Walter Palmer, it turns out, is far from the only American who enjoys bloodsport. That irony is, of course, lost on the hordes to whom it applies — the thousands of Twitter users and Yelp posters and (non-digital) protesters who have shut down Palmer’s Minneapolis dental practice and forced him into hiding, all because he shot a prized Zimbabwean lion earlier this month.
The circumstances of Cecil the lion’s death are unclear. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force says that Palmer and his guides lured Cecil out of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, that the company attempted to destroy the GPS collar Cecil wore as part of an Oxford University study, and that after being initially shot with a crossbow, Cecil limped along for some 40 hours before the group was able to track him down and kill him. Zimbabwean police arrested, and released on bail, Palmer’s two guides, but in a statement earlier this week, Palmer denied the accusations. Rest assured: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has opened an official investigation.
Poaching is heinous, and most people are, rightly, disinclined to slaughter a creature of beauty and might, even when it’s legal. But the response to Palmer’s safari has gone beyond mere disapproval into abject rage. On Yelp he is a “gun-toting redneck murderer,” a “f***ing waste of sperm,” and “a true example of everything that is wrong in this world.” Twitter users have fantasized about shooting him with his crossbow and murdering him with his dental implements. Actress Debra Messing called for his citizenship to be revoked, and Sharon Osbourne summed up the general mood with her usual modesty: “Walter Palmer is Satan.”
Interestingly, there has been outrage over the outrage. Conservatives complained that Cecil’s death received far more media attention than videos of Planned Parenthood’s gruesome abortion procedures and fetal organ-trafficking, while left-wing race activists complained that Cecil’s death had been more lamented than Sandra Bland’s.
Everyone, it seems, has a reason to be angry of late. It’s entirely possible to be upset about a dead lion and dead babies, or a dead lion and a dead woman in a Texas jail, or about all three. But surely their intuition is right. It certainly has precedent. Note a story related by the Greek historian Plutarch in his Pericles:
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