Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?
Moby-Dick, or The Whale (1851) by Herman Melville
Several years ago, conspicuous black-and-white banners and yard signs began to appear in my rural neighbourhood in southwest Wisconsin. Planted in lawns, posted on barns, displayed in tavern windows, they read: SAVE The Rare White Deer. Since the late 1990s, when an adult white female – ‘Old Doe’, she came to be called – appeared in the fields and woodlots, our landscape has supported a small population of white whitetail deer. As Old Doe passed her genes along, the population grew to a dozen or so. The genetic basis of this rare trait is not entirely clear. A few of the deer might be true albinos. Most are piebald variants, some pure white, others off-white or spotted. Some have pink noses and hooves, others have black. In any case, the white deer are obviously distinguishable from their mostly tan-coloured comrades. They became known and admired in the local community and among visitors to the nearby state park. A tacit agreement to protect the unusual deer took hold among the area’s farmers and other landowners, and among local hunters and non-hunters alike.
This spontaneous taboo was somewhat surprising and mysterious. The culture of whitetail deer hunting in Wisconsin (and the United States generally) has long involved a complex mixture of memory and reverence, passion and practicality. In Wisconsin, the whitetail’s forest, woodland and savanna habitats shrank rapidly in the 1800s as settlers arrived from the eastern and southern US and from Europe. In just a few decades, agriculture and lumbering transformed landscapes and ecological conditions throughout the upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins. Market and subsistence hunting compounded the pressures on the deer population, and the species came close to being extirpated. With the adoption of new wildlife conservation measures in the 1930s, however, the deer population started to rebound. As deer became more common, the autumn hunt became an engrained institution and a seasonal mainstay of rural economies. Over the past several decades, deer have become familiar residents of suburban and urban landscapes. With large predators extirpated or uncommon, the now-abundant deer foster their own suite of ecological effects. Their herbivory has diminished the diversity of native flora. They chew up suburban shrubs and gardens. They contribute to the high incidence of Lyme disease. They find themselves on the receiving end of automobile collisions (which has led insurance companies to become active in deer-management policy).
Through all these changes, humans became the primary predators of deer. Paradoxically, deer hunting in Wisconsin can be both unsentimental – a standard cultural practice, a source of locally grown meat, and a necessary conservation method – and deeply personal. Hundreds of thousands of deer hunters take to the fields and woods every fall in Wisconsin, bearing with them a complex set of values, memories, motivations and goals. All of which complicates questions surrounding the hunting of the white deer – and explanations of the neighbourhood taboo. Hunting white deer is actually illegal in Wisconsin, as it is in a number of other states in the US. This population, however, happens to exist in an area where chronic wasting disease (CWD) has become prevalent. When hunting regulations were liberalised in an effort to halt the spread of CWD, the white deer became – literally – fair game.
A decade ago, a striking white buck became a popular attraction. ‘He was a beautiful creature,’ the deer advocates’ website noted, ‘that drew many people nightly to the park with their lawn chairs and thermoses in hopes of seeing him.’ Local hunters vowed not to pursue the animal. However, after two years in the local spotlight, the buck was taken by a visiting bow hunter in 2008. An out-of-town hunter shot another white deer during the 2009 season. And on the first day of the 2012 gun season, a visiting hunter took down a particularly large, handsome and well-known buck. It was this incident that prompted local residents to step up protection efforts. As the signs appeared, conversations on the propriety of hunting the white deer intensified – in our taverns and backyards, in newspapers and at meetings, among and between hunters and non-hunters alike.
Why have so many of my neighbours felt so compelled to protect these ‘ghost deer’? Is it their value in terms of biodiversity conservation? Hard to argue that. They are not a separate species, and any intra-species variance they embody is unlikely to be lost; the recessive genes for albinism and pale pelage will surely persist in the population. If anything, the white deer (and indeed the abundant deer throughout our region) have a variety of direct and indirect effects on tree reproduction and the diversity of understory plant communities. We do not put up banners to protect brown deer, and if all deer were white would we be so concerned? Conspicuous as they are, white deer likely have a harder time surviving in the wild; perhaps their vulnerability evokes a protective instinct. Is it a matter of resentment of outsider hunters who come only to consume what is locally familiar and valued? Is it the beauty of the deer? If so, do not both hunters and protectors of the white deer have a claim to such beauty, however different their apprehension of it?
