At this time of year I am forced to bear witness to cruelty and death. I cannot turn a blind eye or I will run off the highway. Dear hunting season is coming, and I must see the slaughter when I drive on the Taconic Parkway, as I do three times a week. I will pull up behind a vehicle, most likely a pick-up truck. There will usually be a decal on the back windshield of a buck’s head drawn in white, a stylized hint of the driver’s penchant for deer blood. Duck hunters of course will have a duck instead. There might be more than one decorative element on the truck, so great is the love of the animal’s noble profile. I don’t truck with truck people enough to know, but I bet they have tattoos of antlered heads, so that when they sit at ease, short-sleeved arms crossed at rest over their expansive bellies, their beloved trophy symbol rises and falls with their meat-filled gut. The fact that hunters relish representations of what they like to kill seems a strange love/hate relationship. I guess hate is involved or are we to conclude that are living proof of Oscars Wilde’s words: “All men kill the thing they love.” I cannot count on being safe, however, in approaching a less imposing vehicle than the pickup truck, as mighty hunters also drive SUVs (mostly of the American persuasion) or even a four door sedan or minivan. The dead animal will be tied to a roof, like a Christmas tree will be tied two months hence, or tied on a little tray on two wheels attached to the back. I will pass as quickly as possible not wanting to stare at the picture of death any more than I would want to pull over to the side of the road and contemplate the road kill. I wonder if there could possibly be anything I could do on a public highway that would get anywhere close to being as obnoxious and repulsive as slinging a large dead animal over my car. Along with having to contemplate, whether I want to or not, the end of that animal’s life and the consequences not only for that one but for others (a doe, a mate, a grazing partner), I am also handed willy-nilly yet another opportunity to confront the mysteries of the human mind, those same mysteries that underlie every horrible event that men (mostly men, and I mean that with the lower case) have and continue to perpetuate. What is hunting? I might hurl various epithets, such as cruel and stupid. Instead, I can establish what it is not: it is not compassionate to animals, it is not careful about inflicting suffering on a living creature, it is not saddened by death, it is not repulsed by pain, it is not the gathering of food to stave off hunger.
How can one not conclude that some people simply enjoy pain, fear, suffering and death (as long as it isn’t their own or even that of their pets)? Do they get in the killing mood through a process of rationalizing their actions? Does this happen subconsciously or is there no need to think about and justify their acts to themselves. If the latter and they have dispensed with thought, would they say that they are functioning from instinct? Instinct is what compels actions of animals (which we are) in the absence of thought. Maybe that’s it; hunters aspire to or actually do enter a nonhuman frame of mind, akin to the beasts who actually do have to hunt to eat (or at least some of them). They revel in shedding or pretending to shed the pesky traits of Homo sapiens (thinking, compassion and the like), but keep the sighting scope, the high-tech rifle, and the duly adorned pickup truck.