Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sport, or not? Hunting, philosophy, & language

© 2011 Joshua Stark

It's funny, because my title, compared to those at Holly's, Tovar's, and Phillip's, is pretty high-falutin, but I won't go nearly as deep as they.

Currently, these three sites are having a great philosophical conversation over whether or not A:  hunting is a sport; and B:  whether that is good or bad.

Tovar and Holly (and me, to be honest) take the tack that hunting, to us, is not "sport" in the general sense of the word, and that the term dilutes, diminishes, and ultimately harms hunting in the general public's eyes.  Phillip, bless his soul, embraces his hunting as sport, and gently chides us for falling for stereotypes (sport and "trophy" hunters as bad folks), rather than trying to destroy them.  His inference (which he's made more clear at other times) is that the hunting community shouldn't be torn apart by these esoteric distinctions.

Personally, I don't think hunting is a sport, in the general definition of the term.  That is, I believe that the impacts to hunting (physically, emotionally) separate it from the category of sports.  Specifically, I think the fact that you try to kill an animal during hunting (and much fishing) means that it is, inherently, different from other categories of recreation, and "sport" has a dismissive tone to it nowadays that diminishes the gravity of killing.  I, for one, don't use the term for this very reason.

Phillip's argument seems, to me, a bit off-focus.  First, he seems to define "sport" as encompassing all recreational pursuits.  If this is true, then I concede that hunting is a "sport", but I don't buy his definition.  I think there are many pursuits, and that within the realm of recreational pursuits there exists both sports and other things (reading, for example).  There are also some activities that are both recreational and something else, entirely.  For example, many people do not grocery shop as a recreational pursuit, but many people fish for both recreation and food. 

There are characteristics to the common definition of "sport" that do not ethically fit with hunting, especially when considered from the perspective of the non-hunting public.  For example, sport tends to have a competitive element, but when that is applied to hunting, the non-hunting public imagines people who want to kill something in order to beat somebody else, and they tend to be repulsed by this urge.  

It seems as though Phillip is really upset that some hunters condemn certain hunting practices or attitudes, and that this leads to fractures in hunting that may jeopardize it for all of us.  He gives a lecture on the evils of stereotypes, and ends by suggesting that Tovar and Holly are not trying to destroy stereotypes, but are actually bolstering them by taking a side. 

But, this isn't a case of stereotypes, this is a case of identifying unethical actions and condemning those actions.  I (and probably Tovar and Holly) aren't taking a group of people, identifying them by one shared characteristic and then attributing to them additional characteristics that aren't true.  We are saying that a particular action may be, or is, wrong.  In the case of hunting, there are people who hunt for trophies, there are hunters who kill only to kill, and I (and probably Tovar and Holly) do not believe this is ethical behavior.  We have a different standard from Phillip (we don't draw the ethical line at the law, which is a totally different conversation).  But, that's okay.  Hunting, like all good human endeavors, will thrive when people think more deeply about it and talk openly about it. 

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and if hunting couldn't survive public scrutiny, then it shouldn't survive it.  I, for one, know that much of it is good and important to pass down, including the ethical considerations.  I know hunting can survive this argument.

(Note:  Phillip's link doesn't seem to be working, so go to his main website page for reference.)


R. Gabe Davis said...

I have never understood fellow hunters calling the act of obtaining meat from the land as a sport. Why do we have to compete over everything......I killed a bigger buck than you....I tagged out before you. I just don't get it. Next we will be calling farming a sport....hold on we already have contests for biggest pumpkin. Your pal the Envirocapitalist

Josh said...

I love the pumpkin comment.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I've emailed Phillip a response to his blog, since his comment form isn't loading, and I've posted it on my blog as well. But I thought I'd share here the one element that seems particularly relevant to the focus of your post:

I genuinely do not consider what I do “sport.” I did tae kwon do for a long time – that was a sport. I ran marathons and other distance races for a while – that was a sport too. While hunting shares some common features – particularly the need to hone physical and mental skills to succeed – it also has a fundamentally different outcome that involves taking the lives of other living beings and feeding myself with their flesh. See, that’s different. Really different. When football players and gymnasts start killing and eating their competition, I’d be happy to revisit this, but until then, I cannot personally embrace a term that seems fundamentally at odds with what I do, regardless of all the other debates about its value and meaning.

