The Severed Hand of a Modern Human

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More importantly, hunting establishes human as animal. It is my opinion that humans need nothing more in the way of distinguishing features. We are incredibly practiced and efficient at being human—at separating ourselves from the natural world around us. We aren’t so good at being animals.

Not hunting (or not killing) makes us human by modern conception only. It drives the wedge between us and it deeper, lengthens the neck to make foreign the head and heart, the hands and mouth. Our teeth become stained with blood our hands have not touched: a slogan of contemporary humanness. I say “humanness” and not “humanity” because I wish to reserve the term humanity for something of virtue, a quality, and not something inherent to being a human. Hunting gives us humanity. Separating ourselves from death numbs us to it. This is the paradoxical relationship between what creates humanity, and how humanity behaves. Pain is the necessary father of empathy, and frustration of tolerance. In the same way, killing cultivates a kind of respect for life.

Of course, what I’m presenting, the two-sided coin, is a remarkably simple concept. However, I am finding more and more that in one way or another it finds its way into the solution to most, if not all problems that I encounter. As David Foster-Wallace articulates in “This Is Water,” his 2005 commencement speech addressed to Kenyon College:

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?'”

Very often the most important and potent concepts are so present, so obvious, that we cannot even see, let alone employ them practically in our lives. It is in this way that the importance of death and of hunting is lost to us. No doubt, there are other cultures that are much more in touch with both sides of the coin than America, which is primarily where I’m drawing observations and conclusions from, as it’s the only culture I really know and understand.

The next logical question is what fills the void? What fills the hunting-shaped hole in our humanness? If we acknowledge hunting as a natural function of all animals, it seems plausible that by eradicating it from our human routine, that aimless energy would need to find a new direction, a new outlet in which to unload. I wondered if the solution to this might question be obvious. I looked for a quick and clear answer: something like war, or video games, or sports. I think these are partially related, but I think it can be found in less visible areas of everyday life, too. The game of attraction, or adrenaline, for instance. It also seems by no coincidence that cultures in where there’s a strong disconnect between the two sides of the coin, there is also a stronger culture of the uphill climb—the treadmill. There’s a certain age at which every American child suddenly becomes aware of the treadmill model they’ve been born into, after which point it can be seemingly impossible to ignore or get off of. For me this was age 15, and the elementary-to-college-to-workforce-to-promotion-to-grave mold all at once felt overwhelming, absurd, and inevitable. It’s as if the possibility of failure drives the ever-upwards-and-never-arriving motion more than the actual hope of maybe, someday arriving does. I do believe some degree of pyramid scheming is natural, and probably unrelated, but It’s the exaggerated state of modern capitalist mentality that leads me to think the treadmill and the killers void are connected in some way. Our need for monetary and measurable success is so rampant, so gluttonous, so far past necessity of survival and comfort that it seems to me some form of exploitive substitution. Having established ourselves, humans, as the top of the food chain in relation to the natural world, we are forced to create a new kind of food chain within the human race. We create our own resistance to push against, our own lower class to rise above.

I could never pretend to know how things might have turned out had the rise of industrial agriculture played out differently, or the advancement of weapon technology slowed. I cannot pretend to know all the ways in which these developments affect our way of living today, or even if they were for better or worse. The one thing that I have observed to be true in my own life is that there are always repercussions that come from ignoring the ugly—from reaping the benefits of seeds you didn’t sow, from feeding your mouth with hands so far removed from the body, you can’t see the gun they steady.

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