Cecil the lion and the steakholders

Every time there is general omnivore outrage over a case of animal abuse (we can call this “selective outrage”), a lot of vegans are angry. They’ll point the finger at these people who are horrified – for instance right now at what happened to Cecil the lion –  and sometimes seem actually very irritated with them.

My question is: would we prefer those people were not outraged at all over such horror? Given that mass outrage over what happens to pigs, chickens and cows is not exactly for today, would we prefer omnivores to be consistent and shut up about Cecil? I guess not.

Trust me, I’ve had my own (too long) phase in which I felt this “I’ll tell the hypocrites”-anger myself. But why would I tell people off like that? Because I thought it would be effective? I get it: we hope that 1. people will see the inconsistency when we point it out and 2. they will change their behavior to make it consistent with their most compassionate feelings. Sometimes it happens. More often it doesn’t. And anyway, I think when we do this, when we are angry and irritated and impatient, it has a lot to do with wanting to be right, with showing them, with all kinds of things which are very different from having impact.

I’m happy, personally, with the omnivore outrage against what happened to Cecil, inconsistent and absurd as it might be. It’s the beginning of something. It’s a seed of compassion that has taken root.

I’ve talked before about what I think is the main reason for people’s different reactions towards different cases of animal mistreatment. I’ll post this picture again (I did so before in this post), because I think it’s very important: the difference in reaction towards the matador vs. the butcher is mainly explained by the fact that people don’t have a stake in bullfighting (i.e. they are not participating), but they do have a stake in animal agriculture. With a pun, we can say it is the difference between being a steakholder or not.

butcher and toreador

I have just read the late Norm Phelps’ Changing the Game, a book on strategy for the animal rights and vegan movement which I highly recommend (I’ll refer again to it in later posts). Here, Norm basically says the same thing:

“People tend to be extremely resistant to moral criticism of things they are personally doing (…) The only way around this is usually to expand the bounds of their ethical awareness gradually, one step at a time. Thus, most people come to the animals’ cause by way of something that outrages their conscience that they are not doing themselves, like fur, vivisection, or dogfighting. As they become more committed, they make the move vegetarianism and veganism. The reason for this, of course, is that when people are not committing the offense themselves, they can follow their fundamental moral principles without triggering cognitive dissonance.”

So outrage over Cecil is a start. We would do good in watering the seeds of compassion we find in people. In the next post, I’ll show you how I tried to do that in a op-ed piece for a newspaper. I tried to appreciate people’s outrage, and make the connection by not alienating them. I welcome your thoughts. Let me know how you think I can make it better

19 thoughts on “Cecil the lion and the steakholders

  1. Thanks for yet another thoughtful post. I think of Ricky Gervais, who was taking aim at trophy hunters while he was still eating meat. While it was frustrating, we knew that there was a good chance that he would eventually “get it” and indeed he now has. While it makes no sense for vegans to join in the public shaming of Cecil’s killer, rather than shame the shamers we need to find a way to reach them and persuade them to extend their protective instinct for Cecil towards other animals.

  2. I hope he gets what he deserves (karma), & I sure hope all his ‘haters’ are vegan themselves, otherwise it’s rather hypocritical to continue eating dead animals killed by someone else …

  3. We are justified in feeling anger at the hypocritical stance of carnists who are outraged at what happened to Cecil, but I think the best way we can help the animals when expressing our feelings is as Tobias states at the end of the post:
    “We would do good in watering the seeds of compassion we find in people.”

    I’ve seen that compassion crushed too many times when those seeds have not been watered, but instead been poisoned with shaming & chastising. Opportunity for building upon that compassion is lost, and possibility for a more humane world for the animals is reduced, not helped.

    1. The same positive reinforcement training techniques that work much better with dogs than negative methods of scolding and punishment work pretty well on humans, too. 🙂

    2. nicely put!
      (by the way, fyi, i avoid the term “carnists”. melanie joy, who coined the word carnism, told me she doesn’t like it either. sounds very judgmental and kinda nasty 🙂

      1. I didn’t know that about the term “carnists”…good to know, thanks. Did Melanie happen to mention another word she prefers to be used instead?

  4. Good one again, but isn’t there a mid-way? Showing people their hypocrisy in a nicer way? Or should we always wait until they reach a more compassionate state, because with some people that do have this seed, waiting will take multiple lifetimes 😉

    Although, a undermining problem could be, and I just saw it on Facebook, that those with the seed of compassion towards Cecil truly think (or have very firm blinkers) that farm(food)-animals are a different kind of animal. But I guess for resolving this the best way would be informing them and showing the similarities instead of shaming them as an angry mob 🙂

    Thanks for the food for thought! And I’ll check the book asap

        1. yes, actually i’m writing an op-ed piece for a newspaper, in which i’m trying to do exactly that. not easy. I’ll translate it to english afterwards and i’ll post it here

    1. I agree with you 100% about the mid-way and “Showing people their hypocrisy in a nicer way”, veganbackpacking. I think that images speak much louder than words and I particular like the one that shows a picture of puppy’s face beside a calf’s face with just the few words, “Why love one but eat the other?”.

      So, for Cecil, I think a good one for the “mid-way” category would be a picture of Cecil next to a picture of a cow/pig/chicken saying, “Why be outraged at the killing of one but not the other?” Some people might choose to replace “killing” with “murder”, or choose a picture of Cecil dead next to a picture of a cow hanging in a slaughterhouse, but I have found those are the little nuances that can turn people off instead of on.

      To me, I’ve found that the most important step of all is simply taking a moment to think about what we say and how we say it, then choose what you think will be the best option to create positive change for the animals in the end. To me, that is what the end result is all about, not satisfying any initial impulse to call people out on the hypocrisy of their morals.

      It’s often a very thin line to walk and to weigh all the options, but I think just thinking before acting is the most essential part. As Johnny Cash once sang about the animals, “Because your voice is mine… I walk the line…”

      1. I’m curious if anybody has any other ideas they’d be willing to share in this case of non-vegans being outraged at Cecil’s killing and showing people their hypocrisy in a nicer way? What are people’s ideas on what that could be? What do you think would be most effective, while keeping in mind trying to stay “nice” in order for people to remain receptive to the message?
        Thanks for any thoughts or ideas. 🙂

  5. This totally lost me. This is a golden opportunity, a “teaching moment” to point out to a non-vegan public who have momentarily dropped their defensive guard and become receptive to inject the concept of extreme hypocrisy. Rather than pointing the accusing finger – isn’t this the opportunity to ask, as Francione has, ‘what is the difference between a lion and a pig?’ Is this just too much of a vegan elitist question to pose or do we hold it in with the hope that epiphanies will spontaneously erupt throughout society?

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