The Psychopathology of Hunting



An interesting question was posed recently in reference to a big game hunter’s  “brave” conquest in Africa…“Why shoot a lion in the first place? I’m honestly curious to know why a human being would feel compelled to do that. How is that fun?” Sadly it is, but this compulsion has a pathological origin.

Back in the day, I spent time in various Arctic settlements and studied Inuit culture with a particular emphasis on the phenomenon of culture change and mental disorder. Traditionally the Inuit were a classic nomadic hunter-gathering culture.The men sought out seal and caribou while women busied themselves with domestic tasks. This included browsing for berries and other edibles in keeping with female biological imperatives. Good male hunters were admired and had greater reproductive success.

This situation has changed somewhat but only fairly  recently. Still, going out on the land supplementing the diet with “country food” is a fairly universal constant in all communities. I never went out on a hunt, though I had a colleague who did so every summer chasing seal and caribou with the locals near Sachs Harbour, NT. What we learned was that they don’t  exactly enjoy it as recreational sport. Rather it is a cultural mandate. Something that they have always done and ought to do to maintain identity.

Their world was inhabited by spirits and that included wildlife. When an animal was killed every part was used seal oil for lamps, skins for clothes, sinew for thread. Thanks were given to the animal spirit for giving itself up to feed the family so its appeasement would mean the soul would enter another and continue the cycle. This philosophy hasn’t changed much despite modernization. Its part of the collective unconscious.

Later I spent many years in Central Ontario redneck country, where hunting was a November time passion among men primarily. They would stop shaving and washing, gear up, and head into the bush, camping, and blasting defenceless moose and deer with bows and rifles. One even told me he killed a charging moose with a bowie-knife through the lung. He had witnesses to this display of machismo. I was (not)  impressed.

Most of the time however was spent in tents engaged in obvious but unconscious homoerotic bonding, playing cards, drinking massive quantities of beer and rye and being smelly and grubby. Rationalizations for this atavistic behaviour were prevalent. A few, granted did so justifiably as food sources to supplement meagre incomes but the majority were a mix of blue-collar and professionals who could easily afford to hunt  striploin steak and tiger shrimp at the supermarket. Though this would be considered a gay female role. I wrote about this in the local rag focusing on the obvious Neanderthal and sexual connotation references and that unlike aboriginals it hasn’t been part of our culture for over 10,000 years. So it was essentially a pathological infantile regression. It wasn’t exactly well received except by a handful of “pinko gay” intellectuals.

In my studies of  the avid hunter character structure I have concluded not surprisingly that they are right-wing sociopolitically, and many have psychopathology best described as phallic narcissist. This applies in particular to the big game trophy hunters of the kind in the news lately.

Back in the 1930s psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich first identified the phallic narcissistic personality type as someone with an excessively inflated self-image. The individual tends to be an elitist, a “social climber,” admiration seeking,intensely vain, self-promoting, bragging and empowered by social success. Phallic characters are people whose behaviors are reckless, determined and self-assured. However possessed with underlying feelings of inadequacy they are personally sensitive revealing that for these people their narcissistic needs are an overcompensation.  And that would include the status seeking, self aggrandizing, penis elevating conduct of the big game hunt. In a word they are Cluster B  character disordered and thus mentally ill.

As for women, the very few that big game hunt suffer the same pathologic narcissism,as well as sexual identity disturbances. Women hunted less traditionally because it was inefficient as it provided  less predictable  payoffs for high caloric expense, it was dangerous for infants,and  there were menstrual taboos against touching weapons. Biologically women are better at resolving certain spatial tasks than men are, and so they excel at recognizing food items within complex arrays of vegetation, whereas men excel at tracking moving objects over long distances and performing the mental transformations needed to stay on track over time and space. If women did hunt it was  to facilitate pair bonding with their mates. It was a family social thing and they have always been less attached to the process.

And so there are sound reasons not to bring them along on a hunt…

I conclude with a quote from The Souls of Animals: “No longer can we discount the lives of sensitive and intelligent creatures merely because they assume nonhuman form. The things that make life most precious and blessed – courage and daring, conscience and compassion, imagination and originality, fantasy and play – do not belong to our kind alone.”

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3 Responses to “The Psychopathology of Hunting”

  1. Kat says:

    This is the most interesting piece of writing that I’ve read on this topic! I never realised that it could all be so complex, but what you offer here makes a lot of sense.
    It’ s a very interesting conclusion that you draw.
    Thank you for such an interesting read!


  2. kristina nadreau says:

    they are not something, they are somebody.

    I believe that Killing Cecil the Lion was the best thing that has ever happened to the “sport of big game hunting”. I am hoping that the dentit loses his liscense to practice dentistry. LOL

  3. Carole Kocian says:

    I know of a local banker who has a trophy room with a standing brown bear amongst the decor which also includes many blank stares from heads of various hoofed wildlife. He also has two small planes and a small helicopter. I wonder which is going to get him first, flying or shooting.

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