No More Targets!

What makes people hunt other people like animals, or hunt animals for that matter? Let’s explore a clip from the movie Targets, a UK demo against fox hunting, a great song from The Pentangle, and a rare reference to the Hunt Saboteurs in Doctor Who. But first this bunny hugger rabbits on a bit…

I feel like I’m in a grim version of Groundhog Day where every day I wake up to another school shooting, the latest in Santa Fe, Texas.

A talking head stressed that people in the community often feel like they’re to blame in some way, but said they’re absolutely not to blame — the only ones to blame are those who continue to oppose sensible gun laws. Though largely true, this is an oversimplification. We desperately need sensible gun laws, but the kind of society we have collectively created is also a factor in random acts of violence.

Our society is increasingly impersonal, based on material goods, mass entertainment, and high technology. Because we’ve not been able to agree on certain core values, we fail to teach them to the children in our schools. We need to help children foster peace, insight, compassion, and a sense that each human being has worth because he or she is created in the image of God. Or, if the latter idea about God has become too controversial, then let us at least teach them that there is something at the core of the human spirit which is noble, and that in spite of quarreling, in spite of suffering at each other’s hands, we must not harm human life or wantonly take the life of another.

I had to arrive at these ideas through some effort — certainly my parents and schoolteachers never explained them to me, though there were one or two teachers who created a caring space in which positive human values emerged naturally. And later on in life, as I began to consciously explore spirituality, I had a wonderful teacher in the person of Sri Chinmoy, who was a fount of all those good qualities with which we would hope to imbue our children.

But like many from my generation, I had already suffered greatly in adulthood before discovering these truths. It is much better if children receive good grounding in spiritual or (as a fail-safe) humanistic values before they have to confront the challenges of the adult world, which may include brutal competition to survive economically, as well as temptations to merely anesthetize oneself. There are many factors underlying the present opioid crisis, but certainly two factors are the sense of hopelessness which some people feel, and the view (reinforced by endless TV commercials for wonder drugs) that chemicals are the way to solve our problems, regardless of dreadful side effects (masked by pictures of puppies romping, children playing, kites flying, and lovers holding hands).

I suppose a third factor is the ultra-rationalist belief that we are merely collections of chemicals, that consciousness is a phenomenon which arises from chemical reactions, and that when our bodies die, our consciousness, our entire existence, dies with it. Some other time, I’ll discuss at length the “God delusion” and simulation theory as further hindrances to spirituality. The point is that these various views of human life as essentially meaningless estrange us from those truths which we need in order to value each other, to recognize the sacredness of human life, and to come to feel deeply that we would never want to kill a fellow human being.

I’m sometimes critical of our political leaders — the present batch in the White House being particularly corrupt and unenlightened. But I can also see things from their point of view. These are people who subscribe to materialism (perhaps having inherited it as their default view), and who feel driven to strive for money and fame — much more than any of us actually need. Lacking grounding in higher values, they are obsessed with money, sex, and power, and are eager to destroy each other in order to scramble to the top of the scrap heap.

Without making this another rant against Donald Trump, one thing I hear repeatedly from talking heads is that he’s never had to pay a price for doing dirt to people. His (possibly ill-gotten) riches have allowed him to pay off those he’s wronged (when forced to), like enrollees at Trump University. His campaign of hatred against the noble Barack Obama has not hurt Trump appreciably, nor has his womanizing. To the extent that the president is a role model for the nation, this particular role model confirms the worst materialist suspicions: that you get ahead in life by being a creep and throwing your weight around. Do it to the other guy before he does it to you! Truth is whatever the guy with the biggest megaphone, biggest bank account, and biggest army says it is! In this sense, it may be argued that materialism leads to authoritarianism.

But again, a critical issue is that there are seemingly no consequences for wrong action. The reason human justice is often harsh — amounting to years of torture in subhuman conditions — is that we do not collectively understand or believe in the law of karma. We view things from a narrow human time frame, and mistakenly assume that because someone like Donald Trump can act like the worst sort of blaggard and yet become president, therefore we should adopt a crude, materialist view of life. This is the lesson our children learn by osmosis from Trump’s ascent to power.

