Three times this year a girl has been ritually crucified on the internet for the sin of shooting an animal. The first was an eleven year-old who shot a mountain lion that got too close to the family ranch and appeared to be stalking her brother. The second, a Texas girl who posed with a picture of a lion she shot (with a bow!) while on safari, and the third a Belgian girl who was given a modeling contract after the cameras discovered her at that World Cup thingy, only to have the contract yanked away when she posted a picture of herself on Facebook with a gazelle she’d shot (along with the promise to do the same to the American soccer team. I take no offense.)
The general tone of twitter and comment sections of newspapers was one of maniacal hatred, wishing death and destruction on these intrepid Dianas.
Above, the eleven-year-old who shot the mountain-lion.
Below, the world’s most gorgeous soccer fan. (Maybe I should watch more soccer.)
I think this deserves a closer examination:
Below, a pink compound bow! Only in Texas.
I’ve commented on hunting before. I hunt small game and birds, but don’t feel any attraction to big game hunting. Going on an African Safari strikes me as a colossal waste of time and money, like buying a sports car, but if it is done in a sustainable way, I don’t see any moral problems: to each his own.
I suppose I can understand if a vegetarian felt disgust at the above photos, but expressing the desire to see the perpetrator killed? We all know that the internet lets you say things online that you would never say in person, but isn’t a death-wish the opposite of vegetarianism? What about people who express outrage over the photos who are not vegetarians? On what moral grounds can they claim that hunting is bad?
Here are some thoughts on what might be going on here:
Social media seems to be taking on a sociological role of letting people feel morally superior by conforming themselves to the right opinions, independently of their actions. Someone can feel like he is accomplishing something, taking a stand, when he is in fact doing nothing. Millions of people tweeted #bringbackourgirls knowing full well it was not going to do anything to save the still-kidnapped Nigerian school-girls, but it made them feel good about themselves: it was a way of showing they were good people with good feelings.
(Ludicrously, this notion that correct feelings are a substitute for action seems to have infected the United States government: hence the first lady posing with a #bringbackourgirls sign knowing full well that her husband had long since decided that he was not going to send in Delta Force in a risky rescue attempt… which was the only thing that might have done any good.)
The more sensitive you are to “right feelings” the higher your imagined value and social standing. Hence, it is not enough to be against ordinary racism, like, denying someone a job just because he is black. You want to be on the cutting edge of right-feeling, and be against things that nobody ever thought was racist, like “The Washington Redskins”, which nobody imagined was racist until 2014. The more violent your objections, the more sensitive you are, the better person you become, at least in the eyes of your twitter followers.
The inverse of this need to conform to “right-feelings” the need to ritually abuse anyone who operates under a different standard. The girls above are not particularly sensitive to the emotional needs of animals, they rather enjoy the thrill of the hunt, which is something all human beings would have understood perfectly well, up until a generation ago. That makes them inferior. As a sign of superiority, the right-feeling person must hate them, wish them dead, raped, eaten alive, etc.
The expressions of outrage are largely indifferent, since the victims of have their own internet supporters who will flock to their defense out of similar motives of right-feeling, and internet tantrums by definition have little real world effect (#bringbackourgirls). But it is not totally indifferent: people can lose jobs over things said about them online. The Belgian girl seems to have lost a modeling contract. (Though she’ll probably find another, being so cute.)
Of course, if the girls above were not girls, if they were middle aged men, no one would care as much, which comes to another point: people always get more enraged when the perceived “other” is a woman. For example, both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin transmit personality quirks (the former dishonest and cold, the latter self-promoting and flippant) which I find annoying, but I can’t relate to the deep, visceral, fanatical hatred they inspire in their political opponents. The same flaws in a man would not be so enraging.
In closing, I’d like to hazard a guess: I’d be willing to bet that the majority of the internet outrage against the girls above did not come from “patriarchal” men angry that they were stepping out of traditional roles and invading a male sport: those guys were probably delighted and wished their own daughters were more like that. No, I’d suspect the outrage came mostly from other women. Women seem to be more likely to cut down other women to make themselves feel good.
Update: The comment section below seems to go a long way towards proving my point. Read, and you will find personal insults, death fantasies about yours truly, and blowhards pontificating against strawmen. I am very glad I gave them the opportunity to indulge themselves, but I do wish they had bothered to read the whole post.