Opinionista Elan Burman 20 November 2013

Melissa Bachmann: Taking moral accountability for our actions

I concur with Rebecca Davis that the deeply disgusting rhetoric that has now consumed the issue of Melissa Bachman’s South African hunting expedition is absolutely horrendous. It is counter-productive to the cause and should be stopped immediately. It points to a deep-seated illness in our society that must be tackled and warrants ample airtime of its own.

I would also point out that there are myriad people who have taken up the lion hunt issue fuelled by moral and intellectual considerations, devoid of any misogynistic inclinations, who have voiced these without need to pander to violent and profoundly troubling language.

Where I disagree with Rebecca is in her claim that the petition is misdirected. We are not speaking about an individual who chanced upon a hunting opportunity in South Africa, during a vacation, and took it. We are speaking about someone who has staked her entire celebrity on hunting wildlife and promoting it to others. She actively fuels the demand for trophy hunting, through her television programme. She has cast herself into the spotlight through her own use of media to promote trophy hunting.

Many have suggested that the act was not illegal and therefore should be tolerated. This is a deeply flawed rationale. We know all too well from Apartheid that there is often a disconnect between the moral sentiments of a population and its legislative reality. Can you imagine if every government around the world needed to legislate against every conceivable activity that could be undertaken within its borders? We cannot abrogate the individual’s duty to take moral agency for themselves. If the presence or absence of a law is to be taken as indicating whether something should be tolerated, the globe would become a marketplace of immoral arbitrage. If one follows this argument, a depraved actor need only indulge his/her proclivities in a country where they remain legal, for it to merit tolerance. This is incongruous with our innate moral understandings.

We must recognise that there are two sides to the trophy hunting issue, the supply and the demand.

For the supply: We also know that South Africa is overrun with issues it must police and enforce. Banning lion hunting will push it underground and make it more lucrative. It will also place a massive policing burden on the State. This is not to suggest it should not be done. However, there is another aspect that must be considered. For those of us morally opposed to trophy hunting, there is a demand side complaint. We need to work to ensure that demand for trophy hunting is drastically curtailed by voicing our condemnation of it. Melissa Bachman as a spokesman for the practice has become a focal point of the global outrage against it, in a sincere effort to voice outrage at the practice.

While this author duly acknowledges that trophy hunting revenue stimulates and sustains South African conservation, this argument is again logically impaired. We do not allow an “ends-justifies the means” argument to inform the majority of our moral considerations, so why do we do so here? We are not about to set up an industry for bushveld arsonists, simply because the revenue will support fire-fighting. We will not allow for the trafficking of one individual, simply because the revenues will stop the trafficking of others. There is a fundamental disconnect in our moral thinking. (Please note I am not equating lion hunting with human trafficking; the latter is obviously far worse. I am trying to illustrate the disjointed way in which we forge our moral considerations.)

South Africa needs to act with moral fortitude and follow the brave lead of its peers like Zambia and Botswana and work to stamp out trophy hunting.

To reiterate, there is much cause for alarm at the way in which certain individuals have responded to the growing furore about Melissa Bachmann. There is no cause for threats of violence, ill-health or any other impediment to Bachmann’s personal safety. However, these remarks neither constitute the majority of stances on the issue, nor do they speak to the moral thrust of those who are seeking to curtail demand for trophy hunting. DM

Elan Burman is an “accidental activist”.


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