Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Response To Questions

Okay, I'm back, although I had to use the snow thrower again today. The city plow drivers thought it would be fun to bury my walkway that goes from the sidewalk to the street. Anyway, now I'll try and answer some questions. J

Tovar asked me to clarify my statement regarding my problems with "the integration of Native American spiritualism into the psychic of the American hunter as a cure-all for what ails hunting to provide "the" answer to why we hunt."

The problem is this: Hunting, as we all know, is under constant attack and hunters are being asked to explain the "why" of their desire (or need) to hunt. The majority of hunters, when asked this question stumble about for an explanation. Why should they produce an answer other than one I heard from Peter Capstick when asked about why he did something: "because it pleases me." But, that answer is then redefined as being selfish, blah, blah. In other words most answers can be turned against the hunter. A strong moral explanation for many hunters is provided through spiritual connections. A foundation for this explanation can be found in the commonly shared experience (among hunters) that they do experience a spiritual connection with nature when hunting. Some hunters take this explanation a step further and acknowledge a spiritual connection with the animals they hunt. It is easy to take this perfectly legitimate relationship between the hunter and nature and combine it with Native American spiritualism. This combination, some believe, provides an iron clad explanation for hunters. It doesn't. To the best of my knowledge there is absolutely no connection between North American Native Spiritualism as it relates to hunting and hunters, and the evolution of Western Civilization and hunting. In fact, as early as the time of Herodotus there were rumblings against sport hunting by non-hunting, urbanized Greeks. But hunting remained a significant part of the social landscape and has persisted for all these millennium—so why? I believe hunting exists within our genetic makeup, whether we live in the city or on a farm. It exists because we came from predators (the "scavenger/gather" theory has long been put to rest). Even our closest living relatives in the genetic forest hunt and kill when it suits them (and they will also periodically practice cannibalism, just a side note). Simply put, I maintain we hunt because of who we are. If humans had been denied that predator's gene what odds for survival would you have given the human race? As for suppression of the need to answer that predator's gene, I'm sure therapists have field days trying to unscramble that mess!

My principle of being responsible for animals is quite simple. It began with a long term project for Soldier of Fortune magazine. In the mid-80s I wrote a series of articles on the animal rights movement. As a result of my research (which spanned several years) I found myself trying to position myself on the question of animal rights. What I finally settled on was the principle that "animals do not have rights—people have responsibilities." A deep analysis of my statement produces a wide range of supporting statements, all of which end with the premise that we are responsible for the survival and welfare of animals, domestic and wild. As an example consider the black rhino. In 1993 I had the opportunity to spend several days with Peter Hitchins (founder of the SA Save the Rhino and Elephant Trust) and he pointed out why losing the rhino would be catastrophic—more than 600 symbiotic species of bugs, beetles, etc. would also become extinct. Hitchins pointed out that we alone are responsible for the near extinction of the rhino, in part from over hunting and in large part because we insist on altering the habitat. No other species on this planet now, nor at any time in history, has had the capability to change, and has changed, the entire eco system of earth. We, as a species, have chosen to use this ability to make these changes. That makes us responsible for every other living thing on this planet. Thus, we do not maintain a species to hunt them; we maintain the species because it is our responsibility. We hunt because it is who we are, not because it is who we want to be. That is why we feel that spiritual connection between ourselves and nature when we hunt—we are of nature.

Holly, I hope that I've addressed your question about my position on responsibility for animals. I don't see it as patronizing but as accepting our responsibilities (stewards of the earth simplifies it, I suppose). I suppose we could fine tune the statement from "for" and use "to" except when we say "for" aren't we using the prepositional to indicate that our actions are intended to provide for their welfare (survival)? J At least I hope I've managed to explain myself.

My feminist statement does deserve expansion. As I said earlier, we find ourselves faced with two distinct feminist movements—outside and inside hunting. The movement outside hunting, that attacks hunting, insists that hunting is a physical manifestation of male dominance over females. Perhaps nowhere else is this more fully defined than in Brian Luke's essay "Violent Love: Hunting, Heterosexuality, And The Erotics of Men's Predation," published in the 1998 (24.3) Feminists Studies. There have also been a number of excellent essays published in Environmental Ethics over the past few years and hunting is frequently vilified as being a form of male gender domination. These claims are found throughout contemporary culture. My primary field of study has been in literature but I want to emphasize that the attacks against hunting are not new and we should not do history a disservice by implying that the hunting debate is new (last 200 years). These attacks, as I've pointed out previously, extend as far back in history as the concept of sport hunting.

