sport helps to cut through the complexity and diversity of hunting practices. Hunting as a sport and the concept of fair play or fair chase in hunting have infinite variety; thus, the notion that hunting is an open concept. It can be defined at the value level in the context of sport, but definitions seem to fall apart at the position or specific practice level.
This understanding could help hunters think about what they do, align their behavior with their reasons for hunting and assist in communicating this clearly to others. If we are successful, hunters will not have to sell the value of hunting. We will have to demonstrate that it is part of our sacred world and as important to our lives as religion and other types of recreation are to all people.
The importance of placing hunting right in the middle of the play universe, delays the tricky question (justifying death of animal) for later.
Jim Posewitz summed it up: “Play>recreation>re-creation>eating the hunted validates the hunter and the hunted. "The Hunt" is born as play amid the pure joy of nature; the game becomes recreation to nature as re-creation. Through the kill and utilization, the hunted and hunter becomes one. When the hunted's renewal precedes all else, the circle closes and the game, sealed in blood, becomes sacred. They become one. Hunters validate the relationship when they assure the environment is suitable for the hunter and the hunted.
John Edwards – Rather than spend our energy defending the term sport hunting -that we already know many hunters and non-hunters find distasteful- maybe a better approach is to define what hunting is in the context of sport and pleasure without using the modifier.
Jim Tantillo - The importance of keeping the modifier 'sport' in mind is that logically this concept provides the only possible explanation of where ideas of "fair chase" come from, i.e. from ideals of "fair play" and sportsmanship--and explains why these ideals are important for thinking about recreational hunting. Whereas law obligates us to maintain the bare minimum standards of codified acceptable behavior, sportsmanship holds us to higher, uncodified standards of behavior, i.e. to standards of fair chase.
And we *voluntarily* elect to follow these higher standards, as opposed to being obligated (legally or otherwise) to follow them.
Other benefits of hunting; and confusing these benefits with why we hunt
If you want to play, you need a playground. Our playground is the environment and all the necessities of life, which are necessary for our lives and the lives of all the animals including those we don’t hunt. Creating this playground takes money, knowledge and skill. All of which hunters have supplied, thus the success of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. But all of these good things are not why we hunt.
When we try to justify hunting on these results, it comes off as self-serving and is easily countered. For example, a common justification for hunting is controlling populations. This falls apart when you look at a hunted species such as woodcock. There is no overpopulation of woodcock, yet we hunt them (and many other species like them). Does that mean they should not be hunted? Even species that need population control can be controlled by many other means such as sharp shooters, elimination of critical habitat or the introduction of predators.
Sacred vs. Profane
The profane world is the world of work and subsistence. You do work because you must in order to live. The sacred world gives you the reason to live beyond the basics of reproduction and survival. Play/games/sport are in the sacred sphere and are critical for man’s psychological and spiritual well-being.
History shows that the Greeks hunted rabbits for fun. Sport hunting has a far longer history than the 100 year span that most people think.
(The rest of this section was added by Jim Tantillo)
The connection of sport to religion is made most explicitly in the literature pertaining to the philosophy of sport, for example in Charles Prebish's anthology, Religion and Sport: The Meeting of Sacred and Profane.
But before we ask how sport can be seen as religious, we need first to see more fundamentally how play and leisure are sacred to humans.
At the risk of over generalizing, the sociology of religion typically characterizes our daily work or our routine daily toil as the realm of the ordinary, i.e., as the realm of the profane; whereas play, leisure, festivity, and celebration are the realm of the sacred.
In Leisure as the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper writes, "Leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself, when he acquiesces to his own being. . . . Leisure, it must be clearly understood, is a mental and spiritual attitude."
This insight highlights the importance of meaningful leisure activities such as hunting for human happiness. In this sense leisure (as is play) is generally seen in contrast to work. Pieper comments:
"Compared with the exclusive ideal of work as toil, leisure appears . . . in its character as an attitude of contemplative 'celebration,' a word that, properly understood, goes to the very heart of what we mean by leisure."
As regards hunting, one might argue that it is the experience of authentic leisure in hunting that is the spiritual experience, not necessarily the experience of hunting per se. Or stated another way, it is the contemplative aspect of hunting that we enjoy most when hunting,.
Here again we see the importance of interpreting hunting fundamentally as a form of play, i.e., as first and foremost a form of recreational activity. As Huizinga writes in Homo Ludens:
"PLAY. It is an activity that proceeds within certain limits of time and space, in a visible order, according to rules freely accepted, and outside the sphere of necessity or material utility. The play-mood is one of rapture and enthusiasm, and is sacred or festive in accordance with the occasion. A feeling of exaltation and tension accompanies the action."
