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By Jason Michael
We can be upset that the fox hunting debate is only another smoke screen to cover over the hell Westminster is unleashing, but these, I argue, are not different things. This is the heart of Toryism.
Theresa May has openly stated that it is her intention to permit a free vote in the Commons on the repeal of the 2004 fox hunting ban. Reaction across the United Kingdom to the prospect of the reintroduction of this blood sport was predictably swift and intense, with some commenters rightly pointing out that there has been more outrage over this issue than there has been over both the sanctions regime and the rape clause. We are, it seems, still a collection of nations of animal lovers. It is, however, an important topic for us to consider, and not at all unrelated to other Conservative policies so many feel deserve far more attention.
In this article we will approach the question of fox hunting from three specific directions; as a cruel and unnecessary blood sport for the privileged élite, as a gauge of the disdain and contempt this social class has for both animal and human welfare, and – by extension – as a metaphor of the British ruling establishment’s indifference to the suffering it inflicts on people. It is my sincere belief that these three things are not in any way separate concerns, but that they are symptoms of the same problem.
Supporters of the hunt have argued that fox hunting is part of their culture, a rural way of life. To this they add that the hunt is an effective means of controlling the vulpine population, where the fox – as a wild predator – poses a threat to livestock and therefore the rural economy. Moreover, we will often hear the sympathetic reasoning that the hunt is an expression, ironically enough, of their love of animals; the dedication of the hunters and the people involved in the hunt industry to their dogs and horses. We will not delve too deeply into these positions, primarily because they are preposterous and altogether quite beside the point.
When people attempt to defend any behaviour on the grounds of culture, they are in effect suggestion that culture transcends censure for no other reason than that it is ‘culture.’ On the merits of this thinking we must also afford the British political establishment and the BBC’s culture of child torture and rape the same protection. That would be absurd. Neither culture nor tradition is a legitimate excuse for what is objectively wrong, inhumane, and criminal.
Control of the fox population in the countryside is a real concern. When the hunt employs this defence it does have more credibility. The fox itself is a hunter, and, if unchecked, does pose a significant threat to livestock and thus farmers’ livelihoods and the whole rural economy – not to mention the national food supply. We can’t ignore this point, but when it comes to the hunt – as a privileged form of entertainment – this argument is moot in light of the documented evidence of the captive breeding and importation of foxes purely for the purposes of hunting and killing them. Here hunt supporters are disingenuously adopting a defence that simply is not theirs to make. Fox numbers can and are controlled in far more efficient and humane ways.
Hunting is never about the love of animals. This has always been a leisure pursuit where there has been nothing but callous indifference to the health and wellbeing of horses and hounds, other than their usefulness as instruments to the ends of human pleasure. Sick and injured, “beloved” horses are routinely shot, skinned, butchered on site, and fed as practice meat to the dogs. It is not possible to imagine any truly loved beast being shown such lack of dignity in death by its owner.
Dogs fare no better. Given the obstacles of the land; trees, wire fences, hedges, and the like, dogs are frequently injured. Their health and lifespan are wholly dependent on their ability to perform as trackers and hunters for the sport. Where horses at least get the benefit of a bullet, old and infirm dogs are regularly ‘spaded’ – cracked over the skull – and dumped in ditches. Again, not exactly how one would typically put down a treasured family pet; an animal who has become “like one of the family.”
If this is your idea of "sport", you can take a flying fuck to yourself. You have no honour, no bravery, no pride a… twitter.com/i/web/status/8…—
Angry Salmond (@AngrySalmond) May 10, 2017
Not one of these so-called arguments holds water. Fox hunting is no different from dog or cock fighting; all that sets it apart is its class dynamic. When we speak of the privileged class – the landed and wealthy élite of British society – we must be careful not to reduce its privileged nature to a noun. It is not only a description of the class, but – as an adjective – an intimation of what it can do. This class is privileged in that it has extraordinary rights, advantages, and immunities. Wealth and power buy for this class the ability to act beyond the legal and moral limits of acceptability applied to every other strata of society beneath it. This makes more sense, perhaps, when we put this in the context of the recent Tory election fraud scandal. Laws as they exist for us do not apply to them. Law, we must remember, is written by the upper tiers of society; by the ruling establishment and its immediate subordinates in the hierarchy of the class system.
