Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Complexities of Internet Grief

Yesterday I posted a photo of Cecil the lion and commented that the internet finally seemed united in their hatred of one person: the man who lured him out of his sanctuary, wounded him with an arrow, and then hunted the hurt animal for the next 40 hours before gunning him down in cold blood and beheading him for a trophy. But I was wrong about the internet being united on anything: because in that very moment a bunch of people thought, "Wait, we're UNITED about something? Can't let that stand" and immediately began suggesting that people who posted about the lion clearly cared more about animal suffering than human suffering.

At first I was annoyed: Jesus, can't we have one single moment of upset that something terrible has happened in the world before we all start calling each other names and guilting each other and accusing each other of not caring about anything else? The two aren't mutually exclusive: being saddened by the death of an innocent animal doesn't mean we don't care about the death of human beings, too.

But instead of being pulled down into typical internet arguing about something, let's ponder that thought and actually look at the issue, because, like it or not, these people are right. This lion was a beautiful creature, innocent, hunted only on instinct, and it was wilfully gunned down by a man who won't be arrested for his act. But ISIS isn't working in secrecy... why are we politicizing it and not spending every free moment of our days fighting it? Why are we not posting constantly about it on Twitter? And why the hell is anyone taking sides on the issue of nine people being gunned down in a church in the States? How is there a side to even take there?!

Is it possible that something about animals is ingrained in us from the get-go? Disney raises us to deal with big human emotions by anthropomorphizing animals and having them act it out for us. We don't mourn the loss of a human mother, but Bambi's mother, or Nemo's mother. We don't mourn the loss of a human father, but Simba's father. Animals are imbued with an innocence that humans can never have. If a lion bites you it's because you threatened him and he acted on instinct. He didn't get together with his buddies, draw up a game plan of how to lure you out of your tent, surround you, and kill you just for sport. When your cat bites you it's because you rubbed his belly wrong or he's trying to get your attention because you haven't fed him in the last three minutes or you just moved your arm after he'd been sleeping on it for the past two hours and you briefly interrupted his sleep. He doesn't plan to hurt you; he does so on instinct. But those of us with pets equate them with unconditional love. Sure, they might nip us or pee on something or make a mess, but sometimes snuggling with a cat or a dog is the only thing that makes the day a better one.

So when a lion dies we all cry out in horror. But just because humans are calculating and never perfect — even the sweetest lady who died in that church shooting could have bullied another child years ago when she was in grade school — it doesn't mean we shouldn't fight for the civil rights of everyone and be outraged that someone could have killed them. We have bumper stickers and posters declaring that Black Lives Matter. Is that even up for debate?! Who the hell thinks they don't?? And why aren't we fighting against anyone who thinks they don't, smearing their business pages with angry rants, shutting down their offices and forcing them to go into hiding like people did with the lion killer?

We as humans are so caught up in disagreeing along political lines or religious lines or ideological lines that we seem to have less and less sympathy for our fellow human beings. We can grieve the cat because he didn't have a different religion than we do, or didn't vote differently in the last election than we did, or didn't make an angry Twitter post one night that really changed our mind about him. He's just a lion. We humans are able to unite to mourn the cat, but we can't do the same about the human beings who are dying, or being tortured, or being mistreated, or being denied civil rights on a daily basis. And we need to.

This is Cecil the lion before he died. This is the photo I posted on Facebook yesterday.

And these are the nine beautiful people who were gunned down in South Carolina.

And this is Kayla Mueller, before she was murdered by ISIS. She was a humanitarian aid worker and human rights activist who was abducted in August 2013 and killed around the beginning of February 2015. She was 26.

Look into all their eyes. Mourn them. They all deserve our support, our outrage, our vow to make things change. Let's stop fighting amongst each other about who showed the proper amount of grief or outrage on Twitter or Facebook, or if you thought they showed too much on one topic and not enough on another. Let's stop pointing fingers and guilting each other and making people feel bad. Support each other in our grief, stand together against the real enemy, and actually turn the internet into a place that could effect change, instead of a place where we just fight amongst ourselves and then walk away to the next issue while leaving these incredible creatures — and their unnecessary deaths — behind.


Forest City Fashionista said...

Excellent post Nikki - you have articulated the feelings I've had since reports of Cecil's death surfaced. It's easier to join together and grieve the loss of a majestic lion, where there are no conflicts of race, politics, religion, sexuality, etc., but we can't forget that there are terrible, terrible things happening to people all over the world, every minute of every day, and that deserves our outrage, and our focus as well.

All that said, I still wish that we could send Cecil's killer, unarmed, out into the bush with some lions and see what happens.

Page48 said...

What to make of that internet outrage thingy! What did people do with their outrage BEFORE the internet?

There's a lot of anger out there waiting for an outlet and it doesn't much matter how trivial the excuse is to sound off. recently solicited signatures for a petition started by some poor mommy who was "outraged" with McDonald's because they were so incredibly insensitive as to label their blue Happy Meal toy a boy's toy on her receipt. Oh, the humanity! Hundreds of people signed this petition, many foaming at the mouth. I took the opportunity to unsubscribe permanently. I think that a lot of these people are just plain angry, but aren't necessarily sure why and just seize on any opportunity to vent.

People definitely respond more emotionally to atrocities committed against animals than against people. Deep down inside, I know it's not right, but I don't find it surprising. I don't know how many articles I've read recently about the growing "loneliness crisis", but if this is the reality for a growing segment of society, then it's probably no wonder that animal cruelty draws a greater outcry than racially motivated mass murder. Let's face it, it's almost always easier to love the neighbour's labradoodle than it is to love the neighbour. We love animals. We can touch animals, hug animals, and play with animals. Try petting the pretty girl at the ATM and see where that gets you. Hell, if you're a Grade 2 teacher, you better not even hug a 6 year old kid with a skinned knee. The Twitterverse will want your job.

We've often heard that yawns are contagious. The clown in the office next to me yawns and before you know it, I'm yawning too. I think a lot of internet outrage is similar in principle. Internet outrage seems to be contagious. It's mob behaviour. Think of the young woman at Ottawa's Bluesfest who snapped a picture of Bubba in his Dukes of Hazzard shorts. Oh, the outrage. 99% of the people who let 'er rip on Twitter about that doofus probably don't know the Confederate flag from the fleur de lis, but they sure are pissed at Bluesfest for even allowing this guy on their property. Bluesfest should APOLOGIZE, dammit! How ridiculous is that?

Trying to make sense of internet outrage is to give it too much credit. Internet outrage doesn't need a cause of any importance, just any excuse and an itchy Twitter finger. Get a celebrity on board and the fireworks can be spectacular.

Fred said...

Nikki, your sentiments strike a cord in all of us. As for the dentist who hunted Cecil, extradition to Zimbabwe does exist and is being pursued. Once U.S. authorities have him, he will be transported to Zimbabwe. Now it is possible the U.S. will decide against that, but all in all it would be politically damaging to deny extradition. It will take time, going through State Department, Attorney General, then a court hearing with a judge to determine if threshold is met. The judge cannot deny extradition based on country to which the defendant is extradited. All of this will take time.

My own take on internet outrage is it often doesn't amount to very much. If people want to make a difference, they have to be out there, either in the streets, or supporting a political movement or NGO, or taking time at their local church.

I agree with Page48's last two lines that we have given internet advocacy too much credit, perhaps because it is there every day. Fifty or more years ago, people got up on soapboxes in Hyde Park and spouted off on this and that. People listened, some cheered, but not much ever really came of these grass-roots advocates.