Thursday, July 30, 2015
The Ethics of Being First Among Animals
~George Orwell, Animal Farm
“I never yet heard of a useless thing that was not ground out of
existence by evolution sooner or later. Did you? And pain gets needless.”
― H.G. Wells,
The slaying of the 13 year old lion, Cecil, by a Midwestern American dentist who paid $54K for the privilege of being able to say he killed a lion, and to parade its head and pelt around, has generated a certain amount of outrage. I can't say I'm not appalled by it, also. But the reasons are complicated.
I'm not a vegetarian, although I tried it for a few years because of my belief that most animal husbandry is ecologically unstable, wasteful and cruel. Here's what I realized by this experiment--humans are culturally omnivores for a reason. I came to the conclusion that while some people may do well on a vegetable-based diet, some of us are better-served with animal proteins, and Lord, I know, I'm one. I've since done what I can to be sure that the meat, dairy, and eggs I eat are sustainably sourced to the best of my ability. But I believe that, especially city-raised people like myself, need to get a grip on the idea that the deaths of animals is the price paid for keeping your ass alive. (Lierre Keith's The Vegetarian Myth is a great meditation on this conundrum about being a meat-eater, and concerned about the act of killing and being ecological.)
What Walter Palmer did in taking his fancy trip to Africa to kill a lion just because he could pay enough for the privilege of doing so, turns a lot of the idea of responsible hunting on its head. It wasn't for food--the corpse of Cecil lay rotting. It wasn't for self-defense as can occur with bear and other predator animals. It was for solely privilege. To be able to say he was one of the guys who did kill a lion. It's probably no surprise that more liberal-leaning people are appalled by this, because that is naked conspicuous consumption, right there. But more than that, there is a spiritual notion behind it, beyond economics: this creature's life was given up for a sick trophy that had nothing to do with cunning or skill, but an asshole's desire to say he dominated this half-tame, lured, majestic beast. The life of the pride that Cecil lead itself is jeopardized because of this ignorant and unbalanced move. This "mighty hunter" wouldn't have disgusted me if he shot deer, rabbits, moose--that's meat. But he did this for balls and because he liked the killing bits. (This "skillful" and "responsible" guy wounded the lion and took 40 hours to track and finish him--so that's certainly not an ideal way to earn a trophy is it?)
If you follow my blog, you know I cover the climate change beat rather a lot. This means I am not unaware of the Great Extinction that is currently happening in the Anthropogenic Era. For every Cecil, there are ever so many other slaughtered animals we don't hear about, and species that are just quietly falling into nothingness. I've gone off before about the value of the bats and the bees to pollination and our ability to eat, and both of these species are harmed probably very much due to our environmental disturbance. We are, because of stuff we're doing right now, destroying the places where sea turtles lay their eggs, and decimating the fish stocks that puffins feed their babies. Cecil had a face and a name. We need to come to grips with the idea that the species we share this planet with don't need pretty faces and names for us to know their value to our biome.
This is why I applaud the efforts to limit the poaching of elephants for ivory, because if anyone knows thing one about elephants, the ivory is not even the best part of them--it is their living. This is why I support the idea behind recognizing non-human rights, because our search for other intelligent life in this universe should not avoid that occurring on our own planet.
I think we need to do better as stewards of this planet, and that includes getting serious about recognizing the other creatures we live with here. We meddle with our environment in so many ways, introducing invasive species and fiddling about with water tables and so on. We build roads and skyscrapers and wind mills. We overfish and this canned hunting? Is so much excess. We have proliferated, us homo sapiens, to all corners of the globe, so let's just recognize that with our privilege as first among animals, comes also great responsibility.
And let's not blow away awesome fellow creatures just because our check is good.