Fox-hunting, A mawkish act of remembrance and others

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Fox-hunting ritualises the ancient thrill of the kill

Fox-hunting ritualises the ancient thrill of the kill

Sir: Mark Steel was spot on when he wrote "The real motivation [of foxhunters] of course is the the thrill of the chase and the kill" (28 December). He might have added the ritual as a third crucial ingredient.

Hunting is a profoundly primitive, atavistic, instinctual, ritualistic activity, tapping deep into the human psyche to connect with our hunter-gatherer past and the profound relationship with the natural world, particularly the animal kingdom, experienced by our forebears. Foxes are inedible, and the foxhunt is a ritual re-enactment of the ancient hunt, which nevertheless always had at its heart the spectacle of the death of a fellow living creature. Fox-hunting, to spell it out, is a ritualised confrontation with death, the greatest of the mysteries of human life. This is why, incidentally, drag hunting appears to be of little interest to fox-hunters.

The French thinker and anthropologist Georges Bataille has written very interestingly about this confrontation in relation to the hunt. But, in his book L'Erotisme (1957) he has also linked our fascination with death with the realm of the erotic, elaborating the notion that it is in sexual intercourse that we come as close as we can in life to experiencing the nature of death (not for nothing is a famous French phrase for orgasm la petite mort). So, following Bataille, we might say that fox-hunting, specifically in its relation to death, is also an erotic activity.

The strength of opposition to the ban on hunting should come as no surprise. It has touched immensely potent wellsprings of the unconscious mind.

SIMON WILSON
London SW18

Sir: J A Russell (letter, 31 December) claims that fox-hunting started as a "retaliatory act on the part of farmers to preserve their farm animals from the savage attentions of foxes". In the old hunting books hunters were far less PR-conscious than they are today.

The following quotes come from Fox Hunting in the Twentieth Century by William Scarth Dixon (1925.) In the chapter "Farmers and Fox-hunting" he says in respect of hunters' indebtedness to farmers: "The the farmer does more than let foxes alone. He helps in more ways than one to keep the stock of foxes up". Also: "It is only the real sportsman ... that can be fully sensible of the obligations fox-hunters are under to farmers .... We are indebted to them for the existence of the animal we hunt."

PENNY LITTLE
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

Sir: William Kelley's assertion that hunting keeps the fox population healthy because "the older and less healthy are more likely to be caught" (Letters, 4 January) exposes a contradiction in the pro-hunting argument. If hunting is essential to keep down a pest that kills lambs and chickens, it makes no sense at all to eliminate merely the aged and infirm foxes which, presumably, would struggle to clamber into a farm animal enclosure, while at the same time encouraging the development of leaner, meaner killing machines.

COLIN BURKE
Manchester

A mawkish act of remembrance

Sir: The three minutes' silence in remembrance of the people affected by the Asian Tsunami represents the third wave to impact the world since Boxing Day. The first, a natural disaster; the second, a wave of compassionate giving; the latest, a wave of sentimental mawkishness that seems to be yet another manifestation of Lady Di Syndrome.

This particular act contained 33 per cent extra remembrance over the usual two minutes, a level of inflation that brings to mind other debased entities such as A-levels. This act of remembrance seems a valueless attempt to engineer social cohesion in an age of the individual. It would be far more appropriate for all concerned if those directly affected were to be helped by friends and family, privately and publicly donated aid efficiently delivered and private acts of prayer and remembrance.

The remembrance of those who lost their lives fighting for an ideal should not be confused with those who lose their lives because of a natural disaster, however tragic the scale.

DAVID BOULTER
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Sir: How inappropriate that western countries should remember the victims of the tsunami with three minutes of silence. That the disaster was impending was known in the western world some hours before the waters struck, yet the warning bells were silent. There was no system for making them ring. Lives which could have been saved were lost. We should not wring our hands in silence. We should do all we can to ensure that a warning system is put in place - and work to maximise the aid effort.

ELAINE GUY
Reading

Sir: If we can each give three minutes to be silent in honour of the 150,000 tsunami dead (whom we had absolutely nothing to do with killing) then for how long should we each be silent in honour of - and in penitence for - the 100,000 Iraqi dead? Three days, perhaps? Three years? Three lifetimes?

RUPERT READ
Norwich

Sir: Tuesday's front page headline asks whether the experience of the last week might mark a turning point in the rich world's attitude to the troubles of the poor world. Not many of the people you consulted seemed to think so.

Indeed, the opposite may well be the case. Natural disasters bring out the best in us. We are shocked that maybe 150,000 people may have died, and that many more may still die. We hope that our help will arrive in time to save as many as possible. We have reached out to the victims and the survivors. Governments have been shamed by private generosity.

But we forget the routine tragedies of the poor world. For every person killed by the tsunami, many more die every year from diseases - particularly those caused by lack of clean water - which are entirely in the rich world's power to prevent. Pound for pound, money spent on public health improvements saves more lives than disaster relief does. And all the time, poor people are having to stay poor because our trade and aid policies protect jobs in the rich world, and make it hard for them to sell their produce to us.

It would be wonderful if the events of the last week heralded a new concern for third world problems. Unfortunately, it is more likely that compassion will take a rest now, until the next natural disaster.

RICHARD BASS
Bosley, Cheshire

Sir: On 23 December - before the earthquake and tsunami - we were asked by The Independent to comment on the dramatic increase in insurance claims resulting from hurricanes, droughts, floods and other early impacts of climate change. Our quotes appeared in an article on 27 December, as part of your coverage of the tsunami. For the record, we would like to make absolutely clear that earthquakes are not a result of climate change and we have never sought to make any link.