As I read Dr. Smalley's essay "The Modern Diana" I was pleased to see how thoroughly she explores the literature, especially the male voice in it. I am really pleased that we have followed many of the same text trails in our research. I would like to have seen, however, a bit more history on the evolution of outdoor literature's male voice. The later 19th century incorporation of the feminine voice to soften the male writing was a strong retreat from the direction men's writing had been taking. The early 19th century direction was in large part a response to the claims of the softening of the American male after the revolution and it was attempts to boost American masculinity. (Remember, we had performed rather badly in the War of 1812 except for a few Marines, sailors and Andrew Jackson's rabble, a lesson not lost on the press who were criticizing America's manhood.) Americans needed heroes and strong, independent, virile, men who were successful hunters (and could deal with the blood side) were also thought to be good defenders of the nation. That underlying premise has not been abandoned and one of the most obvious studies of this was in 1978's The Deer Hunter. The way I read Dr. Smalley's work is that women's role in hunting has evolved from one of justification of the sport (the feminizing) to a search for equalizing of roles in hunting. This is also the conclusion I have reached in my own work and I'm curious if you agree. Today, as the role of women has changed, women inside hunting have increasingly clashed with the outside feminist movement which is pushed from behind by anti-hunting elements.

How's that long-winded reply? Answer any questions and, I hope, create more that we can discuss?



NorCal Cazadora said...

Galen, on your first point, we are on the exact same page, although we've come from different places (me from searching my soul, and supplementing that search with reading). We hunt because that is what we do; the fact that most people don't hunt merely demonstrates how much civilization has perverted our true nature.

On responsibility, I still vote for "to" because if we left this planet, the animals would be fine - they don't require us to survive. But I think we agree on the essential point: That what we've done to the planet and what we can continue to do puts us in a great position of responsibility with respect to animals.

On the role of the feminist movement: I believe women's voices still could be used in the same way Smalley describes in "The Modern Diana." Being a woman who writes and speaks about hunting automatically shuts down the non-hunting audience's first impulse to stereotype me and causes people to stop and listen for a minute. Not looking at all like a stereotype gives me automatic credibility - as unfair as that is to men.

But the industry is not systematically using us in this way, so yes, I'd say you're right that the focus of the women's movement inside hunting is on inclusion and acceptance.

Nice post, Galen.

Eric C. Nuse said...

Thanks for the well thought out post. It is becoming clear to me that hunting is a fairly simple activity with complex motivations and rewards to the hunter. From a philosophical view, hunting is deep fun and we know from the study of the human development having fun is very important. From the biological view we know that "Life eats life." and killing game or killing any other living thing sustains human life. Culturally we know doing meaningful activities with family and friends that connects with the past serves to keep society running smoothly and insures an individuals sense of belonging and contributing. Hunting fits all of these roles. Over all this, we live in a democracy that protects minorities from the "tyranny of the majority" as long as they do no harm. Some find hunting and the kill offensive but we can show we do much good, not only in the harvest but in the stewardship of wildlife and the land. We have a long history of this, with results on the land to prove it.
I find when talking to non-hunters and even some anti-hunters, that they appreciate thoughtful answers and an acknowledgment of their concerns. They may not be convinced, but quite often I'll hear something along the lines of; if all hunters were like you, I'd have no problem with hunting and might even try it someday.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Eric: Hence the value of these discussions, even when we ultimately don't agree.

Tovar Cerulli said...

Hey folks - Thanks for all the thoughts. Time is tight for me at the moment. I hope to chime in tomorrow...otherwise it's going to have to wait 'til next week!

Galen Geer said...

