Short answers to easy questions

by Daniel on September 19, 2004

With apologies to The Poor Man, an application of this strategy to an issue which appears to be confusing surprisingly many surprisingly intelligent minds in the British Isles:

Why are people so keen to ban fox-hunting when (fishing, battery farming, meat eating in general, mousetraps etc) are responsible for much more animal death and suffering?

Because hunting foxes with dogs is a sadistic pleasure.

Next week, I may tackle the question of why the Beslan siege appalled us more than the ongoing deaths of children through malnutrition and disease in Africa. Or I may not.

{ 45 comments }

1

Jim D 09.19.04 at 9:38 pm

My first reaction: “Of course, I think what the British are doing with this fox-hunting thing is totally un-American.”

My second reaction: “You know, there might be a good reason for that…”

My third reaction: “Oh screw it. Yay foxes! Boo hunters!”

2

smitty 09.19.04 at 10:01 pm

It’s mainly a class thing, the English left opposes fox hunting because the English gentry engage in it.

“The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.”

3

dsquared 09.19.04 at 10:12 pm

Since 70% of the population of the UK is in favour of a ban on fox-hunting, the Left must be bigger than I thought.

4

son volt 09.19.04 at 10:16 pm

Cf Samuel Johnson, who famously said that we don’t ban bearbaiting for its effect on the bear, but for its effect on the people engaged in it.

I don’t know if the opposition to foxhunting reduces entirely to class resentment, though telling aristocrats they are uncivilized is no doubt part of the appeal.

5

Sam Dodsworth 09.19.04 at 10:36 pm

I don’t know if the opposition to foxhunting reduces entirely to class resentment…

If it helps, it’s worth remembering that:

(i) A sentimental dislike of cruelty to animals is notoriously a part of the English national character.

(ii) Fox hunting involves furry creatures being torn apart by dogs.

6

Mrs Tilton 09.19.04 at 11:23 pm

Cf Samuel Johnson, who famously said that we don’t ban bearbaiting for its effect on the bear, but for its effect on the people engaged in it.

That Johnson man, whoever he was, had sound tory instincts.

If his analysis is correct, then those of us who like Mill better than Johnson will be opposing the hunting ban, for all that Daniel’s short answer is right.

7

dsquared 09.19.04 at 11:31 pm

Nope, Mill was on our side as well; “The reasons for legal intervention in favor of children apply not less strongly to the case of those unfortunate slaves–the animals”.

What d’you think about badger-baiting and dog-fighting, Mrs T? Ought to be legalised?

8

Otto 09.19.04 at 11:44 pm

Granted ad arguendo the fact that fox hunting is a sadistic pleasure, that is a distinction between fox hunting on the one hand and fishing/battery farming/etc on the other. It is not in itself a reason for preferring to ban the sadistic pleasure rather than acts that cause more suffering to animals. One could easily claim that political action should focus on annimal suffering priorities rather than being driven by an agenda of addressing sadistic pleasures.

9

otto 09.19.04 at 11:49 pm

“Next week, I may tackle the question of why the Beslan siege appalled us more than the ongoing deaths of children through malnutrition and disease in Africa”

If you think the logic of emphasising Beslan over African malnutrition and disease is questionable, the same applies to emphasising fox-hunting over battery farming.

10

dsquared 09.20.04 at 12:30 am

I can see that we’re going to have to start calling you “Sherlock”, otto.

11

PG 09.20.04 at 12:38 am

Opposition to fox-hunting is racist, actually.

12

ayjay 09.20.04 at 12:53 am

For what it’s worth, it wasn’t Samuel Johnson who made that comment about bear-baiting. It was T. B. Macaulay in his History of England, and what he said was that that was why the Puritans banned bear-baiting: not because of the pain it gave the bear but the pleasure it gave the spectators.

13

Tom T. 09.20.04 at 12:57 am

Even in the US, where game hunting appears to have continuing popular support, don’t most US jurisdictions ban cock-fighting? It seems to me that (many? most? some?) people perceive a continuum of moral acceptability that decreases as one moves from killing animals for food and killing them for show, and it does not seem inherently unreasonable to decide that fox-hunting falls closer to the lower end.

14

dsquared 09.20.04 at 1:05 am

IIRC, the cockfighting issue was responsible for Gore winning Oklahoma in 2000. The referendum on banning it was on the same ballot, so a load of working-class Okies from the East of the state came out to vote on that, and boosted the turnout. (I may be wrong).

Also IIRC, after the ban went down in OK, Kentucky is the last cockfighting state in the Union. Very few cockfights took place in OK, but they bred birds for the Philippines.

