We are all hunters, predators, warriors. Everyone of us. I do not care whether you are a card-carrying member of PETA, a strict vegetarian, an avowed pacifist, or have never laid a finger on a hunting rifle or compound bow let alone fired a bullet or bolt into an animal.
We are all hunters by the sheer dint of historical and biological forces. We are all the offspring of forebears that hunted for millennia and thrived because of that evolved prowess for hunting.
Let’s toss all the contemporary arguments pro or con hunting aside, the titled observation is not telling anyone to abandon whatever moral precepts they possess regarding hunting, animals, and any perceived cruelty to animals.
To declare human beings as a hunting species is not a value judgment but a statement of fact.
Evolutionary biologists, paleo-ethologists, and anthropologists from Robert Ardrey to Richard Wrangham have gone so far as to say that what makes the human species so distinctly different from its simian brethren is this very penchant, this evolved drive to hunt.
Other animals can and do hunt, some solitary and some in packs, but no animal exceeds the human animal in applying technology to the solo hunt or the exceeding depths of cooperation in the human-pack hunt.
Dolphins may work together to “bubble-net” a school of fish but this is in no way a match for the hauls fishermen made off the coasts of New Foundland even 400 years ago. Wolves may hunt in families [the pack idea is a bit of a myth] and bring down prey larger than themselves, but the wolf is still no match for our forebears who brought down mammoths and other gargantuan prey that we just may have hunted to extinction.
There are many authorities in the field of human development who surmise that our ability to communicate and cooperate so successfully was borne out of this evolutionary group-hunting path. There is also some very convincing evidence [from Dr. Richard Wrangham particularly] that the combination of meat and fire, i.e., cooked meat, is what led to the relatively sudden growth spurt in the neo-cortex. Robert Ardrey surmises that the birth of the individual began with the mastery of the bow and arrow, hunting technology, that allowed individuals to break free of the pack.
Now, whether we hunt or not in our own personal lives matters not a whit to the fact that you, me, every human you meet is here because ancestors who put millennia into developing the skills and attributes that make a good hunter survived and passed along some of those successful hunting attributes to you.
The human brain is wired to be alert to patterns, to clues, to solving. Why? To better track prey. To better understand whether this sign means good foraging or that sign means “Uh-oh!”
Our modern hunting selves have little need to hunt or forage for ourselves anymore, we allow the market to provide but that does not mean that these hunting bits of our selves lie fallow.
It has been surmised that this inherent “solving” is part of the reason we enjoy puzzles, mystery films, suspense television, thriller novels to the degree we do. We are looking for clues, paths, tracks. It is also the reason we abhor spoilers, our intellect craves the hunt, the tracking and even this weak tea of trying to out-guess the third act of “Law & Order” fulfils some inherent need.
Is there any danger to being a hunting species that perhaps never hunts?
Consider this, hunting animals are keen and alert to their surrounding environment. This is, of course, necessity. Flagging attention may mean missing a meal, or missing the signal that a larger or smaller but venomous predator has you in its sites.
Flagging of attention is not rewarded with full bellies or long lives, let alone the passing along of your unsuccessful hunter genes.
Hunting animals must be reflective animals, that is reflecting and adapting to the external environment they are currently in.
External Reflection. This is key.
I repeat—This is key.
Philosopher John Gray [the real philosopher and not the “Men Are from Mars/Women Are from Venus” guy] states [and I simplify] that the human animal has gone from being a reflective being for the most part to a self-reflective one and this is the cause of many self-inflicted woes.
This is that key difference. Successful hunting animals are keen observers of their environment well aware of signs of prey, signs of good foraging ground, and also signs of potential upper-apex predators. Hunting animals must reflect on all that is before them, all the sights, sounds, scents, tastes on the air, the shift of wind signalled by the fluttering of the hairs on your arms.
As we progressed technologically, civilization was and is able to do more and more of our actual hunting and gathering for us, but this mere 40,000 year blip of agriculture is nothing in the scale of millennia when the hunting attributes were key. We can no more minus out the seeking and the solving of the hunter mindset than we can minus out familial affection. Hunting instincts are part and parcel of who we are as a species.
But, with the hunting prowess left with little to nothing to work on it has, in many cases, turned inward. Our powers of reflection have turned from reflections of the external/actual world, to self-reflection. We spend far more time pondering the fallible recreations of the real world inside our skulls than what goes on in the actual world. John Gray and others say that is a bit of a problem.
And we can’t turn that off. Reflection, that is.
If we do not reflect, we are no longer human. The key is whether we embrace the hunter’s reflection of the world, the external reflection that allows us to see and recognize patterns, tracks, make real associations, the day to day concrete observations that make up a sort of personal science, a pragmatic mechanistic understanding of the world comprised of the real and not the imagined.
Or, we mull and chew over only our own thoughts and the phantoms inside our skulls. Looking for dubious patterns and tracks in the words and acts, the perceived slights of others that may, in fact, be indicative of nothing.
All the while keeping in mind that being lost in thought also means being lost in the world.
It is inescapable that we will hunt and track whether self-reflective or outward reflective, this is a symptom of being a hunting being.
I wager that one form of reflection is of far more value than the other.