Spiritual insight tells us, however, that just because we do not see the punishment with our human eyes does not mean there is no punishment for wrong action. In this life we may act like the worst kind of corrupt king, but in the next life we may be born a blind beggar who has to fight with dogs for scraps of food.

When we throw out many spiritual insights acquired over the ages — including the insight that “As you sow, so shall you reap,” this has destructive ripple effects throughout society, including an increase in a particular type of mass shooter psychosis. Here, a person is seized by the notion that he will kill dozens of people and then kill himself, and that will be the end of it. He does not realize that for causing unimaginable suffering to dozens of people, he himself will have to undergo terrible suffering — if not in this world, then in the next.

So, to come back to my original point, there will always be a small percentage of insane shooters; and sensible gun laws can limit the amount of damage they inflict. But to the extent that we collectively subscribe to the view that human life is meaningless and valueless, and that there are no lasting consequences for wrong action; and where we construct a technocratic society devoid of human empathy; and where we fail to teach our children ideals of peace, love, and compassion, and fail to instill in them a proper understanding of the laws of the universe (which exist independently of our human codes and statutes), then we do bear some limited responsibility for mass shootings.

Of course, I don’t mean this in a fundamentalist “fire and brimstone” sense. I mean simply that we share in the societal environment we create. If we pollute that environment instead of tending to it with care, we may end up with freak weather conditions or mass shootings. We need to be more conscious of what we do, and not inflict harm through carelessness.

As a child, I had Grimm’s Fairy Tales, some of which were truly horrifying. I still remember the mean girl who “trod on a loaf.” She pulled the wings off flies, and then in hell the flies settled on her and could not fly away because she had pulled off all their wings.

There’s a lesson in environmentalism here. As human beings, we are collectively stewards of this beautiful planet which God created, or which arose spontaneously from His Soul. As president Kennedy remarked in a famous commencement address at American University in 1963:

Let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.

Much of the speech in question dealt with peace. This brings me back to a theme I’ve oft sounded in response to mass shootings: Peace studies. It will help us to recognize (one might even say “admit”) that in an increasingly technocratic age, what we lack is compassion, insight, empathy, and inner peace. To recognize this is a kind of breakthrough; for only when we recognize the lack of something do we consciously seek it out, find methods to cultivate and attain it. To realize that we are presently lacking in certain core qualities which make us truly human is not to take a negative or defeatist approach. Rather, it is to take a positive, proactive approach to diagnosing our present malaise — of which opioid addiction, random shootings, and political corruption are only symptoms.

The qualities which we presently lack cannot be forced on society or on any individual; but as individuals we can become more conscious, and so help to foster a more conscious society in which hatred is less, injustice is less, and children grow up feeling loved and protected rather than like walking targets.

Segueing into the promised media clips: Targets was the name of a 1968 Peter Bogdanovich film dealing with the inexplicable (and impersonal) quality of mass shootings:

2018 is (ironically) the fifty year anniversary of Targets, but we are still dealing with the modern “flattening effect” or loss of empathy. The film is more complex than a one-dimensional study of a social phenomenon, however. It features multiple perspectives, and includes Boris Karloff as Byron Orlock, a retiring horror actor who is nonetheless a principled, old-school gentleman repulsed by violence in real life — but who tells a chilling story in this scene:

Learn more about Targets (which is partly based on real life mass shootings) from these two insightful YouTube reviews:


From hunting human beings we transition to hunting animals. The royal hunt plays a grand role in the history of England; and of the various political factions which exist in the UK, monarchists and Tories are perhaps most inclined to support a continuation of that tradition, while British Labour tends to champion animal rights.

