More news than you can shake a stick at
24 October 2017 13:19 (South Africa)
Opinionista Nicholas Taitz

A view from a Melissa Bachman hater: No matter the rationalisation, killing is wrong

  • Nicholas Taitz
    Nicholas-Taitz.jpg
    Nicholas Taitz

    Nicholas Taitz has a BA (Honours Philosophy) and LLB from Wits, all cum laude.  He is partner at a law firm in Johannesburg, Knowles Husain Lindsay, and I specialise in administrative, regulatory and constitutional law litigation, as well as general commercial disputes.  He has an abiding interest in philosophical issues, mainly ethics, also passionate about animal rights and animal welfare.

I would like to defend the expressions of disgust, hatred, dislike and repugnance which have been voiced by so many good South Africans and other people around the world against Melissa Bachman’s releasing of a picture of her standing smiling over a lion she had just shot in South Africa.

I am one of the haters, and I am proud of this fact. In this article I want to set out the justification for my position. Let me say at the outset that certain forms this moral outrage has taken, namely those where Ms Bachman is referred to in sexist or misogynist terms, are regrettable.

Any expression of sexism or misogyny is to be deplored, and furthermore, moral outrage taking these forms, such as calling Bachman a “whore”, detracts from the moral standing of the person making that statement. It also distracts our attention from the real moral issue at hand. So, with the qualification clearly stated that I do not support those sorts of condemnations of Bachmann, let me say why I do support the balance of the expressions of moral outrage against her.

What we must understand is that people’s reactions to Bachman are cases of moral outrage. They are expressing their deep and profound moral disapproval of what she has done. They are not saying that what she has done is illegal, but rather that what she has done and been allowed to do, is immoral and they deplore it.

A lot of commentators have come out and asked what is the point of condemning someone for doing something that is within South African law. This misses the purpose of the expression of moral outrage: it is not a question of what is legal or not, but a question of stating (and doing so widely) that one morally disapproves of certain conduct.

Indeed, it is in situations where conduct is legal or part of what is accepted in society’s norms that expressions of moral outrage are most needed and useful for the betterment of society. So, again, we should not mistake this as a debate about the law as that is not the point.

It is also not the point whether canned lion hunting promotes conservation of lions or not. It may very well be that in this economically driven world of ours, it is true that a strong commercial incentive to farm lions for the purpose of their being hunted does lead to greater lion numbers and conservation. But, again, this is a practical argument and does not touch upon the moral issue which I will highlight in a moment.

Consider the following: If I were to establish a shelter for ten thousand homeless people, on the condition that two or three of them every year would have to be hunted for sport, but that for every one person shot per year another thousand would be given shelter at the homeless shelter, would this be a morally acceptable arrangement? It is true that my arrangement would give shelter to thousands of people, whilst only two or three people a year would be killed in order to support this endeavour. It is clear that whilst such an endeavour may be justified on purely utilitarian grounds, it can never be said that such an argument shows the moral praiseworthiness of such conduct. On the contrary, it illustrates that the greater good for the greater number does not always equal what is moral or right.

The real issue here lies around the morality of killing a lion in a trophy hunting or sport scenario. There is simply no moral basis for doing this, and on the contrary, it is clearly morally repugnant. The lion is not being killed for food, so we can sweep that nonsense out of the way at the start.

Let us be honest about the hunter’s motivations: they see some value in the experience of shooting a lion. They find some level of fulfilment, whether you describe it as fun, enjoyment, the joy of the hunt, or whether your wax lyrical about it as Hemingway did and suggest that it is part of the core of being a man to have conquered the mighty beasts of the plains of Africa. At the end of the day, the killing is done for the enjoyment or fulfilment of the hunter and that is what is morally repugnant. That is the issue here – nothing else, from a moral point of view.

It is wonderful to see people express moral outrage. We have far too little of that in the world, where we are desensitised to human and other suffering and generally get on with our own lives without considering what is right or what is wrong beyond the scope of our own daily experiences. When people are motivated to make public expressions of moral outrage, this is a good thing.

It may be that they do so in clumsy ways, and that their expressions of moral outrage are polluted by prejudice and anger, but the core sentiment and motivation is a laudable one, and indeed is the very essence of what it is to be human. To feel moral outrage at the senseless killing of a fellow creature and to feel anger and upset over it, is proof of our remaining humanity and decency. That is why I welcome all of the abuse that has been poured on Bachman, including by me.

