Cecil the lion: We're capable of caring about more than one thing at once


Second only to the outpouring of rage directed at the Minnesota dentist this week who shot dead Zimbabwe's most famous lion, has been that of the Moral Crusaders of the Internet, insistent that mourning the death of an animal diminshes the gravity of other atrocities around the world.

Confused? I'll explain.

When news broke that Cecil had been killed, and the poacher was identified as Walter Palmer, the world unleashed a torrent of fury. Palmer's dental practice in Minneapolis has been targeted by demonstrators and is now temporarily closed, while activists, celebrities and animal-lovers alike have been quick to express their horror. There have been the inevitable calls for Palmer to be prosecuted, and for hunting to be outlawed entirely.

It's the brutality of the killing that's perhaps been the most shocking detail; Palmer allegedly first lured Cecil out of the relative safety of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe before shooting him with a bow and arrow. He then stalked the injured animal for 40 hours and fatally shot him with a gun. The lion, who was a major tourist attraction and the subject of an Oxford University research project, was skinned and beheaded. His carcass was found a few days after July 1, when he is believed to have died.

The outrage was inevitable, but then so too was the outrage about the outrage. It's all very meta. Those angry about the senseless killing of an endangered animal became the target of those condemning the diversion of focus from other more 'worthy' news stories. The death of a man as hundreds of migrants stormed the channel tunnel in Calais last night, for example, or the developing controversy around Planned Parenthood's supposed selling of foetus body parts.

"ISIS kills hundreds of Christian woman and children and nobody bats an eye. A dentist kills a lion and everybody freaks out," one meme, shared over 8,000 times on Facebook, read, to murmurs of agreement from the moral cavalry.

The problem with this argument is that it suggests there is a hierarchy of things we're allowed to be upset about and no two causes can occupy the same amount of space. That in condemning Cecil's death, we are implicitly condoning the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the normalisation of abortion, global poverty... fill in your own blank.

It's utter rubbish.

Outrage on behalf of Cause A does not nullify horror regarding Cause B. It's very possible to be moved to care about more than one thing at a time.

There is certainly a debate to be had about whether we have a problem as a society about caring about animals more than we do about adult human beings, but it's unhelpful to create false choices between them. It's kind of like saying you have to choose between whether you feed the hungry or tell them about Jesus. Why can't you do both?

What won't acheive anything, is outrage about outrage about outrage. Care about your cause, yes. Speak out about it, yes. Become an activist for it, yes. But simply getting angry because the world seems to care more about a dead lion than the thing you care about won't make the world a better place, just a grumpier one.