July 30, 2015

THE ABOLITION OF AMERICA: In “Cecil the Lion and America’s Broken Outrage Meter” at Real Clear Politics, Heather Wilhelm writes, “One of the joys of the digital age, at least to many, is the thrill of discovering a new World’s Most Despicable Person:”

You know the drill: First, some poor sap says or does something dumb or politically incorrect. Next, mobs of wild-eyed, unhinged keyboard cops swoop in to judge, shame, excoriate, and issue over-the-top condemnations. Finally, if they’re lucky, the Mean Typing League might even manage to destroy a life or a reputation or a business or two, not to mention everyone’s general faith in humanity.

After performing this ritual cleansing, one assumes, those involved feel slightly better about themselves. This sense of inner peace and superiority has not yet been scientifically measured, but it lasts, alas, for only a few fleeting days. That’s when it’s time to find a new World’s Most Despicable Person.

This week, that person is Dr. Walter James Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota with the unfortunate habit of paying copious amounts of money to kill large, exotic animals around the globe. Earlier in July, as the world discovered this week, Palmer messed with the wrong large, exotic animal: Cecil the Lion, one of Africa’s most beloved and famous lions, a favorite of wildlife researchers, and the “star attraction” of Zimbabwe’s Hwagne National Park.

I, like most of humanity, had never heard of Cecil the Lion until this week—thanks to the Internet, he now has approximately five million devoted new best friends, who had also, oddly, never heard of him until now—but there are several videos of him circulating online.

Read the whole thing. In his UK best-selling 1999 book The Abolition of Britain, Peter Hitchens, the Tory brother of the late Christopher Hitchens, reflected upon a moment when England seemed to have permanently lost its collective national mind, and a once sane, sober country had vanished forever. As Hitchens told CSPAN’s Brian Lamb on Booknotes:

LAMB: One of the things in your book, you have as a subtitle, “From Winston Churchill to Princess Di”–or Princess Diana. Why did you bracket this book between Winston Churchill’s death and Princess Di’s death?

Mr. HITCHENS: The crucial chapter and really the point around which the whole book revolves is the one which compares the two funerals of Winston Churchill in 1965 and Princess Diana. And the difference between them seems to me to sum up very eloquently the way in which the country has changed, the self-discipline of the people and their attitudes, the way in which the way in which the two things were …..It’s obviously two very different kinds of people, but here were two funerals in London of revered and much-loved figures. And they were utterly different, as if they’d taken place in different countries, and, in fact, they had taken place in different countries. The Britain of Princess Diana was an utterly foreign place to the Britain of Winston Churchill. And it seemed to me to be a good starting point.

This actually came to me during the bizarre weeks after Princess Diana’s death, when voicing any kind of criticism of the hysteria was pretty much taboo. And I did the sort of thing that Chinese dissidents used to do in the days of Mao Tse-tung. If they wanted to write about a political controversy, they’d actually write about one that had taken place in some dynasty 3,000 or 4,000 years before which they felt paralleled it. And I wrote about Winston Churchill’s funeral to make the points that it had been so different. And everybody got the message.

LAMB: What were the differences?

Mr. HITCHENS: The differences are in — first of all in the open showing of emotion. Now some people might say let it all hang out, show exactly what you feel. The trouble is that, in the case of British people, if they let it all hang out, quite a lot of what they let hang out isn’t very nice. We are a pretty bloodthirsty and violent lot, especially when we get outside out own borders and start misbehaving. And we need to restrain ourselves. And one of the reasons we’ve been so peaceful for so long is that we have. That was very much in evidence at the Churchill funeral and very much less in evidence at the Diana funeral when people applauded, for heaven’s sake, at a funeral, which is completely un-English, whereas in Churchill’s time, people queuing up to file past his coffin might occasionally dash a tear away from an eye and consider that to be slightly embarrassing. That’s one difference.

And the other differences were really in the whole shape and face of the country. Britain in 1965 was still a serious country, still scarred by what was seen by most people as a recent war, still very much a country living in the afterglow of imperial greatness, also quite a lot poorer and, in some ways, the better for it in that the self-indulgence which comes with affluence hadn’t really begun to take hold. And this whole feeling of a country self-disciplined for a serious purpose as opposed to a frivolous country weeping and wailing about a princess who was really a glorified film star with a crown on her head.

Will we look back on the outrage mob devouring* a dentist with penchant for Teddy Roosevelt-style big game hunting while simultaneously ignoring or shrugging while reading about the grizzly Planned Parenthood story as a similar inflection point in America’s history?

*Both doxxing him, to let the mob know where to mass with their torches and to destroy his business, and in some cases literally threatening him with death.

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