Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Will the guns go silent?

Malta is not alone as a killing ground for birds. The slaughter of animals for so-called sport is a worldwide pastime, but nowhere else I have been is killing for killing's sake in sharper focus.

What is this compulsion men have to discharge weapons at defenseless birds (and, yes, it's almost entirely men)? The migrating birds are acting out an ancient evolutionary script encoded in their genes, probably resulting from patterns of survival imposed by the ice ages. The hunting instinct in human males may also be innate: Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, boys gotta shoot birds out of the sky.

My guess is that the killing is not so much genetic as cultural, a phallic enterprise, a way of asserting macho masculinity by making a big bang with a loaded gun.

I don't want to come across as holier-than-thou; we all have our ways of asserting our sexuality, and I kill -- or cause to be killed on my behalf -- many species of animals for my nourishment, health, or convenience. And certainly my own country has its share of gun-happy idiots.

What so disturbed me in Malta was the sheer gratuitousness of the killing -- the murder of innocence and beauty for no ostensible purpose other than a presumed pleasure in seeing innocence and beauty destroyed. Genetic? Cultural? Both? It was an instructive reminder of just how precarious innocence and beauty are in the face of human perversity.