Lions, human tragedy, and proportionate response

Lion in the Masai Mara, Kenya, 5-6-2011, Photo by Varrin

Lion in the Masai Mara, Kenya, 5-6-2011, Photo by Varrin

A few years back, I went on a safari in Kenya. I snapped this nice lion picture while I was there. I like lions. I was sad to hear about a the apparently illegal (and maybe truly bad) poaching of a beloved lion, Cecil, earlier this month.

But when the outraged response dominated my Facebook news feed, it struck me how much more important it appeared that one lion was poached than any number of human tragedies that could be occupying our attention. The one that first came to mind was abortion, but many more soon entered my mind.

Some of these tragedies are controversial, including abortion. Coincidentally, there has been some attention paid to Planned Parenthood parting out aborted babies in exchange for money. I pondered writing something of my own about what seemed to me to be a disproportionate response, but when I saw this meme, I simply reposted it, saying, “This has been on my mind these last few days”:

Planned Parenthood / Lion Meme

Planned Parenthood / Lion Meme

I should know better than to just fire off a meme like that. Thankfully, my friends are generally civil and are mostly already aware of my affinity for engaging, respectful dialog on Facebook. I received some good feedback, including some critiques that were entirely fair.

I’ve read all the feedback and I’d like to thank everyone for the combination of civility and good feedback. Here are some hopefully more refined thoughts than were present with the original meme. I’ll start with three shortcomings of the meme itself, and then try to capture my own thoughts:

  1. The meme has obvious hyperbolic errors: the assertions that “no one cares” and “everybody loses their minds” are both untrue hyperbole. That’s obvious to me, but it’s worth pointing out that there has actually been a fair bit of attention given to the Planned Parenthood parting-out story. In fact, that story has received enough attention that Planned Parenthood has hired a PR firm to deal with the fallout. So the contrast is overstated even if the non-hyperbolic underlying observation has some basis in truth.
  2. The meme focuses on the parting-out story, not the underlying abortion story. Several people pointed that out and there’s a way in which they’re two different issues: the parting out story truly isn’t controversial if (and only if) abortion truly isn’t controversial. The controversy of the parting out story really does depend on the underlying abortion issue.
  3. The meme doesn’t mention any of the other high-magnitude human tragedies. I mentioned a couple of them in comments on the original meme thread. A more thorough (though maybe not complete) list might include things such as police brutality, mass murder (including motivated by race or religion, and influenced by mental health issues), military action (both U.S. and other), many other lower-profile human-caused human tragedies (various forms of slavery, economic warfare, etc.), not to mention non-human-caused human tragedy (disease, etc.). It’s biased to pick on only one human tragedy story, and each of those stories does receive some attention.

Having said all that, here’s a more clear description of what was on my mind.

The attempted separation of the Planned Parenthood parting-out story from the abortion story is disingenuous. It is plain that consensual organ donation is (generally) not controversial, and the source of the organs in the Planned Parenthood case is exclusively (I think) aborted babies. While it’s true that organ donation shouldn’t be controversial, the reason it is in this case is because the story is the underlying abortion story. If I killed my children and took them to a Planned Parenthood clinic to part them out (covering their ‘costs’, of course), would the problem be the organ donation or the fact that I killed my children and then had the audacity to ‘recoup costs’ by selling off their parts?

Meanwhile, the response to the lion story has included substantial calls for violence against the dentist. If such calls are made against abortion doctors, pro-abortion advocates cry foul. They’re right to cry foul. I cry foul when people advocate violence against government employees or military personnel (despite the deaths some of them cause). But the same people who would cry foul with a feverish pitch about targeting abortion doctors are giving those advocating violence against the dentist a general ho-hum. In fact, according to my personal observations, even that is charitable. The only outrage I’ve personally seen over the calls for violence against the dentist came from the pro-life crowd (ironic, right?).

