by T 7/30/15
OK, time to weigh in on the Cecil the Lion story. First let me say that the slaughter of a protected animal is heartbreaking. I understand the rage this kind of thing causes. Tracking and killing the Nemean Lion with his bare hands made Hercules a hero of Greek mythology. He wore its skin and used its head for a helmet. Tracking and killing Cecil with a crossbow (and later shooting him with a rifle) made Walter Palmer infamous.
The problem with animal poaching is not simply rich big game hunters coming from overseas, the real villians are the local poachers, corrupt or incompetent park wardens, officials and governments and how they are in bed with the so-called legal hunt industry. A guy like the Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer was likely just a dupe, conned into thinking he was on a legal sanctioned hunt with all the government paperwork taken care of.
I’ve heard this story dozens of times, with animals from a preserve crossing, driven or baited into a kill box whereupon they are taken by foreign trophy hunters. I seriously doubt the idiots who ran the hunt were baiting Cecil in particular, they would have made their money no matter which male lion took the bait. They just happened to get the alpha, one who probably grew less afraid of humans and more willing to be fed by them.[pullquote]What happens when the court of public opinion degenerates into an Orwellian two-minute hate, and people will do or say anything to bring the alleged perpetrator down, no matter how vicious.[/pullquote]
Of course the behavior of the guides after the fact tells you everything you need to know. If the report is true, the act of trying to destroy the GPS collar indicates beyond a shadow of a doubt they were low lifes.
Now believe me, I understand how repugnant all hunting is to animal lovers. These are magnificent noble and wild creatures who need to be protected, especially when their populations are threatened or endangered. And yet part of wildlife management in Africa takes the shape of controlled hunts to reduce populations of some animals for whom there are no longer enough top level predators to keep their numbers in check. This has been going on for 90 years or more in Africa. That being said, the amount of money that poachers and big game hunting adventure charlatans can make is so extreme that greed and corruption always follow.
The African Elephant is in huge danger of being poached to extinction. They’ve tried permanently dying ivory pink, to destroy its market value, to no avail. Right around the time the Cecil story broke, poachers killed a whopping five Elephants in Kenya. The Washington Post reported it.
Back in the early part of the last century, few made a peep when it came to great white hunters going on African expeditions and indiscriminately killing big game. Teddy Roosevelt, a progressive icon, face on Mt. Rushmore, had a collection of trophies that would make most progressive animal rights activists’ heads explode. Name any large African species, and I guarantee you Teddy bagged one. He would roll into an African community, employ dozens of bearers, scouts, cooks, etc., virtually changing economies overnight.
In fact, the big game hunters of a generation or two ago, guys like Hemmingway, would have a checklist of major and minor trophies, and went on their expeditions with a staff of locals who were prepared to skin, butcher, and pack up heads for transport home.
This trade continues today, and it’s no surprise. If you’re a poor African, or even a reasonably well off one, an official or ranger, imagine what it’s like to get $50,000 USD a pop for putting a wealthy foreigner in crossbow range of a lion, or rifle range of a water buffalo or elephant. Meanwhile, in many cases a big game kill feeds entire villages of people. Now I’m not saying I approve, but this is part of the reality of the big game industry. It’s a perfect storm of huge upside to the greedy for the kills, not enough people to stop illegal poaching, and local support from the poor who get periodic free feasts of bush protein.
Back in the day it wasn’t just about macho types going on these hunts to satisfy some love of killing or to procure animal heads or rugs for their dens. Many of these hunts were ostensibly justified as ways to fill natural history museums and institutes of higher learning with exhibits. Bringing corpses or body parts of dead animals home so we could study them.
Next time you go into a natural history museum, count the dead things. It’s kind of easy to focus rage on one hunter, but there is a whole infrastructure that went into killing Cecil. The rube who pulls the trigger is just the last link in the chain. I’m not sure that denying Palmer’s patients dental care really is going to do anything to break the links. It may give us the feels that we’re doing something good and just, but I remain skeptical.[pullquote]If there was a “kill” button in addition to a “like” button on Facebook, would anyone press it?[/pullquote]
I live in Maine, and a trip to sporting goods Meccas like Cabela’s or LL Bean means you’re going to see at the very least, a stuffed moose, black bear, bobcat, foxes, deer, and beaver. The biggest stuffed animals are frequently nicknamed and become local attractions. Like Cecil, only dead.
While I’m all for free speech and expressing outrage, I’m growing concerned about Facebook or other social media mob justice. When somebody’s reprehensible or apparently reprehensible actions go viral, it’s a small matter for people to mete out punishment with nothing more than a few posts or clicks. You can cause businesses to close, destroy professional ratings, or in other ways smear or disparage your targets to the point where they fear for their lives.
