Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Dysfunctional Terrier World

I have just finished reading "Heartsblood: Hunting, Spirituality and Wildness in America" by David Peterson. This is a pretty philosophical book (not my normal fair), but I did manage to tease out a few nuggets of gold from the gravel. 

For those that have puzzled over the odd clash of cultures we see on the terrier boards, a small section of Peterson's book might be of interest and perhaps provide some illumination. 

Peterson, who is a die-hard Colorado bowhunter (mostly elk), notes that back in 1978 Yale University behavioral scientist Stephen Kellert authored a paper entitled "Attitudes and Characteristics of Hunters and Antihunters" in which he summarized his research into the psychology and world-view of these two opposing groups of people. 

Kellert breaks hunters down into three core groups:
  • Utilitarian-meat hunters;
  • Domination-sport hunters, and;
  • Naturalist-nature hunters.
Kellert notes that while the groups blur a little at the edges, these three psycho-demographic groups do exist, and represent striking differences of attitude within America's hunting population. 

Utilitarian-meat hunters represent about 44 percent of all American hunters. This group tends to talk of "harvesting" game as a renewable resource and many have a "pioneer spirit" forged in self-sufficiency. As a group utilitarian-meat hunters tend to be older, more rural and less educated, but test pretty well when it came to knowledge about wildlife. Few Americans oppose them. 

The second group, the domination-hunter, comprise about 38 percent of all hunters. Most domination-hunters are urban men, have served in the military, and see hunting as a way of expressing their manly prowess. Domination hunters know very little about wildlife, and many actually fear it, having an exagerated "dangerous game" mindset of the kind we often see in pulp hunting magazines ("Mauled by a Grizzly," "When Sharks Attack", "Stalked by a Killer Moose"). Domination hunters showed little interest in wildlife in their youth, and as adults tend to see wild animals as uncontrolled and therefore as "bad" or nuisance animals. The domination hunter is the group non-hunters dislike, and which antihunters try to use to negatively portray ALL hunters. 

The third group of hunters -- naturalist hunters -- represent less than 18 percent of all hunters. This group tends to be younger, more educated, and with higher levels of education and income than the other groups. This category also includes more women hunters. Nature hunters tend to backpack, bird watch and camp, as well as hunt. This group also spends more time actually hunting than either of the other two previous groups. Nature hunters have far and away the highest level of knowledge about wildlife and seek an intense involvement with wildlife and do not fear it. 

 Kellert also goes on to analyze antihunters as a group and finds, not surprisingly, that about 80 percent are women. Most are urban women living on one coast or another. 

Antis had very little actual experience with wildlife and, along with domination hunters, had "among the lowest knowledge-of-animals scores of any group included in the study." 

In another ironic parallel with domination hunters, "it appeared that antihunters manifested more fear and lack of interest in wildlife" than average Americans. 

What was striking about reading Kellert's research was how it might explain the dysfunctional clash of cultures we see on terrier discussion boards, where the largest group of American hunters (utilitarian meat hunters) are very thinly represented. 

Instead, we see large groups of pet-show antihunters (almost all women) clashing with macho-men domination-hunters. Neither group seems to have very much knowledge about wildlife. One group does not hunt at all, and the other does not seem to hunt very much. And for both groups -- dog show people and domination hunters -- the terriers are less about the dogs and the wildlife than they are about social interactions with people. Or, as Kellert put it when talking about domination-hunters, "hunting was appreciated more as a human social than as an animal-oriented activity." 

In normal conversations about hunting and wildlife, utilitarian-meat hunters and nature-naturalistic hunters form a majority and center talk near some sort of rational fact-based middle. In the absence of utilitarian hunters, however, the terrier world swings wildly off center, bouncing off the two-polar extremes (macho domination-hunters and PetSmart anti-hunters and ribbon hunters).

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