Many of those who have expressed moral outrage have been accused of sexism for focusing on the expression on Bachman’s face. It has been said that they would not do so if it were a man who were hunting. Maybe this is true, but the expression on her face of self-satisfaction standing over the dead lion is certainly something which is particularly worthy of moral outrage and condemnation. Where is the joy in killing a defenceless animal? That is the crisp issue at the heart of the present debate. The hunters will raise arguments about legality, about money flowing into South Africa and supporting conservation, and all sorts of extraneous issues which have nothing to do with this central moral question.

How is it that hunters can derive the clear value and benefit they see from shooting a lion, without accepting that they are indulging an evil inclination within themselves?

I pause to note that any animal, including the lion, has a right to live. This right may not be respected by our society, its habitat cut down and generally we may ignore this right in a flagrant manner: but it does not take away from the moral right of the lion to live unmolested by humans. It is particularly morally egregious when a life is taken for the enjoyment, fulfilment or whatever other nonsense is supposed to be the benefit of shooting the lion for the hunter.

In all of the furore surrounding the present incident, it seems the core moral issue has been lost. We hear reports on the radio of the economic upside of hunting and how this supports conservation. It seems to me to be a sad indictment of the human race if the only way we can be forced to engage in any conservation is by having farms which exist for the purpose of hunters paying large fees to come and indulge their evil inclinations. I still hold out the hope that we could conserve our wildlife without setting it up for sport by means of trophy hunting.

The other great thing about moral outrage is that it doesn’t matter whether the cause is hopeless or not. It may very well be that canned hunting will not be stopped no matter how much moral outrage is expressed. At the end of the day, money talks. However, the fact that there are still so many people who are willing to feel and express moral outrage is one of the chief signs that there is some hope left for humanity. Therefore I write in defence of the expression of moral outrage, and I hope those who have the decency and morality to feel this moral outrage continue to express it as loudly as possible.

We hear a lot about the justification for canned hunting. We are told that it promotes conservation, but is this real conservation? I would submit that conservation is the saving of animals based on a recognition of their inherent right to life and their value as animals, not farming them for the purpose of their being shot. Again, the intention makes all the difference to the moral evaluation.

And this takes us to the central issue of this whole debate: what is the intention of hunters in killing a lion or another great animal? Put another way, what do they see as the benefit of this activity? It is clear that none of these hunters would pay the large fees they do simply to come and observe an animal. It’s the killing they are after. So killing the animal, and doing so personally, is somehow a core part of what they perceive as of great value in this exercise.

The question is what real value there is in shooting a lion, or any other animal, from two hundred yards with a telescopic rifle? What is the moral justification for the killing of this creature? There is obviously none.

Let’s face the real truth: hunters kill for fun. They don’t want to admit it, because when their position is reduced to this, the moral repugnance of their inclinations is starkly revealed. But what else can be their motivation? You can dress it up any way you want, you can describe it as Hemingway did as part of the rights of passage of every real man, you can attempt to argue that it’s a question of marksmanship (which is a joke).

But at the end of the day, the thing that makes these hunters board a plane for far off South Africa, pay $25,000 for a licence, and come into the bush and stand over their trophy having killed it in a cowardly manner from two hundred yards, is the fact that they enjoy killing. They don’t enjoy killing just any animal, they want to kill a great beast, the King of the Jungle, or something along those lines. In other words, there is great satisfaction, fun, fulfilment, or whatever else you wish to call it, for these hunters in the killing of a lion or another great animal. Note that they don’t pay to come to South Africa to shoot a chicken at three hundred yards, even though that would be a far greater feat of marksmanship. What none of these hunters wishes to admit is that they come here and other places to kill for their own satisfaction, and really, put in simple terms, they come here to kill for fun. And that is what is morally reprehensible.

The expressions of moral outrage against this are entirely justified, and those who have criticised those who have spoken out should not lose sight of who is on the moral high ground in this debate. Killing for fun is wrong. One would have thought humankind might, by now, have learned this simple truth. DM

  • Nicholas Taitz
    Nicholas-Taitz.jpg
    Nicholas Taitz

    Nicholas Taitz has a BA (Honours Philosophy) and LLB from Wits, all cum laude.  He is partner at a law firm in Johannesburg, Knowles Husain Lindsay, and I specialise in administrative, regulatory and constitutional law litigation, as well as general commercial disputes.  He has an abiding interest in philosophical issues, mainly ethics, also passionate about animal rights and animal welfare.

Get overnight news and latest Daily Maverick articles






Do Not Miss