Thanks Holly,
Question. On women's voice in the outdoor media what is your view on the women's voice in the outdoor broadcasting media. I truly cannot figure it out. One minute I think what I am watching is expanding the recognition of women in the outdoors and the next time I'm wondering if we're just watching a softend version of gender abuse? glg

Galen Geer said...

The communication problem is one that is a problem, at least for me. I maintain that one of the very important roles of outdoor media (print, broadcast, all) is to present a strong representation of the outdoors. For many nonhunters the outdoor media is often their first exposure to the outdoor sports. glg

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, you just had to go there - like I haven't stirred up enough grief for myself on this subject!

Before I start, I have to say my experience here is limited to the Outdoor Channel and Versus - those are the only ones I get.

My biggest concern about women in outdoor broadcast media is that, to be blunt, you could be a fat, butt-ugly and inarticulate man and still get a regular gig on hunting TV, but it seems you've got to be a hot young woman to get that gig.

Seems that way...

Of course, there are exceptions. She's Beyond the Lodge has featured some fairly ordinary looking middle-aged women, though the main hostess, Pam Zaitz, is beautiful. Unfortunately, I don't think most of the women featured there have shown the charisma it takes to really take off as an outdoor TV personality. I do think that if any of them was as charismatic as, say, Michael Waddell, they could probably get the visibility he's gotten. I'm not entirely convinced they'd be rejected for not being hot.

And I do not have a problem with Tiffany Lakosky - she's stacked, but she doesn't wear low-cut things, so she's really not being trashy. And she really is charismatic, so it's not like she doesn't deserve her role. (I actually feel sorry for her husband, who's been hunting way longer than she has but plays second fiddle on that show.)

Overall, what I like is that I've fairly often seen women featured on shows without the shows making a big deal of the fact that they were women. Just having a normalized presence where we have the right to be every bit as boring, inarticulate or unskilled as many of the men we see on these shows is actually a good thing. I think. Wait, what did I just say? Oh, you know what I mean.

And just in case any of those F&S trolls are lurking here, I must state for the record that I am not interested in having my own show so none of my comments here reflect any bitterness that I am not hot enough to have my own show.

SimplyOutdoors said...

I really don't have much time to write a well thought out comment.....but I'm enjoying reading the conversation:)

danontherock said...

I have followed this with great interest. I hunted with my dad as a very young boy and felt a "connection" with it immediately. It was something that felt natural, deep within me. It just felt right. I love hunting deeply and feel a connection with the natural world that is indescribable to someone who has never hunted.
Some hunters probably still enjoy hunting without feeling a reverence for it and thats fine to. I can explain hunting no more than I can explain why I like a particular color. I feel a "reverence" for the animals that I hunt that has nothing to do with native north american cultures. It is probably as old as human kind itself. Some like to hunt, some love it and some like myself cannot live without it. The paradox of loving animals and yet killing some of them is something that those who both hunt and think must deal with at some time.
All I know is that sometimes afield I feel moments of pure joy and feel and see true beauty that I seldom feel in a civilized setting. When I am hunting I feel truly alive on our beautiful but sometimes brutal earth. When hunting I feel truly alive and connected

Galen Geer said...

I think we've covered some really great ground and had the opportunity to actually do some soul searching.

Holly, my vote is still out on how women are appearing in the broadcast media of the outdoors. There are days when I think they are doing great and really plowing ahead and then I see something where the producers seem to set up the shot so "the little lady" can get the animal. I know that's not fair but I am at a loss to explain it. I will have to say that most of the women on the programs strike me as really first class and I have met a couple of the personality women from the broadcast side at SHOT Show. One young lady was very sweet, very much a lady and she just carried class and charm and made everyone feel special. Frankly, most of the women I've met over the years who are outdoor writers, photographers and artists have all been top notch people and I count many of them as close friends. It has only been with the growth of the cable broadcasting networks that I've started to encounter women of the outdoor media that I would gleefully throw from the train.
Why? I've been in this business my entire professional life and not until the past couple of years have I found myself becoming angry about some of these things. Are the producers to blame or are we the guilty party for trying to create something to meet "our" needs as an industry?
My mother loved to hunt, she always killed many more ducks and rabbits than my father and I learned to deer hunt by hunting with her and she went on her last deer hunt (with me) when she was only 78. So, it's not like I have never been around women in the outdoors.
Yes, I am very conflicted on this level of the women in the outdoors issue. If all we're going to sell are boobs and ponytails in the duckblind we're doomed to fail.
Do you agree?