15

y81 09.20.04 at 1:23 am

Hounds, not dogs. Also, ad arguendum (accusative case), not ad arguendo (ablative case). At least someone corrected the misattribution of the Macaulay quote.

16

dsquared 09.20.04 at 1:29 am

Y81: No, dogs, not hounds. You may have technical terms for your local pack of beagles, but the Act is meant to ban hare coursing, staghounds and all forms of hunting with dogs. Hence it uses the term “dogs”.

17

will 09.20.04 at 1:34 am

Gore didn’t win OK in 2000. You may be thinking of Dem Gov. Brad Henry, who opposed the ban.

18

jam 09.20.04 at 1:45 am

Yes. The ban on fox-hunting will not aid foxes. If gamekeepers are not required to preserve foxes to be hunted, they (the foxes not the gamekeepers) will be shot. But killing them will not be a sadistic pleasure. It will simply be part of what needs to be done to ensure a large supply of pheasants (and other game birds) for the upper classes’ shooting pleasure.

19

Yuval Rubinstein 09.20.04 at 1:59 am

While we’re on the subject of British oddities, could someone (logically) explain the meaning of this?

Stretches of the British countryside were opened to the public for the first time in centuries yesterday. Thousands of ramblers took to the hills in celebration of their right to roam.
The long-awaited legislation – first proposed 120 years ago and defeated 10 times since – came into force in parts of north-west and south-east England. Other areas will follow.
Showers greeted walkers as they set off for the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire yesterday morning. A spokesman for the Ramblers’ Association said the mood was nonetheless very cheerful, with local people joined by representatives of the Countryside Agency, the Country Land and Business Association and Moorland Association on the inaugural hike across previously forbidden territory.

20

BenA 09.20.04 at 2:13 am

In 2002, cockfighting was outlawed by referendum in Oklahoma. And, yes, some political commentators think that the referendum brought yellow-dog rural Democrats to the polls who otherwise wouldn’t have voted, thus electing Democrat Brad Henry governor. (FWIW, Henry also benefitted from running in a three way race, and, most of all, from being endorsed by ever-popular former OU head football coach Barry Switzer.)

With cockfighting illegal in Oklahoma, it is now legal in two states: New Mexico and Louisiana.

Some more fun facts about cockfighting:

Cockfighting is all about gambling. And in Oklahoma (unlike Louisiana…I’m not sure about NM), gambling on cockfighting was illegal.

Cockfighting was legal in Oklahoma because a judge in the 1960s ruled that our state’s animal cruelty laws didn’t apply to chickens as chickens are not animals.

The class base of cockfighting is precisely the opposite of fox hunting. It’s poor, rural folk who engage in it, and it was overwhelmingly middle class urban folks who banned it. And, although I happily voted for the ban, rural Oklahomans have a point when they see the ban as classist (that’s not the word they’d use, but that’s the thought they convey).

Fighting cocks are raised all over the US. And the industry is impossible to shut down so long as any state has legal cockfighting (cockfighters always claim they’re raising gamefowl for use in a state in which it’s legal). As the number of states in which cockfighting is legal dwindle, the fights over cockfighting thus become more and more intense. Were it banned in all fifty states, there would for the first time be the possibility of a real crackdown on the activity.

21

dsquared 09.20.04 at 2:21 am

bena: thanks ever so much. I dimly remembered that there was a factoid connecting Oklahoma, cockfighting and the Democrats, but clearly completely cocked it up.

Yuval: What’s to explain? The moors are now open to ramblers. It’s a great victory.

22

BenA 09.20.04 at 2:39 am

In case it wasn’t clear from my earlier post, those yellow-dog, rural Brad Henry-supporting Democrats were voting _against_ the Oklahoma cockfighting ban.

23

nick 09.20.04 at 3:19 am

Fox-hunting itself is, by British historical standards, a relatively young pursuit. Its emergence as a fashionable activity came at the same time as the land enclosures of the mid-18th century; the two are not disconnected. The privatisation of public or common land, combined with the provision of nice obstacles, made the chase worth having — as a spectacular demonstration of who now owned the land. All very 1700s Whig.

A 250-year-old bourgeois tradition in Britain ain’t that special, in my opinion.

(It should be said, in the same breath, that the ['Save Our'] hedgerows of Britain mostly date from the same period, and were the nice obstacles referred to above.)

A quick read of ‘Sir Gawayn and the Green Knight’ also shows that fox-hunting was considered among the most unchivalric of activities in medieval England. And with good reason.

