A few months ago I complained in a post about all the hoops my home state makes me jump through to get a hunting licence. Well, I am on the verge of completing one of my requirements, participation in a hunter’s education course. It has been much more fun than I imagined it would be.
The course instructors are all experienced hunters and exemplary conservationists, truly concerned about wildlife preservation. They try to instill in their students a high level of hunter’s ethics that go beyond the strict demands of the law. So it surprised me when some of them would complain about outdated or contradictory state restrictions on hunting, like the prohibition of hunting crows on Tuesday, or the fact that you can hunt squirrels with high-powered rifles (an unethical waste of meat) but not deer.
Among the state prohibitions they complained about was the ban of hunting on Sundays.
It is what we call in Massachusetts a “Blue Law”. The Blue Laws date back to our Puritan forefathers who thought it right and proper to forbid people from doing anything fun on Sunday. Most Blue Laws, like the ban on dancing, have lapsed. A few years ago the state even allowed, under certain restrictions, alcohol to be sold on Sundays. But the ban on hunting remains.
Actually, the ban on Sunday hunting dates back to Medieval Europe, and it made sense in that context. Here in America hunting is traditionally a poor man’s sport, but in Europe it was always a rich man’s sport, usually restricted to the nobility.
The Medieval nobleman was first and foremost a warrior, and he always had to be ready to ride off to fight for his overlord or to defend his own lands against invasion. Hunting was considered a fun way to stay in shape for war. The dogs would scare up a stag or boar, and the nobleman and his entourage would chase the animal on horseback over hill, forest and stream until the dogs cornered the beast and the lord would dispatch it with a spear. It would have demanded great skill and stamina as a rider and spear-man, as well as intimate knowledge of the local geography, all of which would be needed in time of war.
The Medieval Church sometimes tried (unsuccessfully) to put restrictions on war. In fact, the whole notion of “chivalry” was an attempt by the Church to tame the violent impulses of the Germanic tribesman who ran the continent after the fall of Rome. Some historians even interpret the Crusades as an attempt by the Church to direct the destructive impulses of Medieval warlords at something useful, like reconquering the Holy Land. The Church banned warfare on holy days, Sundays, and during Lent and Advent. Since hunting was closely associated with war, it too fell under the ban.
There was probably also a kill-joy spirit to the Church banning hunting on those days, but it does not seem to have been the dominate motive.
By the time you get to the Puritans however, the kill-joy spirit seems to have been the only remaining motive. There is much to admire in the tough Pilgrims and Puritans who settled the inhospitable Massachusetts Bay, but they were kicked out of England for a reason. The rise of Puritanism in England contributed to a civil war, during which the Puritans took particular pleasure in vandalizing pretty churches out of the conviction that the pleasant and the pious do not mix. Arriving in Massachusetts they did their best to separate the two, and one of the few remaining causalities of that separation was the hunting ban, not because it was a vain and warlike diversion for the rich, but because it is fun.
Why does the blue law ban on hunting survive, but not the ban on dancing? Because the rich folk in the Boston suburbs like dancing, but not hunting. They like to imagine that their own pastimes are all well and good, but the pastimes of others are somehow wrong. Hunting is cruel, so pass the pate fois gras.
I’ve commented in the past about how there is a tinge of classism in the gun-control movement. I wonder how much of our “shaming”, kill-joy culture is nothing other than class warfare by other means. I honestly don’t know. Sure, cigarettes will kill you, but who is hurt more by exorbitant cigarette taxes, the rich smoker or the poor smoker? Who would be more hurt by proposed taxes on carbon output, rich car-owners or poor car-owners? Rich people trying to heat their houses, or poor? Being fat is unhealthy, but who is on the receiving end of this emotionally exploitative anti-obesity movement? America is a strange country insofar as poor people are fat, and rich skinny, the opposite of every other country on earth.
And who is more likely to go to jail over our drug laws, a rich drug user or a poor one?
I’ll have more to say on this subject in a future post.