Hardwired for Bullying #3: The Death of Cecil, or Bullying is Like Playing the Piano

This three-part series has been dealing with the problem of innate violence in the human psyche, and once again the topic is in the news. No one has forgotten Cecil, poster lion for the ban-all-hunting brigade. Now the Great White Bow-Hunter has returned to his office, and the news media are salaciously wondering whether the online threats he and his family have endured will be carried out in reality. Don’t get me started on social media vigilantes. That’s a topic for another post.

The argument whether humans are naturally violent has engaged philosophers for centuries, but the SFU study counters the idea that aggression is a learned trait that can be trained out of us. An earlier post dealt with the idea of solving bullying by removing all competition from schools. The same people think that banning hunting, especially of the trophy sort, is going to magically remove all aggression from humanity.
“All or nothing” solutions are suspect to start with, and this method of dealing with human aggression is no different.

Apply This Concept to Hunting
Anti-violence advocates want to ban all hunting. Period. They think this will solve all sorts of cruelty to animals, and send a message that violence is wrong, and make this world a better place and yadda, yadda, yadda.
The SFU study would seem to indicate that this ain’t gonna work. If the tendency to violence is inbred, then when you remove one outlet the aggression is just going to break out somewhere else. All those frustrated hunters would be a great addition to reality TV.

So how does this apply to hunting? And how does it apply specifically to Cecil? According to its apologists, hunting has two major advantages:

1. Economic
Those without money can get food. Those with money can pay for their pleasure, thus helping the local economy. If we consider hunting on a purely economic basis, the best thing any country could do is shut down all hunting by local citizens and sell their wildlife to foreign hunters who pay the most money by far for each animal killed. That’s how economics works. I get the impression that this is what African nations have done, but it hasn’t worked very well. It has turned local subsistence hunters into poachers, and the guides are hired by big corporations who immediately grab the lion’s share (sorry, Cecil) of the proceeds and ship it offshore.

2. Biological
All animal populations are controlled by predators. We have removed most of the natural predators, so human predators are the only factor that keeps prey species from multiplying past the ability of the environment to sustain them. Demands to ban all grizzly bear hunting in British Columbia ignore the fact that grizzlies and humans are already clashing for territory, and more grizzlies will mean more clashes. As with the indigenous peoples whose land we have taken, nobody’s making any moves to give the territory back to its original owners.
The only other solution is for the government to pay exterminators to control the population. (I mean the animals. Treating humans that way has gone out of fashion.) At great expense and without much reduction in cruelty. The recent wolf kill in British Columbia, done by rifle from helicopters, sounds pretty typical.

And Then There’s Sociology
Those who rightly abhor the violence in our society point at hunting as one of the major symptoms. If you consider hunting a survival need of primitive people, it might seem that once humanity has progressed further towards civilization, such an activity should fall away. We’re not quite there yet, and the SFU survey suggests we’re never going to be. Whatever the case, I don’t think an anti-hunting crusade is the best way to move our society towards civilization. Money and passion might be better spent on curing those who prey on the less fortunate members of our own society. As the study suggests, a legitimate, controlled (and preferably expensive) outlet for natural human tendencies seems appropriate at this stage in our development.

Reduction of Cruelty: a Non-Reason
Anti-hunting advocates revel in stories of animals shot and not killed, limping away to die in agony. This is complete media fodder. The fate of the average wild animal is to contract a disease or injury and crawl off to die in agony, or to be taken down by a predator, which often starts dining before the victim is dead. For cruelty, modern human society isn’t in the same league as Mother Nature. (Unless you’re a veal calf or a battery chicken, but in that case it’s the life, not the death, that stinks)

But people who don’t hunt can’t understand, and they never will. I think their best course of action would be to use their energies to ensure that hunting is properly controlled and paid for. But that’s what responsible hunters want, so there must be something wrong with it.

And Now We Get to Cecil, Poster Boy for the Anti-Hunting Crowd

A lion is lured away from his game reserve and killed by an American bow-hunter, who paid $50,000 for the privilege. Turns out Cecil was a research subject, complete with collar. And a beautiful specimen.