Josh said...

I hate to burst your bubble, Holly, but yesterday I saw Chad Ochocinco rip the heart out of an opponent and eat it on the 50-yard line. If it weren't for that, I'd completely agree with you.

Josh said...

Oh yeah, and Holly: I called you and Hank nimrods over at Agrarianista. But I meant it as a compliment!
; )

NorCal Cazadora said...

Damn you, Ochocinco! OK, I give in. Hunting is sport.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Interesting post, Josh.

I would add one thing, for clarity. In discussing stereotypes and ethics, you wrote, "We [Josh, Holly, Tovar] are saying that a particular action may be, or is, wrong."

In writing my post, I was not out to make the case that certain kinds of hunting are wrong, or to launch some kind of holier-than-thou crusade.

I was not, for instance, out to attack trophy hunting. True, I don’t like the idea of trophy-only hunting, where animals are killed for that reason only. (I don’t think too many hunters hunt that way.) I have a number of friends who admire antlers and refuse to shoot antlerless deer, yet also enjoy and make good use of venison. My relationship with hunting is different from theirs, but are they “trophy hunters”? I don’t know, and I don’t bother trying to pigeon-hole them. I consider them to be fine and ethical hunters. I’m not attacking what they do.

I was simply out to illustrate why I don’t use the term “sport”—namely because it invokes such a wide and confusing range of meanings for people (including me). None of those meanings accurately describe my hunting. And even if one or two of them did, I would never know whether those were the meanings getting through to the people who hear or read what I say and write.

As I mentioned in the post, I don’t waste time trying to convince others not to use the word “sport.” I know plenty of hunters who use it. Their use of it further illustrates my point: When I hear them use the word, I only know what they mean because of context or because of knowing them as people. If I know what they mean, it’s in spite of the word, not because of it.

Now that I’ve written this here, I think I’ll post a similar comment over on Phillip’s blog, now that comments are functioning there.

Josh said...

Tovar, thanks for stopping by!
With all due respect, I do not believe I misinterpreted your words (which you infer in your comment over at Phillip's).

I do not believe in relativism. I've even got a couple of posts on it, if you'd like to read it ( I don't think you do, either.

Couching ethical claims with the phrase "to me" does not absolve a claim of its ethical nature, it just attempts to hide it with manners by acceding to our libertarian social ethos. This is nice, and I concede that you are probably nicer than me, online.

But, you do have an ethical problem with the act of killing simply to kill, or for killing for a competition, right? This surely seems true, as you go out of your way to defend hunters you know who use "sport" by pointing out those actions that are, to you, their ethical bona fides.

By doing this, you have also accepted that the term has certain ethical connotations, that it isn't simply a matter of taste.

In fact, you stay away from the word because of the very ethical connotations it conjures, in context.

Last, in defending your hunting friends who use the term, you seem to be confusing the term, the ethical actions with which you agree, and the people, themselves. Here, I agree with Phillip's comment about stereotypes.

People aren't their actions. Actions should be judged. Tastes can be judged with a "to me" statement, but I don't think you are talking about tastes when you talk about your problem with "sport hunting." I think you have a problem with the actions that it invokes in the minds of the general public - with killing for killing's sake, or killing for competition.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Sure, I have ethical problems with behaviors you mention.

I simply wanted to clarify that my post was primarily about "sport," a term I find unhelpful, not primarily about some of the behaviors with which it is commonly associated.

Some of its referents (like thrill-killing) are ones to which I have ethical objections. Some of its referents (like the concept of hunting as "competition" with animals) are ones that don't resonate for me, but with which I don't have such serious objections. Some of its referents (like the 19th-century conservation alliances that led to the Lacey Act) are ones that do resonate and with which I don't have any real problem at all.

The point I was trying to make is that term is confusing and misleading.

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