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Monday, September 20, 2004


Foxhunting: of course it is a class thing (or 'Roger Scruton is wrong')

Picture the scene.

A group of shaven-headed, inarticulate, tattooed, vulgar young men ride their motorbikes recklessly through the city, occasionally falling spectacularly. The bike the leader rides carries a pair of speakers from which blares the bass-heavy call of the chase. The gang follows a pack of Dobermans that track the scent of their prey, a stray dog, a pest, the vermin of this traditional urban British landscape. When the pack of dogs catch the stray the animal is ripped to pieces. The gore of the dismembered mongrel is smeared on the face of a twelve-year old initiate into this culture.

Philosophers of the streets write defences of the hunt, lionising the bravery of these men. Naturalists of urban wildlife write letters offering an evolutionary defence of the hunt, in between arguments that describe the hunt as the most humane and the most efficient method of keeping the population of stray dogs under control. They ignore the labours of the hunt gangs who create artificial environments encouraging the vermin to breed.

If a foxhunter bites the bullet and supports this practice, then you have found an outright barbarian. If a foxhunter fails to support this idea then it is the hunter who is the class warrior, defending privileges incompatible with a democratic society.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher, an apologist of class privilege. He is also highly respected. He argues that foxhunters display the virtue of bravery. Absolute rubbish. Ascribing the virtue of bravery to a person requires that they perform actions that present a (high) degree of risk. This risk could be physical, psychological, financial or professional. I will concede that foxhunters risk physical harm as the gallop across an unplanned course. But this is not enough.

Are joyriders brave? Would Roger Scruton write philosophy defending the virtues of joyriding? I doubt that he would. And I agree, joyriders do not display the virtue of bravery. It is not because they put the lives of others at risk. No, as we have no problem describing soldiers as brave. Is it that they risk the lives of innocents? No, that can not be it. Bomber pilots who flew the notorious missions over Dresden displayed the virtue of bravery.

No, joyriding does not display the virtue of bravery because there is no ‘cause’ behind it. The motivation is behind the risk involved is nothing other than pleasure and enjoyment.

The key to deciding whether a risky actions demonstrates the virtue of bravery is motivation, which we will describe here as a ‘cause’. If this were not the key then we would be bound to describing a soldier who kills to save his comrades as being as brave as a soldier who kills for pleasure. We would be forced to describe a teacher who risks his career for his principles as being brave in the just the same way as one who risks his career for a lust-driven fling with a pupil.

These actions are not equally brave, but they carry the same risk. It is in their motivations, their ‘cause’ that they differ. The ‘cause’ that motivates an individual to commit a risky action that we can describe as brave need not be one that we agree with. We do not find it difficult to describe soldiers fighting for the other side in a war as brave. Their cause is different, possibly mind-boggling alien to our values, but within their own ideological framework it is a cause nobler than simple lusts, thrills or base pleasures.

Foxhunters have no noble ‘cause’ within their ideology. They enjoy the kill, and that is their motivation. They are not brave. When they tumble from their horses it is the result of recklessness, not their virtuous character.

Perhaps a defence of a foxhunter rests of the idea that they ride out to defend their privileged position in British life. In which case, yes, it is a class issue. And rightly so.

Incidentally, the evolutionary justifications of foxhunting are fundamentally flawed. Such justifications demonstrate either an absolutely outdated understanding of the philosophy of evolution, or the deployment of persuasive arguments that the author does not agree with. The first is excusable, but should be exposed. The second is damagingly dishonest, and needs to be exposed.

This is a task for another time, however.

I read this article with much interest. As a person with no particularly strong views either for or against hunting, I must admit that your argument has made me sway strongly in the direction of pro-hunting. I believe it is your poor use of analogy that has made me disagree with your argument so strongly. Why should the 'hunters' in your example be a.) inarticulate b.) tattooed, c.) ride motorbikes or d.) 'fall spectacularly'? I can hardly see how these attributes show the juxtaposition with fox hunters. What are you trying to say? That people who hunt are thoroughly articulated? They don't possess tattooes? They never 'fall spectacularly' off their horses? I don't understand why you feel it is necessary to include these descriptions. Also, the sentence that completely undermines your argument; 'the gore of a dismembered mongrel is smeared over the face of a twelve-year old initiate'. May I ask what relevance this sentence has? Why is he or she twelve? What is he or she doing so close to a pack of stray dogs that he/she gets blood over his/her face? How could the purpose of this sentence possibly contribute to an argument against hunting? I myself have never, and don't intend to witness a fox hunt. I'm sure you are the same. Yet I can hardly appreciate the image that a 12-year-old 'initiate' would get blood smeared over his or her face has ever resembled any event in the history of fox hunting.

