Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Differences & How One Method of Argument is Used Against Hunting

Responses to my recent posts have given me reason to think about some of the assertions that I made, primarily in the area of verbal and writing skills. NorCal pointed out some very interesting facts from the USFWS and her own experience that run counter my assertions. I’ll admit to being passionate about my belief in the need for learning verbal and writing skills, regardless of the intended profession. Also, because I did teach Technical and Business Writing, both as a lecturer (Northland Community & Technical College) and at UND, it is a field in which I have some experience.

While teaching, I amassed a sizable amount of research suggesting that companies (English speaking and English ESL) were struggling with a need for employees to have better communication skills (English). This was true across the business spectrum. As a result of our discussion here I became curious as to how much the environment has changed and I did a twenty minute online search, without using any academic search engines, and found an impressive number of studies, all concerned about the problem of a lack of verbal and writing skills among employees and prospective employees. One of the quickest scans for information is the PEW Project’s studies on the problem, but other studies, including the 2004 College Board’s National Commission on Writing, all present an increased need for these skills, noting that two-thirds of all salaried workers in large companies are in positions that require writing skills. While I was teaching at Northland and UND one of the exercises I gave my students was to go through the Sunday newspaper’s “Jobs” section and determine how many advertised positions required good verbal and writing skills (communication skills) for the position. The results were impressive, driving the point home for the students, because the percentage hovered around 80% of the listed skilled jobs and it soared to 90% when we factored in ads that did not list that requirement but were for the same type of job in which other companies did list it. I am sure the percentage will vary by region but it will remain impressive.

So, the need for better communication skills exists throughout both the blue and white collar communities. But, the objections NorCal raised is that the hunters she frequently interacts with, while being accomplished in their fields and possessing high levels of non communication-driven skills, did not necessarily have the higher communication skills. She rightly points out that the lack of these skills does not reflect on their intelligence or any other social measurement, only that their careers have not called for the communication skills. There is, I believe, a separation between her experience in the hunting community and my experience and it has to do with my having interacted more with men (and women) with higher levels of communication skills in hunting camps both here and in Africa. Even though many of these hunters were from traditional blue collar jobs, because of their more developed vocational and communication skills, they were more successful in their fields and tended to rise in position and salary. I am not sure how this translates into the broader spectrum of the outdoor community but I do think it is worth pursuing, if for no other reason than it will help us to better understand the role of our media. I will offer my opinion, however, and it is only my opinion, that as higher education reacts to the growth of social media, and its dependency on more finely developed communication skills, the shift to more required communication studies as the basis of more disciplines will spread exponentially at all education levels. I doubt that many of us will recognize exactly what is being taught as communication skills, but it will be there. Every aspect of communication technology is changing so quickly that unless a person is riding on the leading edge of the wave they are in danger of being left behind.

NorCal does raise a wonderful point about personal experience (specifically hers) not being subject to debate. I differ. I maintain that all provable personal experience is axiomatic to any argument. I use, as an example, an apple on a table. In one test, if two hungry people walk into a room in which a single apple, of which they have differing opinions of its edibility, based on personal experience, has been placed on the center of the table, and they sit in chairs placed on opposite sides of the table in such a way that each individual can only see one side of the apple, personal experience will dictate how each person relates to the apple. If one person maintains that in his/her personal experience that type of apple is crisp and delicious and the other maintains that in his/her experience the apple is mushy and is distasteful then the two obviously disagree on the apple’s quality and should try to reach a resolution. If both maintain that their personal experience is not subject to debate and refuse to debate the apple’s merits then only one person will eat the apple and the other will remain hungry. But, if both agree to debate their personal experience, accepting each as axiomatic of the apple’s merit or lack of merit, and each presents the circumstances of personal experience and why each believes the other is wrong, and then defends each assertion with deductive reasoning so that each axiom is presented equally, discussed, and equally reduced to form one truth from the two; they will reach a finite sentence that will be a proof of the argument (discussion). At the end either the two will share the apple and both have something to eat, or they will both leave the room hungry but in agreement. This can only be true if both agree to reach the finite sentence. If they cannot reach that sentence then the discussion will continue until the apple spoils or one of them tires and leaves the room. (Think Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Now, what does this have to do with hunting? If we understand the principle of the apple then whenever we enter a debate with someone about hunting, wildlife management, or any related issue, if the principle of a deductive series of statements to reach a finite sentence by virtue of the provable statement (axiom) is not present, there will not be a successful conclusion with a finite sentence. How do we know the deductive series is being avoided? Simple, if the other person’s argument includes statements outside of axiomatic “personal experience” or science (soft or hard) but are emotive and cannot be proven or disproved, then the debate cannot reach a successful conclusion. A successful conclusion is when both parties of the discussion agree to the same action by reaching the finite sentence. This is why debaters from the hunting community rarely (if ever) best Wayne Pacelle or his compatriots. He is well trained in the art of argument (debate) and always includes elements in the debate that preclude the finite statement, which creates doubt about the validity of his opponent’s argument. In other words, for every one axiomatic element introduced by the pro hunting side, Pacelle (or others of his ilk and training) introduces an un-provable emotive combined with a provable element, claiming both are axiomatic of the same element. The pro hunting side is always left with the task of trying to disprove one part of the element while reducing the other, which is impossible and creates conflict because reduction requires truth which, as Pacelle and others know, will imply proof of the emotive even though it is only implied proof and is wrong.

