Thursday, November 18, 2004

I'm not a hunter, but . . .

I'd like to juxtapose two prose passages for your contemplation and comments, the first a recent story that appeared on CNN's website; the second from William Faulkner's "The Old People" (in Go Down, Moses).

HOUSTON, Texas (Reuters) -- Hunters soon may be able to sit at their computers and blast away at animals on a Texas ranch via the Internet, a prospect that has state wildlife officials up in arms.
The Web site already offers target practice with a .22 caliber rifle and could soon let hunters shoot at deer, antelope and wild pigs, site creator John Underwood said on Tuesday.
Texas officials are not quite sure what to make of Underwood's Web site, but may tweak existing laws to make sure Internet hunting does not get out of hand.
"This is the first one I've seen," said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife director Mike Berger. "The current state statutes don't cover this sort of thing."
Underwood, an estimator for a San Antonio, Texas auto body shop, has invested $10,000 to build a platform for a rifle and camera that can be remotely aimed on his 330-acre (133-hectare) southwest Texas ranch by anyone on the Internet anywhere in the world.
The idea came last year while viewing another Web site on which cameras posted in the wild are used to snap photos of animals.
"We were looking at a beautiful white-tail buck and my friend said 'If you just had a gun for that.' A little light bulb went off in my head," he said.
Internet hunting could be popular with disabled hunters unable to get out in the woods or distant hunters who cannot afford a trip to Texas, Underwood said.
Berger said state law only covers "regulated animals" such as native deer and birds and cannot prevent Underwood from offering Internet hunts of "unregulated" animals such as non-native deer that many ranchers have imported and wild pigs.
He has proposed a rule that will come up for public discussion in January that anyone hunting animals covered by state law must be physically on site when they shoot.
Berger expressed reservations about remote control hunting, but noted that humans have always adopted new technologies to hunt.
"First it was rocks and clubs, then we sharpened it and put it on a stick. Then there was the bow and arrow, black powder, smokeless power and optics," Berger said. "Maybe this is the next technological step out there."
Underwood, 39, said he will offer animal hunting as soon as he gets a fast Internet connection to his remote ranch that will enable hunters to aim the rifle quickly at passing animals.
He said an attendant would retrieve shot animals for the shooters, who could have the heads preserved by a taxidermist. They could also have the meat processed and shipped home, or donated to animal orphanages.

The boy did not remember that shot at all. He would live to be eighty, as his father and his father's twin brother and their father in turn had lived to be, but he would never hear that shot nor remember even the shock of the gun-butt. He didn't even remember what he did with the gun afterward. He was running. Then he was standing over the buck where it lay on teh wet earth still in the attitude of speed and not looking at all dead, standing over it shaking and jerking, with Sam Fathers beside him again, extending the knife. "Dont walk up to him in front," Sam said. "If he aint dead, he will cut you all to pieces with his feet. Walk up to him from behind and take him by the horn first, so you can hold his head down until you can jump away. Then slip your other hand down and hook your fingers in his nostrils."
The boy did that--drew the head back and the throat taut and drew Sam Fathers' knife across the throat and Sam stooped and dipped his hands in the hot smoking blood and wiped them back and forth across the boy's face.
* * *
Because he was just twelve then, and that morning something had happened to him: in less than a second he had ceased forever to be the child he was yesterday. Or perhaps that made no difference, perhaps even a city-bred man, let alone a child, could not have understood it; perhaps only a country-bred one could comprehend loving the life he spills.


jennifer said...

This idea and passage from Faulkner brought to my mind George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" as well. I don't know why but the part in that story where the character shoots the elephant and then realizes he has to keep shooting it until it finally dies and then is appauled when he sees the starving people take knives to the barely dead animal just seems rather similar to the idea this guy is proposing. Really though, is there much difference in his 'death for sport' idea than much of the 'games' you can download or buy that allow you to kill, rape, steal, or watch some 'character' do the same? My question (which same redundant at this point, but I'll ask it anyway) is how is "hunting" animals in a enclosed area "as they are passing by" truly hunting?
This very idea reminds me too of the film "Schindler's List" where the Nazi soldier uses Jews for target practice. I'm not suggesting that all who hunt are Nazis or even Nazi-esque but to me, the idea of 'hunting' some animal that cannot escape or defend itself is cruel and lazy and stupid. My husband and I have had a discussion recently trying to differentiate between child abuse and torture. This isn't the idea you pose here but I'm just wondering, is there so much of a difference between willfully torturing an adult for 'confession' (read: power) to torturing a child just because you the adult can? Children are no more capable of defending themselves than an adult starved and held in chains or beaten by many men. I have talked to many abuse survivers whose stories would easily parallel any horror a tortured P.O.W. could tell. To me the differentiation between those two words has an immense power, much like that of 'hunting' for 'survival' and hunting for sport. I can understand and have no problem with people who hunt because they have to or even those who hunt while maintaining a respect for the land and the animal. That said, I truly feel that if we were to completely revamp global capitalism and just take (as the Tobin tax suggests) a tiny percent of the enormous wealth that top 1% in America has, every human being in the world could be fed. I see the idea of creating a internet hunting site as useless. As useless in fact as the current ferver toward reality t.v. and embedded journalism bringing us a bloodless war. I would rather see the ugliness that the Faulkner piece you juxtapose offers. Because it is ugly. Bullets piercing the flesh of any animal is ugly. It is ugly and we should have the face the consequences of our actions, our inactions and our lust for power and control. We shouldn't be able to make reality seem less real or as I wrote once in a poem, "pretty up the ugly." That is the work of propaganda and video game creators. One last bit of rant, as a child my father tried to take me hunting. I went to humor him. He killed a deer and wanted me to help him "clean" it.
I cannot stand to watch movies that show bullets ripping through flesh, bones or skulls. I remember crying and running off when my father held my hand and put a knife in the already dead carcass of a beautiful deer. I also remember the blood and the horrible smell of it. Granted, he used every bit of that animal but I never ate a bit of it. I couldn't. I felt the same when I read Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" and the same when I read this post. It is easy to think of animals as being lesser than humans: less intelligent, less worthy of life, expendable, sacrificial. Funny thing about that though is that history has shown us just how easy it is to picture other humans that way too. peace!

