Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hunters and Christmas

After a late start, I decided to venture out into the wilds of pre-Christmas traffic. Admittedly, doing just about anything, including washing the kitchen floor, holds more allure for me at this time of the year than shopping, but as a fortune cookie once wisely proclaimed, "You gotta do what you gotta do," so off I went.

In what seemed at first a garden of entropy and not a major suburban thoroughfare, as I locked bumpers with the Volvo in front of me, being one to always look on the bright side, I relished the opportunity to think,

Christmas is a time that brings back memories of childhood. As a child, one of my favorite pastimes was to observe human behavior, preferably when I wasn't observable myself. When my mother used to take my little sister to the library, as a teenager, I would wait in the car, slink down in the rear seat, so nobody could see me and watch people walk down the street. People are funny creatures when they think nobody is watching them.

This afternoon's traffic afforded me yet another of those golden opportunities as I got to watch what can only be called the hunters and the hunted.

There's a lot to be learned about a person by the way he or she drives. People who cut you off in conversation are exponentially more likely to cut you off on the road. Those who won't let you in when you realize you missed your exit will, most likely, not give you the time of day on the street. While it may be relative, rudeness seems to survive all boundaries.

More often than not, too, hunters are those drivers who exploit blind spots, vacillate between lanes, or lunge at other cars from side streets.

They are the ones most likely to make a passive-aggressive lane change, or to look only in one direction when they pull out of a parking spot. They distinguish themselves most by taking the left on green, thus forcing other less aggressive drivers to yield and get stuck behind a red light.

Hunters also don't wait for you to completely pull out of a parking spot, but instead insist on making you wait, so they can go on through. Hunters invariably think that they are in possession of the divine right of way.

These are the same folks who spend Sunday mornings combing their local newspaper's obituary section to find available rentals, or looking for a deal when they see the foreclosure sign on their neighbor's property.

The hunted includes anyone who doesn't actively resist aggressive behavior, or those who quickly capitulate in the interest of driving safely. Yes, it's better to yield the right of way than to meet your maker on Judgment Day and say, "but I had the right of way," but yielding inevitably lands one squarely under the heading of prey.

Hunters are often seen behind the windshields of behemoth pick-up trucks, sports utility vehicles, and are not bashful.

People who drive compact cars are often mistaken for passive or, lord forbid, courteous drivers, but they can be hunters, too. It's not the size of the vehicle, or even the hormones that determines the kind of behavior on the road that might inevitably lead to fist fights at a cocktail party.

The urge to merge is ever present on America's roadways, and not just in self-proclaimed merging lanes either.

I'm still not entirely sure what it is about hunters that scares me. One would think I'd be used to them, given that they propogate faster and more efficient than your average cockroach. It isn't the guns. Maybe, it's their attitude. I'm not a big fan of tailgaters either, but it isn't the vehicle or the driver, it's the hunter ethos, a kind of Ayn Rand on wheels, a survival of the fittest, I'm going to get mine and who cares if you get yours, that's taken over this country, and colonized it.

We're not so much a country of 1% versus 99% as 99% wanting to act like 1%. Frankly, the current bumper crop of neo-conservative Republican candidates isn't helping the predatory atmosphere either.

While hunters might appear in different venues, they're readily recognizable. You might have seen them in the workplace, on the streets near your house, in the schoolyard, in the lobbies of five star hotels, and of course there are those pesky bargain hunters in the malls. The urge to intimidate, overpower, and bully, as well as exploit the frailty of others is unmistakable. The only vehicle that is required is a body.

Poet William Blake wrote that there are two kinds of people: devourers and prolifics, and there is indeed something parasitic about hunting. In order to hunt, there must be prey, and the increasing randomness of what constitutes prey is especially scary.

If you haven't yet, you might want to read a story by George Orwell called "Shooting an Elephant." In it, Orwell describes the experience of a British officer sent to patrol occupied Burma. Circumstances transformed the protagonist from a thinker into a hunter: "But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against the knees, with the preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age, I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to."

Whether he wanted to be a hunter or not, and whether or not he wanted to be a killer, the character in the George Orwell story was pressured by the locals of Burma to shoot an animal that posed no threat whatsoever, an action that was mostly approved by his European counterparts. Orwell ends by saying he wondered whether anyone understood that the only reason he shot the elephant was "to avoid looking a fool."

By extension then, if one were to look inside the heart of a hunter, what one might find there is not darkness, or a perverse predisposition for cruelty, but rather a preoccupation with being socially acceptable. Even if one has to commit the most heinous, and eggregious acts, one is prepared to do that rather than face ostracism.

A culture that rewards those qualities that conduce to the slaughter of other living things is one that breeds the kinds of hunters encountered on metropolitan roadways, the bullies who leave their imprint on everything from talk shows to politics. Those who now want to become occupiers have themselves been occupied by an insatiable need for approval, the kind of approval any moral being would shun.

Why is it, I wondered on the drive back home, hunters seem to outnumber their prey by a ratio of somewhere around 2 to 1. Maybe it only looks that way because it's close to Christmas, and the irony wouldn't be lost on the fellow who said "The meek shall inherit the earth."