I understand fully the allure of being able to punish those we believe are wicked. But I do also realize how often the court of public opinion, and how often the prevailing wisdom turns out to be wrong. I question leaving up the severity or appropriateness of punishment, to the mob. In the name of Karma, some think it’s enough to shut down Walter Palmer’s dental practice, throw him and his family into hiding. Others talk, mostly in jest, about shooting him with a crossbow and beheading him as revenge for Cecil. And some of those posts sound less like jest, and more like actual death threats.
While I in no way approve of what guys like Palmer did, I’ve got to wonder if people remember a little dark chapter of American History called the Salem Witch Trials. Where a few young girls freaked out the pious elders of a community in a 17th Century Massachusetts town by accusing residents of witchcraft. Accusations which led to executions of the supposed witches.
I guess I have to ask what happens when it’s this easy to whip up hysteria and hatred and focus it on people who may be innocent of some or all of what they’re being accused of? And who determines the appropriateness of the punishment? Who does the fact checking? What happens when the court of public opinion degenerates into an Orwellian two-minute hate, and people will do or say anything to bring the alleged perpetrator down, no matter how vicious.
Is it OK to leave punishment to the people who highlight the bad behavior with the clear agenda of inciting others to punish the wrongdoers on social media? I don’t know about you, but that whole piling on mentality kinda gives me the shivers. I look on my wall the other day and there was a share about Cecil. Except I never shared it.
Just a hypothetical, but say you’re a crank who really hates your neighbor. You carefully craft a Facebook post impugning your neighbor’s character, painting them an animal abuser, rapist, child molester, whatever. You show damning pictures, audio or video, all produced by you, apparently catching them in the act, or featuring tearful “eyewitness” testimonies about how horrible your neighbor is, and hatch a whole narrative around the false media.
Seems to me it would be a small matter to execute an effective social media smear campaign on almost anyone. And even easier if they are only marginally competent parents, or breeders of puppies, hunters, confederate flag flyers, smokers, or really anyone who engages in behaviors that large numbers of people online might find offensive.
One need only look at the talkback of any YouTube posting that makes an accusation of a heinous act, and it’s clear there are always some who hate first and ask questions later.
I guess what I’m saying is, I’m deeply disturbed by the wholesale joy expressed by the social media mob, gleefully remarking about how payback’s a bitch, he’s getting what he deserves, blah blah. Going for the vengeance feels, but perhaps not being rigorous enough when it comes to getting all the facts. Do we really want a world where the social media mob, for instance, is able to carry out a de facto death sentence? And would the anonymity of the Internet be enough to shield those complicit in the downfall of another human being from any responsibility?
With the rush of power at being able to punish the wicked being so seductive, it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to presume it could inspire vigilantism. And isn’t that kind of thing exactly what we’re fighting with ISIS? The lone wolf killer whipped up by his online peeps, hammering away at how awful we infidels are.
I think the danger is, people with ill intent could target their enemies and take them out too easily with social media. Just by simply lying. Because nobody really checks what’s real with any seriousness. It’s mostly Google-truth. What’s that saying about a lie can go around the world four times before the truth gets its socks on?
Walter Palmer and Bill Cosby could be just the beginning. It’s easy to demonize and keep demonizing, because there is a glut of material that has tipped the scales of Internet justice way past the point of no return. Whether they are guilty or not is moot. The question is, do you want to belong to a social media lynch mob?
And how confident are you that it’s right for you to exact justice yourself? If there was a “kill” button in addition to a “like” button on Facebook, would anyone press it? It seems to me that it wouldn’t take much to hashtag somebody you didn’t like as a serial kitten-killer, puppy eater, somebody for whom such-and-such lives don’t matter… or worse, the same way others branded innocent people as witches and devil worshippers in Salem.
For my part, I’m fine with using my words to express my disgust at the big game industry. But you know what? I’m going to draw the line when it comes to participating in the social media mob. I’m not really an end justifies the means type. I would never give a restaurant I never visited a bad review in order to punish the owner for something he did that had nothing to do with his business.
I wouldn’t try to intimidate or scare, or show up at somebody’s house or place of business on the strength of some smear piece I saw on the Internet. I wouldn’t put the person’s home address on Twitter and exhort the twittersphere to go dick with him. To me that’s kind of crazy. There’s a big difference between thinking somebody should be punished, and joining a mob that does the actual punishing outside the law.
There has been a drive to extradite Palmer to Zimbabwe to face poaching charges. Good. Signing petitions and protesting in front of the justice department is way less creepy than trying to destroy the accused’s life on social media without due process. • (2754 views)