History is replete with separate classifications of the human world and the realm of the wild. Hunters, Philosophers, and writers throughout time have drawn a fine distinction between the wild world and the world of Homo sapiens. However, is this distinction merely a justification to make hunting a morally correct endeavor? Perhaps mankind rationalizes the ultimate goal of the hunt in order to provide himself with a loophole or scapegoat-a way to ultimately separate his existence from other non-human animals. In order to fully understand Matt Carmill’s definition of what hunting is, we must consider the validity of the countless attempts of man to distinguish between his world and the wild world.
In England during the 17th century, hunting was still considered a marker of upper-class status. This idea furnished a model for European dominion over the rest of humanity just as man exercised his dominion over the animal kingdom by hunting (Carmill 142).
Rene Descartes recognized human beings as strangely composite entities, part mind and part matter; but he regarded all other things as either pure matter (like a rock) or pure mind (like and angel). The beasts, he insisted are entirely made of body-stuff-and so they have no feelings or sensations (Cartmill 95). For the pure fact that we cannot understand the enigma of nature may have been what primed mankind to separate him from the animal world. The assumptions mankind conjures about the animal kingdom aid in the creation of two distinct worlds.
For instance, Descartes writes “All human beings no matter how dull or stupid, even madmen, can arrange various words together and fashion them into a discourse through which they make their thoughts understood. Contrariwise, no animal however perfect of well bred can do anything of the sort. This is not simple because they lack the right organ, because magpies and parrots can learn to utter words as well as we canand people born deaf and mute-who are a least as handicapped as the beasts are-have the custom of inventing their own signs, with which they communicateAll of which proves that the beasts have less reason than people, but that they have no reason at all (Cartmill 95). Man’s intellect and personal arrogance seem to create a false sense of superiority over his kind and non-human animals. Mankind celebrates diversity within his own species by constantly classifying individual differences. What man does not seem to realize is that he is simply another species among many species. Perhaps Social Darwinism can explain where some of man’s ceaseless attempts to exercise dominion over the earth. Herbert Spencer believed that evolution meant progress; that is, evolution had a purpose, it was the mechanism by which perfection is approximated. He indicated that the ultimate development of the ideal man is logically certain-as certain as any conclusion in which we place the most implicit faith; for instance that all men will dieProgress, therefore, is not an accident, but a necessity. Instead of civilization being artificial, it is a part of nature, all of a piece with the development of the embryo or the unfolding of a flower (Spencer). For Spencer, societies evolve just as organisms do; thus, the notion of survival of the fittest society came to be called Social Darwinism. Humans in society like other animals in their natural environment, struggled for survival, and only the most fit survived. The ideas expressed by Spencer are often incorrectly associated with Charles Darwin. We can clearly see that the idea of survival of the fittest had an impact on mankind’s superiority complex. Mankind has misconstrued Darwinian theory of evolution to be synonymous with progress-or that mankind has progressed to the pinnacle of nature’s scale. Aristotle classified humans as the only organisms that possessed a rational soul, which implied that humans were more evolved than plants and non-human animals. However, evolution does not mean progress toward perfection. Evolution is simply an adaptive means for survival in a specific environment. According to Darwin Evolution is nothing more than descent with modification. Those organisms with characteristics most conducive to survival under the circumstances will continue to survive and reproduce. Mankind is not the endpoint of evolution as many of us want to believe; rather evolution has no specific goal or direction. No single organism is anymore evolved than any other. Both human beings and earthworms have evolved to their fullest potential at this point in time. As humans and non-human animals proceed through time, each species will adapt the necessary traits conducive to survival in their specific environment.
Matt Cartmill writes “Throughout Western History the hunt has been defined as a confrontation between the human world and the wild. Giving up the distinction between those two worlds means discarding the whole system of symbolic meanings that have distinguished hunting from mere butchery and given it a special importance in the history of western thought. If the edge of nature is a hallucination, then hunting is only animal killing”(234-244). If we remove the distinctions between man’s world and the animal kingdom, we begin to realize that man is merely another animal species existing within, not apart from, nature. Our culture is partially responsible for mankind’s belief that his existence is exalted and therefore removed from nature. Perhaps the mystical qualities of nature are part of what prompted man to distinguish the wild world from his own world. Mankind separates from himself what he cannot conceive or explain as a way of reducing the tensions of the unexplainable. Human beings prefer what is clear, familiar, and explainable. Man feels safe and secure in his civilized world, whereas the mystery of nature becomes the “wild.” Although the Romantics enjoyed the enigmas of nature, they still attempted to distinguish it from the human world. Rousseau writes, “Nature seems to want toe conceal from human eyes it’s real attractions, of which men are all too little aware and which they disfigure when they are within reach”(Cartmill 116).
This passage does not imply that all men are savages that enjoy destroy nature; rather it simply sheds some light to why we define hunting as a confrontation between the human world and the wild. Hunting, as with any other sport is just another way for man to amuse himself until he grows bored and tries some other external stimulator. As a species, man is destroying nature, yet the blame is often mistakenly placed on the hunters. The symbolism of the hunt, whether it is the enjoyment of nature, the events that precede the kill, or the kill itself are nothing more than justifications that provide us with a supposed rational answer of why we engage in such activities. Morality need not be factored into this issue, or any other. Regardless of what the hunter’s motives are, someone else will always have some sort moral objection. Although mankind can build cites and predict the weather, he still does not set him apart from nature. He simply exists in an environment that is within the bounds of nature. Hunting then seems to be nothing more than animal killing, which probably would not be done if the hunter’s only weapons were his mind and a spear.