Cecil the lion Q&A

This evening I’m supposed to speak with BBC’s Newsday about the Internet’s outrage over the Walter Palmer’s shooting of Cecil the lion. Before an interview I like to think about likely questions and possible answers. (Of course, this assumes I won’t be bumped, which does happen; I’d think Jon Ronson, author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, would be a contender!)

  • What is shaming?
    • Shame is often distinguished from guilt. Guilt is the negative affect arising from an inconsistency between one’s values, or those values and one’s actions. Shame is social, it’s the negative affect resulting from others indicating their disapproval.
    • At the scale of the local community, shaming is a type of socialization, encouraging the person to behave in accordance with the values of the community. One would hope the person would be reintegrated back into the community rather than stigmatized, as suggested by John Braithwaite. (If this fails, a stigmatized person might be ostracized or banished.)
  • How is online shaming different?
    • Online, there’s not much of a community to speak of nationally. It’s not a matter of socialization or reintegration of the offender.
    • It’s really more of a mob with pitchforks. People are upset and perhaps enjoy being upset and angry, and behave accordingly.
    • Online, we’ll also see particular tactics.
      • The target might be doxed (personal information revealed, e.g., Mia Farrow tweeting of Palmer’s address),
      • sleuthed (other incriminating information is found and published),
      • and harassed (fake Yelp reviews); Twitter impersonation
      • there’s also trolling and parody (e.g., #LionsLivesMatter)
  • Is this unusual?
    • No, it seems we have something like this a couple of times a year. Ronson gives a couple of recent cases in his book, including Justine Sacco’s tweet before going to Africa.
  • Why do you think this particular issue blew up?
    • The trope of a greedy/stupid person (e.g., a hunter, an American) needing to be corrected attracts attention.
    • Because he is an American, it’s something Americans feel that they can somehow protest.
    • Similarly, it’s something non-American’s can be righteous about.
    • Maybe some constituencies, like animal rights activists or conservationists, feel that they can use this event tactically so as to effect change.
    • Lions are rare and beautiful. Cecil’s death pales in comparison to the suffering of millions of animals that are used for food, but people aren’t much impressed with cows, pigs, and chickens. (You can even find videos of dogs in China skinned alive for their fur, but it doesn’t cause much of a protest in the States beyond animal rights activists.)
  • You think much change will come from this?
    • America and Zimbabwe are both embarrassed. America could change its trophy import policy; Zimbabwe could change its animal protection and hunting policies.
    • I’m a pessimist and I don’t think either of these changes would have a significant effect on the conservation of rare species or in limiting animal suffering in the world, but perhaps it will!
  • What will likely happen to Walter Palmer?
    • He’s apologized by way of saying he did not intend to do anything illegal, and beyond that he’ll likely disappear for a few years.
    • It’s possible he’ll be the subject of some type of legal sanction, by the US, UN, or Zimbabwe – if extradited. The latest news is that Palmer can’t be located.

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