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Cecil the lion – why it’s our fault.

The Cecil the lion story has taken over the internet (except for those concerned with a tiff between two rappers? what the hell is that all about?). It took a while, though. I first saw the story last week in the Spanish press, where the hunter was claimed to be Spanish. I posted a link and a comment on my personal facebook page, that it seemed there was always some dickhead waiting to give good hunters a bad name. And he was a dickhead for luring the lion out of a protected area – never mind the huge amount of money he paid to the outfit.

Anyway, the story evolved and was picked up by the media and then the internet got hold of it. And now we can’t avoid hearing about it.

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We never heard of you before, Cecil, but we’ll never forget you…
Copyright @DeGeorgeous/twitter, taken from an interesting article:

And some have rightly questioned why we are all so up in arms over one lion when there is so much more “important” (it’s an opinion, after all) stuff going on.

The media are to blame, in large part, because they like to push these heartrending stories. To take our minds off the really important issues, of course.

And there are too many of those more important issues to list here.

But you know what they are.

So why do we allow the media to sucker punch us?

Because we don’t want to focus on those more important issues.

It would be too much.

The media don’t control facebook (exactly). People have shared and liked those photos all by themselves.

Why?

Because they can manage their rage at one dentist. They can see a cause and effect, a perpetrator and a victim. It’s easy to transmit all their feelings of rage and anger and helplessness into that and think they’re doing something for the planet.

It’s a natural reaction, understandable and human. We can’t deal with such huge statistics. Our brains don’t take it. That’s why I wrote a post about one little boy being snuck across a border by his dad rather than the seven hundred people who’d drowned that same week, after having said goodbye to fathers and sons and everyone else in the family to trek across the Sahara to an overloaded dingy in Tunisia. It’s why we can feel extreme sadness reading The Diary of Anne Frank, or watching The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas but are numbed when we see film of Auschwitz, and the idea of six million people in similar circumstances is just incomprehensible.

The broader issue is that though lions are not currently endangered in Africa, their future is not bright. But the fact that this lion could be hunted outside his reserve is more important than the fact he was lured outside. It shows us that protecting our large animals is not going to work with just a few reserves. The lions of Africa cannot only survive in a few national parks, just like the wolf cannot exist only inside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. It must be protected everywhere.
Cecil had a name and he was old and he stayed inside his reserve where he could be seen – he didn’t need to hide. But how many of his offspring had already left that park? How many of them, or other lions born in that reserve, were already hunted? How many are waiting, hidden from humans because they are not protected, ready to return and take over his pride?

But can we do anything to make African nations increase the size of their parks? Can we stop multinationals and other nations getting these African (and other nations with stunning biological diversity) to intensify their agriculture, to plant cash crops, to build more roads and railways that will carve up the remaining wild land so there is no hope of survival for an animal that leaves a park when it becomes overcrowded?

No. But we can call some trophy hunter names.

The future is not bright for a whole lot of species, especially the large ones like rhinos and elephants. Thousands of them, with and without names, are being slaughtered for their products. There are only thousands of them left. Or five of them left, if we’re talking some rhinos.

And we know this.

But it’s so fucking hard to do anything about it.

We watch helplessly as numbers of extinctions rise, as coral reefs bleach, as dams are built to drown swaths of rainforest, as jungles are cleared for palm oil plantations.

We watch helplessly as our elected politicians (I won’t use the word leader) fuck around in multiple planes. They fuck around shouting at one another, fuck around blaming people who walked half way across Africa, or Central America for their country’s problems while they eat caviar on the deck of some billionaires yacht. They fuck around with shit that’s just not important in the grand scheme of things and wash their hands of their blame for all the problems what are, indeed, important to the lives of their citizens.

And we wring our hands a little because, well, we are all a little to blame, too.

We know the electricity our computers and internet use is partly responsible for the coral beaching. We know the trip we take to go visit animals like lions, while giving money to the local economy (just as hunters do) to stop the locals just killing these lions and be done with it, is also making the Arctic melt. We know that buying shampoo and other stuff with palm oil is going to make it harder for the orang-utan babies we love to actually move out into a rainforest. We know that buying all those great cheap throwaway clothes in big retailers is contributing to global warming and poverty.

But what are we to do? We’re caught in a whirlpool that just drags us down with it.

One thing we can do, which I’ve done, is be concerned for all endangered animals. Not just one old lion, but all lions, all African megafauna, all species facing the threat of annihilation, along with their habitats.

We can join the amazing NGOs that are standing against these extinctions and actively protecting species.

Join your local wildlife trust (The Irish Wildlife Trust if you’re in Ireland).
Go to WWF and click a donation in the name of a lion, or a tiger, or a green turtle.
Become a member and get a sticker for your bumper to tell others that you’re doing sometime proactive rather than reactive like all this anger going around the internet.

You’ll feel much better about yourself, and a little bit better about the planet.

Why We Write

As you know, we just voted for equal marriage in Ireland.

I posted and shared and liked a lot of stuff on my facebook page recently regarding that vote. I also wrote a blog post and even reposted it the day before the referendum.

As an author, perhaps I shouldn’t put such political or religious sensitive material things out there. I’ve been told to be careful. There can be a backlash against it, and it can hurt your career as an author. I learned this from the experience of another author who I follow on facebook. Someone didn’t like the author’s opinion in regarding the Irish vote for Equal Marriage. And they lowered themselves to dirty tricks.

Which is very sad.

Do we always have to care what people think to respect their work?

