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Telling it almost like it is

October 28, 2018

The Idaho State Journal’s editorial of 10/17/18 commented upon the dismissal of Blake Fischer from his position as a state Fish and Game Department commissioner. It applauded the dismissal, but I think that its reasons for doing so warrant further examination.

The ISJ deplores the consequences of Mr. Fischer’s allowing the photographs of the animals he killed on his hunting safari in Namibia to become public. For one thing, those photos received national media coverage, and therefore undoubtedly created (or more probably reinforced), the general opinion of the residents of distant states that Idahoans are a bunch of uncivilized yahoos — however plausible that opinion may be.

As to the consequences within the state, the ISJ alludes to the undesirability of “turning non-hunters into anti-hunters.” Why this would be unfortunate for the state is not elaborated. There are surely not enough of us “animal lovers” to bring about restrictions on hunting, or to cause the state’s Fish and Game Department to be any less the puppet of the “animal killers” than it is at present.

Perhaps that change from “non-” to “anti-” would be unfortunate just because hunters want to be liked. In the original news story of the Fischer incident (10/16/18), Sabrina Corgatelli, who, three years ago, suffered similar criticism for killing (and then photographing) a giraffe she’d killed in Africa, claims that she still, every day, “gets hate” because of what she did.

I have no doubt that her anti-hunting Christian acquaintances are doing their best to “hate the sin, not the sinner.” But if someone intentionally engages in behavior — legal or illegal — that someone finds abhorrent, it’s natural to question the personality from which that behavior springs.

A question underlying the ISJ editorial is this: why have people gotten so upset over these particular photographs of dead animals, when thousands of photographs of Idaho’s native game animals in similar poses — with grinning hunters crouched beside them — are circulated privately and published in local newspapers every year?

The ISJ suggests that the fact that Mr. Fischer’s dead animals are native to Africa has something to do with it. These are exotic animals, the sort that one sees in nature programs on television, or at the zoo; and some of them are endangered.

The animals Idahoans usually kill are familiar ones: deer, elk, moose, beaver, game birds, coyotes, etc. Most of them are, or seem to be, abundant. It’s likely that this is, indeed, a factor. One might mention, of course, that a mule deer values its life no less than a giraffe does, and fights against death just as vigorously, even though it’s neither glamorous nor picturesque.

The ISJ also speculates that the photo of the family of dead baboons was especially offensive to people, in part because it included an infant. That seems a good guess. Killing babies, of whatever species, is thought to be “unsportsmanlike.” But there’s also the fact that the words “family,” and “baby,” unlike “herd” or “pride” or “troop,” are used to refer to humans, as well as animals.

I would guess, therefore, that using the phrase “a family of baboons” creates a certain linkage between their lives and ours; reminding us that baboons grow up in families, as we do, and probably experience, in some fashion, the feelings that we have toward family members.

I would argue, in this connection, that imagining the feelings of other mammals, at least at the most basic emotional level, is no more difficult, or misguided, than imagining the basic feelings of other humans. It takes only a little knowledge, and a willingness to imagine. Hunters, I suspect, usually avoid thoughts that might induce compassion for their prey.

The ISJ editorial also refers to the “blood lust” displayed by Mr. Fischer. Is that meant to suggest that Mr. Fischer’s desire to kill was different in kind from that of the “ordinary” hunter, or merely that it was excessive? I have no doubt that hunters’ motives for killing are many and varied. Perhaps some even do so with regret, though, in that case, ending an animal’s life cannot be the source of any very serious discomfort to them.

Governor Otter’s explanation for asking for Fischer’s resignation, as reported in the ISJ, was not merely that Fischer had not “exercised good judgment” in sending the photos to more than a hundred friends and colleagues in Idaho, but that the killing he engaged in was “distasteful.”

For Otter, part of what made it distasteful was, apparently, that Fischer did not feast on braised giraffe tongue or baboon burgers when on his safari. Otter describes himself as a “meat hunter,” (and fisherman) though he is honest enough to mention that he also hunts “varmints,” which he does not eat.

This rationale for hunting — the “I kill to eat” excuse — defends killing game as simply a legal means to a justifiable end. It is not very persuasive, however, in an age when a hunting trip costs considerably more than an ample quantity of protein purchased at the grocery store.

I appreciate the ISJ publishing an opinion on this matter; I also understand its reluctance to extend its analysis to hunting in general.

Leonard Hitchcock of Pocatello is an alumnus of the University of Iowa and did graduate work at Claremont Graduate University and the University of California, San Diego. He taught philosophy in California and Arizona for 15 years. In 1985, after earning a library degree, he was hired by Idaho State University. He retired from ISU’s Oboler Library in 2006.