Thursday, July 30, 2015

Much ado about Cecil.


Unlike the shooting of the rhino in Namibia, the shooting of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe does not have redeeming qualities for conservation, and though there may be a role for even trophy hunting in Zimbabwe, the current process is complicated and corrupt. So it makes sense to be unhappy with how this lion was killed, but I'm not sure it warrants the mass and often obviously clueless outrage the Internet has produced.

Individually, people mean well. But the mob's moral compass isn't doing its job. How many have posted a meme or retweeted a quote but won't take the time to read a Zimbabwean's take on Cecil? Getting upset on behalf of Zimbabweans about this isn't just not enough, it's totally out of touch. There are more problems facing Zimbabwe than just poaching. We shouldn't only pay attention when an American dentist gets involved. If you're going to get upset on behalf of Zimbabweans, make sure you're listening to them about where they need support. From the article linked above:
The country is going through serious economic challenges, and quite understandably, most people have pressing needs on their minds, such as food, shelter, and jobs. Thousands have been laid off work sine a recent Supreme judgment a couple of weeks ago. An activist called Itai Dzamara has been missing for more than four months and some worry that the story of this human being has not received as much international attention. So forgive them, if their attention is not as much focused on Cecil's sad demise. It's not that they don't get it, or that they don't care for animals, no. 

In addition to listening to the people of Zimbabwe about where they would like our support, I hope those posting memes, quips from celebrities, and expressions of moral indignation remember the following:

First, and most important: Many other unjust things are happening to people. You are paying for some of them. Families are being torn apart or doomed to violence and poverty thanks to deportations in the U.S.. The continuing, arbitrary destruction of people's lives based on where they live (the Middle East), what they do (using drugs), and who they are (institutionalization of poverty and racism). People who have not stood trial and family pets continue to be shot by overzealous police officers.

You are also supporting still more injustices indirectly, like children being sold into prostitution to feed families or de facto enslaved as soldiers, and for those worried about conservation, deforestation for cooking fuel and warmth, with our restrictive trade, immigration, and energy policies enacted out of indulgence by rich nations without concern for our place in a global community.

You are not paying for other injustices, yet they occur. A few include havoc wreaked by warlords, the persecution, oppression, and murder of women, Christians, and liberals in much of the Islamic world, or on the flipside, and the persecution of Muslims in Burma. But then, you didn't pay for the death of Cecil, either. So where is the comparable outrage? Surely these problems are at least as important, and deserve the same sort of attention that an unjustly killed lion (and it was unjust!) receives.

Second, to those calling for an end to trophy hunting, remember that poaching is an ongoing problem that threatens lions and endangered species (lions are classified as vulnerable, not endangered). Paid, legal trophy hunting, by directing the hunts, may actually be an important part of the solution unless or until we can convince people that it isn't worth doing. Even in Zimbabwe's flawed hunt, consider that if the hunters in question were operating completely illegally, we may never had heard about it. A legal hunt means that the people responsible for killing this particular lion can be held accountable. Meanwhile, more animals have certainly been poached since Cecil was killed and you haven't heard about them. And you won't. Moving more of these activities into the legal realm forces accountability onto the process and can mean survival for species at risk.

I won't join those who say it's wrong to get upset about a lion when at all there are other, greater injustices the world (though there are). Small injustices are still injustices. And they should make us mad. But I will ask that those who are upset try to keep their outage in context and perspective.

Getting mad when something's wrong should be about more than feeling righteous. Solutions will never be perfect.  If we only demand what's already been tried without success - throwing money at problems, calling for bans that can't be enforced - and aren't even willing to consider whether something uncomfortable to us could have a role to play in a solution, then we aren't being serious. We risk letting a visceral reaction get in the way of meaningful change, and we're in no place to lecture or look down our noses at anyone.

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