Friday, February 18, 2005


Animals Will Still Die.

What harm does the hunting ban address?

From today, hunting animals with dogs will be illegal for the English, for the first time since William the Conqueror.

After the pubs close tonight, whilst the queues of the nation’s kebab shops gently vomit and fight, when the last fish-wrapper lies in the pavement and the burger bars are shuttered, we’ll be resting safely in our beds knowing that noone is killing animals for pleasure. If, that is, we are one of the 339 MPs who voted to outlaw hunting with dogs.

Keith Feiling, writing in 1950, said of the previous ban, “No part of Norman government was more hateful”. I’m a New Labour man at heart, but I’ve had serious problems with this Government: Dishonesty about the war in Iraq and the kow-towing to religious fundamentalists, for example. But the hunting ban, for its fabulous stupidity and hypocrisy, is indeed the most hateful.

Stupidity, as surely not all of the 339 can have realised that the processes which produce their Sunday roast involve the death of animals. Hypocrisy, as I understand that not all of them are vegans. Although the MPs put down their pasties and bacon butties long enough to vote for it, I don’t know how the courts are going to read the legislation with all the bacon fat stuck to the pages from the lard-stained figures of its drafters.

You have to actually be a vegan to vote for the ban without hypocrisy. Overwhelmingly, chickens, pigs and dairy cows live all of their lives in pain and misery, before being slaughtered in terror. The hunted fox lives a natural life and is then killed. Also, fox-hunting does not have the harmful externalities of animal husbandry: deforestation for grazing and farting herds are major contributors to global climate change.

It is sometimes suggested that there is something immoral about taking pleasure in killing. Does an MP not sometimes take pleasure in a lamb-chop? Even if he only ate goats raised on uncultivable hillsides and sung to sleep by a chorus of nymphs, the MP would have to ask himself, of each portion, whether it was for pleasure or necessity. Then he might ask himself whether any other thoughts and feelings have been criminalized.

In a sense, it’s hard to argue against the ban, as no real arguments have been given for it. What harm is it supposed to address? Animal rights? But we can still kill foxes, and rats too. A fox will not now be able to apply for compensation on the grounds that its rights have been infringed by a human any more than a rabbit will be able to assert its rights against a fox.

I was once, inexplicably, the target of write-in campaign by the Shellfish Liberation Front (or some such organisation). These people deserve much more respect than the anti-hunt brigade. At least they see some of the corollaries of ‘animal rights’, although I doubt they would assert the rights of a crab against an otter.

I’m a city-boy, and not fox-hunter. I don’t know why fox-hunting would interest anyone and find the idea unpleasant. However, I have very much the same attitude to Richard Whiteley’s activities. But I don’t think viewers of countdown should be arrested for being entertained by his dreadful puns.

Last week, I ventured into the countryside and stopped at a village church. There had been a break-in, and there were bits of an 800-year-old stain-glass window scattered over the graveyard. A man arrived who told me he was returning once again to wait for the police. They’d failed to make their appointment in the morning and there wasn’t much chance of them coming now, judging by the experience of the previous six break-ins.

Who wants even five minutes of police time that could have been spent catching those burglars wasted on trying to ascertain whether someone with dogs is hunting? As to the problem of policing the ban, William I had a solutioon: everyone who owned a dog had to cut three claws from its front feet. I commend this approach to the Government.

Perhaps the ban will not last as long as the Norman dynasty. The Conservatives have said that they will overturn the ban on their first day in office. My attitude to the Tories has historically been similar to that of Nye Bevan, but now I support their election, if only for one day.

