Disfigured trees, dismembered cats, dead birds – the Maltese relationship with the natural world is outright psychotic. It’s become a static feature of the nation’s discourse, and apart from tut-tuts by media luvvies and inane Facebook appeals, precious little seems to get done. I’ve thought about this for a while but only today felt that something really had to be said. Why were massacred eagles the final straw? No very flattering reason.
I guess it has something to do with privileging certain birds (Tolkien rapsodises that eagles are “proud and strong and noble-hearted”), and that’s part of the problem. The insistence that our anthropocentric view of the world entitles us to an arrogant ownership of the cosmos, that human language is the only adequate realisation of communicative potential, and Reason dominates all things, caught up in a web of self-referential signs that relate back to our own prejudices. There’s no room on the world stage for any voice except the vast rolling depths of the human monologue.
So, what motivates a hunter? I’m not going to bore you with my theories, a long-winded journey down memory lane that begins with horizontal-blade ploughs in Medieval Europe and culminates in the disengagement, across the centuries, of Man (a purposefully chosen privileged word) from nature (as a reality to be met dialogically) to a mute object, supine and ripe for abuse. However the concept of a recreational hunter is relatively recent (even aristocrats ate their kills) and interestingly linked, as are so many things in Malta, with our postcolonial complex. I’m sure you’ve all heard the story about the Knights illegalising hunting for anybody but themselves, and the way rabbit poaching became a subversive act among Maltese men.
But it’s the 21st century, and nobody in their right mind would claim that contemporary Maltese hunters lay their spoils on the family table – it seems that once the bird’s been shot, it’s usually left to rot. So if it’s not so much a trophy that many of these hunters are after, what is it exactly? The visceral pleasure of killing, the momentary sense of absolute control as one life extinguishes another? The truth is inevitably much darker.
A while ago, there were reports that hunters and trappers claimed “psychological torture,” awaiting the government’s decision about spring hunting. FKNK has reported the use of anti-depressant medication among hunters as a result of governmental action to restrict their “hobby.” And there’s reports of suicide too, that radical reversal where the hunter becomes victim – their social status, sense of identity and tenuous hold on power all crashing down around them. Hunters are damaged people. “Well, who isn’t?” is a valid reply – but we would do well to remember that surprisingly few of us take up a gun and play death-games with other creatures in order to self-medicate.
I don’t presume to know what actually motivates a hunter. I’m sure it’s a convoluted interplay of natural disposition, family heritage (abuse’s favourite hiding place), and an inability to articulate suffering in any other more creative and outward looking way.
It’s sad to think that when things change, it will probably be as a result of embarrassment – the Powers That Be will decide that tourists are put off by the piling stories of Maltese savagery, and votes will give way to cold hard cash (they’re not all that different anyway). But nothing will have changed, no lesson learned.
The same vacancy at the heart of our relationship with the natural world will endure, a wound we’re unable to heal without the kind of soul searching that drives hunters and others to commit acts of destruction in the first place. Because it’s really, I think, about self-mutilation as much as self-medication. And whether it’s out of blind ignorance and wanton greed (trees in St John’s square), wretched isolation (according to certain Mosta residents, who have a fairly good idea who the perpetrator is, the man behind the cat crucifixions is particularly unstable) or just a fundamental misalignment between ourselves and our world, typified in the arrogance of Malta’s hunting community.
It all boils down to the same abject need for peace. The kind of peace that we’re not going to get from our God-forsaking society, from one another (enmeshed as we are in our own raging lives) or the chimerical promise of an ever distant and never attained dream of progress. We need to start listening to the world, before it’s really too late.