Predation is a subject that has caused considerable debate within the environmental and animal rights communities for several decades. The answer is simple enough on face value, predatory relationships are not only perfectly normal in wild nature but that it has numerous ecological benefits in most areas where predation is common. But where the conversation gets murky is when we start to consider the role humans play here. For many of us the answer is simple, predatory behaviour is nature, humans are natural beings and therefore it is perfectly nature for humans to engage in this behaviour.
There are several aspects to this that make the subject much more complicated then it first appears. The first is that predators in wild nature do not have an alternative, and as such it has no grounding whatsoever in any kind of ethical or moral deliberation. But for humans, we are omnivorous, we can consume products which are not derived from sentient animals and therefore we do have a choice. This thought however should not be confused we the idea of eating meat altogether since, while these concepts may feed into that discussion we are only considering the concept of hunting prey at this point.
There simply are no good counter-arguments to this logic beyond either survival or the hedonistic desire to partake in the hunt itself and ultimately to satisfy the palate. But these counter arguments are not trivial to the discussion and need to be taken seriously rather than being cast aside as they commonly are by many radical Vegans. Regarding the subject of survival and nourishment, some people simply do not have an alternative but to consume meat to sufficiently keep them nourished. There are several reasons this might be the case, one is economic and practical reasons – non-animal-based alternatives are usually more expensive, and this assumes that there is always a non-animal supplement available. Another reason is a lack of education over what can be used as an alternative to what, moreover a great deal of this lack of understanding lies in the cultural and historical traditions of the person. As such shifting the values and beliefs of some people in this debate may not be possible since many people are simply closed to the possibility of change on the subject.
With these thoughts in consideration then, a series of questions come to mind. Is the predation immoral, wrong or evil? If, so why do we see something that is perfectly natural as wrong? And if not, then does the fact that humans partake in hunting make them immoral, wrong or evil?
The answer to the first question is probably best answered with an emphatic no. This does not mean predation is “good” per se, just like anything in nature, “good” makes no sense since nature itself is completely a-moral. There may be benefits for the ecology of an area and draw backs in that it will no doubt lead to the pain and suffering of countless sentient animals being hunted for food – but can the same be said for us when we participate in hunting (again disregarding the meat-eating conversation – we are purely referring to hunting)? While I am not willing to posit that hunting is bad in and of itself, I am more then willing to agree that certain hunting methods that cause unnecessary suffering or methods that lead to significant wastage of resources is deeply questionable. But there is another side to this, for many hunters hunting is a way of connecting with nature, by embracing the predatory nature of humans and participating in an important natural process.
I am sympathetic to this idea, and it is hard to argue with the later kind of hunter’s logic. But can the same predatory behaviour be found in another past time that perhaps avoids that infliction of death and suffering, particularly when there is no need to do it? These are questions that I struggle with each day as an avid conservationist and environmentalist. I do know this much, that there is no good positive reason to participate in hunting when we have practical alternatives to the practice – but this does not make the practice evil in and of itself, just questionable especially when there are practical alternatives available. But for the person who simply does not have a choice in the matter, then they truly are participating in an important natural process by which there and their family’s survival and nourishment is sustained.
I am still turning the idea of predation over in my mind and can not claim to have strong answers on the subject. But the principle of minimisation of pain and suffering is sufficient cause for avoiding hunting where it is possible to do so.