Saturday, 29 November 2008

A hunt saboteur beyond good and evil?

Actually he had no intention and no interest in becoming a hunt saboteur in the beginning. He was angry but he tried to speak to the red necks in fatigues in a polite way - as polite as possible given how worked up he was and how out of breath after rushing up the footpath - asking them to move further away from the house because the sound of the shots was so irritating (disturbing, actually, for someone who retreated to the countryside for the quiet only to find a few months later when the hunting season started that almost every evening and weekend in the winter grown men with guns and with their sights set on the quivering breasts of birds that are barely more than two mouthfuls big make you feel that you have been transported back to Sarajevo during the siege). He thought there might be an appeal to the idea of respect for others. No need to bring animal rights into it, so he emphasised the nuisance, the annoyance they were causing to others, and how it would be so easy to remedy the situation by just walking further away from the house. He could point to a huge sweep of land stretching all the way to the hills in the far distance, without houses or roads - seemingly just as suitable for blasting lead pellets into the soft flesh of our winged kin. No, they would not budge an inch. No, they were not causing a nuisance to anyone, they said. They and their fathers and their fathers' fathers had been hunting at that very spot year in, year out for literally ages. Bang! They carry on hunting, and the sound is deafening. (And those pellets are made of lead by the way. The European Union has gone to such lengths to ban lead in petrol, but it remains permissible to spray the countryside with lead pellets - especially worrying when it is on our side of the watershed.)

A man with a dog that shows no interest in barking faced with a red neck with a gun who refuses to stop shooting feels an acute mix of frustration, impotence and rage. As he walks back down the hillside with the gunfire behind him and the pellets audibly falling around him, he feels something has to be done. Action must be taken. A protest must be made. It is an imperative from the guts (one is tempted to say from the blood, but maybe not).

For the record, he phoned the police, who - it turned out - saw nothing wrong with shooting so close to the place where peace-loving people live. Just out of interest, he asked if the policeman was a hunter. Yes, he was.

Since then he has become a hunt saboteur. Reluctantly and with a bad conscience, but he has done it.

The problem now is the pricks of his conscience. If he had to justify it, could he? He wanted to feel he was on some kind of moral high ground - that there was some kind of moral/ethical justification for these little, hamfisted acts of sabotage. But it soon seemed as if there was no moral justification. Sabotage goes beyond morality, does it not? The moral life presupposes what Kant called in the Critique of Judgment (admittedly not about morality) the sensus communis (a shared background of values). Without that, the person for whom morality is an issue and who objects to hearing the few remaining birds being shot has two choices: passive resignation or amoral action.

While trying to get things clear the image of Habermas floated into view. There must be dialogue, together with a respect for everything that a good dialogue presupposes, like letting the best argument rule the day. Hmmm. But what if the red necks refuse to enter into any kind of meaningful dialogue? Suddenly it seems that Habermas takes dialogue for granted. If the other refuses to discuss the matter, dialogue breaks down and further talk is pointless. The red neck is convinced he is in the right (it is a tradition here, after all, for grown men to put on camouflage clothing and shoot animals for fun in their free time). He and all his fellow red necks, however, see absolutely no need for the distressed resident to be convinced of the rightness of what they are doing. It is all well and good to argue that communication is a privileged locus of morality because there are principles implied there that map so nicely onto the Kantian paradigm, but if the bastards refuse to communicate, what do you do? You inevitably have to break some rules, destroy a few things, make the lives of some others difficult. This is to throw Kant out of the window (even if the hope is that after you rush downstairs you may later be able to go outside and pick him up again).

He wonders: Does anger not have its right? If you keep pushing me and angering me, eventually I will respond in an unpleasant way. Is this not life (our sort of life)? Is it not a denial of this life to turn the other cheek? (And in this case what would it be to turn the other cheek? "You shot that bird. Hey, shoot another bird."?) It is not as if this could ever melt the hard heart of the hunter, so nothing would be gained. (Not that this saboteur on his own really believes that there is something to be gained.)

So is the hunt saboteur not, in a sense, beyond good and evil? He acts in the name of morality but is acutely aware that what he is doing is unjustifiable in the present circumstances. (And how horribly those paternal echoes of "Two wrongs do not make a right" ring in his ear.)

And then a Kantian thought: If he were not alone in this reaction, would the sabotage not help to clear the ground for a new evaluation of things - a new sensus communis that would marginalise the hunter and make him lose his narrow-minded cockiness?

Is this, though, an abandonment of morality for the sake of morality or an abandonment of it simply because one just has to get something off one's chest?

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