July 16, 2004
Is there more to hunting?
Let me preface this by explaining why I have not eaten meat in almost two years, and why I have no plans to in the future. Well, it began as a thought-experiment: what do I feel when I eat meat? It turned out that I felt like I was doing something "wrong," and so I stopped doing it. No one should ever do something she or he really feels is something she or he should not be doing, right? Beyond any moral or ethical framework, phenomenologically speaking, the experience of guilt is self-evident and something to be taken seriously. I like to think that I am not one of those militant, PETA-loving bunny-huggers. I no longer belong to PETA because I think that their tactics alienate the people whose minds they seek to change. I have no problem with anyone else eating meat, and, yes, the smell of pork or seafood still makes my mouth water. One should certainly be true to one's own feelings about eating meat. And if one feels fine doing it, one should eat steak and enjoy it! I wish I could feel that way and just enjoy a steak. Being the only member of a large extended family who lives far away and the only one who doesn't eat meat is really not all that fun. I miss meat sometimes. Anyway, I finished Hemingway's True at First Light, the fictional memoir of a 1950s safari in Kenya, last weekend. And now I feel the urge to go out and hunt an animal to its death. And then eat it. Not a deer or a gopher -- something that can take me down if I miss my shot. I remember a passage in Thoreau's writings, in Walden, I think, where he talks about this sudden, wild desire to kill and eat a muskrat. What is it that can make a human person want to kill an animal out of some nameless urge, even a person who would get violently ill if he were to eat meat (Thoreau or myself)? Is there some long-forgotten blood-lust that one would need an anthropologist to explain? Have I just sublimated my "army-brat" upbringing, since I never went into the military myself but still can shoot better than even my father, the retired officer? Maybe there is some truth to some of the maniacal statements of Tyler Durden in Fight Club. Maybe men have become a bunch of sissies who need to beat the shit out of each other or "put a bullet in the head of every panda who won't screw to save its species." Maybe, in our weblogging, cell-phoning, latte'-drinking, foreign-car-driving, metrosexual excuse for modern man, the idea of hunting down a lion or a bear just winds our clocks more than a sale on boot-cut jeans at J. Crew. Maybe that old-fashioned, seething, hulking masculinity is just outdated, as a result of cultural evolution. One does not have to chase down and spear or rifle an animal for meat. We have grocery stores. Being beefy and gruff will, for better or for worse, not get a man in modern America a job, a wife/husband (up yours, Bush), respect or anything else he might want, merely on its own merit. But neither does being a bit effeminate aid a man in his endeavors. So what is an American man to do? Hunt, or buy make-up and nylons? Or mold himself into something else, develop some other "manly virtue"? What is the virtue of a "man's man" without a gun, a hot-rod or a bloody lip? This all sounds a little Sartrian: being stuck in modern life with no essence to latch on to. But I wonder if there isn't something to the loss of manliness in American life today. What will be the result? Will we get more violent with one another, or will we become more gentle all around? Or something else or more, still? Scary. I'm going to go and have some Darjeeling tea and stroke my four-day stubble and bask in my paradoxicity.