Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past week, you have heard about the horrible killing of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe named Cecil by a trophy-hunting dentist from Minnesota. Perhaps because of the pervasiveness of Cecil's story, we are also seeing some people respond in a not so favorable manner. Specifically, I have seen comments and posts from people trying to compare the outrage of what happened to Cecil to any number of other things happening in the world today which they perceive to be more outrageous.
You can see examples of such comments here.
For the record, I don't agree with Marco Rubio and others who claim the Planned Parenthood tapes are more outrageous than Cecil's death for several reasons. Mainly I don't believe Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue. Parts of the tapes that ended up on the cutting room floor show Planned Parenthood employees repeatedly explaining that the "sale" was simply to cover the costs of storage and transportation, not to make a profit.
As for 2 and 3, I do back and support both those causes. But I don't understand what the people who are making these posts and comments are hoping to accomplish. These causes are not comparable to what happened to Cecil, and outrage over injustice and abuse is not a competition.
Yes, I'm appalled by the death of Sandra Bland. I don't think she committed suicide. I'm disgusted at the comments of many toward the Ferguson protesters about crime in underserved neighborhoods, as if condemning people to life in poverty and hopelessness isn't going to push some into violence. And I'm outraged at videos showing the shootings of Tamir Rice and Samuel DuBose. Neither of them had a chance - they didn't have time.
I'm also appalled at the horrible lives and inhumane deaths of billions of animals on our industrial farms each year. Undercover videos by several animal advocacy groups have brought this to light - and not one facility they visited hasn't been the subject of horrific abuse. Animal agriculture is very different now than in a previous era. Violence toward animals both in these facilities and at slaughterhouses appears to be the norm.
But are any of these more outrageous than what happened to Cecil? One could argue that what is happening to African Americans in our police and courts system is worse because they are human, and humans are more important than animals. Or one could argue that what is happening to farm animals is worse because it involves so many more of them. But I don't think any these outrages can or should be compared.
What happened to Cecil is not just about one lion. It's about trophy hunting, which is done mostly by wealthy white men, purely for sport, and often by luring animals out of protected areas. It's about lions in general, which have lost 95 percent of their population in the last 50 years, yet still are not covered by the Endangered Species Act. It's about all wildlife, populations of which have fallen 50 percent in the last 40 years.
And it's about the human relationship with all of nature. During our short time on earth, humans have come to dominate nature, both animals and the environment, seeing them as purely as resources for our own use. Our impact has become so vast that we are causing the sixth mass extinction in the planet's history, as well as climate change which poses an existential threat to all living things, including our own species, and which will have the greatest impact globally on people of color.
Furthermore, all these outrages are related. We are living in a system in which a tiny minority of people at the very top have subjugated literally everything else to their use. People are subjugated. Look at the illegal immigrant slave labor found on an egg factory farm in central Ohio. Animals are subjugated. Look at the lives 330 million egg-laying hens in battery cages. The environment is subjugated. Look at oil wells, strip mines, and fracking.
Yet each cause also has its own particular set of circumstances. Black lives matter because they are treated differently in our justice system and in everyday life than whites. When Levar Burton has to teach his son to keep his hands visible during a police stop, or when Danny Glover can't get a taxi to stop for him in the rain in New York City, what does that say about the prejudice and dangers that African Americans who are not famous have to face on a daily basis?
Farm animals matter because humans deliberately breed them for food, and at the very least we owe them a decent life. Wildlife matters because they were here before us, and because all life exists in a web of interdependence. If we kill them off, we won't be far behind.
Those aren't the only reasons all these things matter, but it's a start.
The fact is, the world is full of outrages. Claiming one is worse than another, and criticizing someone because they are working to address one and not another, is pointless. There are plenty of injustices to go around, and way more than enough to do to address them all. No one person could possibly work on them all, even if he or she is sympathetic to them all. That's why we have a lot of advocates - to split up the work and share the burden.
And another fact is that all even if a few dominant people at the top run the system, all of us are complicit in one way or another. Maybe you eat meat that came from animals on factory farms. Maybe you put gasoline in your car or drink water from plastic bottles. Maybe you avoid certain neighborhoods out of a misplaced sense of fear.
While each of us may choose the causes we spend our time working on due to a host of reasons having to do with our background and experience, none of us can claim a clean slate on all of them, and likely not even on just one of them.
I wish people would stop comparing causes and claiming theirs should take priority. It's not a contest, and we go a lot farther when we work together, within and across causes, than when we point fingers. As my friend Jeanette said, making people feel like shit never accomplished anything.
And if, like me, you have been especially touched by the story of Cecil, I hope that rather than spending all your energy wishing death upon the dentist, you channel your outrage by taking a few steps that could actually help other lions. Here are some ideas:
Thank you to all advocates for their work against injustice everywhere.