Perhaps my neighbours are tapping into a deeper and culturally widespread respect for the sacred white animal. In several Native American traditions, the extraordinary appearance of a white bison calf is a spiritual event. In Indian mythology, a white elephant came to Queen Maha Maya in a dream; as she was conceiving the child who would become the Lord Buddha, the elephant gifted her with a white lotus flower. White stags led Arthurian knights into battles. ‘On the wings of a snow-white dove,’ the old country song goes, ‘He sends His pure sweet love.’ We humans seem to follow wild white animals into the presence of many mysteries.
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Herman Melville pursued a darker aspect of this white mystery in his account of Ahab’s obsessive hunt for Moby-Dick. ‘It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me,’ Ishmael declares – setting the stage for Melville to survey his own menagerie of white elephants, horses, bears, sharks, albatrosses and albino people, and white winds, snows, mountains, seas, phantoms, flags, friars and nuns. Melville muses expansively on white as ‘not so much a colour as the visible absence of colour … a dumb blankness, full of meaning … the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of [Nature’s] hues’. By this time – Chapter 42 ‘The Whiteness of the Whale’ – the reader of Moby-Dick is along for the wild ride. ‘And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol.’ In his consuming desire to subdue the white and wild Other, Ahab finally destroys himself, his crew, and the Pequod. Blinded by the white, Ahab is subject to ‘all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick’.
Ahab’s neurosis sits uneasily alongside the view that sees hunting as a primary agent of human biological and cultural evolution. In The Hunting Hypothesis (1976), the American palaeoanthropologist Robert Ardrey marshalled evidence that the human species evolved with and through the practice of hunting. Controversial among scholars and scientists when first published, the book would not have made great ripples among old-school sportsmen-conservationists (think Theodore Roosevelt) who emphasised the values that hunting could inculcate, nor in indigenous communities and cultures with venerable hunting traditions. Whether building upon traditional ecological knowledge or modern conservation ethics, the thesis that hunting has made us human – evolutionarily, physiologically, intellectually, socially, culturally, spiritually – has gained acceptance. As the scientific debate has continued, evidence has grown that hunting shaped our humanity.
Animals make us human by teaching us what we value and honour, what we seek, and what we ignore
Maybe, however, we need an ‘Ahab’s Corollary’ (or Caution) to the hunting hypothesis: that hunting alone has not made us human, and that hunting in an age of all-powerful technology does not necessarily make us human. Hunting is not the only kind of human-animal relationship that has moulded our humanity. Humans also protect animals. Through taboos, ethical codes and regulations, people have chosen not to hunt – not to hunt certain species, not to hunt at certain times and in certain places, not to hunt to excess. We also domesticate animals, breed them, move them around, buy and sell them, industrialise them, abuse them, rehabilitate them. We name animals, tell stories about them, sing songs about them, and name our teams after them. We invoke animals, honour them, celebrate them, paint them on the walls of caves, and share viral videos of them.
In all these ways, animals – not just hunting per se – have made us human. Animals teach us, through our every interaction and our every choice, what we value and honour, what we seek, and what we ignore. Animals instruct us on who we are, and whom we wish to become. They reflect and demonstrate our sense of responsibility – and our lack thereof. In choosing to protect the white deer, my neighbours, including many hunters, have expressed different dimensions of their evolving humanity.
