By now, you've no doubt read quite a bit about Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion killed by an idiot dentist from Minnesota who apparently paid $50,000 for the privilege. (N.B.: see my previous post about overseas money hoarding; once again, we see how "unproductively" the "productive" class spends its ill-gotten gains.) The outcry against the dentist has been, to put it mildly, overwhelming. The dentist has been forced to close his practice, and I for one will be very surprised if it ever reopens. So vehement has the public outcry against the dentist been that he has already been dropped by one public relations agency and forced to find another. Never in my life have I felt so sorry for my PR colleagues; a client in this position has to be an absolute nightmare. Good luck in finding a "lighter side" to this story.
Is this all about a lion? Lions have been hunted and killed for thousands of years, along with many other breeds of animals, either for "sport" or for survival. Why this lion, and why now?
At least one author feels that the public outcry over Cecil's death reflects our allegedly primitive view of Africa, a view in which their are lots of wild animals but no people worth caring about. In turn, this primitive view is the legacy of our colonial footprint on the continent. In this formulation of the Cecil phenomenon, we weep for large cats, but not for the millions of human Zimbabwean citizens who live without electricity or water, and groan under the weight of a brutal dictatorship.
I take a back seat to no one in agreeing that the legacy of African colonialism is a horribly destructive one. It left "national" boundaries that respect only the European lust for various resources, not the ethnic and cultural traditions of the indigenous peoples they ruled. Look no further for evidence of this than Nigeria, a "county" unified by one thing, and one thing only--oil. And it certainly wrong to overlook the current suffering of those peoples under "governments" that exploit the boundaries left behind by the Europeans to extraordinarily selfish ends.
That said, I think it's patronizing in the worst possible way to assert that most Americans view African as little more than a giant zoo, or that they are utterly indifferent to the fact that Africa is filled with suffering people. How much of our history has been defined by our own willingness to import those people, and impose our own, unique brand of suffering on them.
No, I think the Cecil phenomenon represents something very different.
I think that Cecil's tragedy has turned into a cultural flashpoint that embodies our resentment toward all forms of grotesque and unequal exploitation, whether of two- or four-legged animals . I think that, for most of us, the exploitation that is embodied here transcends hunting, or Africa, or anything less than the global reality that every day, in every country, in almost every transaction, there are only two kinds of people: those who have leverage, and those who have none.
All of us--or, at least, 99% of us--feel that we could turn into Cecil, at any moment. All of us feel that we live in a world in which we could be killed, skinned and beheaded any time, without warning or escape. And all of us feel that there is nothing we can do about it.
Except that there is. Organize. Fundraise. Get on the Net, one way or another. And, above all, vote. Before you turn into Cecil. Before we all do.