Shooting Gray Seals, Gray Wolves, Gray Haired Billionaires -What's The Difference?
La nuit tous les chats son gris. - French Proverb
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has posted a $10,000 reward for turning in the person who's been shooting gray seals here on Cape Cod. As its name implies, IFAW is focused on the welfare of animals, largely by protecting them from commercial exploitation. Though not as shrill in its "animal rights" agenda as, say PETA, IFAW does generally take an imbalanced view of the appropriate relationship between humans and other species.
In this instance, however, IFAW is right to take action on the recent spate of seal killings -if for no other reason than the seals have been killed illegally. Federal laws protect marine mammals, and those laws are based on solid scientific evaluation as to the need to preserve species as in the best interest of humanity -as opposed to any imagined "rights" belonging to the seals.
It is understandable, however, why a local commercial fisherman might want to kill seals who are in competition with him for declining fisheries, if it is in fact a commercial fisherman shooting the seals. Times are tough all around in today's economy, thanks to eight years of Bush administration deregulation and tax cutting, and it would be understandable though not excusable if it should turn out to be a fisherman killing the seals.
But what about shooting gray wolves and moose from a chartered helicopter as Sarah Palin has ardently advocated for in Alaska.? That, in contrast with shooting gray seals on the beach should be legal in Alaska in Palin's view, but what about the morality of it? What about the simple human decency of it?
What Palin proposed, twice, was to use a game management loophole in the federal law against hunting from aircraft under which state wildlife officials, and other licensed individuals, would be allowed to "cull" wildlife by shooting animals from planes. Of course, Ms. Palin herself would be right there, first in line, for a "licence to "cull" not only wolves but moose as well, and her interest in scientific game management is right up there with her support for basing public policy in general on science. Sure it is. That's why stories about her advocating for aerial hunting show her squatting and grinning over the carcase of a dead wolf.
I'm not against sport hunting -not at all, but shouldn't wild game at least have a sporting chance against the hunter? Going up in an aircraft with someone to spot wild animals for you to kill with a high powered rifle isn't sport. It's just plain killing for fun -just as sick as if our local seal shooter turns out to be some nutcase with a gun as opposed to a fisherman just trying desperately to protect his livelihood.
This isn't an issue of "animal rights," where the wild animal is somehow entitled against being hunted by humans for meat or sport. It is, rather, a question of simple human decency. What kind of person would seek pleasure in going out of her way to charter a private plane just to kill a hapless wild animal in the name of scientific culling but in fact for "sport." If she hired a guide who could track game to take her on foot into the woods, that would be hunting.
But shooting defenseless animals from an aircraft as Palin advocates is nothing but mindless killing for fun, and there's no sport in it. What is offensive here is not the violation of any "rights" belonging to the game. It is the clear disregard for basic standards of human decency and the lack of any moral value in killing just for the sake of killing. It is the taking of a wild animal's life without even showing the animal enough respect to allow its natural defenses against predators to work, as occurs when stalking game on foot.
As bad as Palin's ideal of aeronautic stunt shooting is, Richard Cheney's ground based birding is even more despicable. Cheney pays thousands of dollars to go on "hunts" arranged by professional "guides" who load up a van with pen-raised birds and when a group of wealthy "sportsmen" are brought to the range the birds are released simply to be shot and killed on the wing as they make their escape for freedom.
Presumably they keep track of how many birds each "sportsman" kills and then they get to take them home for dinner. Ah, yes, the brave hunter who harvests the family's table fare from the wild. That's just disgusting, not from any animal protectionist point of view, but in terms of what can and what cannot be morally defended today as the essence of hunting for sport or for the table. That kind of so-called "hunting" only gives ammunition to PETA to use against real hunters who respect both wildlife and the wilderness in general.
Hey, if you want to hunt pheasant for meat and sport, that's fine. But at least give the bird a natural sporting chance. Invest in a good bird dog and some decent hiking boots and go out into the field and let the dog flush the birds for you. That's hunting. That's what any decent person considers to be sport by adhering to the fair chase ethic that Palin seeks to abrogate.