NorCal Cazadora said...

I agree that that is the wrong use of women (using the term "use" in a fairly benevolent way) in outdoor media - but as long as the audience remains overwhelmingly male, we can expect a certain amount of that kind of pandering. (Fortunately, they unwittingly pander to me with Jim Shockey too - swoon! LOL).

But for what it's worth, I have seen positive changes in the very few years that I've been following this stuff. I'm seeing more women appearing in programs without a huge issue being made of the fact that they're women, which is really what we want - to just be considered hunters like the rest of you.

And I suspect that there are many in the business who would like to do the right thing in this area, but who just really don't know how to speak to the female audience. (There is a parallel in the way the hunting world's institutions speak to the non-hunting world - it's often clear they have no idea how they are perceived by non-hunters, and they seem to make a bee-line to big piles of poop that they can step in.)

Tovar Cerulli said...

Sorry to be so late getting back to the conversation. There are lots of different threads here now, so I’ll just jump in with thoughts in one or two places.

The question of why people hunt is complicated. There’s such a range of motives out there. And multiple reasons overlap for individual hunters, too. I’m not sure, though, that hunters can simply sidestep the question by saying “I like doing it.” I think we need to work harder than that to help non-hunters (and even anti-hunters, as I used to be) understand the complexities. This is, I think, especially true in light of the cruel, wasteful, slobbish hunter behavior too commonly displayed.

Onto another thread: My primary objection to the cooptation of Native spiritual practices (into hunting or anything else) is that it seems like yet another “taking.” Having taking the lands and lives of indigenous peoples through war, disease, and a long line of broken treaties, then having forced most of them onto reservations (usually the least fertile land available), then having outlawed their religious practices and languages and put them through the forced-assimilation of boarding schools, now Euro-Americans want to take their spiritual practices (and places), too? Insult to injury, I think.

Another objection is that we can’t simply “transplant” spiritual practices from one cultural context to another. These things have deep roots. I don’t think we can really understand them just by going through the motions. (I’ve long been attracted to Native spirituality myself, but have taken several steps back to question that attraction.)

On the other hand—-and without romanticizing Native cultures-—I think we can learn important things from them. As you pointed out, Galen, a “separation from nature” is part of what seems to drive Euro-American interest in Native understandings. Another element, I think, is the kind of relationship we have with nature. We have a long history of a conquest/domination attitude toward non-human nature—-in agriculture, science, hunting, etc. Part of what Native understandings have to offer is, I think, a more reciprocal attitude.

Incidentally, I think this resonates with part of what feminism has to offer, too: an important shift away from conquest and domination (whether of women or of nature), toward respect and reciprocity.

In a sense, I could wrap this back around to my opening paragraph about the “why” of hunting. If American hunting shifts in the direction of respect and reciprocity and that shift is visible to non-hunters, perhaps hunting will be better understood and accepted. If it continues to display signs of being more about domination, I suspect hunting will lose support from non-hunters. And deservedly so, in my view.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Wait, Galen, I think I've just found a perfect example of a giant step backwards for women in hunting TV.

Remember how I said I don't have a problem with Tiffany Lakosky? Well, I might be speaking too soon, but I think I do have a problem with this. Sigh.

Tovar Cerulli said...

P.S. As luck would have it, just today I read an excellent article by anthropologist Paul Nadasdy. He points out that anthropologists have often observed an apparent tension between principles of “reciprocity” and “domination” in indigenous hunting practices around the world. Using examples from fieldwork in the Yukon, he argues that this perception has been rooted in a distinction imposed by anthropologists, who have not really understood indigenous views of reciprocal relationships with prey animals.

I gather that here the “domination” principle refers mainly to using trickery and “hunting magic” in the attempt to outwit animals (who are seen as intelligent and powerful)—not to the gratuitous whack-em-and-stack-em attitudes that show up on television these days.

Good food for thought...