When addressing the abortion issue directly, the response is typically that the fetus isn’t a person (comments in the meme thread provide examples, but they’re elsewhere also). The basis for such claims varies, but often relates to either viability or sentience. Neither claim passes muster in this context of disproportionate response. While late-term abortions are a small percentage of abortions in the U.S., thousands to possibly tens-of-thousands of viable fetuses are aborted every year. And no logically consistent application of criteria for sentience of humans and lions at various stages of development results in a sound argument. Adult humans are sentient in ways lions aren’t (ever), and human fetuses are sentient in many of the same ways Cecil was when he was poached. Outrage over the death of the lion but not the human fetus is not logical. (P.S. Lions often kill their born cubs, other adults, and even humans. I’d say “monkey wrench” but mixed metaphors and all…)

If we admit that viability and/or sentience are determining factors in the personhood of a fetus, then the magnitude of the abortion problem is only reduced to four or five orders of magnitude greater than that of the lion (by number of deaths). That’s enough for me to cry foul over the outrage over the lion. But doing so ignores this basic biological argument: from the moment of conception the fetus is a fully distinct human (it is not a non-human, and it is not its mother or a part thereof) and fully alive (it is not dead).

If it were its mother (or a part thereof), or it weren’t alive, we wouldn’t be having this conversation about abortion *or* parting out of the aborted fetuses. Using such basic biological criteria causes the magnitude of the problem (again, numerically speaking) to jump from in the thousands (of viable and at least partly sentient fetuses) to ~a *million* babies a year (over 50 million since Roe v. Wade). That’s seven (annually) or eight (in ~four decades of legal abortion) orders of magnitude greater than the lion.

Add to that hundreds (thousands?) of sometimes-fatal police brutality cases annually in the U.S. alone, racial and religions violence all over the world (including the U.S.), the death toll from war, and the 20th-century democide toll of around 1/4 billion people. That’s right, governments in the 20th century killed 1/4 billion people, and the outrage is focused on a lion.

I’m sad about Cecil the lion. I didn’t know him like the one I photographed above (he was injured but majestic none the less). But in light of the magnitude of the above-referenced human tragedies, it’s clear the response has been grossly disproportionate (not to mention numerically disproportional by five to 10 orders of magnitude, depending on what we’re counting).

So my question is like some others are asking: why are we paying that much attention to a lion when the human tragedies are many orders of magnitude greater, not to mention more human?

V-

edits: despite the deaths “some of them” cause

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One Response to Lions, human tragedy, and proportionate response

  1. Stephanie says:

    Varrin,

    I’ve ben pondering my reply for several days now, following the discussions on your posts and am so very glad I took the time to ruminate on all this as it got me to questions (and answers) I’d never thought of before and actually go outside of the original posts. First, I have copied and pasted your extended explanations and added in my replies, editing out any portions irrelevant to the discussion. It goes in order of your post. After this part you will see what I am calling . . . And am calling this post . . . Thinky Thoughts. 🙂
    But when the outraged response dominated my Facebook news feed, it struck me how much more important it appeared that one lion was poached than any number of human tragedies that could be occupying our attention. The one that first came to mind was abortion, but many more soon entered my mind. While Facebook tends to be an echo chamber for news, philosophies and interests, I was really surprised to read this. While I do realize that you have over 1400 people friended on FB, I would have thought that more of the posts you were being delivered would have had to do with the whole PP videos debacle. However, I would not take FB as a good sample of the world’s concerns, or even the concerns of those in “your world”. Remember that FB has substantial control, and substantial fiscal interest in, what you see and read on their site. Perhaps they found that they were making more money by ensuring that the click-bait of Cecil’s story was more visible on people’s feeds. If 500 people were posting the PP articles and FB was making 1 cent off each click you hit or share you made, but only 100 people were posting about the Cecil article, but they were making 10 cents off each click/share – guess what you were going to see more of . . . Now multiply this by everyone else on FB clicking and sharing. I, personally, did not notice a higher percentage of Cecil articles vs the PP articles vs the cops killing unarmed PoC articles vs LGBT articles, but I also have less than 200 on my list. But also, keep this number in mind – it’ll become clearer later: 1/.00004
    I should know better than to just fire off a meme like that. Yessss. 😉 Thankfully, my friends are generally civil and are mostly already aware of my affinity for engaging, respectful dialog on Facebook. I received some good feedback, including some critiques that were entirely fair.
    I’ve read all the feedback and I’d like to thank everyone for the combination of civility and good feedback. You’re welcome. Here are some hopefully more refined thoughts than were present with the original meme. I’ll start with three shortcomings of the meme itself, and then try to capture my own thoughts:
    1. The meme has obvious hyperbolic errors: the assertions that “no one cares” and “everybody loses their minds” are both untrue hyperbole. That’s obvious to me, but it’s worth pointing out that there has actually been a fair bit of attention given to the Planned Parenthood parting-out story. In fact, that story has received enough attention that Planned Parenthood has hired a PR firm to deal with the fallout. This almost sounds like a conviction. Of course they had to hire a PR firm. In this day and age, who doesn’t when they are being dragged through the mud, rightfully or not, on the internet. This is not an ‘admission of guilt’, but it sounds as though you’re trying to make it that. So the contrast is overstated even if the non-hyperbolic underlying observation has some basis in truth.
    The meme focuses on the parting-out story, not the underlying abortion story. Several people pointed that out and there’s a way in which they’re two different issues: the parting out story truly isn’t controversial if (and only if) abortion truly isn’t controversial. The controversy of the parting out story really does depend on the underlying abortion issue. I’m on the fence about this statement. The parting-out story is only about parting out cadavers, IMHO. Fetuses that have been miscarried can also be, and have been, parted out as well. PP performs what is otherwise called a D & C for women who have miscarried and need to have the deceased fetus removed. (OBGYNs often refer a woman who has miscarried to an outpatient location for this procedure.) What this means is that the video in the article of the fetal tissue being parted out was not necessarily that of aborted fetuses. It was implied that it was tissue from an abortion for emotional effect. What this also means is that not all parted out fetal tissue comes from an abortion. I’m sure there’s more to go on here, but there is far too much more to say, so I shall move on . . .
    3. The meme doesn’t mention any of the other high-magnitude human tragedies. I mentioned a couple of them in comments on the original meme thread. A more thorough (though maybe not complete) list might include things such as police brutality, mass murder (including motivated by race or religion, and influenced by mental health issues), military action (both U.S. and other), many other lower-profile human-caused human tragedies (various forms of slavery, economic warfare, etc.), not to mention non-human-caused human tragedy (disease, etc.). It’s biased to pick on only one human tragedy story, and only one animal tragedy story and each of those stories does receive some attention.
    Having said all that, here’s a more clear description of what was on my mind.
    The attempted separation of the Planned Parenthood parting-out story from the abortion story is disingenuous. It is plain that consensual organ donation is (generally) not controversial, and the source of the organs in the Planned Parenthood case is exclusively (I think) aborted babies. Now you know it’s most likely not. While it’s true that organ donation shouldn’t be controversial, the reason it is in this case is because the story is the underlying abortion story. If I killed my children and took them to a Planned Parenthood clinic to part them out (covering their ‘costs’, of course), would the problem be the organ donation you’d be going to the wrong place, a hospital (as opposed to a clinic) is the only place for ‘born-human’ organ donation (as opposed to fetal tissue/organs) – by the time this all got figured out and the proper equipment was found and set up to properly receive and house the organs for viability there would be a good chance that the organs were at non-recoverable failure and the whole effort would have been a waste or the fact that I killed my children well, you’d be arrested for sure and then had the audacity to ‘recoup costs’ by selling off their parts the costs recouped are normal and ethical costs associate with harvesting, storing and transporting the organs /tissue. The video used emotional tactics, unethical editing and relied on the viewer’s knee-jerk reactions to form a negative opinion of cost-recovery for such procedures. Do you really think that the doctors removing a donated liver from a cadaver don’t charge their time? That the ambulances and medi-vac helicopters don’t charge for transporting them to the hospital where the patient is awaiting a life-saving replacement surgery? I linked an article to your original post with the transcripts of the interview, where the PP Director was talking about how they *don’t* make a profit off the fees, and in that article other medical professionals who work in non-fetal organ donations even believed that PP was running a loss re: the donations due to the fees being less than the general costs associated with harvesting. So, “audacity” in recouping costs – nope. None. Nada.
    Meanwhile, the response to the lion story has included substantial calls for violence against the dentist. If such calls are made against abortion doctors, pro-abortion advocates cry foul. They’re right to cry foul. I cry foul when people advocate violence against government employees or military personnel (despite the deaths some of them cause). But the same people who would cry foul with a feverish pitch about targeting abortion doctors are giving those advocating violence against the dentist a general ho-hum. In fact, according to my personal observations, even that is charitable. The only outrage I’ve personally seen over the calls for violence against the dentist came from the pro-life crowd (ironic, right?). You mean the same people who want to *force* a woman to carry to term against her will a parasite that they do not want invading their bodies, and yet, will do nothing to ensure that every single one of these unwanted are taken care of after the fact? They want to legally guarantee violence in the form of ‘carrying to term’, they want to legally remove a woman’s choice over the health and condition of her own body, and of her own future. Yeah, the irony is surprising. Hmmm, I think you touched a nerve there.
    When addressing the abortion issue directly, the response is typically that the fetus isn’t a person (comments in the meme thread provide examples, but they’re elsewhere also). The basis for such claims varies, but often relates to either viability or sentience. Neither claim passes muster in this context of disproportionate response. While late-term abortions are a small percentage of abortions in the U.S., thousands to possibly tens-of-thousands of viable fetuses are aborted every year. And no logically consistent application of criteria for sentience of humans and lions at various stages of development results in a sound argument. Adult humans are sentient in ways lions aren’t (ever), and human fetuses are sentient in many of the same ways Cecil was when he was poached. Cecil was *far more* sentient that a fetus, even a toddler, as are most animals. They reason (expanded below). Animals mark out territory based on need. They make and use tools (nests, sticks for ant retrieval, empty shells for homes.) They help each other (pack hunting, care for other’s offspring, they look out for danger in shifts.) They take care of each other (licking each other for cleaning, removing lice, cleaning wounds, huddling for warmth.) Outrage over the death of the lion but not the human fetus is not logical. (P.S. Lions often kill their born cubs, other adults, and even humans. I’d say “monkey wrench” but mixed metaphors and all…cute, but . . . Yes, lions and other animals kill their own young. But why? There are many reasons and they are all proof that they are far more sentient that young humans, born or not. They will kill their own if they are sickly, deformed or otherwise too weak to survive, sometime dependent on the condition of the newborn and whether or not the parent believes they have the resources available to spare – i.e. If there is a drought or low number of prey readily available there is a higher likelihood the cubs will be killed. Some lions will kill the cubs if they are sired by a different lion (really, human fetuses and infants will do that? They can figure out differing paternity in the womb, or while crawling or learning to count to 5? Actually, there are some cases where twin fetus #1 will ‘absorb’ twin fetus #2, it’s called twin absorbtion or fetus-in-fetu – does this make twin #1 a murderer?) Another reason healthy cubs will be eaten is due to poor environmental conditions, i.e. Not enough food. All of these reasons, all of these decisions, expose their ability to observe, retain, reason and react.)
    If we admit that viability and/or sentience are determining factors in the personhood of a fetus (FYI, ‘personhood’ of a fetus is a very new concept in western culture, starting around the early 1900s. Prior to that they were not introduced to society, or even named, until it was believed they would survive past birth.), then the magnitude of the abortion problem is only reduced to four or five orders of magnitude greater than that of the lion (by number of deaths)I think you’re looking at the wrong metric. It’s not number of deaths, it’s number of lives. The number varies, but there are estimated to be between 20,000-30,000 lions left in the wild. There are currently approximately 7,000,000,000 humans on this planet. That means there is a ratio of 1/.00004 humans to lions. Humans are the burger flippers of the Earth and lions are the (less than) 1%. They are rare and getting rarer every day due almost exclusively to humans. The UN projects that humans will reach a population of 10 billion by the year 2056. African lions are expected to be extinct by the year 2050. . That’s enough for me to cry foul over the outrage over the lion. That’s enough for me to cry foul over your argument. But doing so ignores this basic biological argument: from the moment of conception the fetus is a fully distinct human (it is not a non-human, and it is not its mother or a part thereof) and fully alive (it is not dead).
    If it were its mother (or a part thereof the umbilical attachment and amneotic sac make it a part of their mother. I do not disagree on the ‘fully distinct human’, but do point out that its physical attachment makes it an invasive parasite.), or it weren’t alive, we wouldn’t be having this conversation about abortion *or* parting out of the aborted fetuses. Using such basic biological criteria causes the magnitude of the problem (again, numerically speaking) to jump from in the thousands (of viable and at least partly sentient fetuses) to ~a *million* babies a year (over 50 million since Roe v. Wade). That’s seven (annually) or eight (in ~four decades of legal abortion) orders of magnitude greater than the lion. 1/.00004 humans/ lions vs. 1/.007 current population vs. aborted population – this still makes lions a far rarer creature than humans by several magnitudes, which would increase by another magnitude or two (maybe even three) if I could find a way to calculate the total population of living and ‘having lived’ people during the approx. 4 decades of legal abortion.
    Add to that hundreds (thousands?) of sometimes-fatal police brutality cases annually in the U.S. alone, racial and religions violence all over the world (including the U.S.), the death toll from war, and the 20th-century democide toll of around 1/4 billion people. That’s right, governments in the 20th century killed 1/4 billion people, and the outrage is focused on a lion. Since you’ve clearly stated that this is the abortion argument, I won’t even go into this, other than to again point out that there will be 10 billion of us when there will be 0 of them. This does not mean I don’t see the government’s killing of large amounts of people as wrong.
    I’m sad about Cecil the lion. I didn’t know him like the one I photographed above (he was injured but majestic none the less). But in light of the magnitude of the above-referenced human tragedies, it’s clear the response has been grossly disproportionate (not to mention numerically disproportional by five to 10 orders of magnitude, depending on what we’re counting). 1/.00004
    So my question is like some others are asking: why are we paying that much attention to a lion when the human tragedies are many orders of magnitude greater, not to mention more human? It’s the law of supply and demand. The more you have of one thing, the less valuable it becomes, the less you have of something the more valuable it becomes.
    V-
    edits: despite the deaths “some of them” cause
    * * * *

    OK, so now that that part is out of the way – hey, you got a beer? Because you thought *that* was long . . .

    What is so special about human beings that we (collective we) feel that we are so damned special? Why is it that we feel superior to all other known life forms? Why is killing our own, even just a zygote, seen as such a horror (by some) when we have no problem killing all other forms of life for our own pleasure? I say pleasure, because what we have done to this planet since the Industrial Revolution has not been needed for our survival, it has all been for ‘improvement’ and ‘modernization’ but none of it was at all necessary for our species to continue.
    There is plenty of evidence that other animals can think, reason, adjust their environment, play tricks, play, love and even mourn. These are not specific to us and there is plenty of evidence across the wide spectrum of animals for all these behaviors. So why is it ok for us to destroy environment for our pleasure, wipe out species with our incessant development, farming and mining, while we pollute our host planet, and kill animals for excessive food and territory? These aren’t for needs, these are for wants. We don’t need to be at a population of 7 billion people, but we want it. We don’t need huge houses, cars, hospitals, iphones, planes and diamond rings for our survival, but we want it. Nature has it’s own way of maintaining balance in both environment and population, but we, with our hubris, tell Nature to go take a hike, because “we are better”, “more deserving”, “more worthy” than all the rest. And for this we cause suffering, and not just to Nature, but to ourselves.
    Why is it ok that we have demolished 50% of the Earth’s forests in the last 200 years and yet some fight tooth and nail to keep an unwanted zygote or fetus alive against the host’s will. Some are willing to force violence on that person, in the form of forced hosting of a parasite, just so one more mouth can be born unto this World that is not only unwanted, but will most likely be hated by it’s mother for all the damage done to her body and life. Making abortion illegal/not an option, requires her to take risks that she may not be willing to accept, to both her body and her life. Instead of allowing her to choose her own fate, and the fate of some living cells growing within her body, there are those who think they know better, and who think that those cells have more value than she does.
    Why is the life of a human more valuable than that of a lion, or a cancer cell? We have shown in the last 200 years that our behaviors and attitudes towards our own host, as well as each other, are closer to that of a virus or locust than that of our fellow animals. We are willing, nay driven even, to destroy and use our host in ways that are detrimental to both. When a lion eats their cubs, it is generally for the survival and well being of the pride. We are willing to pollute our oceans and rape our mountains for our pleasure, but for the health of a woman’s bodily health, emotional health, financial health, etc., there are those who wish to treat her as a vessel, not a human. Sure we can send man to the moon, but we can’t even live in balance here at home. But animals can, and do, and perhaps that makes them more valuable than a human with all of its’ destructive desires could ever be.
    So yes, it’s a separate human being in a womb. So what? Is it more valuable than a lion? Is it more valuable than a rainforest? I don’t believe so. I also don’t believe it is less valuable, either. And herein lies our problem. If we were able to look at Life, with a capital L, and say that it is all special and equally important we’d see things differently. A tree *is* as important as a human. A lion *is* as important as a human. And yes, to survive, we *do* need shelter and we *do* need food. We *do* need fields to farm so we can survive the winters. But we *don’t* need to deforest huge swaths of land and we *don’t* need so much plastic trash that there’s a floating island of debris the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific. And we *don’t* need 7 billion people all fighting for scraps and killing the Earth and each other in the process.
    I would prefer to reduce the number of abortions by solid and comprehensive sex ed taught to kids starting at an early age. I would like everyone, men and women to know about contraception and not be told that enjoying sex outside of marriage is a bad thing. I could go on a huge rant about slut-shaming when someone says, “Well, she should have known . . .let her live with the consequences.” But I won’t.
    There is active, persistent resistance to giving this kind of an education to children. There is a huge contingency of people who only want abstinence-only education, which has already proven to lead to higher pregnancy and STD rates. Until every pregnancy is planned and wanted, why should we say, well, it’s human flesh, so we can’t eliminate it? Tonsils, appendixes, gall bladders, livers, etc., are all human flesh, and yet when those bits of flesh threaten to reduce the quality of life, or even end it, there is no question about eliminating it. There is are huge, significant differences between that which is in gestation and that which is born. First and foremost is that it is, by all definitions, a parasite. And if the host doesn’t want it, then requiring the host to nourish and house this parasite against the host’s will is violence, just as if a homeless, starving person broke into your house to survive and you were forced to let them stay, against your will for 18 years, supporting them with food, shelter, medical aid, education, clothing, etc., or they would die. Yet, you have the law on your hands, you can kill them in defense of life and property, because they invaded, against your will. Same as unwanted/unplanned pregnancies. Did it happen and begin to grow inside a woman, yes – but so does cancer. It is a parasite? Well, it *requires* her to nourish it, change her body for it, change her life, change her emotionally, change her financial situation and, most likely, her education and/or job situation and yeah, there’s a small chance it might even kill her. If it requires her to do so, against her will, that is violence and it is a hostile creature within her. It shouldn’t be up to anyone else to say what she can and cannot do with her body, including the parasite within. It’s her life, it’s her property, she should be able to defend it in any way she wishes. And if that means removing the parasite, that is her choice, not yours.
    If it were a cancer mass, or a tick, or an ebola virus, there would be no question as to whether or not the host had the right to rid themselves of it, no matter the consequence to the parasite. But ohhhhh, it’s a human – so damned important. No. No, we’re not, not more or less important than any other life out there. And I think once we get over this holier-than-thou (heh) attitude about ourselves, we will be able to make rational decisions as opposed to emotional ones. I don’t think any woman goes into a clinic for an abortion on a lark. If anyone is being rational, it is the woman who has looked at her options and weighed her risks, and has decided, both for herself and for the life inside her, that the better option is termination. That is not for you to decide or to impose, nor I. Until it can live viably outside the womb, it is just a parasite, and should never have more ‘rights’ than any other parasite has. And no one should be forced to suffer being used as a baby vessel just so that others can feel righteous, especially when they refuse to take part in the consequences of that force (i.e. Adopting, paying her medical fees, lost wages, etc.) and refuse to properly educate people about human sexuality, and refuse to allow people access to affordable contraception.

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