Nobody is all good or all bad all of the time. Like the universe, people are multi-dimensional. Some of the most “decent” people I know are hunters. These folks, who are inarguably unkind to animals during hunting season, are often as friendly and neighborly as you please to their fellow people. I have to assume there was some major peer pressure involved in their decision to start hunting as kids. And they must be doing some heavy compartmentalizing to keep it up as adults.
One of the most memorable and symbolic scenes in the movie, The Silence of the Lambs, is when Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster’s character) tells Hannibal Lecter of a traumatic experience she had while staying at a relative’s sheep ranch in Montana. She was awakened before dawn by the screaming of the lambs her uncle was slaughtering. When Lecter questioned the rancher’s morality, she quickly replied, “He was a very decent man.” No doubt the sheep wouldn’t agree. Somehow people who are capable of extreme cruelty can also have a convincingly “decent” side.
Ordinarily well-thought-of people can turn ugly and unkind when taking part in unnaturally cruel activities, where cruelty is the norm rather than the exception. One of the known coping mechanisms for workers in slaughterhouses is to objectify and demean animals as unworthy of consideration. Not only can people in these situations become indifferent towards “lowly” animals, they frequently turn sadistic. They can come to be obsessed with cruelty, taking pleasure in causing animals increased suffering.
Ten years before Jack the Ripper, nineteenth century French serial killer, Eusebius Pieydagnelle, developed such an obsession while growing up across the street from a butcher shop. He told police, “The smell of fresh blood, and appetizing meat, the bloody lumps–all this fascinated me and I began to envy the butcher’s assistant, because he could work at the block, with his sleeves rolled-up and bloody hands.” In spite of his respectable parents’ opposition, he became an apprentice at the butcher shop where he wounded cattle and drank their blood. But the greatest excitement for him came when he was allowed to kill an animal himself: “…the sweetest sensation is when you feel the animal trembling under your knife. The animal’s departing life creeps along the blade right up to your hand. The mighty blow that felled the bullocks sounded like sweet music to my ears.” Shocking words from someone who was probably always thought of as a decent man.
True crime writer, Ann Rule, worked with and befriended Ted Bundy before she knew of his infamous killing streak, but continued to think of him as a decent man, even after he was charged with the clubbing attack of five sleeping co-eds and the murder of a twelve year old school girl in Florida. Despite learning the gory details of his crimes, Rule was still unwilling to see through his mask of sanity and kept in contact with him, sending him letters and cigarette money in prison.
Like Bundy himself, she was able to compartmentalize; in some ways you could say she enabled his cruel behavior by being such an understanding and supportive friend. The same could be said of any of us who have friends who are hunters. By looking the other way and accepting them despite their dark side, isn’t our compartmentalizing in fact enabling their ill behavior and encouraging cruelty?