Arguably the best British folk group from the late 60s/early 70s was The Pentangle, and their 1969 album Basket of Light included a remarkable flight of fancy called “Hunting Song”:

Much as I love it, the lyrics contain an element of cruelty:

As I did travel all on a journey
Over the wayside and under a dark moon
Hanging above a mountain

I spied a young man riding a fine horse
Chasing a white hart and all through the woodland
Head of a hunting party

And there followed after ten kings and queens
Laughing and joking, the white hart they’d seen
Bloodied running into the bushes…

Perhaps this cavalier, privileged attitude on the part of the hunting gentry is what spawned a counter-movement known as the Hunt Saboteurs (or “Sabs”), who first emerged in the winter of ’63 and continue on to this day, interfering in hunts by various physical means.

A rare (if fleeting) tribute to the Hunt Saboteurs occurs in the 1989 Doctor Who story “Survival” — the last story broadcast during the “classic” period. There, Ace (played by Sophie Aldred), visits her old stomping ground of Perivale in West London. Most of her friends have mysteriously disappeared, but one friend (Ange, played by Kate Eaton) is still around, looking waiflike with her collecting tin for the Sabs:

The story is interesting for a number of reasons, not least that it serves up an inversionist view of hunting, with catlike creatures on horseback hunting humans! (More here.)

doctor-who-survival-cheetah-person-cat-person-karra

Fast forward to 2017, when Prime Minister Theresa May threatened to end the UK’s ban on fox hunting, thereby spawning some lovely, creative, colourful, and humourous demos by animal rights activists:

While it’s always risky to characterize or stereotype entire movements, I think many animal rights activists are motivated by a sense of compassion and caring, and an insight that we are all fellow creatures on this planet. We should treat each other well and not hunt each other. In short: No more targets!

I don’t mean to be simplistic. With slogans like “Save a fox, hunt a Tory,” protesters are obviously embracing an element of class warfare. And as with all movements, animal rights can devolve into fanaticism or the assumption that “We are absolute good, you are absolute evil.” At one time, culling the fox population through hunts perhaps made more sense than it does today.

Earlier I mentioned TV commercials we have in the US made by drug manufacturers, where a long list of scary side effects is recited while viewers are shown pictures of puppies, children, kites flying, and lovers holding hands — certainly no pictures of the actual health catastrophes being enumerated! In other words, propaganda.

Likewise, the notoriously anti-liberal Daily Mail ran a pro fox-hunting spread with seemingly dozens of high definition colour photos. Lots of puppy dogs licking children’s faces, pretty ladies and handsome gentlemen in full riding regalia (including UKIP’s Nigel Farage), but not a single dead fox. Just sayin’…

Apart from all the politics, I must say I find it easier to identify with the beautiful people who turned out for the anti fox-hunting demo — though I suspect that somewhere among them might have been Edina Monsoon wearing one of her more eccentric outfits.

An alternative to harming living creatures is the mock fox hunt pictured here:

This first person account titled “Adventures in Mock Fox Hunting!” is less visual, but more informative.

Not to digress, but our curious commercial culture is such that generic nouns are frequently appropriated by companies for their own ends. In searching Google for “mock fox,” I had to wade through a number of commercial listings before getting to “the real animal.” FOR FOX SAKE!!!

And to really not digress, we could move from mock foxes to mock turtles, like the one Alice encountered in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This in turn inspired a song by the Bruford band called “Fainting in Coils:

As a youthful maniac in search of ultimate guitar chops, I was led not only to Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, but also to the slightly-less-well-known Alan Holdsworth, who did some of his best work with Bill Bruford’s group. (Their styles are somewhat opposite: McLaughlin tends to pick every note (like Django Reinhardt), while Holdsworth (who also plays violin) makes extensive use of legato technique.) But there’s no way I’m going to get from there back to my original topic, so no point even trying. Heavens to Murgatroyd! (Exit, stage left.)

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Potent Quote

“Not a very efficient way to hunt, is it? All that noise and pantomime just to slaughter one little animal.” — Doctor Who (Sylvester McCoy) from “Survival”

Bonus Clips



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