DEAR DR. PARSNIPPETY: I am a 10-point whitetail buck and have been happily married to the doe of my dream for seven years. I’ll never forget when I saw her for the first time, during rutting season a few years ago. She was standing in a clearing at the edge of a tree line, the chilly October air warmed only by the sunlight reflecting off her big doe eyes. The way she blinked in slow motion and raised her nose to catch a scent of clover or alfalfa made me paw the ground with desire and...well, let’s leave it there. She’s been my own sweet deer ever since.
Lately, though, we’ve been arguing. The problem is that I’m for hunting and she’s against it. She thinks it’s wrong to shoot people or to kill them with a bow and arrow or by any method at all. No matter how many good arguments I list in favor of hunting, she remains unpersuaded. I tell her that hunting people is a form of conservation; that it’s a way of managing the human population, of culling the herd for the sake of ethnic balance and reducing human numbers to what the land can support. Hunting mitigates the ongoing environmental damage caused by people and their way of life. It slows deforestation and the loss of wildlife habitat. It curbs the poisoning of air, soil, and water. It reduces harmful fossil fuel use and thus eases climate change.
But she’s adamant, really stubborn. With the stamp of a hoof, she dismisses all rational arguments, saying they don’t add up to the strength of three simple words: Do not kill.
As a result, we’ve been eating our acorns in a silent and mutual huff. My doe and I are at an impasse. Can you help? MY DEER DOESN’T GET IT
Dear MY DEER DOESN’T GET IT: Don’t try your Jonathan Swift Deer act on me. You’ve never shot a person in your life and you never would, nor would you eat one. Aren’t you an herbivore? You’re running a thought-experiment here and you want Dr. Parsnippety to sort it out for you.
To begin with, I’m guessing that your wife is not as opposed to killing as she claims. Does she mourn after stepping on an ant or swatting a fly? Isn’t the latter a form of hunting?
The crux of the matter is what we clever plants and animals call the chain or hierarchy of life, ranging from amoeba and hairy spiders near the bottom, to chipmunks and lilac bushes in the lower middle, to deer and people in the upper middle, to beets and parsnips at the top. Both our reason and instincts persuade us that forms of life rise on the chain and gain moral status in proportion to their degree of self-awareness, intelligence, and emotional depth. I think you and your wife simply disagree about how high an organism must be on the chain to win immunity from hunting and slaughter. She thinks people have risen to a level that qualifies them for protection; you say they haven’t. Fair enough.
Imagine the expression on your face, though, when a species of superior moose visit earth and arrogantly begin hunting you, judging your degree of mental activity to be low indeed. You’ll scream, “Wait! Wait! I combine high intelligence with depth and self-awareness. How could you shoot me?” The alien moose, pointing bionic hooves at your cowering figure, will explode in laughter, crying out, “What? You call yourself intelligent? You call yourself deep and self-aware? Ah ha ha, ha ha ha!”