|The Hunt in the Forest, Paolo Uccello, circa 1470 (original at Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)|
We’ve been hosting Chad’s family for a week, a visit that is still ongoing, so in a few days I’ll put up a big post on vegan hosting with some fab recipes and advice. But for now, I want to talk a bit about hunting.
Earlier this year, we hosted an event at Hastings titled Hunting for Answers about Sustainable Use Conservation. It was an impressive initiative by our students, which brought together NRA gun enthusiasts, hunters, and Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) activists and lawyers to talk about hunting. The event was prompted by the brouhaha about the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. Among other guests, our event featured a self-described former vegetarian turned hunter and trapper, who spoke about the “hate campaign” waged against her by animal rights activists.
As with all events funded by the ALDF, lunch had to be vegan. Our animal rights student chapter members (of which I’m a proud faculty advisor) liaised with the other student groups organizing the events, and were puzzled when asked where to find “vegan food vendors.” “How about… the Earth?” asked one of my students. “You do know that vegetables and fruit are vegan.” They were also saddened to see that, in letters to attendees, there was a tone of apologetics about serving a vegetarian lunch. In response to the courteous but overly apologetic email, one attendee, an NRA member, wrote back a furious email, protesting the fact that lunch would not include dead animals (I cannot even fathom what mind produces an angry email about the contents of a free lunch, which do not exclude anyone, and which one is more than welcome to privately substitute for anything they desire across the street. But I suppose my students got a valuable lesson that not everyone in the world is gracious.)
But more to the point: At the event itself I sat with my beloved friends and colleagues, Dave Owen and David Takacs, both of whom know more about the environment than I’ll be able to learn in a lifetime. David, whom I consider one of my closest friends, is vegetarian (almost vegan) and a very conscientious person. During the break, we got into an interesting conversation about hunting–a practice that we all absolutely abhor from a personal standpoint, as we can’t see any pleasure in promulgating death and suffering for sport. I was surprised to hear from David that there were some advantages to animals in allowing hunting on a small scale, in a heavily licensed and restricted regime. Where one stands on this issue has a lot to do with how one sees the natural universe: through an anthropocentric, ecocentric, or biocentric perspective.
Setting aside anthropocentrics, who think the natural world is here to serve us and cater to us, there are two pro-animal ways to examine hunting. David’s view is ecocentric, which is to say, he focuses on the natural world as an ecosystem and on sustaining and encouraging biodiversity as an overarching goal (here’s his terrific book on biodiversity.) From that perspective, selling hunting licenses to rich tourists who hunt for leisure, and singling out prey that is too old to reproduce, can bring much-needed funds into poor communities in developing countries that would better serve wildlife species overall. My perspective, by contrast, is biocentric, which is to say, I perceive all life to be of intrinsic value. I simply do not believe that animals are at all ours to sell, kill, or regulate, or that it is for us to judge who lives and who dies, and I believe than any killing that does not serve an immediate survival goal should be outright banned (and socially reviled as a serious moral crime.)
Part of the reason we differ is that we come to the issue of animal rights from different places. David’s view has been shaped by science and environmental ethics, while mine owes a lot to philosophy (such as the work of Peter Singer, J. M. Coetzee, and Sherry Colb.) But even though I am fairly firmly in the biocentric camp, I have to be honest and ask myself whether the sanctity of individual life holds well in our less-than-ideal world, in which regulated hunting may result overall in less gratuitous cruelty than poaching. I also have to wonder whether it makes sense to view eusocial insects, such as ants, bees, and wasps, as individuals or as part of a group enterprise (maybe, if ants could philosophize, they’d be more ecocentric; that’s at least how matters seem in our kitchen, when they go for a crumb we forgot on the counter!). In short, I know where I stand, but I have respect and appreciation for the competing worldview.