well yes but...
on balance i would come down against banning hunting on the basis that it doesn't do to ban things just becuase i don't like them and do think the british (english?) sentimentality about animals is a bit odd but i don't think think that the arguments in favour of the ban are as ludicrous as you say. the purpose and result of fox hunting is to inflict a specific sort pain and suffering on animals and to ban it is to prevent this sort of pain and suffering being inflicted on animals. the fact that other animals are having worse things happen to them elsewhere does not actually have any bearing one way or another. the life of a battery hen is nether improved nor worsened by idiots in red jackets charging around the countryside and the chased fox is not made more or less content by the fact that a chicken is somewhere being stuffed into a tiny cage and fed bits of its relatives. Those responsible for the ban may well have their priorities wrong but that doesn't mean the result of their actions is wrong by definition. if i see somebody punching you in the face it is to your advantage that i stop them, irrespective of whether or not i also do something to help victims of torture in nigeria. hypocrisy? i may enjoy getting drunk and launching unprovoked attacks on bystanders but this would not in itself make it wrong for me to stop someone else hitting a child.
the idea that there is something unique about the way in which this issue causes 'thoughts and feelings' to become subject to the rule of law is seductive but not really true. the difference between murder and manslaughter is largely a matter of 'thoughts and feelings'. and whole areas of the law around sexual offences are based around an assesment of motives and emotions as much as they are around physical actions.
also, while you may not be convinced by the arguments against fox hunting those in favour if it seem pretty slender too. I would have some respect for 'i enjoy seeing an animal ripped to shreds by other animals, especially if i am on horseback with my mates and dressed up like a pillock' but instead all you get is nonsense about how foxes are a grave threat to the livelihood of farmers and the local hunt is the only way of keeping bernard matthews' children from the poorhouse. and that huntsmen love their dogs and weep at the prospect of being forced to destroy them when the ban comes into force. there doesn't seem to be quite so much weeping going on when hunts' dogs are systematically shot at the age on reaching the age of three (did these people learn nothing from 'logan's run"?). 'shooting' we remember is a fate far too cruel to be inflicted on the noble fox.
but surely the main reason why a good part of any reasonable person would want to outlaw the practice is because of the distress it causes to a whole load of people who so richly deserve it. (it's no secret to anyone of course that this IS precisely the reason this law has been passed). there is nothing finer than the spectacle of those who pose as the stoutest defenders of the rule of law becoming apoplectic the moment any law infringes to the slightest slightest extent their ability to do whatever the hell they like. see also the outrage of speed cameras identifying and raising revenue from 'otherwise law abiding' motorists police attention should of course be targetted towards 'real criminals', a species apparently easily distinguishable from those who merely break the law. i believe time spent gardening is a key determinant. the otherwise law abiding harold shipman seems to be unavailable for comment.
out of interest, what is your opinion on badger baiting/dog fighting/bear baiting etc.are they any ifferent to fox hunting? was it wrong to ban them? should they be reintroduced?
your arguments are quite good.

quick summary response:

1) thoughts and feelings. yes: 'feeling' of 'intent' vital for eg murder conviction. HOWEVER, fact of a death also vital.

the argument against fox-hunting has not identified 'death of fox' as the problem to be addressed. it inevitably boils down to some version of 'blood lust of fox hunter' being identified.

case of rape often presented in same context, eg "it's all about 'thoughts & feelings' - otherwise you'd be banning sex". however, this again does not follow. the harm (often/ always forgotten, tragically, in actual/ historical rape jurisprudence) is that a person has been raped (had her rights over over her body removed by force).

2) logical invalidity of 'hypocrisy' argument: yes. it is true that it's nonsense to argue (in effect) that someone can't clear up one mess without agreeing to clear them all up.

However: what about a sign saying "NO JEWS ALLOWED ON THE GRASS"? Could you argue, "we need to preserve the grass.
we're making a start"? Obviously not. that is because equality is a human right.

likewise "posh rural people can't harm animals. it is effectively mandatory for urban plebs to do so ceaselessly".

3) Bear-baiting etc..

this is of course the strongest argument and one I have sympathy for. we have arrived at fundamental problem of philosophy. (eg "what is meant by 'rights'?"). (without attempting to delve into this, my conclusion is that we must reach a compromise on human terms, without according 'rights' to animals).

but note:

a) do you know by what instrument bear-baiting, cock-fighting etc.. made illegal? it was ( i think) the Gaming Act of 1892. not the '"animal rights"
act of 1892'.

this is in the same breath, and for the same reason, as the ban on bare-fisted boxing; race-course & fair-ground regulation etc..

b) badgers are a protected species. the rationale of the two concepts (animal rights and conservation) should never be confounded.

so you can ask: do i think that people should be allowed to freely torture their own dogs and donkeys, as long as is not associated with Gaming? i don't really have an answer. but i can say that the statement "oh those horrible spanish people torturing donkeys by earning a living from them. i'm going to protest about this. must remember to pack some scotch eggs and bacon sandwiches" is absurd.
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