In theory, governments draft legislation for the benefit of the countries they govern. In practice, of course, they often draft legislation designed to preserve their grip on power. A law passed that harms a nation, but which acts to preserve the power of its government is the worst possible type of law.
Laws that ban the activities of people are bad. They restrict freedom. Sometimes they are justified, of course. If people are harming each other, and bringing chaos to the nation, then their activities should be banned. Accordingly, such things as murder and burglary are banned in all countries around the world.
Mr Tony Blair and his “New Labour” government have been threatening for some while to ban hunting in my country. They know that there are votes in it. Most people live in towns and have little clue what Nature actually is, and less idea of how life is lived in the country. Modern daft sentimentality has led these people to believe that all animals have feelings just like humans, and that animals in the wild have life expectations and motives just like people. I loved the book Watership Down, but I remain unconvinced that rabbits have conversations and make plans for the future. Millions have been so convinced, however, and seem to feel that such animals should be granted “rights” like humans. That there are millions of these people does not make them right. Millions of people still think that the Earth is flat.
The desire to ban things is very popular with governments. Supposedly it makes the politicians feel that they have done something constructive, and it reassures the public that someone is taking care of it. It also makes the politicians seem as though they are concerned for the public, and motivated by good will. Green top (unpasteurised) milk is one thing that kept coming up again and again. It seemed like something easy to ban, that would affect few people, most of whom lived in the country and therefore didn’t matter, because governments are elected in cities. A few governments got a surprise when they tried to ban this pleasant, nutritious, and harmless liquid, and had to back down when the resistance proved strong. Bullies pick on weak victims and yelp when the weak bite back.
People enjoy hunting. This is an irrefutable fact. The fact that some people don’t get pleasure from hunting seems to lead them into the false belief that either no one else can either, or that there must be something wrong with those who do. The reason that we enjoy hunting is very simple: we evolved to hunt. Humanity is a predator species. We are the descendants of the people in the past who loved to hunt, and got good at it, and so we share their instincts. Modern removal from the process of killing has left many people with a distaste for killing. The strongest association with killing in people's minds today is with killing other humans, and this is a thing done criminally or cruelly. People who like killing other people are a menace to society, but men who liked hunting deer were a boon to the society of our ancestors. There can be no innate distaste for hunting, or we would have died out.
People go to a great deal of effort and expense to go hunting, and no one forces them to do this. In the early morning mists people gather on their expensive horses in their red-coated finery for fox hunts. Many will have come a long way, and greatly looked forward to the activity. Clearly many people derive a significant amount of joy from hunting, and all this will be lost if it is banned. Also, many people are given something to do, and something to be part of, and something to be paid for, from hunting. If you want people in the country to be poorer, more alienated, and more dangerously bored, then you should support the banning of hunting. Also, many horses and dogs are brought into the world and kept well for the sake of hunting. If you want the world to have fewer horses and dogs in it, then you should promote the banning of hunting.
It is clear, therefore, that hunting does good. It gives those doing it joy, employs folk, and of course keeps numbers of animals such as deer down to manageable levels, and numbers of such pests as foxes slightly lower than they might otherwise be. In order to justify a ban, one would have to prove that there is an amount of harm greater than the obvious amount of good. What is this harm? Whom does hunting harm? It has been argued that some farmers get annoyed when a hunt crosses their land. This, though, is not a matter for banning. Some farmers simply forbid hunting on their land, as is their right. This is a matter for the organisers of hunts to sort out, not the government. Most farmers are happy for hunters to hunt on their land, however. Is anyone else harmed by hunting? The simple answer is no. No one is harmed by hunting. It is a government’s duty to protect its citizens, but not to ban its citizens from activities that harm none of its citizens.
Does anyone suffer from hunting? This is a more complicated question. There are those who might argue that they find hunting very upsetting, and disapprove of it deeply. Many of these people end up hating those who hunt. By the same token the hunters suffer from the hatred, and may get very annoyed by many of the things that non-hunters do and think, but this is not an argument for banning anything. In this world, a generally good rule of thumb is to try and get along with other people, even those of differing opinions. This is not the attitude of the anti-hunting hobbyist.
