The Age of Sentiment and Cruelty - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Age of Sentiment and Cruelty

“Kimmel Chokes Up On Air Over Cecil the Lion,” read one headline last week. Late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel has come a long way from the The Man Show. He used to skewer weepy, sentimental celebrities. Now he has become one of them.

Kimmel joined a chorus of celebrities in denouncing a dentist for the “self-indulgent” killing of an African lion. Would Mia Farrow and company ever describe abortion as self-indulgent? Killing unborn children, we’re told, is now an essential part of the human lifestyle, an acceptable cost in a society that prizes recreational sex.

Somehow this same society can look at recreational hunting and see barbarism. Its awe for nature doesn’t extend to human nature. The more impure modern man becomes, the more purity he demands outside of himself. Amidst all of his ghoulish experiments on defenseless unborn children, he insists that nature go untouched. While polluting his body with drugs, he insists on unpolluted skies.

In 2007, a book called The World Without Us turned up on bestseller lists, providing the elite with a satisfying picture of nature undisturbed by the presence of human beings. The book quotes Les Knight, the founder of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, as saying that humans should stop procreating so that the world can revert to a pristine state: “The last humans could enjoy their final sunsets peacefully, knowing they have returned the planet as close as possible to the Garden of Eden.”

The most self-indulgent generation in history is comically puritanical about nature. While shredding the Ten Commandments, it draws up a longer and longer list of forbidden acts against non-human things. The rich can pursue trophy wives but they must never participate in trophy hunting. Never mind if it is legal, contributes to conservation funds, and pares down dangerous animal populations.

Hunting for “pleasure,” according to the denunciations heard in recent days, is intrinsically wrong. So, apparently, all hunting and fishing industries, not to mention sports that make use of the discomfort of animals such as horse racing, are morally tainted. According to the puritanical mentality of animal-rights activism, any interaction with nature must be strictly utilitarian. A few of its proponents will grudgingly concede that animals can be killed for human survival provided that the hunters take no pleasure in the hunting.

Implicit in this scorn for pleasure in hunting is a radically distorted view of human nature, which denies that human beings are rational creatures seeking goods beyond bare necessity. That view reduces man to the same level as animals, existing not for the perfection of his faculties but for mere survival. The shaming question asked of big-game hunters—Is your hobby really necessary?—could be asked of every leisure activity that enriches human life.

Teddy Roosevelt considered big-game hunting a noble pastime, a test of human skill and courage in the face of dangerous predators. These days he would be disqualified from the presidency for his thoughts on the subject. The pictures of him sitting atop a slain rhino would be more damning than the Gennifer Flowers tapes.

“In hunting, the finding and killing of the game is after all but a part of the whole,” Roosevelt wrote. “The free, self-reliant, adventurous life, with its rugged and stalwart democracy; the wild surroundings, the grand beauty of the scenery, the chance to study the ways and habits of the woodland creatures—all these unite to give to the career of the wilderness hunter its peculiar charm. The chase is among the best of all national pastimes; it cultivates that vigorous manliness for the lack of which in a nation, as in an individual, the possession of no other qualities can possibly atone.”

Such thoughts, once commonplace, are now controversial. Animal-rights activism has wormed its way so deeply into the culture that the most obvious defenses of legitimate traditions no longer hold sway. Hunters are stigmatized while celebrities who cry over animal rights are celebrated.

The Democrats, afraid to lose the votes of gun owners, have played up their support for hunting in recent years. But the hysteria over the last week even exposes that stance as phony. They are the party of PETA and Planned Parenthood, two banners which belong together as they both draw upon hatred of the human.

George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats' Crypto-Socialist?
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