Thursday, 2 April 2009

Hunting Politics & Psychology: A Ramble on Dangerous Pathways


I read an article this morning (here) about the perceived dangers of the countryside: parents, on the one hand, wish their children to enjoy the same experiences of playing outdoors in the countryside that they themselves did when they were young, but the fears that they now have regarding the supposed dangers inherent in this activity mean that they cannot now, on the other hand, tolerate the anxiety that's generated for them by allowing the same freedom to their own kids. (Although I suppose it may be my own spin on this to understand the question less as one of the unacceptable risk of one's children encountering real dangers so much as the difficulty that parents have of tolerating mental anxiety and the restrictions - the inhibitions, if you like - that parents then place on their children's activity so as to prevent themselves from having to have an encounter with an anxiety that they cannot bear: I stop little Johnny playing outdoors not because I am afraid that he might be hurt but because I have no way of treating my own anxiety that he might be hurt.)

I wonder if it is simply a condition of - what we like to refer to as - civilisation, that the sphere of what is deemed an acceptable activity, a safe occupation, is one that inescapably narrows as time passes? Or is is perhaps that there are deals to be struck within any society at a given time which can decree where the boundaries lie between the world - which is to say the set of activities - deemed safe and the world outside that which is understood to be not only beyond this protected domain but which might also - and to varying degrees - be in some sense understood to threaten it?

But if the question is put within the realm of tolerating anxiety then it changes somewhat; it's not so much that the world, once wrongly understood as benign, has now been correctly seen to be a hostile place but that the growing levels of anxiety within the tidily regulated spaces of society mean that the areas outside of the safely mapped spaces a) grow and b) are viewed with a mounting fear as they grow.

I used to play a lot of computer games; these days, though I still feel an attraction to them, whenever I have anything to do with them I find that I am utterly repelled by the sense that there is no pathway that one can take within the field of the game that is not a pathway that has been pre-ordained as, exactly, a possible pathway with consequences that are equally pre-ordained; these days, I find this suffocating. That being said I know myself that when I set out to go hunting and I realise that, unlike yesterday when the wind was blowing from the North, today, the wind is blowing from the South - and so the path I took yesterday, while it is still available to me, is now one which I must accept will yield no rabbits whatsoever; when I acknowledge this to be the case and understand that I have, today, to go in a direction that I did not go in yesterday, I feel a slight but real amount of anxiety: I have to step outside the mapped domain a little bit - and this worries me somewhat; not enough to stop me doing it - hopefully - but it is there.

If I think about moving house, moving to a different town, giving up the life I lead at the moment and encountering who knows what in a new location, I feel more anxiety. Can I tolerate it enough to make the move? It's a real question for me. If the answer is 'no', then I have to stay here until I can tolerate it - or until I die, whichever is sooner.

An inhibition - so far as I understand it, then - is a real restriction of activity in response to anxiety: if daffodils give me the willies and it is now Spring, I must therefore not leave the house until it is high Summer and the evil reign of the daffodils is safely over.

If it is possible for one person to shoot another with an air rifle then air rifles must be banned.

If it is possible for one person to stab another with a fork then forks must be universally made of plastic. (I have worked in secure institutions for violent offenders where the forks, were, indeed, all made of plastic. It's interesting that the conditions which could be found only within institutions for, in effect, the criminally insane, now look as if they are spreading out into the wider world. I was listening to a conversation about knitting needles in a Charity Shop a few days ago: someone was asking if the shop had any and the person who worked there said that the local police force had decreed that, since they were located in the town centre and a knitting needle was something which could conceivably be used to separate someone from their life then the shop selling knitting needles therefore constituted a risk that was completely unacceptable. Knitting needles have - for this town and this police force - moved, permanently perhaps, from the category 'safe' to the category 'unsafe'.

Conceivably the day is hastening - unless of course we collectively decide that this is not the kind of world we wish to live in - when those wishing to fashion their own socks and jumpers will need first to have a police-approved lockable cupboard in which to store the fearful implements of this potentially life-threatening craft.
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