Cecil the Lion and The Social Media Outrage Factor

Some Iowan naturalist named Aldo Leopold made this nice quote, which I will paraphrase, “Ethics is what you do when no one’s watching.”

Nobody was watching Walter Palmer when he boarded a plane to Zimbabwe to kill and behead a wild lion. Nobody is watching as rhinos are becoming extinct because of their horns holding possibilities as prurient penile pumpers. Nobody sees the crude slaughterhouses of America where 9 billion animals are killed every year, or the 50 million rabbits skinned worldwide for their downy fur. Nobody sees the millions of strays languishing or euthanized every year in kill shelters. Nobody noticed when the president for life of the astonishingly poor Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, butchered elephants, antelopes, impalas and a lion to celebrate his 91st birthday in February. That is: until it goes viral.

Social Media offers a great opportunity to the young, restless, constantly outraged and perpetually inactive young generation. We can teach each other about injustice, deception, inequality or discrimination with an idle click of a “Share” or a “Retweet.” Raising awareness is the new achievement of success. But really, what comes next is the important part—acquire information, form a plan and act. The ice bucket challenge of last summer was a way to self-promote yet still feel altruistic. A rare and virtually unknown disease needed money for research, the right links were “shared” and the ALS Association’s coffers were $100 million richer. Joseph Kony was the most hated man in the world for a few days in 2012, and I haven’t heard about him since. A few million people shared a link and it raised awareness for the Invisible Children situation in Uganda. Cecil the Lion’s martyrdom brought a new sensitivity for animal conservation. But those actions were easy and done with a click. To fix race relations, poverty or take on corporate America, we’ll need some real action heroes.

Turn on your Facebook and you’ll see some of the outrage du jour. Last week was about Cecil the Lion’s numbingly pointless murder in a destitute African nation. Yes, it really sucks that some hunt animals for sport, but when the unemployment of Zimbabwe hovers around 90% and the meager food staple of the host country is a bland corn mush called “mealie-meal”, can you blame locals for allowing if not encouraging the chance to take some wild eyed white man’s money in his daft search for the crown of the king of the jungle?

We read the tales, feel the anger, share the story, and then move on to the next victim of public shaming. The lion killer Walter Palmer’s business and house were made public and subsequently trashed and vandalized. He’s an idiot with a stupid hobby, but should his life have been ruined for a legal, if immoral, hunt? What if we reacted like that to the U.S. foreign policy? What if we egged the Capitol, spray painted congressmen’s cars, threw pig feet on the White House lawn and demanded that more than the paltry 1% of the federal budget be spent on foreign aid to help poor countries like Zimbabwe struggling under an autocratic despot whose negligence, avarice and mismanagement of the farming system has all but crippled the country. Their inflation rate in 2008 before abandoning their currency was a staggering 80 billion percent. They actually printed a 100 trillion note. What kind of changes could we enact in the world? Probably whatever was trending and fomenting #outrage that week.

What if we demanded action in America? What if we learned the true reach of lobbyists, cronyism and big money’s position in politics? What if we sincerely wanted to help the struggling food stamp consuming masses? What if we got serious about slowing climate change and curbing pollution? What if we re-invested in education? How can we get people as mad, restless and eager for action for those positive changes in the world, as they were to vilify one man’s hunting exploits?

For what will we use this new power of global outreach? Absolutely, saving wildlife is important, but certainly, we should be concerned for not only our own species’ survival but also the realization of ending poverty and hunger or equal rights or access to clean water or demanding reusable power. What change would you like to see? Ricky Gervais’s Facebook page jump-started this shaming of big game hunters until its climax found a face with that proud, dead lion and the world leapt onboard. Perhaps there will be a renewed interest in wildlife conservation. But, there should concurrently be a newborn interest in the fate of Zimbabweans. No amount of conservation of animals is worth starvation of people. Now that we can see the power of social media and our collective voices, what do you want to change?