My next issue is your use of 'joyriders'. My understanding of the term 'joyride' is an event where a person or persons drive an automobile in such a way that they actively contravene the laws set in the highway code. I'm sure riding a horse through countryside does not contravene the highway code and is, to my mind, in no way illegal. As a result, I reject your comparison of fox hunters to joyriders.

I also heavily disagree with your comparison of foxes to Dobermans. I agree that foxes and stray dogs may be regarded as 'pests', yet there is too much difference between the two species that allows for such a comparison. When was the last time you heard of a stray dog entering a farmer's premises and slaughter all the chickens? I apologise for the sarcasm. Where stray dogs are concerned, it is a fact that dogs can be domesticated whereas foxes cannot. A stray dog is collected by the local council where it is contained until an owner can be found, or it is 'put down', should it be regarded as dangerous. There are no pounds or adopters for foxes. A farmer will kill a fox rather than let it destroy his livestock. Which brings me to the government-approved methods of killing foxes; snares, shooting and poison-gas are several licensed methods. I may not have an intimate knowledge of 'death by snare' but isn't it rather slower (and possibly more painful?) than 'death by hound'? As once the fox is trapped, if it does not suffocate to death it must remain starving for as long as a fox can live without food. How, may I ask, is that more humane than hunting? Also applies is the poison-gas method. Again, I apologise for being no expert here, but I recall that the gases licensed by the government do not instantaneously kill the poor fox in question (what poisons do?) but allegedly subject it to a slow and painful death...
The last goverment-approved method is shooting. I'm sure we can both agree that this is not a humane way to kill any animal - what would happen if you do not kill a fox once you have shot it? (with your licensed firearm!) The fox is wounded, and I'm sure the Rolf Harris can't be there for all cases of shot-wounded foxes (again I must apologise for such sarcasm!)
These methods are government-approved, after all, so no questions of morality are concerned here as it is Labour who are trying to end foxhunting.
I can only argue that the government are simply asking which is the best way to deal with foxes. They *are* going to be killed after all, by farmers if not hunters! It is merely for those in our democracy who are not of either party to decide upon which method of killing them we should endorse - 'death by dog' or 'death by snare/poison/gun'. Please correct me if the government has any other licenesed methods of killing foxes but personally I believe that the 'death by dog' option is possibly the most humane way of killing a fox - as it indeed ends the foxes life more efficiently than the 'government-approved' methods.

Finally, the comment that foxhunters 'enjoy the kill' is, arguably, wrong. Have you any evidence that a foxhunter "enjoys" the kill? Possibly some further research is in order before you make statements such as this. This comment would count as libel after all if you make the generalisation that all foxhunters 'enjoy' the kill.

It is not that I am arguing against your own argument that foxhunting is bad. I am simply questioning your methods of argument. I believe that when you post a comment on the internet, it *must* be thoroughly researched otherwise it will be subject to ridicule, which, in this case, will have a detrimental effect on your commentary. It has certainly had the opposite effect on me, as I feel swayed towards pro-hunting after reading it! By reading your article, I am certain that your are passionately anti-hunting (I dare assume you are a student?), yet I would have found you much more convincing had you put some more research into it, and not rely on the infantile flawed analogy that opens your argument.

Tim Gane (student)
Firstly, you ask why I have drawn an analogy with “[a] group of shaven-headed, inarticulate, tattooed, vulgar young men”? Well, when I see hunters waving placards that read, ‘fight prejudice, fight the ban’, or when I see that the Countryside Alliance has placed posters of a black foxhunter alongside motorways, with a few lines implying that a desire to see foxhunting banned is the equivalent of racism, I feel the urge to throw that charge back at them. So I ask them if people diametrically opposed to them in social, economic and political position in the popular imagination would have such defence for an analogous activity.

