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FAQ: Is It OK to Hunt to Survive?

Dear Mr. Robertson,

I was wondering your opinion on the subject of animal rights vs. the rights of indigenous people. What do you think about hunting by Native American tribes, or the hunting of seals by the Inuit? Also, of course, the various other tribes around the world that have their culture based off of hunting. What do you think about their participation in hunting, trapping, etc?

Hmmm, one of those questions…one of those I-wouldn’t-touch-that-with-a-ten-foot-pole kind of questions. Do I risk being called a hypocrite, or “culturally elite?” I could spend all day tip-toeing around this—tap-dancing on egg shells—but here’s an answer just off the top of my head:

My objection to hunting, trapping and seal clubbing is colorblind as well as culture-blind. I oppose cruelty to animals, no matter who is doing the shooting, trapping or clubbing. A victim doesn’t suffer any less because of the ethnicity or cultural beliefs of their executioner. An animal’s right to a life, free from harm, trumps anyone’s right to exploit or kill them (unless someone is literally starving to death and has no other options, which is not the case for most who hunt, trap, club seals, harpoon whales or trade in bushmeat).

Why oppose the Japanese or the Faeroese for slaughtering dolphins or pilot whales and not the Makah for killing grey whales, or even the Inuit for hunting bowhead whales? We’re all part of the species, Homo sapiens, and our ancestors all used to live by hunting and trapping. For better or worse, we’re all moving forward technologically, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t all move forward in our treatment of non-human animals.

That’s my humble opinion, anyway. It might not be popular, but it’s ethically consistent.

Joe Miele on December 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm said:
Funny – I received the very same question, most likely from the very same person. My answer was that any custom or tradition that requires violence and killing is better off falling into extinction (regardless of the culture practicing them), just as the traditions of foot binding, slavery, selling one’s daughter into marriage and hurling virgins into volcanoes have vanished from existence. I further said that it’s time for humans to become a more peaceful species and evolve beyond the violent traditions of the past.
They will no doubt try to pick apart our comments and call us racist, but there’s no racism involved – our opposition to speciesism is what drives us.

theanimalspirits on December 10, 2012 at 8:57 pm said:

Deborah Zarett on December 11, 2012 at 5:16 am said:
absolutely. yet you will continue to find “multiculturalists” excusing still-extant practices done to humans (mostly women) such as FGM and widow-burning under the “it’s part of their culture” excuse. So obviously what’s done to animals is of even less importance to them.
Deborah Zarett on December 11, 2012 at 5:19 am said:
and there is STILL the selling of daughters into marriage or prostitution, and there is still “slavery- it’s just called “human trafficking” or “indentured servitude” now.
theanimalspirits on December 10, 2012 at 8:57 pm said:
Well put. Agreed.

Geoff on December 10, 2012 at 8:58 pm said:
I think you are right on the money here, Jim. While it would be hard to condemn a person living in an agriculturally impossible region like the arctic for killing a non-human animal if the alternative were starvation, most of these indigenous communities fail to see the incongruity of using high technology items (motor boats, snowmobiles, shot guns, high power rifles, fish finders, metal leg-hold traps) in furtherance of their purportedly traditional practices. Not one of these “native” communities could manufacture any one of these products of industrial society, even the simplest, on their own. Once you start chasing whales in motorized boats, shooting at them with rifles, pulling them ashore with motorized winches and then going home to watch HBO while snacking on micorwaved blubber, you’ve given up any pretense of a subsistence life-style. Furthermore, these indigenous types rarely seem adverse to selling off their “subsistence” catch, whether walrus ivory or whale meat or harp seal fur, to the highest bidder from the “developed” world.
While acknowledging that many indigenous peoples are unfortunately mired in poverty, there is just so much sympathy to go around and I, personally, am saving it for the non-human animals
who have been persecuted and victimized by human predators to the point where they are literally facing extinction.

Dywane Brown on December 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm said:
Not even I can argue with that statement. Many so called “substance” “hunters” shot themselves in the foot when I seem them on Discovery channel (which I now dispise) with housing, power, various material possesions including: electronics, snowboards, atvs, snowmobiles, etc. That violates my view on true survival. If it where up to me, men could hunt what ever they wanted, but the catch is you can only use your bare hands like real preadtors (no cheating).

Exposing the Big Game on December 11, 2012 at 4:51 am said:
Right, that’s the reality of it
Exposing the Big Game on December 11, 2012 at 4:59 am said:
And then there’s the guided commercial big game hunts that pit them against those want polar bears protected.

ingrid on December 10, 2012 at 9:16 pm said:
Geoff, your comment about commercial enterprise is an important factor beyond the ethical one. Here in Washington, as Jim knows, some of the salmon netted by treaty agreement in Puget Sound sell to big grocery chains, and the fisheries issue is consistently contentious based on some of these ambiguous delineations.

Exposing the Big Game on December 11, 2012 at 5:01 am said:
Not to mention whale products sold commercially.

louisekane on December 10, 2012 at 10:11 pm said:
excellent commentary Jim, again

Exposing the Big Game on December 11, 2012 at 4:50 am said:
Thanks again Louise!

Jenny Rundell on December 10, 2012 at 11:40 pm said:
No doubt the animals suffered but some tribes in Africa etc. don’t live if they don’t hunt. This is where hunting originated from. The need to survive. I am completely against hunting for sport and slaughter houses.

on December 11, 2012 at 12:55 am said:
I had a “stepmother” of sorts who was of the opinion she “loved” “her” dogs but fully understood and supported people who cage, slaughter and eat dogs because, as she sat back reclining smugly in her easy chair and said, “It’s their culture and who are we to judge?” I hoped for her to end up as the main course in a cannibals’ culture with her having no room to judge. She’d have been screaming loud enough to be heard round the world from that giant stew pot. I of course agree with you Jim, culture is no excuse, not when we have fertile land to grow crops, and world trade, and when we want compassion and peace for ourselves. A saying I got from Klimatik on youtube: Eliminate Excuses… Not Animals.

Exposing the Big Game on December 11, 2012 at 4:49 am said:
Great analogy Laura, I’m glad you agree.

Deborah Zarett
on December 11, 2012 at 5:23 am said:
@Laura: those types of people absolutely infuriate me. Maybe there are tribes in remote areas of Borneo who would like to test her view.

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