Although I have lightly covered this topic before, events in the last couple of weeks have got me thinking. This post is not meant to condemn or condone anything, but simply serves to ask questions. Questions to which there are no answers, but only ever-perpetuating questions.
So Melissa Bachman has caused a global furore with her lion-hunting escapades here in South Africa. According to the game farm who hosted her, she had a permit, the lion was not drugged and not trapped…meaning it was not a canned hunt and therefore entirely ethical, even if it went against the moral grain of so many people. Yes. Morals and ethics my be used interchangeably, but they are in fact not the same things.
I thought that St James Ethics Centre described the difference quite nicely:“The distinction can be demonstrated by using the analogy of a conversation. If one imagines that the field of ethics is a conversation that has arisen in order to answer the question, “What ought one to do?”, then moralities (and they are various) are voices in that conversation.
Each voice belongs to a tradition or theory that offers a framework within which the question might be contemplated and answered. So there is a Christian voice, a Jewish voice, an Islamic voice, a Buddhist voice, a Hindu voice, a Confucian voice and so on. Each voice has something distinctive to say – although they may all share certain things in common.”
To me, ethics is a set of written rules, while morals come down to feelings. What feels right and what feels wrong. And even these vary between different cultures and even different individuals. Now while it may just feel wrong to stalk a lion and shoot it dead, according to all the written rules and regulations, Melissa did nothing wrong. If it was in fact a canned hunt, well, then that would make it all kinds of wrong, on all sorts of levels!
Do you eat biltong? That lovely South African delicacy. If you do, where do you think it comes from? Someone had to go out and shoot that kudu or impala. And they’re not even predators! They are peace-loving plant-eaters who posed no-one any harm. Someone went out there, stalked them and shot them dead! Or even worse, ran them down from the back of a vehicle and then shot them! “Oh yes”, you may say, “but that is for eating, so that’s OK”. Is it? Really? In truth, if you really think about it, it’s very much the same thing as stalking and killing a lion, except that there are many lions who would kill a human (to eat!) and have no conscientious qualms about it. People hunt for fun and for sport. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying there is no difference, depending on which species you choose to hunt. You need that biltong and wors as much as I need to raid my children’s sweetie-cupboard in the hopes of finding a lost chocolate to consume! (In fact, I may need the chocolate more…)
Let’s bring it closer to home. You consider yourself an animal-lover, so you don’t eat meat. You don’t agree with how battery chickens, crated pigs and beef steers, pumped full of drugs to make them grow faster, are treated. Good for you! I love animals too. I want to have them all around me, so I have pets. But what do you feed your dogs and your cats? They need meat and somewhere, some other animal has to die in order to provide that meat. Oh no, you have a parrot instead, they eat seeds and fruit! That brings us to a whole different dilemma. But (illegal) pet trade aside (this can of worms deserves its own post).
Back to the hunting. And the killing. I swat flies and mosquitoes without thinking twice. Why? Because they annoy me. There are a few reasons like spreading diseases that might validate killing them, but none of these apply to me. I do not live in a malaria area and the flies are mostly harmless, actually. I kill them because they annoy me. In many African countries, elephants are considered pests and the locals would much rather kill a few a year than have fences, crops and even people trampled by them. Where is the right place to draw the line? Which animals are OK to kill and which not? How do you even begin to decide?
And then there are people who would have animals killed for pure vanity. Yes, I’m talking about the detestable fur-trade, but not just that…Do you check to make sure the cosmetics you use have not first been poured down some bunny’s (or dog’s, yes, they use dogs for this too!!) eyes to make sure it is safe? Because human safety is paramount, is it not? Countless animals die and/or are maimed in laboratories across the globe to ensure human safety. Safety of drugs, medical procedures, food, the list goes on…Where do you draw the line?
The week’s news also brought this across my FB page: A picture of a boy saving a puppy in the floods in Asia. Or was he? People make assumptions awfully quickly depending on how it relates to their culture…Maybe it was his dinner? And if he was starving with no food, would it be OK for him to eat the dog? What’s the difference between eating a cow or a pig or a dog, if you’re dying of hunger? (I’m not stating any facts here; I have no idea what really happened and I’m as hopeful as the next person that he was saving the puppy). Just asking some pertinent questions.
Closer to home, a dog that had fallen into the big hole in Kimberley unified the country. Concerned people from all over SA watched in agony as rescue operations had to be stopped on Friday night when it became too dangerous. A well-known singer offered to pay for a helicopter to try and save the animal and the public was relieved when on Saturday afternoon the dog was finally rescued. ER24, the fire brigade, the South African Police Force as well as diamond company De Beers all came together to make this rescue possible. Now doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?
Read all about the dramatic rescue here.