Game animals, moreover, are only one part of the more-than-human world that makes us human. We hunt only a minuscule subset of animal species; the vast realm of ‘non-game’ species, from protozoans and invertebrates to the great whales and great apes, also make us human. The multitudinous and diverse microbes in our guts make us human. The rumoured remnant of ivory-billed woodpeckers makes us, in our hopes and doubts, human. Even the absence of animals makes us human. The extinct Pleistocene megafauna and the vanquished passenger pigeon, in our longing and regret, make us human. Mythical beasts – Bigfoot and Windigo and Phoenix, Nessie and Lassie and Moby-Dick – make us human. Plants also make us human. Rocks and soils and waters and skies make us human. The stars and the Sun make us human. Through all our complex ecological and evolutionary relationships, human consciousness has emerged and grown and evolved. Nature makes us human. The non-human makes us human.
This last season’s deer hunt passed without any of the local white deer taken. It is impossible to know what was going on, out there in the woods, in all the minds and hearts of hunters who might have encountered one of the spectres. But in the very act of weighing options as we encounter Others, we forge our humanity. These white deer remind us that the hunter and the hunted create each other through their relationship. Human hunters have the power of active agency and conscious choice. In the shared territory of the white deer, most (not all) local hunters have chosen not to hunt them. Other hunters, coming into that territory, have chosen to do so. The question is: what do we bring to these choices?
This is what the American ecologist and conservationist Aldo Leopold was getting at in contemplating the extinction of the passenger pigeon in A Sand County Almanac (1949):
For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun. The Cro-Magnon who slew the last mammoth thought only of steaks. The sportsman who shot the last pigeon thought only of his prowess. The sailor who clubbed the last auk thought of nothing at all.
Leopold, a hunter, understood Ahab’s Corollary. Hunting makes us human; but hunting without a continually evolving ethic to guide it can also dehumanise us. Our humanity can and does suffer when the practice of hunting – when any of our acts of using nature – ignores connections and disrespects the non-human. Our humanity flourishes when those acts honour, enrich and sustain these vital relationships.
The local white deer debate is not over. By becoming active advocates, my neighbours have placed the question before a broader public, even while recognising that increased attention could backfire and intensify hunting pressure on the white deer. The debate now occurs not just in local taverns, but in online forums. One commentator offered this:
Once upon a time I was an opportunist hunter. If I came across fowl or beast during an open season, I did my best to kill it. Then somewhere along the way it came to me I do not have to kill everything. Perhaps it was during my first white deer encounter, but I can’t be sure. While watching the particular small white doe, her pink eye shining back at me, a feeling of peace and contentment descended around me. With the thought: if I kill this deer, I deny another the same experience.
In such moments, through such encounters, we continue to define the hunt – and our own humanity – in new ways.
This essay is co-published with the Center for Humans and Nature as part of their Questions for a Resilient Future series: Does hunting make us human? You are invited to read more responses to this question and share your own reflections at humansandnature.org.
Nature & EnvironmentEcology & Environmental SciencesSubculturesAll topics →
is a conservation biologist, historian, and writer. He is a senior fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature in Chicago, and the author of Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work (1988) and Correction Lines: Essays on Land, Leopold, and Conservation (2004).
Alexa Rain 3 months agofrom egypt
A lot of inspired topics and issues,
you always help in finding ways by arrange your reader thinking and informative things.
i am big fan of you.
Virginia Kearney 4 months agofrom United States
Hi Christina--My articles on how to write can help you! Find them by looking to the side or on my profile page. Or just use Google and type what you need with my name.
Christinaaa 4 months ago
I'm trying to write an argument research paper on social media and mental illness or social media and relationships but I'm having trouble narrowing my topic and creating the key points for my paper.
Virginia Kearney 5 months agofrom United States
Hi Rosie--You have a good topic and an interesting personal connection. I'd suggest that you do a frame story introduction and conclusion. Start with your situation and then stop part-way through and ask the question: should you call CPS? Then do your answer and tell why or why not. Finish with telling the end of your story. See my articles on "How to write an argument paper" and "How to write a position paper" for full instructions.
rosie 5 months ago
Wondering how to write a position essay. Topic should you call Child Protective Services. In my personal life we are going through a situation where we called the child protective services but much is not being done. Was thinking if I choose this topic I could write some of our family's frustration about the situation, don't know how to go about writing this essay
Virginia Kearney 6 months agofrom United States
Khen--You can find help if you look for my articles about how to write different kinds of position or argument papers. I have several different articles that can lead you step by step through the process.
