Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Between Granola and Antlers

One of the most amazing things about living in rural Ontario is the flora and fauna you get to enjoy. Just this morning I saw a red fox. I wrote a report on red foxes when I was really young, perhaps grade one. There’s nothing outstanding in such sighting here, though. I see deer all the time, birds I never saw growing up, species of fish, and so on, not to mention my personal favourite, turtles. I see them all the time here. As a kid the only time I ever saw turtles was in the pet store. I love nature. The non-black fly and horsefly parts of nature.

            I appreciate nature too, I think. The other day when I was sitting quietly reading by the lakeside a mother and her ducklings came within five feet of me. I felt like St. Francis. But let’s not get crazy here. I also love to fish. Although I have never hunted, I am not the least bit morally opposed to it. Everything for a purpose, I say. Hunting and eating deer is far more easily morally defensible than eating the chicken you bought at the grocery store. The life of a deer is free, as it should be. That of chickens? That’s debatable. I throw fish back that I’m not going to eat, and enjoy every morsel of those that I do eat. I have never observed greater respect for nature than that which I saw in my uncle growing up. He was an avid hunter and fisherman. Hearing a real hunter speak about deer is something. The real ones always speak with deep admiration for the amazing creatures they encounter in the woods. They are the ones who seem to have a real sense of the cycle of life and of the interdependence of all life forms. Hunting can be a real manly thing, much like farming; there is nothing more manly than provided for your family through your sweat and ingenuity.

            I have met a lot of people like this where I am. And yet I have encountered something of the opposite too, unfortunately. I don’t know where it comes from, the ability to inflict gratuitous harm on complex living beings. I have read that there is a link between experience in hunting and efficiency in war: that is to say, that someone who has hunted is far more likely to shoot to kill in war, which, believe it or not, is not something that comes naturally to soldiers. You know that I am not saying that hunting is bad. I am saying, however, that one type of killing is cognitively linked with the other. A child enjoying torturing an animal is a bad sign, indeed. An animal is not a person, but the more closely an animal resembles a person, the more serious a matter killing it is.

            It wasn’t long after moving here that I began to hear boys and young men boasting about aiming for cats or turtles while driving. I had both as pets growing up. I never had a dog as a pet but the idea of hurting one for no good reason was and is unimaginable to me. Of course, I wouldn’t hesitate to kick one who was too close to my children. I wouldn’t hesitate to kill one, were it rabid or seriously injured. Over the years I have had to kill injured birds. I never enjoyed doing this. When I was twelve I even tried to nurse one back to health. As I said, I love both fishing and eating fish, but I find killing them rather distasteful - you have to whack them on the head with a board. But distasteful does not imply immoral. I find changing my children’s diapers distasteful, as they will find changing mine someday, yet it would be immoral for me and for them to neglect this duty.

            There are few objective rights and wrongs here, in my opinion. But I insist that one ought not to enjoy killing anything. I recognize that I am an import into a life-setting that is not my own here in rural Ontario. I make all sorts of allowances for this fact. Nevertheless, I draw a line around the pleasure of killing. I still recall the unpleasant sensation of driving over a family of raccoons I could not avoid on the highway. That was over fifteen years ago. I insist that it is not possible to love God and to treat any part of the world with disdain. I dislike mice with a primeval disdain, and yet wish I were not so irrational about it. This is the cost of being raised by a biologist who taught me all about Hantavirus.

            This evening I had a really enjoyable time taking my kids to the beach. The kids had a very good time, playing all together, just them. I felt thankful that they will be able to look back fondly on times like this one when they are older. As a parent I worry that the life I am giving my kids is not as good as the one given to me by my parents. I was really happy about this one obvious occasion of great joy for them, for all of them there, playing together so nicely. And then some boys showed up, and that in itself was fine. I recognized one of them. They seemed to be playing just fine, somewhat with one of my kids. And then all of a sudden, in a blink of an eye something happened. I looked far across to the other side of the beach to see one of the boys smashing a log, I think it was, on a seagull. And then he did it again and then a third time until it was obviously dead. One of my children laughed robustly – upon reflection, I think it was nervously, likely knowing full well what my opinion of this would be. 

            Evidently the bird was meandering about with a broken wing and the boy took it upon himself to end its life - whether because he could or whether because he thought he should, I do not know. I didn’t immediately know how to justify my anger at this. An injured animal surely should be put out of its misery. But why now and in this manner? I felt I had to do something, but I didn’t know whether I had objective grounds for saying anything. What came to me was that these boys had no right to do this in front of my younger children. This was a public beach. At the very least it was a lack of judgment. So I went over and angrily scolded the boys that it wasn't thoughtful to do this in front of young children. I walked away and loaded the kids into the car. I know most parents would have felt at least as strongly as I did about this, and many likely much more strongly.

            Was this the first time these boys would have ever reflected on their actions as possibly objectionable in some sense? 

            Certainly some of the excesses of country people is as a measured rejection of 'city morality' about hunting, but to do something only because someone else doesn't approve of it is hardly a path to wisdom. I have a feeling that many of the people opposed to wind power are opposed to it because they think it is all a part of a left wing conspiracy about global warming. My reaction is, either it is a good idea or it is not and that it doesn't matter why other people like it. If I could afford to install a small windmill on my house to provide me with free electricity I would do it in a heartbeat. Besides, regardless of whether you buy into global warming or not, don't you think, for instance, that China would be a lot better off if its stopped putting so much coal smoke into its air, and that it could probably do that by building some windmills? Yes, I believe hunting is a fine thing, but that doesn't mean I believe in indiscriminate killing. I am from the East Coast, my father was a marine biologist, I am well aware of what indiscriminate fishing has done to the cod. That's not a left-wing fantasy. That's just commonsense. Aristotle's Golden Mean.


  1. Ack to the seagull killing. Haven't I read that such enjoyment of torturing and killing animals is often a precursor to far worse behaviours? Also, of course you are the only other person in BB raised to fear the deadly Hantavirus. I still hold my breath around mouse droppings.

  2. Naturally I should of thought of you re. the Hantavirus! Nice job, Dalhousie dads!

  3. Definitely agree with you on this one. Isaac has taken to squishing pretty much every bug he sees and it's been really annoying me. Of course, he's not even three yet so he really doesn't know what he's doing. I also agree about the environmental stuff. While I'm pretty sure that global warming is a hoax, there's nothing wrong with trying to be energy efficient, cutting down on waste, reusing instead of throwing out, etc. Even putting the environment aside, it's clear that our way of life is pretty drastically greedy and wasteful.

  4. As with anything, children need direction. A two-year-old squishing bugs is perfectly normal, but are you never going to say "hey, kid, you can't do everything that curiosity leads you to. There are other considerations here." Starts with bugs, goes to squirrels, then to cats. A little kid bit me last night (not my own). "Oh, that's just how he shows affection..." Imagine if a parent actually said that? lol. There is an objective right and wrong, people. Life is complicated and you need to think more about it than what you were able to figure out on your own at 2, 4 or 12 years of age. I think those boys on the beach needed more hands-on parenting.

    As for global warming, sure it's possible, sure it's possible it's not possible. But litter, waste, pollution, these things can't be defended either way. People need to start thinking and stop fitting themselves into types.

    Hopefully I'll see you guys tonight!