Lions Are People Too

Charles Fourier saw the future. And it roared.

The 19th-century theorist imagined a world of friendly lions, oceans made of lemonade, five new moons orbiting the planet, and the discovery of a race inhabiting that fiery ball in the sky. “I come as the possessor of the book of Destiny to banish political and moral darkness and to erect the theory of universal harmony upon the ruins of the uncertain sciences,” Fourier declared of his social system that promised to unleash remarkable phenomena by properly orienting human passions. While the world awaits the moons, the Solarians, and the lemonade, the trust-fund theorist dismissed by Karl Marx as a “utopian” socialist at least foresaw Cecil the Lion.

One lunatic Frenchman predicted Cecil. A pride of anthropomorphic lions anticipated him.

In the Banana Splits, Drooper taught children that lions wear granny glasses, frequent amusement parks, drop LSD (surely he did off camera), and exhibit great fear of adolescent girls dressed in purple get-ups and tall boots. Simba showed that lions endure the same growing pains as the humans they eat. The Chronicles of Narnia depicted Aslan as the King of Kings rather than the King of the Jungle, which helps explain the conflation of a dentist’s safari with Christ’s crucifixion.

Jesus boasted a mere twelve apostles. Cecil counts millions.

Seeing lions on television instead of out of the corner of your eye tends to inflate your love for the big cats. In Zimbabwe last year, one of Cecil’s friends mauled a seven-year-old kid to death. The previous year, another killed a woman enjoying a private moment in the bush with a male suitor who escaped with his life but not his clothes. And if the death of mere humans do not move you, consider that lions murdered Cecil’s brother in 2009.

But Cecil, a socially-conscious king of the jungle, presumably eschewed the parched-grassland delicacies of antelope, zebra, and giraffe in favor of vegan fare. This would explain why his apostles trashed Walter Palmer’s vacation home and St. Sharon Osbourne, married to a known predator of smaller flying creatures, dubbed the hunter “Satan” and called for his head mounted to a wall. Such a beautiful creature would never stoop to the level of a beastly dentist.

Westerners imagine Walter Palmer as cruel and lions as cuddly for the same reasons they hate DDT more than malaria. They get to watch it from afar rather than experience it up close. The locals do not miss the symbolism of Western rage-by-remote for a lion named after the continent’s most famous white imperialist.

“I find the Western outrage over the demise of Cecil, which is only a lion to many of us, suspicious,” Kennedy Mavhumashava wrote last week in Zimbabwe’s Chronicle. “This is a simple hunt and Zimbabwe wants more of them to generate revenue for our tourism sector. It is not an overstatement that almost 99.99 percent of Zimbabweans didn’t know about this animal until Monday. Now we have just learnt, thanks to the British media, that we had Africa’s most famous lion all along, an icon!”

Before Disney and Hanna-Barbera clued us into the true nature of lions, the president of the United States pulled a Walter Palmer without incident. A century or so ago, Americans displayed as much ignorance as Zimbabweans do now regarding the philanthropy and kindness of lions.

Theodore Roosevelt celebrated the end of his presidency not with the lucrative lecture circuit but with a sanguinary safari. The Rough Rider, along with sidekick-son Kermit, slew 512 beasts. The body count, accumulated in collaboration with the Smithsonian for science’s sake, included 17 lions. Americans did not know the human names of the anonymous cats (Larry the Lion? Kevin, King of the Jungle? Leo?), so Roosevelt naturally confronted upon his return not a campaign to run him out of the country but entreaties for him to run for president.

Athletics and hunting share a name: sport. The former replicates the exhilaration of the latter with few of the associated dangers. “While the white men hunt elephants for recreation,” Harvey Mansfield writes in his book Manliness, “the natives hunt for food and do not kill for fun. Manliness is their way of life, not a relief from it.” In a manner similar to the way that games replace hunting for game in the West, loud calls for a ban on hunting predatory animals come from First World urban-dwellers without fear of ever encountering such scary monsters. Both appear as attempts to preserve something lost.

The exorbitant cost, the social pressure, and the onerous regulations necessarily make Walter Palmer’s hobby endangered. Africans pocketing tens of thousands of dollars for serving as guides prefer this wealth transfer to the foreign aid that never makes it to them by the time bureaucrats grab their take. But lion hunts make Westerners feel guilty, and alleviating this terrible emotion—the white man’s real burden—after all, motivates our actions toward the Dark Continent.

It’s now forever open-season on big-game hunters. After Walter Palmer’s stuffed head goes up on the wall, TR’s head comes down from Mount Rushmore. It’s Charles Fourier’s world. You just live in it—along with all those friendly lions.


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