I mean, I don’t like Tom Cruise much as a personality, but I think he’s a great actor and I watch his movies – ditto for Mel Gibson.

Of course, in my own case, I believe I am on the right side of the arguments, and hope it will make people more receptive to my writing, in the end.

Because why do I write?

Let me say first, in answer to my own question, that I don’t care much about an author’s opinions.

I follow Anne Rice on facebook. I love that she’s cool, and that she replied to my email when I pointed out a typo in one of her books. But I read her books before I found out she was cool, and would have kept reading, despite her political views. I have rarely looked up information on the authors whose books I have read. I don’t think many people do. Even vegans read The Old Man and the Sea and see the quality of the book.

But many readers do care about the writers. They want to like the author.

I hope that these readers don’t hate my books (or pretend to hate them because they don’t like me).

I am sure, on the contrary, that if they hate what I say then they will hate what I write.

For what are my books if not attempts to tell a story at the same time as awaken consciousness, make the reader aware of a topic, make them think, change them a little, for the better, for having read them? (High aspirations, I know, but we must try. If we don’t try save the planet we are certainly doomed.)

As an example, a post I wrote about farmers illegally burning land in Ireland got much more coverage than most of my musings and was sent around facebook quite a bit (to my amazement). I looked through a few comments (Okay, all of them) and found nothing but agreement, even with my use of bad words.

Every author, I think, tries to change their reader.

And to a certain extent, we have a responsibility to do so. Just this week, George Monbiot took a children’s author to task for contributing to the whitewashing of the realities of intensive farming for food and milk production.

There are some who write just to thrill, to scare, for the enjoyment of making the reader have an emotion.

I do too. But I also want the reader to pause, to learn a little.

I know I’m not alone. Before the internet came about to let us connect to the daily musings of our favourite writers, everyone could get a sense of the writer’s opinions from their novels. I never knew anything about Rolling Stone Magazine until I read Stephen King’s Firestarter. But it gave me an insight into King that none of his shared postings on the internet have altered.

I know it’s not considered good writing to have the reader pause, to look up from the page to have to go and look up a word, or a reference. Perhaps.

But I love those kind of books. I like being immersed in a movie so much that I don’t notice two hours go by, but afterwards, I like to be able to talk about it, about the parts that I haven’t quite figured out. I love the same with books, though I can take a break in the middle rather than waiting till the end. I love spending two hours on wikipedia or youtube, filling in blanks and adding to my knowledge, like I did after I watched Pride last month.

If we writers really thought thinking was a bad thing, then why would be bother thinking up these stories?

And I have faith that thinking hasn’t gone completely out of fashion. Even though the thoughts are often depressing.

Time to Globalise Facebook?

This might sound like one of those “first world problems.” But in fact I think it’s fairly global.
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Like around another billion people, Facebook is pissing me off…
I posted something on my author page, and I got a message from Facebook, informing me that my post “was served” to, I dunno, thirty people. What the fuck is that? “Served?” Thirty out of the one hundred and fifty or so who were following the page then? What’s the point of following someone if you can’t see what they say?
What does that say about their algorithm?
It says exactly what it seems. They have it rigged so that if you want to talk to your followers, you have to pay.
They ask straight away if you want to boost the post to reach more people: that means pay for Facebook to do what Facebook is supposed to do…
I say they, but I mean Mark Zuckerberg.

How much money does one man want? Can we make a plea to this man to do the right thing and hand over Facebook to the people for the good of mankind?
He was in the press not long ago, talking at the Mobile World Congress, “discussing Facebook’s Internet.org project, an attempt to spread affordable internet access across the globe.

But that’s just minor shit. Window dressing. Garnish.
And I remember Ben Elton talking about garnish in the 90s…(look it up on Youtube. I’m sure it’s there, along with the after-dinner mint on your pillow…)

Facebook has the opportunity to become the platform for the democracy of the future. It can be the way people communicate. It has the potential to grow into a branch of the Internet and email revolution that ultimately becomes bigger than the trunk.

If Mark Zuckerberg just let it go now, he could end up like the great people we look up to in history – Jonas Salk (that’s the guy who invented the polio vaccine and decided not to patent it), the creators of wikipedia (admit it, you couldn’t have impressed anyone you fancied with your breadth of knowledge without it), Alexander Fleming (penicillin, dude) even guys like Bob Geldof (before he went a bit batshit, but life did kind of take a dump on him) or Keanu Reeves: people who put the world before themselves, or at least a few others before money.

Mark is famous now, he’s richer than fuck… but is he liked? Less than universally, let’s say. Yet he could get adulation, worship.

If he doesn’t give it away, the government could take it off him (Yeah, I know: I said could). It could decide that it’s more important to the greater good that it be taken off his hands. It would be like when the government makes you sell them your land for a railway line, or a country nationalises an oil company or a copper mine (yeah, I know that is frowned upon by some, but if you’re going to have to work in a copper mine, at least the profits should be going towards paying your future health needs…). “It’s for the people, Mark.”

They might not give him all the money it’s worth (that’s a certainty, actually, since no government has that cash lying around), and I know he’s in it for the money, and that’s all right… but right now he already has more money than many countries. Why does he need any more?
The man can never spend the money he has. Well, he can, but only by doing some extravagant shit like buying the Amazon rain forest (to save, Mark, not to make more profit) or employing the entire population of Rwanda to protect the mountain gorilla.

I’m not suggesting he needs to do either of those specifically, but he totally should give 95% of it to charity (keeping a few million for expenses like visiting the wildlife reserves he could create).

But first he should give Facebook to the people.