By now we’ve all seen the captions: “An American dentist kills Cecil the Lion.” The relevant facts are: a man pays $55k for the right to kill a lion; his assistants lure a lion named Cecil off its preserve, the hunter – I am not sure the term really applies here – wounds the lion with a bow, stalks him for a while, and finishes him off with a rifle shot. PR #$@!-storm results. The man defends his course of action by saying that he didn’t know that this was Cecil, that the lion had a name.
The irrelevant facts are that the “hunter” is an American, that the hunter is a dentist, and that the lion’s name is Cecil.
Why do I see these facts as irrelevant? I think it’s pretty self-explanatory why the nationality and the profession of this pseudo-hunter are irrelevant. Let me explain why the lion’s name is irrelevant.
All that lives on this planet – from an ant to a sequoia tree – is nameless. Names are given. This man’s defense against the public condemnation is that he didn’t know the name. I guess if he had known that this lion’s name was Cecil, he would not have killed and, since he had already paid $55k to kill a lion, he – logic goes – would have looked for a nameless lion to kill.
And that – my fellow minds – is the crux of this curious matter: apparently we have to name a fellow creature (that poses no threat to us in this context) so as to recognize his sovereign right to exist. (When I wrote the previous sentence, I first wrote “its” sovereign right to exist – and then I caught myself: this lion is not an “it” name or no name, in this case this lion is a he).
We, modern apes ourselves, are so blinded by our self-appointed halos that we have to know the formality of a name before we decide if our desire to kill a fellow sentient being is justifiable or not. Of course, many of us do not think along these lines and would see this man’s PR damage control tactic as sophomoric sophism.
If you are a reader of mine then you know that one of my soap boxes is that “a neuron is a neuron is a neuron.” What I mean by this is fourfold:
– brain is not an organ but an organization (of neurons)
– a neuron is a type of cell (that accounts for the consciousness that we experience as ourselves)
– a neuron is a neuron is a neuron regardless of the body-form it inhabits (a lion’s neuron is pretty much the same as the neurons reading this sentence; same hardware, difference is essentially in software, in the language of survival, so to say)
– neurality is humanity: wherever you find a neuron, there as a species you are
Recognize: whether you are looking at a lion’s mane or dreadlocks, what you are looking with and what you are relating to isn’t the hair style or the body-form but the neurons inside. It has long become obvious to me that each and everyone of us is a member of a larger neural diaspora that is disseminated across a great variety of animal body-forms. I see a body as a cellular house that neurons live in. Whether this house has the architecture of a human or the architecture of a lion, the neural inhabitants are fundamentally the same – self-aware info-processing cells. Furthermore, whether these neural inhabitants are organized into a cranium-based cephalized congregation (that we call a brain) or are dispersed through the body like ganglion tents across a campsite or are equidistantly arranged in an anemone-style neural net is also irrelevant. A neuron is a neuron is a neuron regardless of the animal house it lives in, and regardless of how many cellular room-mates, and regardless of how it bunk-beds in a given body-form habitat.
I realize that this is probably a bit too thick, a bit too academic. It is all too easy to dismiss this neural tribe perspective as extreme. But guess what – there was a time in your life when this kind of thinking made intuitive sense, when the conclusion was self-evident even if the reasoning behind it was yet unknown.
Case in point: as I am writing this, my 3 year old daughter comes into the room and asks me: “What are you doing?” My answer: “I am writing a story about a lion named Cecil.” Her follow up question is: “Who is Cecil?” Notice – who, not what. When we enter this world, when we are minimally verbal, we intuitively anthropomorphize everything we see. And then we get educated on all of these arbitrary distinctions – nature is divided into animate and inanimate, and the animate nature is divided into those we shall not kill and those we can kill – with the proper name being a kind of rule of thumb.
Nature knows itself except for when obscured by name: there are no lions or humans or flatworms. There is life. Life wants to live. For heterotrophic life-forms (such as humans and lions, to be contrasted with autotrophs such as plants), there is an inevitable moral conflict: to survive, to eat, we have to kill something. That’s understood. Had this man been attacked by a lion, named or nameless, he would have been perfectly within his existential prerogative to do what it takes to survive. This story, however, is of a totally different kind – it’s a story of ego, a story of how much we are willing to pay and how much we are willing to ignore, just to feel a tad better about ourselves. (And any argument in favor of an expert archer needing practice is spurious: if you like archery and want to show off your skills, tac a paper target to a trunk of a tree.)
In closing this rambling blog, let me reiterate my key point: we need not to have a name to recognize the humanity – the living sovereignty – of our fellow beings.
Whatever this dentist’s name is, I – as a member of public – forgive him: he too is doing his sh#$$y best trying to transcend the human predicament of specialness. I feel bad for the lion and for the man who killed him. Something died in all of us again.