Thursday 16 September 2004

Peter Cuthbertson is wrong.

Peter's posted the text of a speech he's been making to hunt supporters, and it looks like he broadly agrees with George Monbiot: this is class war, he says. I have no doubt that, for many people, it is. I'm sure Monbiot isn't the only left-winger who wants to stop fox-hunting because it's associated with the upper classes. But Peter is saying that every person who opposes fox-hunting does so on class grounds, which is obvious bollocks. He is being disingenuous in the extreme.

You don't need me to tell you that hunting is no crueler than shooting or farming or fishing - that in a matter of seconds the fox's neck is snapped: seconds of fear, no pain, instant death.

Seconds? Really? That's how long a hunt takes? Well, technically, yes: after all, dinosaurs roamed the Earth seconds ago.

Many are willing to give the proponents of a ban the benefit of the doubt on this one - they may be wrong and ignorant, we are told, but their hearts are in the right place. "They act out of misplaced concern for the animal, not hatred for the hunter." This is rubbish and we know that.

Well, we can argue back and forth about whether the concern is misplaced, but that's not what Peter's doing here: he's just flat-out denying that any such concern could exist. I'm concerned about the treatment of foxes, and I couldn't care less about class. According to Peter, that can't be true: I must be lying. Topically enough, here's Oliver Kamm on Noam Chomsky:

Chomsky is of course not making a serious claim about economics. Rather, he is employing a rhetorical tick of the form "the person I'm attacking can't possibly believe what he says". He does this often, and even had the gall to try the tactic explicitly when supposedly responding to Christopher Hitchens' criticisms of his stance on the destruction of the Twin Towers:

I have been asked to respond to recent articles by Christopher Hitchens, and after refusing several times, will do so, though only partially, and reluctantly. The reason for the reluctance is that Hitchens cannot mean what he is saying.

This is a dual-purpose expedient of arrogance and intellectual disrepute - a means whereby Chomsky can avoid difficult questions in favour of attacking his critics' probity.

Quite. Now back to Peter.

The bill that will soon become law will not save a single fox, nor spare it a violent death of some sort.

Of some sort, no. But people distinguish between sorts. I buy free-range or barn eggs. I have no problem with stealing the infants of chickens and dunking them in boiling water, but I believe it is immoral to keep chickens in wire cages smaller than they are, where their wings and feet rub against the bare wire, giving them cuts and sores. I have no problem with killing animals, but I do have a problem with torturing them prior to death. The issue depends, too, on what the benefits are and what the alternatives are. I have no problem with medical testing on animals. My wife is diabetic, so she would be long dead if it weren't for animal research, and, contrary to the claims of animal rights activists, there aren't any real alternatives yet. But, when we do one day develop alternatives, of course we should use them. And I'm dead against injecting hairspray into a rabbit's eyeball. Hairspray's just not that important. Any lives being saved by fox-hunting? No. Any alternative, more humane, ways of killing the fox? Yes.

If these Labour people cared only for the fox, why would they accept that it be shot instead - as if a shotgun is as precise and quick a death as a quick break of the neck by a pack of dogs?

It's not just a quick break of the neck, though, is it? I don't have any problem with foxes being killed by dogs. I do have a problem with foxes being chased for miles until they collapse of exhaustion, when the only purpose of that chase is enjoyment. Peter's speech doesn't even contain the word "chase": listening to him, you'd think the fox was ambushed.

By the way, "these Labour people" is a nice touch. Peter insists on making out that this is a purely party-political issue. It isn't. There are lots of anti-hunt Tories, whose existence Peter simply doesn't acknowledge.

Some of them know how the sport originated in its modern form in the first place - as a way for aristocrats to persuade farmers not to annihilate foxes completely by allowing them and their labourers to join in the fun of the hunt. This was in the 17th Century, and hunting was already helping to break down the barriers of class.

So what? That something was a great idea in the Seventeenth Century doesn't make it good now. Times change. Society has changed. And Peter is implicity recognising the value of change here: he's pointing out how the introduction of hunting brought benefits to Britain over three hundred years ago. Fair point, but, if you recognise that change can be good, you must recognise that banning hunting could bring benefits to Britain today. Are foxes going to be annihilated? Nope. Apart from anything else, most of them now live in towns, and townsfolk love them. So the Seventeenth-Century problem that Peter mentions no longer exists. Well, if the problem's no longer there, why do we need the solution?

