It’s been an interesting few weeks. I’ve left the big skies of Caithness and mural painting behind me, like the peregrine I am I’m back to wandering, working on a number of projects and commissions and actually keeping up with current events (damn you Twitter!). Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last week or so, you will have heard about Cecil, a lion killed in an illegal hunt after being lured from his sanctuary in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, shot and wounded with a crossbow and then tracked for forty agonising hours before being killed with a rifle, skinned and beheaded. Reading about this horrific event stirred deep feelings of contempt and anguish in me, but also futility, as when I read the first few articles as the details emerged I assumed the story would vanish by the end of the day and no one would care, as is often the case with wildlife crime (which, as far as I’m concerned, should just be called crime). How wrong I was, and how heartening that feels, to see so many others reacting and caring as I do to the unjustified murder of another being.
We live in a culture that tells us that other beings are merely here to use for our pleasure or utility. You are a unique snowflake and everyone else is whatever, for you to exploit and abuse as you see fit. Our culture encourages and values this fundamental lack of empathy, it makes money, so is it any wonder that we hardly treat our fellow humans nicely, let alone all the other life forms that have to share this planet with us?
Cecil is as much the victim of an attitude of privilege as the poor souls lined up at Calais that were in the news so much last week, willing to risk life and limb to get into Britain (run away, its shit!). A country so heartless its press and political class will rarely ever even refer to these people as human (a tradition apparently). They are ‘invaders’, ‘immigrants’ (whatever happened to expatriate?), a ‘swarm’ ‘storming‘ Calais in their ‘thousands’, as if we are at war or they are some horrific infestation. How is this melodrama and hysteria considered acceptable reporting? A couple of weeks back we were going to be pecked to death by killer seagulls and starved of fish by greedy malevolent seals. Before that benefit fraudster terrorist foxes were going to break in to our homes and murder us in our sleep. And now we are supposed to believe that immigrants are coming in their millions to steal our babies and give our mortgages cancer. Or something.
For a fairly accurate assessment of the situation in Calais [click here].
The rhetoric of dehumanisation and narrative of fear is liberally applied to anyone, man or beast, that the entitled establishment view as troublesome. So that would be the rest of us. Certain people think it is their right to use and abuse anything they want to, and whoever or whatever gets in their way is to be subjugated or destroyed. Workers. The poor. The sick. The disabled. The unemployed. Immigrants. Ethnic Minorities. LGBT. Animals. Birds. Forests. Seas. The Earth. You name it. It must be used for fun or profit, and if it puts those pursuits in danger, as far as a small minority of uncivilised thugs are concerned, it has to go, and they will, via a compliant media, shove all the contrived nonsense to justify their actions down our collective throats that they can.
Even the heart of the most reasonable person can be corrupted toward a lack of empathy by the consistent and targeted application of fear. They harm you. They take what is yours. Without them you would be better/happier/richer etc. They are evil. This is very basic propaganda: divide and rule.
We’re so saturated with this mindfuckery we do it to ourselves. I’ve seen a number of people complaining that the furore over Cecil shows that people care more about a lion than people of colour/migrants/other humans/children, various other wildlife causes and every other horrendous thing in the world. This is a trap. Just because I care about Cecil doesn’t mean to say I’m going to stop caring about black rights or ethnic minorities or my cat. This was never a competition. I have a lot of caring to go round and I doubt that’s unusual (it also doesn’t mean to say that those that I care about can do no wrong – to truly care one must acknowledge another’s flaws, anything less is bullshit).
The fact is that people who fail to empathise with wildlife likely already find it a stretch to empathise with their fellow humans. I am thankful that every time the UK media decides to dehumanise a group of people I never find myself expecting some idiot to put up photos of their corpses on display, with people cheering them on. I am very sad that that is exactly what I expect when wildlife is vilified in the UK press. It is as predictable as a banker’s greed. People so willingly and easily led into acts of violence against unfairly targeted creatures seem like they are probably only a few steps from violence to humans. It should take more than a smear campaign in the papers or a bit of annoyance to make a well adjusted person kill.
I fail to see how encouraging empathy for our wildlife will take anything away from the fight for human equality; if anything it should encourage a broader attitude of understanding. If you can empathise with a bee empathising with other people is easy. If our media and political class’s attitude toward the people at Calais is anything to go by, a strong dose of empathy is very much needed.
The hooligans that are illegally driving England’s Hen Harrier population to near extinction and seem to want to turn the British countryside into a wild-free monetised homogenised wasteland shooting estate were very much on my mind when I was reading about Cecil. They are not just getting away with murder, but with ecocide. And for what? Greed and vanity, the same reasons Cecil was murdered. It is high time that this Victorian era barbarism was brought to an end.
Everything I found about Seagulls is about how to kill them, so, yeah, don’t. Ta.