“Kids who hunt, fish, and trap don’t mug little old ladies.”

“Kids who hunt, fish, and trap don’t mug little old ladies.”
~ bumper sticker

“Since we saw this sticker on a car parked on a busy street in a densely urban area, clearly the intent here was to warn passersby to be on their guard against kids who don’t hunt, fish, and trap, since those are the likely muggers. So, when you’re walking through the city streets, seek children carrying rifles, fishing rods, and steel-toothed spring-loaded traps, and stay close to those children.”
~ The Kids Are to Blame, the stoneslide corrective

It is a humorous bumper sticker, when you give it a bit of thought. But it wasn’t intended to be humorous. It’s entirely unself-conscious in its inane logic.

I saw this bumper sticker the other day. My immediate response was to be dismissive. The argument falls apart. It is not meant to be thought about. It is a declaration of belief.

That is the key point. I suspect that even the owner of the vehicle realized that the statement isn’t true. The person probably isn’t stupid. Likely just an average person. It simply expresses what they wish was true. It isn’t just a statement of belief, but also a narrative. It is fiction and requires suspension of disbelief. It is a comforting lie, an idle fantasy.

I was thinking along these lines because of some research I came across earlier this year. The basic conclusion was that a lot of political polarization is superficial. It is cheerleading, a declaration of one’s group affiliation. But if there is money on the line incentivizing accurate information, it turns out most Americans disagree a lot less. They know what is true while pretending to believe all kinds of crazy shit.

This is human nature. It isn’t even that people are lying about what they know. It’s just that the brain compartmentalizes thinking. People honestly don’t normally notice the discrepancies between what they want to believe is true and what they know is true. It’s not deception and it isn’t stupidity. The human mind has its own priorities. Many of these priorities are social, rather than rational, the former typically trumping the latter, unless some tangible gain is offered to reverse the order of priority.

We all do this. And we all are oblivious to it. Self-awareness is no easy task.

7 thoughts on ““Kids who hunt, fish, and trap don’t mug little old ladies.”

  1. Well posed. I saw this bumper sticker today and enjoyed it, at first. I happen to wish that the idea behind the bumper sticker was true. Then I thought…’Guess I’ll go mug an old lady today.’ My snarky inner conflict was addressed in this post and it was a good read. Thanks for sharing.

    • I live in a rural farming state with high gun ownership. I’m surrounded by people who hunt, fish, and maybe trap. But as with many similar places, rural areas also have high rates of unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide rates, etc. Also, a lot of people ‘accidentally’ kill themselves and others because of some combination of guns, alcohol, and country roads. You are more likely to be shot and killed by someone you know in a rural area. And interestingly, violent crime rates are higher per capita in rural areas than in urban areas, although with smaller populations that is still a smaller number of total crimes. Rural areas these days aren’t always happy places.

      • That’s rough, man, I’m sorry that’s the state of things. It seems to be a loop that generations can get caught in. I just came from a smaller town in northern California, and I’m currently visiting a small town in the south of Arizona. I’m sorry to say that I have seen all of that, in particular I have noted the low moral, high addiction rates and high teen birth rates… if the youth don’t just move away. In NorCal, I was did see a few young men and parent/child business teams putting their fishing skills to good use. They started doing tours and teaching outdoors skills to travelers and visitors from the San Francisco area.

        • I actually live in one of the more well off rural states, Iowa. But the rural areas everywhere are in decline and meth addiction is a major problem. The economy is fairly stable and prosperous around here, since we have a lot of agriculture. Still, the economy doesn’t benefit everyone.

          The problem is that almost all of the small family farms have been bought by by big ag and that requires far fewer farm workers. So, most of the small towns are already dead or in the process of dying. The remaining rural population are mainly those having been left behind: the elderly, the physically disabled, the mentally ill, drug addicts, high school dropouts, etc. Almost anyone, especially the young, who had any opportunity to leave has already left for the cities or else entirely left the state.

          I’m living in a small city that is doing fine because of the local university, but it is surrounded by rural farmland. The worst part of the state is further away from where I live and it has the oldest population in the country (and getting older, as the young aren’t coming back). I don’t see the worst poverty on a daily basis. It’s not hard to find, though. I can drive a short way out of town and find poverty.

          My dad grew up in another rural farm state, Indiana, and his childhood hometown is barely surviving because of the pensions of old unionized factory workers, the last of them before most of the factories left. That place used to be a booming town (literally, once given the title “Small Town, USA” because it was considered the most ideal example of what the American Dream looked like) and it is now a shadow of its former self. Once the old pensioners die off, there will be nothing to keep it from becoming a ghost town. The taxes those pensioners pay is pretty much the only money the town gets.

          This is the Midwest, where I now live and my parents grew up. I used to live in the South. It’s even worse there, in many places. A few years ago, I was doing some genealogy research in Kentucky and so we were driving around backcountry roads. There were old dilapidated shacks right next to country estates. I’ve never seen such obvious economic inequality.

