Joe Rogan’s Red Herring on Hunting

Sorry for the break last week. Finding things to write about is difficult, and finding the motivation to write about them is even more difficult. This week, I want to focus on “rights”. More specifically, who has them.

Joe Rogan recently had Cameron Hanes on his podcast. For those who don’t know, Joe Rogan is a comedian, MMA commentator, and host his fairly widespread podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience”. Cameron Hanes is an ultra-marathoner and professional bow-hunter.

During their conversation, the topic of the morality of hunting would often come up, to which Joe would respond with something along the lines of:

“I understand how they’re thinking. But, my thought process is very different. My thought process is that what you’re doing, what I’m doing, what all these people are doing who hunt is you’re entering into the wild. And you’re, through a small window, becoming a part of this crazy cycle of nature. You’re taking something out of that, and leaving something as well.”

Any well versed vegetarian would look at this argument and respond “whether or not hunting means you’re giving money to conservation has no bearing on the morality of killing animals”. Joe’s argument is effectively a red herring. A distraction to avoid the answering the real question.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Joe’s podcast, and do a bit of hunting myself. Which is why I think Joe, and meat eaters like him, are making a mistake by arguing this way. I think it’s more significant to address the question that needs answering, “do animals have a right to life?”, instead of trying to justify your actions through a utilitarian argument.

The simple answer is that Joe hunts, not because of vague notions of connecting to nature, his food, or because he’s giving money to conservation, but because he doesn’t think animals have a right to life in the same way humans do.

Unfortunately, the likely reason why Joe is trying to distract instead of answer, is because answering this question is difficult. People don’t even agree what rights even are, much less what they entail or to whom they apply. Luckily, I don’t think we need to answer the question “what are rights?” in order to answer the question “do animals have them?”.

Imagine if I took out a gun, and in cold blood, just randomly killed someone in front of you, how would you react? Probably not well, to say the least. I imagine that you would call the cops or try to arrest me yourself if you thought it necessary. You might even have little qualms killing me if there weren’t any authorities to rely upon.

Now imagine that I killed, not a human, but a deer. How would you react? At best, you might congratulate me for my great shot placement. At worst, you might shake your head disapprovingly, but I seriously doubt would do anything even if you could.

Keeping this analogy in mind, it’s clear we, as humans, have strong intuitions against killing fellow humans (outside of a few corner cases). However, our intuitions against killing animals is comparatively weak. I’m going to posit that this intuition is the basis for what we see as a “right to life”, and I think one way in which you can tell that animals don’t really have this “right” to any significant extent is by the way people act when such a right is called into question. Since people strongly respond to the intuition “don’t kill fellow humans” but respond weakly (if at all) to the intuition “don’t kill animals”, I suspect that animals don’t really have any such “right to life”.

I have some thoughts on why this might be that I’ll likely discuss in a future post. However, these thoughts very well might just be justifications my brain is coming up with the explain it’s no hard-wiring. And evolutionarily this hard-wiring makes sense. As a tribe which thought it was permissible to kill fellow humans probably killed itself in short order, and a tribe that thought it wasn’t permissible to kill anything probably starved to death. The tribes that survived were most likely tribes that thought it was permissible to kill non-humans, but not humans.

You might respond “well, you should be better than your primitive ancestors, and adopt a more broadly applicable concept of rights”. To which I would respond: “why?” Certainly, my ancestors ate meat because they had to, whereas I have the option not to. But I don’t see any inherent reason to suspect that they were wrong to eat meat, and that the only reason it is justified is because they had no other options.