The Internet outrage factory is once again in full swing. The unlucky lottery winner this week: Walter J. Palmer, a Minnesota dentist who paid a pretty penny to go on a lion-hunting safari in Zimbabwe and ended up killing the subject of a University of Oxford study by the name of Cecil. Two Zimbabweans, whose names only matter as much to us as Cecil's did to the Zimbabweans, led the lion out of Hwange National Park by loading a dead animal onto the back of a truck, whereupon Palmer shot the lion with a crossbow. Cecil escaped and limped on for another 40 hours until his hunters finally caught up with him and shot him dead. In typical white-guilt fashion, the Rhodesians are of no account, but Palmer has already had people here in the States swamp him with death threats, personal house calls, and have flooded his practice's Yelp page with bad reviews.
Though these keyboard warriors' stirrings of rage are certainly misplaced, some conservatives and traditionalists have taken it upon themselves to play the caricature: if liberals are mad about something, it must be good. I came across the following comment by a fellow traditionalist earlier today, for instance:
"Funny how liberals and the population at large throw themselves into such a tizzy over THIS, a stupid irrational animal being killed by some guy. But the murder of 1.5 million human babies per year in this country, by their own friggon mothers, does not move them.
"I'm fairly certain that hunting for sport has been a hobby of the wealthy for centuries. Weren't there many kings who hunted for fun? And I seem to recall during the colonial era, privileged men paid big money then for the opportunity to hunt exotic big game.
"Another element of traditional life being deplored by libs I say!"
But a greater evil, such as rampant abortion in this country and elsewhere, doesn't make a lesser one, such as poaching exotic animals, now good. In any case, the Modern Medievalist points out that poaching was once punishable by death, or worse; Richard the Lionheart's Assize of 1198 threatened deer-hunters with blinding and castration. The Norman kings' draconian game laws were reviled by the commons because they reserved hunting in the royal forests to the king alone, or his tenants by permission. Deforestation, or even the cutting of individual tree-branches were also subject to harsh penalties. Though the bottom line, as with most other things in this world, was about the vast sums of money that the royal treasury could collect with these laws, there is nonetheless a conservationist streak to their logic. So the court said:
"The king's forest is a safe abode for wild animals, not of every sort, but of the kind that lives in woodland and not everywhere but only in suitable places... in the wooded counties, where wild beasts have their lairs and abundant feeding grounds. It makes no difference who owns the land, whether the king or the barons of the realm; the beasts have freedom and protection, and wander wherever they will."
The exploitative "hunts" of the colonial period in Africa and Asia bore little resemblance to those practiced by the kings and princes of medieval Europe. In one, all the real work is done by local bushmen until the man paying for the expedition steps in to take a last shot. In the other, the greatest honor was accorded to nobles who could kill boars with close-combat weapons during their mating season, when the males were like to be most vicious. There, the boar was both meat for the feast, and an opportunity for warriors to hone their martial skills; not only English kings, but even Byzantine emperors sometimes perished in the chase. Palmer's latest excursion, as with most hunts from the colonial period to the present, amounts to a $50,000 photo op... but we can credit him, at least, for his insistence on using bowed weapons in most of his past hunts.
There is one thing we can learn from westerners' passioned, if also manufactured, outburst at the unfortunate dentist: that we are still monarchists at heart. Why does one lion, who lived most of his life in a natural state in the wild, matter more than the millions of livestock we raise every day within our own borders, never to see the light of the sun, born only to die and be served up as fast food? Thousands of us are paid to kill animals all day long without the slightest need to worry about death threats or bad Yelp reviews.
The answer to this contradiction is simple: because Cecil was, in our hearts, the king of the jungle. The lion is the heraldic symbol of the kings of England, the tribe of Judah, and Christ Himself. The people of Zimbabwe have responded to all this hubbub with "what lion?" They're confused that we care more about Cecil than the fact that the vast majority of people in that country are unemployed and sometimes even suffer from wild animal attacks. They kill lions and other exotic animals all the time, but when a westerner does it, it's international news. What the Zimbabweans don't understand is that the lion, to us in the west, is a majestic beast, one we humans have seen fit to ascribe more value to than other animals. Like Adam, we have given all the beasts of the earth a name and place in the world. The Modern Medievalist is quite comfortable with this. But let's not also forget that our first parents were appointed stewards and guardians of creation, not just its masters.