08 June 2017

The Undeclared War On Trophy Hunting

Not all political wars are openly declared. 

One of the more artful undeclared wars in modern America is the undeclared war on trophy hunting, which is being fought not in court cases, or with legislation, but by guileless statements that implicitly assume that everyone knows that trophy hunting rare African megafauna is manifestly immoral.

Case in point, a national TV put down in connection with meta coverage of reactions to former FBI director Comey's testimony today by MSNBC newscaster (you can't really legitimately call someone in her position a "reporter") Nicolle Wallace:
For a guy who kills baby elephants for kicks to be giving James Comey a lesson in character and strength of character is rich at best and pathetic at worst.
Wallace doesn't formally argue that "killing baby elephants" are wrong. Indeed, she implicitly acknowledges that it is legal and doesn't try to call Donald Trump, Jr. (the man targeted by her comment), whose elephant hunting pictures have been circulating around the web recently, a criminal. Instead, she simply assumes, by implication, that this should be so obviously morally wrong that it doesn't require any explanation. 

Moreover, if Donald Trump, Jr. defenders come back and dispute that the elephant wasn't a baby, or that his conduct was legal, or that it wasn't just "for kicks", they may defend Donald Trump, Jr. this time around, but they are also conceding the critical point (for the larger African megafauna debate) that "killing baby elephants" is immoral.

This is one of a fairly long running series of a mostly social media based campaign to "out" wealthy big game hunters with their own prized photographs, framing those photos as evidence of disrespect for nature, of cruelty, and of oblivious affluence.  These too viscerally connect the killing of charismatic African megafauna to condemnation, without bothering to argue on the merits that the wrongness of this conduct needs to be debated. 

And, as far as I can tell, it's working. 

Hunting, in general, is dramatically less common than it used to be as people have moved in droves from rural areas to suburbs and cities, and have taken jobs that don't allow them to be away every year for long hunting trips. Moreover, even media that has glorified hunting, like the first "Hunger Games" movie, have taken care to make clear that "moral" hunting is mostly about providing your family with food, while underlying the aspects of hunting as an emotional dual between the hunter and the hunted that figures into predominantly British traditions like fox hunting and safari hunting.

This fits the evolving demographics of hunting. Hunters are increasingly working class rural people who really are engaging in that activity, in part, as a way to provide premium food for their families at a pretty modest cost, in local forests and meadows. The people who primarily hunted for sport moved to the cities, and while there are gun loving, sport hunting families out there still in the cities, their numbers of dwindled dramatically and with those numbers, their influence on public opinion has fallen as well.

It is a tactic firmly rooted in movement politics - making the personal political and changing hearts and minds - rather than traditional electoral or legislative or even governmental politics. And, it has turned what was once an exuberant reward for success into a source of shame and social rejection.

The campaign is brilliant for is subtlety, restraint and ability to influence people's beliefs in a basically unconscious, emotional and visceral way without resort to the kind of overt, logical, formalistic modes of persuasion that Democrats, generally, and their last Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, in particular, have been so wedded to and reliant upon. 

This isn't to say that this isn't completely divorced from electoral and legislative politics. Liberals made great hay out of efforts early in the Trump Presidency to cancel regulations prohibiting practices like hunting hibernating bear cubs that are both squarely examples of sport hunting for trophies and are also widely viewed as unsporting and inhumane.

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