Anyway, that’s my take on the role of personal experience but it helps me illustrate why I believe the hunting community loses so many arguments.

I can be very tiring, eh?

Any thoughts out there?


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More On Media Quality-Responsibility

In NorCal Cazadora’s reply to my last post she covers some important points from the USFWS 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife–Associated Recreation report's statistical data as it relates to the education level of hunters. I think we’re in agreement on the need for a higher standard in outdoor media, and when I look at the numbers she quoted (and the others in the report) I believe it is a clear case of the numbers proving the point of my argument—the quality of the material being published and/or broadcast is directly influencing the future of fishing and hunting. I believe that the less appeal published and broadcast material has to the better educated segments of the population the less likely members of that segment are to be exposed to the positives of hunting. As we lose elements of this segment of our population we lose support from incrementally larger segments of the non-hunting population simply by the influence of one over the other.

An interesting example of how our media functions is in a report published jointly by Responsive Management and The NSSF, The Future of Hunting and the Shooting Sports. The report contains fascinating corollaries between percentages of hunter retention, new hunters and non-hunting support of hunting. The report takes the USFWS report’s numbers and plugs them in with other studies to present a broad picture of what we need to do to preserve hunting (and shooting). In one section it does point out that 94% of active hunters watched a TV program on hunting and 22% were prompted to go hunting after watching the program. As for print media, 78% of active hunters read about hunting and 15% were inspired to go hunting after reading about it. To me, this reinforces my argument about the need for quality in outdoor media. Our work is reaching a very significant portion of the hunting public and therefore we have an obligation to maintain a level of excellence.

NorCal does make one assertion that I would debate—I don’t believe we can make a blanket statement that hunters overwhelmingly come from professions that don’t focus on or require high-level verbal skills. Now, things might have changed (and probably have) in the fifteen years since I last ran a hunting camp, but my experience was that hunting had a fairly equal mix of professions so I don’t think we can sort them out in that way. The exception being (as the numbers point out) waterfowl hunting, which has always drawn heavily from the erudite population and I am convinced this has more to do with the requirement to think about the hunt than some other mystical qualification. (It is unfortunate that waterfowl hunting has taken such a serious black eye in recent days.) I also believe that the professions she listed as examples do require high-level verbal skills. In today’s environment the most successful entrepreneurs, engineers, etc., are those men and women whose command of language (spoken and written) enables them to clearly communicate their ideas, whether across the internet, or the board room. Recently, I read a report (which I have since lost, but I’m sure the data is on the internet) that managers were less tolerant of text-speak than ever before and expect their employees to write cognizant, well organized and thoughtful reports whether in email or on paper. The reason for this demand is quite simple—our litigious society. As society becomes more complex the demands of language are going to increase, not decrease and the question has become one of the tool by which we will receive that language. I do agree with her closing statement that there is a widespread tendency to judge people by how articulate they are, therefore, I do believe that the statement proves the proposition.

Be all that as it may, I fully stand behind my previous post and my argument. If we take the USFWS report at face value and do not apply other studies of hunter/shooter/angler behaviors to understanding the meaning of the numbers and what they represent then we are doing a disservice to the men and women who are the angling/hunting/shooting public. If we assume, based on the report, that the majority of hunters and anglers are less educated and by extrapolation therefore less interested in the future of the environment, and the outdoor sports, and consequently dumb down our work, or insist that our contributors do, then we are adding force to what must become a self-fulfilling prophesy—that American hunting is being pushed out of the model created by Theodore Roosevelt (and others) and into the European model.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Response to My Outdoor Media Question

I’ve had so many great comments on my questions about the responsibility in media I think it is time for me to comment.