Look, this has nothing to do with animal rights: they have none. It's to do with human responsibility. We have power over animals, undoubtedly. It's up to us how we use that power, and our choices tell us what kind of people — and what kind of civilisation — we are. Kipling believed that black people were inferior to white people. He was wrong about that, but he was very different to the modern racist, in that he believed that white people's superiority gave them a moral duty to help black people. I agree in principle: the strong should help the weak, not abuse them. It's the human's burden.

All that being said, Blunkett's plans to use the hunting ban as yet another excuse to divert yet more police away from stopping thieves, burglars, muggers, rapists, vandals, and murderers should be opposed at every turn.


Anonymous said...

Peter's speech doesn't even contain the word "chase": listening to him, you'd think the fox was ambushed.Hahahaha. It is his famed lack of imagination, the guy is none to bright.

Anonymous said...

...or 'none too bright' even

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of factual corrections:

1. I have not been delivering this speech. I wrote it as an example of what rural Tory PPCs should be doing to increase support and activism.

2. Your whole post is based on the idea that I think everyone who supports a ban does so for reasons of class war. If you believe this, you missed the central point of the post, and indeed a number of statements where I made specific that I did not take this view:

"In many cases it isn't even simple class warfare and prejudice... The ban is not about the fox, it is not about animal welfare or cruelty or even primarily about prejudice."

- Peter

Squander Two said...

Hi, Peter.

1. You've got a point. I misread your intro. Oops & sorry.

2. If you think my entire post is based on the idea that you think that everyone who opposes hunting does so for class reasons, then you clearly haven't bothered reading it. There are a lot of ideas in the post; the one that was most central in my mind when writing, the one that prompted me to post in the first place, was your total disingenuity on the subject of the cruelty of hunting: claiming that it takes mere seconds, refusing to acknowledge the existence of the chase.

And what a strange quote you have chosen to illustrate your point. Let me just finish it for you:

"The ban is not about the fox, it is not about animal welfare or cruelty or even primarily about prejudice. It is that in almost every Labour MP's heart is a loathing of the traditions and values at the heart of this country. They feel shame when the Queen passes by in her carriage cheered by the masses. They feel fury as parliamentary ceremonies that form a link with a distant past are continued to this day."

And you're saying, now, that that doesn't even hint at the idea of class war? In fact, you're saying that these ideas are the antithesis of class war? Right.

But, even granting you that, it was still a passage in which you were pressing home your belief that no-one who opposes hunting has animal welfare at heart. And that's just plain wrong.


Laban said...

Where did you get the idea from Kipling's work that he considered 'black' people (I presume you mean Asian - he didn't write much about Africa) inferior ? I've read a fair amount of his stuff and haven't picked that up.

His stuff on the North West Frontier is pretty relevant today given what's happened in Afghanistan. Well worth a read - I'd reccommend 'Twenty-One Tales'.

Squander Two said...

Well, I'll happily admit that I haven't read much of his stuff and that you probably know more about him than I do, but I always understood that that was the whole point of the white man's burden: they're not capable of getting by without us, so we have to help them.

Squander Two said...

Your disingenuity knows no bounds, Mr Phillips: you even remove the word "white" from the poem's title, like no-one'll notice.

You may notice that I wrote "the white man's burden" without capitalisation or inverted commas: I was referring to the general concept, which runs through much of Kipling's writing, rather than just the poem in which he named it. I should have made that clearer. The poem's injunction to take up the White Man's burden unambiguously implies that the burden existed before the issue about which the poem is written, so your point about the Phillipines is moot in the context.

But, anyway, I'm always willing to consider that I've got something wrong, so I've just gone and carefully read the poem four times. Nope. Lots of the prose can be taken ambiguously — does "sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child" refer to people who are uncivilised because of their race or because they're unlucky enough not to have been brought up in a liberal democracy? — but, as far as I'm concerned, that ambiguity is blown out of the water by the first line of every single verse. I'll happily concede that I would have better written that Kipling considered white people's (especially English) civilisations superior to non-white people's civilisations, avoiding the issue of whether he thought the reasons for that were to do with their race. But, since I wasn't writing about Kipling, that hardly matters: I was illustrating a very simple point about the correct way to use your advantage over that which is weaker than yourself, and that point makes just as much sense whether the advantage is gained through genetics or for some other reason, and it was a principle with which Kipling undoubtedly did agree.

As for pontificating in areas where my knowledge is deficient... this from a man who recently claimed to see an error in formal logic in an opinion. If you don't know what formal logic is, don't use the phrase.