Some people have taken up the hobby of spoiling other people's fun. That this is a nasty hobby is certain. These hobbyists derive their kicks not from doing things, but from protesting against things other people do. Some protesters might pick on activities that potentially threaten the world, such as nuclear weapons, but just as often they pick on the triviality that is modern hunting. This in itself shows that their real concern is not the importance of the thing protested against, but how much fun they can get from protesting against it. They travel a long way, meet friends, and choose to spend a lot of their leisure time in their activity. Hunt-protesting has all the hallmarks of a hobby because it is a hobby. For some, part of the fun is a class thing. They associate, not very accurately, the pursuit of hunting with being upper class, and they enjoy having an apparently legitimate way of having a go at the upper classes. This is childish in the extreme.
Hunt saboteurs love the thrill of the chase, the exaltation of victory, and the tingling threat of violence. They wouldn’t do what they do if they didn’t. Much like crowds who watched bear baiting in the Middle Ages, they love to frustrate and torment hunters. It is ironic that much of their enjoyment is derived from the pleasures they claim to hate. If they wanted no trouble, why would they go so far to seek it out?
What would happen if the anti-hunt lobby got its way? Would it then disappear? Would all those people who came together never see each other thereafter, their goal having been achieved? Of course not. Once they got one thing banned, they would simply move to the next. There will never be any satisfying them. I shall not list their probable back-up targets, but I strongly suspect that the reader will acknowledge that for the person for whom protesting against things is a rewarding hobby, there will be no day when he decides that there is no longer anything to try and stop.
So far I have shown that hunting does good, harms no one, and that those against it are not to be indulged. Some might still argue, however, that hunting should be banned for the sake of the animals hunted. I shall divide these animals into three kinds: pests, herds, and game.
Some animals exist in the first place solely thanks to hunting. Pheasants and partridges are kept and bred to be hunted. This employs people, is a source of fun for the hunters, and helps to preserve rare, varied and interesting habitats. The animals raised are better fed than completely wild animals, and have a much better chance of survival than wild creatures. Those that do die from hunting, die a much quicker and cleaner death than they could ever hope for in the wild. There is no rational way in which this kind of hunting could be argued to be against the interests of the animals.
Herd beasts such as deer decorate our landscape. These herds can be maintained thanks to the income from hunting. People pay good money to stalk deer. The herds have to be kept down to manageable numbers, however, for the good both of the farmers and general local population, and of the herds themselves that would over-graze their habitats otherwise. In the wild past, there were no farmers’ crops to be ruined, gardens to be trampled, and numbers were kept down by predation by men and wolves. In hard times, all the herd beasts would suffer, and only the least weak would survive. Today these deer are not free to roam anywhere and need management. To this end, they are stalked and shot. If hunters do not do this, generating income for the herds’ management, then someone else has to be employed by the state to do the same. The wardens would thin the herds by stalking and shooting. The total number of deer would be the same, and the deer wouldn’t know whether the finger behind the trigger belonged to someone who was paying to shoot, or being paid to shoot. The experience of being a deer would be the same.
There is an alternative to the above. Modern technology has made it possible to make bullets out of slow-dissolving contraceptives. Instead of providing local tables with venison and local craftsmen with antler, wardens can be employed to stalk deer and shoot them with contraceptives, to keep their numbers down. The fear of stalking, if it exists at all, would be greater since the wardens would have to stalk a female deer several times in her life, and get to much closer range. Similarly the pain of being shot would be greater too. The wardens would still need to be paid, as hunters are unlikely to pay to be pill-pushers. Those who say that “natural” is good might bemoan that Nature is being interfered with more than hunting would. Those who say that this is less cruel than hunting will have to ask themselves this: which would they prefer – to be forcibly sterilised at puberty or to run the risk of being killed one day?
Around Trafalgar Square in London, on the rooftops, men poison pigeons. They are paid to do this. They do not do this for the meat, but just to keep the vast numbers down. Pests multiply. According to statistics, you are probably as you read this within fifteen feet of a rat. Rats are very unpleasant creatures. They spread disease and destroy the works of Man. It is thanks to the environment that Man provides that they are so very numerous. There are many brands of rat poison. Pests have to be kept down, and banning hunting will not change this fact. Not one deer will be saved by a ban on hunting, not one partridge will be bred if hunting is banned, and no pests like foxes or rats will be spared if hunting is banned. The argument that hunting should be banned for the sake of the animals just doesn’t work. Foxes that are not hunted (very inefficiently) by horses and hounds will instead be trapped, poisoned, shot and otherwise disposed of by men who can no longer rely on the hunt to keep down numbers or provide an income.