John B. said...

Thanks for your comments. I had actually wanted to supply a bit of commentary in the post proper, but nothing would clarify itself last night. Your posting here is helping that to happen.
As I said, I'm not a hunter. But having said that, I have to say that I'm repulsed by the CNN piece and, admittedly, drawn to the ugliness, as you call it, of the Faulkner piece. It does not make me want to pick up a gun this deer season, but I do find Sam's act humbling and quite moving. (Full disclosure: even understanding the messiness of the ideas behind ritual and ritual sacrifice, I find them powerful, compelling; I DO have a crucifix hanging in my house, after all.) I couldn't find it last night, but somewhere else in Go Down, Moses, Faulkner has Ike (the boy in the passage I quote) thinking back on that same hunt and thinking something to the effect that he must not dishonor the life of the deer he has just taken. And in the passage I quoted, Sam, I think, shows great respect for the buck--even wounded, it has the potential to harm, even kill. No such mutual respect is shown by the proposal: it's an exercise of power--the principle of Foucault's Panopticon transferred to hunting--and an utter detachment from that exercise at that on the part of the "hunter."
The Schindler's List scene you mention is something I hadn't thought about in connection with the post, but I certainly see that now insofar as the occupants of the camp do indeed become fair game and thus dehumanized for the guards. Neither is (even) sport but mechanized and, yes, deritualized slaughter, yet another manifestation of the "because we can" ethos that seems to be our cultural mantra these days.

Alex said...

I don't want to get everyone stirred up, but this invention / concept seems to have a universal application. Since I enjoy reading your blog, I'll leave it to you to write the adventure novel.

Anonymous said...

"We were looking at a beautiful white-tail buck and my friend said 'If you just had a gun for that.' A little light bulb went off in my head," he said.This disgusts me.
I don't understand the sentiment that seems to make people (lots of people) automatically feel the need to destroy beauty. A joy forever, but only if you kill it in its tracks.

I don't consider hunting a sport at the best of times, and this idea that killing things is really fun, and makes you feel like a man, etc. etc. is an alien concept to me (perhaps I just need to give it a go, right?), but compared to this it is the noblest of pursuits. At least it's in the great outdoors, with copious amounts of male bonding and so on. But if any fool with a credit card and a mouse can take pot shots at wild animals without so much as leaving the house then what's the point? And what happens to the animals after they've been shot? For a small fee they send you the trophy? Do people who hunt on the internet even want a trophy? Or do they just want to kill stuff?
I don't get it. And I don't want to.

In a way it reminds me of a banner I saw on the internet the other day, which said "Join the Army! It's just like Xbox — only you die."
Mutatis mutandis, naturally.


John B. said...

My feelings about hunting are complicated. I have no trouble catching and doing what is necessary to clean a fish; deer are another matter, though. I happen to love the taste of venison, but I no longer eat it because of a rule I have: If you can't see yourself killing it, don't eat it.
But. As I said in my response to Jen's comment, there is a part of me that finds very powerful the moment between Sam and Ike. That's attributable in part to my general love of ritual. But I also think that the smearing of the blood is actually a way to establish a connection between hunter and prey, a reminder that the just-slain animal was a living thing like the hunter and so a reminder to the hunter that he too is vulnerable. Yes: in the abstract, hunting-as-sport can be read as a detachment of the person from the land (as opposed to hunting-for-sustenance). The hunters in the Faulkner passage don't HAVE to hunt, and Sam knows that. All the more reason, then, to connect the hunter to his/her prey, so that the animal not become an animated target.
As I said, this subject is complicated for me, and the fact that I don't hunt makes it more so. I can't cause myself to become anti-hunting, but neither do I feel especially comfortable claiming to know what hunting "should" be all about. All I know is that, non-hunter though I am, liveshot repels me to about the same extent that the scene from Faulkner attracts me.