My Outrage Is Better Than Your Outrage
Even when a dentist kills an adored lion, and everyone is furious, there’s loftier righteousness to be had.
My Outrage Is Better Than Your Outrage
By James Hamblin / theatlantic.com

Now is the point in the story of Cecil the lion—amid non-stop news coverage and passionate social-media advocacy—when people get tired of hearing about Cecil the lion. Even if they hesitate to say it.

But Cecil fatigue is only going to get worse. On Friday morning, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri, called for the extradition of the man who killed him, the Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Muchinguri would like Palmer to be “held accountable for his illegal action”—paying a reported $50,000 to kill Cecil with an arrow after luring him away from protected land. And she’s far from alone in demanding accountability. This week, the Internet has served as a bastion of judgment and vigilante justice—just like usual, except that this was a perfect storm directed at a single person. It might be called an outrage singularity.

Palmer didn’t just kill a lion. He killed an especially good-looking and “beloved” lion in an ostentatious and gruesome fashion that culminated in decapitation. To make things worse, that lion had a human name. To make things worse still, that name was Cecil.

It’s hard to think of a more innocent name than Cecil. Had the lion’s name been Satan or Derek, the international firestorm might have been attenuated. Had Palmer not had a past that included sexual harassment complaints and pleading guilty to lying to federal wildlife officials about killing a black bear, he might have been less hateable. He also might have been less hateable had he been a humble cobbler, or literally anything other than a wealthy dentist. But every element of this story fell into place in a way that sparked international outrage beyond any outrage storm this year.

Comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted a photograph of a lion.
The lion is not Cecil, but it went viral nonetheless.

“Is it that difficult for you to get an erection that you need to kill things?” Jimmy Kimmel chided Palmer, in a rant-turned-tearful-plea to viewers to donate money to lion-tracking research. The segment got more than 6.5 million views on YouTube in two days. Palmer’s professional credibility was destroyed by a flood of Yelp reviews that gave him one star on grounds that he is a murderer, from people who know nothing of his root-canal skills. “You kill a protected lion, we kill your shitty business :),” read one.

The dentist closed his practice and went into hiding. Many people called for his death, including the advocacy group PETA, specifically by way of hanging. CNN asked, “Where is Walter Palmer?” as if people needed to find him (and maybe bring him to justice, as many already believed they were.)

The Internet has served to facilitate outrage, as the Internet does: the hotter the better. And because the case is so visceral and bipartisan in its opposition to Palmer’s act, few people stepped in to suggest that the fury, the people tweeting his home address, might be too much. That argument wins no outrage points.

Instead, the people who hadn't jumped on the Cecil-outrage bandwagon jumped on the superiority-outrage bandwagon. It’s a bandwagon of outrage one-upmanship, and it’s just as rewarding as the original outrage bandwagon. Anyone can play, like this:

It’s fine to be outraged about one lion, but what about all of the other lions who are hunted and killed every year?  There are 250 Cecils killed annually across Africa as trophies, and that’s what you should really be outraged by. But good job caring now.

Actually, what about all of the animals? All of the cattle and fish and brilliant pigs who are systematically slaughtered for human consumption every day? Were you eating a hot dog when you posted that thing about Cecil on Facebook? Anyone who is not vegan is no better than the dentist Walter Palmer. That is what you really should be outraged by.

Actually, you only care about Zimbabwe when a lion is killed? Great of you. Killing animals is part of the circle of life, but you know what’s not? Human trafficking. People are bought and sold as slaves today all over the world. Why are you talking about one aged jungle cat in a place where the relationship between impoverished pastoralist communities and wealthy foreign tourists is more complicated than you actually understand?

And I’m glad you’re so concerned about human trafficking, but there will be no humans at all if we don’t do something about climate change. Reliance on fossil fuels and industrialized farming is the real problem, and that's what you should be outraged by. You don’t know what to care about. I know what to care about.

The Internet launders outrage and returns it to us as validation, in the form of likes and stars and hearts. The greatest return comes from a strong and superior point of view, on high moral ground. And there is, fortunately and unfortunately, always higher moral ground. Even when a dentist kills an adorable lion, and everyone is upset about it, there’s better outrage ground to be won. The most widely accepted hierarchy of outrage seems to be: Single animal injured < single animal killed < multiple animals killed < systematic killing of animals < systematic oppression/torture of people < systematic killing of humans < end of all life due to uninhabitable planet.

Image circulating on Facebook

To say that there’s a more important issue in the world is always true, except in the case of climate change ending all life, both human and animal. So it’s meaningless, even if it’s fun, to go around one-upping people’s outrage. Try it. Someone will express legitimate concern over something, and all you have to do is say there are more important things to be concerned about. All you have to do is use the phrase “spare me” and then say something about global warming. You can literally write, “My outrage is more legit than your outrage! Ahhh!”

Don’t worry about that feeling a little too on-the-nose, because it doesn’t matter, because no one will remember it. Next month the armchair lions-rights activists won’t care about lions anymore, because lions-rights outrage will not be trending. They will be on to some new outrage. Many people are drawn to defend nature and underdogs (even when they are apex predators) and to hate wealthy, lying, violent dentists. But even more than that they are drawn to feeling superior and appearing wise, and being validated accordingly.

4.0 ·
7
What's Next
Trending Today
This Polish Ad Will Give You The Feels, For Reals
3 min · 14,088 views today · This is an ad for Allegro, a Polish company similar to eBay, and it's heartwarmingly lovely.
6 Toxic Relationship Habits Most People Think Are Normal
Mark Manson · 12,882 views today · There’s no class in high school on how to not be a shitty boyfriend or girlfriend. Sure, they teach us the biology of sex, the legality of marriage, and maybe read a few...
Time-Lapse Satellite Images Give a Startling Snapshot of Past 30 Years on Earth
2 min · 12,276 views today · Working with satellite images from NASA and the US Geological Survey, Google has created a searchable snapshot of the past 3 decades on Earth, creating startling time-lapses of...
Dr. Maya Angelou: Love Liberates
5 min · 5,455 views today · Words to live by from Dr. Maya Angelou. Love each other.
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 5,126 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 2,075 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
The Problem with Hating Our Enemies
Charles Eisenstein · 1,953 views today · He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee. —Nietzsche
15 Easy Things You Can Do to Help When You Feel Like Shit
Maritsa Patrinos · 1,181 views today · You don’t have to tackle it all at once.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,103 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
The Lid Is off, The Truth Is Coming Out
Charles Eisenstein · 1,056 views today · It is getting harder to keep a secret these days. The collective shadow of our society, once safely relegated to the dark basement of the unmentionable, is now exposed to...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,022 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 964 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
Sleaford Mods on Brexit Britain
4 min · 894 views today · In early 2014 the Guardian hailed duo Sleaford Mods as ‘the most uncompromising British protest music made in years’. Here, we go backstage at a Sleaford Mods gig in their...
How to Expose Trump's Dastardly Bait-And-Switch
Robert Borosage · 818 views today · Trump is not an economic populist, he’s just playing one on TV.
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 538 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 461 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Why You Should Stop Apologizing for Doing All That You Can
Kelly Hayes · 436 views today · I’ve noticed lately that a lot of allies and accomplices I talk to about NoDAPL and other struggles will name what they are trying to contribute to the cause, and then promptly...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 388 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Black on Black Crime Isn't a Myth
Donyae Coles · 350 views today · Let’s talk about Black on Black crime. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news, specifically likely in regards to Black people murdered by other Black people. Perhaps you’ve...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 319 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
My Outrage Is Better Than Your Outrage