by Michael G. Sabbeth, Esq. - Tuesday, January 2, 2018
At this year’s annual conference of the African Professional Hunters Association (APHA) held at the 2017 Safari Club International Convention, a participant expressed the opinion that after the “Cecil the lion” incident the world “will not tolerate unethical behavior.” My blood pressure skyrocketed. I said I disagreed with that statement and explained why.
First, I explained there is no “world” in any coherent, meaningful sense of the word, especially as it applies to hunting. Thus, it follows that there is no world opinion on what the world will and will not tolerate, not only pertaining to hunting but pertaining to any human activity. No consistent measurement enables anyone to judge what the world will and will not tolerate. Next I went on to say that the world is incapable of distinguishing ethical from unethical behavior and has no interest in trying to make the distinction—particularly as it applies to hunting.
World Opinion Is Morally Bankrupt
I don’t want to forage into world politics, but I am compelled to write that the world’s grotesque horrors and obscenities of human behavior, well-known to all of us, are ignored, evaded, suppressed and not universally condemned. They are all tolerated. What the world will tolerate, thus, is morally meaningless.
The assertion that the world will not tolerate unethical hunting behavior is not supported by any evidence. To the contrary, the world is drenched in unethical animal killing—poaching, absurd hunting bans and trophy and trade bans that kill substantial numbers of animals. Such things are not only tolerated but paradoxically supported by powerful organizations and governments. Particularly regarding iconic African big game—lions, elephants, black rhino, leopards—legal hunting kills relatively few. Legal hunting, does, however, provide millions of dollars for local populations, anti-poaching support and habitat development.
The Cecil situation did not prove the world will not tolerate unethical behavior. To the contrary, Cecil proved with unarguable clarity that the world willfully refuses to differentiate between ethical and unethical hunting and tolerates the latter.
Let’s analyze the concepts of world opinion and what the world will tolerate in the specific context of Cecil. I won’t rehash all the details of that hunt but will mention a few key facts: the hunt was legal; Cecil was not drawn out of Hwange Park; there is no legal significance attached to the fact the lion was collared; Cecil was an older male lion and no longer reproduced; the hunt raised considerable funds for local populations and for conservation.
The world did not wait until these facts were determined. Rather, agenda-driven people instantly promoted and disseminated lies. Going back to the 1940s, we may recall the astute words of Winston Churchill, then prime minister of the United Kingdom, saying that a lie will travel half way around the world before the truth gets out of bed. That was certainly the case with Cecil. But the world and its opinion responded to these lies with the enthusiastic intensity of burning heretics at the stake. A dishonest narrative constructed by anti-hunting forces went viral and the facts did not matter. Instead, animal welfare extremists in their “world opinion,” responded venomously like a viper’s strike.
Given what the world tolerates generally, as articulated through international institutions, and the constraints it imposes on legal hunting, we may justifiably draw several conclusions about the morality and consistency of world opinion and the moral weight of what the world tolerates. The world tolerates barbarity and often condemns moral behavior. Thus, world opinion is morally meaningless and bankrupt.
Cecil and the Weaponization of World Opinion
How does the world articulate what it does and does not tolerate? Who decides? If we are to judge the moral competence of the world based on the actions and pronouncements of the United Nations and the European Union, for example, then a strong argument can be made that the world is morally deficient.
“World opinion” is a mythical creature like the tooth fairy. It can mean anything the speaker wants it to mean. And such ambiguity is the source of its power. Anyone can make the accusation regardless of the facts yet the rhetoric, the accusation, that the world will not tolerate unethical hunting, is powerful. Not every person has the mental agility and knowledge to effectively fight back. Indeed, the accuser is counting on the inability to refute his attack.
The accusation that world opinion is against you is not an offer to discuss and debate the proposition. It is a rhetorical device used to silence you, prevent discussion and force you to submit to the abstraction that the world will not tolerate certain kinds of hunting though no facts support the accusation. Thus, saying the world will not tolerate a Cecil-type hunt or the black rhino hunt created under the auspices of the Dallas Safari Club weaponizes the phrase. It transforms the concept of world opinion into a tool for attacking. I make it clear that the person at the APHA meeting did not have that intent. He merely was expressing what others would likely suggest.
What Can We Do?
First, we must reject any notion that the world will be reasonable and informed when it comes to certain types of hunting. Segments of the world have their own agendas. Many factors influence what the world seems to tolerate regarding hunting, among them cowardice, a perverse ideology, greed, corruption, narcissism, moral smugness and condescension toward indigenous populations. Ethical hunting and responsible game management are, regrettably, not the most powerful factors that influence what the world appears to tolerate. Here is my key point: Any tendency of our hunting communities to conform to and appease this abstraction of what the world will tolerate will lead to the end of all hunting.
Second, we must develop the skill to analyze the ethical and factual content of the accusatory rhetoric—what is world opinion and how do you identify it—and then use that analysis to refute the accusation.
Third, it is vital that we fight back and not allow the aggressive animal welfare extremist movement to frame the issue as us against the world. This helps anti-hunters to be perceived as standing on moral high ground. Hunters have the moral high ground.
Fourth, we hunters must understand that we are in the persuasion business and advocate for hunting. Truth is meaningless unless someone is persuaded that the truth has meaning.
Finally, we must persuade the vast majority of Americans that the values and actions of the hunter, including the hunting of Cecil, is, in fact, in harmony with their opinions. We can do so because it is true.
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About the Author
Michael Sabbeth is a lawyer and writer in Denver, Colo. See his book The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values available at Amazon.com and as a Kindle eBook.
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