Is There Anything Wrong with That?
Here are some points to consider, on both sides of the question:
1. From an economic point of view, fifty grand sounds pretty good for a poor country. However, if most of that money went immediately offshore, this benefit is void. Of course, every cent you spend in those countries for whatever reason: tourism, industry, products for export, is subject to the same disadvantage. Sort of dilutes the argument.
2. Cecil being lured from a game preserve gives me several problems. Sporting, it certainly was not.
3. The loss of the potential data to be sent from Cecil’s collar is a risk run by all animal research projects involving banding. Sorry, boys, life’s uncertain. Ask Cecil.
4. The new Alpha who takes over the pride might kill all Cecil’s kittens: pure media hype. That’s what happens in nature.
5. This was a bow hunter. If you look at the macho value of hunting of all sorts, the bow hunter comes pretty close to the top of the list. You have to be pretty damn close to kill a lion, and bows don’t reload that fast. Sounds like one point on the macho scale for Dr. Palmer.
6. However: Cecil was a game preserve lion, habituated to humans. If they used the usual techniques, he was probably lured by broadcasting the sounds of prey in distress. The bait is often laced, sedating the animal. A night kill suggests lamping. So the image of Walter Palmer, macho dentist, stalking his prey through the African Jungle is rather tainted. I wonder what the guy thought when he found the collar and realized he’d shot a feline Bambi?
7. On the “cruel death” scale, one report suggests that Palmer didn’t quite do the job on his first shot, and tracked an animal with an arrow stuck in its side for 40 hours before applying the coup de grace. So much for a quick, easy death. The media lap it up.
8. The fact that Cecil looks like something out of a Disney movie means nothing except to the media-hungry. A death is a death, and how beautiful the animal was means nothing in the moral sense. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.
9. The fact that people are using this mess as a reason to “ban all trophy hunting” is complete stupidity.

And Then There’s Walter Palmer (Do You Want This Man Working on Your Teeth?)

While I’m generally in favour of meat, sport and trophy hunting, let’s face it, Palmer blew it in several ways.
1. His excuse of complete innocence, “I only did what my professional guides told me,” is nonsense. As the man pulling the trigger (or loosing the arrow in this case) every hunter is responsible for knowing what the rules are. He didn’t figure out that his “professional guides” had no hunting permits? He honestly thought that the methods they were using were appropriate? If he didn’t get the whiff of something besides the bait smelling to high heaven, I don’t think he cared much.
2. While we’re talking about hunting methods, the ones he used have been around, worldwide, for a long time and are considered completely appropriate. When hunting down a dangerous animal that must be destroyed for the safety of society. Not sport hunting for credit with your macho friends. On the he-man scale, Palmer ranks down there just above, “bought my trophy at a rummage sale.”
3. Bottom line; I don’t think Palmer got his 50 grand worth. But he may be getting what he deserves.

A Personal Aside
I stopped hunting with a gun because the most successful methods are rather boring, involving sitting in blinds for hours or hiking through the kind of places where moose and deer wander: swampy and full of brush and mosquitoes. I find camera hunting cheaper and more fun; my Winchester weights ten times as much as my Canon. And dealing with the result of a successful hunt is much less messy and lighter to carry home through the brush.
So I’m not a hunter, although several of my friends are, and from my observation their main pride is in their ability to put food on the family table. They are not bullies, they are not violent people, and their activities certainly do nothing to exacerbate the violence that is happening in our society. They are merely acting as their natures dictate, willingly following the rules of their society.

No, I Haven’t Forgotten the Piano
The point of this whole series is that there is a great difference between the natural aggressive reaction and the conscious decision to bully. While a certain amount of aggression may be inherent in the human psyche, the desire to bully is not. Bullying is like playing the piano. Both are created by an environment that encourages the behaviour and rewards the successful. Practitioners are more or less successful because of inherited individual traits. If you wanted to get rid of piano playing, forbidding all musicianship would be rather futile. Discouraging the instrument while giving people all sorts of other ways to express their musical talent would probably be more successful.
As long as our society encourages bullying as a normal social activity (Attack ads in election campaigns, anyone?) we’re going to have it happening in schools and everywhere else. Banning competitive sports and hunting isn’t going to help much.

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