30 July

Cecil’s Legacy: Spawning Cruelty. Think How Many Lions Could Have Been Saved…

by Jon Katz
Spawning Cruelty
Spawning Cruelty

A reporter called me this morning and asked me what a fitting legacy for Cecil the lion might be, he came across my blog post about the aftermath of Cecil’s death that I wrote yesterday. It was widely shared. Some people liked it, many did not. Mobs and vigilantes do not care to be questioned or interrupted in their work. Dante wrote that a mob is a fever, it is a madness that veers out of control, it can never be stopped, it has to burn itself out.

Whenever I write about mobs, I take a deep breath and remember Harlan Ellis: “If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.”  I was thinking about that last night.
Today, there are many shocked reports about the effort to destroy the life and work of Walter Palmer and his family. Millions of people have formed themselves into a digital firestorm, Dr. Palmer and anyone near him is their Dresden. They have uncovered the personal information of Palmer and his family, put them  up on the Internet, forced him to shut his business, threatened his customers, accused him of a long and unsubstantiated or filtered list of horrific crimes, ranging from animal abuse to sexual predation. They have, by the tens of thousands, vowed not just punishment but destruction. They are off to a good start.

Police in his town in Minnesota say he and his family have been overwhelmed with death threats and vows of eternal  vengeance, the police doubt that he will ever be able to re-open his practice. For many of the people who say they love animals like Cecil, this is good news, no punishment can be good enough for a trophy hunter who caused the death and prolonged suffering of an innocent and beloved animal.

These episodic outbursts of righteous mob fury are almost ritualistic now. They occur regularly, sometimes to guilty people, as Dr. Palmer appears to be, sometimes to innocent people, as has happened to many farmers and animal lovers. Many people are still thoughtful enough to be shocked by this cultural violence, they notice that many thousands of people die brutal and cruel deaths – many killed in massacres and domestic violence – and their deaths rarely draw such attention or outrage.

Others notice that we used to worship the spirits and drive of people and treat animals roughly, and now, we worship animals and use them to batter people in the cruelest and most abusive of ways – just ask the New York Carriage Drivers.

They are not like the Minnesota hunter, they do not harm or hunt animals. But like Dr. Palmer, they know about mobs. They have had their personal information uploaded onto the Internet, they have been accused of all kinds of crimes they have not  committed, their own kind of mob seeks to shut down their business, threaten their customers and members of their family, accuse them of the grossest crimes online without any kind of verification or fairness.

Mobs are awful things, they invariably are worse than anything they condemn or persecute. Good and fair-minded people abhor them and avoid them. It is the ultimate act of cowardice and ignorance to threaten someone from the safety of a  remote computer screen or cell phone, and to seek to destroy the life of someone outside of any kind of legal process or system of justice. Mob rule is just another kind of brutish anarchy, the Internet may be the mother of the new mob. People who say they love animals seem to rush to the front of the line when it comes to mobs.

It is easy and free to judge someone else from a distance, many of us are now addicted to it.

It isn’t enough to condemn someone, or to point out their wrongdoing. They must be de-humanized, their lives must be destroyed, they must be turned into monsters so we can march with our digital torches and burn them out of their homes and lives.

“A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what,” wrote Harper Lee in To Kill A Mockingbird. “Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man. Every mob in every little Southern town is always made up of people you know–doesn’t say much for them, does it?”  Lee could hardly have imagine a medium that could take millions of people and form them into a mob in seconds.

No, to me it doesn’t say much for them. Especially when they gloat about it, Dr. Palmer had it coming, an awful man, an evil man, he has no morality, no conscience, he is less than human, no punishment for him can be cruel enough. Honor Cecil, destroy a human being and his family.

I did my obligatory condemnation of Dr. Palmer, I said he made me ashamed to be a man, he was vicious, he did a horrible thing, but that did not matter, as I knew it would not. Poking a mob is like poking a big angry bear, you do it and run.

But I thought, as I wrote about it, of those good people in Charleston who forgave the man who murdered their fellow parishioners and reminded the world of what it truly means to be a Christian. What a powerful contrast they presented to the raging hordes of people who claimed to be lovers of animals but who quickly denied Dr. Palmer the right of even being considered to be a human being. The victims of genocide always report the same thing: to destroy someone, you must first take their humanity away.

And what might a real animal lover do in the face of such awful cruelty?

I don’t see myself as any kind of simple-minded love child, but I told the reporter that if every person who went on Facebook or Twitter to attack Dr. Palmer and vented their outrage (we really need one more person to post an angry message on Twitter?) saved an animal, loved an animal, volunteered at a shelter, or adopted an old dog that needed a home, caught a poacher, contributed to rescue a lion or a horse on the way to slaughter – then Cecil’s death would have been a glorious thing. He would have left a legacy behind that might well have transformed the world of animals, and the ways in which thoughtless people like Dr. Palmer see them.

Cecil would have really stood for something good, is there any better way to honor him?

There would be no better or more powerful response  to Cecil’s death than to raise enough money to hire 500 guards and save 1,000 lions in Africa. If a fraction of the outraged mobs venting on social media contribute $1 apiece, they do more for animals than every single nasty or threatening message on Facebook have done or will do.

If animals are to be saved from extinction in our world, the people who say they love them will have to do more than threaten Dr. Palmer and his family and use animals as a screen for rage and hatred. They will have to come and see that animals and the people who love and work and live and interact with them will have to come and understand them in a wiser and more mystical – and loving – way. Using animals to  batter people, even people like Dr. Palmer, does not help animals. In turns animal lovers into Dr. Palmer. It separates animals from people. It distracts from their real suffering.

There are plenty of mobs online and off raging about the abuse of animals, animals are vanishing every day, few people seem to have taken time away from their outrage to actually save them and keep them around. All those people threatening Dr. Palmer last night and looking up his past and personal data, just pause for a minute and think how many horses and dogs and lions could have been saved instead.

We have lost perspective, we have lost the true meaning of animals and people: it is love and connection, not hatred and persecution.

The mobs raging against the doctor and defaming and threatening him and his family are much more dangerous and destructive than he is, they are not helping a single animal in the world, they are simply using this animal tragedy to feel better and more righteous about themselves.

And sadly, that won’t work either.

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