Yuval: the ‘right to roam’ legislation opened up access to privately-owned ‘open country’ and common land for walkers (in British terminology, ‘ramblers’). Read more here.

24

ChrisPer 09.20.04 at 6:13 am

Well, I have talked with a few English folks up and down the pecking order and I am convinced: banning foxhunting is alleged to be about cruelty but that is a stalking horse – the emotional momentum comes from the lower middle’s resentment of the upper class. It has morphed into a PC ‘marker issue’, like abortion or gun control – it is a way to show yourself a member of the ‘right sort of people’.

25

nick 09.20.04 at 6:30 am

Well, I have talked with a few English folks up and down the pecking order and I am convinced:

Wow, what staggering research. We salute you.

26

david g 09.20.04 at 8:44 am

“Because hunting foxes with dogs is a sadistic pleasure.”

Your opinion. Fine. Then don’t hunt. But don’t impose your opinion as a moral law. Violates Categorical Imperative, don’ty’know?

27

bad Jim 09.20.04 at 8:53 am

R.A. Lafferty, one of the greatest and strangest of science fiction writers, and an Oklahoman, described in Okla Hannali a foxhunt conducted by the Cherokees prior to their removal to the erstwhile Indian Territory via the Trail of Tears.

Having observed the immigrants’ fox hunt, they understood that the point was to have the dogs chase the fox, with humans following on horses. In their society, however, foxes were pets and dogs were raised as food, so they had to have boys dragging the fattened dogs to simulate a pursuit of the fox, which ran around for a while but eventually quit to curl up in the shade of a tree. The riders had a great time chasing around the countryside and beating up on each other.

28

Andrew Brown 09.20.04 at 9:13 am

I think the rambling and foxhunting laws represent most interestingly a shift in the kind of authority required to let you have fun in the countryside. to this extent, they are a simple class matter. To be part of a hunt let you behave as if you owned all the land you galloped over, even though it would once have been owned by two or three members, who would never allow you to have fun on it in the normal course of events.

The reall attaction, though, is that it’s done on horses. I don’t see anyone defending to the death their right to go beagling, which is dog-hunting on foot for small creatures later torn apart.

29

chris 09.20.04 at 9:16 am

Macauley’s take on this was actually (and wrongly) that puritans were opposed to anything not religious that gave people pleasure, therefore their opposition to bear baiting derived from false principles.

Johnson’s view was actually rather more sympatico: “It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them.”

30

Nabakov 09.20.04 at 1:17 pm

A bit of biotech and drone technology (scent trails laid out by the MFH at the controls of a 1 hp UAV) and saddle mounted GPS systems and voila – 21st horseback orienteering.

I mean the fun part is galloping around in a hurry, full of stirrup cups, with hounds and hedgerows under foot and hoof, not killing things, isn’t it?

31

victor falk 09.20.04 at 1:59 pm

would it be possible to train the hounds not to kill the fox?

most dogs don’t know what to do if they actually catch up when chasing a cat. Or is the pack instinct to strong?

I know it’s not a realistic alternative, with the enforcement and control issues that would come up, I just wonder if it is possible.

32

victor falk 09.20.04 at 2:02 pm

Would it be possible to have the hounds trained not to kill the fox?

Most dogs don’t know what to do if they actually catch up when chasing a cat. Or is the pack instinct too strong?

I know it’s maybe not a realistic alternative, with the enforcement and control issues that would come up, I just wonder if it is possible.

33

Matt McGrattan 09.20.04 at 2:10 pm

There already is an alternative — it’s called drag-hunting in which the hounds follow a sent laid in advance by people dragging scented stuff behind them.

The only thing missing is the actual slaying of the fox at the end. However, the slaying part if quite important to these people…

34

Matt McGrattan 09.20.04 at 2:13 pm

It’d help if I’d actually spelled ‘scent’ correctly…

35

Ginger Yellow 09.20.04 at 3:08 pm

““Because hunting foxes with dogs is a sadistic pleasure.”
Your opinion. Fine. Then don’t hunt. But don’t impose your opinion as a moral law. Violates Categorical Imperative, don’ty’know?”

cf:””Because slavery is inhumane.” Your opinion. Fine. Then don’t own slaves. But don’t impose your opinion as a moral law.” Animal rights is one of the few areas where I think the law should be moralistic, for the very obvious reason that animals can’t stand up for themselves.

36

dsquared 09.20.04 at 7:32 pm

By the way, I don’t think that the moral rule “Don’t tear animals appart for pleasure” does violate the Categorical Imperative.