Photo: The Independent


The Radical Changes of Our Smartphone Culture

            Is technology a help or hindrance? Does it facilitate our friendships or control our choices? I once heard a comedian say, “I dare you to take a dump without your iPhone.” The convenience of the world is constantly at our fingertips, and it’s hard to put it down. The information of our collective history, photos of Earth’s natural wonders, images from space, cute cat videos, babies dancing, or girls falling off tire swings are all available to us for free. We can communicate with colleagues in foreign lands or Skype with family across town. We can create, configure and imagine our lives to appear any way we choose on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and chat apps. The question remains, is it a good or bad thing?

            We watched a video today from a charming young British lad, showing the averted eyes and consumed hands of our bodies whilst involved in Smartphone inebriation. He asserted that if we don’t observe our lives with our body and eyes and interact verbally, physically and emotionally we could miss out on the serendipitous occasions of life. He made a wonderfully complete and romanticized version of life as lived in the old fashioned way, i.e. talking to strangers and friends. Instead of playing on the phone, we could speak with someone on the subway, at the bus stop or in line at the DMV. I agree in theory that interaction helps advance our personalities and increase our chances of those unexpected moments that change our lives, but is technology the reason why we look at our feet or the floor numbers in an elevator? Are we all really so genial and gregarious as to talk to anyone who stumbles across our random path?

            We are in the infancy of virtual reality, the beginning of the computer age, and approaching the singularity when A.I. becomes smarter than humans. What is the point of unplugging? This might be the evolution that ends wars, the evolution that ends poverty and hunger, the evolution away from a life that is, as Hobbes said, “nasty, brutish and short.” We can heal old wounds through commerce and trade thereby increasing global solidarity, produce more food with science, and live longer with computer generated elements on a cellular level. We can cure diseases, fly across the globe or into space. We can split atoms and move faster than sound. We are advancing along an exponential path that leads to an unprecedented and unpredictable future. We are less concerned with the moral implications of cloning or stem cells than we are with the ambiguous question of: “Wasn’t it better in the past?” We sound like our grandparents telling us the stories of hiking uphill both to and from school in the perpetual snowy and rainy land of their birth. Who cares if we don’t talk to each other anymore? When was the last time you had a real good conversation on the subway? I’m usually just being polite. Looking at your cellphone as if you’re busy while you crush candy took away any need to fake civility. We like to imagine the past as this utopia where everyone just sparked up a conversation while whistling on his or her way to work. Maybe it’s just me and Shrek, but I like my privacy. I like burying my nose in my phone or Kindle and plugging my pods in my ears. I get to hear and see what I want instead of what the world puts in front of me. I’m not shutting the world out; I’m creating the world I want.

            Why are there hundreds of apps and websites dedicated to dating or meeting new people? It’s easy to be anonymous. It’s exciting to flirt without feeling your face blush. It’s the way things are. One day, as imagined in that underrated gem, Demolition Man, we will have sex with machines or via virtual reality instead of with body fluids and imperfect scenarios of lusty ambition. At least for now, we still have the opportunity to make love in a world of sloppy kisses and slippery nipples. But who’s to say future sex won’t be better? I can imagine a virtual reality where I can finally embrace that flawed beauty, Norma Jean, aka, Marilyn Monroe. I can imagine hooking my brain up to reacquaint myself with the exes that have passed my way through stored memories. Shy people could be zealous. Sadists, masochists, pedophiles, fetishists, amputees, eunuchs, and even bestiality fans can all be pleased now without embarrassment, shame or hurting any innocent parties. It would be okay to imagine anything you want without the judgment of our hypercritical world.

