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Cecil the Lion Has Nothing to Do With Your Politics


An outpouring of indignation over the killing of Cecil the Lion has unleashed a cross-ideological pandemic of whataboutism. The liberal expression is well represented by this Jelani Cobb tweet.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of conservatives are arguing that anyone outraged by the killing of a lion should be at least as outraged over the fact that Planned Parenthood preserves fetal tissue from abortions for medical research.

From where I sit, two things are true:

1) A decisive segment of American society is cavalier with the lives of young black men, and is indefensibly willing to accept black casualties as a price other families must pay for the perception of safety.

2) Abortion is rightly a woman’s choice and to the extent that it’s legal, it should also be legal for women to voluntarily preserve aborted fetal tissue and donate it to research scientists.

Maybe I’m wrong about them, but I’m definitely not wrong that both issues revolve around weightier, more complex questions than killing defenseless animals for entertainment does.

You can take the bleakest view of the violence society tolerates against black Americans, or of the very concept of abortion, but you can’t argue seriously that either phenomenon is any normal person’s idea of a good time.

Meanwhile on a moral scale, killing an animal the way Cecil the Lion was killed—lured into a clearing, wounded unsuspectingly with a crossbow, stalked while wounded for two days, and then shot with a rifle from a position of safety—lies somewhere between bullfighting and the sadistic torture of innocent humans.

Generating a consensus here is easy, precisely because it’s a single incident that occurred in a gray area–free realm. The act itself was cowardly. It was undertaken by a person from our country. And it is considered a great loss to a lot of people without any discernible upside. People are right to be disturbed by it, even if they expend no emotional energy whatsoever condemning police violence, abortion, meat-eating, hunting, or Donald Trump.

There’s a great dearth of empathy and moral imagination in politics. We see it when politicians with gay children come around belatedly to the view that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment, or when they take pride in Confederate symbolism until a white supremacist massacres congregants in a black church. Progress might not be so halting if people had wider horizons, which is why encouraging them to see their priorities reflected in distant tragedies is a valuable thing. But only when the connections are real.