STEPHEN TINDALE
Executive Director, Greenpeace UK

TONY JUNIPER
Executive Director,
Friends of the Earth
London N1

Christians and Jews

Sir: The appointment of a President of the Council for Christians and Jews who is representative of the Progressive Jewish community has occasioned articles in your newspaper and others which might have led to misunderstandings (Faith and Reason, 4 December).

Common sense would suggest that in an organisation committed to fostering Jewish-Christian relationships, the joint presidents should be, as our constitution says "those persons who by virtue of their office are considered by the Presidents, on the advice of the Board, for the time being to represent the various religious communities supportive of the work of the Council". It is the office held which is significant in the appointment of joint presidents.

Some years ago a decision was taken by the board and the joint presidents that one of the joint presidents should be representative of the Progressive constituency. As I understand it, there is no office within that part of Judaism which is of the same kind as that held by, for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Chief Rabbi and thus to make this appointment is complex.

In these circumstances, following the death of the late Rabbi Dr Albert Friedlander (who represented the Progressive constituency within Judaism in CCJ) soundings were taken by the Jewish community about who his successor should be. Rabbi Tony Bayfield's name emerged out of that process.

Your newspaper carried allegations of concern that the proper procedures of CCJ's constitution for such an appointment had not been carried out. I believe, to the very best of my knowledge, that those concerns were and are unfounded - and that the procedures outlined by our constitution were properly adhered to.

The underlying issues about who should or should not represent the Jewish community as a joint president of CCJ are a matter for the presidents and particularly for the Jewish community itself. What is absolutely clear is that these kinds of discussions should not deflect CCJ nor the Christian Church nor the Jewish community from our duty to work for mutual understanding, the combating of anti-Semitism and the creation of a just, peaceful and tolerant society.

+CHRISTOPHER ST ALBANS
(The Right Rev Christopher Herbert, Bishop of St Albans)

Rational universe?

Sir: Chris Newell suggests (letter, 5 January) that the world does not extend beyond the rational. As a philosophy post-graduate I have to say that I find the concept of "the rational" to be very hazy. If by rational Mr Newell means "subject to logical analysis" then I feel obliged to point out that the notion of logic is still, in many ways, ill-defined. There is currently some debate, for instance, as to whether logic should admit only the two Aristotelian values (a or not-a), or many "fuzzy"values (e.g. slightly-a or very-a).

In addition, it is entirely unclear whether many aspects of existence, such as beauty or free choice, can be made to submit to any kind of rational or logical analysis. At this stage of the game, knowing as little as we do about rationality, it seems rather irrational to conclude that everything must fall under the heading of a term the meaning of which has not yet been fully decided.

PAUL SCADE
Exeter

Sir: Like Richard Dawkins (letter, 24 December), I too take exception to certain concepts.

I am a 60-year-old atheist, completely unconcerned with and impervious to religious belief and conviction. Yet, even then, religion will not let me alone. In my non-belief, both Christian and Islamic texts continue to threaten me, as they have others for thousands of years, with damnation and eternal torment.

Absurdly, some metaphysical philosophers attempt to categorise my indifference to religion as a religion in its own right. Unbelief classed as a belief. Given this unwanted "religious" compartmentalisation, I now feel free to consider certain Biblical and Koranic statements as dire insults and threats, both to my physical existence and my mental maturity.

Therefore, under the new law pertaining to religious hatred, will I, as an adherent of the "religion" of unbelief, be able to invoke it to take legal action against Christians and Muslims who offer such profound threats in their holy texts, even into the everlasting future?

A W JORDAN
Kidderminster, Worcestershire

British nightmares

Sir: Michael Howard thinks everyone should have the opportunity to "live the British dream" (report, 5 January). While I'm familiar with the content of the American dream, the British dream is new to me.

My dreams tend to be pretty bizarre, and I'm sure they wouldn't do at all. But then I certainly don't dream of disciplining school children, dressing up in police uniform, or being extra-brutal to migrants, which seems to be what fills Howard's mind when his head hits the pillow.

I'm sure the coming election campaigns will be filled with Tory and Blairite nightmares as they try to terrorise us into voting for them. But as for the British dream - any ideas?

PHIL COLE
Hitchin,
Hertfordshire

Rail fare rises

Sir: In your report on above-inflation rail fare increases (3 January) you state that the largest increase was 7.2 per cent by Silverlink. My monthly season ticket on Southern has increased by 8.3 per cent.

COLIN ATTWOOD
Lingfield, Surrey

Don't blame TV

Sir: Roger Scruton ("Listening is only the beginning of intelligent speech", 3 January) should get his facts straight. He tells us: "There is plenty of research to suggest that children brought up on television suffer from learning disabilities, including dyslexia, hyperactivity and loss of concentration." I've been researching in this area for 25 years and can tell your readers that there isn't.

DOROTHY BISHOP
Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology
University of Oxford

Bashing burglars

Sir: In the discussion of suitable weapons to use against burglars, I have waited in vain for a genuine Welshman to note that, according to Shakespeare, the original Welsh wind-bag, Fluellen, was able to subdue the English knave Pistol with no more than a leek ( Henry V, Act 5, scene 1).

PETER ENGLISH
Ruthin, Denbighshire

Sir: I can understand why the people who employed Lester Thorpe to fit their carpets (letter, 4 January) kept weapons under their beds such as cricket bats and hammers. But why the boxing gloves? Did they plan to go a couple of rounds with the intruders before they turned them over to the cops? It adds a whole new meaning to the phrase "the gloves are off", when dealing with burglars.

PHILIP MORAN
London N11

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