Thursday, July 30, 2015

The king of the jungle

The Internet outrage factory is once again in full swing. The unlucky lottery winner this week: Walter J. Palmer, a Minnesota dentist who paid a pretty penny to go on a lion-hunting safari in Zimbabwe and ended up killing the subject of a University of Oxford study by the name of Cecil. Two Zimbabweans, whose names only matter as much to us as Cecil's did to the Zimbabweans, led the lion out of Hwange National Park by loading a dead animal onto the back of a truck, whereupon Palmer shot the lion with a crossbow. Cecil escaped and limped on for another 40 hours until his hunters finally caught up with him and shot him dead. In typical white-guilt fashion, the Rhodesians are of no account, but Palmer has already had people here in the States swamp him with death threats, personal house calls, and have flooded his practice's Yelp page with bad reviews. 

Though these keyboard warriors' stirrings of rage are certainly misplaced, some conservatives and traditionalists have taken it upon themselves to play the caricature: if liberals are mad about something, it must be good. I came across the following comment by a fellow traditionalist earlier today, for instance:
"Funny how liberals and the population at large throw themselves into such a tizzy over THIS, a stupid irrational animal being killed by some guy. But the murder of 1.5 million human babies per year in this country, by their own friggon mothers, does not move them.

"I'm fairly certain that hunting for sport has been a hobby of the wealthy for centuries. Weren't there many kings who hunted for fun? And I seem to recall during the colonial era, privileged men paid big money then for the opportunity to hunt exotic big game.

"Another element of traditional life being deplored by libs I say!"

But a greater evil, such as rampant abortion in this country and elsewhere, doesn't make a lesser one, such as poaching exotic animals, now good. In any case, the Modern Medievalist points out that poaching was once punishable by death, or worse; Richard the Lionheart's Assize of 1198 threatened deer-hunters with blinding and castration. The Norman kings' draconian game laws were reviled by the commons because they reserved hunting in the royal forests to the king alone, or his tenants by permission. Deforestation, or even the cutting of individual tree-branches were also subject to harsh penalties. Though the bottom line, as with most other things in this world, was about the vast sums of money that the royal treasury could collect with these laws, there is nonetheless a conservationist streak to their logic. So the court said:
"The king's forest is a safe abode for wild animals, not of every sort, but of the kind that lives in woodland and not everywhere but only in suitable places... in the wooded counties, where wild beasts have their lairs and abundant feeding grounds. It makes no difference who owns the land, whether the king or the barons of the realm; the beasts have freedom and protection, and wander wherever they will."
The exploitative "hunts" of the colonial period in Africa and Asia bore little resemblance to those practiced by the kings and princes of medieval Europe. In one, all the real work is done by local bushmen until the man paying for the expedition steps in to take a last shot. In the other, the greatest honor was accorded to nobles who could kill boars with close-combat weapons during their mating season, when the males were like to be most vicious. There, the boar was both meat for the feast, and an opportunity for warriors to hone their martial skills; not only English kings, but even Byzantine emperors sometimes perished in the chase. Palmer's latest excursion, as with most hunts from the colonial period to the present, amounts to a $50,000 photo op... but we can credit him, at least, for his insistence on using bowed weapons in most of his past hunts.

There is one thing we can learn from westerners' passioned, if also manufactured, outburst at the unfortunate dentist: that we are still monarchists at heart. Why does one lion, who lived most of his life in a natural state in the wild, matter more than the millions of livestock we raise every day within our own borders, never to see the light of the sun, born only to die and be served up as fast food? Thousands of us are paid to kill animals all day long without the slightest need to worry about death threats or bad Yelp reviews.

The answer to this contradiction is simple: because Cecil was, in our hearts, the king of the jungle. The lion is the heraldic symbol of the kings of England, the tribe of Judah, and Christ Himself. The people of Zimbabwe have responded to all this hubbub with "what lion?" They're confused that we care more about Cecil than the fact that the vast majority of people in that country are unemployed and sometimes even suffer from wild animal attacks. They kill lions and other exotic animals all the time, but when a westerner does it, it's international news. What the Zimbabweans don't understand is that the lion, to us in the west, is a majestic beast, one we humans have seen fit to ascribe more value to than other animals. Like Adam, we have given all the beasts of the earth a name and place in the world. The Modern Medievalist is quite comfortable with this. But let's not also forget that our first parents were appointed stewards and guardians of creation, not just its masters.


  1. Totally agree. However, that poaching revolutionary used a crossbow, a weapon condemned by Pope Innocent III; he behaved like a coward. As Alexander the Great said: "only a king may kill another king". That is, if that little dentist wanted to measure himself against the king, he should've used a king's weapons and engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

    I would not dare to do so, for I know my place.

    1. Fair point on the crossbow, Rodrigo. I was just trying to give Palmer a small benefit of the doubt.

  2. This is the first time I post a comment in your site, so I hope not to be sharp.

    The subject of man using and/or abusing nature is a complex one, and sadly most people like to thing on it in black-and-white terms. Killing an animal for the sake of mere fun, of just "showing power" over irrational creatures is clearly a sign of distortion of the place in this world bestowed to us by the Lord. But, on the other hand, I don't think the killing of an animal is necessary an abuse; that depends o its context - I come from Spain and, from my modest point of view, every critic of bullfighting misses the point that it is far more than killing a bull. Both the apology of poaching and the irrational defence of any animal life against a so-called "evil human" (as animalist movements claim) are signs of how low has our modern world fallen.

    Poaching ban by medieval kings is an interesting topic: its aim was probably not as conservationist as a protection of kings and noblemen's status (you know far more than me on this topic, for sure), but on the same time shows how stupid can conservatives and Tradistanis be sometimes.

    The point made by Rodrigo on the subject of killing a king in hand-to-hand combat, and your digression on the lion's royal character reminds me the fact that, till the High/Late Middle Ages, the animal king in Europe was not the lion but rather the bear, whose cultural position was later undermined due to its association with pagan costumes and survivals. There were some pagan peoples in ancient Europe whose chiefs only become so after killing a bear in a hand-to-hand combat (cf. Michel Pastoureau's L'ours: histoire d'un roi déchu). Indeed, a king must be fought with due nobility, not by trachery.

    I hope to not have written a too long and busy comment.

    Kyrie eleison

  3. Hi. I was wondering if you would consider have a light background with dark text for your blog. It is very difficult to read the white text on black for very long. Thank you.

    1. I've always preferred the light-on-dark schemes myself, but I might revamp the site's look when I have more time.

    2. Some modern browsers include 'decluttering' capabilities - which often change the background for you. For example, I'm reading this page on my Windows Phone, which has a 'reading mode' which changes the text and background to look like printed paper. There may be addons for browsers like Firefox and Chrome, etc. Maybe this could help?