Fox hunting unarguably betrays a broken and distorted mentality; finding both pleasure and thrill in the gratuitous infliction of pain and suffering on defenceless small animals. If this were not so the hunt would not exist. Such a brutalised fetishism of violence, as is well documented in the study of violent crime and psychopathy, is a transferable skill. It is a remarkably small step from seeking enjoyment from the suffering of animals to seeking pleasure in the suffering of people. In any ‘culture’ where empathy for animals is trained out of people, those people cannot have empathy for others. Empathy, as any parent who has introduced a pet to the home knows, is empathy.
Again, as has been recorded repeatedly by volunteer activists and hunt saboteurs, hunt participants exhibit a frightening lack of restraint when it comes to using violence against them. One incident, captured in the 2005 BBC documentary Hunting Days, shows a large group of middle aged Kentish hunters mercilessly assaulting a young female “Sab.” In a vicious attack lasting over ten minutes the woman was punched, kicked, and stamped on by men who were taking obvious pleasure in their violence – leaving her unconscious and in need of hospitalisation.
Violence of this nature; a group assault of considerable duration and intensity, is rare, even in contexts of English urban gang violence. We see in this hour long documentary that within the environment of the hunt this is at once typical and undertaken with ease. We also hear from their language, with the use of “Pikey” and “scum,” the class antagonistic nature of their actions. Once again, this is a dynamic of privilege. No one in the group of assailants is in any fear of criminal prosecution, and indeed no one was arrested, charged, or convicted in relation to the crime. Of course, one can surmise that the knowledge of their immunity contributed to the attack. The fact that BBC cameras were present again underscores the perpetrators’ sense of immunity, making us wonder what happens when the cameras are not present.
How then is this as a metaphor of the ruling establishment’s indifference to the suffering it inflicts on people? Simply and crudely put, the Tories are hunters. When informed that the majority of the British public was in favour of keeping the ban on fox hunting, and during another staged election campaign factory visit – in front of factory workers – Theresa May was happy to disclose that she has “always been in favour of fox hunting.” That’s emphatic: “Always!”
This attitude to life – not in the sense of one’s disposition to being alive, but to the miracle that is human and animal life itself – shapes her as a human being, as a politician, and as the senior-most figure in our elected government. This helps us to understand her position on foodbanks. She is quite unmoved by over a million people in the UK replying on foodbanks – almost half of whom are children. We may think that in her own mind this fact deeply troubles and upsets her, but when she excuses the fact that even nurses are turning to foodbanks with the words, “there are many complex reasons why people go to foodbanks,” the veil is torn away. She couldn’t care less – she is completely without compassion or empathy.
Exactly the same hunter mentality is at play. The suffering of the other – the wild and the social vermin – is clinical and abstract. Nothing of this impinges on her sense of being or her quality of life. She has no class, social, or personal affinity with those who are going hungry as a result of her government’s overt class war policies; policies, as with the hunt, directed to securing the good and the pleasure of an élite and privileged class. Just as it is with the horses and the hounds on the hunt, this diabolical indifference to human suffering and contempt for [inferior] life is Darwinian – it is about the survival of the fittest, where the winner only truly wins when another is destroyed. That is the quintessence of their psychopathic pleasure.
On the hunt it is about the biblical lordship over the animals – a fundamental misunderstanding of the sacred duty of human stewardship, and in the state it is about the creation and the empowerment of the pitiless neoliberal and neo-Thatcherite übermensch; the master and destroyer.
Yes, the fox hunt debate can be seen as a distraction from what this Westminster government is doing. But the Sun Tzu dictum to know thy enemy directs us to seek a fuller understanding of what drives this system. People drive this system – people like Theresa May and the people she represents. Fox hunting and their attitude to it allows us to peer into the pitch darkness of their souls, and it is this glimpse into the underworld of their mythos that helps us to understand what they are doing to people, and how it is possible they can do what they are doing. In this regard fox hunting is the perfect metaphor of life in the UK today.
Hunting Days (2005)