It's what the anti-hunting animal rights people don't understand as well. Yes, hunting is brutal, and it is obviously atavistic, but it's essencse is not about killing animals. It is, rather, all about reconnecting with our ancestors by getting away from civilization and going through the same kind of interaction with nature that they had to do in order to survive. The really intense hunter today uses bow and arrow, and using shotguns and rifles is about as much a concession to modern convenience as true sport will allow.
Meanwhile, using airplanes and having pen-raised birds released a few feet away from where you're standing just is not sport and it's not hunting. The value of hunting is in the total experience, which begins and ends with getting out into the wild on foot, on your own -or perhaps being dropped off in a remote wild area and then beginning the hunt onyour own and on foot. The actual killing is not the point -the chase is, using a panoply of learned wilderness and wildlife knowledge to track and flush the game, and when someone like Palin or Cheney eliminates that essential element of the chase, they are not hunting and they deserve all the opprobrium the anti-hunters can dish out. They also deserve the contempt of real hunters and sportsmen whose noble traditions they are besmirching.
What Cheney and his billionaire pals do, paying big bucks to have someone flush birds out the back of a truck across their line of fire is nothing but shooting and killing defenseless birds, and not even really wild birds at that. They might as well just go to the shooting gallery at a carnival and try to win a Kewpie doll or two. Oh, but they do love to pose with all the gear, the high end shotguns, the expensive vests and the good boots that never really get put to the intended use, making a show of being just good ol' boy hunters. It's a travesty, and shame on them.
What Palin wants to legalize, paying big bucks to go up in a plane to kill wild animals with a high powered rifle is no different. That's just more of the same travesty, and shame on her too!
In Cheney's case it gets even worse because, apparently, he doesn't even know the basics of gun safety -which is why he shot an elderly friend in the face on one of his bird "hunts." The fellow is a billionaire and doesn't need the money, so Cheney got away without having to face a tort suit for negligence. And it was that negligence, a fact which gets us into the real irony.
What Cheney does, basically, and Palin too, is just pose with guns to be photographed with dead wildlife in a vain effort to create the appearance of a rugged, competent frontiersman living of fthe land like in those glorious days of yore when there was no "big government" to get in their way. Oh, pioneers! Oh, please. Cheney, and Palin too, are nothing but phony right wing politicians pandering to the NRA in order to get the gun rights vote for themselves and other GOP phonies. And Cheney isn't even competent enough with a gun to carry it off without shooting one of his billionaire friends in the Oil Biz.
In a sick way, though, both Palin and Cheney are like pioneers -as are all post-Reagan Republicans who promote "small government" deregulation and tax-cutting to prevent the government from enforcing regulations and other protections against the predations of the corporate elite -the GOP's true constituency. As Edward Abbey observed:
"A pioneer is a man who comes to virgin country, traps off all the fur, kills off all the wild meat, cuts down all the trees, grazes off all the grass, plows the roots up and strings millions of miles of wire. A pioneer destroys things and calls it civilization."
Desert Solitaire, 1990. That, precisely, is what GOP deregulation is all about, to let the corporate bosses fatten themselves by exploiting all of our natural resources without any restraint to protect the resource in the public interest and without paying for it through fair taxes.
You may recall that the high-roller fundraisers for the Bush and Cheney ticket , those who could bundle $100,000 or more, were in fact called "pioneers." If you were really paying attention, you might also recall seeing a video of W himself smirking and telling a gathering of those "pioneers" how good it was to be there, among his "true constituency" -i.e. the rich and the very rich.
So, in that very limited sense, both Palin and Cheney can call themselves "pioneers," but to seek political advantage by posing as of brave frontier folks, living off the land as our forebears did 250 or so years ago, is so ludicrous it would be hilarious if it weren't so creepy.
So, answer the question -what's the difference? Shooting gray seals, shooting gray wolves from a chartered plane or shooting some gray haired billionaire when you're trying to hit a pen-raised pheasant? Apart from any legal issues, how are they any different in terms of morality or basic human decency? I'll tell you, the guy shooting the seals just might have a shred more moral justification if he happens to be a commercial fisherman who actually does make his living by harvesting from nature. That is to say, unlike Palin and Cheney, he's at least not an out and out phony.