I write letters to the edtiors of “The New York Times” and “The New Yorker” from time to time as an exercise of self-espression, remembering that Stoic truth that when it comes to having an audiance or readership, “Few are enough, one is enough, none is enough.” What one writes might matter a little, but who is writing counts the most, and I like most people, as Emily Dickenson said, “am noboday, are you nobody too?”
To the Editor:
Roxanne Gay’s editorial piece, “Of Lions and Men,” uses the killing of Cecil the lion and the resulting grief and outrage to propose that we extend those sentiments to the death of all human beings, particularly black lives lost at the hands of the police. There could be no disagreement there; and even though the tragedy of police racial bias persists, I think no one but the most depraved would take issue with her plea. There is another lesson, less obvious to most, to take from our sadness and outrage at the senseless slaughter of Cecil.
Every now and then we are surprised at how we can grieve the death of a non-human being, such as Cecil the lion. That was also the case with Barbaro the race horse a few years ago. Such sadness leads to confused questioning; how can we mourn an animal’s death, or as Ms. Gay noted, even cry at that death while not giving way to such emotion for a fellow human being? On such occasions we overcome our pervasive and deeply rooted bias toward the human species. That emotional connection to an animal perplexes us, although many do know the feeling, having experienced it before; anyone who has had a companion animal, such as a family dog, die knows the grief a non-human death can bring, although many would labor at grieving less at that death than at a human death and wonder why the recovery from it is so long and painful. In such cases we humans slam into our cultural, ingrained bias toward our own species. We are indoctrinated with the idea that the human species matters most, the other species differ so much from us that our sentiments cannot extend to them, and therefore we humans enjoy the privilege over all the other species to do as we will. Humans live according to the code with regard to non-humans that “might makes right.” We can kill them, we can hunt them, we can imprison them, we can use them for experiments, we can eat them without regard to their interests or their lives because it serves our interests and nothing is stopping us. The contradiction, or cynically stated, hypocrisy, of mourning one dead animal within that cultural background is striking. That contradiction should not lead us to suppress out sadness for Cecil or Barbaro or the family dog. The reality of that sadness should open our eyes to the worth of the lives of other creatures who cling to life, have interests, and no more deserve what the human species inflicts on them than Cecil deserved to suffer and die for the human joy of having his head on a dentist’s trophy wall.