I think it is a safe assumption that a significant percentage of the audience for outdoor programming is NOT the hunting intelligentsia, but on the same thought line I believe it is very dangerous to make the assumption that the viewing audience is somehow intellectually challenged or lacks the benefits of higher education. For nearly 40 years I have watched, studied and researched our body of literature, and watched this trend of our better writers (broadcasting included) struggle with the insistence that the majority of hunters, shooters, anglers, et al. lack the formal education, or are somehow hampered with the lack of intellectual capacity to understand complex issues affecting the outdoors, or are incapable of grasping the nuance of fine literature.

When we analyze the writings of many of the anti-hunting authors a recurring theme is that the hunting/fishing/shooting community is populated by men and women generally lacking a high school diploma. These writers encourage their readers to believe that hunters/anglers/shooters lack the ability to exhibit compassion for wildlife and cannot grasp the ethical analysis of hunting/angling and the environment. When these writers attack hunting and hunters, angling and anglers, for proof of their assertions, they frequently reference our own media! They focus on broadcast programming’s excessively poor language, outrageous high-five behavior and fishing shows that depict casual indifference to fish being returned to the water—none of which are factual representations of the outdoor community—but they persist in our media because we allow them to.

I think an excellent exercise is to actually conduct a comparison between the housing/education/income statistics (discounting the present economic distress) and the audience statistics of Sportsman Network. There is a very interesting corollary between the data and it suggests that if we examine the characteristics of home ownership and then plug those characteristics into the characteristics of the Sportsman Network’s audience we’ll arrive at a result that proves that the greater percentage of men and women participating in hunting/fishing/shooting are better educated, and by extension better read, and have a much better grasp of the issues (political and scientific) surrounding the environment than the general population.

My question is why, when we consider all of the available information, do publishers, programmers, producers, media buyers, personalities, and even our industry and media leadership, insist on playing to the lowest perceived audience denominator and not to an actual, common denominator that would put forward a better image of anglers and hunters? Is it money? Is it fear of a vocal minority within the audience? Or, is it insecurity within themselves and their own hierarchy? I believe it is a combination of these factors.

Our industry, most certainly our media, must come to grips with the fact that this is not the middle of the last century when the chasm between the pro and con was so wide the actions of the antis were largely perceived as the mumblings of a disgruntled minority. The Silver Springs monkeys, Peter Singer, Edward Abby, Cleveland Amory and a handful of other activists were instrumental in refocusing national attention on our relationship to animals, and ultimately on hunting. By 1990, and into this decade, as tools of the media began to radically change at an increasingly faster pace, it is interesting to note that the outdoor media’s adoption of these tools has been slower than the anti-movement and at the same time, as a defensive measure akin to circling the wagons, the leadership of the varied arms of the outdoor industry (manufacturing, sales, management and media) with support from many of the individuals within those arms, began to insist on a Golden Age, or perhaps more commonly expressed as “the Good ‘ole Days” of the outdoors as having been the ideal before the interference of environmentalist and animal rights activists, often blurring the line between the actual role of the hunting community in establishing awareness of the need for environmentalism and the emergence of the extremists. If we want a date for this claimed interference perhaps the earliest would be 1949 and the publication of Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (A Sand County Almanac; with essays on conservation from Round River), but a later date that is often popularly cited as the opening of the environmentalist movement is Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (Silent Spring), published in 1962. But, if we take the long look at our nation’s history of hunting and fishing we are forced to admit that the claimed “Golden Age” never existed except for a short time in post-colonial America. Neither the populations of the species nor the availability to the hunt by the general population existed in a combined condition that provided the conditions asserted in the Golden Age mythology. This is not to say that hunting, and excellent hunting, did not exist because it did, but it was not universally available throughout the population.

Another interesting, and often ignored truth, is in the alleged numbers of species that were exterminated or nearly so, in westward migration. Outside of a few well publicized species (buffalo, pronghorn, passenger pigeon, etc.), if you have read the journals of the Lewis & Clark expedition and not the “cleaned up” versions found in most libraries, the stunning truth is the expedition very nearly starved to death for lack of game! At one point Clark (I believe, perhaps Lewis) shot a doe deer and before he could reach the animal his starving men fell on it, and in their frenzied desperation for food ripped the carcass to pieces and devoured it raw! Yet, as recently as an outdoor writers’ conference in Columbus, Missouri an exhibit of the L&C expedition completely glossed over the expedition’s trials.

