Lions and tigers and things that go bump in the night

This article relates to the current internet vilification of Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, who paid $50,000 to kill what turned out to be Zimbabwe’s most loved lion, Cecil. He can’t have been that amazing. I’ve never heard of him. I’d heard of Jonathan the tortoise long before I ever met him in person in St Helena. But Cecil? Never heard of him, sorry.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I care about animals and I find the concept of killing them for fun utterly abhorrent and completely incomprehensible. But I’m not a spoiled, ignorant American twit with more money than sense and more guns than brains. So I am bound to see the world differently to him.

This evening I have read a navel-examining piece of overwrought twaddle about mob justice on the internet becoming the norm and how afraid we should be at what is happening to the erstwhile big game murderer Mr Palmer, and his poor family and employees. You can read it here. Apparently shutting down his business for a few days and scaring him into reassessing his world view is a Bad Thing. Can’t see why, myself. Do him the world of good to be the hunted for a while. See how he likes it. I think the expression being bandied about is ‘karma’. Although I would draw the line at stabbing him, leaving the knife in his side for a few days and then killing him and mounting him on the wall.

And, in any case, I doubt very much whether in a year’s time, anyone will even remember this currently massive outpouring of disgust. It will blow over. I have trouble remembering Palmer’s full name even now, so in a year’s time, I’ll probably only be able to recall Cecil the lion.

This is just another moral panic, like seventies djs or internet trolls or single mothers or migrants or mods and rockers or computer games or horror movies, and it will pass for Mr Palmer and his poor staff.

In fact, in a demonstration of delicious irony, the very article is a moral panic all of its own, following the ‘The Internet Is Evil And Will Destroy Us All’ theme. *sigh*  How boring. Is that the best commentary we can put on this?

But that is what human beings do. Whether they are egged on by a newspaper or an online article, people will always overreact to some stories. It is one of the traits that makes our species so much more interesting, because of its unpredictability. Which story will matter next? No one knows, even those that write them for a living.

Looking deeper at this story, whilst Zimbabwe may be stamping their feet and demanding the extradition of the “poacher” in question, to stand trial alongside the two gamekeepers that Cecil trusted to protect him, the real question is, what is Zimbabwe going to do for money if it has to stop charging stupid Americans $50,000 a pop for a big game hunting permit? Remember, that’s just the permit. Not the whole holiday. Heaven only knows what he was conned out of for accommodation costs and flights. A fool and his money are soon parted.

If you are sold a piece of paper giving you permission to do a thing, you are allowed to do that thing. That’s the whole point of permits. Whether they are fishing licences for the River Ouse, or driving licences or staff parking badges, once you have it, you have permission. To then turn around to the permitholder and say, ‘Oh we didn’t mean THAT one’ is not only shutting the stable door after the horse has been allowed out, chased, killed, skinned and beheaded, it is hypocrisy of the first water. You cannot give someone a permit and then tell them they’re not allowed to use it. Especially not after relieving them of $50,000 for it. That would make you a scam artist and a common thief.

Mr Palmer was not inside the reserve. The lion was lured out to meet him – apparently via the tried and tested method of raw meat on the back of a pickup truck. If your reserve boundaries are that porous, it’s not the hunter’s fault if they find themselves shooting an animal that wandered off. The luring is the offence, not the shooting. The shooting was completely legal and above board. You sold the permit.

So the questions Zimbabwe’s government have to answer are:

1. Why can a tagged and protected lion just walk out of the reserve and into the arms of hunters? Never heard of FENCES?

2. Why, if you are so protective of your big game, are you selling permits to shoot them for $50,000 a time? If you’re such conservationists, at least make the hunters use paint guns, so the bloody animals stand a fighting chance of surviving your rampant greed.

3. Or, and here’s a thought, DON’T SELL ANY PERMITS. That way, anyone caught with a gun can be immediately arrested, no questions asked.

4. What exactly are you going to try him for? He had a permit. You sold it to him. He went out with two guides, who were paid to find him a legal target. They didn’t. He shot what they got him. However nauseated I may be by his even being there to kill, he is not the one at fault here.

And that is why this moral panic will blow over. In another few days, most of the, as Dave Gorman calls them, “bottom half of the internet” (i.e. the people who comment under articles) will find something else to get het up about. A few green crayon brigade who live close enough to pop by his office in person might need a warning or two to back off, possibly for weeks, rather than days, but other than that, this will almost certainly pass.

What we should be more worried about in the Vox article is the idea that, if people on the internet get upset about something, that can be perceived as an indictment of the entire internet. That is the moral panic that should make us really, really afraid. Because that is not fear of the unknown. That is fear of the known, and that won’t go away any time soon.

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