Essayist Diane Ackerman builds upon Huizinga's themes in her book, Deep Play, and she emphasizes both the religious aspects of play but also echoes Pieper's view that leisure is a spiritual attitude:
"Deep play is the ecstatic form of play. In its thrall, all the play elements are visible, but they're taken to intense and transcendent heights. Thus, deep play should really be classified by mood, not activity. It testifies to how something happens, not what happens. Games don't guarantee deep play, but some activities are prone to it: art, religion, risk-taking, and some sports-especially those that take place in relatively remote, silent, and floaty environments, such as scuba diving, parachuting, hang gliding, mountain climbing.
"Deep play always involves the sacred and holy, sometimes hidden in the most unlikely or humble places-amid towering shelves of rock in Nepal; crouched over print in a dimly lit room; slipping on AstroTurf; wearing a coconut-shell mask. We spend our lives in pursuit of moments that will allow these altered states to happen. The Australian Aborigines search for it on wilderness treks called walkabouts, during which young men of the tribe go alone into the dangerous outback to gain strength and wisdom. Buddhist lamas and Hindu sadhus travel, nearly naked, to pray atop glacial mountains in Tibet. People from many cultures have gone on soul journeys into the wilderness, where risk, hunger, pain, exhaustion, and sometimes self-torture might inspire visions. Young Masai men set off on a pilgrimage to Mount Kilimanjaro, the sacred center of their world, as part of the initiation rite known as Moranism. Native Americans have often used ritualized running to scale mental heights. The Hopis stage many such races every year, featuring paint, costumes, fasts, and prayer. The Crow Indians run to exhaustion to persuade the gods that they deserve good luck. The Zuni run twenty to forty miles while kicking a sacred stick. The official purpose of these ordeals may be religious, but the physiological goal is to impel the initiate into a higher state of consciousness that kindles visions and insights, in a locale where survival may depend on a combination of ingenuity and nerve."
The literature on play, deep play, and the theology of play is vast. I used "sacred" and "profane" at the McGraw think tank as a kind of shorthand for the entire subject. To me the concept of hunting as play, i.e. as deep play, again is what explains so much, from understanding the rules of fair chase as resulting from the structure of hunting as play to the experience of the spiritual felt by hunters when they truly lose themselves in the activity.
Harm vs. Offense
This concept can be summed up as follows: “Your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.” Swinging a fist may be offensive but it is tolerated up to the point of doing harm. The American form of democracy allows for offensive people to do what they want as long as they do no harm.
This question gets tricky when you try to look at hunting practices through the eyes of non-hunters and when you project into the future. How much political consideration should be included in our decision making on practices that may hurt the future of hunting?
Definition of Hunting
Sunday morning we came back to the definition of hunting. On Saturday, we were divided on whether we should try to draw a line in the sand – on this side was hunting; on that side was shooting or killing or something else. Was high-fence hunting doing us harm or was it offensive? (It was noted that reasons to oppose high fence operations-such as denial of wildlife as a public resource; thus the denial of several components of the North American Model, such as “public resource”, “democracy of allocation” and allocation by law, among others-are the best arguments against captive shooting operations.)
How about preserve bird hunting such as is practiced on the grounds where we were meeting? Again, evaluation of the circumstances is important, in this case looking at it from topography or location. The McGraw Center is an island of opportunity set in a sea of concrete/suburbia 40 minutes from downtown Chicago. It is as good as could be done in this place and time. Whereas, a western wilderness of millions of acres of public lands is as good as could be done in that place and time- both the product of the conservation ethic of hunters.
Conversely, a high fence operation out on the vast open spaces of
Texas represents a denial of the North American Model and a retreat to the fortress that is not necessary for any real conservation purpose.
Consensus began to emerge that most of these practices did not rise to the level of harm, from the hunter ethic view. Most of us felt that they and some other hunting methods did serve as an entry point for new hunters and opened the possibility for them to gain more skill, so they too could eventually enjoy a wilder and more challenging hunting experience in the future.
Edwards’ comment - We started to consider the benefits of hunting and hunter numbers and explored the idea that if the results of the hunting practice are positive then the practice should be accepted and would constitute hunting. Much of this we wrestled with and I don’t think that we really arrived at a consensus – several unresolved issues. Do we want to make these “open” ideas available to misinterpretation?
Framework for thinking through hunting ethics and esthetics/preferences
We decided it would be very helpful for agencies, rule-making boards and hunters to develop a framework to assist in working through what is acceptable hunting and what is not. This could be in the form of a series of questions, a decision tree or something else. If we do this well, such a framework could over time become the equivalent of the seven sisters of the North American model, and we could offer talks, workshops, and guidelines for asking these questions and making informed decisions. This process could also help locate areas of disagreement and help focus the debate where it will do the most good. Currently there is a lot of time is wasted on fighting over preferences (mistaken for ethics), which only divides hunters and distracts from the pressing issues.