          My mom grew up in a family that hunted and all that. They also gathered mushrooms, gardened, and raised chickens. I can promise you, though, that hunting isn’t how they avoided desperate poverty and all that goes with it. What they did was escape the rural areas and moved into an industrial city where the family got jobs with factories and the railroad.

          The thing is not everyone escapes or even wants to escape. If someone grew up in a small town where their family had lived for generations, where they have a sense of community, where their family church is located, there are many who don’t want to leave that behind. They may hunt, fish, and trap. But it isn’t to build character.

          Yet even in rural areas, fewer and fewer people hunt, fish, and trap. Along with declining communities, the entire rural lifestyle is in decline. It might be different in a place like Northern California. In the rural Midwest, there aren’t many tourists or others seeking to be taught outdoor skills.

        • “One surprising statistic to many was suicide rates for workers in the agricultural, fishing and forestry industry are the highest of any other occupational group, exceeding rates in other high-risk populations, including veterans. […]

          “Compare that with this year’s CDC report, which found that current national suicide rates for people working in agriculture are 84.5 per 100,000 overall, and 90.5 per 100,000 among males. This means that suicide rates among male farmers are now more than 50 percent higher than they were in 1982, at the peak of the farm crisis.”


  2. I just now remembered a book I read about a decade ago. The author explained the reason manliness and character building suddenly became an obsession around the turn of the century. It led to stocking rivers with game fish, the creation of the Boy Scouts, and greater emphasis put on team sports.

    But it wasn’t an entirely new concern. It was built on the Jeffersonian views of agrarian democracy. What changed, though, in the late 1800s was the beginnings of mass industrialization and urbanization, along with the commercialization of every aspect of life such as the emergence of a consumer economy and consumer culture. The consumer-citizen didn’t fit the heroic mould of old democratic-republican ideals of masculinity.

    It relates to why Southerners worried about the end of slavery. It wasn’t just about blacks being free. It was a sign of the times, the end of the independent farmer and the rise of paid labor. Many worried that this would simply be a new form of slavery. How could a man be a man when he was as dependent as a child on another for his living?

    This was a collective concern. And so society turned to collective answers. This contributed to the push for Prohibition and public schooling. It was a sense that boys and young men, in particular, had lost some essential element of character that once came natural to their agrarian ancestors. This new generation would have to be taught how to be real men by teaching them hunting, fishing, trapping, sports, etc.

    Here is a relevant passage

    Rebirth of a Nation:
    The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920
    By Jackson Lears
    pp. 27-29

    But for many other observers, too many American youths—especially among the upper classes—had succumbed to the vices of commerce: the worship of Mammon, the love of ease. Since the Founding Fathers’ generation, republican ideologues had fretted about the corrupting effects of commercial life. Norton and other moralists, North and South, had imagined war would provide an antidote. During the Gilded Age those fears acquired a peculiarly palpable intensity. The specter of “overcivilization”—invoked by republican orators since Jefferson’s time—developed a sharper focus: the figure of the overcivilized businessman became a stock figure in social criticism. Flabby, ineffectual, anxious, possibly even neurasthenic, he embodied bourgeois vulnerability to the new challenges posed by restive, angry workers and waves of strange new immigrants. “Is American Stamina Declining?” asked William Blaikie, a former Harvard athlete and author of How to Get Strong and Stay So, in Harper’s in 1889. Among white-collar “brain-workers,” legions of worried observers were asking similar questions. Throughout the country, metropolitan life for the comfortable classes was becoming a staid indoor affair. Blaikie caught the larger contours of the change:

    “A hundred years ago, there was more done to make our men and women hale and vigorous than there is to-day. Over eighty per cent of all our men then were farming, hunting, or fishing, rising early, out all day in the pure, bracing air, giving many muscles very active work, eating wholesome food, retiring early, and so laying in a good stock of vitality and health. But now hardly forty per cent are farmers, and nearly all the rest are at callings—mercantile, mechanical, or professional—which do almost nothing to make one sturdy and enduring.”

    This was the sort of anxiety that set men (and more than a few women) to pedaling about on bicycles, lifting weights, and in general pursuing fitness with unprecedented zeal. But for most Americans, fitness was not merely a matter of physical strength. What was equally essential was character, which they defined as adherence to Protestant morality. Body and soul would be saved together.

    This was not a gender-neutral project. Since the antebellum era, purveyors of conventional wisdom had assigned respectable women a certain fragility. So the emerging sense of physical vulnerability was especially novel and threatening to men. Manliness, always an issue in Victorian culture, had by the 1880s become an obsession. Older elements of moral character continued to define the manly man, but a new emphasis on physical vitality began to assert itself as well. Concern about the over-soft socialization of the young promoted the popularity of college athletics. During the 1880s, waves of muscular Christianity began to wash over campuses.

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