A common claim of anti-hunters is that modern-day hunters do not hunt for reasons of food, cultural continuity, and a love for the outdoors. Instead, they say, hunters kill animals in order to get their jollies.
The argument about how we don’t rely on the meat baffles me, because it makes me wonder what exactly my wife and I have been eating for dinner every night. The argument about killing animals to get our jollies is even stranger, and it brings up some practical issues: if hunters really did get their jollies by killing animals, why would we go through the hassle of trying to find wild and unpredictable game animals under sometimes exceedingly difficult environmental circumstances when we could just volunteer at the Humane Society and kill a few dozen dogs and cats in an afternoon, or else get a job at an Iowa slaughterhouse and kill a couple hundred cattle a day in air-conditioned comfort?
If you put this argument to an anti-hunter, they’d point out that we no longer need to hunt; instead, we should be just like them and eat whatever’s available in stores — usually crops raised by farmers who eat meat. (This perspective has always struck me as being very adversarial to the notion of multiculturalism, as it harkens back to the days when missionaries, Indian agents, railroad magnates, and mining companies implored Native Americans to give up their brutal lifestyles in order to come to the reservation and eat the rations that were put out for them.)
That anti-hunters express frustration about our reluctance to adopt their lifestyle says a lot about their weak intellectual grasp of anthropology. Estimates vary, but most researchers agree that anatomically and behaviorally modern humans have been around for perhaps 100,000 years. In other words, if you took a person from 100,000 years ago and transported them to present time, they could learn to master a computer and fly a jetliner. For the vast majority of that time (and still today, in many places), human beings have engaged themselves in the practice of hunting for food. It is as much a part of our biological makeup as is our desire to sleep in shelters, wear clothes, and create art. What’s more, there was never a time when humans, or our human ancestors, did not hunt. In fact, there is archaeological evidence of hunting related activities going back over 3 million years. So when people express frustration about hunting, that it’s somehow barbaric or psychopathic and needs to go away, they should really consider what these remarks might say about their own humanity. And they should keep in mind that old habits die slow – or, more likely, they don’t die at all.
I have one last (rather lengthy) thought to share: hunters should realize that anti-hunters will never go away. The division between us runs way too deep to ever be healed. In fact, the tensions began, as the Good Book says, “In the beginning…” Starting with those first three words, the Book of Genesis captures many of the greatest of human themes. It takes us through the creation of good and evil; it takes us through the curse of labor for men and the curse of labor pains for women; it takes us through murder and rape and incest; it takes us through floods and famines and droughts and plagues; it takes us through jealousy and lust, love and hatred, and devotion and betrayal. That this litany of perennial human themes should include a nod to the tension between hunters and non-hunters is, to my mind, a great compliment to the debate.
The tensions are established in Genesis 25:25, when Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, gives birth to twin boys. The first to emerge is Esau, a man covered in thick fur, “like an hairy garment.” Clinging to his heel is his brother Jacob. “And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.”
These boys get on each other’s nerves right off. Esau the Hunter was loved by his father, Isaac, “who did eat of his venison,” whereas Jacob, the smooth-skinned and stay-at-home farmer, was more of a mama’s boy. One day, Esau goes out hunting with his bow but he doesn’t get anything. When he comes wandering home, he’s so hungry that he’s about to faint. He runs into Jacob and begs his twin brother for some lentils. Jacob refuses to give him any, unless Esau agrees to surrender to him his rights as the first-born son. It’s unclear whether Esau doesn’t take the deal seriously, or doesn’t care that much about his birthright, or really is that hungry, but either way he makes the trade and eats the lentils.
Years go by. Eventually, the father of the two brothers grows old and blind, and one day he calls his eldest son to his side and makes a request. He tells Esau to gather his weapons, “thy quiver and thy bow,” and to “go out to the field, and take me some venison.” If Esau does this, Isaac promises that he’ll give him his blessing as the first-born before he dies. So Esau gathers up his gear and heads out hunting.
Esau is gone so long that his mother and brother have time to execute an elaborate betrayal. The mother sends Jacob out to kill one of his domestic sheep. She tells him to dress himself in the sheep’s fleece, and to prepare the animal’s meat in the style of venison. Jacob does this, and then approaches his blind father. Isaac feels the sheep’s wool on Jacob’s back and mistakes it for the hair of first-born son. He also mistakes the sheep’s meat for his beloved venison. Thus deceived, Isaac bestows his blessing upon the wrong son.
We, the hunters and non-hunters, are still fighting it out.