A while ago while on Twitter, I saw people were tweeting about individuals who hunted giraffes and posted pictures of themselves posing next to their kills. Because I thought the whole discussion was one-sided, I responded by posting a link to the explanation that a woman hunter, Tess Halley, provided as to why and how she hunted a giraffe so everyone would be aware of the other side of the argument. I followed that by posting a link to an interview with her.
The effect this had was like spraying gasoline on a fire.
My followers on Twitter called Halley: vile, sad, disgusting, despicable, heartless, a coward, a monster, scum, a sociopath, immoral, and a POS. Her killing of the giraffe was labelled egregious, sickening, outrageous, and appalling. She was branded a person without a moral compass who destroys the balance of the Earth and nature, and who deserves to burn in hell. A few people criticized hunters in general while the majority just criticized trophy hunting in particular. Others only chastised Halley for posting the picture or at least considered it an aggravating factor.
I know several hunters personally, and they are all decent individuals, so I took exception to the comments my Twitter followers made. In this post I’m going to recap some of my arguments while analyzing the apparent reasons everyone was so outraged over Halley killing a giraffe and my thoughts about it.
Was it because she killed a sentient animal?
A sentient animal is one which has the ability to perceive or feel things. So this clearly goes beyond giraffes, and covers, for example, farm animals such as cows, pigs, and chickens. In the United States more than 8 billion chickens, 100 million pigs, and 30 million cattle are slaughtered each year, and the slaughter of these animals is a traumatic process which stresses the animals before they die. I suspect that the majority of the people who displayed indignation at Halley killing the giraffe also eat meat, so I have to point out that by buying meat, you are financing those who kill sentient animals (cows, pigs, and chickens) to feed you. By this reasoning, in terms of killing a sentient animal, people who eat meat are no worse than her. Indeed, a vegetarian wrote that whereas trophy hunters kill 70,000 wild animals each year worldwide, meat eaters finance the killing of 70 billion farm animals. He also argued that whereas wild animals enjoy several years of freedom before they are killed, farm animals lead short, restricted, miserable lives before they are slaughtered, and those who eat meat support all this.
Was it because she did not have to kill the animal for food? Was it because she did it for sport?
People could argue that killing or paying others to kill animals specifically raised for food is justified (although vegetarians would disagree), but Halley killed a wild animal for sport, and that’s not acceptable.
This is a value judgement. However, I have to point out that Halley was not a poacher. She obtained the permission of the authorities of the preserve where this giraffe lived. The giraffe belonged to a managed herd, and in these herds animals have to be killed (culled) occasionally for the overall good of the herd. Giraffe populations, while still low, are increasing. The giraffe was also not left out in the field to rot, all of its body was used. Although Halley claims that she is foremost a hunter, she views her kill as fitting within the framework of a conservation effort. There are groups of hunters that have spearheaded efforts to protect wildlife and their habitat through organizations such as Ducks Unlimited.
It must also be mentioned that in the United States today the majority of people have no need to kill wildlife for food in order to survive. Therefore, most hunting is hunting for sport. From this vantage point, the killing of that giraffe by Halley was no different from the killing of deer, elk, moose, boars, etc. There are 15 million hunting licenses issued in the United States each year, and it is estimated that close to 5% of the population of the United States engages in hunting. If you include people that fish at least once a year (yes, fishing is a form of hunting that kills a sentient animal), that covers 55 million Americans. Should all these people in the United States receive the moral condemnation that Halley received?
There are multiple reasons for hunting, but the hunters I know hunt for the experience, the challenge, the bonding (if they are hunting with others), and the proximity to nature. Many hunters will tell you that killing your own food beats buying it at the supermarket. And the vast majority of hunters are mindful of the need for conservation. They buy their hunting or fishing permits and follow the laws.
Was it because she posted a picture of herself smiling next to the giraffe?
This struck a nerve with many people who argued that if you are going to kill the giraffe, so be it, but at least don’t post a picture of yourself smiling next to it on social media.
This is another value judgement, but it must be pointed out that the activity of hunting is as old as humanity, and so is the pride hunters take in their kill and their desire to document it. In humanity’s past this took place in the form of stories, paintings, and trophies (tusks, horns, etc.), and with technological advances this has also included photographs and videos. The most visible example of this practice is photos of fishermen posing with the fish that they have caught. Thus social media is the next logical extension of this activity.
So why was it?
I suspect the real reason why people were so outraged is the same reason why they would be outraged if someone killed a cute puppy, but wouldn’t bat an eye if someone killed a rat, even though both are sentient animals. Some animals have just gained a cultural foothold in the empathic human consciousness. Large majestic animals such as giraffes, elephants, or lions have an iconic appeal to the contemporary human psyche that other animals just don’t have, and their killing triggers strong emotional reactions even if it is carried out within a legal conservation-oriented framework.
I am not a vegetarian, and I am not a hunter, although I have caught and eaten fish, and I use small animals for research. I rationalize our use of animals in terms of humans being the dominant predator of the planet. Although I like the outdoors and often go on short hikes, my regular life is far removed from nature. From this vantage point I believe that conservation-minded hunters are closer to nature than me or anyone with my lifestyle. Finally, I also think that viewing nature through the prism of human morals is going against the very essence of what nature is, and I have written posts about this in my blog. But in the end, societies decide what is acceptable or not. People can always lobby their elected representatives to ban the importation of hunting trophies of the animals they care about, or people can pressure social media companies to ban the posting of photos of hunted animals as part of their terms of service. I think that these two initiatives would be more effective than short-lived outbursts of social media outrage.
So those are my thoughts on this issue. What do you think?
