Hunting has been a contentious issue ever since I can remember watching the absolutely shocking Alan Whicker documentary showing a pack of hounds ripping an animal to shreds between them.
Of course this was horrific, as it was meant to be, and it left a lasting impression.
And of course bloodsports are horrific, as the reality of existence is confronted in all its terrible glory.
But where I grew up in the country an annual hunt passed right outside my front door and I remember watching in fascination at the resplendant procession which brought the village to a standstill for the hour or so it took for the beasts and riders to pass through.
So in response to the debate on hunting which motivates activists on both sides of the pro/anti-hunt divide I thought I should add my two cents.
There are a number of conflicting issues which have got mixed up in the debate over hunting, and until they are untangled and understood the passions will continue to be enflamed unnecessarily.
First off, there is a politicised view of what the moral purpose of the law is.
On one side it is seen as a fair method to restrict bad behaviour, while on the other it is seen as a justifiable method to restrict or enable necessary behaviour, but the complaints that hunting is 'cruel' or 'necessary' are both non-sequiturs.
In general I take neither of those views, instead I prefer to view law as the collective means to contain societal dispute and prevent real consequences from causing harm: protest and campaign all you wish, but violence should never be encouraged.
It is perverse then that the reason why hunting with dogs was banned is not because of any change of official reasoning, but as a judgement in reaction to the violence and rioting against the cruelty of the hunters.
I disagree with both conservative and socialist theory because they have both twisted the issues: social inequality is not a state of natural justice, nor is social inequality a cause of social injustice.
Equality is not the cause, but the product; justice is not the product, but the cause.
Secondly, the socio-economic problems in rural communities is not properly understood by the current government which is overwhelmingly filled with members from urban seats.
Hunts are a massive social occasion which enable large numbers of people to gather together, and there is a whole social scene attached to them which performs a highly important function - every year couples would meet at the ball under the eyes of family and get married in the spring at the local churches.
Without similar occasions the possibility for villagers to get hitched to other people who are committed to the country declines. It is easy to see how the transient nature of urban cosmopolitan life is reflected in levels of promiscuity and divorce, which has consequences for family stability and the ability of individuals to interact effectively in social situations.
For example, as a boy, carrying a knife when walking through the woods was a perfectly normal and accepted thing - you never knew when it would come in handy to pick some mushrooms or cut away some brambles. But carry a knife in the mean streets of a town and it is a vengeful weapon which causes preemptive escalation and confrontational situations.
Hunting is necessary to the community life of the county set in the same way as Royal Mail's USP is necessary to rural businesses.
But it is not just about morals and socio-economics. There is also the pragmatic and symbolic considerations to be taken into account.
Hunting, it is argued, is an important means of pest control.
Oh those poor cunning, bushy-tailed foxes ain't quite so cuddly as you might think! They carry disease. Well, maybe that is true, but why aren't we equally worried about the explosion in the population of urban foxes?
Similarly they worry farmers livestock and are particularly fond of eating more than a chicken or two... if you want free-range you better accept security against predators.
So the issue cannot be simplified down to a one-size fits all pro- or anti- policy.
Ultimately where my mind is made up is on how the spectacle of the hunt, with the red-jackets and horns and rum-drinking, is a metaphor for the practice of a particular form of social code.
It is almost as though there is a sense of superiority that there is an arbitrary right to impose a narrow view of a social order based on the whim of absolutist judgement: for one side there is an imperative to stick to traditional calendars and fulfil the contrived ritual by doing as was done before just for the sake of it, whereas the opposing side feels just as adament that these strictures can only be broken if they are consigned forever to history.
Well if that's the case people will continue to be fighting on the heath with each other until beyond my day and aggravation will continue to plague us all by turn.
As a simple principle, if something is necessary, important or good, then there is always a way to reach agreement on how to do it.
If the fox population is having an overly detrimental effect on the countryside then do chicken houses need better security, or are there other ways to monitor and prevent any negative impact? Is the local pub or school under threat because the local demographics are changing?
There are a whole range of related issues which are failed by the imposition of hard and fast rules, so they need continuous discussion among the representatives of political interests.
Violent confrontation on the streets or over the fields is a direct and inevitable consequence of the choice to stop talking. The desire to dominate political debate and prove some kind of superiority is self-contradictory and always doomed to fail.
For me, as a bit of a political animal, wherever I see intractable conflict I see an opportunity to resolve it by trying to approach the situation in a new way - it's no good holding out of the debates and waiting for each side to argue themselves to a standstill because you'll be waiting forever!
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