Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hunting Humans: Rick Bass's "Why I Hunt: A Predator's Mediation"

Jessica Mason McFadden
English 380 (Balderson) - WIU
Paper 3
September 30th 2005

*Source citation was not required for this assignment

Hunting Humans

Five years ago you could have found me hiding under my covers, praying to a god that I no longer believe in with my eyes shut tightly—but not anymore. These nights I offer up a two minute thanksgiving for the sake of karma; I look out into the darkness and I recognize the shadows as objects in my house rather than the faces of my dead grandfathers. It feels good to open my eyes, but I’ve traded in that old ignorant twinkle for a steady calmness. I still duck and cover when an insect the size of my pupil is within five feet of me, but from a distance I know that I am not so different from the tiny creature. If I am a predator, I am not the kind of predator who hunts but rather the one who kills out of fear. I prefer the role of the prey— it suits me well. I avoid conflict: I prefer spending time at home with my wife, I weigh less than 100lbs, and I have been notorious for becoming paralyzed with laughter upon being attacked by testosterone-laden family members. If a human or other animal my size or larger were to want me for dinner, I would be an easy target though my meat wouldn’t feed a family of four.

As a member and supporter of the earth’s weak little peacekeepers (small humans with loud voices), I can say that despite Rick Bass’s honorable honesty, I found “Why I Hunt: A Predator’s Mediation” to be a threat to womankind. Not all women are vulnerable, but with weapons the hunter can make most anyone his prey. There are predators in the United States who hunt women the way Bass hunts elk. If Bass’s non-human targets are replaced with women and children, the essay has quite a different effect on the reader, though the arguments don’t change. When Bass describes his love of “sitting in some leaves, completely hidden and motionless—waiting, and waiting” (63), I picture him waiting in a park for an unattended child or an unaccompanied woman. My concerns about Bass’s instincts aren’t neurotic. I’m a loving woman who occasionally hugs trees and wants to feel safe in the world—not a card carrying member of PETA. My own instincts, like Bass’s, usually prevail; they told me not to go in the woods with Rick Bass or buy into his “Predator’s Meditation.” Bass’s hunting and the kind of hunting that isn’t sanctioned in the United States are eerily similar. He fails to draw even a fine line between hunting for sport and hunting for personal pleasure; they both tempt him to give into his urges. This wouldn’t be a problem if his instincts didn’t threaten the well-being of potentially vulnerable humans (prey, according to Bass).

All humans feel temptations to defy cultural norms: some men like to dance to Tina Turner’s wildly energetic songs wearing only high heels, some lovers want to be handcuffed to the bedpost and spanked, and some women want to walk around town with their shirts off. I admire Bass’s rebelliousness—his desire to stir the reader up and break all the rules—but frankly, the sadistic nature of his desires are troubling. At the end of Bass’s essay I am still left wondering how he is able to turn off his predator instincts when fall turns to winter.

Bass filled his predator’s defense-guised-as-meditation with natural images of the predator-prey relationship, but his predator-logic was faulty. Bass doesn’t feel comfortable hunting predators; it feels unnatural to him (63). Hunting predators isn’t any different from hunting prey; when predators are hunted they become prey. A sea lion may hunt and kill a penguin for an afternoon snack, but that same sea lion may be hunted by a shark at supper time. Bass doesn’t take the time to consider that there is a continuum between predators and prey. No one wants to be the prey of a bigger and faster predator, not even Bass.

Although Bass claims that when he hunts, he hunts for something he “must have” (63), his drive to hunt, kill, and eat deer and elk is not a matter of life or death. He attempts to justify his desire by arguing that it is part of his basic survival. It’s almost as if he is playing pretend in autumn. Bass fancies the idea that his behavior is a survival mechanism. His most convincing argument is that the meat gives him strength and makes him feel “alive” (63). While the pleasure-argument may be natural for Bass, it wouldn’t go far in the court room. If Jeffrey Dahmer were to write “Why I Kill: A Murderer’s Mediation,” readers would be fascinated, but most of them wouldn’t volunteer to share a cell with him. As an outspoken predator, Bass offers the reader a few admirable but unconvincing arguments. I want to agree with him, but when I remind myself that each ritual he delights in ultimately ends in death; it is impossible.

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