37

Donald Johnson 09.20.04 at 9:11 pm

I’m as appalled about animal cruelty as most non-PETA people, but like Otto (aka Sherlock) I thought the point of this post was to make an interesting analogy between fox hunting and much larger scale animal cruelty vs. Beslan and vastly larger numbers of children dying from starvation or disease. I think there’s something wrong with our moral sensibilities–most people seem to be more outraged by the murder of hundreds of children by obviously nasty villains than they are by a millions of children who die from boringly preventable causes. Evidently the most important thing is the presence of a suitably fiendish villain–the children’s deaths function as props, sort of like those innocent people that get killed at the beginning of a Hollywood revenge drama, providing the hero with the excuse he needs to spend the rest of the movie building up a large body count with karate chops, automatic weaponry, and exploding vehicles. Nobody makes movies about kids dying of diarrhea which inspires people to join NGO’s and bring clean drinking water to poor villages. Or lobbying to change trade rules to benefit poor countries.

But the thread turns out to be about foxes, so I’ll weigh in here–foxhunting seems kinda barbaric to me. But we ought to spend more time thinking about factory farms.

38

dsquared 09.20.04 at 9:42 pm

Donald: I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with our moral intuitions. I’ve always believed that common intuitive propositions like “hunting is worse than factory farming” and “child murder is worse than malnutrition” are the basic data of morality, and that any theory of ethics worth having ought to be explaining them rather than criticising them.

(I cite as evidence for these two propositions the fact that typically, it takes several years of university education to leave someone believing the opposite)

39

Warthog 09.20.04 at 11:03 pm

Perhaps the dogs should be registered in Ms. Marples Manners School so that their brutish tendencies could be unlearned.

40

ChrisPer 09.21.04 at 2:54 am

“Staggering research’, says Nick of my words:

“Well, I have talked with a few English folks up and down the pecking order and I am convinced”..

So sue me, it’s my opinion. But I have read what I can find about status-display via posturing opinions. When its old-fachioned church-going types doing it, you may freely call it hypocrisy; but if it’s members of the Church of Right- Thinking Social Consciousness perhaps it’s different.

41

Mrs Tilton 09.21.04 at 12:06 pm

Daniel asks:

What d’you think about badger-baiting and dog-fighting, Mrs T? Ought to be legalised?

That’s a good question. My answer is here, as is a question for you.

42

Abiola Lapite 09.21.04 at 12:34 pm

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“Because slavery is inhumane.” Your opinion. Fine. Then don’t own slaves. But don’t impose your opinion as a moral law.”

Yes, because as everyone knows, animals and human slaves are exactly alike, aren’t they? This is what gets to me about animal rights people: in their quest to extend “rights” to animals, they end up devaluing the worth of their fellow human beings.

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43

Donald Johnson 09.21.04 at 1:31 pm

I don’t agree Daniel, and the bit about university education was a cheap shot of the kind I’d normally expect a conservative to make. (Lefties should make up their own cheap shots, not steal them.) Moral intuitions provide data, but they often tell us as much about the prejudices of the person holding them than about morality.

Beslan is worse in the obvious sense that some people deliberately murdered children, instead of merely allowing them to starve out of apathy, and if that’s all you mean, no argument, but I think the focus on the villain rather than the victim is what’s wrong here. If it’s a bad thing when children die, then surely we should pay more attention to the millions of deaths we could prevent than to hundreds killed by terrorists. Not that we should ignore Belsan or say that it shouldn’t have been on the front pages, but why, if compassion for human life is what drives us, do we do so little about the starvation deaths? It doesn’t seem to be the tragedy of an avoidable death that moves people, but whether or not there’s a villain handy.
Most people (left and right) are more interested in atrocities (especially the ones committed by our favorite villains, which are also “clearly” more evil than the ones committed by the side we might support). I think that this is motivated less by compassion than by the desire to hate evil villains.

As for hunting vs. factory farming, the cruelty of the farms seems far greater to me, even apart from the sheer scale involved, unless I’ve been misinformed about what goes on in the farms.

44

Nabakov 09.21.04 at 4:12 pm

Hands up anyone commenting so far who would personally tear apart a live fox, badger, hare, rat or bear?

Thought not. It’s a bitch of a job.

By the by, when the pro-hunting protestors crashed the Commons, why didn’t security set the dogs on them?

45

HP 09.21.04 at 10:05 pm

Lewis Grizzard once commented something along these lines: I think you should be able to hunt anything you want, provided you eat what you kill. And you can’t kill a second deer until you finish eating the first one.

So how do the English serve fox? In a pie? Or roasted, with boiled peas and mash?

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