We all love animals, right? That’s why we’re so outraged by Cecil the lion’s death. Our collective anger has forced Cecil’s killer, Walter Palmer, into hiding. But to me it seems like there’s more than a little hypocrisy in our behaviour towards this dentist from the United States. Walter’s home was vandalised, and pigs feet were scattered across his driveway – dead animals, used to protest a dead animal.
Collectively we consume vast amounts of meat, we wear clothing derived from animal remains, and we have industries that test products on animals, to ensure their safety for humans. It’s an approach that puts humanity at the pinnacle, and considers animal life as less important, as something that maintains our lives and place in the world.
But some animals are worthy of our love. There are some that are lucky enough to be protected by some sort of warped moral compass. Our cats, dogs, and hamsters are safe from consumption, so too are our horses (although you might well have eaten horse meat involuntarily), but only because they provide us with something more than sustenance.
What about the thousands of calves killed every year to give us milk to drink? The chickens farmed in such abysmal conditions that they don’t have feathers; some haven’t ever seen sunlight, pumped full of chemicals to make them fatter. Do they live happy, and fulfilling lives?
Modern life is increasingly distanced from our base survival instincts and needs. Most of us get our meat from the local supermarket, and it arrives packaged, often prepared, and ready for consumption. We remove ourselves from the process, letting other people do the dirty work.
Animals Die Everyday
What that says about us is up for discussion. But we should consider the sad death of Cecil the lion, not as something unusual or surprising, but as a symptom of a bigger problem. Most of the animals that die for us to live our unsustainable lives don’t have names. Would we eat less meat if we personified all animal life?
Walter Palmer shot and killed a lion in Zimbabwe. The rest of the world decided that he was a pariah for his actions, and his life has fallen apart in the ensuing finger pointing. But we are all complicit in his crime. Our world is speciest, and it requires us to ignore the plight and suffering of the animals that support our lifestyle.
A decapitated lion is an image that wins hearts and minds because it’s removed from what we see everyday. What about a cow with its throat slit, or a lobster boiled alive on a stove top? We’re immune to those images; we won’t acknowledge the fact that animals are living breathing creatures often made to suffer because of us.
Our Collective Legacy
And is our anger towards Walter, the US dentist, misplaced when viewed in a wider context? What about the migrants in Calais, or the refugees fleeing Libya, a country decimated by Western bombs, and postcolonial interference? It’s easy to paint Walter as the epitome of evil, as a man who killed a defenseless and ageing lion, but it’s not so easy to consider our own legacies, and our own contribution to the problems facing humanity.
Walter did a terrible thing, but isn’t it time that we were honest with ourselves too? Humans kill animals everyday; at least Walter Palmer had the guts to do it himself. We need to care for all living things, especially those that are in a worse position than ourselves. By decrying Walter’s actions we forget our own.