Monday, September 8, 2008

Calling out a disgusting comment, and then talking ethics

There exist many great websites about the outdoors. My interests and questions have led me to a number of hunting-related sites, where I find lively forums (fora?) filled with interested and interesting folks, most of whom are very mannerly and helpful. My tastes being more eclectic, I usually find myself in forums related to traditional archery (recurves, longbows, and selfbows) or subgauge shotguns (I shoot a 20 guage). However, two recurring themes stand out in these forums that I want to address - one directly related to hunting, but the other possibly a shared trait in other forums.

The first is the disgusting term, "sss" popping up with alarming frequency every time somebody talks about predators, in particular mountain lions in California. "sss" stands for, "shoot, shovel, shut up", which the person is suggesting someone do when they find a mountain lion. Currently, mounain lion hunting is illegal in California, and many hunters are upset about it, so when somebody posts a topic saying, "hey, I got a great picture of a mountain lion while deer hunting", somebody inevitably posts just those three letters in response. But, regardless of a person's position on this law, suggesting to another that they willingly break it in a web forum is inappropriate, ill-mannered, and unethical.

I have written a short piece alluding to laws and ethics on this blog; if you care to read it click here. I stopped visiting a couple of forums because of the prevalence of this practice, and I encourage hunters everywhere to consider, at least, the implications of suggesting illegal activity to someone who may be a minor and/or get caught in the act and pay a large fine or do jail time. In a future entry I'll attempt to cover the argument in the conservation community over the role of predators in our dramatically altered ecosystems, but for now I'm just going to stay on solid ground and condemn "sss" as a practice, and especially as a suggestion on web forums.

Considering this activity, and considering that the person receiving such "advice" may be a fifteen year-old with no other hunting role models, I'd like to consider ethical advice on forums in general. Of course, I love conversations about ethics (hence the blog). And very frequently people give their ethical views on many topics in the forums I frequent. Ideas like appropriate shooting distances, the nature of hunting preserves, and crossbows during archery season are all very important ethical topics about which many people disagree.

However, when somebody asks to hear others' ethics on a topic, even in the most mundane and calm way, the response is most frequently a defensive claim that ethics is personal, and people should stay out of folks' business. This claim then quickly gets caught up in other peoples' attempts to answer the question, and the ensuing conversation can get nasty. Two ideas come to mind when I come across these conversations: 1) Any of these people could be a child, and many reading it probably are; & 2) Do the people telling the questioner to butt out understand that they are making an ethical claim? The second bears explaining:

Statements with 'should' or 'ought' are ethical claims, in that they tell someone how to act. Telling a person that they should not interfere in anothers' ethical decisions is an ethical statement. The fact that this form of mannerly behavior is so deeply ingrained in our libertarianism does not separate it from ethics, it just makes it a predominant ethical claim, and one, therefore, easier to claim in public.

Granted, this ethical claim has helped make for an amazing, dynamic, diverse and wealthy country, especially when it goes hand-in-hand with our 1st Amendment rights. However, using it as a cudgel to bludgeon others' speech has its problems, not the least of which being the spirit of the 1st Amendment. In the context of web forums, I have a suggestion:

Remember that one of your readers is twelve years old, or fifteen, and forming their first views on hunting (or whatever your topic may be). Include in your description the idea that a person's ethics are individual and are to be respected, if you believe it. But, also include your ethics about hunting tactics, laws, and the like. If it were just you and this kid out in the field, would you do any less? Don't shortchange others' of your ethical perspective. You don't have to preach, though sometimes it'll sound preachy (I know), but in the end, the people who read it will take what they will.

Sure, this last advice is an ethical claim, but, as I'm not bound by relativism, I'm okay with that.

1 comment:

Phillip said...

Interesting lines of thought, Josh.

Ethics and ethical discussions can get awful convoluted, and I've seen some real pretzel logic.

But your point is dead on, and it's one that's been bounced around a few times on other blogs (including mine). We never know who is reading our stuff, and we should consider that when we write... whether it's outdoor tips, strategies, or ethical positions.

Doing so not only makes sure our message is clear and clean, but it also makes us consider what we're writing a little more closely... and maybe will even help us refine our own positions.