This past December, my friend Ann Franklin made an astute comment to me at breakfast during the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society conference, where I had given two lectures. “We outfitters have learned to think like the animals we hunt,” she said. “Now we have to learn to think like the animals that are hunting us.” Ann wasn’t referring to bear or lion or moose but to the anti-hunting activists and politicians who seek to shut down or reduce hunting.
“Well-managed and sustainable trophy hunting is consistent with and contributes to species conservation, as it provides both livelihood opportunities for rural communities and incentives for habitat conservation and generates benefits which can be invested for conservation purposes.”
No rational, honest person can dispute the tsunami of data that demonstrates that hunting is critical for animal conservation, as well as for protecting animal habitat and for fighting poaching. Yet anti-hunting forces are as politically powerful and well-funded as ever. I have been challenged by, indeed, plagued by, the question, “What kind of person holds opinions that so flagrantly conflict with reality and which damage wildlife?” My research causes me to reject the proposition that the anti-hunters’ beliefs are based on ignorance, for they have access to the same information as I do. Their ignorance is cultivated and protected with fortress-like effect. I reject the proposition that they are naïve, for naivete easily can be scuttled by the readily available galactic information justifying hunting. Grasping the Forces behind Anti-Hunters’ Views Something else must explain their views. Other factors or forces within the composition of the anti-hunter must exist to explain anti-hunters’ methodically orchestrated and confident rejection of reality and morality. I admit that my journey to understand these people is in its early stages, though I have done research on this matter in preparation for several lectures. I share, in abbreviated form, the insights I have gleaned from people far smarter than I who impress me as credible for explaining this phenomenon.
Anti-hunters base their assertions on morality, yet even a casual analysis of their positions illustrates irrefutably their moral bankruptcy. The greatest horrors in human history have been committed by people who believed lies, and they have inflicted those horrors with a good conscience. These sad human traits apply to aggressive anti-hunters. Understanding them facilitates strategies to counter the metastasizing of their pernicious propensities.
The following statements by prominent anti-hunter spokespersons enable any sentient human to ascertain their intellectual and moral flaws. For example, during phases of a brutal winter in parts of Colorado, the state’s Division of Wildlife sought assistance from allegedly pro-animal groups to feed starving deer and elk. The groups refused to assist, justifying their refusal on two arguments: 1.) Nature should take its course without human intervention; and 2.) Feeding the animals was self-defeating since hunters would kill them. The posturing pro-animal groups chose to ignore that only a small percent of an animal population is successfully hunted. They also smugly refused to recognize their selectivity regarding not interfering with Nature. Cancer is natural, as are tooth decay, accidents and crime, yet these selective non-interventionists would welcome—indeed, demand—every assistance the human species can offer.
A few years ago, Priscilla Feral, president of the so-called animal rights group Friends of Animals, initiated multi-year litigation against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent it from issuing hunting permits in Texas for three species of African antelope—the scimitar-horned oryx, the addax and the dama gazelle—which were nearly extinct in their native Africa but were thriving on Texas ranches. On the CBS TV program: “60 Minutes,” Feral told correspondent Lara Logan, “I would prefer they all die rather than inhabit their non-natural habitat in Texas.”
John Jackson, my friend, colleague and founder of Conservation Force, provided me with this unequivocal statement from so-called “animal rights” lawyers made to the district court judge in the case Born Free USA, et al. v. Norton, et al., D.C. 03-1497: that “given the choice, plaintiffs (his clients) would rather see the elephants euthanized and dead than in a zoo.”
A luminous example has been included in many of my lectures and articles because the immorality of and rhetorical abuse by anti-hunters are so destructive. As referenced on this website, the Dallas Safari Club auctioned a hunt in 2014 of a mature, non-reproducing black rhinoceros in Namibia that had already killed five young rhinos. The hundreds of thousands of dollars to be raised were to be allocated to anti-poaching programs, a clean water project and land reclamation. Toxic animal activist Angela Antonisse Oxley of Dallas organized protests against the auction in a virulent campaign that included sending threatening emails and social media posts to DSC personnel that included, among other things, doing to DSC staff and their families what the hunter planned to do to the aged problem rhino that, even without the hunter, still would have had to be removed by authorities.
Oxley characterized the hunt as ‘barbaric.’ Not barbaric to Oxley, however, was dirtier water for the indigenous people, the increase in poaching, the diminished habitat reclamation and the foreseeable deaths of more young rhinos. Every consequence favored by Oxley was irrefutably immoral.
I search for explanations for the lust for dead animals and the willingness for lethal consequences exhibited by so-called pro-animal groups. I confess my search is on-going. Richard Spiegle, a prominent Denver psychologist and courtroom expert witness offers an explanation, if only a partial one: cognitive dissonance. The condition describes how the human mind deals with conflicting ideas, values or philosophies. How do Oxley, Feral and the anti-hunting Colorado folks justify their positions, which are inimical to wildlife welfare? They choose a comforting if simplistic abstraction over reality, such as that human intervention with wildlife is evil. A superb non-hunting example is the espousing of a $15 minimum wage, though the data overwhelmingly shows that the increased wage causes employment to decrease and mostly hurts the poor or those who are already struggling to make a living. Pinpointing Idealism and Cognitive Dissonance Several factors influence the degree and strength of the dissonance, one of which is quite illuminating: Thoughts—cognitions—that are more personal, such as beliefs about the self, tend to result in greater dissonance. This may be the motherlode of insight. It explains that the dissonance tolerated would be greater in a person who strongly needed to believe he or she was good, moral and caring. So the person who drives an electric car to feel good about himself or herself will suppress the knowledge or refuse to become informed that the electricity, battery production, battery disposal and transport of parts may cause more pollution and environmental damage than driving a gasoline car.