Khen 6 months ago
Can you please help me in my position paper?
Virginia Kearney 7 months agofrom United States
Roami, You have an interesting idea. I think one way for you to get some good information to start your paper is to research why local languages are not included in the instruction first. Next, you might want to interview some people to find out their positions and to get some quotes on this topic. Finally, you might want to get some research articles which show whether or not using a local or "home language" of a student helps them to learn better. In the United States, research has shown that students who receive some instruction in their own language at least at first often do better in the long run than a child who is "fully immersed" in English. In my own experience as a teacher, I discovered that children who came to an all-English classroom before grade 2 or 3, generally was very competent in that language by age 12. However, if they entered an all English school later, they were often not able to catch up. However, that only works if the child is in a school where no one else speaks their native language (as is often true in the U.S. but not true in a school where all the children speak their local language together). You have a wonderful topic and one that is very important for your country to consider. I wish you great success in your paper.
roami 7 months ago
pls, i need u to look into this position topic for me. Should local languages be made as compulsory as religious languages in schools
Virginia Kearney 9 months agofrom United States
Hi Sam, you might want to try my article about Funny Argumentative Essay Topic Ideas, or else do the negative of any idea here or in one of my many other argument essays. In a "devil's advocate" paper, you want to go against what most people think. Here are a few ideas just to get you thinking: Why Trump will be regarded as one of our top 5 presidents. Why we should leave ISIS alone. Why race is less a problem in America than Europe. Why the leader of North Korea isn't really crazy.
Sam 9 months ago
I have this assignment of playing the role of devil's advocate and I can't think of a good topic!
( I personally prefer a political related topic).
Virginia Kearney 12 months agofrom United States
Aidyn-You add a very interesting position topic. I had not thought about schools making rules against fasting but it certainly could hurt a child's performance in school if they were fasting for a longer period than a day or two. That could cause a school to be concerned. Thanks for your comment and idea.
Aidyn Krikorian 12 months ago
I greatly appreciate your website, and I have a suggestion for a topic. "Should we allow fasting or other religious acts in schools?" This topic facsinates me and I do hope you will consider it. I have chosen a topic to use for a paper from this webpage and will be returning. Thank you, Aidyn.
Virginia Kearney 12 months agofrom United States
Rose--You did not mention what aspect of culture you are writing about which makes it hard to help you. However, for example, if you are writing a paper arguing to people that only like modern music that classical music is worth listening to, you could start by talking about what you agree with about modern music and acknowledge why people of your generation might prefer to listen to it. Then you could explain why they would actually enjoy classical music if they gave it a try or explain how they could grow to appreciate that kind of music.
rose lasu 12 months ago
I need help on my regerian Argument eassy on culture. I dont now how to start it, Does anyone knows how.thanks
Preston Heard 14 months ago
These are great topics for the upcoming research essays. I will definitely be using one of them. Thank you for this resource!
Aaron Gibson 14 months ago
Excited for your class this semester!
Matt Hartman 14 months ago
This article along with many of the other articles you have written will be very helpful this semester! I'm looking forward to your class!
Virginia Kearney 16 months agofrom United States
Look for my articles about how to write argument or position essays for lots of ideas on how to introduce essays and find sources. Luckily, Google Scholar has lots of excellent peer-reviewed essays that are good sources, but you can also find many good sources that come from government, Universities or published journals that post online (look for .gov, .edu or a journal that also appears in print). One easy way to start your introduction is to tell a story about a student who is generally shy (or maybe bullied) but gets excited (and more included by others) when they are able to share about their own culture during a multiculturalism unit.
jenn 16 months ago
I am doing an Apa essay on "should schools be required to teach multiculturalism" any idea on how I should start my intro and what sources I should use?