            Kids can’t concentrate. People don’t get together to party. Strangers don’t say hello. Sorry, we can’t go backwards. It’s like fighting the ocean current to get back to the land. You need to swim with the current, indulge in the young generation’s ADD. Let’s use their interest in computers to change the way our antiquated schools operate. Let’s have virtual parties with Skyping friends from around the world. Let’s play online games and talk trash with strangers. Let’s not put down the smartphone. Let’s use it to self-educate ourselves about any and all questions that pop into our oversized craniums. Sure, you don’t need to waste time crushing candy or scoping out your ex on Facebook. Of course you shouldn’t read TMZ and Buzzfeed lists all day. No doubt there are better ways to spend your day than posting 140 characters about the myriad ways the world has F’d your L. Indubitably, hundreds of photos of your trip to Cancun or your baby messily eating spaghetti aren’t going to change the world, but it makes you feel good to show your friends what is important to you. I believe that by looking at someone’s Facebook page or Instagram feed, you are able to get a glimpse of that person’s temperament or even their psyche that they may try to hide to the world.

            “It’s so hard…to say goodbye…to yesterday.” But that is why it is yesterday, what will you do today? Will you really unplug? Will you really talk to that hot blonde who passes you at the bus station everyday? Will you really Carpe Diem? Will you really help the old lady cross the street and then skip work so that you can hear her life story? I’m an optimistic pessimist, which is to say, a realist. I believe in the best of all possible worlds, but rarely can humanity grasp that nebulous notion. I say we embrace our new world instead of chastising it. I say we start training our eyes now to be able to stare at an LED screen for 8 hours a day to prepare for that future of Google glass or virtual life. I say we go gently into that good night of the internet-free past. I say we say hello to our friends with Facebook, like their posts, show the world whatever you want, accept the present. Because, who knows what the future will bring? Whatever it is, it won’t be more handshaking.


Facebook Famous

It seems with the rise to mainstream prominence of Facebook and Twitter; we see much more hyperbole in the day-to-day life of normal citizens. We often read about, “best weekend ever”, “best friends forever”, “greatest night in the history of Fort Lauderdale”, “most hilarious thing ever”, “this is amazing” et al. I believe this is not always even believed by the people who write it, but perhaps to make others believe that the author was involved in something so great, so stupendous, that not only must others hear of it, in turn feel jealous of it, but know, that since it was “the best girlfriends in the world partying in Miami for the weekend” that no one can ever top that wonderful moment. The hyperbolic nature of Facebook is to create envy, but not in negative ways. We post our vacations, our favorite relaxing moments, our family in funny situations, our life lessons, our life triumphs and ask others to revel in our glory. We ask it collectively. That is why other people’s pictures, opinions and moments appear on your page. Nobody wants anyone to miss anything they’re doing. Rarely would anyone take the time to actually click on your link to check you out, so we put it out there publically for all the friends to see simply by logging on. I don’t think it is unnatural. In fact, in the 21st century it is more natural to be laid bare and completely open in your yearning for approval and recognition than it would be to hide your feelings. We are gregarious, we are desirous of living an examined life for Plato said that anything less than that is not worth living. We use introspection balanced with external comments to search our emotional responses to the world. To be honest with yourself in the age of reality shows and celeb-worship is to know that you would probably take, if not relish for some time, the constant scrutiny and phony devotion of being the one in the camera’s flash instead of the one pushing the button. The world is changing again, as it always will. The exaggeration of daily life, and the magnification of minutiae is thrust into our faces like mall perfume samples. I wonder if the rise in depression is due to people feeling unworthy of living because they aren’t being photographed or pulled aside for interviews. Do we feel unimportant because only our family and friends care about us, as opposed to strangers worshipping us through the magazine pages or the Hollywood blockbusters? Even as I write this, I do wonder who will read it, who will appreciate it. We want to feel alive and needed, we want to leave our mark upon this world. You can now hire a company to follow you around for a night taking pictures of you paparazzi style. Strangers stop, stare and ask, “Who is that?” The search for self is a perpetual study. For some it may be answered from within, for others it is found in external acknowledgment of their existence. Business will follow demand. We demand to be noticed.