You ask the relevance the sentence: “The gore of the dismembered mongrel is smeared on the face of a twelve-year old initiate”. This is simple. I was trying to build a picture of an urban, poor, unsophisticated culture, as found in the popular imagination, and this was my motorbike gang’s counterpart to the practice of ‘blooding’ new hunt members.

You reject my comparison of joyriders to foxhunters? I think you are rejecting aspects of a comparison that I did not make. In that part of my post, I was trying to dissect the virtue of bravery, and was building an argument that exposing oneself to risk in the pursuit of pleasure is not, in itself, brave. I was challenging the idea that to foxhunt is to engage in an activity that is virtuous by dint of its romantic heroism.

You “heavily disagree with your comparison of foxes to Dobermans”? I understand your objection, but these objections could be applied to any comparison, and build an argument of exceptionalism; that foxes (and as a corollary the people that hunt them) are somehow special. While I think my use of stray dogs in my post is perfectly reasonable, as even though I should change my example ‘urban foxes’, the point of the argument is to ask, ‘would foxhunters support the right of people quite unlike them to engage in an analogous, but not the same, pursuit? Does their complaint of prejudice stand up to scrutiny, or does it hide a defence of privilege not granted to other social groups?’

Furthermore, you discuss the fox as a pest. I am quite sure that it is a pest to some farmers. However, foxhunts do not simply control the number of excess foxes, but manage the population, keeping it high enough for them to have foxes to hunt. I drew attention to this in my analogy when I wrote “the labours of the hunt gangs who create artificial environments encouraging the vermin to breed”. Now, it could be argued that the in maintaining the population of foxes, foxhunters perform a valuable conservation role, but to do so they must dispense with the language of ‘vermin’. They cannot argue that they perform a pest control service at the same time as keeping the population levels artificially high.

There is an escape for foxhunters in that they could argue that, while we might want to preserve the population of foxes, we need to kill those that are a pest. But for this to stand up to scrutiny the hunts must be undertaken at the level of the individual, targeting a particular fox in response to complaints from a farmer. If the hunt meets at a regular time for a regular kill, then their pest control argument works on the principle of a population cull, and to combine culling with the promotion of breeding is to be able to defend neither.

“Finally, the comment that foxhunters ‘enjoy the kill’ is, arguably, wrong.” Arguably being the word. Foxhunting is not the only way to control foxes, and indeed the practice of foxhunting in Britain means that the arguments of population control are fatally undermined. If foxhunters stopped encouraging foxes to breed and importing foxes into areas of low population, it follows that far fewer foxes would need to be culled, whatever their status as pests. If foxhunters did this, many of the foxhunts would be left without a quarry. Why would this be a problem for them? The hunt could still ride out, they could still jump fences and gallop and have a few drinks in the evening. But the defence of foxhunting as it is, and a rejection of, say, drag hunting, implies that, for many foxhunters, the prospect of killing a fox is a central part of the attraction, and the pleasure. So no, I do not think it is wrong to say that foxhunters ‘enjoy the kill’.

“It is not that I am arguing against your own argument that foxhunting is bad.” I did not make this argument, so your certainty as to my ‘passion’ is misplaced. What I am doing is making the argument that yes, it is a class issue. It is about prejudice and privilege, but this argument does not play out as the pro-hunters would wish it to. The primary function of foxhunting (regardless of the garbled arguments as to its intended purpose) is pleasure at the adrenaline charged pursuit and visceral death of an animal. If the foxhunters were serious about fighting prejudice, they would not only allow my hypothetical analogy to be a legal, even a praiseworthy pursuit, but would also call for the legalisation of dogfighting and other ‘sports’. That they do not is a sign that their position is actually about the preservation of prejudice and privilege.

“I dare assume you are a student” is a nice, throwaway, ad hominem attack. It has no relevance to the worth of my argument. You suggest that I conduct more research, however, you have not refuted any of the areas of my argument that rely on fact. You have attempted to refute my “infantile flawed analogy”, but this an attack on argument by analogy. When the defence of privilege is an appeal to ‘fighting prejudice’ we must construct an analogy to examine whether we would view similar behaviour carried out by other, different social groups in the same light, and to ask whether those who claim to be fighting prejudice would use their considerable social, economic and political capital to fight restrictions on other social groups. My feeling is that they would not, but I would be pleased if a hunter would use their considerable airtime to say, yes, we support the rights of all social groups to take part in the bloodsport of their choice.
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