Virginia Kearney 17 months agofrom United States
Bebe--You don't tell me whether your paper is a research paper or not, but I've written many articles on how to write different sorts of essays. You can use the search engine on HubPages to find them, or look at the links that usually appear when you pull up one of my articles. Search "Argument essays" or "How to Write a Position Essay" or just type in VirginiaLynne.
To start a paper on your topic, I think I would use a story in the introduction showing a miscommunication when people don't talk face to face.
bebe 17 months ago
Hey . Can you please help me in my position paper . I dont how to start . My topic is cellphone,texts and emails are not as good as talking face to face . It is from yours sample :) thank you
B-RAD 24 months ago
I think that is video gaming good or bad is a great topic to choose.
Virginia Kearney 2 years agofrom United States
Yes Alsaifl, I think that "What is beauty?" could be a topic. You are right that your answer would be a definition claim.
Jumanah Alsaif 2 years ago
Is the topics What is true beauty? (definition) a good topic for a position paper? I was thinking of writing how the definition of beauty is different for each individual
Brittany Adams 14 2 years ago
Thank you so much for posting! This helps a lot with my writing!
Tariq Ali Khan 2 years ago
Excellent work buddy! Thank you so much !
Kristen Howe 2 years agofrom Northeast Ohio
Great topics for a variety of essays for everyone who needs to be inspired. Voted up for useful!
Joanna 3 years ago
That Tom Hanks video is hilarious. These ideas are very thought-provoking and inspiring!
Virginia Kearney 3 years agofrom United States
Cindy A. So glad I was able to give you some good information!
Cindy A. 3 years ago
Unbelievable. You have helped me enormously. Thank you so much
Bluerider 3 years ago
Thank you for these great topics.
VJG 3 years agofrom Texas
This would be an interesting article for school students. They always seem to struggle for essay ideas.
Virginia Kearney 3 years agofrom United States
Hi Safa--Here are the main steps:
1. Choose a question you are going to write about. Then think about what your answer to the question is going to be.
2. Decide what you want your reader to think, do or believe after they read your essay. That is your thesis (the answer to your question).
3. Decide who you want to persuade to believe this (that is your reader or audience). Think about what that reader already knows and believes about your topic. That will help you develop your arguments. The reader should not be someone who already believes what you do. If they do, you aren't really arguing are you?
4. Think of at least 3 reasons why your reader should believe your thesis. Those reasons will be the main body part of your essay.
5. Think of examples or evidence which supports each of those reasons. That is what you will use to support those three reasons.
6. What objections will your reader have? Write those out and also your answers to those objections. This will be a paragraph after your reasons.
7. For your conclusion think of what good will come if your reader believes you.
I've written more in detail about this in my article: https://owlcation.com/academia/How-to-Write-an-Arg...
Virginia Kearney 4 years agofrom United States
Hi katha- if you look at the bottom right blue box I have the links to sample essays. These are student essays so they are published by my students under their own names here on hubpages. Maybe I should move these up on the page so you can find them more easily.
Virginia Kearney 4 years agofrom United States
Samarah--Yes I think that vaccinating children is a very good topic. You can also narrow that to particular types of vaccinations that are new like the chickenpox vaccine or the HPV. Another possible argument on this topic is whether or not it is true that vaccines are the main reason for better health in people today than in the past.
samarah15 4 years ago
Is the right to vaccinate children a good topic?
Virginia Kearney 4 years agofrom United States
I think you can do something related to obesity or how different types of food are good or bad for your health. Or you can talk about GMO foods or organic or locally grown produce.
Virginia Kearney 5 years agofrom United States
Xstatic--I love the fact that you do have a position on everything--I like to look at all sides of things and that is great as an instructor teaching positions, because I can play the devils advocate, but sometimes I do need to just nail down my own point of view!
Jim Higgins 5 years agofrom Eugene, Oregon
A great "how to" for position papers. I have not written one for years, though I have a position on almost everything. Useful Hub and well done as usual.