This week was no shorter than any other of unsettling news about the state of our nation. Hundreds of prospective migrants desperately stormed the Channel Tunnel, with one dead as a result. The death toll of British citizens so disfranchised and so disengaged with our society that they have left to join Islamist militant groups fighting in the Middle East has reached 50. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published a report detailing that less academically able children from wealthier backgrounds are still more likely proceed to earn more than their brighter, poorer compatriots.
And yet, amongst continued revelations that on our doorstep there is despair and anguish, loathing and terror, inequality and injustice, what captured the hearts and souls of thousands in this country? A lion. Albeit a very important lion hunted illegally. But a lion- in Zimbabwe- nonetheless.
The story of Cecil the Lion, shot by an American dentist, has ignited fury beyond expectation. I cannot conceive how many Facebook posts decrying the brutality and unfairness of the killer must have been posted in the last few days. I cannot conceive the hatred felt for Dr Palmer, the disgust and the fury. I cannot conceive the force of the moral tempest whipped up by those who are hashtagging “#wearececil”. We are outraged by the death of an animal in a faraway land at the hands of someone from a different foreign country to the point that many of us forget our own civilised nature and wish the death penalty on the perpetrator of the killing. Meanwhile, the poorest children in our own back garden quietly starve, bereft not only of sustenance to which their humanity surely entitles them, but also of the attention of the vocal, self-appointed, so-called “compassionate” classes who fill the Guardian comment sections and our social media newsfeeds. No wonder David Cameron, an architect of the punitive welfare reforms and rigid socio-economic stratification which causes such hardship, is more than willing to prolong the obfuscating Cecil furore by contributing his own tuppence-worth. Compassionate Conservatism extends to African beasts but not to British families trapped in poverty. Animal rights trump human dignity.
A soul more generous than mine would perhaps venture that the widespread condemnation of Cecil’s killing is simply a symptom of something bigger: a final, great awakening of the developed world to the postcolonial hangover of destruction their fellow Westerners wreak upon lands they once dominated. First the the lions of Zimbabwe, next the planet and the people still suffering from the result of centuries of empire and unfettered global capitalism. However, the generous soul is also the more foolish in this situation. A primary reason why Cecil has attracted so much posthumous support is because it is easy to offer it. There is next to nothing that any of us in Britain can positively contribute to the problem of illegal game-hunting in the south of Africa, so all there is to do is beat the moral drum loudly for a few days before sinking back into quietude and oblivion until the next insoluble outrage to shout about surfaces. And no one seriously thinks that Cecil should have been hunted down, or that Dr Palmer is a great man for firing the fatal shot, so any opposition is nigh on non-existent. It is all far more convenient than, yet just as satisfying as, considering how to help to resolve tricky and divisive social or economic issues that are more insidious and immediate to us.
Remember “#kony2012” anyone?
Most animals are cute from a distance of six and a half thousand miles, and killing them illegally, especially when they are endangered and emblematic, is wrong. That is undisputed and the perpetrator of the act will face the consequences of that unanimity of opinion. However, we, especially those of us who proudly wear the badge of “liberal” or “progressive” do ourselves and those whom our sentiments and values are supposed to serve an embarrassing disservice by obsessing over Cecil. For he has ceased to be a lion, and now has become a passing shadow, pushing into obscurity all the graver injustices around which we must rally.