I am an African. Boldly and unashamedly so, and as I have said, Africa runs in my blood. Deep and unrelenting.
This week the most imperial symbol of my continent has been thrown into the spotlight, not as a source of pride but of anguish. Cecil the Lion is no more. A beautiful, black maned, 13 year old lion, regal and confident, was destroyed in the name of “sport”. In the name of a pitiful man’s ego.
My soul is crushed. Broken. Not for Cecil specifically, although my heart breaks for him and for the ever-decreasing number of lions found in the wild. Ever smaller habitats, ever diminishing gene pools causing lower breeding rates and the deadly spiral continues. And every time a greedy capitalist wants more land, we say OK, and then blame the animals for misbehaving when they no longer fit on their designated postage stamps.
Cecil is a symbol, an image, a figure. And his fate is symbolic. Yes, my African heart weeps for the loss of a single lion. It does. But my African heart also weeps for the loss of self-actualised manhood and the self-respect that makes it acceptable to search for a sense of manhood outside ourselves in such a destructive manner.
Walter James Palmer, Cecil’s killer, is a product of his time and his place, and his parents. Once he was “private”, but he will never be private gain. A quiet dentist, probably even well liked.
I think trophy hunters share a great deal in common with wife beaters, rapists and paedophiles. That may be regarded as an incendiary comment, but give it some thought. (I have no problems with hunting for the pot, by the way)
Consider these descriptions. A wife beater, rapist and/or a paedophile:
- Gets their kicks from abusing innocence.
- Gets their sense of power from abuse. From destroying innocence from a position of power and privilege.
- Enjoys domination. Rules the world around them with destructive violence
- Destroys things (others) for selfish and entirely personal gain. Their satisfaction is worth the destruction of other people’s happiness.
- Hides behind a veneer of compassion and caring
- Externalises blame or justifies actions with self serving logic. (In the case of the hunters – “Cecil has been done a favour – he has now been immortalised by being killed by a great hunter with a bow”. Yeah, right.)
- Works in secret, creating ambushes and abusing trust
- Engages in risky behaviour but always stacks the odds in their favour.
- Specialises in taking beautiful things away.
Do these apply to a trophy-hunter? Every time.
But trophy hunters are not vilified like wife-beaters, rapists or paedophiles. Perhaps they should be. What does their “sport” add to our world? Nothing. It only takes away.
There are no “responsible trophy hunters”, like there are no “responsible wife beaters”, “responsible rapists” or “responsible paedophiles”. It’s not a concept that works. “I am a responsible destroyer of beauty. I only destroy innocence and beauty when there is enough to go round, and when other people like me have said it is OK to do it” “I only destroy innocence and beauty for selfish gain, when the paperwork is in order”
If that makes it acceptable then We. Are. All. In. Hell.
He made a mistake, a testosterone driven, arrogant mistake. It would be unwise to consider this a mere slip. This is major league narcissism and arrogance. Not killing Cecil – that was just the consequence of his mistake. His mistake is that he believed that having money gave him privilege. And the right to go to another country and kill what belonged not to him, but to them, because it made him happy. Made him feel more like a man. Or something. As Jimmy Kimmel said “There’s a pill for that, you know”
Now, perhaps he understands, as this firestorm hits, that it is not money that gives privilege. It is us, his fellow humans who give him privilege. We permit, and we deny. And yes, because of capitalism and a warped sense of values, we often permit and deny based on income, means and perceived status. And we should probably work on getting better than that. But it is US who permit or deny.
Now he is experiencing something of denial. The loss of what he treasures most. Recognition, and prestige. Possibly his family’s admiration. Hopefully it is not a temporary loss. Hopefully it is permanent, and becomes a useful lesson to him, his family and others. Hopefully we see this lesson through for him and others, for the good of all of us. Forgiveness can come, but it should not come too easily.
How we punish him without punishing his family and his colleagues, I don’t know. Hopefully he gets fired, and then his colleagues can continue to run a successful business without him. But they seem to be loyal to him. Maybe that is like Stockholm syndrome, I don’t know. They do not deserve this firestorm… yet. But if they choose to be associated with him then yes, they can by association “carry the can” for his ways too. I’m ok with that.
His wife and kids, well, hopefully they are disgusted by him or are becoming disgusted by him. They will not “disassociate” as easily as an employer can. And that is right. They are family. But if they do not take a stand, then perhaps they also deserve to taste what he is tasting. Has he bred more destroyers and abusers of innocence? Do his children love killing? I don’t know, but I hope not. Has he taught them that all of creation is there to serve their pleasure? Or that they should steward it gratefully and humbly? I don’t know, but I hope the latter.
His mask has been stripped away and he is exposed to be someone that society has said it does not like. Because, coming back to the wife beater/rapist/paedophile comparison, he has done something that society abhors and hopefully will not tolerate. His money gave him the capacity to do this, but it is us who can take away his desire to do it. By rejecting him utterly and making him earn his place back with his OWN blood, his OWN sweat, and his OWN tears. By reengineering his values.
He needs acceptance. We all do. Some of us get it by being nice people. Some by joining clubs, or being good at something. He gets his acceptance and so do all trophy hunters, by substituting their own masculinity with the false masculinity of weapons and parading his victims.
But he forgets that there is only a real accomplishment in an equal battle. And like a wife beater, rapist and paedophile, he chooses only battles he cannot lose, against opponents who cannot defend. In my opinion, he – and all trophy hunters – are absolutely in the same mould as a wife beater, a rapist or a paedophile. A cowardly destroyer of innocence and beauty driven by their own brokenness to destroy the beauty around them.
Destroying him in return is not the answer. Why become like him? We are not that weak, surely? There is a better way. Let’s reject him and his behaviour. Utterly. Let’s ostracise him and all who are like him. Let’s agree that trophy hunting is like wife beating, and rape and paedophilia. Let’s hate trophy hunting. As much as we hate wife beating and rape and paedophilia.
I’m looking at you Floyd Mayweather. And you, Bill Cosby. And you, Rolf Harris. And you, Walter James Palmer of Minnesota. You are all the same.
It’s the values that are the issue here, and what society permits as acceptable behaviour. He is a broken, selfish, self-engrossed and self-entitled human being. In his case, this works itself out in killing animals for fun. For others, this turns into wife beating, raping, paedophilia.