Sometimes I go out there for no better reason than because I can; I don't have a job right now and there's only so much time I can spend alone in the flat before a variety of cabin fever pitches me into a lurid and obsessional melancholy: flicking through the same sites on the net; posting nonsense in turbulent forums; smoking too much; brooding pointlessly about imagined slights.
Sometimes it's fine to get out of the house and go hunting; sometimes the air, the daylight, the grass and trees, the sense of being about a task with a small but genuine and practical outcome - the getting of my dinner - allows me to let go of the inessential and trivial maunderings that so easily take occupation of my mind. Sometimes it's beautiful - grateful praise and thanksgiving is the obvious response to finding that I'm alive, out there in a green field, and that I have a job to do.
But just because I can go out, one day, and find with joy that what I'm doing is right - feels right - in no way means that hunting is always - each every day - the right thing to do; different things can be sought there; different things can be my aim; and it's the aim, it seems, which gives the 'rightness' to the enterprise: makes it right, or not quite right or - on occasion - just plain wrong.
Today, I didn't go out hunting; I voted (in our local and European elections), tinkered with websites, snorted a good deal of snuff and watched the last episode of a twelve-hour documentary - made nearly twenty years ago - about the American Civil War.
I know almost nothing about English and far less about American history - Fort Sumter, Gettysburg, Bull Run, Vicksburg, Petersburg, Lee, Grant, Jackson, Sherman, Lincoln, Union, Confederacy - if I knew of these at all then they were little more than words to me; so I learned a great deal; learned, for one thing, just how ignorant I am of history.
It's been very interesting to learn about all this at the same time as seeing the political situation here in England in the run-up to the elections. Stoke-on-Trent, just up the road from me, has, today, something like nine British National Party councillors. The leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, is on record as describing the English Civil War - in token of his wish that a new war, a 'race' war this time, will again split the country in bloodshed - as the 'First' civil war. It is his hope, it seems, that a fresh war will bring about a selective reverse of emancipation: free, native-born citizens of this country will be consigned to become a dispossessed and servile underclass; their right to liberty and citizenship removed because it's possible to describe them as - in the words of the BNP - "Non-White".
The Google 'Adword' advertising that's on show in the borders of this blog - I put it there, I make a small amount of money each time one of these advertisements is clicked - included, until I noticed it and put a filter in place to bar them, 'advertisements' from the BNP: "Wake Up!", one fo them read, "50% of Babies Born in the UK are Non-White!"
What makes us human, I suppose, what makes it wrong to understand ourselves as merely animals, is that we are subjects of language; we are all of us under the bar of speech, and - because this is so, because for us the truth is something we can say or fail to say, know or ignore - we have the possibility to be directed by, in Lincoln's words, 'the better angels of our nature' or, again, to be directed in a wholly different direction. It's possible to describe someone as 'Non-White' - we have the words to say it - and it's possible to think that by doing so we name something essential and designate thereby a real difference, a meaningful distinction. It's possible to do this; we can say the words or write them. But just because it's in our power to do this - like it's possible for me, at the moment, to go out hunting every day - isn't quite the same thing as its being right to do this.
It's been an education for me in the last week to learn a very little about Frederick Douglass - I didn't know the first thing, until now, about this remarkable man. He wrote:
"No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck."