Awful people notwithstanding

I finished writing an initial draft of my dissertation a few days ago. There’s still much to be done and many of the factors influencing the path between where I am now and actually having the Ph.D. in hand are not within my control. But now is when I look around and say to myself, softly, this is actually happening.

Meanwhile, a U.S. dentist shot a lion, Cecil, in Zimbabwe with a crossbow, tracked the poor animal for forty hours, and finally dispatched him with a gun.[1] Hunters of this ilk claim that they support conservation areas with the fees they pay, but Johnny Rodrigues, Chairman of the Zimbabwean Conservation Task Force, explained to Deutschewelle that this is “big business” in Zimbabwe and,

a lot of people think it is sustainable but it is not. The communities are not getting any percentage or royalties of the hunt. Some people say that it does help the conservation through the fees paid to national parks but it is peanuts. The people who benefit the most are the landowner and the safari operators.[2]

And my social network news feeds have been flooded with photographs of dead animals, not just of Cecil’s dead body with two pleased-looking white men standing over it, but of other trophy hunting kills, some by the dentist who killed Cecil, some by others. I’ve warned folks about this in the past[3] and the simple fact is that I need to limit how much of this I’m exposed to so I’ve been blocking and “unfollowing” people.

And the topic of my dissertation—conservatism, specifically in conservative attitudes toward undocumented migration—is disheartening as well. Many conservatives simply refuse to look at the whole truth of what lies behind this migration and choose arguments which evidence does not support. Some others, especially capitalist libertarians, seem to see an opportunity in undocumented migration to further undermine workers, whether they’re ‘legal’ or not. No matter how one dresses it up, a lot of conservatives are horrible people who are exercising an influence in U.S. politics that is wholly incompatible with any notion of honest differences debated and decided.

Not that the so-called ‘liberals’ of the Democratic Party are proving themselves to be much better. So far, it looks like the 2016 presidential nominee-apparent is responding to serious charges about her use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State by trying to obfuscate the issues. As Trevor Timm put it,

[Hillary] Clinton’s camp can quibble over whether it was a “criminal inquiry” or “security inquiry” until they are all blue in the face, but the underlying [New York Times] story remains correct: it’s against the law to mishandle classified information, and there are apparently many, many emails with classified information in them, despite Clinton’s repeated denials.[4]

Oh, and by the way, we’re still headed for extinction and still taking a lot of the rest of the species on this planet with us.[5]

To take all this in is to wonder if the human race is even worthy of survival, let alone capable of it. Say what you will about the proportionality of the coverage of Cecil’s killing relative to an ongoing holocaust of non-human animals that most humans will not even consider relinquishing. It’s sickening and that same coverage pours salt on my own wounds.[6] It’s why I had to block all those people.

Here’s what I’m struggling to remember as all this keeps hitting me. I’m trying to remember that the outrage over Cecil comes from a recognition that this killing was wrong and entirely unjustifiable. I’m trying to remember that some people—nowhere near enough and nowhere near effectively enough—are trying to respond to the environmental disaster we have wrought on the planet. I’m trying to remember that there are anarchists and vegetarian ecofeminists who seek to connect the forms of oppression we impose not only on each other but on non-human animals and the environment. I’m trying to remember the arts and what many artists have recognized about the human condition. And I’m trying to remember that all of the people I have mentioned in this paragraph are human beings struggling to be ethical, struggling to do what is right.

It may be—probably is—too late. We took a horrendously wrong turn in the Neolithic in terms of our system of social organization and that turn probably dooms us now.[7] But if, as a species, we were entirely without merit, we would be incapable of recognizing this.

And that means that awful people notwithstanding, the extinction we are headed for is a tragedy.

  1. [1]Tom Cleary, “Walter Palmer: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know,” Heavy, July 29, 2015,; Scott Eric Kaufman, “Lion-poaching dentist Walter Palmer isn’t a first-time offender — he knew what he was doing,” Salon, July 29, 2015,; Neil Macdonald, “Walter Palmer, dentist and lion slayer, now on the internet hunt list,” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, July 30, 2015,
  2. [2]Mark Caldwell, “Trophy hunting ‘no help’ to Zimbabwean people,” Deutschewelle, July 30, 2015,
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Cruelty in the name of animal rights,” So, I’m Vegetarian Ecofeminist. Now, What? January 31, 2015,
  4. [4]Trevor Timm, “Sorry, Hillary Clinton fans: her email errors are definitely newsworthy,” Guardian, August 1, 2015,
  5. [5]David Benfell, “If it were only human folly,” Not Housebroken, January 5, 2015,
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Taken-for-granted violence,” So, I’m Vegetarian Ecofeminist. Now, What? April 16, 2014,
  7. [7]David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013,

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