“Naturalistic Fallacies” are common. These are statements that assert that because something is natural it must be good. Earthquakes are natural but this does not mean that they are things we should look forward to. Hyenas and cuckoos behave in ways that come naturally to them, but this doesn’t mean that it is nice to go around in gangs stealing food, or that killing the children of other creatures and replacing them with one’s own is the right thing to do. Natural things like animals are not necessarily nice or nasty, they are just animals. Rats chew through the insulation of electrical wiring. This is annoying for humans and commonly fatal for the rats. They are just following their instincts. This fallacy cuts both ways. Just as it is false to argue that animals are nice because they are natural, similarly it is false to argue that just because it is natural for humans to want to hunt, this desire must be good. Neither side of the argument can use naturalistic fallacies to defend its stance.
Laws we pass should be good laws. A ban on hunting will make no one happy, it will annoy a lot of hunting people, and the protesters will move on to their next target. A ban will not help animals, or alleviate any supposed suffering. It will not generate income or preserve skills. It will in fact do no good whatsoever, and it will cost us. The only beneficiaries will be politicians who will win more votes for a short while, during which time we will be more likely to have a government composed of the worst kind of politician: one whose prime motive is to stay in power, and not to do the nation good.
Update: March 2005
My government has now banned hunting with hounds in England and Wales. The bill was opposed successfully in the House of Lords because the upper house, even though it is now stuffed full of government cronies, saw it for what it was: a very bad bill. However, there was a constitutional means for getting bills through parliament despite the opposition of the Lords, designed for instances of critical and urgent national peril, and the government used this means, and a vast amount of parliamentary time, to hammer this bill through, despite, doubtless, knowing how truly awful a bill it was. The Prime Minister didn't vote on the issue himself. This was a flagrantly political act that had nothing whatsoever to do with running the country well, or the welfare of foxes.
The law that has been passed is abysmal. It is virtually unenforceable. The police would have to devote tremendous resources to seeing that foxes were not killed illegally by hounds, and police have better things to do. The law allows riding in the country. It allows dogs being loose in the country. It is of course the case that dogs will sometimes attack foxes. To prosecute, it has to be provable that the hounds didn't catch the fox accidentally and despite efforts made to avoid this. Dogs can still be used to flush out foxes, but the foxes have to be shot. Someone with a gun has to be on hand to shoot a fox before it is killed by dogs. Of course, whether a man will be in position to hit a moving fox with his gun, without endangering anyone or any dog is quite another matter.
Last year, 400,000 foxes were killed in England and Wales. 25,000 were killed by fox hunts involving horse riders and dogs and merry japes. The rest were gassed, or shot, or trapped, or hit by motorists. Most foxes are killed by men employed to do so by councils controlling vermin. Since such people do not wear smart red jackets while doing so, this is apparently acceptable. I doubt that the foxes appreciated the distinction. In Scotland, fox hunting with hounds was banned a few years ago, and since then the number of foxes killed there by hunts has doubled. Fox hunting with horse and hounds alone is not very efficient. Add a gun and you massively increase the chance of getting a fox. All fox hunts now have guns, so that they can obey the law, and so more foxes are killed.
The League Against Cruel Sports now sends people to monitor foxhunts to see that they obey the new laws. There really are some very nasty killjoys in the world, it seems. People are allowed to kill foxes, they are just not allowed to enjoy doing it. Indeed, supporters of this bill, which I hope will be repealed but have my doubts that any political party would have the courage, have created a world in which more foxes will be killed, and the humans doing it will get less pleasure. Is this what was wanted? How could this possibly be an improvement?
It would take a very stupid person indeed not to spot that this bill had absolutely nothing to do with cruelty to foxes. For the politicians it was entirely about votes, and for the supporters of the bill, it was entirely about class snobbery. There are many hobbies that people might object to. Is it right that people go rock-climbing, damaging the crags of the nation, spoiling the look of the countryside with their lurid lycra outfits, troubling the rescue services with their unnecessary risks, and filling up NHS hospital beds when they come to grief? How would you like it if you were a rock climber, and a band of people followed you around doing all it could to spoil your enjoyment, and all the time making clear its hatred of you? Perhaps your hobby is needlepoint tapestry-making. People don't need a logical or fair reason to hate you for your hobby, so even with this pursuit, there could be nasty people who derive pleasure from spoiling it. Is there anything good to say about such people? I'd say not. They are selfish, self-righteous, aggressive, anti-social bastards who, when they have a whole world of things to derive pleasure from, decide that schadenfreude is the one they will go for.