Simba-thy for the Devil


We Zimbabweans are left shaking our heads, wondering why Americans care more about African animals than about African people.
From: In Zimbabwe, We Don’t Cry for Lions

An NYT op-ed worth reading for the perspective. A nice case-in-point that when we feel the need to get outraged on someone else’s behalf, we should first listen to that person and let them express their own opinion.

We might assume that in places like Zimbabwe there is no tension between the country’s ordinary citizens wildlife, hunters, conservation. (We might even drift into the “Noble Savage” paradigm, imagining happy “African villagers” singing and dancing alongside their animal friends). We might hear “wildlife preserve” and think “this is the only place to find these animals and keep them safe.”

Now, I’m not saying it’s bad that we get outraged. Or rather, that we feel a strong emotional response. That should become empathy, not sympathy. Empathy is an opportunity to dive into the other person’s reality. What just happened to them? How do they feel about it? Why? Don’t feel sorry for them, or worse, feel angry for them. Feel angry about what *your* role.

But it seems…sh*t ok I’ll say it…colonial that when a Zimbabwean lion is killed in a Zimbabwean game park with the assistance of a Zimbabwean game official, it’s the Western countries that want to administer justice. It’s PETA.

Still, should it bother me, should I say “You’re outraged about the wrong thing!” when Kimmel weeps for a killed lion but does not fall to the ground in inconsolable grief thinking about the painful tragedies happening every moment? Innocent people dying every moment from preventable illnesses, from bullets or bombs. The suffering of literally watching a friend or family member die. Families losing their homes to natural disaster or debt.

For some reason people get super passionate about animals when they wouldn’t give a cornflake about thousands of people. That’s not a quip — it actually has some scientific backing. (See “Save the Darfur Puppy”:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/10/opinion/10kristof.html)

I think some of the same behavior happens in other West-Africa interaction. In agriculture, it’s the Green Revolution vs. GreenPeace when it comes to the use of fertilizers and the dreaded “GMO”. In environmental protection, dirty factories in developing countries employ thousands — Western groups would happily see them closed down for polluting, but would they see the thousands unemployed?

So when the article’s author throws out a “don’t criticize us because you have similar problems” line at the end, I forgive the flawed logic. It’s anger at the system.

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