Cognitive dissonance, however, does not address a critical question: What kind of person is susceptible to the cognitive dissonance as opposed to the person who will deal with conflict in the pursuit of truth?
Jordan Peterson, a psychologist, professor, author and YouTube superstar in Canada, says human beliefs and biases derive from what he calls a person’s axiomatic substructures and fundamental presuppositions. These are the world views that form the foundations for opinions. As I understand Peterson’s explanation, an example would be that an anti-hunter’s substructure of beliefs could be that Nature is pristine, idyllic and self-regulating and that it can remain that way only if humans do not intervene. Thus, hunting would be contrary to Nature and should be condemned. Or a substructure could be that the reality of death and suffering is too painful for the anti-hunter to process and, thus, must be repressed, thereby justifying an anti-hunting belief.
A person might favor a demonstrably bad minimum wage increase because his or her fundamental presupposition is that the world’s unfairness is caused by others who have more money. When they don’t like reality, they change reality rather than change their beliefs.
In his best-selling book "People of the Lie," the late M. Scott Peck describes certain deceitful behavior as evil. Peck speaks of how people of the lie attack others instead of facing their failures. People of the lie seek out positions of power and want to appear morally superior to others. This observation validates a statement by American economist Thomas Sowell, who said, “It is usually futile to try to talk facts and analysis to people who are enjoying a sense of moral superiority in their ignorance.”
Recognizing “Pathological Altruism” A different context of the desire to appear morally superior and a different insight into the mental and moral structure of a person is offered by author and researcher Barbara Oakley, who coined the brilliantly provocative phrase “pathological altruism.” This is a condition where a person’s need to feel good and altruistic is so powerful that it blocks out the actual harm that is done by actions generated by those feelings. This feeling, Oakley writes, can become an addiction, which she observes is seen in self-righteous people who wallow in the wonderful feeling that they are right. Oakley’s analysis harmonizes with a statement made a generation before her by the eminent psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung: “Every form of addiction is bad, whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.”
Idealism, when seen in the framework of a narcotic or pathology, offers a credible explanation for people who use morality to justify immoral consequences.
Idealism is dangerous because it ignores reality and consequences. Idealism is not self-correcting based on evidence. The brilliant, conservative radio talk show host, writer and founder of PragerU, Dennis Prager identifies several essential components of idealism that make it destructive, often lethally destructive. The idealist purports to have good intentions, but as Prager persuasively argues, good intentions are morally meaningless. Similarly, meaning well is irrelevant and morally meaningless.
Several factors explain idealism’s attraction. As I have written for this website in the past, among them is that you don’t have to do anything to feel good other than virtue-signal. You can feel good without doing good. A person can tell others what to do and influence their behavior while pulling off the illusion that he or she is not selfish because he or she is advocating on behalf of all humanity. In other words, you can force people to live in tiny houses or drive electric cars because you are selflessly trying to save the planet. Nice work if you can get it. However, idealism’s greatest attraction, the golden nugget, may be that it covers up for and masks laziness, stupidity and ignorance. That’s quite a payoff: Be stupid, say a few words as if buying penance and then bask smugly in your own moral superiority.
These characteristics, singly or in combination, give insight into the anti-hunter and help fulfill Ann Franklin’s quest to understand those who are hunting us. Understanding these characteristics will enable the hunting community to craft ethical, fact-based arguments that support hunting and neuter the pathological anti-hunter.
Editor’s Note: Denver-based lawyer, lecturer, consultant and author Michael Sabbeth will draw on his research to assist the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum with a workshop “How to Debate and Communicate Effectively about Hunting” to be held in conjunction with Responsive Management and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Chantilly, Va., on May 15. Please stay tuned for an NRAHLF.org report on the workshop following the event.
About the Author: Michael Sabbeth is a lawyer, lecturer, consultant and author. He lectures nationally and internationally on hunting and shooting ethics, rhetoric and the art of persuasion. For many years he has presented to International Hunter Education Association conferences and at major hunting and shooting conferences including the Safari Club International and the Dallas Safari Club conventions. He writes for about one dozen print and online hunting and shooting magazines. He volunteers with organizations that support hunting and shooting opportunities for disabled people including Veterans. He enjoys clay target shooting and fly fishing, which is, no doubt, mere amusement for the fish. He is author of “The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values." See Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/c5flmmu. He is completing his soon-to-be-published book “The Path of the Honorable Hunter: A Call to Action to Defend and Advance Hunting.” He lives in Denver, Colo. with his wife of 35 years and his three all-too-grown children. (Read about other NRA Hunters' Leadership Forum writers and photographers on our Contributors page.)