Hunting represents a cowardly attempt to escape from a deep feeling of insecurity. It must not only be treated as murder but condemned and banned. There is no heroism in killing living beings that cause no harm
According to reports, Police Scotland has said in a submission to Lord Bonomy, who is reviewing Scotland’s 2002 law on fox hunting, that the latter is unworkable as too many loopholes and exceptions facilitate breaches. It has called for a tightening of the law. This move is commendable. The one by Britain’s Conservative Government to remove the country’s 2004 ban on the same nefarious activity, is deplorable.
Given the strong opposition in the United Kingdom to what used to be a large-scale massacre of foxes in the name of hunting, the Theresa May-led Government’s efforts are unlikely to succeed. The very fact that it is being made, however, shows Britain’s ruling party’s cosy relationship with the country’s upper class rural gentry, from ranks of which the participants in this disgraceful orgy are mainly drawn. Besides, it raises, once again, the basic question: Whether hunting – except in specified cases of public interest like killing a human-eating tiger – should be banned. The search for an answer must begin with the recognition that for the first 2.5 million years of their existence, human beings lived by gathering plants and hunting animals.
As Yuval Noah Harari says in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, things began to change with the transition to agriculture “around 9,500 to 8,500 BC in the hill country of south-eastern Turkey, western Iran and the Levant”. Hunting was no longer necessary to feed humankind. As Harari further points out, “Even today, with all our advanced technologies, more than 90 per cent of the calories that feed humans comes from the handful of plants that our ancestors domesticated between 9,500 and 3,500 BC -wheat, rice, maize (called corn in the US), potatoes, millet and barley”.
Major changes followed. An overwhelming majority of people, who were a part of tribal communities and spent most of their time hunting, now began working in planting, growing and harvesting crops. Later, as barter and trade developed, spread globally and became increasingly complex, they engaged in increasingly specialised functions of buying, selling, transporting, accounting and financing – the last one having emerged as an independent area of enterprise in the last couple of centuries.
A relatively small number of people continued to hunt. Old ways of living and thinking die hard, however irrelevant they may have become. In this case, they have remained particularly ingrained in the psyche because once people’s lives depended on their ability to kill animals that threatened them or whose flesh was needed as food. There was a tendency then to view hunting as a form of heroic activity. Humans, armed with primitive weapons like swords, spears, bows and arrows, enjoyed some but not overwhelming advantage over animals for procuring food or saving themselves and/or their livestock and crops from animals like tigers, bears or elephants, who were more powerful than themselves. It required courage to confront them.
Hunting has now become an exercise in contemptible and unnecessary cowardice. It is not needed any more for procuring food, and is very rarely needed for protection against animals. Also, a hunter now kills a defenceless, and often unsuspecting, animal from a safe distance with a gun, often while perched on a machan (platform) on a tree or riding a vehicle. In many cases, the hapless prey has been driven by people beating drums and making other kinds of noises, to a position to a hunter’s easy reach. In the case of fox-hunting, the hapless victims are chased and cornered by packs of dogs and shot from horseback.
The argument is that the heroism lies in traversing rough, forested terrains and braving the elements in search of prey. But trekkers do the same, and mountaineers much more. They, however, do not murder living beings. Why do hunters do it? The answer that it is for excitement and adventure, for wanting to test oneself to the limits, raises two questions. Does one have to kill to do that? Why not other ways of doing it like rafting down turbulent rivers or crossing the Atlantic on a yacht. Why kill?
Hunting is an exercise in sadism. Erich Fromm writes in Fear of Freedom, “All the different forms of sadism go back to one essential impulse, namely, to have complete mastery over another person, to make him a helpless object of our will, to become the absolute ruler over him, to become his God, to deal with him as one pleases.” From Fromm’s statement, it is a short step to the question: What greater form of mastery can there be than control over life and death? Murder is a form of exercising such mastery. So is hunting – a form of murder – and genocide, the killing of an entire, community or class of human beings or a linguistic group. A horrifying example of the latter is Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jews. It was also one of the most horrendous exercises of sadism in history.
Murder attracts severe punishment in most countries. Genocides and their perpetrators are among the most reviled people in history. Yet, the urge to kill survives because it has been rooted deep in the people’s psyche ever since they emerged as Homo sapiens. Legal and moral condemnation have compelled most people to suppress or sublimate this urge. Some make animals their targets because the latter are excluded from the moral universe that humans have created for themselves and, therefore, their murder is generally not condemned as strongly as the killing of people, nor is their large-scale murder-of wolves in many parts, for example-which is genocide.
All this leaves one with the question: What makes a person a sadist? The answer, according to Fromm, is insecurity, a strong feeling of which tends to envelop a person as he or she grows out of the secure world of his or her mother lived in during infancy and is assailed by the many dangers that the world holds forth. The right way to deal with this feeling is to relate to the world through love and creative work. Not many can do that. Some try to do it by becoming a sadist seeking to control and dominate or a masochist, who surrenders his or her autonomy and judgement to a superior entity – a person, an organisation or an idea – and deriving a sense of security and reassurance as a part of a warm and inclusive whole.
Hunting, therefore, represents a cowardly attempt to escape from a deep feeling of insecurity. It need not only to be treated as murder but condemned and banned.