Sunday, February 7, 2010

As I See The Problem’s Emergence

Eric, Tovar, Holly and Everyone!

I am going to offer a long answer; I hope you'll stay with me on this and I'll be looking for everyone's response.

I'm in complete agreement on the value of Herman's book. I have made extensive use of his book during both my graduate work and in my professional research and I continue to keep it on my bookshelf. HUNTING & AMERICAN IMAGINATION is an ideal starting point for any deep research into the history of hunting and attached issues if no other reason than because of Herman's well developed bibliography. Herman does make a strong case for "the cult of [Daniel] Boone" and its influence on Roosevelt, Grinnell and others.

We need to keep in mind; however, that Boone's character was more manufactured by the necessities of the post-colonial period rather than from reality. What was needed in that time frame was a national return to the ideals that Boone and similar characters represented. This need, in large part, emerged because of the period's domination by what some believed was a "dandy" or clerk persona that lacked American traditions of strong masculinity and individualism. When we review the literature of the period, and the preceding 18th century, we can easily see that hunting, and of course hunters, were spoken of despairingly from the American (and English) pulpit and unfairly compared to the privileged aristocracy that we'd separated ourselves from. The relationship between colonial culture and Native Americans was not cooperative but combative and the Native American's hunting skills and traditions were treated as barbaric and their relationship to nature proof that their conversion to Christianity was essential because their conversion not only saved their souls but went hand-in-hand with the clearing of wilderness by the Christian pioneers. With this sort of pressure on the majority of young men, notably through the period following the revolution and War of 1812, it is no wonder that as the Jacksonian era emerged with its emphasis on the developing middle and mercantile class, America's forward thinking leaders turned to the Boone legacy as the rightful image for the American male. This is also the time when Henry Herbert (aka Frank Forrester, the father of modern outdoor writing) began his writing career and his writing played on this need for the Boone model. Herman points out, however, that these re-emerging American ideals of individualism and self-sufficiency repeatedly clashed with a majority of the Christian leadership that was still clinging to Colonialism's Puritan principles. In large part this clash was fueled by the continued push for the complete assimilation of Native American culture and all that it stood for. (This push, in various forms, continued right into the 1950s and even the early sixties and it included the elimination of native languages.)

Post Civil War society brought with it a growth of class divisions and with those class divisions, most notably in the later two decades of the 19th century (the Gilded Age), there was a very strong movement in this country to set hunting apart as a "privilege" much as it had become in Europe. I believe that one of the greatest gifts Theodore Roosevelt gave the nation was his Badlands Epiphany (took place sometime on one of his last hunting trips from his ranch in the badlands) in which he suddenly recognized that hunting plays a fundamental role in a democracy and because hunting promotes the individualism and self-sufficiency that are cornerstones of American thought hunting was (and remains) essential to maintaining our freedom and is a right of each person regardless of wealth or social position.

As I see it, hunting and the nation grew pretty much on parallel tracks and even World War II failed to significantly impact it but in the early Sixties there was a series of events that threw hunting into a tailspin: JFK's assassination, Hemingway's suicide, the growth of the Vietnam War and the emergence of a strong feminist movement. The JFK problem brought about a plethora of gun control movements and laws, Hemingway's suicide signaled a questioning of the validity of male gender values that had been central to many of the male-driven and associated principles of the 20th century, and this was coincidental to the growth of a strong feminist movement that directly challenged many of those male values and principles. (Many of these challenges were rightly so.) Finally, before there was any resolution of these issues our nation was deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War and all that it entailed. The feminist movements, with so many of its roots in World War II, truly flourished during the Vietnam era. The Vietnam and post Vietnam eras are also clearly distinguished as the time frame when many Americans began to substitute Native American concepts of spiritual relationships for what had been the independence and self-sufficiency that had dominated the image of the American hunter and coincidently the American male. This is when hunting truly began to flounder. Certainly the migration to urban areas, especially following the Korean War period and the influence of the Cold War, contributed to this separation from nature (there are some good books on this issue, the separation from nature, which I am reading even as I think about and write this). If you take the high points of each of these "issues" and enter them into the changing paradigm of the mental state of the nation you will see that Native American Spiritualism was becoming increasingly popular across the culture as America floundered.