Except for a few familiar species most wildlife was scarce. Some anti-hunting literature argues that the colonial and post-colonial writers’ gushing about the presence of wildlife is proof that hunting has destroyed wildlife populations. These writers ignore the fact that these colonial writers were promoting interest in colonizing by poor Europeans, or in the post-colonial period to entice the stalled westward migration to begin moving. Another important argument, and one that is seldom heard, is that the presence of even a small population of game would be beyond the experience of most of the colonists, and in their enthusiasm would exaggerate the amount of game—a condition that still exists among those of us who are outdoor writers! Another rarely citied argument is that as civilization pushed into the wilderness the wildlife pushed deeper into the forest. The most common argument by the anti-hunting community maintains that America’s wildlife was completely plundered by market hunting and prior to that the landscape was teeming with wildlife. This is an assertion that is not unique to North America. Africa, Europe, Asia, they were presented as having vast number of ALL species. It is simply not true. There were vast herds of specific species (American bison, African wildebeest, etc.) and it is true that these herds suffered from the ravages of market hunting, but it was largely a pre-refrigeration phenomenon that corresponded to the transformation of social structure to urban areas to support industrialization. As refrigerated rail cars opened the possibilities of moving domestic meats to distant markets, whether in Africa or North America, the need for market hunting largely collapsed, although vestiges of it remained as species specific, although even this ended, first in North America and later in Africa.

The mythos of the Golden Age or good ‘ole Days is that there was a period in early to mid 20th century America in which game was universally abundant, a hand-shake sealed all bargains, neighbor trusted neighbor, land was generally open to hunting, the public eagerly supported hunting and nearly everyone hunted, and was a gun owner. All of these are false. Today, in fact, we live in a period of the greatest amount of hunting opportunity this nation has enjoyed since the brief post-colonial period. There are trouble spots and most of us know where they are, but if you are at least older than 55, and hunted in the 1950s and sixties, chances are you remember a time when finding a place to hunt was problematic, but today there are PLOTS, CRP and other lands open that were previously closed. The amount of game is staggering. Old timers here tell me that in the alleged “good ole’ days” they never saw a deer, grouse or partridge and now all are abundant. The Golden Age was a state of mind. Between 1835, which is the birth of what is today’s outdoor writing, and July 2, 1961, American outdoor writing reached its zenith and was a major part of the literary canon, but by the end of the Vietnam War that position had collapsed under the weight of changes in the social landscape, and rather than face these changes and deal with them our entire industry circled the wagons, giving the writers of the anti-hunting, anti-gun and animal rights movements the room they needed to assault public opinion.

My point is that every time a writer decides NOT to write a think piece on environmental issues, or puts an outdoor short story in a file drawer believing no outdoor magazine will publish it, or decides to simplify a text because the editors maintain the readers can’t understand it, or they don’t want to read something “that” complex, or a TV personality mixes metaphors, confuses verb tenses, talks like he/she flunked seventh grade English—three times, and does a sophomoric high five dance around a newly killed animal, the future of fishing and hunting are each cast that much further in doubt. There is no substitute for good writing and there is no justification for poor programming. Ironically, when we go back in the history of outdoor literature we discover that only a handful of decades ago excellence was the standard, mediocrity was not abided, and outdoor literature appeared in literature text books.

Interesting, isn’t it?


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Snow Plow and Small Town Living

I had planned to take an afternoon off this weekend and do some late season pheasant hunting. First, I had to clear the snow that had accumulated Thursday night and most of Friday. It wouldn’t be such a bad job if I didn’t have an ongoing battle with George, head of the City Shop and primary snow plow driver. In a lot of ways I find the whole thing amusing and somewhat reminiscent of the rural mail delivery madman Crumb Petrie in the 1988 Chevy Chase film Funny Farm. In the film Petrie drives over the mailbox, throws the mail at Chase’s character and commits a number of other hilarious acts. Our George hasn’t driven over our mailbox (we don’t have one), but he has buried our driveway in up to three feet of snow on a good day (for George). After he passes with the snow plow I can count on at least half-an-hour, if not more, digging out the driveway entrance—even with my snow blower! The problem is simple enough, George must clear the road and when he passes my drive his plow mounds up the snow.

George is actually a pretty nice guy and we are both members of the Finley Wildlife and Gun Club, but I can’t help but picture a slight upturn of his mouth when he first eyes my driveway and slowly, carefully, and corresponding to the distance closed as he nears my driveway, his features begin to take on a distinctive Snidely Whiplash sneer as the snow that had once blanketed the street is scraped from the asphalt and gloriously pilled in my drive--the new guy's drive. Sometimes, while standing in my kitchen looking out the window and watching George bearing down on my driveway that I had spent half-an-hour clearing (with my snow blower), I want to grab my cane and run into the snow-covered yard and shout at him to spare my driveway, or maybe chuck a few snowballs at the massive plow. Instead, I wonder if my insulated coveralls have finished drying and whether I’ve got any Grabber foot warmers to tuck in my boots while I dig out the driveway--again.

Such is life in a small, rural community in North Dakota.

Maybe a pheasant hunt for Cookie on Tuesday.