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July 30, 2015: Cecil the lion, should we shut up about this?

Unless you live in a cave (with no Wi-Fi), you most likely know about the case of Cecil the lion, who was recently killed by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe. This has caused a lot of (out)rage among people online, with pretty much everyone and their grandmother screaming for the death dentist's head on a platter for what he did.

Well, not everyone. There are folks, like this individual here, who think that we should just shut up about this whole Cecil business. According to him, there are simply much more important things in the world to concentrate on than one lion's death. He also thinks that we are being hypocritical by focusing on this one animal's death, when countless other animals are suffering and dying all around us.

Myers' initial argument that we should concentrate on more important things betrays the lack of empathy typical of those who don't really give a rat's ass about animal suffering, or simply feel that this suffering can't possibly be as important as our own. He himself drives this point home near the end of his article. Even if we do, as he writes, have "thoughts and emotions and feelings far more complex than those of Cecil", we should not downplay animals' feelings. We are indeed more complex than (other) animals, but the fact that we share with them a desire to live, as well as an ability to feel pain, fear, happiness, sadness, etc., should be reason enough to respect these animals' lives. We are all sentient beings, something Mr. Myers doesn't really understand.

He pokes fun at the term "whataboutery", but still engages in blatant whataboutery. He defends this by saying that there are indeed levels of importance to what we get involved in (see my paragraph above), but his argument falls short. Many would argue that helping kids suffering in an orphanage is more important than helping an elderly lady cross the street. Does this mean we shouldn't help the elderly cross the street? One does not necessarily have to forego being an ethical person on a small-scale, just because there are large-scale ethical issues out there.

This brings me to his second major point: the hypocrisy of people who say that they care about the killing of one animal while ignoring the fact that other animals are killed in all kinds of horrible ways every day. On one level, this is correct. Animals are hunted and killed every day. Millions of animals suffer and die every day to wind up on our dinner plate, or to provide us with eggs and dairy. Many of the same people that claim to care about Cecil don't really care about any of the other animal suffering that goes on around them, and that they sometimes actively (or even more often passively) participate in. This is very unfortunate. Now if Mr. Meyers actually cared about animals, then this argument would have had some force. The way it stands, however, instead of encouraging people to use this flood of empathy for Cecil as a springboard to maybe start thinking about other animals and how unfairly we treat them, he simply states that animal suffering is par for the course, so we should just accept it. As he puts it, animals are "killed and cooked, plucked out of rivers and chucked back, shot out of the air, run over by cars, and nobody bothers to even name them, let alone mourn them." He seems to be OK with the admittedly callous relationship many (though not all) humans have with animals, which is probably why he offers no remedy to the problem. This is not really surprising, since the lazy and selfish "that's just the way things are" approach is still quite prevalent in society.

I am not a fan of bandwagons. Still, I was, like millions of others, moved by Cecil's story. I like the fact that so many people care about this lion, and hope that at least some of them will see beyond his "celebrity" status and realize that this is an ongoing problem, one that we have to address. Many beautiful wild animals are shot and killed by unethical trophy hunters. Many beautiful farm animals are needlessly killed daily to feed our addiction to meat. Although things are slowly improving, we are still a long way away from treating the animals with whom we share the planet fairly. Ultimately, Mr. Meyers get the most important thing wrong: this is indeed a very important, complex issue. One that will hopefully get some of us on the right path to treating all animals better.

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