Friday, July 31, 2015

Obituary for a Lion

Why do Americans care more about a dead lion than dead humans? 

It was all over the news, print and broadcast as well as social media.  Cecil the lion, part of an Oxford University research project, was killed in Zimbabwe by a Minnesota dentist for sport.  CBS news showed a clip of Jimmy Kimmel choking up as he spoke out against the hunter, proving that “not only is he one of the funniest men on TV, but he is also one of the most decent.”  He went on to ask for donations to support wildlife conservation.  Local residents are laying stuffed animals at the dentist’s doorstep and at his office in protest.

Though the killing of a lion tagged for research purposes is a contemptible act, does it deserve that much attention?  On that same day a remotely detonated blast in Bahrain “targeted a bus carrying policemen near a primary school for girls,” killing two police officers and wounding six.  But the bomber only killed foreign police and endangered Arab schoolgirls – not the same as Americans or a “beloved” lion.  Where is the outrage; where are the late-night tears?

About a week earlier “a suicide bomber with an ice truck lured more than 100 people to their deaths” in Iraq.  But they likewise were not Americans or a beloved lion.  Go to the CBS News website and search on “Iraq-Bombing-Ice-Truck” and the story doesn’t appear.  From that search we do find out that during the same time period “suspected Boko Haram militants have killed more than 20 people including multiple children in their latest attack on northern Cameroon.”  Did social media go crazy?  Were Americans mourning the deaths of these little (black) children in Africa with the same fervor as they were for one lion.  Remember that lion was also in Africa, so you can’t explain the apparent indifference by the remoteness of the act.

The clearest and most direct explanation of these apparent inconsistencies is the lack of perspective and critical thinking by average Americans.  No one has the time or energy to be outraged by everything.  When we react to one outrage, we automatically, though unconsciously, choose to ignore all the others.  When we let the media, politicians and late-night comedians set the agenda for us, we make no conscious decisions.  We merely bounce from one injustice to the next as they decide what counts and what doesn’t.  Our leaders show no sense of perspective and the populace follows along blindly, letting others call the shots by grabbing us emotionally and drawing us in before we have a chance to assess the relative proportions of each situation.  In this case Jimmy Kimmel and others chose to add to their reputation for decency by valuing the life of one lion above the lives of multiple humans.

How does this reflect on our core values as Americans, as human beings?  Does anyone slow down to question what is really important or weigh alternatives?  Does our short attention span coupled with a tendency to react first and think later, if at all, drive most decisions?  Lack of perspective as reflected in our behavior is making reality out of what was once a joke about Americans waking up wondering what we are going to be outraged about today.  There is no shortage of people ready to take advantage of that opening and lead us down whatever path they choose.

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