That said, I am having problems with this integration of Native American spiritualism into the psychic of the American hunter as a cure-all for what ails hunting and to provide "the" answer to why we hunt. I do not deny the spiritual relationship that exists between man and animal and correspondingly between the hunter and the animal and thus by simple extension into the psychic of the hunter. We see this spiritual connection every day between our pets (I hate that word) and people. There are so many examples they could fill volumes of books. And yes, I have made eye contact with game, everything from deer to geese and many times with game in Africa. There have been times when I pulled the trigger and times when I did not. But, all that said, my foundational principle is that we are responsible for all animals. I try to let that principle guide me through everything that I do in nature. That responsibility extends to recognizing that when I do kill an animal I must not waste that animal's life.

Looking forward to your responses to this post, I think these are great opportunities to explore the depths of critical issues and even our own belief systems.



SimplyOutdoors said...

I definitely see hunting as a right - no matter what social class you come from.

And I find your historical timeline very interesting. I really have never looked historically at where the disconnect really happened...and I think certain moments of history definitely contributed to that disconnect.

I agree with you, though, as you already know from my comments on a previous post, that I too have a problem with using the Native American culture as a cure-all. I find it hard for us to connect with something that, for me anyway, I truly have no connection with (I have no Native American heritage).

I suppose we shared in some of the same beliefs, and enjoy related activities, but I just can't use their culture to try and connect spiritually with the hunt because we enjoyed the same things. That seems very unnatural and unfair to their heritage.

Hmm...another great post, though. I'm interested to see what everyone else has to say. I hope I didn't ramble.

Tovar Cerulli said...

Hi Galen -

There are a couple thoughts roaming about in my mind and I'll post them soon.

Could you clarify something? Toward the end of your post, you write, "I am having problems with this integration of Native American spiritualism into the psychic of the American hunter as a cure-all for what ails hunting and to provide 'the' answer to why we hunt...But, all that said, my foundational principle is that we are responsible for all animals."

Can you explain what problems you have with the cooptation of Native spirituality? And how those relate to, or conflict with, your "foundational principle"?

I, too, have concerns/concerns problems with this cooptation, and would like to understand yours better.

NorCal Cazadora said...

A couple thoughts, through the haze of a headache:

First, have you read Smalley's work yet? I'd be interested in her thoughts on your theory about the role of the emerging feminist movement on hunting. I wish we could get her in on this discussion. I'm afraid I can't contribute much to it on this point, though - I haven't read enough on it, and I didn't live it in a way that qualifies me to bring personal experience to bear (I was born in 1965).

Second, I'm interested in your foundational principle that we are responsible for all animals. Where does that come from, and why? I believe that we have responsibilities to animals, by virtue of our ability to wipe them out completely (and the damage we've already done to their populations and habitats). But being responsible for them? I'm not sure they need that. And quite honestly - at the risk of sounding combative - it sounds a little patronizing toward animals. But I'm very eager to hear your response.

As for the rest, well, I have another browser opened to and I'll be ordering some books tonight.

Galen Geer said...

Hi Guys,
Today was a dreadful day of running the snow thrower through piles of ice/snow that were made by the city plows. All so Michelle could get out of the drive and then up to Devil's Lake for her clinicals, only to have the roads force her to turn back!
I am working on a more detailed response to both Holly and Tevor to answer questions as best I can.
Holly, I have been reading her work and it is interesting that we both reached the same point on our work. Very quickly, however, I would say that we don't want to confuse the feminist movement outside of hunting with the movement within hunting. I'll try to address the two movements tomorrow--after I've had a chance to get over the pain of riding myself too hard and putting myself away wet too many times. In short, I am in pain from running the snow blower earlier today. :) glg

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, don't worry Galen, I didn't confuse the two at all.

Another author who might have an interesting comment on this notion is Mary Zeiss Stange. In Woman the Hunter, she spends a great deal of time attacking the ecofeminist movement, which condemns hunting as a male=violent sport.

Galen Geer said...

Hi Holly,
Her work is another writer I keep on my bookshelf!
Great Minds read the same stuff--right?