On more than one occasion, I’ve come home to a neighbor lured in by my cat’s hypnotic charm. They stand by my front window, startled and embarrassed that I caught them emitting strange sounds that apparently only my cat understands.
One particular Asian dude has become something of a regular, appearing at my window every evening like a faithful Lump devotee (limit: one per semester).
We’ve never actually spoken, he and I, but Saturday night, when he materialized before my window and I opened the front door to let Lump out, he said, “Thank you.”
She ventured down into the courtyard and sidled up to his legs, purring.
Then I heard him do something that no one — not even myself — has ever done. He began singing to her in a soft and strangely pleasant voice.
When I Googled the lyrics I recognized, “See You Again” by Whiz Khalifa came up.
Listening to that guy serenade my cat was the oddest event of my day, but it was also a refreshing reminder that love for animals can and often does display itself in forms other than indignation or outrage.
And public ire is understandable. There’s something profoundly disturbing about anyone choosing to kill for no justifiable reason other than sheer pleasure. The wealthy, privileged dentist is the perfect contemporary villain in the narrative of Cecil the Lion, while the noble, endangered lion is the perfect victim to garner widespread attention.
And though people have speculated over the penis size of the now-infamous dentist (whose name doesn’t deserve mentioning), that line of inquiry is irrelevant and detracts from the reality that this guy’s dick will never be as small as his moral and character defects are large. Never.
What’s also disturbing is the backlash generated by the fervor over this particular lion’s death.
One issue is the danger of Internet mob justice. Take a look at the Yelp page of our dastardly dentist, and you’ll find trolls and incensed users descending upon him like a biblical plague.
There are even reports that he’s had to close his practice.
But what people forget is that actual justice hasn’t been served, despite the efforts of the mob.
This is an individual accused of committing a serious crime in a country in which he was a guest and, if convicted, would face consequences. If there’s any real justice, he will be extradited and await trial in Zimbabwe — a reminder that being an American doesn’t equate to being an asshole with impunity.
A second issue raised by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement addresses the disproportionate public outcry over Cecil’s death versus that over the deaths of Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner or any of the other black citizens who were killed by police or died while in police custody.
The fact that a story regarding a lion has persisted for more than several days across the news, social media and other proxies of public consciousness is enough for some to suspect that many people care more about the life of a critter than they do about the lives of black people.
Some animal rights activists even point to the hypocrisy of Cecil mourners. Anyone who eats meat but feels outraged at the death of this lion, they reason, condemns one act of animal cruelty while sanctioning another.
The hard truth to swallow is that both of these camps are right, but it will always be difficult for people to recognize this when the villains and the victims aren’t so cut and dry.
To say that people care more about the life of one animal than the lives of black people is an understatement at best: People care more about the lives of animals in general than they do about the lives of other people, black or not.
On my way to getting the perspective of a vegetarian, I biked down the cracked asphalt of Wood Street in Oakland, where the blocks between West Grand Avenue and 14th Street are lined with encampments of homeless people.
People live in converted dog houses and makeshift lean-tos next to weedy lots surrounded by the endless roar of the Interstate 880.
You don’t have to travel far to see human beings living like animals. Nobody bats an eye.
You don’t have to travel far to see animals living like objects. Visit any factory farm here in California.
When I finally met my friend, I asked her why she thought people aren’t concerned about the lives of other people or of certain animals.
“We only seem to care about what’s directly applicable to our lives,” she said. “It has a lot to do with ignorance and a lack of respect based on understanding — people just lack empathy.”
More than empathy, people are blind to intentionality. We lack the ability to relate to the suffering of others, and we lack the ability to see the relationship between the victims and the villains in these narratives.
It’s easy for people to show outrage over Cecil because the villain is made crystal clear through motives that seem unequivocally wrong. Intentionality is painted black and white.
But what about the intentions of a cop who shoots an unarmed black person?
What about our intentions when we buy meat products produced unethically?
What about the media’s intentions when they focus on one story and not another?
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Maybe we just haven’t fully realized it yet.
Zion Barrios writes the Monday column on social topics that rarely enter open conversation. You can contact him at [email protected].