Misplaced outrage and Cecil the Lion

Misplaced outrage and Cecil the Lion

Misplaced outrage and Cecil the Lion

As my spoiled and elderly dog would tell you if he was human and could speak in anything but dog barks, I am an animal fan. However, I prefer to save my actions and words and outrage for things I can impact in real life. Things like a neighbor in crisis, like a friend in need or family members or community members who need something tangible. The outrage over Cecil the lion baffles me. Ironically, the man who shot the lion did more for the people and animals in Zimbabwe than any of the social justice warriors huddled in howling mobs. My question to the mob is this: how many of you volunteer at a zoo, pet rescue or shelter? Or is it better to be a part of a mob and not have to think? But you can tweet pictures and feel vicariously self righteous.

The Atlantic discussed the nonissues with Dr Palmer:

Palmer didn’t just kill a lion. He killed an especially good-looking and “beloved” lion in an ostentatious and gruesome fashion that culminated in decapitation. To make things worse, that lion had a human name. To make things worse still, that name was Cecil.

Cecil was a predator. Sorry lions kill cute little gazelles and zebras and other animals. And safaris happen. Outrage for Zimbabwe might be better placed in famine relief or medical care for the poor there but that actually takes more effort than a hashtag and picture.

It’s hard to think of a more innocent name than Cecil. Had the lion’s name been Satan or Derek, the international firestorm might have been attenuated. Had Palmer not had a past that included sexual harassment complaints and pleading guilty to lying to federal wildlife officials about killing a black bear, he might have been less hateable. He also might have been less hateable had he been a humble cobbler, or literally anything other than a wealthy dentist. But every element of this story fell into place in a way that sparked international outrage beyond any outrage storm this year.

Fuel for the fire of outrage. Which is a storm of appalling stupidity. Noting that Dr. Palmer did not have a felony or he would not have guns and would likely not have a passport. But what use are inconvenient facts? And who cares about the employees and patients of Dr. Palmer who are at best inconvenienced and at worst denied care and income by a mob?  Right?  The Atlantic really makes a good point and this is useful information for anyone to read before tweeting or typing.

The Internet launders outrage and returns it to us as validation, in the form of likes and stars and hearts. The greatest return comes from a strong and superior point of view, on high moral ground. And there is, fortunately and unfortunately, always higher moral ground. Even when a dentist kills an adorable lion, and everyone is upset about it, there’s better outrage ground to be won. The most widely accepted hierarchy of outrage seems to be: Single animal injured < single animal killed < multiple animals killed < systematic killing of animals < systematic oppression/torture of people < systematic killing of humans < end of all life due to uninhabitable planet.

Hierarchy of Outrage indeed. This is why people attended public executions and floggings: they could feel superior to someone for no really good reason or with no need for pesky logic. They could howl and scream and be validated by others. But this is a trendy outrage.

Don’t worry about that feeling a little too on-the-nose, because it doesn’t matter, because no one will remember it. Next month the armchair lions-rights activists won’t care about lions anymore, because lions-rights outrage will not be trending. They will be on to some new outrage. Many people are drawn to defend nature and underdogs (even when they are apex predators) and to hate wealthy, lying, violent dentists. But even more than that they are drawn to feeling superior and appearing wise, and being validated accordingly.

In other words, it is about feelings not the actual cause. The cause changes but the outrage continues. The problem with mob justice is that it does not stop and the instigators become the victims. See the French Revolution and the way that many of the instigators of the Reign of Terror were killed by the same mobs they incited to murder aristocrats and priests.  The same mentality is with the internet trolls, the protestors and PETA who want to kill a man for a safari kill.  Because it is a pretty lion.


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