Cecil the Lion
“If I look at the mass, I will never act.” — Mother Teresa
For those of you who have been disconnected from all forms of media this past week, Cecil was a lion living in a national park in Zimbabwe who was lured out of the park and killed by a trophy hunter. The news has identified an American dentist as the culprit, who allegedly paid two locals $55,000 USD for the hunt.
The way that people have responded to Cecil’s death is interesting from a sociological perspective. Two main factors come into play:
Because Cecil was not a typical “food animal”, people have not denied him an individual mind. This is evident in the journalistic use of the pronoun “he” instead of “it”. Cecil was a person, not a thing. (See: Loughnan, S., Haslam, N., & Bastian, B. (2010). “The role of meat consumption in the denial of moral status and mind to meat animals.” Appetite, 55(1), 156-159.)
Cecil was a single tragedy. To quote Joseph Stalin: “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” As activists, we might do well to remember this. When we talk about the billions of animals that humans kill each year, we really do risk triggering compassion collapse — a phenomenon where people turn off their feeling of compassion. (See: Cameron, C. D., & Payne, B. K. (2011). “Escaping affect: how motivated emotion regulation creates insensitivity to mass suffering.” Journal of personality and social psychology, 100(1), 1.)
Something to consider for our future activism.
And to all of my friends who are not yet vegan — please consider that there is no difference between Cecil’s unnecessary death, and the unnecessary death of a cow, or chicken, or fish to eat for dinner. If you feel that Cecil’s death was unjust, then you already hold the necessary ethical beliefs to become vegan.