I do not own the rights to the photograph of Tess Halley posing with the giraffe she killed in South Africa. This photo has been widely circulated in social media and is used here under the doctrine of Fair Use.
Antivaxxers are people who deny the need for or the efficacy of vaccines and their role in controlling some of the most dreadful diseases in the history of humanity. Not only this, but antivaxxers also claim that vaccines have huge side effects that actually harm more people than they benefit, and they have been particularly vocal about the COVID-19 vaccines. All this is, of course, not true. The COVID-19 vaccines have saved millions of lives by decreasing the proportion of hospitalizations and deaths among the vaccinated to a much greater extent compared to the unvaccinated. Antivaxxers have also spread misinformation and lies about the COVID-19 vaccines that have been repeatedly debunked over and over and over. Nevertheless, they ignore this while expressing outrage at pro-vaccine people, at best calling them “sheep” (sheeple), or at worst claiming that they are being manipulated by or are part of an immoral and unethical alliance of the government, pharmaceutical companies, and other organizations bent on profit and societal control.
So what should be my approach to dealing with antivaxxers? I see two alternatives: the inflammatory approach and the conciliatory approach.
Considering the high effectiveness of the COVID vaccines at decreasing the hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, considering that antivaxxers have been waging an aggressive campaign of spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines on social media, and considering that online misinformation is linked to COVID vaccination hesitancy and refusal, it is not surprising that many people were harmed or killed by the misinformation spread by antivaxxers. During the peak of the Delta variant the daily consequences of spreading misinformation have been estimated at 300 deaths, 1,200 hospitalizations, and 20,000 COVID-19 cases with a cost of 50 to 300 million dollars. I am appalled and outraged at how many lives antivaxxers have damaged.
So my question is: should antivaxxers pay for their crimes?
This is not a far-fetched concept. Alex Jones, the talking head from Infowars, spread misinformation and disinformation about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children and 6 adults were killed. He said that the shooting was a false flag operation carried out by anti-gun groups, that no one died, and that the children were actors. As a result of this, the families of the murdered children experienced years of harassment by the followers of Alex Jones. Thankfully, he was brought to court and tried and found guilty, and now he has to pay the Sandy Hook families millions of dollars. Alex Jones tried several defenses including his right to free speech, but the judges didn’t buy it. He spread falsehoods and this hurt people. That was the bottom line. So, if anything, the case against antivaxxers should be even more clear cut, because many people who followed their ideas were harmed or died.
Although in the case of Alex Jones the Sandy Hook families sued him for slander, a person or the family of a person harmed by antivaxxers could sue them for fraud. They would have to prove that the antivaxxer spread the misinformation while knowing that it was false. They would have to prove that the person who was harmed relied on the antivaxxer in their decision to forgo vaccination. And they would have to prove that there was economic loss (hospital bills, lost wages, funeral expenses, etc.). There are, of course, additional subtleties that have to be taken into account depending on the specific antivaxxer entity or person being sued, but this is a possible approach.
Following this rationale, I think that at the very least, any antivaxxer that fulfils the conditions outlined above should be sued for the medical and funeral expenses incurred by the people (or their relatives) who followed their advice in good faith and were harmed or died.
The above is the inflammatory approach. It’s the sort of thing you say/write to scandalize and infuriate people and increase their engagement, drive traffic to your blog, website, or podcast, and grow your brand. This approach makes tempers flare and generates a lot of heat and ill will as invectives fly back and forth and hatred is spewed everywhere.
But there is another way to do this. It’s probably not as successful for getting engagement, but it may be more useful to society, civil discourse, and the psychological well-being of the public.
Every time two groups of people have strong disagreements on some things, the recommended course of action is to find areas of agreement. Antivaxxers are concerned about the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines. The evidence we have indicates that the frequency of serious side effects as a result of these vaccines is very low, which makes the vaccines much safer than having the disease. However, even if rare, when hundreds of millions are vaccinated, the number of net cases start to accumulate. And some of these cases are severe enough that exceptionally susceptible people may end up impaired and saddled with huge debts due to their medical bills. Shouldn’t these people be compensated?
I would venture that most people, whether pro or anti-vaccine, would agree with this. Unfortunately, this is not what is happening. There is a federal program known as the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) that is available to people who have been injured by the routine vaccines that are administered in the United States. This program in its lifetime has awarded $4.7 billion in compensation for vaccine injuries to cover 36% of the claims it has received. But this program does not cover the COVID-19 vaccines. Compensation for harm from the COVID-19 vaccines is handled by a program called the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP). The CICP program was designed to handle compensation for people injured by treatment for rare events such as an Anthrax attack, but this program is now handling compensation claims for a treatment dispensed to hundreds of millions of Americans. The CICP program is underfunded, understaffed, and overwhelmed with claims, which it is resolving at a glacial pace, and so far congress has not done anything about this.
So here is the chance for antivaxxers to make a difference and actually achieve something positive. If they stop their attacks on vaccines and pro-vaccine people and focus on lobbying congress to, for example, expand and fund the CICP program or move the COVID-19 claimants to the VICP program, that would be a major achievement that would help people affected by the side effects of vaccines. At the same time many pro-vaccine individuals and organizations that advocate for the rights of patients could join ranks with them to work together towards a common goal and actually benefit people.
The alternative, of course, is to keep engaging in the usual cycle of claims, counterclaims, insults, counterinsults, and endless vitriol, which may help increase engagement but which does not accomplish anything meaningful to benefit society.
So my question to antivaxxers is, what is it going to be: inflammatory or conciliatory?
Image from pixabay by Gerd Altmann is free for commercial use and was modified from the original.