Sunday, September 19, 2010

Right to Hunt Update

Some more information came out this week about the language of the proposed amendment to the Kentucky State Constitution to guarantee the right to hunt and fish. Here is the language of the proposed amendment:
The citizens of Kentucky have the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, including the use of traditional methods, subject only to statutes enacted by the Legislature and administrative regulations adopted by the designated state agency to promote wildlife conservation and management and to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass or property rights.
And here is what State Rep. Tom McKee has to say about the proposal:
“This amendment has no bearing on such things as licenses, seasons or trespassing laws...It simply ensures that hunting and fishing have the protections they deserve, because they are such a crucial part of our heritage and play an important role in our economy. None of us sponsoring this amendment wants to see them curtailed if the only reason is because of those who oppose the sports altogether.”
The last sentence strikes me as interesting, and its plausibility as a good reason for the proposal presumably depends upon more than the status of hunting and fishing as "a crucial part of our heritage" and its "play[ing] an important role in our economy." The difficulty is that some will see this as a moral issue, and some who see it that way, and who oppose hunting altogether will find it outrageous that hunting and fishing might become, subject to regulation, rights.

Consider a couple different analogies. An animal liberationist might try to explode the plausibility of this proposal by suggesting that it would be absurd to propose a similarly worded right to own and use slaves, and that even if slave-owning were a crucial part of the state's heritage and an important part of the economy, that simply wouldn't matter, morally speaking. Of course, those who see a significant disanalogy between humans and animals won't find such analogies compelling.

On the other hand, suppose one proposed a right to mine and burn coal, on the grounds that coal-mining and use is an important part of the Appalachian heritage and an important part of the state's economy, and see various environmental goals and proposals as directly or indirectly threatening the vitality of the coal industry. (Indeed, one might draw the analogy as far as imagining a proposal that named coal as the preferred method of producing energy in the Commonwealth.) A disanalogy here is that while such a proposal, given what we know about the dirtiness of coal energy (and that the notion of "clean coal" is really pie in the sky), is that this would probably not, in the real world, get us to an ecologically better (and sustainable) situation; whereas, public hunting and fishing might really be--from an ecological point of view--a perfectly workable way of sustaining and managing wildlife populations (and generating money for other conservation projects).

While neither the slavery nor the coal-mining proposals seem workable at all, or wise, or ethical, the ways in which the hunting and fishing proposal might be thought to resemble them helps clarify the nature of the moral dispute here as one between those who think the proper (ethical) view of our relations to animals is an "individualist" point of view--particularly one on which individual wild animals are morally considerable individuals who shouldn't be hunted--and an "ecological" point of view on which our relations to wild animals should be focused on practically workable means of preserving and managing these species. Of course, those who endorse this proposal also have a vested interest in preserving and managing these species in ways that continue to make public hunting and fishing an important part of the process (and so it's not all about the animals). So, one might ask why it is important from the ecological point of view that hunting and fishing be treated as "preferred means of controlling and managing wildlife." This is where heritage and money figure in. Of course, neither of those seems to point toward a necessary (and indefinite) ecological need for hunting and fishing. But that starts to make the proposed right seem possibly misguided in the way that a right to mine and burn coal would be misguided.

But perhaps I shouldn't downplay the significance of the concern to protect a part of the culture's heritage. It's hard to know what to make of this at an abstract level, since a heritage might include morally problematic practices. (Imagine a proposed right to protect gun duels, etc.) The hunter and the animal liberationist, to a significant extent, live in different moral worlds. The right to hunt and fish, however, certainly would seem to normalize these practices, and in that respect involves taking a position on the moral issues some have about hunting and fishing, or at least certain forms of them (such as trophy hunting). And that seems problematic. Suppose someone proposed a constitutional right to abortions. (Are there such rights? I don't mean the indirect right to do whatever is legal, but an explicit, documented right.)

I'll leave the rest of the thinking to you. I've gone on too long about this. I'll leave you with this short (two page) essay by Bertrand Russell, "If Animals Could Talk":

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