Eight Strategies to Effectively Handle the Next Cecil
By Michael Sabbeth
Walter Palmer killed a lion bestowed with a name—Cecil. For a while, much of the hunting world, particularly hunting iconic African big game, imploded as if into a death star. For months people uninformed about lion hunting, who never heard of the Hwange Game Park and who couldn’t find Zimbabwe on a map if their fat-free soy lattes depended on it, issued death threats on social media, threatened the person and business of the hunter, condemned much of hunting with broad-brush swipes and raised fortunes for predatory opportunistic animal activist groups.
Drenched in ignorance, energized by a luscious sense of moral superiority and the need to feel good, they were unmoved by the damaging consequences their demands would have inflicted. Unleashing a flash mob of hate, death threats and physical intimidation, they illustrated their deceit in purporting to value life.
Another Cecil-esque event will occur again, either by the act of a hunter or by an event orchestrated by an anti-hunter in a propaganda hit. We must be prepared to mobilize factual and rhetorical defenses for that next event. I offer eight strategies for crafting our defenses.
Strategy 1: Understand the Moral and Intellectual Terrain
We are in a defensive asymmetrical war against people and organizations that do not value reason, logic or consequences. Indeed, reason, logic and consequences are an anathema to anti-hunting people and organizations. Ignorance is a virtue for it facilitates self-righteousness. Hunters tend to see defending hunting and conservation as a high-minded chess game, winnable by reasoned strategy. Consequently, hunters over-value truth and facts. We tend to see the battle through a narrow lens. This small aperture stifles a comprehensive understanding of hunting’s opponents. We tend to ignore the complexity of human nature; its narcissism and need to feel morally superior, its cowardice, its lust for easy solutions, the avoidance of pain and the pervasiveness of predatory opportunistic greed.
Our opponents operate on a more primal and effective level. They see anti-hunting in terms of power and the opportunity to advance anti-human and anti-conservation ideologies. Hunters value the research of South Africa’s Ron Thomson and are motivated by the stirring speeches of Shane Mahoney and the narratives of Craig Boddington. The anti-hunters disregard them totally.
In his Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot wrote that “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” Eliot is partially correct. Often human kind does not care much about reality. Reality impedes their ideological advancement. The anti-hunters grasp this fundamental truth; the hunting community does not. Our failure to grasp this point jeopardizes our ability to effectively refute the anti-hunters.
Strategy 2: Use Social Media More Effectively
We know a picture is worth a thousand words and that a lie travels around the world before the truth gets out of bed. Social media has exposed several undesirable qualities of the hunting community: its aloofness from reality, its complacency, its inability to present a unified front and, worse, its lack of confidence. For example, powerful forces in the hunting community turned on Palmer before the facts were known.
The new media era battle space is complex. We must be willing to fight fire with fire, as the expression goes. We must show the vile wires, snares and traps poachers use and the resultant loathsome injuries they inflict on animals. We must highlight the consequences of children with unclean water and food deprivation. Show the decapitated rhinos with a subtitle screaming: “This is what hunting bans cause!” We should have illustrated the vulgar immorality of the self-satisfied somber-faced American woman arrogantly carrying a sign “I am Cecil,” attempting to parasitically leach morality from the Charlie Hebdo slaughter in Paris. We must show the images; employ powerful iconography and trenchant rhetoric. We must change the social media paradigm!
Strategy 3: Shed our Delusions:
I attended the annual meeting of African Professional Hunters Association at the 2017 SCI convention. Wonderful dedicated all! However, one statement troubled me. Citing Cecil, an attendee said that “that the world will not tolerate unethical behavior.” I disagreed. There is no world in any unified sense, I said. Moreover, the world is incapable of distinguishing ethical from unethical behavior. Indeed, the Cecil event proved my point rather than the speaker’s. Additionally, this so-called world has no interest in ascertaining ethical behavior or supporting it. A hunting community, I argued, that seeks to appease ‘the world’ and which acts upon the belief that the world will embrace hunting if hunters are universally ethical is doomed to commit suicide.
It is delusional to believe that the organized anti-hunting advocates—well-funded animal organizations and European and American NGOs—will come to accept elephant, rhino, leopard hunting and remove bans on trading ivory and rhino horn if only they knew the facts. This thinking is self-destructive. It is idiocy. They know what we know. They read the reports, the data, the arguments. Secrets do not exist. Rather, they don’t care. They have different agendas; they submit to different ideologies, they make their money based on different arguments. We must understand that reality if we are to craft winning strategies and rhetoric.
The anti-hunters are willing to impose on the world’s hunting regions, generally, and African hunting nations and their populations, specifically, costs that these far-removed wealthy elites will never pay. African hunting nations, specifically, find themselves in the untenable and frankly, absurd, situation of being dictated to by people who will pay no consequences for being wrong.
Strategy 4: Shift the Paradigm
We should focus less on the virtues of hunting and focus more on the arrogant and deceitful character of those that oppose hunting. Extolling hunting’s conservation virtues is a necessary but insufficient process to persuade the vast middle ground.
We know from studying the facts regarding Cecil the lion and the black rhino hunting auction orchestrated by the Dallas Safari Club that hunting saves animals and people. No rational decent human being can intellectually and morally refute these claims. Yet such hunting is opposed. What is the explanation? Let us not flatter ourselves. We do not have an exclusive divine link to wisdom and knowledge. I accept that many anti-Cecil protesters are decent but uninformed yet that is only a small aspect of their personality structure. What kind of person rejects a rhino hunt knowing that many young rhinos would be saved? What kind of person demands a ban on rhino horn trade knowing that the result is more poaching, more rhino deaths and more hunger for the local populations? These are the messages hunters must make. Data puts people to sleep. Mutilated animals inspire people to fight those that enable the mutilation.
Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, we know that those who choose animal protection over animal conservation will get neither. And we know that airline trophy bans will kill more lions than a thousand Palmers. We know that the feelings business is profitable and the thinking business not so much.
Strategy 5: Focus on the Proper Audience
Mark Duda of Resource Management estimates that as many as 60-80 percent of the population is non-committal regarding hunting in a general sense. My reading of Duda’s material leads to the favorable conclusion that most of these people can be reached by reason, ethical arguments, caring for native populations and passion. Thus, our strategy should be to forcefully refute the radical anti-hunters, not expecting to change their minds, but to persuade the large ‘middle’ of uncommitted people. This vast group will align with those that seem to have winning arguments.
Strategy 6: Get Legislation and Enforcement
We must develop strategies, including legal action, to combat the extreme anti-hunters’ sadistic fetish for violence and intimidation. Civil and criminal legal action should be taken in extreme cases by skilled lawyers. We should lobby state legislators to pass legislation assessing criminal and civil liability against those who make credible threats, whether in person or through cyberspace, against hunters, their families and their businesses. Paraphrasing Michael Corleone, we must become wartime consigliaris.
Strategy 7: Don’t Avoid the Fight
I spoke with many people who advise hunters to maintain a low profile when confronted with a Cecil-like situation. “Let it blow over; don’t draw attention!” they say. This passive avoidance is self-destructive. Our strategy should be to make the anti-hunting attacker pay a price for its misinformation, greed, narcissism and the unethical consequences of its beliefs. Let us be guided by two of the most fundamental laws of human nature: avoidance is interpreted as weakness and weakness invites aggression. Unlike donors to the anti-hunting causes, the animals we fight to conserve do not live in a therapeutic utopian world. Nature’s one constant is life-and-death brutality. The lion does not co-habit with the gemsbok waiting for a dinner of locally sourced, non-GMO, gluten free, organic steamed broccoli. We must fight for reality if we are to conserve the animals.
Strategy 8: Unify with a Central Resource
Our focus must be on persuasion, which is not the same as spewing out data and making abstract arguments. We must identify and then use people who are smart enough and intellectually agile enough to deconstruct future anti-hunting attacks in concise, simple language. We must identify and emphasize the morality or lack of morality of the consequences of policies advanced by the anti-hunters. We must give our hunters the words to fight back. We must craft arguments that align the virtues of animal conservation and human enrichment with the values of the larger audience. Strategic thinking and action offer the best hope for conserving animals and those in the hunting world who lives are affected.
Michael Sabbeth is a lawyer, writer, lecturer and consultant in Denver, Colorado. Please see his book, The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values, available at Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/c5flmmu