If I wrote that all liberals are the same because they support labor unions and believe restrictions on abortions are unconstitutional you might accuse me of both generalizing and stereotyping.
And you would, of course, be right to chastise me on both counts.
The tendency to sort people into distinct and narrow categories, as though the Dewey Decimal System were as appropriate for humans as for books, strikes me as the sort of noxious attitude that entices people to deny, however subconsciously, the essential humanity of those whose lifestyles they disdain in some way.
It seems to me that American society has been moving in recent years in the gratifying direction of eschewing such simplistic definitions in referring to each other.
As well we should — humans are nothing if not complex, and I appreciate the increasing recognition that each of us is unique, notwithstanding the inevitable commonality of certain qualities and interests.
I was rather surprised, then, by a column offered recently by a syndication service the Herald uses occasionally for content on this page. The columnist contends that hunters who kill deer and eat the meat are ethically identical to hunters who kill black rhinoceroses in Africa and import the animal’s skin, skull and horns as trophies.
“Despite what ‘sport’ hunters would like you to think, they’re actually all the same,” writes Michelle Kretzer, a senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “There’s really no difference between people who kill elephants, rhinos and lions for fun and those who find amusement in gunning down deer, squirrels, turkeys and bears.”
That’s quite an obnoxious allegation.
But it’s not even the most offensive paragraph in Kretzer’s column. That dubious distinction, in my view, is reserved for a work that isn’t even her own. She also quotes author Howard Siegel, whose book title — “Ordinary Beasts: Hunting and Cultural Psychopathy” — suggests that there’s no great difference between a hunter and a serial killer.
Siegel’s conclusion, Kretzer writes, is that hunting “is killing without a purpose other than the self-pleasuring of the hunter.”
I don’t generally pay much attention to PETA, or to authors whom PETA officials admire.
I have lampooned some of the organization’s more outlandish campaigns, including its effort to rid the language of such sayings as “kill two birds with one stone,” and to cajole us, while also shaming anglers, into referring to fish as “sea kittens.”
These examples seem to me harmless, since I don’t detect any intent on PETA’s part to demean entire classes of people based on a single shared hobby.
But I’ve always believed that the veneer of silliness that overlays many of PETA’s public pronouncements disguises a bigotry that, like all examples of that breed, isn’t even slightly amusing.
Kretzer’s screed against hunters does away altogether with PETA’s sometimes disarming fatuousness. Her column lays bare what seems to me the organization’s underlying hatred for people who don’t subscribe to PETA’s narrow beliefs about the relationships between humans and other organisms.
Kretzer’s indictment of hunters is rife with claims so hyberbolic that any writer with a modicum of self-awareness would I suspect blush at the very thought of penning them.
Lines such as “hunters kill because they enjoy killing,” and hunters who kill animals “do it just for the ‘thrill’ of it” remind me of nothing so much as the hysterical ramblings of a teenager whose self-righteous indignation is as honed as a bodybuilder’s biceps but whose faculty for soberly contemplating a complex topic is as flaccid as a newborn’s abs.
If I didn’t find Kretzer’s exaggerations so abhorrent I might admire her confidence in dashing off proclamations so easily disproved that none but the most robotic acolyte could read the passages without a reflexive shudder.
She writes, for instance, that “natural predators help maintain the balance of the ecosystem by killing only the sickest and weakest individuals. Hunters, on the other hand, aim for animals whose heads they’d like to hang over their fireplace.”
This seems to me the written equivalent of children who, when ordered to eat their lima beans, hold their breaths until they pass out.
Kretzer is correct, of course, that humans are the only predators who care whether a buck is a well-proportioned four-point or a misshapen three-point.
This is hardly a revelation. And it’s a point any reasonable hunter would readily concede.
But Kretzer’s smug assurance that predators “only” kill the weakest and sickest is not a biologically defensible claim. The idea that a cougar, or a wolf pack, that happens upon a perfectly healthy adult deer will in every such case allow the deer to saunter past, and then wait however long it might take to find a sickly specimen to pounce on, is nonsensical. Non-human predators are opportunistic hunters. And although prey animals weakened by illness, age or injury obviously are easier to catch and kill, animals in that condition aren’t always handy when a predator decides it’s time to eat.
Kretzer’s allegation that hunters kill animals “just for the ‘thrill’ of it,” ignores reality in a similarly sophomoric way.
If Kretzer were right there would be no need for venison recipes. Yet even a cursory internet search reveals hundreds.
I recognize, of course, that PETA isn’t interested in an actual debate about the differences between trophy hunting and sport hunting.
Kretzer’s column could hardly express more clearly the organization’s disdain for killing animals for almost any reason.
What I find curious is that a PETA official would be so callous as to define people based on a single characteristic. It is one thing to find hunting distasteful regardless of its purpose. It is quite another to suggest, as Kretzer does, that a person who shoots a deer and ends up not with a trophy but with a freezer full of healthy meat might well suffer from a mental defect.
Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.